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The 10-Day (Goenka) Vipassana Meditation Retreat


Developing a proper meditation practice to a high degree is believed by Buddhists to allow a total escape from the cycles of craving and aversion that most of us spend a lot of time in. This is the release known variously as Nibanna, Nirvana, the Unconditioned, etc. Whether or not you believe such a pinnacle exists or is reachable (I’m skeptical), this shouldn’t deter you from harnessing the benefits of meditation practice, which have a lot of scientific research backing their positive effects.

Course Content

The course taught Vipassana (Insight/Wisdom) meditation, as passed down in the Burmese tradition. The 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat, within S.N. Goenka’s school, is one of the most accessible intensive introductions to a serious meditation practice that is available in many locations all over the world. It’s primarily taught by video tape discourses of the late S.N. Goenka. I found his dhamma instruction to be spectacular. Goenka is wise and is a skilled speaker and coach. Subjectively to me, he seems to have made very high achievements in hacking his mind with meditation.

The meditation technique taught is a body-scanning technique that simultaneously stresses developing sensitivity to bodily sensations and developing equanimity towards these sensations. As sensations come up, either pleasant or unpleasant, you are supposed to diligently notice them, and remain equanimous. I.e. don’t either like or dislike them, even if they are painful or pleasurable, just notice them, as if you were a third party. This promotes disidentification of yourself with your body/sensations, and helps to dissolve the ego and starts eradicating the seeds of craving and aversion.


My Recommendation

Interested in meditation? Should you give a 10-Day Vipassana retreat a try? Well. . .I believe that nearly everyone in the world can benefit enormously from a meditation practice. If you are able to recognize that happiness and suffering are not merely deterministic functions of our environment, but more fundamentally of our reactions (especially mental attitudes towards) the stimuli which we encounter, then it should be relatively uncontroversial that some mental training could result in learning how to adopt more favorable mental states that are more robust to the ups and downs of life.

That being said, training in this technique for 10 days is tiring and monotonous, hence requires intrinsic motivation (a lot of patience and persistence) to make progress in. I don’t think it would be a good idea for most people interested in meditation to jump into a 10-day intensive course like this, unless perhaps you are already a very patient introvert. Even in that case, you would probably be better served developing a meditation practice first and getting used to sitting and keeping your mind on task for at least 30 minutes at a time. At that point, you will at least perceive the benefits of improved concentration in your life, and possibly additional benefits of the practice. This will give you some motivation for completing something like a 10-day retreat.

There are a few curiosities about this supposedly “non-sectarian” approach to meditation instruction. The first thing to note is that it’s firmly within the Buddhist traditions of morality, so it’s not really purely secular. Reincarnation is even mentioned several times as factual. The course does not foster an open attitude of comparing the technique taught to other techniques, and strongly discourages you from mixing in any others during the course. This and a few other aspects, like the imposed vegetarianism, make Goenka’s Vipassana school resemble a cult. But not the dangerous or idiotic kind. Most of their beliefs and practices do seem sensible, and do seem to result in improvement of mental capacities and outlook. Chalk the rest up as mere cultural baggage that you have to accept to get some solid instruction.

A word to the wise – Bring ample cushions/blankets/seats for sitting, and don’t hesitate to ask for a chair if your discomfort starts seriously interfering with your ability to concentrate! One of the skills that you develop will be to better maintain your concentration through distractions like pain, but biting off more than you can chew is counter-productive.


My Results

Vipassana meditation was a somewhat new technique for me, although I had some experience with body scanning in the past. I could feel the technique working, and my concentration and equanimity improving throughout. However, I missed the blissful states (Jhanas) that I was able to achieve in the past using breath meditation. Blissing out is discouraged in Vipassana, because it entails embracing a pleasurable sensation, which can lead to craving for that sensation, and cessation of progress. However, some Buddhist schools have a different approach, and see bliss for beginning and intermediate meditators as desirable, because it strengthens the desire to meditate, which can keep you practicing, and building your concentration skills, which will serve you well down the line. Eventually, they also agree that any attachment to this bliss must be abandoned to reach an advanced level.

I also found that my old techniques were more effective for me at going deeper into the subconscious mind more quickly, improving my concentration and discernment. I personally would never exclude every other form of mental practice in favor of a particular one. The world is a rich place full of many paths to hacking your mind, and to believe that there isn’t complementarity amongst them is very closed-minded and unscientific. I won’t be making Vipassana the sole basis of my practice, but I still learned a lot, and found the experience to be interesting, even trippy at times. I think it’s made a valuable contribution to my overall practice, and will benefit me in the long-term.


P.S. – Vipassana Hawaii now accepts bitcoin 😀


Useful Links

A more critical review of Goenka’s 10 day retreat (he had a really bad assistant teacher; mine was fine), expanding on the pathological suppression of jhana implicit in Goenka’s method.

Written instructions for breath meditation

Another written instruction for breath meditation

Audio guided breath meditations

{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Conor 2014/03/13, 09:41

    Hey Winslow,

    Great article man. Did you find the sitting very uncomfortable?

    I attended a 10 day meditation retreat in Thailand last October but they mixed standing walking and sitting meditation which was easier on the joints.

    I am very interested in attending a Vipassana retreat. Thank you for sharing.


    • Winslow Strong 2014/04/18, 10:39

      The sitting wasn’t too bad, because I asked for and got a chair on the 3rd day. I also like kneeling benches. I’ve never understood why those trained in the East are so adamant on sitting without back support. In my personal meditation experience, my meditations are better when I’m as comfortable as possible, without risking drowsiness (e.g. being upright is important).

      I hope you get good results.

      • David Anderson 2018/06/12, 19:34

        Yes, so many people avoid sitting in a chair and that is tragic

  • Rebecca Anderson 2015/05/07, 08:56

    Going through a 10-day meditation course would be good for your body, mind and soul. I would certainly try it

  • Bill G. 2015/05/14, 18:26

    I read this blog post after recently completing a 10-day retreat at the SoCal Vissapana Center – some good observations here and particularly regards ‘beginners’ considering a shorter than 10 day duration retreat. I had 2+ years experience in sitting meditation and still this course was certainly a ‘challenge’; I was actually quite surprised to speak with several fellow students after the course ended who in fact were first time meditators – that indeed surprised me however they seemed to have been able to not only hang in there for the duration but benefit from the direct experience. Know that I’ve experienced this course I can see why it is 10 days in duration, it takes about that long (well, maybe 7 days would work too) to get the mind focused and learn/experience some of the ‘effects’ of Vissapana proper technique.
    Best to All / Bill

  • Gabriel 2015/06/22, 16:39

    Where can these goenka 10 day retreat be found? I live in Denmark, Europe and there is no such things here.

    Thanks for your time.

  • Bill g 2015/07/21, 01:41

    Look at http://www.dhamma.org. Centers in Europe.

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  • Peter Dove 2016/06/15, 01:22

    Hey man, great to see you posting about Vipassana!!

    I also recently did the 10 day Goenka retreat (“patiently, persistently, patiently and persistently” 😀 ) and I found it okay at the time, but it was very hard to actually get my mind to stay on the meditation, in fact although I’d had quite a bit of meditation practice here and there throughout my life, it actually really stressed me out.

    I don’t know why I had the reaction I did, but it actually turned up the “worrying, obsessive” part of my mind more than usual and a year and a half later, I’m still dealing with an increase in negative obsessive thinking.

    Mind you, this is not just from the retreat, although I believe it may have excacerbated things, I was going through a ton of stress at the time around that too.

    Anyway, to add to what you said, I’d tell others to be pretty cautious in signing up. You need to be in the right place mentally to take on such a challenge (feeling strong). This is just my opinion of course :)



    • Reid B. 2018/05/14, 01:11

      Peter, if you can get a chance, read Robert Wright’s book, Why Buddhism is Right. It has a good explanation as to why you might have experienced what you write about above.

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  • Gabriel Yusef Buchanan 2017/06/22, 06:32

    The reason he mentions and emphasizes afterlife thought is because after we realize the physical body is so temporary, the next fact is development can actually happen on subtle body. That is why he stresses Sila so much, because you can’t even get to higher jhanas or deeper concentration without somewhat purified motivations(you were already achieving that). The practice itself actually brings you to a non-conceptual “bliss” but you have to get there first, and it’s totally not accepted in the first 10-day. I can give a whole list of expected results of vipassana, the last one being “converted”[to the technique] as a joke/reality.

    Totally appreciated this blog and the authentic review. Incredibly happy to see Vipassana is reach so many. Also different meditation objects take you to different places. Breath meditation has a lot to do with subtle bodies, hence the great effects. See “Calm Abiding Meditation”.

    I completely agree with the overall assessment. Take the calling if you’re being called; Don’t go if you feels completely out of range but definite book note it, it can be incredibly transformative.

  • Sugath 2017/10/30, 16:20

    This morning 30/10/2017 I just completed my third ten day retreat. What you should know is that the pain in body and muscles is due to the tiny cycles of static current generated by your dormant defilements which surface when you turn to vipassana from mindful ess. The pain is your friend and you should not react in anyway but only have equanimity. The is the sure footed path to total freedom starting with stream entry. Sugath

    • Jamie Bradford 2018/02/18, 20:13

      Is there a center In Georgia I’ve been wanting to go for the longest time got accepted but didn’t have a vehicle and could have gotten a greyhound I was looking forward to it :( but Definitely have a plan to go soon ! Sooner rather than never . Any ideas! ?

  • Ali hobballah 2017/11/30, 21:34

    Hey Winslow,

    I read your article with great interest. I will be doing my first Goenka Vipassana in 4 days, and to be honest I am quite confused about the samadhi & 3 days concentration that it requires. I automatically enter into the blissful jhana states as soon as I start breath meditation, I have not been able to stay focused on the breath for long period of time without slipping into absorptive concentration.. if jhanas are discouraged, then what sort of concentration is required pre- Vipassana.. ?

    Many thanks

  • Karuna tayde 2017/12/22, 14:36

    Sir Maine 4th day karke chod diya meri tbiyat khrab hone karan kya mai dobara join kr skti hu.plssss sir

  • Neena Morada 2018/02/16, 01:19

    I Did Goenka ji’s Vipassana and it was most amazing. For the first 2 days I was uncomfortable but then I felt the energy pound me and I felt I was disintegrating into nothingness. For the next 7 days it was bliss. I will be doing this meditation again. Any one who goes for this course must go with a will power to sit and breathe. Your mind will move in thousands of directions but if you continue to concentrate on your breathing then it will happen to you. Stay positive and don’t be prejudiced and don’t listen to anyone. This is an individual experience. It is for you and only you know what is going on. Respect the vow of silence that you take for these 10 days. The experience is beautiful. Eat less and sit straight and be comfortable. The reason for sitting in a comfortable Padmasan is to keep your spine straight so that you can breathe better. If you’ve made up your mind to experience it, then be there and complete it. You will not regret it.

  • Rajiv frank 2019/04/11, 00:26

    Please mail your presentation to promote in India, worldwide. Best wishes.

  • Ruu 2019/08/27, 22:33

    I just love Vipassana , there are many teachers places , 20 plus years of meditation this is getting to things I haven’t reached – the janas or bliss states – u speak of are there also but your aiming for something more lasting – the casual cessation of suffering – not just the momentary – though that is awesome and inspires further exploring !

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