My experience of 10 days Vipassana Meditation at Dhamma Malaya

I first heard of 10 days Vipassana Meditation from my cousin, TM in December last year over early Christmas dinner at her place. I wasn’t paying much attention to the details of this meditation except for the part that no talking and no mobile phone are allowed throughout the period. I wondered why such a strict rules and how a person can survive not talking for 10 days.

In early April, I had a good catch up with family and relatives over a lovely seafood dinner and good wine. The same cousin, TM was sitting next to me and I asked her about her meditation experience. During that period of time, I was seeking for inner peace and what she shared with me on Vipassana Meditation suddenly made lots of sense.

On 8 Apr, I registered for the Vipassana Meditation at its course schedule website for 22 Apr to 3 May. The following day, I received email from the management informing they had a lot of applications for this course and because accommodation was limited, they had to put my name on waiting list. My name was on the 20th waiting list and a few days later, I was on the 13th waiting list. When I checked with them again for the third time, they informed me the course was full. I decided then to register for the next suitable dates and chosen 17-28 Jun course.

Vipassana meditation is a 10 day residential meditation courses offered in Malaysia and in centers around the world. During the course, all external contacts are prohibited and use of mobile phone is not allowed. No talking, no reading and writing material too. No notebook, TV or any gadgets, which means entirely disconnect from outside world. Initially, I didn’t understand the logic of these strict rules.

During the 2 months from the registration till the course date, I noticed there either someone that I knew attended or knew of someone who have attended this Vipassana meditation course. Many of my friends asked me “Are you insane? Not talking for 10 days? How’s that possible?, It’s like going to prison, etc.”. When my sisters knew about me attending this course, they asked me “Why? Because of the recent robbery? Make sure you don’t become a nun.”.

Lots have happened to me over the 2 months period and I was really looking forward to this meditation course. I like the idea of going far away, by myself … to disconnect to connect with I, Me and Myself. I was hoping to learn the art of living and find inner peace.

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A friend shared this with me and it makes lots of sense

I packed for the 12 days trip with no valuables, no jewellery, no gadgets, no books, no writing materials, strict clothing requirement ie no shorts, tank tops, transparent, tight or revealing clothing, etc. I took out my earing and did not wear necklace and watch. I removed my nail polish and no contact lens too. Just wanted my body to be free from everything and enjoy the nature.

The followings are based on my experience and what I remembered from the 12D11N stay in Dhamma Malaya. I did not have OneNote or paper and pen with me for me to write down.

Registration and Orientation (17 Jun)

Finally, the day came. I took their chartered bus service, return trip to and from Kuala Lumpur (Brickfields) to Dhamma Malaya at $70 for both ways.

Chartered bus assembly point at Sentral which was ideal for outstation people and foreigners.

Chartered bus assembly point at Brickfields, opposite Sentral which was ideal for outstation people and foreigners.

Bus departed late by an hour at 10am and sat next to me was a lady from Ipoh who was attending the course for the 3rd time. There was 41 of us in the bus. There were lots of foreigners, many backpackers and group of 15 meditators from Shanghai. I was talking to a guy who was attending it on half yearly basis and this was his 4th time. According to him, the registration for center in China will be full the moment it opens for registration due to its huge population.

Surprise to see so many foreigners and backpackers attending the same course

Surprise to see so many foreigners and backpackers attending the same course

We reached Dhamma Malaya in Gambang Plantation, Kuantan at about 2.30pm and was there for 12D11N. The additional 2 days are for registration and orientation day and on the last day, we left the site at 9am.

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Dhamma Malaya is on a small breezy rise surrounded by a plantation.

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First rule kicked in. We were told there were 2 separate areas for male and female, divided by common area and we were not supposed to cross over the boundary.

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Knowing our boundary

Thereafter, we looked for our lodging unit.

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Looking for room number

My room was in Block K which was far away from the office and dining hall but very near to meditation hall, which was great.

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Block K which is near to meditation hall

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View from meditation hall of public toilet on the right and Block K in the front.

The room is very basic and clean too. I was happy that we had private single room with attached bathroom.

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My nest for 12D11N

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Basic shower, not rain shower

Then, we went to dining hall to register ourselves. We were given Code of Disciplines and expected to read and sign the rules and guidelines. All students were expected to remain until the very end of the course.

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Registration and signing of Code of Disciplines

The center provided bed sheets, pillow cases, blankets and alarm clocks. Towels were available with limited supply.

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Bed sheets, pillow cases, blankets and alarm clocks were provided

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Just beautify my bed

At 4pm, we proceeded to office and handed in our valuables for their safe keeping as there was no lock from outside of room. We surrendered all mobile phones and all electrical gadgets, reading and writing materials. I was so reluctant to hand in my piece of paper and pen but since I was there, I trusted the objectives of these rules and abide them.

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Queuing to hand over valuables and mobile phone

At 6pm, I had my very first vegetarian meal at Dhamma. We had mushroom yam rice with soup and fruits. Thereafter, we had orientation briefing and precede the start of the course in meditation hall.

We were allocated spot in meditation hall and had to use the same spot for every meditation session. This was also to allow the management to identify any missing meditators from the session. The course was based on audio and video by S.N. Goenka in English, followed by translation in Mandarin. Glad that I signed up for English/Mandarin session and could listen to both of them. We were informed for the period of the course, to abstain from killing, stealing, sexual activity, speaking falsely, and intoxicants. This simple code of moral conduct serves to calm the mind, which otherwise would be too agitated to perform the task of self-observation.

By 9pm and the end of our very first meditation, the noble silence started. When we walked out from the meditation hall, all of us had to stop talking to each other and no hand gestures, etc. The trick is not to look into each other eyes. It was good that I attended this course by myself. Else, it will be quite awkward not to say Hello to friends and avoid talking to each other.

I went to bed by 9.30pm and lights out by 10.00pm.

Day 1 (18 Jun)

Daily Timetable

Daily Timetable

Morning wake up bell at 4.00am. The first thing that I did was walk out to get some hot water for morning shower.

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Hot Water for shower

We meditated in meditation hall from 4.30am to 6.30am, followed with breakfast. Again, we were allocated seats in the dining hall. We had till 8am before group meditation in the hall. As I walked back to my room, almost all meditators were cleaning their room. They swept and washed floor, washed toilet and clothes. Seriously, what else can we do to kill time when we cant talk, no mobile phone, no TV, no gadgets, no books, etc?

At 8.00am, we had group meditation in meditation hall. We were taught awareness of our breathing and to focus in area below the nostrils and above the upper lip and be aware of each breath as it enters or leaves the nostrils.

At 11.00am lunch, as I was eating, I realized there’s no dinner in this schedule for meals. The last being tea time at 5pm and no meal till the next morning breakfast at 6.30am. What? 19 hours without meal?  How could I go through this? And we were having vegetarian meal, no meat and would get hungry easily!

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No dinner?

After lunch, we had till 1pm before the next meditation. More cleaning by meditators happened during these hours. I took a nap till the next bell went off at 1250pm (10 minutes notice). Good that my room was very near to the meditation hall.

The afternoon meditation was hard. With the hot weather, it was stuffy in the meditation hall. Fans were all on low speed to maintain the quietness in the meditation hall. Sweat was running down my cheek.

We had our first discussion with teacher. The discussion with teacher was on alternate day, for old and new students separately. The teacher asked us individually if we could feel sensation around nostril area and advise us accordingly.

During 5pm tea break, we were served with 2 types of fruits, one of which was banana. There were hot beverages too. For old students, they could only have lemon ice drink or tea without milk. That was it, our last food for the day.

After the short break, I had my shower before group meditation at 6pm. Again, I was perspiring in the hall. My spot in meditation hall was right in the middle of the hall with the highest pyramid roof. I could hardly get any wind from the high ceiling fans or fans from the side of the hall.

Meditation Hall

Meditation Hall

Discourse was at 8pm and this was my favorite of the daily program where we watched recorded video of S.N. Goenka, putting into perspective the experiences of that day and clarified various aspects of the technique. It helped us to understand what to do and why. For English session, it was held at mini hall and I could feel the air from the fans. Happiness.

After discourse, we had group meditation in the hall till 9pm. After wish, we went back to our room and rest while some stayed back to ask teacher questions in the hall.

So glad that I went through Day 1 … and it was only Day 1, another 9 more days to go.

Day 2 (19 Jun)

Half way through the early morning 4.30am meditation, in a quiet and peaceful hall, my stomach made hungry growling sound. I was hungry and couldn’t wait for breakfast at 6.30am and time moved so slowly.

Every breakfast, I loved the nice aroma of toasted bread smell. There was a server that toast bread for us. They also kept the plastic from breads for us to recycle and use for rubbish.

Plastic bag for recycle

Plastic bag for recycle

There were usually porridge, steam sweet potato, noodles, yogurt and fruits. There was a separate counter for hot beverages of milo, coffee, oats, English and Chinese teas and Marie and soda cracker biscuits. We used stainless steel mug for hot beverages. After having porridge for breakfast for consecutive 2 days, I was thinking of Coffee Bean’s Brek O Day breakfast and flat white with nice coffee art. The meditator sitting in front of me at dining hall was wearing t-shirt with printing “Gourmet cuisine” at the back of her t-shirt. Gourmet cuisine? And I was eating porridge for breakfast.

We were told to close our eyes during meditation and ensure our actions did not disturb anyone. We also should not be affected by distractions caused by others. I was having a continuous cough, maybe I’ve taken too much watermelon. Didn’t wish to disturb anyone, I walked out of the meditation hall, went back to my room, had a drink and continue meditated in my room. Not long thereafter, an assistant course manager knocked on my door, asked how I was and requested me to return to meditation hall for meditation.

Day 3 (20 Jun)

The upside of 4.30am early morning meditation in the meditation hall was the lovely birds chirping and singing sounds. There were like 3 groups of them, from the left side and right side of the meditation hall. Each group of birds took turn chirping in rhythmically order. It was so lovely. But this did not stop my stomach from growling again.

Quiet and calm

Quiet and calm

We continued with breathing sensation to develop some mastery over the mind by learning to fix attention on the natural reality of the ever changing flow of breath as it enters and leaves our nostrils.

During the 2nd discussion with teacher, our teacher asked us if our mind wandered away during meditation or if we could focus in meditating.

At the discourse, S.N. Goenka told us after 3 days of breathing sensation and vibration work, it was the end of preparation work. Serious work would start tomorrow and this worried me.

This has been my view every night before sleep. Looking at how the ceiling fan turns and lots of things came to my mind. I missed my family dinner on this day to celebrate parents’ birthday and Father’s Day.

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Lying on bed, looking at this view before sleep.

Day 4 (21 Jun) – Day of Vipassana

By this day, I got use to the meals hour and food and did not feel hungry in the early morning.

Serious work started today and there was a slight change to the daily timetable to cater to Vipassana program. By this fourth day, our mind was supposed to be calmer and more focused and better able to undertake the practice of Vipassana i.e. observing sensations throughout the body, understanding their nature and developing equanimity (Not wanting unpleasant sensation to cease. Not wanting pleasant sensation to continue) by learning not to react to them.

We were told to maintain our eyes closed, sit with back and neck straight and to move very slowly if need to adjust our sitting posture throughout the 1 hour meditation for each of the 3 sessions a day.

In the evening group meditation, we were told to move our attention systematically from head to feet and from feet to head, observing and feeling all the sensations of each and every part of the body and maintain our eyes closed and no movements to hands and legs throughout the 1 hour mediation. I managed to do this for the first time and at the end of the hour, there was a sense of achievement and satisfaction inside of me.

Day 5 (22 Jun)

By this day, my body just refused to wake up at 4.00 am and I did not make it to the meditation hall for the early morning meditation.

At the group meditation, suddenly tears came rolling down my cheek, first from the left eye, then from the right eye. And I was not supposed to move my hands. So, I just let them be. Strong Dhamma vibration approached me.

During the 9.30am discussion with teacher, she asked if we could maintain sitting still with no movement for the entire 1 hour meditation. I could most of the time except when flies landed on my arm and hoped around or when they flew through my chin. In addition, the dry and hot weather with fans on low speed to maintain quietness in the hall, we perspired easily and sweat ran down from head to cheek. I just told myself that moment is impermanent and equanimity i.e. not wanting unpleasant sensation to cease.

Day 6 (23 Jun)

Many said Day 2 and Day 6 are the hardest days to go through. For me, they were the same. However, Day 5 to Day 7 were the testing moments for me. Suddenly, I started to feel tired, body aching and feeling bored. I changed my routine from having shower at 4am to having shower after breakfast at 7am, I stopped going to meditation hall for the 4.30am session and I stopped taking hot water for shower.

The vegetarian food was really delicious. They used lots of ginger in their cooking. Really appreciate the varieties of food that they provided. Other than dishes, they served soup (ABC soup, lotus root, winter melon, etc) or Tong Soi (red beans, green beans, barley, sweet potatoes, etc.), boiled drink (ginger, lo hon kor, red dates, lemongrass, etc.) and at least 2 types of fruits everyday (dragon fruit, mango, papaya, watermelon, banana, apple, orange, pineapple, guava, etc.).

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Dining Hall with allocated seat

Day 7 (24 Jun)

There were only 3 places and things that we did on daily basis. We rested or did cleaning in our room, we meditated in the meditation hall and we dined at dining hall. Some would walk around the limited boundary of the site but the weather was just too hot for me to take any walk around. I washed my clothes on daily basis and mop the floor on alternate day. I needed something to do to kill time and a little of exercise.

On this day, I saw quite a number of meditators not just washing their clothes but their bags too. Probably too much time in hand. I wondered why my cousin asked me to bring enough clothing for 12 days and take as much rest as possible during break time. I usually took an hour nap between the 12pm to 1 pm lunch break. Luckily, I brought some face mask, eyes mask, hand mask, foot mask, hand and body lotion, cream, etc. Every night, before sleep, I would use one of the mask and finally, had some time for beauty regime that my beautician has been reminding me to do.

Day 8 (25 Jun)

3 more days to go!

Meditating in the room did not work for me. I either felt sleepy or lying on bed. As such, I went back to meditation hall for early morning and all of the meditation sessions.

And today, a few meditators washed their luggage bag! They must be either bored or excited that the course almost end and preparing to go home.

Day 9 (26 Jun)

During the discourse, S.N. Goenka explained why there were no charges for the courses, not even for lodging and food. This is to avoid egoness. When someone pays to attend the course, there will be expectation on the course, food or lodging.  According to the tradition of pure Vipassana, courses are run solely on a donation basis from people who, having completed a course and experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to also benefit others.

We were required to clean up our room before our departure for the next meditator. I washed the toilet and wiped windows and mosquito net on Day 9, leaving the balance of cleaning on Day 10.

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Clean up room before leave for coming students

Day 10 (27 Jun)

The final day.

The final day.

After Metta meditation for an hour, the noble silence ended at 10am. One of the meditator asked “We can talk now?” and there were lots of joy and happiness in meditators face. We started greeting and introduce each other. Other than the group from Shanghai, we had meditators came all the way from Korea, Taiwan, HK, Singapore, Philippines, Australia, Germany, etc. to attend this Vipassana Meditation. There were also servers, who were helpers on volunteer basis that came from overseas. They went around Dhamma centers in the world to be servers.

We collected our valuables at dining hall. I collected 2 books, signed up as server and made donation which can be by cash or credit card. Having stayed in Block K which was very near to meditation hall and convenient (I went back to room during 5 minutes break, no need to queue to use public toilet), I put in suggestion form to suggest to the center to allocate Block K to elderly student.

The Art of Living and Discourse Summaries

The Art of Living and Discourse Summaries

I had the last interview with teacher at 12pm. Asked her how to apply Vipassana meditation in real life.

At 1pm, we watched video on “Meditation of Young Minds” and “Hill of Dhamma”. There is a day course for kids and I intend to sign up Jared and Jaden for the course in November. In fact, Vipassana Meditation courses are also being taught in prisons.

We had group meditation at 2.30pm and followed by “Benefits of Dhamma Service”. Thereafter, we had meeting on Day 11 at Dining Hall. For the first time, there was lots of noise and the assistant course manager had to ask us to be silence in order to listen to the important announcement.

I could not sleep well on the last night at Dhamma Malaya.

Going Home (28 Jun) – I’m coming home, I’m coming home!

We had our last discourse for the course at 430am. By breakfast at 6.30am, we had our mobile phone back! Happiness!

Before adjourned home, we each volunteered to clean up public area. I chose book store, together with another 3 ladies. We re-arranged books, wiped book shelves, swept, mopped floor and threw away rubbish. There were a foot long lizard that came out from one of the old box of books. All of us jumped and screamed so loudly. I’m smiling now while typing this. Such a good memory.

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Before cleaning

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After cleaning

The shuttle bus left Dhamma Malaya at 9.30am. I survived and completed my very first meditation. It was far better than I expected. I felt rejuvenated, rested the body and exercise our mind. Lived healthily with nutritious vegetarian food in a quiet and calm environment. Vipassana meditation is a good course and experience, for inner discovery and peace, self-realization that just focus on ourselves. I had a good rest with no distraction from gadget, phone, etc. without having to worry about work and commitment at home, slept early by 10pm and woke up early at 4am. Dhamma Malaya in Kuantan was very well managed, with good facilities which were simple, basic and clean with low maintenance.

Vipassana meditation teaches me of no craving, no aversion and no ignorance. In every situation, the experience of that moment is impermanent, bound to pass away and we shall remain detached and equanimous.

My friends were more curious about how I survived not talking for so many days than the meditation course. They asked “Out from prison?”, “Can you still talk?” “Still know how to talk?” “What did you realize or find out about yourself which you did not know?”, “You only have 2 meals a day?”, “Did you fall asleep when meditate in your room?”, etc.

Don’t have too much an expectation and everything else will be upside.  I’ve inspired several to give it a try and experience themselves. If you decide to take your first step to enlightenment, I will suggest:

  1. Register early at its course schedule website. Choose dates, location (Kuantan, Johor or Penang. I heard Kuantan has the best facilities) and language (English/Tamil or English/Mandarin). Ensure those 12 days (8 working days) work for you. My cousin chose December and those 12 days were over Christmas, her birthday and new year celebration. The upsides are do not need to apply for so many days of leave but be prepared to have simple vegetarian food and no feast and parties over the festive period.
  2. Don’t bring valuables as rooms cannot be locked from outside. Their lockers are also not big enough to store big items or expensive designer handbag. I did not bring handbag but clutch.
  3. Don’t wear jewelry. You’ll be asked to take them out and stored by them.
  4. Be prepared for vegetarian food, which is simple, nutritious and delicious. No outside food allowed.
  5. If travel alone, recommended to take their chartered bus service from Sentral KL to Dhamma Malaya at Gambang Plantation, Kuantan at $70 for both ways as it will be a long walk from main road, over a plantation, to the center.
  6. Not necessary to go with family or friends. You can’t talk to each other anyway
  7. Take it day by day, one thing at a time. Don’t count down the number of days left. When feel bored or frustrated, just take a walk or sleep. It was my first encounter of “too much time. What to do?”
  8. Noble silence/Mental silence i.e. no talking to each other, no mobile phone – It sounded dramatic but since everyone can’t talk, it was quite easy to abide and get used to.
  9. Recommended to have interviews with teachers to ask questions, techniques and motivated. A chance to talk too 🙂
  10. Things to bring:
    • Clothing – Follow guidelines provided. No shorts, no sleeveless shirt or tank top allowed. Wear t-shirt (thin and comfortable), ankle length pants that are comfortable and loose to sit on floor cushion i.e. those yoga wear or pants sold in Bali. Some do not wear bra for comfort but use scarf over t-shirts.
    • Thin towel that dry easily
    • House slippers or sandals that dry quickly in case of rain or to be used in bathroom
    • Water bottle for drinking water and hot water (boiled ginger tea, lo hon kor, etc) to get from kitchen area. No water provided in room.
    • Bed sheet, pillow case and blanket were provided. Bring your own if you wish to feel at home.
    • Socks – I brought but did not use as the weather was so humid and hot then. No air-con in Dhamma Malaya.
    • Hair dryer – Did not bring but wish I brought.
    • Frequently asked items i.e. Scissor, nail clipper, etc.
    • Liquid laundry soap or detergent for own handwashing. Else, can obtain from dining hall
    • No toiletries provided. Bring own towel, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, unscented deodorant, shaving and sanitary supplies, etc. No scented perfumes or shaving lotions.
    • Umbrella – I brought but each rooms were provided during my stay there.
    • Flashlight and batteries – Can be quite dark in plantation but it was ok for me. I brought but did not use.
    • As the center is located in a plantation, there were quite a bit of insects. Bring unscented mosquito repellent or tiger balm. Rooms were installed with mosquito net but some still used mosquito net over their bed.

May all beings be happy!

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Path to enlightenment

All photos were taken before handed over of my lovely Lumia 640XL on registration day or after collection at Day 11.