Thursday, May 24, 2012

COURSE REVIEW: Vipassana Fellowship's 12-week meditation course

Moderator's viewpoint:  In April, I published this post announcing the Vipassana Fellowship's 12-week meditation course, in which I'm one of the enrolled participants. 
Logo grab from
I had nothing substantial to say about the course at the time of that April post, however, given that I had no experience with it.  But the internet being the dynamic machine that it is, what's happening now is that searchers looking for independent reviews of this course are accessing that original post I published (I can detect things like that from the blog statistics), which is not at all helpful to them due to the post's non-substantive nature. 

For this reason, even though we are only on "Day 25" of what will ultimately be approximately an 84-day course, I'm offering my viewpoints now regarding it.


(1) It can help supply a meditation framework.  Despite being a remotely-administered, non-classroom, non-retreat-based resource, the course actually can provide an additional dimension to personal meditation practice.  If you are a novice meditator (or more advanced) and are sitting on the cushion every day anyway, layering in an additional resource like this can impose a framework of discipline that may be challenging to achieve purely by solo effort.   A big percentage of Western convert Buddhists learn much of their practice by reading books, and in fact, there are some excellent purely-Vipassana (insight meditation) resources out there for this purpose, especially "Mindfulness In Plain English" which is available commercially in hard copy and for free PDF download at sites such as this one.
Photo of Bhante G., author of "Mindfulness In Plain English" from the Bhavana Society webpages.  Reportedly, "Mindfulness" has sold over a quarter million copies.  Well-known American Buddhist author and clinician Jon Kabat-Zinn called it "a masterpiece". 
However, natural limitations may arise with respect to a meditation learning trajectory that relies largely on the literature.  Let me explain using analogies.  Do you remember taking science courses in high school and how they were divided between lecture time and lab time?  Procedures may have seemed very clear to you when explained in the classroom lectures, but when it came time to actually place your hands on the laboratory apparatus and start manipulating it as instructed, did you hesitate unexpectedly and say to yourself, "Wait a minute - I'm supposed to do what, now?  I'm not as clear about this as I thought I was."  Suddenly the theoretical concepts that seemed so self-evident to you in the lecture were a bit more difficult to tackle once you had to deal with them on a purely-practical level. 

And I need not use a scientific analogy for this - while in school I often experienced the same phenomenon in art classes:  "OK, we've studied the Impressionists, and now it's time for me to take my place in the studio and actually produce a work that is consistent with Impressionistic techniques."  Despite having sat through a clear lecture, I would proceed to stare at a blank canvas, unsure of how to actually get the effort underway.

The Vipassana 12-week course can effectively turn your cushion time into that laboratory or that art studio.  It breaks the exercises down into manageable bites that can be successively tackled, in the style of: "First you pick up the paintbrush, and then you dip it in the paint..."
V is for Vipassana meditation??
Microsoft royalty-free clip-art.
(2) It's "do-able" by participants with "real lives".  Following the daily directions and readings does not take an inordinate amount of time each day (30 to 45 minutes minimum, including and assuming you are meditating for at least 20 minutes each day).  People with jobs and families can manage it.  At one point, I fell behind a few days due to personal commitments interfering with my time.  I felt I was able to add extra meditation sessions and re-read the daily material and cover my gap sufficiently well. 

(3) It's extremely helpful to hear the instructor's description of personal hurdles.  It turns out that the instructor has faced one of the same personal obstacles to practice as I myself have found.  Reading his logical descriptions of how he dealt with that provided me with a perspective that I have not yet encountered in any book.


(1) Participants must be highly self-motivated.  This is true of every on-line learning venue, whether its a meditation course or a Defensive Driving course - you have to step up to the plate and discipline yourself to actually follow through with the exercises.  Otherwise you'll just be receiving lecture material without the added dimension of practical training.  If you don't perceive yourself as having sufficient self-motivation at this point, it may be wise to avoid potential discouragement and instead seek a more directly-guided, in-person instructional venue. 

(2) Those who are completely new to meditation may wish to first investigate some of the literature.  If you don't have existing familiarity with basic meditation concepts and theory, you may wish to review a bit of the literature prior to enrolling, or else you may feel a bit intimidated by the new information being supplied at a rapid daily pace.  The Bhante G. book referenced above is a good foundational resource, and it's potentially available for your immediate use via the free PDF download (if the link above expires, simply Google for it and find another active PDF source).

I hope these viewpoints help you understand this online course!  Thanks for reading, and please contact me via southhoustonsangha - at - gmail if you have any questions.
Question grab from the homepage.  Additional answers to common questions are published at this URL:

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