Vipassana Retreat in Bali

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An article by Konchok Choedon, 13 July 2009

It never crosses my mind to do a meditation retreat in Bali, Indonesia. The island so rich in Hindu culture seems such an unlikely destination to do a vipassana meditation retreat. When ST sent me the link about this retreat organized by BMC, the pictures caught my eyes. The place looks so serene and with only 30 vacancies, a few of us decide to be kiasu and register early.

As the days slowly approach the departure date and information is still not quite forthcoming, I panic and keep bugging Ms Zhuang, the person in charge for more details and itinerary and what to expect, etc. After all, this is my first stay-in retreat! With some consolation that this is organized by a Buddhist organization (though I am not familiar with the center!) and the leading Venerable is someone familiar, I decided to quit worrying and to just go with the flow. Since the primary objective is to tame the mind and practice living in the present, the other considerations should be secondary.

So on 28 June 2009, 7 devotees together with Venerable Chuan Ren gathered at Changi Terminal 1 to begin our spiritual journey. We arrived in Denpasar late in the night and the journey from Denpasar to Lovina where Brahmavihara, the place where we going to stay, is about 2½ hrs journey by car. We seemed to travel for a long time uphill, downhill and up again along sharp winding road in darkness except for the headlights of the car before arriving at our destination. By the time we reached Brahmavihara, it was past midnight, and we quickly picked our rooms and settled in quickly to rest. What greeted me when I entered the room were ants, mosquitoes and spiders! Too tired to care, I quickly washed up and entered dreamland.

On the first day, we met 3 other participants; 1 Australian couple and 1 Indonesian lady at breakfast table. After breakfast, we had some leisure time where the Venerable showed us around the place. Brahmavihara is quite a huge monastery with plantation surrounding it. Just outside the apartments were mangoes and chiku trees! The formal retreat starts at 1pm, where we were told that we will observe 8-precepts during the retreat. The most onerous of the precepts to most perhaps is no meals past noon. I thought that wasn’t so tough because I don’t usually take dinner, to others the hunger may get quite unbearable. The sound of stomach churning was frequently heard in the meditation hall, mine included, so embarrassing! Other rules and regulations, like observing noble silence and not to engage in practices other than vipassana meditation, etc were not expressly told and I later learned that those are assumed knowledge for seasoned retreatants. Another of my brilliant excuse to claim ignorance for this retreat being my first! I have to confess I am well aware to observe noble silence but I caved in to my weak mind and did engage in idle talk.

The following 6 days were pretty routine:

05:30 – 06:15
06:15 – 08:00
08:00 – 11:00
11:00 – 13:00
13:00 – 17:00
17:00 – 19:00
19:00 – 21:15
21:15 – 21:30
Wake up bell
Walking and sitting meditation
Taking 8 precepts, walking and sitting meditation
Lunch break
Walking and sitting meditation
Walking and sitting meditation
Dedication payer

On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons, we had small group interview sessions with the Venerable where we were supposed to report our practice of sitting and walking meditation and also our daily activities. The interviews were really beneficial in clearing doubts and errors in practice.

On Wednesday and Friday evening, Venerable gave Dharma talks relevant to vipassana meditation.

The retreat ended on Sunday morning, followed by 3 days of sightseeing to some attractions in Lovina area, Mt Kintamani, Tanah Lot, etc. Having been to Bali before and not feeling top form towards the end of the retreat, I did not join the group on the second day of sightseeing but explored the monastery with Ah Swee instead and that was great fun too.

Our schedule was much more relaxed compared to an earlier retreat schedule at Brahmavihara where they start the day at 3:45am and end late in the night. Was really thankful mine was not so taxing. I felt it was Venerable’s skillful mean to allow beginner like myself to enjoy the meditation process and not bogged down by the procedures by fixing a more relaxed schedule and not enforcing the dos and don’ts strictly. However, I will try to stick to the rules for my next retreat as I learned they are there to support the practice.

We were also free to roam the monastery for ideal spots for our meditation practice. The hall where the statue of Bante Giri is, the resting point beside the big stupa and little huts outside the women’s quarters are my personal favorites.

To be honest, I hardly practise my meditation at home and even if I do, never last more than 15 mins. To my surprise, I was able to meditate longer during the retreat. Due credit must be given to the other retreatants, who are my constant source of motivation to push myself a little harder. The seven days of secluded bliss is really a refreshing break from the busy and noisy city life. I do find myself peaceful, calm and at ease. Would certainly go on another meditation retreat again!

Just a final note of thanks to Venerable Chuan Ren, BMC, Ms Zhuang and fellow retreatants for making this retreat possible and forbearing all my faults and errors.

» Click here to take a look at the photos from our Bali retreat.


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