Old Student Courses in Vipassana Tradition:
What they are and Why they are Helpful
After sitting and serving a number of 10-day courses, old students often wonder about the other courses in our tradition that are available for deepening their Vipassana practice.. In this tradition, we have long courses of varying lengths and the old student-only Satipatthana Sutta course is the gateway course to these longer courses.
A Satipatthana Sutta course is eight days long and focuses exclusively on the relevance of this important Sutta to the practice of Vipassana meditation. During this course, students are introduced in more detail to Pali words and concepts and work through the Sutta nightly with printed materials led by Goenkaji’s explanations and stories. This helps them deepen and apply this knowledge in the context of their own practice during the course. To be accepted for this course, students must have completed three 10-day courses and should be trying to maintain the five precepts in daily life. As a result, the atmosphere during the course is very serious since only experienced old students are attending.
For old students who are committed to their Vipassana practice and maintain the five precepts as a way of life, there are long courses of 20-days, 30-days, 45-days, and 60-days offered in many of the Vipassana Centers worldwide. Once a student has sufficient background with 10-day courses, they may apply for a longer course. This includes two years of unbroken daily practice two hours a day, five 10-day courses, one Satipatthana Sutta course, one 10-day course served and maintaining of the five precepts for at least a year. These requirements are important to ensure that students who attend long courses are experienced and confident enough in the practice to deal with the inevitable challenges a longer course brings.
For those students who do not have the time to attend the longer courses but meet the requirements to do so, there is an option of participating in the Special 10-day course. This course is as serious as a long course with much of the same discourse content and instructions, though in a more condensed format.
Students often ask if the instructions and discourses are different on the longer courses. During all courses regardless of length, the technique is always the same. Each course has one-third of the time spent on Anapana and two-thirds on Vipassana. So for example, a 20-day course has 7 days of Anapana and 13 days of Vipassana. A 60-day course has 20 days of Anapana and 40 days of Vipassana. However, a big difference on these courses is that students only receive meditation instructions once a day during the 6 to 7 PM group sittings. During the other group sittings, students may sit in the meditation hall or their cells and only a gentle gong lets them know when the hour is up.
Another important difference during a long course is the most obvious one, which is that there is a lot more time to practice. As Goenkaji often says in the 10-day discourses, “Continuity of practice is the secret of success.” On long courses, students have the opportunity to meditate seriously and continuously for longer periods of time with minimal distractions. Most students
find that an extended period of time to practice Anapana is very helpful in calming and concentrating the mind. During the extended Vipassana period, more habit patterns of the mind (sankharas) come up and students have more time to learn to work with them through observation of sensations. There is more time to deepen in the understanding of anicca, impermanence. There is more time to make mistakes, to learn from them and to grow in equanimity and insight as a result. In addition, meditating alongside so many others working just as seriously and intently provides a very quiet and motivating atmosphere.
While the instructions for old students are the same throughout our courses, the discourses on all old student courses are different from the 10-day courses. They are significantly shorter and the content is different. The material focuses on theoretical aspects that are relevant to deeper, more serious practice. In addition, Goenkaji focuses on ways to use the inspiration and appreciation of Dhamma and the technique to weather the difficulties that come up as a result of such deep practice. Students listen with eyes closed and are meditating and the hall is deeply quiet as a result except for the discourse.
For those students not quite ready to sit a long course but who are moving in that direction, another way to participate is to apply to serve during one. Requirements to serve long courses may vary according to the length of the course.
Here in California, the California Vipassana Center, Dhamma Mahāvana in North Fork has annual long courses of 20-days, 30-days and 45-days, and a Special 10-day course. All three California centers have Satipatthana Sutta Courses once or twice a year. For more information about sitting or serving an old student course please visit the scheduling pages of the centers:
Dhamma Manda: https://www.dhamma..org/en-US/schedules/schmanda
Dhamma Mahāvana: https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/schedules/schmahavana
Dhamma Vaddhana: https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/schedules/schvaddhana
For a worldwide list of all Long Courses: www.dhamma.org/en/os/LCtype..htm
If you have any suggestions to improve the hall or how to better support old students in the South Bay Area, please send an email to: [email protected]
South Bay Vipassana Hall Committee
Garrett Business Cente
3375 Scott Blvd. Suite 432
Santa Clara, CA 95054