May 1-5, 2018
Storming out of Dhamma Janani on the 4th Day
Location: Dhamma Janani Vipassana Center, Lumbini (city), Nepal
No. of Students: 32m/18f
I thought it was such an auspicious opportunity serving at a Vipassana center where the Buddha was born - Lumbini. Of course it was, but I was in for a shock in what was to take place.
Vipassana where Buddha was Born
I initially thought about serving Vipassana while I was in Pokhara but timelines were tight and it was unlikely I could cross the India border before my visa expired. Luckily, the same schedule was offered in Lumbini, just a stone's throw from the India border. I applied to serve and was accepted. I was happy to be serving at Vipassana in Buddha's birthplace.
Getting to Lumbini from Pokhara was painless. There was a direct bus that took me from the Pokhara Tourist Bus Park all the way to Gate 4 in Lumbini where I only walked 10 minutes to the center. The route from Pokhara was a mountain road full of turns, twists and views as the bus meandered through the zig-zag road. We passed through mountain towns and small mountain cities that looked interesting, but necessarily in the travel books.
Upon reaching the site, I noticed that a lot of monasteries/temples of different faiths were clustered within an earshot of the Dhamma Janani - Myanmar Golden Temple, Gautami Nuns Temple, Sri Lanka Temple, Golden Temple, Cambodia Lumbini Buddhist Temple, etc. In the ensuing days, our meditation would be distracted from what sounded like the Islamic call to prayer and Buddhist chants on their public address system. I guess it's no different from our sounding the bell as early as 4am to wake up the meditators. In this congested piece of limited space, a little give and take is necessary for harmony.
The center itself is small and unkept. At the outset, it was obvious it needed some general cleaning and maintenance. Some infrastructure were abandoned as a result of the 2015 earthquake.
As a Server
The whole group - teacher, course manager, servers and staff were all Nepali who already knew each other. They've done some work together in the past. They would talk in Nepali. Their English was rudimentary at best. They could hardly understand me and I could hardly understand them. It usually never happens, but I was out of place in that gamut.
The Curt Course Manager
On the 9 occasions I've sat and served 10 full days (Philippines, Malaysia and Cambodia), the general atmosphere is always one of harmony - everyone there for the sole purpose of giving Dhamma. You could feel it.
Here at Dhamma Janani, it felt different, largely due to the course manager. He carries on like he's now doing a job he no longer enjoys but somehow compelled to continue doing. He's an angry man who's angry at himself and angry at the world around him - he was simply a very wrong choice for the job. The first look he gave me was that of contempt - on my arrival before I even uttered a word! His first words to me were curt and hostile. He would continue to talk to me in a curt way expecting me to fill-in the blanks by reading his mind. He had a smug look to his ever-so-serious face. When he talks, he talks down to people like a Gestapo interrogating suspects in a police line-up. There was nothing pleasant about this guy. My gut feel already told me this was going to be a problem. I didn't let it get in the way. I was there to give Dhamma to those who chose to take the path - I didn't want to make it about him. But with every passing day, he became more overbearing. It was a struggle for me to dismiss his abrasiveness in order for me to have a pleasant demeanor in dealing with the meditators.
Forced Meditation in the Dhamma Hall
The practice as taught by Goenka, is to meditate as a group 3x/day for 3 hours total - everybody needs to be in the Dhamma Hall. However, on the other 7.5 hours, participants have the option to meditate in their own rooms. That's how it is taught and that's the way I've always experienced it - until now.
As a server, I was made to ensure everyone was inside the Dhamma Hall for all the sits - not just the group sits. I rang the main bell, but also had to go to their individual rooms, ring a smaller bell and knock on their doors to make them go to the meditation hall for the entire 10.5 hours we were to meditate. I felt it was wrong and not in line with the practice instituted by Goenka. One student complained - I understood him but held my piece. I talked to the teacher about it and was asked to tell the student to talk to the teacher instead.
I was given a room with a foul stench on the toilet. My windows were covered with dust that have accumulated for years - a strong wind could blow the dust all over my room. The extra mattress I requested was also dusty, I could smell the dust as I was putting it in place.
I understand that it's the meditator's role to keep the room clean and tidy. Yes, but only as a matter of maintenance. But this room needed a serious general cleaning. It's not part of the practice to make students live in such environment, let alone expect them to do cleaning at this dirty level. Still, I am not quick to complain, but I had serious misgivings at how the place was kept. In fairness though, I stayed in one room previous to the current one and that room wasn't so bad.
The Banana Incident
After another curt reply to me by the course manager, I decided to talk to the teacher and say my goodbye. It made no sense for me to stay if I will remain agitated. But before I could do that, the banana incident happened which expedited my leaving. A student suffering from stomach issues asked for a banana. Bananas were not on the menu then and the only bananas left were for the servers (us!). I gave him the banana - for good reasons:
- the servers wouldn't eat until 30 minutes later - there was ample time to replace the banana, whereas the student was already having his meal. Why make him wait? The course manager wasn't there and he had the key to the storage room where the bananas were kept.
- the priority of the course was the meditators - not the servers! Even if that was the last banana, it should still go to the meditator. The servers can eat whatever food is still available.
When the course manager came back and saw me give the banana to the meditator, he just angrily lashed at me as though I killed his cat. That's when I've had enough. We repressingly yelled at each other, hoping none of the dining meditators who were right in front of us would notice. I was so infuriated I wanted to punch him in the face. Unable to contain myself, I stormed out of the dining hall and went to the teacher to tell him what happened and to say my goodbye.
Talk with the Teacher
I talked to the teacher to tell him the 2 major problems I had which are more than enough for my leaving.
- course manager - when he asked my advice, I said I don't feel hatred for the manager (I was convincing myself to rise above the hate), but he has to leave that job because his being there is injurious to the Dhamma welfare of all the students and servers. That he should take time off, travel and find himself and even sign-up as a regular server (and not as some big-shot course manager) and rediscover what Vipassana is all about.
- militant Vipassana - it wasn't only about the course manager I had a problem with but also with the way the teacher was conducting his own version of Vipassana.
me: why are students forced to meditate in the Dhamma Hall when they have the option to meditate in their rooms?
teacher: they will end up sleeping
me: of course some of them end up sleeping! Goenka knew that, you know that, I know that and the students themselves know that. If Goenka didn't want that to happen, then he would have just mandated forced meditation in the Dhamma Hall. But he didn't do that. Why? Because not everyone can meditate for 10.5 hours/day. I've seen the students struggle specially during the midday - they get fidgety, restless, moving a lot, looking behind at the clock....and they keep doing this the entire 2 hours they are in the Dhamma Hall - they are not able to meditate at all. It is totally unproductive. It would bring more benefit if the mind is given some slack to recharge for the next meditation - even if it means they get some sleep. That is the wisdom I find in allowing them to meditate inside their rooms - it was a gray area that was designed to be gray.
teacher: once they are inside the Dhamma Hall, they can always go out to stretch before they come back
me: if that is the intention, make that clear at the outset. It is wrong to tell them they can meditate inside their rooms and then force them to the Dhamma Hall. As a server, I have to comply with your mandate when I am strongly against it. I am not saying I'm right. I'm just saying I disagree with your methods.
After our talk, he persuaded me to take my breakfast and meditate before I decide to leave. I granted him that. After, he persuaded me to stay...to first meditate without doing any kind of serving...to meditate as long as I needed to...but to stay. The assistant course manager, who was the only one I felt a kinship to, also persuaded me to stay. But at that point, I could no longer find motivation to extend my stay.
Was I disrespectful to the teacher? I certainly hope not - that was never my intention. But it is within Vipassana to question things that don't make sense - Cinta-maya panna! As Goenka himself said, even Buddha's words are to be questioned if they don't make sense. They are just Sutta-maya panna - his truth and not necessarily yours. Vipassana has no room for blind obedience. And that is one of Vipassana's most endearing feature - it doesn't insult my intelligence.
Tom, the Meditator who Cried Foul
After leaving the center, I had nowhere else to go, so I stayed in Lumbini. I thought about 2 meditators - the one who complained about being forced into the Dhamma Hall and the one who felt bad for me about giving him the banana, resulting in my abrupt departure.
The following day, as I was looking over from my guesthouse balcony, I thought I saw the guy who complained, having coffee in a restaurant. Shouldn't he be in the center meditating with the others? I went down to ascertain. Sure enough, it was him. Apparently, that morning, everyone was forced again to meditate in the Dhamma Hall. Again, he expressed his desire to meditate inside his room. It became a stand-off until he was advised to leave. And he did.
During my lengthy talk with him, he expressed being subjugated by an authoritarian dictatorship, not unlike a military bootcamp. Like me, he felt there was something wrong with the energy of the place from day 1. Like me, he was pushed to the tipping point where leaving was the logical choice.
I'm glad we met. It was his first Vipassana and I didn't want him to think Vipassana is that unforgiving. I explained to him my transformation from the practice with other centers. I urged him to continue his practice with other centers, assuring him it would be unlike this one. We became friends in the process.
I have many thoughts running inside my head over what happened.
- As for Tom, I feel that he will be part of my future at some point. It's just uncanny that I spoke to him upon my leaving, thought about him while I was in Lumbini and actually saw him again. We felt exactly the same way about what was happening, and we both took the same course of action, only to meet again. How cool is that?
Now, with Dhamma Janani behind me, I simply have to be mindful at what the next challenge is. My heart is still in the right place, my mind is not clouded and I'm ready for the next chapter.
YOGA by Gigit | Learn English | Travel like a Nomad | Donation Bank
Reader Comments:Anne Adona
(May 16, 2018) That was a very interesting read, Gigit. Thank you for sharing your experience in Lumbini. Don't they replace course managers there? It sounds as if he is the only one who does the job in every course. By the way, during my first Vipassana Meditation, I was a reluctant meditator. I spent the 7.5 personal meditation hours just lying lazily in my room. The course manager put Post-Its on our beds saying "Please meditate."
(May 16, 2018) Yes, I am likely to think he is the default course manager in Lumbini. I think every first timer does the same thing.....do the sit during group sits and sleep the rest of the time - I did. But now, I hurdle the entire 10.5 hours in the Dhamma Hall. With continued practice, it gets easier.
(May 7, 2018) Sometimes in life we meet lightful beings. If we are lucky or if it's just destiny. Just recently I met one special man who embodies so many good and noble qualities of mind and heart. The way you live and act is truly inspirational for me and I am touched deeply of how you stand in the service of Dhamma. I am sure our ways will cross again. Love
(May 8, 2018) ...as I am blessed by our meeting. Your heart and integrity are in the right place. The Dhamma resides within you. 🙏 🙏 🙏
Jessie Villabona Severino
(May 7, 2018) Found this post very relevant to the case in point, Gigit.
"Every server should avoid constant talking and avoid gathering together like having a party! Servers needs to strictly observe Noble Speech by avoiding idle talks, gossip and minimize talking. The course manager and the assistant course managershould be a great role model of good discipline and humility. When servers have good discipline and humility and true heart to serve, it creates good vibration throughout the course. There are many layers of serving. Most people who served a long time sometimes come with baggage the "i know everything" and "i am senior here and had served a long time", then the big ego comes in saying "i am the best server". These are the people or so called servers that have the biggest ego and the wrong volition in their mind!!! It happens everywhere specially when people are allowed to mix, get together and chat."
(May 7, 2018) I agree with those words, Jessie, but what happened there was not about unnecessary talking - there was none of that. I also don't think there was as much ego on the course manager as there was deep-seated anger. As for my ego, I was mindful but of course it remains a blind spot - this is something other people will more readily see than me.
Natasha The Moon
(May 7, 2018) It all sounds so non-Nepali way. I'm really surprised to read it and I hope it didn't spoil your experience with Nepalese 🙂 🙏 In fact, to experience true Nepalese hospitality you should go to the mountain villages
(May 7, 2018) no, not at all. The course manager's behavior does not cloud my judgement about Nepali people. I find Nepali people gentle with a calm demeanor (despite being fierce warriors against the British colonizers - Gurkha War)
(May 6, 2018) I am still astonished how they pervert Dhamma. It's also funny somehow....
(May 6, 2018) ha-ha, perhaps funny is the more wholesome way to look at it :)
Yogini Vipassana Meditator
(May 6, 2018) WOW! What an experience! Good on you for doing what you did. The 4 days definitely served its purpose. You got your point across, which i hope would enlighten the people involved, and you helped a new meditator too along the way. I agree with everything you've said. Vipassana isnt about passivity. It's not aggressive as well. Thank you for sharing. Enjoy your travels and much Metta to you ❤
(May 6, 2018) it was unpleasant, but at the end of the day, it was a good learning experience with possible positive changes that may come out of it ❤
(May 6, 2018) I feel we just need to observe and leave. Is there any good reason to argue wih all the people? just loosing your energy.. and more than trying to make the things right, i would say observe, leave if you dont feel good and talk to the World Vipassana Comission, they will know if it is alright or not. We are not the ones who could bring the storm in a center even if the storm is already inside... if we do it, we look ego-centric while action is the right action instead of reaction
(May 6, 2018) I have compelling reasons to do what I did. If I am wrong, then I am wrong. I will live with the consequences.
(May 6, 2018) sorry to hear that it was not a pleasant experience for you, but it seems you have the wisdom to derive what is good about this episode. And as a friend who does not follow your path, i am glad you stood up for yourself (though it is probable that you don't define it this way)
(May 6, 2018) he-he, more like simply acknowledging the elephant in the living room
(May 6, 2018) Metta, Gigit! It was a good thing you spoke up.
(May 6, 2018) Metta from here!
(May 6, 2018) Just a good lesson, brother, metta ❤
Next stop: Exploring Lumbini - Buddha's Birthplace
How to get to Dhamma Janani (Lumbini) from Pokhara
- from Pokhara, there is a straight bus that leaves from the Tourist Bus Park (NPR 800, departs 6-8:30am, 8 hours). It will drop you off in front of Gate 4 of Lumbini (just tell the driver). From the gate, it's a 10-min walk to the center.
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 1 (sitter): The Beginning Apr 1-12, 2009
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 2 (server): Enlightenment, Anyone? Oct 21 - Nov 1, 2009
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 3 (sitter): Forgiveness Mar 24 - Apr 4, 2010
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 4 (sitter): Getting Established in the Technique Apr 25 - May 6, 2012
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 5 (sitter): Seeing the Bigger Picture Aug. 20-31, 2014
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 6 (server): Serving at Battambang, Cambodia Sep 17-28, 2014
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 7 (server): Vipassana as an Art of Living May 5-17, 2015
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 8 (sitter): Satipatthana Sutta Vipassana Mar 16-25, 2018
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 9 (server): Storming out of Dhamma Janani on the 4th Day May 1-5, 2018
- 20 Days of Monastic Life at Wat Pa Tam Wua...Goodbye and Thank You Dec 12, 2018 - Jan 1, 2019
- Vipassana Official Website (Goenka Tradition)
- Vipassana Official Website (Forest Monastery Tradition)
Travel Tips for Lumbini
- coming from Pokhara, Lumbini is an 8-hr bus ride, NPR 800
- ideal time frame for Lumbini is an overnight stay. You don't need more than a day to see the attractions. After that, there isn't much else to see or do
- Lumbini's highlight are the temples, pagodas and monasteries within the Lumbini Development Zone, a rectangular area that spans about 5.7 kms walk from the northern-most attraction to the southern-most. Best to rent a bicycle at NPR 150/day (negotiable depending on season). It is not dusty inside this rectangular area.
- Lumbini, like Kathmandu, is dusty - use a mask
- Lumbini has a hot and humid climate
- Lumbini has a Vipassana center, Dhamma Janani
- Lumbini, aside from being the birthplace of Buddha, really has nothing much else to offer other than the pagodas
- travelers taking the bus from Pokhara can be dropped off at the main tourist area in Gate 5
- Lumbini is a 1-street dusty town, opposite Gate 5
- food and lodging in Lumbini are cheap like Pokhara
Travel Tips for Nepal
- tourist visa up to 15 days = $25, up to 30 days = $40, up to 90 days = $100, transit = $5, and they will accept currencies from 18 countries
- best to register for a tourist visa online (http://online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/tourist-visa). This saves you time, trouble and the hassle of bringing in a picture with you. You get the approved form printed and just show it to the Immigration guys in Kathmandu
- NPR (Nepalese Rupee) 100 = US$1
- nearly every food served is spicy...there is no escaping it
Nepal Blogs by TheLoneRider
- Visiting Boudhanath, Nepal's Largest Stupa Apr 19, 2018
- Vinyasa Yoga with Dipendra at the Mandala Yoga Studio and Spa, Kathmandu Apr 18, 2018
- Hatha Yoga with Madhab Prasad Dhakal at Sawar Yoga Studio, Kathmandu Apr 17, 2018
- Fitness in Kathmandu Apr 15, 2018
- 7 Days In Kathmandu April 13-20, 2018
- The 18-Hour Trip from Kuantan, Malaysia to Kathmandu, Nepal April 12-13, 2018
- India Visa Snag May 9, 2018
- Exploring Lumbini - Buddha's Birthplace May 5, 2018
- Storming out of Dhamma Janani on the 4th Day May 1-5, 2018
- Visiting Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave, Pokhara Apr 26, 2018
- Exploring Devi's Falls, Pokhara Apr 26, 2018
- Trekking to the World Peace Pagoda Apr 26, 2018
- Exploring Pokhara, Nepal Apr 20, 2018
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