Location: Camps are located away from the hubbub of cities, in peaceful sylvan locations. Camps are accessible by road and never in wilderness.
Food: Vegetarian food is served thrice a day. Breakfast is from 6:30 to 8:00. Lunch is from 11:00 to 12:00. Fruits and tea are served from 5:00 to 6:00. Students who have completed one 10-day course in the past are deemed 'old students'. They may not eat fruit or milk-based drinks after noon. The food is Sattvic. So people accustomed to spicy, oily, salty and sugary diets would find this change refreshing. The human body adjusts remarkably quickly to two meals a day. Since camp participants sit and meditate almost all the time instead of doing rigorous physical activities, less daily caloric intake suffices.
Accommodation: Residential quarters are provided for all students. Rooms might be shared by two or more persons. Some locations allow participants to get their own tents. There is always a building with either individual cells for meditators or a large hall for group meditation.
Couples: Many couples attend the 10-day camp. However, men and women stay separately throughout the course, in their own quarters.
Cost: The camp is free for participants, run by volunteers with charitable contributions from former students. Only those who have finished a 10-day course may donate. The idea is to donate for the benefit of others instead of paying for services rendered to you. So participants are encouraged to donate only if they believe that learning the technique would benefit others. Donation to pay for one's lodging and food, the way one pays at restaurants and hotels, is discouraged.
Teachers: S N Goenka himself teaches only at a few locations. The worldwide centers have "assistant teachers" chosen by S N Goenka. These teachers answer technique-related questions during Q&A hours every day. The actual instructions for meditation and the daily instructions are given through video tapes recorded in S N Goenka's own voice.
Five Precepts and Silence: Participants must observe five precepts: no killing, no lying, no stealing, no sexual misconduct and no intoxication. Silence is maintained for nine days, except for talking to course management or asking questions to assistant teachers. An important reason for maintaining silence is to follow the precept of 'no lying'. On the tenth day, participants may start talking to each other.
Daily Schedule: The daily schedule is daunting! However, only four hours of "Group meditation in the hall" and one hour of "Teacher's discourse in the hall" are mandatory. If you do not show up during these hours, volunteers shall request you to go to the meditation hall. The rest of the day allows for flexibility. For example, not everybody wakes up at 4:00 am because it is not mandatory. Moreover, during the hours of "Meditate in the hall or in your room", some people do not meditate at all — this is not recommended but nobody keeps a watch over you.
| 4:00 am|| Morning wake-up bell|
| 4:30-6:30 am|| Meditate in the hall or in your room|
| 6:30-8:00 am|| Breakfast break|
| 8:00-9:00 am|| Group meditation in the hall|
| 9:00-11:00 am || Meditate in the hall or in your room|
| 11:00-12:00 noon|| Lunch break|
| 12noon-1:00 pm|| Rest and interviews with the teacher|
| 1:00-2:30 pm|| Meditate in the hall or in your room|
| 2:30-3:30 pm|| Group meditation in the hall|
| 3:30-5:00 pm|| Meditate in the hall or in your room|
| 5:00-6:00 pm|| Tea break|
| 6:00-7:00 pm|| Group meditation in the hall|
| 7:00-8:15 pm|| Teacher's Discourse in the hall|
| 8:15-9:00 pm|| Group meditation in the hall|
| 9:00-9:30 pm|| Question time in the hall|
| 9:30 pm|| Retire to your own room--Lights out|
For further details, check out Code of Discipline for the 10-day camp. Questions and Answers provides more information.
Meditation techniques: In Buddhism, progress is made by developing sīla (morality), samādhi (one-pointedness) and paññā (wisdom / insight). Understanding what these words mean, how these are inter-connected and how one develops these three qualities in oneself through meditation is a fascinating exercise! Parts II and III of this article provide an overview of these concepts.
During the 10-day course, students learn three different meditation techniques. The first technique, breath meditation, is for developing samādhi (one-pointedness). Students make progress in breath meditation for three days. On the fourth day, the second technique, vipassanā meditation is taught. The goal of vipassanā meditation is to acquire paññā (wisdom / insight). From the fourth day onwards, vipassanā is developed through a series of steps. On the tenth day, the third technique, mettā-bhāvanā (cultivation of loving kindness) is taught. Parts II and III of this article describe these meditation techniques as taught in the 10-day course.
Concern: The format of the 10-day course is fixed for all students; there is no flexibility. My concern is that different students would make progress at different rates. So perhaps, the second step, vipassanā meditation, should be introduced later for some students, when their minds have become sufficiently concentrated and sharp. I wonder if this is the style adopted at monasteries where students stay for months to learn meditation techniques. Also, with 40 to 50 students per assistant teacher, individualized attention is lacking during the 10-day courses. So I feel that the camp is likely to be more beneficial to those who are independent by nature and can work by themselves with little guidance.
Daily Discourses: S N Goenka gives an hour-long discourse every evening from 7:00 to 8:15. These discourses are technique-oriented, they provide ancillary guidelines, answers to frequently asked questions and pitfalls to avoid during meditation. These also describe the philosophy underlying the techniques being taught and how meditation affects you. The discourses are actually fun because S N Goenka makes people laugh many times through stories and anecdotes.
The daily discourses given during the 10-day course may be purchased in book / CD or DVD format at http://www.pariyatti.org. The CDs / DVDs should appeal to a broad audience. The book by S N Goenka is very good. However, it is likely to be of value only to those who have completed a 10-day course. I found the book by William Hart too verbose and discursive. I did not gain much by reading it.
Personal experience: I was able to follow all discourses except the one that covered difficult aspects of Buddhist philosophy: The Five Aggregates and Dependent Origination (the wikipedia article is too dense; the discourse by S N Goenka is much simpler). This particular discourse used too many concepts, and it was not clear as to how one would verify all these concepts through personal experience -- over time, by practicing meditation, perhaps?