Northern Thai Vipassana
I completed a Vipassana course of the Northern Thai Style at Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai in 2014 and had many questions that went unanswered until recently completing another full Vipassana course at the Chom Tong Insight Meditation Center near Chiang Mai. I realized how not having the answers to these questions hindered my practice, so I composed this article as a resource to Vipassana practicers who have questions after completing their course. While these questions are specific and words of wisdom to the Northern Thai Style which is practiced throughout the world (perhaps under different names), some of these questions and answers may be applicable to other Vipassana styles such as Goenka.
Frequently Asked Questions – After a Vipassana Retreat
Scroll down for the answers.
- What should I recommend to someone who doesn’t want to go on a Vipassana retreat but is interested in doing a daily meditation practice?
- If I go a while without meditating and want to start again, where should I start in the technique?
- Can I do the touching points anywhere, anytime, such as sitting on a plane or waiting in a line?
- Should I practice in my own language or another?
- When should I practice? And for how long?
- How many minutes should I meditate for after the retreat?
- When you feel a negative sensation or emotion, does that neutralize your bad karma?
- If someone is around you and their energy makes you feel negatively, does that make your karma negative?
- Do most monks reach Enlightenment?
- Should I note my movements as I’m doing something like talking, dancing, or having sex?
- I’m twitching often in the sitting meditation. Is twitching releasing suppressed energy?
- Should I still eat only 2 meals per day, talk less, and sleep less?
- Is it okay to sing the notes?
- What are the touching points for Northern Thai Vipassana Sitting Meditation?
1. What should I recommend to someone who doesn’t want to go on a Vipassana retreat but is interested in doing a daily meditation practice?
Practice mindfulness – noting “right left right left” as they walk, “lifting biting chewing swallowing” as they eat, etc. Anything can be done mindfully. Remember that is important to not be too concentrated (which could waste a lot of energy) nor too loose (which could result in low mindfulness) – as with everything, practice mindfulness in the middle way.
As for the actual meditation technique, do a walking and sitting meditation. Walking first, then sitting. Always do them both for the same length of time. Start small, maybe 10 or 15 minutes each and extend as you are ready, but no need to extend over an hour for each. For the walking, note ” lifting moving putting” for the walking and “rising falling sitting” for sitting. Make sure your mental notes are very synchronized with the movement. You should begin to say the word as the action begins and finish the word as the action ends. Whenever there is a distraction, and there will be many, note it 3 times “seeing seeing seeing,” “thinking thinking thinking,” “anxiety anxiety anxiety,” “liking liking liking,” “feeling feeling feeling,” etc. There are countless different notes but the important thing is to note what the mind is doing, not the object of the mind. Through this we will see that often as we note things, they soon disappear even though they may again reappear. This reminds us that everything, absolutely everything, is impermanent. Truly understanding impermanence is a vital step to fostering an equanimous mind.
Also encourage them to be open to their feelings as they come, to note them, and not to attach to them or avoid them. Just welcome them and let them leave when they are ready. If someone catches themselves having a reaction to the feeling, also note either “liking liking liking,” “disliking disliking disliking,” or “neutral neutral neutral.” Our liking, disliking, and neutrality is also impermanent.
2. If I go a while without meditating and want to start again, where should I start in the technique?
Go as far as you were when you left. No need to start from the first steps and build up again. Although there is no harm in doing so if you want to. If you forgot the points and they were part of the technique you learned, see Question 14 below.
3. Can I do the touching points anywhere, anytime, such as sitting on a plane or waiting in a line?
When sitting for a while, like on public transit, go ahead. While you are standing in a queue, you could, but maybe just acknowledge “standing” and/or “waiting” or “rising” and “falling” with your breath.
4. Should I practice in my own language or another?
Whatever is more natural. Don’t use your practice as a way to learn or practice a language this – this will require too much energy and will be a hinderance to your meditation practice.
5. When should I practice? And for how long?
Ideally upon waking and before sleeping, but if that’s not possible anytime is fine. If you can only meditate once a day, there is no preference if it is in the morning or evening.
6. How many minutes should I meditate for after the retreat?
As long as you want. It can change day to day. Don’t force it, but once you choose a time, stick to it. Try not to stop a round early.
7. When you feel a negative sensation or emotion, does that neutralize your bad karma?
Yes, as long as you acknowledge it and don’t resist it or suppress it.
8. If someone is around you and their energy makes you feel negatively, does that make your karma negative?
Only if you suppress or avoid that feeling.That is why it is important to acknowledge it and let it exist. Your tension against an emotion is the creation of bad karma. If you just feel it and acknowledge the feeling, it will just pass through you rather than sticking to you. Also acknowledge if there is disliking of it but don’t attach to either the emotion or the disliking and if you find yourself thinking about it afterwards, note “thinking thinking thinking,” and focus on your walking “right left right left” or your breathing “rising falling.”
9. Do most monks reach Enlightenment?
If they did, they wouldn’t tell you.
10. Should I note my movements as I’m doing something like talking, dancing, or having sex?
No, perhaps note the intention to do these things beforehand and if a note comes, let it. But don’t force it when your mind needs to focus on something else. Mindfulness is also impermanent.
11. I’m twitching often in the sitting meditation. Is twitching releasing suppressed energy?
Yes, note it and let it happen but don’t invoke it as that is too controlling. There is no need to fear it but if fear does come, just note “fear fear fear,” let it be, and return to the breath.
12. Should I still eat only 2 meals per day, talk less, and sleep less?
Not necessarily. Just be mindful of what your body needs and accommodate it. Try to make decisions from love rather than fear or greed. But if you do, just note what you are experiencing. If you feel the desire to eat more even if when you aren’t hungry, note “desire to eat”. If you do eat, note the “eating” or chewing swallowing. If you are doing something out of compulsion, continue t0 note and if you start to judge or criticize yourself, note “judging,” “criticizing”. When you observe rather than trying to fight or control, your actions slowly but surely start to improve.
13. Is it okay to sing the notes?
Don’t try to as this could distract from your practice. Note “desire to sing” and “singing.” Try lightly to bring yourself to note without singing – maybe go a bit slower to break the rhythm. And note if you are doing the steps in a dancing way as “dancing dancing dancing.” But too much control can also be a hinderance so don’t fight, just guide.
14. What are the touching points for Northern Thai Vipassana Sitting Meditation?
DISCLAIMER: Ignore this question if you haven’t heard of touching points before. Otherwise this will confuse your practice. Also, if you read this before going on a retreat DO NOT skip ahead in the points. Only do the points your instructor has assigned you day to day.
One of the biggest obstacles for me to start my meditation practice back up after loosing it was that I forgot where the touching points were. It would have been helpful to know that I did not need to know all of them and that I did not need to go through the whole series. The main point of the points is to give the mind something to return to, not to acquire any super powers or anything like that. The points serve as a way to anchor the mind to the body.
Here are photos of where the points are:
Here is the order that the points go (always start on the right, then do the left, unless otherwise noted as in the case of points 19, 22, 25, and 28)
1 + 2: Lower back (so lower back right, then lower back left)
3 + 4: Sit bones (where the hip touch the floor)
5 + 6: Under the knees
7 + 8: Outer ankles
9 + 10: Top of feet
11 + 12: Top of knee
13 + 14: Top of mid-thigh
15 + 16: Mid-groin – where leg meets torso
17 + 20: Mid-groin – where leg meets torso
18 + 21: Near xiphoid process (below where ribs meet)
19(left side) + 22(right side): Front where arm meets torso
23 + 26: Lower back
24 + 27: Middle of back
25 + 28: Back where arm meets torso
Vipassana Words of Wisdom
It is better to be a good lay person than a not so good monk.
If you want to be a monk, build up a practice as a lay person and once you have done several retreats, considering ordaining. If you are in a major transition point in your life and you want to ordain to be able to commit fully to monkhood before starting a new life and building new attachments, then it may be a suitable option.
Don’t become a monk to escape your problems. Many people who are drawn to Vipassana or to the monastic life are in a place of great suffering and are seeking a reprieve. Buddhism offers the tools to end suffering, but this can be practiced in everyday life just as in the monastery. Your problems won’t disappear in the monastery. They will only change form. Before ordaining, be sure to truly vet your intentions.
It is important not to follow sensations, sounds, visualizations etc.
People may start seeing lights and feeling vibrations and mistake that this is the point of Vipassana – to follow and experience all of these sensations. But that is incorrect. Vipassana is about observing, not about following. Vipassana teachers stress that following these sensations can be very dangerous, especially if one attaches to them. After all, seeking sensations is a form of greed, even if they are subtle sensations. If you experience something like vibrations or visualizations, don’t investigate them. Just note “vibrating” or “seeing” and return to focusing on your walking or breathing steps.
Don’t try to change anything. Just observe.
The changes will happen naturally. For example, if you keep noting “thinking,” it might become frustrating (in which case it is very important to note “frustrating”). You may then fall into the mistake of trying to force the thinking from happening. This will only build up tension (aka bad karma) and cause the thoughts to repress along with negative emotions. If you have to keep noting something, just go ahead and note it without attachment or aversion to the condition. No problem if the same condition is sticky. In fact, if you have a sticky thought, note “sticky sticky sticky.”
Acceptance applies to many things though. After practicing allowing your mind to just be, you will find that you have many opportunities to just let be – the flight course of mosquitoes, the idiosyncrasies of friends or relatives, the growth of stubborn weeds. We are conditioned to attempt to control many things in Western culture, but we waste enormous energy, make many mistake, and cause much frustration, anger, and sadness in situations that we could have simply let be.
Theravada Buddhist Resources
Here are the 3 Buddhist Podcasts that I often listen to. Realize that my reviews of them are opinions only and you may experience them differently than me.
Tara is a psychologist and a Buddhist, but she appeals to people from any background or belief system. She hosts retreats rooted in Vipassana. Her teachings really connect to a Western audience and her explanations of the brain and of psychology help bring the sometimes lofty concepts of Buddhism into a scientific perspective. Despite her Western brain, she is a perfect example of a compassionate and loving heart. Her podcasts reference stories and teachings from many types of Buddhism and she offers 20 minute guided meditations as well as reflections.
AudioDharma has a variety of podcasts on an array of different Buddhist concepts. I find this podcast to be the most useful for learning about Buddhism and deepening your practice. It is perhaps the best “Dharma Talk” podcast. However the quality of speakers varies from week to week whereas the quality of Tara Brach’s podcasts are more consistent, although less Buddhist.
DharmaSeed is perhaps the best podcast for learning the meditation technique while AudioDharma is best in providing Dharma Talks. I don’t listen to this podcast often and therefore don’t have much to say about it.
Find which Thai temples you can meditate at here.
Find all of the Theravada teachings, recordings, and information you could ask for. I imagine the whole Pali Canon is here.