Day 1 of 10 of silent meditation. You’re sitting cross-legged in a bright, hexagonal meditation hall. You hear birds chirp and mountain winds rustle palm fronds. You settle into the peaceful sounds when suddenly a somewhat scratchy recording issues forth a strange, grumbled chant in an ancient language. It goes on for awhile. You scratch your calf and then wonder when it will end. And what the heck is this guy saying? Welcome to the Vipassana retreat in Liu Gui, Taiwan.
Where this practice comes from
That guy in the recording is Goenka, the founder of the Vipassana, or Insight practice as it is known today. Although he died in 2013, every Vipassana center worldwide still plays his recordings as instruction in the retreat. You can hear old students coughing in the background at times, but using the recording means the teachings remain unaltered center to center. Also, all Vipassana retreats are offered absolutely free to all retreatants, which helps maintain integrity. The practice at Lui Gui is no different. Come here for a non-secular practical meditation technique which may change your life.
Liu Gui is one of two Vipassana centers in Taiwan. It’s also the more remote and nicer of the two. About a five-hour drive from Taipei, the center is nestled in the southern mountains of Kaohsiung County, in between the east and west coast. The website includes directions on how to drive or travel by public transportation to the site. Although it’s not too convenient to get to by Taiwanese standards, ridesharing is also an option, and the center will email you a ride share link after you’re accepted into a session. You will be expected to stay for all ten days of the course, and on the last day, workers can also help you coordinate a return trip. Come here expecting to find nice views, decent living quarters, good food, silence and hours and hours of meditation.
Homemade local food
It’s rumored that the Taiwan centers have the best Vipassana food after India. That might be because the love and care that go into preparing the food here is unmatched. Or maybe it’s because Taiwanese know how to cook vegetarian food amazingly, the country having the second largest vegetarian population in the world after India. Not only is it good, there is plenty of food, including lots of greens, tofu, nuts and fresh fruit daily. Don’t expect a full dinner though. New students can only have fruit and brown rice powder (makes a filling drink) for dinner while old students can only have lemon water.
It is worth noting, though, that one Londoner student complained that the food is too oily. I asked the kitchen organizer, Annie, about this. She told me that on a vegetarian diet, a person needs more oil. “We use a really good oil here,” she said, “And vegetarians should get about two tablespoons a day to help keep the brain healthy.” You’ll also be eating this oily food for breakfast. In a typical Taiwanese style, breakfast consists of congee (soupy rice) and salty vegetable and tofu dishes, just like what you eat for lunch. Sometimes, they serve Chinese rolls (man tou) or Asian-style bread, which is super white and super sweet.
Rest in cozy cottages
This retreat isn’t relaxing in the way you might often think of retreats. It’s a vigorous ten days of sitting for many hours a day. Some can’t handle it. In the first few days, I’ve seen a few students lugging their suitcases out the front gate in the broad daylight of midday, heads low in shame. However, the food and gorgeous setting help make it more enjoyable. Plus, the accommodation is pretty, not as minimalist as you might expect.
The grounds houses are gray huts with tiled roofs. Each hut has a window, two beds and bathroom. If you’re lucky, you get a place to yourself. However, most people end up sharing the room. The beds are hard! Add an extra blanket on top of the appointed sleeping pad, or better yet, bring your own small pad. Otherwise, you may very likely get sore muscles.
Your bathroom will have hot water, but it may take a few minutes to heat up. Bring your own soap and shampoo if you have it and be mindful that the Taiwanese love to blow-dry their hair! If you’re not used to it, the sound of 20 hair dryers in the evening can get annoying. But understand that as a culture, the Taiwanese believe that going out with wet hair (in any season) can give you headaches.
Wear shoes you can easily slip on and off. Shoes with laces and backs will not be your friend here as you are taking them on and off all day to enter the dharma hall and your room. If it’s winter, bring slippers large enough to wear thick socks with. Don’t forget to bring your own towel, shampoo and other necessities on the list provided. Have a favorite tea you like to drink before bed or in the morning? Bring some with you as a comfort beverage - there are some days you may need some comfort! You can’t bring food, but unrefrigerated drink is okay. Finally, leave your notebook, pen, book, Kindle, laptop and ipad behind, or surrender them to the front desk when you check in.
Find inner peace and real happiness
With the outer affairs in order, be ready to work inwardly. It’s not called “Insight” Meditation for nothing. You will likely see into your body and mind in new ways after this ten day course including living more in the present with less anxiety about the past or future. Put in the work and benefit from the insight. As Vipassana practitioners and teachers worldwide are known for saying, “Be happy!”. May this practice help you and everyone be free and happy.
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