While Suan Mokk’s 10 day vipassana retreat shares some surface similarities to Goenka’s vipassana course, there are many fundamental differences.
One of the reasons is that Suan Mokk’s founder, Buddhadasa has a very different intepretation of certain key lines of the sutra that vipassana is based on. Goenka interprets the “while breathing in and out, understand all bodies” line to mean to become sensitive to your entire physical body. His technique therefore involves scanning the body’s surface and eventually when enough sensitivity is gained, its internals. He also has an understanding of sankhara to mean impurities that express themselves as unsensitive portions of the body when scanned.
Buddhadasa takes the line to mean that one should understand the effects of your breath, in all of its different guises (even, heavy, long, short, constricted, etc) on your body. Buddhadasa emphasizes the role of the breath as the body-conditioner, the single element through which one can both know and to a certain extent control the body’s state (fatigue, hunger, agitation, relaxation, excitement, etc). Hence his technique is centred wholly on anapanasatti, observing the breath. He does however move into controlling the breath once one has reached a degree of sensitivity to it. This primarily involves lengthening and/or softening the breath.
I found that once my breath is soft enough, my body relaxes and becomes quiet. This in turn helps the mind to become quiet and through maintaining focus and control on the breath, i found it possible to have a quiet but alert mind. I found that i had limitations though. If my body was too tired or hungry, i would fall asleep.
Anyway i got to the first jhana, the first stage of concentration. Wiki calls it a meditative trance but is sparse on what it feels like. The main thing for me about the first jhana is that it was stable. Meditation is often about maintaining a balance, keeping stray thoughts away, trying to ignore input from the body: aches, itches, fatigue, trying to ignore external stimuli such as sounds or wind. It is an effort to do it and often it feels like a losing effort. In the first jhana, it is no longer an effort. External stimulation and body messages were no longer a problem; while I knew what was happening, they no longer gripped my mind – my attention was not demanded. It was like having a dull awareness of it. My mind at that time was also very quiet – thoughts, memories, emotions no longer emerged of their own will to distract me. My focus was very sharp and very clear and I could direct it as I wished – on the breath, on my body (and the level of sensitivity was amazing)
I never got that far with the Goenka course even though the amount of hours actually spent sitting was much greater.
That’s the other primary difference. Suan Mokk mixes it up considerably. There’s yoga in the morning, there’s walking meditation sessions and there’s chanting in the evening. There are also a lot more dhamma and meditation talks and lots more time for personal interviews with monks for guidance. All this tends to keep the mind a bit more active but I found it very helpful. Walking meditation especially was very effective in readying oneself’s body and mind for sitting meditation.
Anyway, personally, I would recommend any beginner meditator to Suan Mokk – or even an experienced meditator.