The Vipassana Retreat

The Retreat Interview

Being reasonably established in the basic techniques, students are then required to report their experience to the teacher in a formal interview throughout the retreat. As in the Zen tradition, the retreat interview is an essential part of the Theravadin Vipassana style of practice.

The interview is the basis for the relationship between the teacher and the student. It is crucial for the development of Vipassana meditation, as it is where the meditator reports his or her experience and can be guided and given further instructions if need be by the teacher.

The communication with the teacher and the ability to report in the interview can greatly affect the outcome of the practice. While the teacher will try to encourage and inspire the meditator, it is not a counseling or therapy session. Rather it is more in the nature of a technical report by the meditator of what is happening in their practice.

The teacher will check the student’s grasp of the techniques and make corrections, and if need be give further instructions. In this way it assists the meditator to eventually manage his or her own practice and clarify what they are doing, to help them progress further.

As new meditators are usually working in unfamiliar territory of the mind, often one will find that they do not report their experiences satisfactorily or are unable to describe what they are experiencing precisely, even though they might have practiced well.

If the student is having difficulties in reporting his or her practice, the following standard questions that a teacher would ask about the practice in an interview will perhaps help to clarify the meditation experience, as well as be the basis for a succinct report that will assist both teacher and student.

The interview can be either one-to-one with the teacher or in a small group. It can be on a daily basis or more usually every other day, while the length of an interview can vary from five to ten minutes.

What to Report

Describe briefly and clearly what is happening in the three practice areas: sitting, walking, and daily activities.

1) Sitting

How long for, and are there any problems?

Can you follow the primary object of attention – the rising and falling of the abdomen? Describe what you notice about the movement.

How much thinking is going on, and how are you handling the thinking?

What about pain, and how are you working with it?

Are you noticing feelings?

Are you checking your mind states – and predominately what are they?

Are there any unusual experiences, and how are you relating to them?

2) Walking

How long for, and are there any problems?

Are you mentally labeling (or just knowing) the movement concurrent with the experience?

What are you finding in the movement, and what specific characteristics – if any – are you able to notice?

Is there much thinking during the walking, if so how do you handle it?

3) Daily Activities

What percentage of the day are you able to stay attentive to what you are doing. And what degree of attentiveness are you able to sustain?

Are you able to keep a ‘thread of awareness’ during the day by noting the body postures together with the naming of walking as ‘walking’, ‘walking’, as you get around the retreat centre?

Are you able to note the moment of awakening and the moments leading up to sleep?

How detailed can you be?

Can you describe what you noted during meal times?

Have you been able to link the Three Areas of Practice, if so to what extent?

Are there any new experiences to report since the last interview?