By Fernando Moreno
The Alberta Vipassana Foundation will be having their first open house since the pandemic on Saturday, July 29, 2023. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. in Youngstown, AB. This is part of the effort to regain some traction since the easing of restrictions on gatherings.
“Covid closed everything down for a time, so we lost a lot of our momentum,” says Joan Smart, assistant teach at the centre. “We’re working towards larger courses eventually.”
The open house will be an opportunity for any people seeking information on the meditation practices of Vipassana and the technique that comes with learning. It’s a chance to talk to the teachers and to tour the facilities used in at the meditation centre called Dhamma Karuṇā that includes bedrooms and the meditation hall.
“We really feel like it’s an opportunity to show the general public who may have questions about the technique,” says Smart. “If anyone wants to see the centre before they actually commit to the course because it is a big commitment.”
“They will be able to talk with old students about what’s going on,” says Norman Faulkner a centre teacher who’s been with the foundation for years. “A lot of people that come don’t know what meditation is and want to come and find out.”
Visitors can expect screenings of “The Dhamma Brothers” documentary film which focusses on the meditation program of an Alabama prison. “They deal with the metaphor of the prisoners of our own minds,” says Smart.
There will be video screenings, refreshments, guidance on the facilities, and activities for children. The main attraction however is the chance to learn about the technique taught by the late S.N. Goenke, that can be learned through ten-day silent meditation courses.
“[Goenke] organized the teaching in a way that is accessible to people who come in off the street,” says Faulkner. This was in reference to the program being inclusive to all kinds of people. “If we can we try accommodate whatever special needs we can.”
“People come from all walks of life and all backgrounds to come and learn the Technique,” says Smart. They get all age groups and from many cultures and all religious backgrounds. The foundation advertises itself as being non-sectarian despite the use of Buddhist practices.
“There’s everything from unemployed to students to professionals,” says Faulkner. “It doesn’t seem to appeal to any particular niche.”
In the past the clients have come from all walks of life and from all over. Smart says “People come from everywhere,” including South Africa, the United States and Japan.
It is for this reason that a lot of translation services are offered for over 50 languages through the use of headsets. “We recommend they listen to the language in their mother tongue,” says Smart.
Word of mouth and connections is what brings some of the new students. “A lot of people who have come the past have been friends or family of people who have taken a course,” says Faulkner.
“I’m there to ensure they understand the Technique and they have everything they need to take home the technique and do the work themselves,” says Smart.
The Technique is taught in rural settings in order to truly grasp the benefits of silent meditation. It would be harder to achieve in a louder urban setting. “It’s a physical separation from the usually kind of city stuff,” says Faulkner.
A rural location brings the benefits of isolation and an extended separation from the outside (in addition to being more cost effective). “I think being in a city would not be all that conducive to a silent retreat,” claims Faulkner. This isolation includes a departure from technology as well.
“[Students] are meant to be separated from the world at large.”
“The goal [is] ultimately enlightenment,” says Smart. “We act with wisdom instead of blind reaction.”
The Foundation does not operate on a for-profit basis. “Nobody’s paid anything. You don’t pay for the course and we don’t accept donations from anyone who hasn’t completed a course,” explains Faulkner.
“It’s a hard technique to summarize quickly,” says Smart “That’s why it takes ten days.” It begins with a focus on the natural breath for the purposes of sharpening the mind. Students are required to take vows and are provided with meals.
“I encourage anyone who’s interested in coming to do their research and look at all aspects.”
There are numerous benefits to learn Vipassana meditation. “It is an art of living that has proven to make people happier,” claims Smart.
The technique is also a challenge to learn. “It’s really intense and really demanding,” explains Faulkner. “For the duration of those ten days, basically you’re living the life of a monk.”
More information about the Dhamma Karuṇā can be found here. “Our goal is to lead a moral life and purify our mind and be a good citizen of the world,” says Smart.
“Anyone can learn and they can use it in their daily life.”