Vipassana: Ancient Cure-All or Current Fad?

Ten-day retreats of complete silence are no longer the pursuit of just the enlightened and famous. But does shutting up mean opening up?

Pisak Bochea at Vipassakna Dhaurak of Cambodia (Wikimedia)

Mehr Singh


July 18, 2023

What do TV host Oprah Winfrey, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, actor Aamir Khan, author Yuval Noah Harari, and singer Katy Perry have in common? These celebrities all swear by a not-so-secret, 2,500-year-old sacred practice dubbed “surgery of the mind.” 

But instead of lobotomies, they’re referring to vipassana, the ancient form of meditation. The word means “introspection” in Pali and is rooted in the teachings of the Buddha. Tthe practice promises to provide clarity to a range of conundrums, and to show us, as the it declares, how to “see things as they truly are.” 

Studies show that the world is now more stressed and unhappy than ever. But vipassana centers mandate a form of disconnectedness that some would call extreme. Attendees take 10-day vows of silence, during which they cannot read, write, speak, or give into many basic human desires. Yet, despite little research on the arguably mind-altering practice, vipassana continues to enchant people — not only the rich and famous, but, increasingly, everyone.

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