Frequently Asked QuestionsAbout the course
Who runs the course?
Vipassana Fellowship is an independent organisation of lay people who promote the practice of meditation. It was established to provide resources and support to meditators based on the authentic teachings of the Pali Canon. Its outlook begins with the Theravada tradition but there is a recognition that people of all faiths and none can benefit from these forms of meditation.
How did the course come about?
It began in 1997 as an informal daily e-mail that was sent to about 30 participants. The idea was to clearly disseminate the Buddha's teaching on meditation and liberation to those who wished to read it; and particularly for isolated individuals with no access to retreat centres and meditation groups. From the outset there was a commitment to ensuring that the material was always an accurate reflection of the teachings contained within the Pali Canon - the best source for determining what the Buddha actually taught - rather than bending to current spiritual fashions. The response was enthusiastic and the course was soon transformed into a downloadable computer program, with a timed interface presenting new information every day for 10 weeks. Participants were supported by Andrew, and the course was offered to about 250 people each year from many different countries. Since it began, some participants have organised retreats and other events inspired by the approach followed during the course.
What is new about the current version?
The course is now taught wholly from our online Course Campus. This dedicated interactive web site, accessible from a standard web browser, will be available to registered participants for each session of 10 weeks. The course includes specially recorded audio material to complement the written text. This includes audio guided meditations, a guide to Buddhist terms and introductory chants from this tradition. These can be streamed on the website and many can be downloaded for personal offline use.
How is the course financed?
The course was offered freely for the first five years, and more than 1,000 people participated without charge. Dana was offered by a few participants to help the course continue. In 2002 we began offering additional services and moved to a subscription based arrangement. The subscription is currently US $130 for the fully supported course. There are substantial discounts for previous participants and a number of subsidised places will continue to be available for those who genuinely cannot subscribe at the standard rate. There is also a free service for South Asia, known as the Homelands scheme.
I have already participated, can I join again?
Yes, there is an open invitation to past participants to sit-in on new versions of the course at a reduced rate. These places are in addition to those allocated to newcomers. Please complete the application form and make sure that you mention when you last took part. Our Parisa scheme is available to provide ongoing access to our developing courses, new monthly material and support.
What are the future plans?
There will be continued development of the online course in response to the feedback given by participants. Related retreats and face-to-face meditation courses will continue to be offered around the world in response to invitations.
Do I have to be a Buddhist to take the course?
No, certainly not. The course teaches meditation practices that are based on the Buddha's teachings and the living tradition that has carried them. They can be used by people of different religions or following no religion. We explain the cultural and religious background that has traditionally supported these techniques but there is no need to subscribe to a new faith. Many people incorporate the practical meditation and ethical teachings of the Buddhist tradition into their own faith's context.
Commitment and Approach
What is required from participants?
The main qualities are openness and diligence. The course is not easy; but it will be a fruitful experience if there is a determined effort to apply the techniques and practices as outlined. No one is expected to accept anything simply because it features in the course; but there should be a willingness to give any new method or approach a fair trial before deciding on its merits.
How much time will I need to commit?
We each need to take account of our own circumstances. The minimum commitment is to read the course material each day and to include one meditation sitting (of at least 20-30 minutes) every day. Any benefits of our practice will reflect the amount of effort and commitment that we decide to apply. Beginners are encouraged to incorporate two short sittings of meditation into their day. Experienced meditators will, of course, wish to meditate for longer.
What support is offered?
Personal support and feedback is offered via the course web site. Andrew normally aims to respond to queries from course members within 48 hours (except during specified periods). Questions that are of general interest are displayed in an anonymous way to all course participants. Participants may also choose to provide mutual support and encouragement by using the course discussion board.
Can I combine this course with other spiritual practices?
The course is quite taxing and will certainly provide plenty of 'spiritual work' for the period we have set aside. Some related practices are helpful; others have the potential to distract us from, or dilute, the work we are doing. We must each judge where our best interests lie.
I will be away for several weeks, can I catch up?
Not a good idea. Please wait for a later course if you are likely to be absent for an extended period during this one. We normally offer three 10 week courses each year. The meditation instructions are designed to be absorbed and practised with consistency over a 10 week period.
What form does the course take?
The course is delivered online using our Course Campus website. This is a dedicated interactive learning environment that can be accessed through a standard web browser. It contains instructional texts, images, and other resources - as well as the facility to communicate with the course teacher and your fellow meditators. The audio material is downloadable for use on your own computer or mp3 player and includes guidance on structuring your meditation sittings as well as an introduction to some traditional chants.
Will I be spending long periods online?
Participants need to connect regularly to the online Course Campus and be able to receive e-mail for the duration of the course. The aim, though, is to efficiently deliver the meditation instructions and support so that most of your available time can be spent meditating rather than online. There is new material every day and this can be accessed at a time that suits you. There is never a need to be online at a specific time.
What sort of computer do I need?
A moderately specified computer with a web browser (such as Internet Explorer, Edge, Chrome, Safari or Firefox) is all that is required. There are no special requirements: Windows, Apple Mac, Linux, and other modern operating systems should work fine.
What is the distribution agreement?
Our courses, software and other materials are copyright and licensed for use only by the registered person for the duration of the course. They may not be redistributed or copied for others.
I only have computer access at work or a cybercafe...
The course requires regular access and a degree of privacy. It can be accessed from any Internet-connected computer.
What languages are available?
The course is currently available only in English.
Course Home Page
Refuge in the Buddha by Bhikkhu Bodhi