Mahasi Meditation

All About Mahasi Meditation Retreats

About Mahasi Meditation

Mahasi Meditation Retreats

The world of meditation and spiritual growth is simply delightful, and for those interested to learn about meditation there is so much wisdom out there just waiting for you.  Today, guest author Axel Gjertsen, will bring some of that wisdom to you in his article below, which is about Mahasi Meditation and Mahasi Meditation Retreats.  This article might be just what someone needs in order to start their meditation practice or deepen their work.  It is always great to learn about all the different types of meditation that people practice around the globe and you will find much more of such information on Axel’s great meditation site Axel G.

If you would like to be a guest author on Mastery of Meditation and Yoga, please email me at

Mahasi Meditation

Mahasi Meditation Retreat


Axel Gjertsen

This is the second part in a series of two posts about popular retreat centers around the world. Here is a link to the first article called Goenka Meditation Retreat Centers.

In this post, we’ll take a look at Mahasi meditation retreats, which not unlike Goenka meditation stems from a Burmese tradition of vipassana. As you already know, vipassana is a Pali word for insight meditation (more information on vipassana in the following article – Vipassana Meditation Technique and Benefits).

There are Mahasi centers and monasteries in many countries around the world. In addition, several vipassana centers invite Mahasi teachers to lead retreats on their premises. So, you shouldn’t have any problem to locate a retreat within a reasonable distance from your home.

The Founder Mahasi Sayadaw U Sobhana

Burma is a Buddhist country in Southeast Asia with a long tradition of meditation practice. The founder of the Mahasi tradition was called Mahasi Sayadaw U Sobhana.

It’s still quite common that young boys in Buddhist countries ordain as junior monks. Mahasi Sayadaw became a monk at 12 and remained in robes until he passed away in 1982, at the age of 78.

He developed his own style of insight meditation and established centers in a number of countries, especially round Southeast Asia. Mahasi Sayadaw was a respected meditation master who’s clear teachings have inspired millions of meditators around the world.

About Mahasi Meditation Technique

The Mahasi meditation technique is quite unique. In all forms of vipassana, the meditator gives attention to the five senses and thinking.  For example, the sensation of hunger.

Mahasi Sayadaw developed a system of noting that supports awareness. So, in addition to giving attention to the sensation of hunger, the meditator thinks, “Hunger, hunger.”

The noting makes it easier, especially for a beginner, to be aware of the present moment.

The meditation practice is a combination of walking and sitting meditation. Where the walking generates a lot of mental energy while the sitting meditation boosts concentration.

In the Mahasi tradition, meditators are encouraged to start with walking and alternate with sitting meditation every 30-60 minutes.

About Mahasi Meditation Retreats

The retreats are quite strict, so the meditators have to wake up round 3.30-4.30 in the mornings. Moreover, men and women live in separate parts of the center or monastery.

There is some Buddhist chanting in the mornings and evenings. However, the retreats are open to everyone, regardless of faith.

If you do a Mahasi retreat at a meditation center, they may only have retreats every so often. However, at many monasteries they have so called ongoing retreats where you can join at any time and stay on for as long as you like.

It’s not unusual that dedicated meditators do 90-day Mahasi retreats. The flexible schedule has definitely contributed to its popularity.

There are usually three lectures or talks per week where the teacher elaborates on the meditation techniques and the Buddha’s teachings. At the end of the talks, there is plenty of time to ask questions.

The meditators are also offered three personal interviews with the teacher a week, where you can ask questions and discuss any difficulties you may have.

There is a strong emphasis of mindfulness practice at Mahasi retreats. The meditators are asked to note every sense impression and thought while eating, resting and doing laundry etc.

Mindfulness practice is a powerful form of meditation that has a most positive effect on your everyday life. The idea is to be mindful from the moment you wake up in the morning until you fall asleep at night.

With practice you will be able to be mindful all the time, even while at home. Mahasi retreats are really good for getting established in mindfulness practice.

During retreats the meditators follow 8 precepts or rules. The precepts support wholesome meditation practice:

Not to kill
Not to steal
Not to lie
Not to masturbate
Not to take alcohol or recreational drugs
Not to eat after midday
Not to listen to music or watch tv
Not to sleep on a comfortable bed

About Mahasi Meditation Teachers

The meditation teachers are monks with at least 10 years in robes. Not only are they experienced meditators, they also have a good grasp of the Buddha’s teachings.  Keep in mind that the Buddha developed vipassana meditation, so his teachings form the very foundation.

Mahasi monks dress in dark-red robes and have a reputation for being both knowledgeable and disciplined.

My Mahasi teacher was exceptionally helpful and always encouraged me to practice well. Every time I told him about a new insight, he looked focused and said, ”Very good!”

Retreat Costs And Meals

The retreats are not free but affordable. The funds are used to pay for food and general maintenance. If you do a Mahasi retreat at a center as opposed to a monastery, it may cost substantially more.

I have done all of my Mahasi training in a monastery in Malaysia, where devotees bring food to offer to the monks and retreatants. There, the food is not vegetarian.

But most meditation centers try to keep the food vegetarian if not strictly vegan. The two meals are served round 6.30 in the morning and just before noon.

I recommend Goenka And Mahasi retreats to novice and advanced meditators alike. Try both and see what works best for you…

Good luck with your practice!

Axel Gjertsen is a former Buddhist monk and lives in Thailand. He runs axel g which is a personal development site with a focus on meditation.  Visit his website to learn more about Mahasi meditation retreats.

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