Vipassana centers are located worldwide and in Cambodia there are two registered centers as per Oct ’19. One is located in Battambang Province near the Thai border while the other one is Dhamma Khamboja located more south at around 120 km from Phnom Penh. In the province of Kampong Cham. A third center is under construction in Siem Reap and should be fully operational as soon as possible in ’20. The word Dhamma means literally Buddha’s path. The way to become a Buddha, enlightened or liberated. You can register through their website which can also be found on the worldwide website of dhamma.org. After you’re accepted you’ll register again at the center.
There are personal questions about former courses but also about addictions, medication use, etc. We can’t really tell you what their restrictions are for accepting applicants. What we do know is that blind people, people on ARV medication and people in a wheelchair are accepted to participate in the 10 day course. Addicted people is unknown. When you’re accepted you can book for the special organized bus that leaves from Phnom Penh in front of Wat Ounalom for under $5 one way together with other students. When you leave from Siem Reap you have to make that very clear in personal email. They do have cheap transportation from Siem Reap to the center too but although you have given Siem Reap as your address, they don’t seem to pay attention to that at all.
You might wonder what the police is doing in such a facility as a meditation center. The police is showing up on the time just after registration at arrival in the center. The officer makes a photo of your passport and visa and a group photo of all foreigners. Supposedly for immigration purpose but there are questions on the registration card about alcohol and drugs use. It’s not clear to us if Dhamma Kamboja has an obligation to the police to inform them about students who are honestly mentioning a drug use or abuse on the registration card. So be careful with your honesty while register at the center.
It’s possible that your passport is at the immigration office in Phnom Penh for visa extension. In that case it’s good enough to bring the receipt for that. In case that the course finishes for example on a 27th and your visa ends on a 23rd of the month and you have agreed with the center on a shorter stay than 10 days. It’s not necessary to show a copy of a plane ticket or anything else to the police at the center. Copies on your phone of your visa and passport are accepted.
Dhamma Khamboja Facility
The facility of Dhamma Khamboja cannot be compared with some of the centers in other countries. The separation of male and female students is less strict than in Thailand. The registration hall which is also the dining hall is made of bamboo for both male and female students. What separates them is a curtain and as it’s prohibited to speak for 10 days you hardly realize that there are students of the opposite sex on the other side of the curtain. There isn’t a wall yet between the male and female entrance of the Dhamma hall and both sexes sleep in the same building although separated regarding the dorms of the locals. Construction works are ongoing which is a distraction for meditation.
The Dhamma hall of Dhamma Khamboja is way too hot to keep you focused on your meditation. You wonder what the benefit on the electricity bill is when you compare the 26 fans that are hanging there (of which 6 way too high ceiling fans) to two or three air con’s which are now not available. The 20 fans on the wall reach only the first two rows and not the following rows. The humidity and heat is a big distraction. The name Meditation Hall can therefore be changed into Transpiration Hall with a manager who pays more attention to your eating pattern than breathing pattern.
Another distraction is the noise from outside the compound. Cambodians have funeral ceremonies that go along with speakers and sound like the speaker of a Mosque. This can go on from early morning to late eve and for days in the worst cases. Wedding ceremonies are noisy too. Although you can’t blame Dhamma Khamboja for outside noise, it makes it a noisy place for Vipassana meditation.
It’s recommended to be server at least once too at a center. Server means helper in the kitchen usually and beside that still sit 3 or 4 hrs for meditation too. As all centers run solely on donation base it’s all voluntarily. From servers to teachers. There are some servers that work as general helpers. Getting students from their respective seats to the front for questions of the teacher for example. They also take care for rules to be followed or when there are any questions or necessities regarding the facilities or anything that hasn’t to do with the meditation technique itself.
Don’t underestimate being a server. As a student you only have to deal with yourself but as server you have to deal with others like hardly working other servers or annoying managers. With 30 servers on 70-80 students there is way too little work to stay busy. In a kitchen things like burn or cut wounds happen but the center hasn’t any medicines like Ibuprofen for infections and hardly offer you Betadine. Servers sleep together with up to six in a big room.
Managers with strange priorities is a fact. Making a fuss of students pointing feet to the TV or eating 4 spoons after 4 days without dinner and therefore breaking the 8 precepts for old students instead of putting on the fans as his duty in the meditation hall. The females have often a very annoying manager who walks around as being the big boss. Blaming foreign servers for using their phone while the phone is locked away for days already or given permission to use by email from the center while locals are still using theirs at the lodging. Tells them not to talk except about Dhamma while the locals are talking and joking about other topics. She has definitely the biggest ego to break down and giving orders beyond her duty as just female manager.
It’s unknown if there is a guideline about how many male and female students are accepted. Usually the number of females is higher. Unknown too about the rate of old/new students. The meditation hall of Dhamma Khamboja has room for around 100 students but there is still lack of accommodation for such numbers. Construction of new buildings is in the planning. Foreign students sleep in a private room with bathroom.
More unknown to us is about teachers. Although there are always more female students than males, the number of female teachers is very low compared to their male counterparts. It seems that the teacher is always from the country where the center is located. This because most students are locals. If a particular teacher teaches only at one and the same center with breaks/replacements per course or that a teacher teaches at more than one center in the same country is not known. Neither if a teacher teaches in other countries too. The teacher Teak Sieng was teacher at Dhamma Khamboja. A relatively old ‘wise’ looking man who shows commitment and involvement by observing the students and is available for questions.
Unfortunate is that for deeper questions 25% of the question gets lost in translation by one of the servers and another 25% of the teacher’s answer gets lost the same way. This leaves a student often with a partly unsatisfied feeling on a question. This named teacher does seem to know what he talks about but he’s hard to understand with even speaking a simple order through his mic regarding English. This is a common issue in many countries. The teacher sleeps in his villa on the left behind the Dhamma hall.
From an outsider or western point of conditioned view, you can call the whole Vipassana experience doubtful. There are certain points to mention considering. Although the great teacher S.N. Goenka repeatedly says in his discourses that it has nothing to do with a sect. You can consider that a leader who keeps repeating that is doing a part of conditioning as in other sects happened and happens. That he talks in discourse 7 about the donation factor in a way that you should understand the principal. It also can be seen as pressuring or playing on your feelings of guilt when you don’t donate.
Books about Vipassana and the art of living are sold at the end of the course. Good for them to make money to teach more students, but you can consider it as commercial too. That most students wear complete white outfits can be seen as a sectarian habit too. That managers and/or teacher push you not to write about the techincal part of Vipassana as you’re not a teacher plus saying to keep your 5 precepts out of the gate in your free life has a sectarian flavor too. Last but not least, Goenka repeatedly mentions that Vipassana is the only pure way to liberation but with this he puts the whole Vipassana happening into the dualism of this or that while real spiritual teachers go beyond dualism.
One addition to this is that you might no longer be welcome at the center when you publicly criticize either the center or the whole happening. As is experienced after this article. Sounds even more sect like.
The rooms at Dhamma Khamboja have a 2 cm thick mattress to sleep on. A hard bed but that’s part of the course and technique. The rooms are in a big building just separated with walls of concrete or hard board, without ceilings. A fan is available. For some rooms a private bathroom, not for the locals and servers though. Seen are a rat and scorpion in the dining hall and a snake in a bedroom. Too noisy to get full benefit of the course. Here and there improvements can be introduced but remember; you neither do Vipassana for luxury nor for adventure reasons. Overall you can still feel and get benefits from these courses in your personal life.
A video of the center can be seen here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Ix7XaSlv