Frequently Asked Questions
------------- About Tovana and Meditation -------------
What is Insight Meditation?
What is Insight Meditation?
Insight Meditation is part of the Dharma, the teaching in the Buddhist tradition, which aims at exploring wisdom and awakening. Insight meditation consists of calm, conscious observation of the body and mind processes in the present moment.
Observing reality, just as it is, allows for a profound encounter with the true nature of existence, including its pleasant and unpleasant characteristics. (It is from this perspective that tranquility, understanding and compassion may develop in our lives. Practicing insight meditation encourages the flowering of these qualities, and paves the way for a life of freedom and wakefulness.
What is Mindfulness?
What is Mindfulness?
The meaning of the word is “remembering to be aware”, or “remembering to pay attention”. It encompasses both the quality of presence and of recollection, the latter being the term’s previous translation. “Recollection” also implies the idea of coming back to ourselves.
The use of the term “mindfulness” has spread in the West in the past 50 years, as part of the acquaintance with the spiritual and meditative traditions of Buddhism. It is the focal point of most Buddhist traditions. One may go even further in saying that the need to be aware, in its different forms, is a fundamental component of any spiritual tradition. Mindfulness is one of the techniques of spiritual practice that had developed in the monasteries of Burma and Thailand and later arrived in the West in a form suited for Westerners. This path is similar to the one of Yoga practice, that has originated from a spiritual Hindu source.
Who are the teachers of Tovana?
Tovana invites a large range of experienced teachers from Israel and abroad to teach in its courses. The teaching methods vary from one teacher to another and are all based on each of their extensive experience in both practicing and instruction.
The variety of teachers enables the practitioners to gain experience and benefit from different forms of teaching and practices in this tradition. This contributes to the broadening and deepening of the practice.
The style and teaching methods, therefore, vary from one course to another. Some courses are better suited for beginners while others are advisable for experienced practitioners. We recommend contacting registration to get more information about the nature of the course and whether it fits you.
For more information about the teachers click here
Donation to Tovana
Tovana is a non-profit organization that isn’t supported by any institution but enabled by the ancient tradition of Dana - giving from the generous heart. In our different activities, all are welcome to join, including those who do not have the means to pay the registration fee or give monetary dana. In this way, we allow everyone to come and practice. This is how practitioners support one another as a community.
Thank you for your support.
A donation to Tovana is possible at any time, according to the instructions here
---------------- Residential Courses -----------------
Why sit in a course?
In Tovana, the emphasis is on first hand experience, not only on the theoretical understanding of the Dharma. This serves as a special opportunity to get personal and collective guidance from well-experienced teachers.
What is taught?
What is taught during a residential course?
In the course, we will learn the Vipassana meditation, as it is practiced to this day in the monasteries in East Asia as well as in different places in the West. The practice includes observing the breath, physical sensations, feelings and states of mind. The schedule is carefully planned in order to benefit the most out of the time in the course.
Why is the course conducted in silence?
The silence helps the practitioner bring her consciousness to a quiet and peaceful state, in which it is easier to practice inner awareness, the same way that it is easier to see deep into the water when the surface is still. The experiences of numerous practitioners show that silence is a valuable tool, one which helps and supports the student in benefiting the most out of what is taught.
Can I use my cellular phone during the course?
The course is conducted without phones. The practitioners will be asked to deposit their phones at the beginning of the course (you may choose to bring a watch/clock). In case of an emergency, there will be a phone number through which the practitioners could be contacted. This is Tovana’s phone (054-5695934), in which the messages are checked twice a day.
What kind of food is served in Tovana courses?
Three full vegan meals, based on vegetables, legumes and whole grains, are served daily during Tovana courses. The tea and coffee corner is open at all times (and is the only place where dairy milk is served, along with soy milk). An empty fridge in the dining hall is available for the participants, who are welcome to bring special foods if needed. Tovana can also prepare in advance for your special dietary needs, in which case we require a notice ahead of time. Please let us know in advance if you Observe Shabbat.
Shabbat Observers and Kosher
I am a Shabbat observer and the course takes place during the weekend. Do you keep Shabbat?
Practicing awareness and maintaining a religious lifestyle are in no way contradictory. In coordination with the managers, you can observe the Shabbat, put on tefillin and pray while still keeping the silence as well as the rest of the guidelines which support the practice.
The kitchen is dairy-vegetarian and the utensils were never used for cooking meat or fish. The vegetables and fruits are brought in by large external service providers as are the dry goods. The plates and cutlery were donated by different households and if this presents a problem, you are very welcome to bring your own.
During Shabbat, in coordination with the kitchen staff, you may have a hot
plate for food that was cooked before Shabbat. There’s grape juice for the Kiddush and challah for the mitzvah “Hamotzi”. If the course ends during Shabbat, you’ll be able to stay in the compound until the end of Shabbat.
At the same time, meditation is practiced in the common hall where the lights and air conditioners are turned on and off during Shabbat. Also, the teachers often use a microphone when giving meditation instructions.
Please let us know in advance if you Observe Shabbat.
Daily Schedule and Framework
What are the daily schedule and general framework during the residential courses?
Each Tovana course has its unique schedule according to its content, length and teachers.
The opening and ending times are listed on the course page on the Tovana website. In the opening talk of each course, the managers and teachers explain the expected schedule for the entire course. Then, every morning, we hang the daily schedule around the perimeter, for your use.
During the course, the students are asked to keep certain rules. Keeping those rules supports learning Vipassana Meditation and helps deepen the practitioners' insights. The rules are: Avoiding killing every living being, avoiding stealing, avoiding sexual misconduct (and specifically in the course, avoiding any sexual behavior), avoiding false speech and avoiding substances that cause intoxication (drugs or alcohol).
What is Dana?
Since the time of the Buddha, the Asian tradition supporting the Dharma (the spiritual path) is that of mutual generosity.
The local community shows its appreciation and respect for the spiritual practice by supporting the monasteries for their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. In return, the community is supported by the courses, teachings, and guidance offered by the monks and nuns. For 2,500 years, this living expression of collaboration and mutual existence provided spiritual support for both spiritual and lay communities.
In this Buddhist spirit, Tovana teachers and volunteers are working without any salary. At the end of the course, there will be an opportunity to give a donation for Tovana Organization and for the teachers (these two donations are given separately). Many of the teachers teaching in Tovana dedicate their lives to spreading the Dharma and have no other income. These donations allow the teachers to continue their teaching, so many people may experience and be benefited from the practice.
You can read more about the tradition of giving according to the Dana principle here.
Tovana is a volunteer-based, non-profit organization. The Vipassana courses and accompanying activities organized by Tovana are funded entirely by donations given by the participants. There is no commercial interest, motive, or group behind Tovana. The association is based solely on the Dana principal (the “Generous Heart” in Pali language). The courses are free of charge aside for nominal registration fees, which are collected to guarantee a place in the course.
In this Buddhist spirit, Tovana teachers and volunteers work without receiving any salary. At the end of every course, there will be an opportunity to give a donation for Tovana Organization and for the teachers (these two donations are given separately). Many of the Tovana teachers dedicate their lives to spreading the Dharma and have no other income. These donations allow them to continue their teaching, so many people may experience the practice and benefit from it.
To get an impression of the course’s costs per participant, see the costs table below:
*Overhead costs - The ongoing activity of the association that enables the courses requires a variety of costs, such as salaries for the coordinators, lawyer, and accountant; phone and other communication bills; insurances, fundings, rents, etc.
What are the accommodations in Tovana courses?
Tovana courses in Ein Dor:
Most Tovana courses take place in Kibbutz Ein Dor in which the accommodations are of “Tavor Hosting”. The lodging is in rooms of 3-4 single beds. In the buildings, there are common showers and toilets for every 3-4 rooms. Women and men stay in separate rooms and separate buildings.
Each participant gets a bed and a mattress, a pillow, and a wool blanket. Yet, there are no bedsheets, towels or toiletries, so please bring your own with you.
For those who want to stay in a tent, please bring one with you. You'll be able to pitch it by the accommodation buildings. A bed will still be reserved for you in one of the rooms.
A few times a year, Tovana offers courses in different locations other than Ein Dor. Some of these courses are labeled "Improved Conditions Courses", and in them, you may choose a single or a double room.
Can I bring a book to pass the time?
Practitioners are asked not to read, write, or engage in any other distracting activity in order to maintain the inner and outer silence, which supports the practice - both for them and their fellow students.
The experience of many practitioners indicates that the silence is a supportive, meaningful tool allowing the students to practice in a calm, quiet space and make the most of the teachings.
Difficulty sitting in meditation for several days
Isn’t it difficult to sit in meditation for several days?
The course schedule at Tovana is divided into sitting and walking meditations. Such a schedule enables the body to rest and facilitates the practice. Each practitioner, upon request, will be able to receive instructions about their posture and to find a suitable one for him/her.
Moreover, many practitioners’ experience shows that most of the difficulties associated with the practice dissolve after a short adaptation period.
I have a physical disability. Can I still take part in the course?
Most courses are accessible to people with different disabilities as well as people in wheelchairs. The meditation hall in Ein Dor is equipped with cushions, chairs, and a variety of platforms that assist in making the sitting comfortable and supported.
The Sangha house in Tel Aviv has recently been equipped with an elevator.
In case you have special needs related to accessibility, please let us know so we can prepare accordingly and make sure the course is accessible for you.
New to Meditation
I have never practiced meditation before, can I participate in a Tovana course?
Certainly. Most Tovana courses are open to everyone, including those who never practiced meditation but would like to try it.
Aside from the courses explicitly defined for experienced practitioners, you are welcome to register for any course you find interesting.
** The minimal age on most courses is 20.
I am undergoing psychotherapy
I am undergoing psychotherapy. Are therapy and meditation mutually exclusive?
Meditation is not a mainly therapeutic practice, but a transformative one, although it may have therapeutic implications along the way.
Generally speaking, in a severe psychiatric or psychological condition, a retreat might not be a good idea. A retreat is an option when the psychological or psychiatric vulnerability is relatively minor, a thing of the past, or is at a peripheral level. In those cases, it is necessary that you specify your mental condition in the registration form’s mental health section.
In case you are undergoing therapy with a psychotherapist or psychiatrist, you need to bring it to the retreat facilitators' attention so that they approve your participation.
In case you have some doubts about whether a retreat is suitable for you, it is important that you talk to one of the teachers on the phone before registration.
It won’t be wise to participate in a retreat with the expectation that it would heal psychological or psychiatric conditions. Furthermore, the silence, the intensity, and the increased awareness of meditation practice in a retreat might increase mental vulnerability. This is why it is imperative that those who have a current or past psychiatric diagnosis would only register for a retreat after careful consideration.
Can I share a room with a friend?
I am coming to the course with a friend, could we sleep in the same room together?
In order to enable a beneficial silent practice, we assign friends and family members separate rooms. In case there is a medical need that requires sharing a room, please contact us beforehand.
------------------- Registration ---------------------
After paying registration fees for the retreat, will I be able to get a refund or transfer them to a different retreat, in case I cancel my registration?
The registration fees are designed to ensure that whoever registers for the course is indeed planning to participate in it. Therefore, registration fees are non-refundable and non-transferable. We ask that participants carefully examine their ability to take part in the course from beginning to end prior to their enrollment.
We are aware that sometimes even people who fully intended to come to the course are unable to do so eventually. For this reason, it was decided that unused registration fees will be transferred to a yearly project organized by Tovana for the benefit of the practitioners.
I signed up for a course and got a message saying I'm on the waiting list. When will I know if I can participate in the course?
During the two weeks before the course. If there are cancellations during these two weeks, we reach out to the people on the waiting list in accordance with the chronological order in which they signed up. So if there's an available space for you in the course - you'll be notified via email, either 2 weeks or 3 days before it begins.
If the registration has not opened yet
I saw a course I'm interested in but the registration hasn't opened yet. When will I be able to register?
Two months before each course, a link to the registration form will be posted to the course page on our website. Meanwhile, you're welcome to sign up to receive a notification once the registration opens. You'll find it on the course page, in the field called “Notify me when registration opens”.
Late arrival / Early leave
I'm not able to arrive on time at the opening hour of the course. Could I join a bit later or during the second day of the course?
Or: Could I leave the course earlier due to a prior commitment?
Participation in the course requires being present from beginning to end. There is no partial participation. The reasons for this decision are: First, the registration process and the end of the course consist of plenty of technical efforts by the managers, and every late arrival complicates them. Secondly, right after registration, the managers give an opening talk in which they explain how the course will unfold - the schedule, behavior instructions in the village, guidelines, and procedures - and attending this talk is mandatory for participation in the course. Thirdly, residential courses in Tovana are conducted in silence and every late arrival or early leave of a participant disrupts that meaningful silence.
We receive many requests for late arrival or early leave, each with its rightful and understandable reasons, but for these reasons, we are unable to comply with them. If you know that you won't be able to meet these terms, please cancel your registration for the course. You're welcome to see the other listed courses in order to find one better suited for your schedule in which you'll be able to participate from beginning to end.
I registered for a course and then realized I can't come at the last minute. What should I do?
Tovana organizes most of her retreats based on the Dana principal and conducts on mutual trust. We count on those who register to come to the course so it can actually take place.
The food and accommodation are reserved and ordered in advance according to the number of registrations. Additionally, when people don’t notify us of cancellations, it prevents those who didn’t have a place in the course from participating. It is also a cause of unnecessary expenses for Tovana. In case this behavior is repeated, two times or more, during the course of three years, this person might be prevented from participating in courses for the duration of a year.
People who register for a course yet don’t show up with no prior notification, actually sabotage both the conduction of the course and the mutual trust. That's why we ask anyone who registers - if you know you can't come, please cancel your registration up to one week before a retreat or up to 3 days before a weekend course.
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What is the difference between a Tovana course and a Goenka course?
Both courses hold many similarities in content while maintaining some practical differences. For example, in a Tovana course, it's common to practice both sitting and walking meditations, while in a Goenka course there are only sitting meditations.
Some more differences: Unlike in Goenka courses, in Tovana courses the teachings are given directly by the teachers; Three meals are served every day; Small group meetings gather every two days and in them, you'll be able to ask questions or share your experiences if you so choose.
However, it is important to mention that both traditions have deep roots and that many people around the world benefit from practicing both of them.
How to continue practicing after the course is over?
To provide support outside the course, Tovana offers different kinds of practice frameworks, such as weekends, practice days, courses with various topics, and more.
We recommend joining an introductory course, which includes weekly meetings, and offers a framework for the orderly study of the practice method and supports cultivating practice at home.
To keep in touch with other people who find this path meaningful, we recommend joining one of the weekly sitting groups across the country.
In these sitting groups, which are open for both new and experienced practitioners, the members practice Vipassana meditation together, study, and discuss or share experiences and questions that come from the practice and daily life. All this is done according to the group’s decision and framework, and all in a pleasant and accepting atmosphere.
Are there any other ways to learn meditation?
In Israel, there are Vipassana courses as taught by S.N. Goenka (who came from the Burmese tradition), courses in the tradition of the Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and courses and teachings according to various Tibetan traditions (such as Dharma Friends and more).
Most Tovana teachers come from the Vipassana tradition that is taught in the Forest Monasteries in Thailand. They practice in this tradition for many years, some of them as monks and nuns.
What is a Sangha (community)?
A sangha is a community of practitioners who walk the path of Dharma together.
The mutual support of the sangha is diverse and infinite. It enables us to sit in a course in silence as well as to be supported by those who sit beside us and are undergoing similar difficulties. The sangha is a place for joint study and contemplation, shedding light on things we wouldn’t have been able to see for ourselves. The sangha enables us to meet friends who want, just as ourselves, to deepen into the heart’s wisdom, get rid of old patterns, and cultivate qualities of silence, listening, and compassion.
The sangha can be a source of support, belonging, and working together.
Taking part in a community strengthens our understanding of the insight of interdependency and the feeling of “we are all one human family”. This diminishes the feeling of separateness.
There are many ways to feel the presence of the sangha in our lives. Whether it's participating in one of Tovana’s long-term programs, volunteering, or being a member in one of the weekly sitting groups, all are great ways to meet and be together.
Does Tovana have a video channel?
You can watch different videos of Tovana teachers and additional videos about Tovana at:
You can subscribe to the channel and receive notifications when new content is uploaded.
We thank Sahar for organizing the channel.
Is it possible to conduct a personal retreat with Tovana?
Sometimes we're able to offer personal retreats for experienced practitioners in separate rooms when a Tovana retreat is taking place at Ein Dor.
Personal retreats are suitable for those who've already participated in at least 4 one-week retreats at Tovana and have been practicing for at least two years.
During your personal retreat, you are welcome to join the course's Dharma talks as well as the meals. You'll also have a chance to meet with the course teachers.
These designated separate rooms may also be used by participants of the retreat who request private rooms.
There are only a few of these rooms and they are more expensive than regular ones. The bathroom and shower are shared with other rooms.
To sign up, please fill out the registration form shown here, as well as the registration form of the relevant retreat.
There is also a possibility for a personal retreat in "Meshiv Nefesh", located in Klil.