Thanks Venus Darkly
I'm glad you've been able to see through to the real harm which has come to these people from
doing Vipassana with - that is, under, Mr Goenka. Actually I've come to doubt whether an historical person called Gautama Buddha ever existed, let alone that all the words attributed to him were spoken by him, collected accurately and preserved for several centuries before being finally written down without any alteration at all. Such a course of events would be truly supernatural and is obviously unfactual. But Mr Goenka gives the greatest attention to words purportedly first uttered by Buddha (I believe he is supposed to have uttered these words to the devas (gods) who were accompany him and who presumably recorded the words) "Aneka jati samsara" - that is "Countless births I have taken in the world, ..."
To give you a taste of Mr Goenka's gushing devotion to the truth of words rightly or wrongly attributed to Buddha I'll quote from Mr Goenka's article "Witnessing the Truth" - SN Goenka, Vipassana Journal 2nd edition 1983, pages 46-49 Vipassana Research Institute; In which he states,
"With the taste of supreme liberation, the following words of ecstasy gushed forth from his mouth, the words contain great wisdom and express a beautiful sentiment Anekajati samsaram ... dukkha jati punappunam
... With the aid of these supernatural powers Siddhartha Gotama was able to see his past lives. He saw that he had been born countless times and after each birth he was continuously running towards his death. ... Who is it that gives me another life after each death? ... "Khinam Puranam, Navam Natthi Sambhavan
- all the old 'sankharas' have been destroyed, no new 'sankharas' are bing made, this was the state of total liberation. This was the enlightment [sic] of that Boddhisatva; this was the ultimate victory of light over darkness; this was the victory of deathlessness over death: the victory of light over ignorance".
This is why Mr Goenka's teachings are to be seriously doubted. Even though he offhandedly remarks in day 8 or 9 discourse that, it's not necessary to believe in past or future lives, you believe in this life, there is suffering enough in this life. On the day 10 evening discourse, perhaps referring to this, he says that if anyone, like the ignorant child in his black stone story, will not accept the technique because of an aspect of it's theory which they don't agree with, well just accept the technique and leave out the theoretical component, later on when you realise that this is also good you will accept it.
That's how Mr Goenka "teaches" - that is, belittles, his students.
In relation to people coming off Vipassana courses with extremely damaged psychological states, I agree. I have seen it. I have seen the community mental health team called in to pick up the damaged person and take them to hospital. Notably, not all suicides of 'vipassana meditators' or former 'vipassana meditators', will be recorded as such. They will be recorded as a death of a real person with a real name, but the connection may not be made. I wonder how much the mental health wards of Australia and ultimately the families of the sufferers have had to pick up the pieces of the lives of those who have come apart during or as a result of Vipassana courses.
I note that the Goenka group does promote abstinence from alcohol and other intoxicants so there is likely to be some improvement in mental health by simple virtue of this fact of excluding alcoholism and drug addiction, plus there is self selection going on by excluding those who have nervous breakdowns, even if as a result of doing Vipassana. However I think if both ingroup and excluded persons were included the mental health of current and former practitioners would be worse than the general community. I've seen people persevere with Vipassana for decades in spite of visible distress.
The problem as I see it with Vipassana is that it starts with the student having to recite the words "I surrender myself completely to Buddha and my present teacher for proper guidance and protection". Of course the teacher is Mr Goenka and Buddha is ... if there ever was one, dead. (I think rumours of Buddha's deathlessness are greatly exagerated, but then rumours of his birth are too!.)
It's all downhill from there. The more seriously a person takes the technique, the more they identify with it. 'I am a meditator', or 'I will become liberated in this life or a future life', etc. When a person, especially a young and naieve person like I was comes along and rejects everything in one's own life up till that point, the technique, that is, Mr Goenka's instructions, promises, guidances, the technique itself, can really take over one's being. Perhaps I have to hit it this way instead, so you keep hammering, ardently, as instructed by Mr Goenka. You take more and more courses, try to live the celibate life since that's what he says is how you will live once advanced on the path of enlightenment (whatever that is). It really can make a mess of a person. Worse the person then thinks, 'oh my I really do have a lot of problems that this technique has exposed - I will practice harder and harder to deal with them'.
As the years go by in the technique, if you practice seriously, you can lose track of who you are, replacing yourself with an attempt to practice the technique correctly, with resulting psychological fragmentation. After all Mr Goenka says one aspect of the goal is selflessness - called in Pali language, Anutta.
Funny that it wasn't until I discovered humanism, skepticism, textual criticism, that I really woke up to the fact that Mr Goenka's teachings are deeply imbibed with an individual eschatology, how to obtain the deathless by way of liberation from past sankharas, thus bringing nibbana.
You won't find these words in the glossy brochures sent out to prospective students. They are deceived into thinking that it's all about this life. That is wrong. Mr Goenka's teachings are all about kamma. Past life kamma, future life kamma, present life kamma, liberation kamma. I looked in the Vipassana Journal and I was amazed how he actually talks about past and future lives, and states that the ultimate goal of Vipassana is to obtain the deathless = on page 29 in an article titled "Let us talk sense" he quotes Buddha who is purported to state"Open are the gates of the deathless state to those with ears (who can hear) who renounce their lack of faith".
Mr Goenka seems to adhere uncritically to the proposition that all the words attributed to Buddha in the buddhist canon are actually by a person Gautama who called himself Buddha. Mr Goenka does not admit a hint of doubt that there existed a person called Gautama, who claimed enlightenment, who spoke to devas (gods) and humans and all of these words were recorded faithfully and accurately and set forth on paper without any alterations some centuries later.
The real truth is somewhat humbler, though more promising - there is no deathless state. There is only life, and then there is death. Those who are caught up in the Vipassana cult are wasting their lives seeking deathlessness on an individual and collective level.
Then there is proselytisation, Vipassana meditators feel obliged to prove to themselves the value of what they are doing by seeking to spread the gospel of deathlessness to the wider society and the world. Courses are given to prisoners in prison, to children who don't have the capacity to choose, and during the courses fills their minds with the doctrines of kamma from past lives, bhava sankharas - deep kammas called anusaya kilesa, sleeping defilements that give rise to future lives, and encourages the 'students' to pursue the eradication of these defilements ardently throughout the life. But for any serious meditators reading this, or people considering attending a course, they should really consider whether it's worth devoting one's life, or even a part of it, to the eradication of (non-existent) next life causing sleeping defilements. The garbled terminology indicates the psychological confusion which is part and parcel of this technique.
Mr Goenka gives priveleged positions and even courses for executives, i.e. company executives and government officials. You can see it on the Dhamma.org websites where the course schedule indicates "executive course". This itself should give a serious meditator a real source of doubt. How can the Dhamma be universal if it is given preferentially to the rich? This necrous behaviour should really indicate to any meditator what the Goenka organisation is really about.
Sorry if this post went on a little bit but I'm slowly getting all this out of my system and I note that there are only a few cries in the internet wilderness about the dangers and risks of this technique and this teaching. I'd like to remedy that, and to repeat back a few of the really whacky articles written by Mr Goenka, which forms the basis of his teachings.
Readers may also wish to have a look at a more indepth article by Harmanjit Singh
and his great article
and a few