i've just left a goenka retreat after four days. i can't tell you how good it feels to be at home & still sane. they tried to scare me into staying, but i wasn't buying it. none of it made sense to me & i was miserable for the whole time - bar maybe an hour each day. i'd love to try a non-goenka one.. thanks for your post - i'm glad i'm not the only one!!
I just wanted to point out that 99 % of people serving on a viipassana course are volunteers and not at all like sataff members, very much students, sometimes only having experienced one ten day course previously most have only done a few, therefor it would not be fair to judge Vipassana as taught by SN Goenka on a few Volunturned up for the 10 day course.
Furthermore leaving on day 4 and having such a strong opinion of an organisation is akin to a jury convicting someone before they have expereinced all the evidence, I am sure you mean no harm and I concur with much of what you have said in that you are the master of your own destiny.
May your decisions bring you much brightness...
Oh, dear. I wish I could say wonderful things about my Vipassana experience, but I can’t. It has brought me a better understanding of who and what we are even how the universe works, but at what cost?
I stayed the full 10 days, many of them filled with incredible hallucinations -- from feeling like being inside an egg , to being a bird-like animal with broken wings, to following tunnels through my brain, to feeling completely connected to the universe… No problem I told myself -- it’s just sensations, I’m perfectly safe.
On the last day of the retreat, listening to the last lecture, I let out a huge scream and fell down. Back in town, I spent 2, uh, very eventful days oscillating between absolute bliss and incredible agitation -- around 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off, I’d say. I put my friends and lover through hell and ended it all with a psychotic episode screaming at the top of my lungs for 5 minutes, and then blanking out… I woke up in hospital, and was there over a week. Mind you, I now get to see a psychiatrist for free, so there are some benefits.
There are many paths to enlightenment, and while I still think that Vipassana is a good technique and that it does work, the 10-day boot-camp format, obviously, isn’t for everyone.
There ARE cult-like aspects to Vipassana, which I wish people would admit to, although I also believe that the motivation is not to promote Vipassana per se, but to help people find peace, happiness and enlightenment.
Great intentions, but I wish there was less conviction that Vipassana is the only way, that it is for everyone, and that all you have to do is stick it and it will be all better after 10 days
Goenka isn't vipassana. There are many approaches to vipassana. I hope those who have studied with Goenka at least have the awareness that there's so much more out there and that many students of vipassana have probably never even heard of Goneka! I think people are likely to be skeptical of a system that focuses on a single person (Goenka) and I can understand how videotapes and such could just make people feel weird. I know I'd be a lot more skeptical of vipassana if it were just one person's method and didn't realise that it comes out of the much larger and deeper tradition of Theravada, and that vipassana itself is a much larger tradition with so many flavours. I also tend to be skeptical when people rave about a particular "teacher" without acknowledging her or his shortcomings or that it is only one approach. Some people don't take to vipassana, some people don't take to Goenka's version of vipassana. So what... what problem? :) If you really want to help people, be happy and liberated yourself and exude it. If that happiness and liberation are genuine then people will wonder what you're doing! But even then we can't expect everyone else's path to be our own -- we might think others would benefit from something, and perhaps they would, but they ARE on their own path, and a little humility is in order.
I really have no interest in Goenka. I know very little about his teachings, so all of this comes from very limited experience, but something seems a bit off to me, at least in terms of how it fits with my own path: that's not to say it's not right for someone else. One reason I'm not interested in Goenka is that I've had a chance to experience many wonderful vipassana teachers -- Gil Fronsdal and Donald Rothberg being among my favourites -- and I feel extremely comfortable with these people. They've taught me to be more authentically myself and that it's okay to adapt things to my own circumstances. (That's not to question the importance of intense disciplined study for those who choose to undertake it.) I've felt empowered by them. And I'm all the more comfortable because never once have I heard the students refer to these teachers as authorities. These teachers encourage them to be their own authorities. These teachers are admired by many but their students aren't afraid to question them. And the teachers are happy to be questioned. This is certainly a cultural preference but it's the only way I know to protect against being taken advantage of by manipulative teachers.
It seems odd to me that so many wonderful teachers don't even acknowledge Goenka who gets such a large following in other circles. When I do stumble upon Goenka, independently, I get the impression that his students tend to appeal to his authority more than, say, the students of Gil Frosndal. I have an uneasy feeling about Geonka in general. As one poster said: "If a system is truly about helping you find your true self, why then do people become so protective of the system itself when it is challenged?" And: "I am very hesitant to tell this story to anyone who's done a Goenka retreat and loved it. When I have, every person gets very defensive of Goenka and insists that I must not have been doing it right. And chances are, if you're a Goenka person you're reacting pretty strongly right now too." That's just me: I simply don't want to be in a place where people react with such defensiveness. I want to be in a place where people encourage each other to be themselves whatever that might mean, and where even attachment to system is something that we can let go of...
Any teacher who says his or her approach is right for everyone is one I'll be running away from surely! I was actually surprised when I stumbled upon this thread and remembered that Goenka is out there because I've heard so little of him despite being enmeshed in vipassana over the past year. We all have different needs (though I fear that those who lack a strong inner voice may choose the easy path of following a teacher who they can look to as an authority and thus never learn what they really need to learn: how to be themselves.)
Again this doesn't come out of any knowledge of Goenka's teaching, only impressions I have of him from limited experience, and maybe this will be helpful for those who wonder why people AREN'T always receptive to Goenka. (Though, of course, a better answer to that question is just that, we're all different people!)
Being a vipassana vet, I have changed my thinking regarding the vipassana movement over many years. I can support the philosophy of 'change' fully.
Anyone experiences change so we don't need lectures on that. No big deal.
What I have trouble with is accepting goenkas claim that vipassana is not a cult or organised religion or that he is no guru. Ok, so you get free food and lodging for 10 days and find a way to relax and any donation is not force upond you. To me, this way of relaxing or getting clarity of thought requires too much effort and dedication to the movement.
It may not cost money in terms of cold cash hand overs but it costs you time and effort and you know what they say about your time being money.
Actually time is more valuable than money. You can get money, lose it then get it back. You can't do that with your time.
My main point of this reply is that goenka makes various claims about his religion or school of religion which 'cannot be scientifically validated'. He and no one else can scientifically prove an after life, heaven or hell, good or bad karma or upper and lower worlds of existances - it is all just 'heresay'.
Yet he continually says all the above is true.
Sounds like brainwashing? I consider the tapings students have to listen to over and over again to be that. It is a cult of persuasion.
He repeats in his 10 day discourses that his movement isn't an organised religion. It is a religion and a very well organised and I should know.
It most certainly isn't a relaxation holiday centre or a scientific establishment or anything else but an organised religion. Once you start to work as a volunteer than you find this out for yourself.
The religion claims that you are basically doomed unless you practise vipassana or something else which leads to enlightenment. I'm not being unfair.
Just keep listening to the discourses and you will understand what I mean by 'doomed' unless.... In my view Goenka or Goenkaji )as the recording at the start of a course emphasizes for great respect and devotion) contradicts his own reasoning that you should question authority.
Another thing, there is no evidence that in the days of the buddha that there was ever a centre that ran 10 day very intensive sitting courses where people have been known to go beserk and even try to burn down a building.
If you are curious about Vipassana then I suggest the average person does a walking vipassana course from an alternative vipassana school.
One great benefit of doing one of the alternative courses is that you get to speak to the teacher (a real monk in many cases) rather than an assistant teacher. Critical analysis is not accepted in the Goenka school of authority which is very unscientific in my view.
may you be happy
may you find peace
may you have liberation.
i'm observing that you have neglected Right Speach after having developed an aversion to claims from Goenka. i'm certain that you will in due time observe it passing.
vipassana is a path. i was Enlightened to this on the fourth day of my first sit. if you persist you will also find happyliberatingpeace.
live in metta,
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I've heard it all before. I haven't neglected anything . Right or wrong speech depends on your point of view. Goenka Vipassana is 'claimed' to be a path. My acceptance of the Goenka way has indeed 'passed'. He isn't even an ordained monk, rather he is an ex business man wheeler dealer from a very wealthy family who compares himself to a Buddha who was a prince turned enlightened begger. This fact would be very convincing to many followers. There is nothing scientific about the vipassana long sitting meditation nor any evidence that his vipassana is a path. I am averted toward 'constant' religious brain washing of unproven ideology of any kind pretending to be a therapy for the betterment of mankind. Please accept my oppology if this offends.
It is constant on a 10 day course through the recordings. I am averted toward any people who blindly believe what they are told by a religious leader yet do not even practise basic human goodness in the real world. I am averted toward any religious group which does not allow crititical questioning by students. It isn't allowed at the Goenka school. All cult groups operate that way. People can be so gullible and easily lead when they are feeling insecure. Note: I have no issue with any other vipassana school because I am not aware of any cult like activities/ideologies/blind belief regarding such alternative schools.
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many blessings for you along your path.
i am impressed by the number of aversions you list.
i'm in no way offended and trust you feel the same.
so let me get this straight... after 13 years and 20 plus courses you have now come to the conclusion that the Goenka retreats are in fact a cult?
>>>"There is nothing scientific about the vipassana long sitting meditation"
perhaps we differ in our definition of scientific. could you please enlighten me as to the definition you are using when you state the above?
thank you in advanced for your continued clarification of your statements.
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I wrote a comprehensive critique of Vipassana as taught by S N Goenka, it is available through my blog:
I hope people find it useful.
Shambhala Sun | September 2001 | Excerpt
'The Universal Meditation Technique of S.N. Goenka' - by Norman Fischer
I understand that you have a good friendship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Can you tell us how that developed, particularly since His Holiness' tradition, with all its color and ritual, contrasts with your approach?
S.N. Goenka: In the first year when I moved to India from Burma, there was a big public function put on by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's followers, who had become Buddhists.
They invited me to their annual celebration of the day that Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. There were some one and a half million people in attendance.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama was invited, along with me and the Japanese teacher Fuji Guruji. We were invited as chief guests, and each of us gave a speech.
Mine was translated into Tibetan and His Holiness liked it so much that he said that he wanted to meet me and discuss things.
We started at nine o'clock the next morning and at two-thirty or three we were still talking-all about technique. He was very happy with my teaching.
But when I said, "Quite a few people on the second day or third day see light," he responded, "No, no. That must be illusion. How can somebody see light in three days? It takes years to see light."
I replied, "Venerable sir, I saw light in my eyes. And so have many other people. I would not say it is an illusion. You better send a few of your lamas and let them experience it. If I am wrong, I will rectify it. I don't teach them that they must see light. It is merely a sign, a milestone on a long path, not the final goal."
So he sent three lamas to my next course in Sarnath. All three of them saw light, and they were so happy. When they went back and explained that to His Holiness, he was also happy. He said, "Goenka, come here and give a course to my people."
Then I wrote him back, "When I give a course these are the rules. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but if your high lamas don't agree to my rules, I cannot teach." He sent a message back to me, "Goenka, they will follow whatever you say for the full ten days. So don't worry; they will follow your rules."
The course took place in the Tibetan library in Dharamsala, not far from where His Holiness was living.
On the first day, when I told all the very top-ranking lamas my rules, they protested: "But every day, we have rituals to perform, we have to chant so many recitations, we have to prostrate so many times."
"Nothing doing," I replied. "For ten days, nothing doing." And they said, "No, we can't break our life-long vow." So I sent word to the Dalai Lama, "Sir, I can't teach. Your people don't agree. I'm sorry, I have to go." And he sent word to the lamas through his private secretary, "You have to follow Goenka's instructions, even if it means breaking your rules. Whatever he says, you must agree to do." They all did it, and they got the same result. Rites or no rites, rituals or no rituals, the technique gives results.
Normally I don't go out during a course, but the Dalai Lama wanted to discuss how it was going, so I visited him two times. We had long discussions in detail about the technique I teach and about his technique also-without judging, just exploring with inquisitiveness. We each enjoyed our discussions tremendously. Since then we have been friends.
I am not interested in any kind of politics. Of course I have great sympathy for whatever is happening to the Tibetan people, but I can't take up that cause. It's not part of my duty as a dharma teacher.
Even the most undemocratic person, even the greatest tyrant, will be a good person if he practices. Just as Buddha was not interested in the politics of the different kings of his day, so that's not my job either. His Holiness understands that very well. We are not political friends, but rather dharma friends.
He did keep asking me about sunnata, emptiness. "You've got no sunnata?" he would ask. But after I explained my understanding of it, he accepted what I said: that when all solidity is dissolved in the technique, and there's nothing but vibration remaining, that is sunnata. Then you experience something beyond mind and matter-sunna-nothing to hold there. You have sunna of the mind and matter sphere and sunna of the beyond mind and matter sphere. His Holiness seemed to be quite happy with that explanation. He had no objection.
Mon, May 7, 2007 - 1:16 PM
I found this on the Buddhist Society (Australia) website!
Re: S. N. Goenka Vipassana Meditation 10 Day Course
Thank you for your email of December 1, regarding the article by Norman Fischer about an interview he had with Goenka-ji.
I am afraid most of the conversation that is purported to have taken place between Goenka-ji and His Holiness are not true.
Moreover, the event leading to the meeting that he is referring to, if it did take place, took place some twenty-five or thirty years ago!
I was present with His Holiness at that public function for the followers of Dr. Ambedkar.
I was also present when His Holiness the Dalai Lama did meet Goenka-ji some years ago in Maharashtra, not very far from Mumbai. At the time they discussed about teaching meditation and Buddhism in India, but that had nothing to do about Tibetan lamas going to attend Goenka-ji's courses on meditation.
With best wishes,
Tenzin Geyche Tethong
Secretary to H.H. the Dalai Lama
Office of H. H. the Dalai Lama
McLeod Ganj - 176 219
Tel.: +91 (1892) 221343, 221879, 221210
Fax: +91 (1892) 221813
Why I left:
I had enough of the pain and torture. I followed the instruction on the 4th day and did not move my legs for an hour. I had so much pain, I wanted to scream.This on top of pain for all the last 3+ days made it realize, I did not want a brutal method of spirituality.
The course is 10 days of meditation bootcamp. It involves sitting down 11 hours for meditation and 1 hour for a discourse everyday, this results in lots of acute as well as continous pain (in knees, hips, ankles, back and neck, even wrists, etc.)
It is difficult to describe, but the pain was the worst I have ever felt in my life and it was on most of the time and on all of the 4 days. It does not go away during the course, students doing their third course were limping.
I do acknowledge, I have only known minor pain in my life: Overdoing a 3000+ft, 11+ mile hike or my first hot yoga class so that I can barely hobble. In trying to show how it was like: Two analogies. To practically see what it implies: Sit for meditation without moving ‘at all’ for 90 minutes in the morning and evening. Do not apply anything to ease the pain except sleep and a hot shower once a day. Then do it again next day and then think this happening for 10 days. Another way to get an idea: Imagine a hike or jog double of your current capability, now you have to do this everyday for 10 days. You can stop on the way, if you want, but for minutes, take your pace and continue. Use only sleep and shower to ease the pain in the night.
Additional reading: On pain during meditation
and Nipuns pain experience during a Goenka Vipassana course
Would I recommend Vipassana course by S.N.Goenka to others: No
Studies have shown that as just quarter of an hour with no light or sound can have drastic effects on a persons mental well being. An Wired article noted a study on 19 healthy volunteers who were placed in cells with no light and sound for 15 minutes.
Amongst the feedback from the participants, nearly all experienced some form of hallucination. Some saw faces, or shapes and objects that weren’t there. Others noted heightened sense of smell and a few reported feeling an evil presence in the room. Regardless of what they saw, or didn’t see, nearly all the participants reported experiencing something ‘very special or important’ during the experiment.
The results backup a widely accepted theory known as ‘faulty source monitoring’ – when the brain misidentifies the source of what it’s experiencing. Under normal circumstances the brain is able to differentiate between the thought inside out head and what is happening on the outside, however when void of natural stimuli the brain becomes confused and starts to interpret the thoughts that are typically contained within our minds, as being on the outside.
Experiments into the effects of sensory deprivation have been going since the 50s when Canadian scientists suspected POWs had been subject to such conditions, then brainwashed into confessing to being war criminals during live international press conferences. To support their claim, the scientists began collecting data to prove the sensory deprivation induced psychosis.
Studies into sensory deprivation have not all been behind closed doors. In 2008, British documentary series Horizon featured an episode in which 6 volunteers agreed to being shut alone inside a completely dark cell in a nuclear bunker, for 48 hours.
While two of the subjects coped better than the others, all reported experiencing hallucinations which included seeing mosquitoes, fighter plans, cars, zebras and the feeling of as strange presence in the room.
Now, extend these periods of sensory deprivation longer than 15 minutes, and throw in the fear of a life in incarceration, pain or even death, and you’ve got a technique almost guaranteed to break even the thoughest of souls.