I went to attend a meditation retreat called Vipassana course as taught by S.N. Goenka at the Northwest Vipassana Center in Onalaska, WA on Aug 24th 2006.
Vipassana is a general term, referring to Buddhist Meditation techniques. This Vipassana course is actually of a type called Theravada buddhism, though that term is never used.
I left in the evening on the 4th day. It is a 10 day course. These are my thoughts on those who wanted to know what happened and for others considering it. I do not plan to put in a actual details, here are good articles do an accurate job of describing aspects on it
Ajit covers day to day approach and instructions on each day.
Simon covers day to day with personal experience and notes on Goenka and his voice, etc.
Erik’s 43 things entry: What do you actually do on a 10 day course.
Why I went:
-Because I wanted to follow a spiritual path and this one seemed non-controversial.
-It was easily accessible.
-Nipun (http://nipun.charityfocus.org/about/) mentioned “everyone should go to at least one Vipassana meditation camp.” and I know someone who’s brother attends these course and does revisit.
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
I would suggest
-Find your reasoning for meditation (knowledge, Moving towards understanding of God or higher powers, Calmness, wisdom, creating happiness through insight, developing love, getting more energy aware, etc)
-Pick a meditation with goals closest to your goal, learn from a teacher in a short course, 1 hour per day for a few days and do it 30-90 minutes whenever you can.
-Find someone has done that spiritual path and who will be frank with you about it’s drawbacks and not.
-Check up RickRoss, the cult information site to ensure the approach is not tainted or outright dangerous.
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Posted By: jhanananda
jhanananda Send Email Send Email Wed Nov 21, 2007 3:11 am |
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Hello friends here is some more research on reactions to the Goenka retreat
The Suppression of Jhana at a Goenka Retreat (August, 2001)
The Witch-hunt, The Oppression of the Ecstatic Contemplative
More information on Goenka¹s cult-like activities within VRI
A view into the Goenka cult by a long-term member
Amit D. Chaudhary¹s blog on Life, August 30, 2006
Experience from attending Vipassana Course by S.N Goenka (4 days out of 10):
Melissa Maples, the Vipassana Retreat That Went Horribly Wrong. How not to
do a Goenka Vipassana retreat, in 15,000 words or less. Her report is most
humorous and she raises the question of hypnosis, which others have also
raised in reference to Goenka¹s teaching style
Amit, Experience from attending Vipassana Course by S.N Goenka (4 days out
of 10). An individual who left early, With some observations of cult
behavior, such as ³The course is a form of extremism in physical self
punishment and in mental breakdown.² ³The physical pain is barely hinted at²
Simon covers day to day with personal experience and notes on Goenka and his
Erik¹s 43 things entry: What do you actually do on a 10 day course.
Nipun (http://nipun.charityfocus.org/about/) mentioned ³everyone should go
to at least one Vipassana meditation camp.² and I know someone who¹s brother
attends these course and does revisit.
Nipuns pain experience during a Goenka Vipassana course
What you actually do at a 10-day Course ‹ 1 year ago
jerrea, November 23rd, 2005, 06:57 AM
³They told me I could only do the one 10 day course, and then 3 days, never
a 10 day course again unless I stopped practising ReikiŠ After 4 days I just
had to leave. I felt it was cult based and that Goenka was using
auto-suggestions/hypnosis and this was not meditation as I understand it.
Goenka said it was only people with weak minds that do not complete the
course, (I felt this was abusive) Š he then said it would be dangerous to
leave before the 10 days was completed.²
pamojja, Posted on: 2006/5/2 22:15
³Then something quite disturbing happened - taking a further 10-day course
in Goenka¹s tradition: I became prohibited by the present teacher, not only
to take long- or 10-day courses, but also to attend any further
group-sittings. For the only reason that I had told my personal opinions and
experiences about our Vipassana tradition - This teacher expected me to
relinquish all my personal opinions, and after having done that, to contact
him to confess complete faith in all the theoretical aspects of Goenkaji¹s
teachings - to be allowed again to practice in this traditionŠ Therefore,
since 9 months I repeatedly contacted Goenkaji himself, because the teacher
who gave me my prohibition is about the highest in the hierarchy of this
organization of whole Europe. - Only to be ignored by Goenka.
Since 3 weeks I also contacted all Goenka-centers around the world with the
plea, to spread my inquiry in this matter to all teachers and students of
Goenka.- Again with very little encouraging results. Many times I got
accused of wanting to bring mischief and splitting to the Sangha, and that
all of it is allegedly a sign of my own defiled and deluded mindŠ it seems a
huge and therefore rigid organizationŠ one practices about 10 hours of
sitting-meditation daily there, and if you ask the teacher a question, they
6_NotANumber, 09:37 / 01.02.06
³You are expected to sit all the group meditations and do your own private
meditation. This isnt an option, if you dont do it, they come and get you.
(I was woken at 4.30am with someone standing over me telling me to get up).
They take your car keys, wallet etc off you and lock them in a safe when you
go in. You are also not allowed phones and reading/writing materialsŠ All
the main teaching is done using audio and video of Goenka, the Burmese
founderŠ there seems to be no expertise there or willingness to deal with
what comes up for people. For example I saw a couple of people who seemed to
be having breakdowns and I think all they were told to do is 'keep
meditating'. Leaving the retreat half way through seems to be strongly
discouraged alsoŠ the manner of delivery is somewhat hypnotic, ie everything
repeated three times in a slow drawl.²
Leidan, 23:18 / 14.07.06
³The Discipline: On this course you're 'made', using a lightly externally
enforced *self-discipline* (created by promises, the atmosphere, etc) to
follow a pretty extreme daily schedule and discipline - of total silence, a
4am - 9.30pm waking/sleeping timetable, a diet of two meals per day, a ban
on any recreation besides walking, and a stringent schedule of 10+ hours of
meditation a dayŠ This aspect can be very difficult to come to terms with,
and could be percieved as the section closest to 'brain washing'; they teach
a set of morals and beliefs as the 'true path' to 'real happiness'.
Doc Checkmate, 16:23 / 31.07.06
³Goenka's vipassana method may well be a valuable technique, but his
organization does seem to misrepresent its product a bit. Goenka and his
followers claim that their style of vipassana meditation is the technique
that the historical Buddha practiced to attain enlightenment, the capstone
in the spiritual practice that transformed him from a normal human into a
buddha. This clashes in a big way with the teachings of the Buddhist
³The quality of the teachers left something to be desired. Although they
were proficient in the technique, I came away thinking they were not very
knowledgeable about more complex Buddhist philosophical conceptsŠ I spoke
with some Œold¹ students who were there to take another course Š I was
highly surprised that to a person they did not know anything in-depth about
Buddhism, or the suttas.²
Keith, Posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2003 - 3:33 pm:
³I was recomended this course by a friend-vipassana meditation course:Feb
2003, it was BRAIN WASHING PURITAN CRUD - very scary stuff reallyŠ i
registered and they asked for my car keys, i asked why and was told they
might need to move my car, other people gave there keys inŠ for the 10 days
don't follow your
religion or use any other techniques as this has caused difficulty in
the past (this was never explained)Š -9 SITTING OF STRONG DETERMINATION this
was the dodgy bit, an hour of meditation where u can't move, and if you do u
still can't leave the meditation hallŠ you could ask the teacher questions
but i didn't do this ever because he was stupid and only gave circular
lunch i went to see the teacher to say i didn't think this course was
for me (he said) "why wouldn't you be entitled to this?" I then said I don't
hold with your preceps that ALL LIFE IS SUFFERING, this is where all the
cultness comes in and the brain washing but i hadn't
quite realised it yetŠ the guy to my left had dropped out by day 4 and the
women on my right freaked out during the second hour of strong determination
running out of the hall not to return again till the evening and than
dropping outŠ last night goenka informed us it was exactly 2500 years since
buddahŠ and it was profecised he's be reincarnated and spread his teachings
over the world, yes you guessed it our video tutor who brain washed us daily
was the reincarnation of BuddaŠ on the final video it said if you don't do
any vipassana for a year you will loose all the benefits so thats what i
intend to do!
Jezzwhizz, Posted on Monday, November 21, 2005 - 3:54 pm:
It is up to each individual to come to their own conclusions about Vipassana
as taught by SN Goenka.
The techniques used in the Vipassana Goenka retreats are based upon
auto-suggestion/hypnosis, and that the organization is cult basedŠ I
recently went on a Vipassana Meditation course as taught by SN Goenka.
The rules seemed really strict, 10 days Noble Silence, and a written signed
commitment to stay the complete 10 days. It was not until the first evenings
discourse we were then told that to leave before completing the 10 days was
dangerous. (Sounded a bit extreme - dangerous?)Š he problem for me arose
when listening to the audio recordings by SN Goenka. After the first session
and a 5 minute break SN Goenka says "Start again" and then repeats himself
"Start again" Or rather it was "S t a r t _ a g a i n - repetition" in a
very long and deep drawn out voiceŠ This word repetition with the rhythm of
the ----ly, ------ly, ----ly was very hypnotic, and is how hypnosis is
inducedŠ It felt to me like hypnotic control, as I used to practise as a
hypnotist myself, and thus I felt I could no longer partake in the courseŠ I
believe that understanding a cult phenomena can be highly complex. However,
having studied extensively in hypnosis, and in crowd psychology, as well as
meditation for nearly two decades I truly believe that this is a cult (in my
STANDARD CULT METHODS
1. Removing people from their environment with no outside contact for three
days or more.
2. Sensory and sleep deprevation.
3. Induced fear, (suggesting it is dangerous to leave prior to completing
the course, and only being informed of this after you start the course)
4. Humiliation. (Suggesting that only people with weak minds leave before
completing the ten days.)
5. Views suggesting that all other religions and sects and are incorrect,
and the only path is Vipassana with Goenka.
6. Isolation from everybody.
7. Promises of enlightenment.
8. Only assistant teachers. (No one on par to Goenka himself)
9. A subtle auto/suggestion by Goenka that he is Buddha. (Cult leaders claim
to be divine or enlightened beings).
With his ASSISTANT teachers, never climbing any higher in rank within his
organization in my opinion suggests the classic narcissistic personality
disorder of a cult leader.
Orris, Posted on Tuesday, January 16, 2007 - 1:39 am:
³as another more balanced vipassana teacher said to me about my experience
with goenka vipassa... "Ah, your father's Pat Robertson's right-hand guy, so
you come from dogmatic Christianity and you quickly found your way over to
I just came across a rather interesting webpage, authored by someone
who claims to have been banned from S.N. Goenka courses simply for
questioning the direction of the tradition. Below is a brief excerpt,
with the URL:
An inquiry (2006-05-08)
"Vipassana could be translated as `seeing things as they have become
'. It is a meditative method to unfold Compassion through direct
experience - and at the same time - Wisdom through
investigation. By the practice of Vipassana my personal life has
changed dramatically to the better.
The more I was disturbed when I realized, that contrary to my
personal life - the Vipassana - organization of S. N. Goenka seems
to change to the worse. Finally (after 10 years) it came to an
honest exchange with a high - ranking western senior teacher of S.
N. Goenka, where I tried to explain my opinion in which ways, we
- as an organization - are heading in the wrong direction.
As a result of this honest exchange with this Achariya (a fully
authorized teacher), he prohibited me from visiting any further 10
- day course and also insisted that I not be allowed to participate
in any future old students group sittings - unless, I agree to
contact him and confess complete faith in all the theoretical
explanations given in the evening discourses by Goenkaji (and so:
my surrender to the actual practice itself was not in dispute).
My aim was to discuss these deteriorations in our organization out of
serious concern - and not at all for the sake of argument, or to
express disrespect. I do not believe to be in everything absolutely
right or could not have misunderstood some. Nevertheless, this
teacher only replied that my prohibition would be to my own good.
And to a Dhamma - friend who tried to intervene he reasoned: '
Because I would put my own Cardamom seeds in my rice pudding.' (a
simile of Goenka, signifying: 'If you don't like the theory, then
leave it out [as the Cardamom seeds of a rice pudding] and just do
the practice, which alone will help.')
After waiting in vain for 9 months on an answer to my `kick out'
from Goenkaji himself, I decided to start a worldwide discussion
between Goenka - students on the Internet. Because if Goenkaji is
not available to serious requests by long - time students of him and
if he is not willing to explain such decisions - then our
organization is already becoming a sect and probably will
disintegrate as soon as its teacher is gone. And if there are no
other unifying factors in place. Which apparently only an open
discussion about these pressing issues can try to address - with
the benefit of Goenkaji still able to participate in such a
Happiness and Ease to you all,
defendersofthedharma : Message: Re: Goenka Vipassana RetreatHello friends here is some more research on reactions to the Goenka retreat ....
They take your car keys, wallet etc off you and lock them in a safe when you ...
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If you do decide to go, make the commitment to yourself to stay for the entire 10 days no matter what. A few students left in the middle of the course, and I’m sure they all regret it now. If you ever find yourself questioning some of the practices during the middle of the course, be patient. I assure you by the end you will understand exactly why everything is set up the way it is.
All in all, I can’t recommend the course strongly enough. I believe every human being should give it a try and see for himself/herself how much this technique can improve his/her life. If you’re closed minded to the idea of taking a chance with a 10 day course, remember, it’s only 10 days. After that you’re back to your normal life, but with a new experience under your belt.
AFAIK the technique taught at a Goenka retreat is meant for RESULTS. Some people are lazy or lack courage to see results, they want an easy way to heal. Sorry. If you want to heal you will have to FACE your pain. In Goenka's retreat you face only physical pain. If you apply the technique exactly as it is taught, you only observe the physical aspect of mental phenomenas. The technique is purposely made to be very effective and easy to grasp at the same time.
But some people don't want to understand. They don't want to grasp. They silently practice something else, or they just keep "fighting" with the sensations. THis is not what is taught.
Morning Dew, I personally believe that if you have a deep motivation to heal, you will come out for the better of such course, with permanent positive change to your life. Nothing else for me has had this kind of effect. There are many "energy" healing techniques out there, many of which appears to be temporary. Goenka's vipassana approach is designed to bring long lasting changes, even if you don't meditate regularly afterwards.
Goenka survivor story
« Reply #6 on: Thursday 29 July 2010, 02:36 PM »
This is my Goenkato survival story. I did my first retreat with Mr. G when I was29 years old. after that I did perhaps six retreats including one in India with Mr. G. himself. At that time I remember him asking me if I was having any thoughts.
"Yes." I said.
"Are they of the Buddha?"
He has an incredible presence which infects all of those around him. It had affected me greatly.
Three years later I suffered a severe personal crisis. I was convinced that if I did enough meditation I could heal myself.
One afternoon I sat for four hours without moving. I didn't experience a single sensation. Later I did two more retreats and got no relief at all. The thoughts just wouldn't stop.
At that time I was traveling around Thailand. I went to one monastery and told him that I wanted to do meditation there. When I told them that I was a student of Mr. G, they said that there was nothing wrong with that technique but that I would not be allowed to practice it there. In that meditation Center one had to do the technique that Mahasi Sawadaw taought.
I was desperate so I said okay.
With that technique one simply notes what ever is going on in the body and mind. One of the techniques of noting is labeling one's thoughts. So if one gets many thoughts of anger one can just mindfully note, "Anger arising." In that tradition there is also walking meditation. I found that I enjoyed walking meditation and that it helped heighten my concentration.
After 10 days of practicing the Mahasi Sawadaw technique I got some relief for my painful thoughts.
Since that time I've done perhaps 100 retreats in the tradition of Mahasi Sawadaw or Buddhadasa
Once, however, I was trying to introduce a friend to meditation so I went back and did a Goenka reateat. I hated it. I didn't like it at all when Mr. G. ridicules every other meditation technique. Also I didn't like not being able to do walking meditation.
Later, talking to the students of Mr. G. I realize that what happens with this technique is that one initially has an extremely dramatic experience which can stay with one for years and years.
The experience is so dramatic that many people are convinced that this is the one and only authentic meditation practice. Later however they get stuck in there practice because after one reaches a certain point, not much else happens.
In my case, on my third retreat with Mr. G., I went back and relived many of my early childhood experiences which involved some violence. So it was very dramatic.
But when push came to shove that technique let me down.
Later I took heart in the fact that people like Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Saltzberg and Christopher Titmuss also did the Goenka technique and ultimately found it unfulfilling.
When former student of Mr. G. told me that when he meditates he is able to field a sensation in every single part of his body and he is able to squeak through his body from head to foot and foot to head with perfect concentration. "But so what?"
I found that to be true. But just practicing mindfulness of breathing I've always found to be ultimately fulfilling.
You can read more about my meditation experiences at
Religious Objects, Rosaries, Crystals, Talismans, etc.
No such items should be brought to the course site.
If brought inadvertently they should be deposited with the management for the duration of the course.
Yoga and Physical Exercise
Although physical yoga and other exercises are compatible with Vipassana, they should be suspended during the course because proper secluded facilities are not available at the course site. Jogging is also not permitted. Students may exercise during rest periods by walking in the designated areas.
Students must remain within the course boundaries throughout the course. They may leave only with the specific consent of the teacher. No outside communications is allowed before the course ends. This includes letters, phone calls and visitors. Cell phones, pagers, and other electronic devices must be deposited with the management until the course ends. In case of an emergency, a friend or relative may contact the management.
There are three additional precepts which old students (that is, those who have completed a course with S.N. Goenka or one of his assistant teachers) are expected to follow during the course:
to abstain from eating after midday;
to abstain from sensual entertainment and bodily decorations
to abstain from using high or luxurious beds.
Old students will observe the sixth precept by having tea without milk or fruit juice at the 5 p.m. break, whereas new student may have tea with milk and some fruit. The teacher may excuse an old student from observing this precept for health reasons. The seventh and eighth precept will be observed by all.
THE COURSE TIMETABLE
The following timetable for the course has been designed to maintain the continuity of practice. For best results students are advised to follow it as closely as possible.
4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
11:00-12:00 noon Lunch break
12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
7:00-8:15 pm Teacher's Discourse in the hall
8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
9:30 pm Retire to your own room--Lights out
Which brings us to misery. According to Goenka (and Gotama), death and age and disease are meditation pathmisery. Love and security and beauty are misery too, because we know even as we enjoy them that they must end. I agree, and yet… I remember my grandfather in his last days, his heart failing, breathless, having seen his first child die, and his sister, his parents, his wife, his friends, having seen his daughter disabled by disease, and going open-eyed to death without the consolation of firm religious belief. “What a miracle,” he would say, looking through his window. And: “What a stupendous experience it’s been. If there’s a God,” (with a chuckle), “I’ll thank Him.” In my better moments I feel like that. I haven’t yet put up with the loss that will come, but for the moment I can say I agree with my grandfather. Even in misery it’s wonderful. Or perhaps more to the point, it’s fascinating. I don’t know if I want to be ‘liberated’ from it.
And selflessness. Goenka said that ‘I’ is an illusion. There is no self, no soul, only the flicker of consciousness. But do we not construct a self through memory, and give it narrative coherence? This may not be a permanent essential self, not something you can measure or prove empirically, but it may be the best we can do, and in its own way ‘real’ enough. More mystically, I’m not sure I agree with the notion that all we have is the present moment. In my childhood I had three strange experiences which suggest the past and the future are also accessible. And this has huge ramifications. If we are not trapped by time, then the coherence of the self through time may be something we can realistically hope for. By not taking these possibilities on board Buddhism can only counsel detachment. It seems that Buddhism recasts death not as our central dilemma, but as the principal aim.
These are some of the philosophical problems I have with Buddhism. They wouldn’t have mattered on the course if Buddhism weren’t being whispered in my ear as I meditated. I couldn’t respond, so I tried to shut it out.
On Day Five I was a mess of emotion. At the end of meditation sessions I was variously elated, depressed, restless, serene. On one circuit through the forest I was near tears, on another I was giggling. I knew this was part of the process. Stuff was coming up. All very interesting.
But by Day Six I was experiencing a fixed aversion to what I thought was the intellectual dishonesty of the course. No talking, no philosophical questioning, no writing: this was justified by emphasis on the experiential, non-intellectual nature of the technique, yet every evening we were subjected to Goenkaji’s linguistic philosophy. Even while we were meditating, Goenka’s voice interpreted what was happening through its Buddhist prism. Like any proper political prisoner I had my illicit writing materials. I found a pen and a scrap of paper in the bottom of my bag, and scribbled the odd note when nobody could see me. Breaking the rules thus made me feel a little better, but still I was in an unequal power relationship with this place. It was becoming ‘this place.’ I was counting the hours.
meditation tree 2And the Pali chanting was increasing. At the beginning it was a verse or two. By Day Six it went on for a quarter of an hour three times a day. The true believers thought it set up good vibrations. Perhaps true, but I hadn’t experienced that, and the only way I could accept this theory was by religious belief. I hadn’t gone to Herefordshire to practise religious belief. I already have a religion. There are mosques for that. I have a prayer mat. I have some prayer beads.
So I decided to leave. I had an hour-long interview with the Burmese assistant teacher. “Let me decide what my experience means,” I told him. “I’m being guided too much. It’s time for me to take a step back from…er…taking a step back.”
He said nothing to change my mind. I packed up my bedding. But then one of the meditators I’d talked to on arrival, X, broke his vows by gesturing to the forest. It was like smoking cigarettes at school. We scurried off together and whispered guiltily. “The Buddhism is bollocks,” X said. “The chanting is bollocks. Ignore it. But stay to the end. Your mind is in a laboratory here. You may as well stay to see what happens to it.” It was good advice. I stayed.
By Day Seven, however, it was clear that I had a mental block. Goenkaji’s voice was annoying me immensely. I hated the way he said aneechaa (it means impermanence, transience) – with a jumpy opening, a stressed middle syllable and a growl at the end. I resented being told what to think. It can’t be a good idea, I decided, to put yourself in an altered state while someone you can’t agree with is whispering in your ear. So I couldn’t meditate anymore. You have to be comfortable to do something so profound. I wasn’t.
Seems like there may be an organized effort by Vipassana Retreat supporters to post positive reviews on this thread.
(One person had written)
>Goenka is not a cult. If it was, they would have asked for more money, been more pushy about people coming back, been more insistant that theirs was the only way.
I don't think a cult necessarily needs to involve money. But as far as your two other definitions of a cult (pushiness about returning to the "fold" and insistance that their way is the only way), I experienced both very strongly during my 10-day Goenka retreat.
I after the fourth day at my retreat, I voiced my intention for wanting to leave the retreat early. Each staff member I spoke with was not only unsupportive of my feelings and what I needed, they pushed a trip on me about how I wasn't doing it "right" or "giving it a chance" (guilt) and that it was just long-buried karmic disturbances that were bubbling up in me, causing me to feel how I did (not being willing to sit still for 10 hrs. a day today = bad childhood; huh??). Or maybe they insisted that I stay because they don't take your donation if you leave early (money insentive).
When I finally made the decision to leave after several more days of talking to various volunteers and the lead teacher, I was instructed to sneak out while everyone else was at the meditation hall so as not to alarm people. I got the distinct impression that it wasn't that they were concerned about breaking people's meditative state however, but it was that they didn't want others to see that they had too had an option to leave, if they were strong enough to do so. I was the second person to leave the retreat early.
(By the way, since then I've done a week-long Vipassana retreat at Spirit Rock in CA and had a very different experience. Every staff member and teacher were extremely supportive and encouraged me to use my own inner voice as a guide for what my body and spirit needed.)
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.
I've also done the Landmark Forum weekend (for those of you who are familiar with LM), and when I talk about my personal experience with the system, the same cultish attitude comes through from those folks as well. 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?
In a way, the Goenka retreat did help me find my true self. And despite their insistance to do otherwise, I listened to that self (by leaving early)! To me, Vipassana and Goenka vipassana have little in common. My advice to anyone thinking about the Goenka retreat is to try an extended Vipassana retreat first.