Author Topic: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style  (Read 13593 times)

Lokuttara

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Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« on: September 03, 2013, 10:22:03 AM »
Hey guys,
Just saw this interesting post recently on Dhammavani (the Vipassana radio), where Goenka explains why he teaches slightly differently to the way Dhamma was taught to him:

"When asked "to what extent is the technique and the way you present it, yours or Sayagyi U Ba Khin’s and to what extent is it given by Buddha, the Enlightened One?
Mr.S.N.Goenka Explained; The presentation is certainly the presentation of U Ba Khin and of Goenka; and it may differ from the presentation of the Buddha. But as far as the technique is concerned, every Buddha teaches the same technique. Ifa Buddha does not change the technique of the previous Buddha, then who is U Ba Khin or Goenka to change it? Who are all the other Dhamma teachers to change it? The technique never changes—nobody should change it—but the presentation can change.
In one of his talks, Sayagyi U Ba Khin said, "I have developed a technique which is very suitable to non-Buddhist, English-speaking people. Everybody can work with it and they will get the same result. Come, try. You will get the same result."
What was his technique? It wasn’t a special technique of meditation, but a way of explaining things. All the teachers before U Ba Khin and those who were his contemporaries were teaching Burmese Buddhists, and Burmese Buddhists have certain ways of understanding. Their tradition explains satipa??hana in a certain way, with certain words, terminology and examples. All the monks and lay teachers explained it in the same way. However, U Ba Khin had to dealwith non-Buddhist English-speaking people, so he had to develop a way of expressing Dhamma which they could understand, which would allow them to work properly. Sayagyi gave scientific examples, using modern, scientific words which the Buddha or any other teacher in the chain of teachers would not have used. The same thing happened when I came to India, to this vast country with so many sects, traditions and beliefs. At the present time, we have to deal with the world; and throughout the world there are so many sects, so many different groups of people with their particular mental conditioning.
In India itself there was a vast spectrum of different ways of thinking and teaching at the time of the Buddha. There were so many other teachers. After the Buddha, his teaching started to deteriorate and was mixed with other things.
This spectrum is here today. So naturally, when I talk with people, I need to know who is listening to me. I must express things in a way that they can understand according to their own background. If they do not understand what I am saying, the whole purpose of my talking to them will be lost. They cannot practise Dhamma unless they are convinced that whatever I am saying has some meaning. When I give a discourse to Western people or I talkin Hindi with Indian people, I may seem to be saying something different because the examples, the similes and the stories all change according to who is in the audience. But the essence remains the same. Yes, one could say the technique is changed because the way of expressing it has changed, the way of explaining things is changed. However, this was so even with the Buddha. If you go through his words you will find that when he was talking with a particular community—say the Brahmin community—then he would talk in a way that they could understand. When he was talking with the srama?a community, he would talk in a way that the sramanas could understand.
There is a word in the Pali language: vohara-kusala—skilful means. For a Buddha there must be this great skill in teaching. In the Jataka Tales, when he was the Bodhisattva, we find this quality of skilful means there throughout. In different situations he skilfully saves himself from slipping in sila and he skilfully helps others. When he became a Buddha, he was all the more skilful. So everyone who is walking on the path of the Buddha, and everyone who is going to spread the Buddha’s teaching, has to be skilful; and this skill is to be used according to different situations from time to time. In one situation the skill of explaining Dhamma is used in one way, and in another situation in another way.
Now another thing has started in the minds of the people, "This is U Ba Khin’s technique, this is Goenka’s technique, etc." Again it’s a question of suitably expressing Dhamma to people. U Ba Khin used the word "sweeping" and now in the West people say, "Oh, this is the ‘sweeping’ technique of Goenka or U Ba Khin; and this is the Satipatthana technique of Mahasi Sayadaw," and so on.
Understand how this happens. When somebody reaches a stage where the entire body and mind get dissolved, the bha?ga stage, there is no gross obstacle anywhere. You start from the head and so quickly your attention goes down to the feet without any obstacle; or you start from the feet and so quickly it comes back up. It’s like a flow. In order to express this and make people understand, Sayagyi used this word "sweep." That means from head to feet you quickly move your attention without any obstacle anywhere. If you reach that stage of sweeping, then you sweep. With Indian people, I use the word dharapravaha, that is, with a free-flow. With the Westerners also I say "free-flow." This does not mean that I have changed the technique. I have to explain how, without any obstacle, your mind can move like a flow from head to feet, and from feet to head. If you reach that stage, then you have free-flow.
In his own way the Buddha said the same thing: Sabbakaya-pa?isa?vedi assasissami ti sikkhati sabbakaya-patisamvedi passasissami ti sikkhati. One learns that as one breathes in, within one breath one feels the whole body. Now how can you feel the whole body when there are obstacles here and there? This happens only when one reaches the stage of bha?ga, total dissolution. Then your attention moves in one breath from head to feet, and in one breath from feet to head. You breathe in, you feel the whole body; you breathe out, you feel the whole body. The Buddha used the word bhanga for this;
U Ba Khin uses the word "sweeping" for this; and Goenka uses the term "free-flow." This does not mean we are changing the technique in any way. The technique remains the same. The technique of expressing Dhamma, of course, differs from time to time, from place to place, from group of people to group of people. However, the technique of meditation should never change. "
"One may be surrounded by great beauty, by mountains and fields and rivers, but unless one is alive to it all one might just as well be dead." Krishnamurti

redalert

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #1 on: September 03, 2013, 12:07:46 PM »
Nice  :)

Edwin

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #2 on: September 08, 2013, 02:35:38 PM »
Very nice indeed.  :)

Mindfullness

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2013, 03:27:56 AM »
Very sweet--he's saying the "Goenka" technique is vipassana, despite the objections to the contrary.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2013, 06:39:56 AM »
As best I can sell Goenka looks to lean more towards a breathing exercise and is a little light on the sila/insight/ego death elements. So I guess Vipassana is like a lot of other beliefs and concepts handed down over time, there's multiple flavours with multiple outcomes that will pass themselves off as the same thing.

floyd

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #5 on: September 09, 2013, 10:49:13 AM »
Quote
Goenka looks to lean more towards a breathing exercise
This isn't the case; there is strong emphasis on breath at the nostrils at the start of the course and then the attention switches almost exclusively to body scans, or sweeping as Goenka calls it. The sweeping is used repetitively and becomes the anchor you return to when your mind wanders. It's like a long mantra, imposing a conscious rhythm on meditation - contrasting other forms of vipassana where any rhythm comes from the natural breathing reflex.

The article suggests however that as one progresses there is a full scan on each in/out breath; you are experiencing your body with the in breath and experiencing your body with the out breath. This sounds very like vipassana if you can agree that sweeping for sensations and awareness of sensations are the same.


Dharmic Tui

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #6 on: September 09, 2013, 11:48:03 AM »
This isn't the case; there is strong emphasis on breath at the nostrils at the start of the course and then the attention switches almost exclusively to body scans, or sweeping as Goenka calls it.
Perhaps I should have phrased myself clearer. Rather than having insight (i.e. an understanding of how things are) as the focal point, Goenka appears to lean more towards the kinetics of practice (i.e. what one is feeling). There does appear to be an element of understanding in Goenka, but there does seem to be a heavy bias on sensate awareness.
The article suggests however that as one progresses there is a full scan on each in/out breath; you are experiencing your body with the in breath and experiencing your body with the out breath. This sounds very like vipassana if you can agree that sweeping for sensations and awareness of sensations are the same.
To be honest neither of those sound like vipassana, they're just different forms of being aware of the body. Being calm in your body will aid in gaining insight, but insight requires more than that.

I've not poured over historical threads but I'm sure this debate has been thrashed out in the past. It would appear in this forum there is a bit of a rift between those focused on the sensory elements of practice and others to whom that is only but a small part in their insight.

redalert

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #7 on: September 09, 2013, 12:40:25 PM »
There does appear to be an element of understanding in Goenka, but there does seem to be a heavy bias on sensate awareness.
 

One is trained to enter and remain in the field of Panna (experiential wisdom). This is insight.

floyd

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #8 on: September 09, 2013, 02:11:43 PM »
To be honest neither of those sound like vipassana, they're just different forms of being aware of the body. Being calm in your body will aid in gaining insight, but insight requires more than that.

I've not poured over historical threads but I'm sure this debate has been thrashed out in the past. It would appear in this forum there is a bit of a rift between those focused on the sensory elements of practice and others to whom that is only but a small part in their insight.
Rifts aside, I'm intrigued. All the introductory material I've come across to date has focused on awareness of thought/emotion and awareness of sensations. Will I experience further levels of understanding in due course or will I need to adjust my practice (currently awareness of breath at no particular point)?

I suppose this leads on to the bigger question: what advice would you give to people wanting to delve a little deeper into vipassana? Are there further  secular texts like Matthew's here or Insight in Plain English, or is the next step normally to find a teacher?

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #9 on: September 09, 2013, 07:34:09 PM »
One is trained to enter and remain in the field of Panna (experiential wisdom). This is insight.
Panna is derived from a degree of cognitive understanding though, it's not just a state you are trained in. It'd sorta be like dressing up and being told how to act like a doctor, vs. going through medical school and an internship and understanding how medicine works, and then calling yourself a doctor.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #10 on: September 09, 2013, 07:36:43 PM »
Rifts aside, I'm intrigued. All the introductory material I've come across to date has focused on awareness of thought/emotion and awareness of sensations. Will I experience further levels of understanding in due course or will I need to adjust my practice (currently awareness of breath at no particular point)?
I think at some point you will need to broaden your practice to incorporate a greater understanding of the noble eightfold path.
I suppose this leads on to the bigger question: what advice would you give to people wanting to delve a little deeper into vipassana? Are there further  secular texts like Matthew's here or Insight in Plain English, or is the next step normally to find a teacher?
You could do either. Personally I favour casting out a wider net and accessing as many resources as possible from which to form a balanced understanding.

redalert

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #11 on: September 09, 2013, 08:47:03 PM »
Panna is derived from a degree of cognitive understanding though, it's not just a state you are trained in. It'd sorta be like dressing up and being told how to act like a doctor, vs. going through medical school and an internship and understanding how medicine works, and then calling yourself a doctor.

DT, observing the field of panna with equiminity, one naturally reaches the stages of insight. You don't need to understand how this process works at a scientific level.

I really don't know why you have such difficulty accepting this, why not take a course for yourself?

If you experienced death and realized there is nothing to fear, would this not give one much relief? Would it not be easier to let go of ones attachments to this reality after this experience? And if you could experience death moment to moment observing re-birth in the different planes as a result of previous action, would this not be motivation to change ones actions to seek birth in higher planes of existence.

It really is such a simple teaching, it may be an extremely long path, but for one who is determined to learn to walk it is not very difficult. Ones practice will naturally develop with each step.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #12 on: September 09, 2013, 09:14:55 PM »
DT, observing the field of panna with equiminity, one naturally reaches the stages of insight. You don't need to understand how this process works at a scientific level.
Insight is an understanding of the true nature of reality - it requires an element of contemplation. 
I really don't know why you have such difficulty accepting this, why not take a course for yourself?
Because from the looks of it I already undertake the practice elements of Goenka, and Goenka lacks (or glosses over) about 66% of the noble eightfold path.

Edit: Perhaps to use another analogy, it would appear Goenka is akin to holding up a bowl of flour and proclaiming it to be bread. Perhaps if you left the flour exposed for long enough, through a bit of luck the other elements required to produce bread might happen across it, and it'd turn into some sort of bread. Or you could add water and heat in the right way, and make a nice loaf.
« Last Edit: September 09, 2013, 09:39:39 PM by Dharmic Tui »

redalert

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #13 on: September 09, 2013, 10:25:04 PM »
Insight is an understanding of the true nature of reality - it requires an element of contemplation.
Agreed, but you don't have to understand scientifically how it all works. You just see the three characteristics.


Because from the looks of it I already undertake the practice elements of Goenka, and Goenka lacks (or glosses over) about 66% of the noble eightfold path.

Not from where I sit, but please enlighten me with this 66%.


redalert

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #14 on: September 09, 2013, 10:29:47 PM »
  Personally I favour casting out a wider net and accessing as many resources as possible from which to form a balanced understanding.

This can have the opposite effect.

Better to dig one hole 100 ft. deep, then 100 holes 1 ft. deep when looking for water.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #15 on: September 10, 2013, 01:55:00 AM »
Agreed, but you don't have to understand scientifically how it all works. You just see the three characteristics.
I'm not sure why you keep alluding to a scientific understanding. You don't need to know how an engine works in order to drive a car, but alongside knowing which pedals to press and what to turn, you need to understand how a road system works.
Not from where I sit, but please enlighten me with this 66%.
There's three divisions on the eightfold path; wisdom, conduct, and concentration. There is overlapping that goes on, but it seems Goenka seems to hover disproportionately in the concentration (samadhi) division.
This can have the opposite effect.

Better to dig one hole 100 ft. deep, then 100 holes 1 ft. deep when looking for water.
That would depend if water is location specific or depth specific. I tend to find in life with most things there are many facets one needs to contemplate in order to gain a full understanding, rarely are things one dimensional. Narrow mindedness can lead to dogmatism, which is fine if one has stumbled upon the supreme empirical truth, but if you're dogmatic you'd never know. So I guess it becomes a highly subjective belief, which is sort of the opposite of what's being sought.

I think we'll probably end up at the conclusion that when various people mention the term "Vipassana" they can almost be talking about entirely different things.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2013, 01:57:09 AM by Dharmic Tui »

Mpgkona

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #16 on: September 10, 2013, 04:40:39 AM »
Although I practice Goenkas style I'm definitely not a "Goenkist," and I'm certainly not an apologist for him either. However, his style is not mainly Samadhi at all. Yes, on the 10 day retreats emphasis is on right concentration, mainly because he believes without that the field of Panna is much more difficult to access. A 10 day day retreat though is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the Goenka style. One can take much longer courses where the focus is not on Samadhi, but on Panna rather. Nevertheless, this need to retreat for 10-30 days in order to learn his complete style excludes the overwhelming majority of people in the world, and makes his style seem quite exclusionary. I know of nobody, including myself, that can "spare" the time for a longer retreat. So yes, I can see why people have problems with his style: because its inherently for the lucky ones, young college students off for the summer, retires, or the elite.  Red, I know you don't fall into these categories. I would venture to say though that you are definitely an exception to the rule.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2013, 04:43:47 AM by Mpgkona »
When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #17 on: September 10, 2013, 05:39:36 AM »
Perhaps I’m missing something here. To my knowledge, the fruit of Vipassana is an understanding or awareness, it is not a style or a method you learn and master. I believe there is just as much, if not more importance in bringing together the sensation of peace gleamed on the matt with a different perspective and approach with life off the matt. If this is what is expressed in the additional 20 days of Goenka training it would seem the first 10 are presented in a fairly limited way.

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What is Vipassana? by Kidnovice
« Reply #18 on: September 10, 2013, 09:41:49 AM »
        I think that a text is helpful here, that our member Kidnovice wrote about two years ago:

What is Vipassana?

“Vipassana” has a couple different meanings, and can includes diverse styles of meditation. This can make the term a bit confusing, especially when trying to discuss practices in the forum. So, the main purpose of this article is just to clear the air, and allow for better communication. At the end, I also offer a brief comment on how your “view” can shape your practice.

But for starters, lets consider how the Buddha used the term.

The original meaning of “Vipassana”

As it turns out, the Buddha didn’t use the word much. And when he did, it wasn’t to describe a practice. Rather, vipassana was understood to be a fruit of the practice. It was something you attained as a result of meditating correctly. Specifically, “vipassana” meant an “insight” into the true nature of how things are. If you cultivated the right type of awareness (“sati”), and directed it toward the right sort of things (different aspects of the mind/body), you would “see clearly,” and thus experience vipassana. Thus, for the Buddha, vipassana referred to an experience that reveals the falsehood of our delusions, and allows us to break free of the clinging that results from such delusion. 

That experience sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? In fact, it sounds so good you might want to make it the essence of your own practice. If that’s how you feel, you’re in good company. In the 2,500 years since the time of the Buddha, many commentators and instructors began using the term “vipassana” to describe a meditation practice that cultivated the experience of “insight.” This isn’t how the Buddha used the term, but this is how it is most often used today.

Vipassana as a Practice-

If you want to think of “vipassana” as a practice, it helps to understand that it includes a wide range of approaches. For example, one style of vipassana might have you simply “note” every experience as it arises. Another style might have you focus on only physical sensations. Yet, both of these styles can be “vipassana.”  How is that?

As the term is generally used, vipassana is a practice of bringing awareness to phenomena in order to gain insight. But this doesn’t just mean any old “insight” where you learn something. The Buddha consistently taught his monks to see all phenomena as impermanent, stressful, and not-self.  These are the “three characteristics” that can be found in every experience: Anicca (impermanence), Dukkha (stress/suffering), and Anatta (not-self). According to the Buddha, everything has these characteristics.

When you actually experience the truth of one of those characteristics, then you’ve had an “insight” of the kind that the Buddha encouraged. That’s what makes the practice vipassana.  That’s it.

Yes, there are many different styles of vipassana practice, but they always focus on at least one of these three characteristics. One style might emphasize one characteristic over the others (like Anatta, etc.). Another style might emphasize only one aspect of experience (e.g., thoughts, body, etc.). However, all vipassana practices have a common purpose: insight into anicca, dukkha, and anatta.

Two Potential Pitfalls-

Viewing your  practice as “vipassana” can be helpful, especially if you want to simplify things for yourself. But you should know that it is not without risks. Your viewpoint may start out as just an intellectual understanding, but it matters to your practice. This is why “Right View” is part of the path. In my opinion, there are two main difficulties with seeing vipassana as a practice.

First of all, thinking of your practice as “vipassana” can make it easy to forget the rest of the Buddha’s teachings. Maybe this is good because it avoids all the religious trappings. But it’s also a problem if you want to attain the kind of freedom that the Buddha was talking about. The Buddha didn’t just teach meditation, and he didn’t think meditation alone would get you to nibbana. He taught a much more comprehensive approach (the Noble Eightfold Path), which included many aspects of our lives besides meditation: speech, livelihood, action, etc. If you really want to see positive changes in your life, meditation is important, but you must also look at how you live your life off the cushion.

A second potential problem with the idea of “vipassana practice” is that it is founded on the belief that there are two different practices: (1) concentration/tranquillity (Shamatha/Samadhi) and (2) insight (vipassana). In this framework, concentration is something you might do in preparation for insight practice. Indeed, it is commonly said that you cannot do both; if you do concentration/tranquility practice, you will have to stop in order to do “insight practice” because you are otherwise too absorbed to be aware of what is happening.

The thing is, the Buddha didn’t teach that. It is true that there are certain types of concentration/ tranquillity practices that prevent you from developing insight. But the Buddha never suggested these types of practices. From the suttas, it is quite clear that for the Buddha, “concentration/tranquillity” and “insight” were simply two capacities to be developed together.
It might be worth picking some quotes in support - I understood they were often taught as a pair - jeeprs
If you are practising skilfully, then concentration and insight should continuously support one another until the very end. You could even argue that if a concentration/tranquillity practice doesn’t include awareness and the cultivation of insight, then it is not “right concentration.” As you develop your concentration, you should always be aware of your intentions and how you are fabricating your experience.  In this way, the practice brings insights and rewards in the beginning of the path, the middle, and the end.

        Thus Kidnovice

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #19 on: September 10, 2013, 10:16:12 AM »
An accurate assessment IMO

redalert

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #20 on: September 10, 2013, 12:30:57 PM »
its inherently for the lucky ones, young college students off for the summer, retires, or the elite. 

The Dhamma is for those who wish to put an end to suffering.

People with these characteristics may give a try to a retreat, but the level of commitment required to develop in Dhamma will quickly weed out those who have not suffered enough. In order to keep progressing on the path a real change must occur in ones character. Living a Dhamma life becomes of all importance, it is not a game, or a toy to be played with for some time. Those who are playing games may practice for years, but eventually will turn away as a real change has not occurred in their lives.

Everything one needs to reach the final goal is in the 10 day retreat, but it may take more than a few retreats to reach the final goal.

redalert

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #21 on: September 10, 2013, 12:39:42 PM »
Perhaps I’m missing something here. To my knowledge, the fruit of Vipassana is an understanding or awareness, it is not a style or a method you learn and master.

Yes, you are missing some"thing" here. ;)

You cannot understand awareness, you are awareness.

There are many techniques(religions) pointing to this truth, but the finger is not the moon.

Mpgkona

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #22 on: September 10, 2013, 03:21:22 PM »
In no way was I saying the DHAMMA is for the lucky ones, the elite, retirees and young college kids. I was referring quite specifically to a Goenka retreat. By default a vast amount of people are excluded from his courses. How many paycheck to paycheck people can attend, or people worried about paying for their next meal? Impossible for them. Im not knocking his style. Im specifically talking about the 90% of people in the world that will never be able to attend his retreats (let alone multiple times), even if it was their lifelong goal.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2013, 03:51:24 PM by Mpgkona »
When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.

redalert

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #23 on: September 10, 2013, 04:00:40 PM »
Karma. :)

redalert

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Re: Vipassana: Buddha style, U Ba Khin style and Goenka style
« Reply #24 on: September 10, 2013, 05:58:03 PM »
edit
« Last Edit: September 10, 2013, 09:50:02 PM by redalert »