Author Topic: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses  (Read 12449 times)

Lokuttara

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Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« on: March 10, 2010, 02:24:33 PM »
I just wanted to relate my experience of Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka.

I did my first 10-day course in 2003 and wanted to try it after my Dad got some really solid results from it. He actually turned Vegetarian after 55 years as a meat eater! I'd been interested in spirituality and meditation for a good while, and had read Dhiravamsa, Krishnamurti, Kornfield, and Chopra. I was also vehemently anti-organisation at the time, and very much against any form of organised thought; be it religion, sectarianism or any form of dogma. I didn't like any rules or regulations whatsoever in spirituality, and I didn't believe in any "path" to the truth, or that any teacher could bring you there. Why was I on a Vipassana course? Because I wanted to meditate in silence, and I wanted to teach myself how to do it. And that's exactly what Vipassana was, as I was to find out (despite external appearances).

Initialliy I was quite skeptical about the course, and these feeling got stronger on my second and third days of sitting. Many different thoughts came up, including some doubts about Vipassana and about whether it was right for me. I wasn't sure about all the rules and regulations. Those thoughts came, and then amazingly they went away as I just continued to observe breath/sensations and practise the technique, following the course schedule as well as I could and giving Vipassana a "fair trial" as Goenka says. I just accepted what I was going through, and I accepted all my feeling completely and somehow... they vanished, and I was able to work much more seriously, just observing the reality, without the endless noise in the mind, and without making all sorts of intellectual judgements on the practise, the teachers, the servers, the conditions, etc. etc. There was the sense that the ego was becoming less strong, and as a result the judging part of the mind, or the labelling part of the mind was much quieter. There was a feeling of oneness with all others - meditators and teachers, and also feelings of love and compassion towards them started to arise.

Post-course, the results were amazing and I think my life changed positively in many ways as a result of Vipassana. The biggest measurement was that others noticed a change. I remember coming off the course and going straight to my sisters house, and ending up painting her entire kitchen and waiting up late that night to do it, despite exhaustion. I felt like I wanted to be of service to people a lot more, without looking for anything back. That first year was like a honeymoon and I felt like life was fresh and new again. I tried so many new things, opened my life up to many new possibilities and I didn't seem to be living with so many limiting beliefs about myself. I was able to connect more deeply with others, let go of fear and become more at peace in any situation. The mind was quieter and seemed to be living more and more in the reality of the present moment. I re-read some Krishnamurti, Dhiravamsa and other books and it was like reading a completely new book - because now I finally understood what they *really* meant. I realised Vipassana was not a technique, there were no rules, and you are your own master. Vipassana and Krishnamurti don't seem to have any conflicts whatsoever in my experience, and this feeling was certainly justified after I read this article:
http://www.buddhanet.net/bvk_study/bvk22c.htm

I also admire the works of Anthony De Mello and was not surprised to find out he also studied under Goenka, as many of his wonderful words seem to be in-line with what we learn through Vipassana meditation and also Krishnamurti.

I completed three more 10-day courses, and also an 8-day Satipatthana course all under Goenkaji. I will be doing my fifth 10-day course at the end of March and then I'm hoping to do a 20-day course. I've also served on a few courses, and was the kitchen manager on one course. IMO, serving is even more powerful than sitting a course in some ways, and you will encounter many big challenges and Dhamma will be really tested. This is how you can truly learn to grow more and more in love, compassion and peace.

This is just my experience, Vipassana works differently for everyone. I have a read some posts on this forum and yes, the organisation is NOT perfect. It never will be :) Why? Vipassana is created by us. By humans who live in the realm of mind and matter, the realm of clinging, and mostly by regular working people (yes, even the teachers often hold down normal jobs). They (or we) are not monks, do not live and practise full-time in a monastery, and in most cases there isn't even a centre - most courses I've been on are non-center and temporary. Vipassana appears to me to be as far away as you could possibly get from a cult, or from a dogmatic teaching. In my seven years doing courses, I've never practised any rites or rituals, or felt the need to bow down to anyone. In fact I now feel more free than I've ever felt, and if somebody told me in the morning that I wasn't able to ever attend a Vipassana course again, it wouldn't matter. You are your own master - the courses just provide a conducive place and an easy place to meditate and get better results through the meditation. If I bow at the end of a meditation, it is bowing to the qualities of the Buddha - not the person. Not any teacher, sect or guru. And certainly NOT Goenka. If you read the translations of the chantings, you will realise they are done to create a positive atmosphere for the meditators, as Buddha would have done. There is no ritual in it, they are simple words of love and compassion. All universal concepts that cannot be taken as being sectarian in any way, shape or form.

In my time serving I came to know many of the male/female managers and some teachers also to a lesser extent. And yes, I would agree with some of the posts here in that they are far from perfect. Sometimes I have seen things happen that I would question, and I had issues with the way some of the students were treated by managers (one manager in particular was very insensitive to some student needs, and I felt really bad after one of the students left the course). I've also seen some Vipassana practitioners treat it almost like a religion or a cult. So I can appreciate why some students have bad experiences on courses, and get bad vibes or impressions and turn away from this teaching as a result. But the problem is here is that one is tempted to identify certain individuals, even Goenka, with this teaching. But once you meditate, it is *yours*. You are your master. The others are just guides. You are looking for the answers externally, in some guru, in some teacher, in some organisation. You will not find it - it isn't out there :) It's within. All those physical forms, whether they are toughts, ideas, discourses that you find difficult to take in or philosophies you find unpalatable, they are not real. You have to let them go and find the truth for yourself within - only *then* is it your truth.

It is also worth remembering, Vipassana is you and me. It's run by you and me. After some years of continuous practise, any of us could be chosen to be a teacher. It isn't some big faceless multination corporation run by an elite bunch of people. There is no falseness or put-on kindness in it. It is as it is, sometimes difficult to take but not disguised or dressed up in any way, which is difficult to take in a society brainwashed by commercialism and "spiritual" teachers who tell you what you want to hear. It's you and me. I've been involved in running courses, and I've been involved in helping students through courses. I've even been overjoyed when some friends did courses and one friend is now enjoying some amazing benefits! I'll probably be picked as a male manager pretty soon due to the number of courses I've done. If you see problems with the people running Vipassana courses, get involved and help to make it better. It's a massive, voluntarily run, and sometimes inconsistent (no matter how hard we try) foundation. Please bear this in mind, and be as compassionate as you can for those teachers or managers who may very well be caught up in some form of ignorance, as most humans are. It's a good test in itself :)

If you have any question about my experiences please ask
« Last Edit: March 10, 2010, 02:38:11 PM by Lokuttara »
"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

Crystal Palace

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #1 on: March 10, 2010, 04:18:09 PM »
I particularly like the story Goenkaji narrates at the end of the course when he talks about the boy who throws away the entire bowl of sweet curd just because there was a black stone in it. Its more sensible to remove the black stone than to throw away the entire plate.

I remember in my first course there was a rather rude volunteer who was going about acting like he owned the place and I felt really sad for all those who might might get offended and then pass judgement not only on the organisation but also on the technique.

As you so rightly say, the people who run the organization are at the end of the day only human, and thus prone to any of the shortcomings that we could have. But because the teaching is taught by Goenkaji himself through audio, there is no deviation or corruption of any sort. So while the organization can have its own shortcomings (including relating to the AT's, the managers, the volunteers), the teaching is perfect and remains so. The AT's may not be able to explain all the things properly but Goenkaji's discourses + Words from the Dhammapada + Words of the Buddha + Common sense are all it takes to clarify any doubts that may come up during practice.

Im indeed grateful to the organization to have given me a chance to practice meditation without charging a single penny just simply so that I could become a better person through the practice of Dhamma. That, plus no rites, rituals, dogma, forceful showing of veneration to others, insistence on acceptance of the technique only if it gives results and complete stress on hard work is what makes me continue the practice, as they would say here, "in the Goenka style"

Warmly,
Crystal Palace
"Abstain from unwholesome actions,
Perform wholesome actions,
Purify your mind"

Buddha

Lokuttara

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #2 on: March 10, 2010, 05:44:15 PM »
Yes Crystal Palace, I also really like that story :) I think for many years of my teens I was throwing away the entire bowl simply because I didn't like the idea of having someone teach me meditation, or having to follow rules in any way. That seemed to much like religion to me, and I was very anti-christian at that time. It was only after Dhiravamsa recommended finding a teacher to become established in meditation (in one of his books) that I really considered it.

And as you said, the teaching has been maintained in it's purity, and in my opinion it contains everything required for serious meditation. We are really lucky to have found something that hasn't been messed with or commercialised in some way. I spent many years searching for something pure like this, and I had pretty much given up because all institutions and organisations seem so inherently corrupt. But with Vipassana, it isn't a single point of failure - if rot sets in in one centre, it shouldn't affect all the other centres because they are run separately.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2010, 06:02:35 PM by Lokuttara »
"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

Matthew

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2010, 08:53:34 AM »
Dear Lokutta,

Welcome to the forums.

And as you said, the teaching has been maintained in it's purity.......

No it has not. Goenka does not even teach meditation the way his teacher taught it.

The Buddha also taught his Dhamma would be lost after 500 years. That period ended nearly 2000 years or so ago. There is no teaching that has been "maintained in it's purity".

You are right on one point that is very significant to the practice of meditation. You have to do it yourself, no one else can do it for you, and you have to become your own guide - precisely because there is no pure lineage, no unbroken line of teachings and no true rendition of what the Buddha taught.

Warmly, in the Dhamma,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Lokuttara

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #4 on: March 11, 2010, 10:35:12 AM »

Goenka does not even teach meditation the way his teacher taught it. The Buddha also taught his Dhamma would be lost after 500 years. That period ended nearly 2000 years or so ago. There is no teaching that has been "maintained in it's purity".

Having read some Vipassana Journals, including the extensive Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal, published by the VRI ( http://www.amazon.com/Sayagyi-U-Ba-Khin-Journal/dp/8174140166 ), which traces the lineage of teachers in this form of Vipassana, it appears to me that this teaching has being maintained in it's purity from the accomplished Buddhist monk Ledi Sayadaw (1846-1923), who taught Saya Thetgyi. For information on Sayadaw, have a look here:
http://www.vridhamma.org/Teachers-2.aspx

I honestly don't know how much purity we have left in it from Sayadaw's time, but there is the feeling that Sayadaws line was quite pure, simple, dhamma. Nothing added, nothing taken away. It is worth reading some of the writings from that time and you will see. Sayadaw was a renowned pali scholar at the time, a samanera at the age of 15, so he had direct experience with the words of Buddha as they were spoken by Buddha - something most recent teachers can't claim (as far as I know). This strain of Buddhism hadn't been polluted with the rites, rituals or mindless doctrine of some of the other strains from what I can tell (but I'm no expert), it a more hardcore type of practise, with emphasis on the meditation rather than the books - or certainly from Sayadaw's point of view, he spent a lot of time meditating in caves and in nature.

I don't know how close it is to Buddha's teaching technically, but such discussions are futile because we observing the truth in the present moment, which is universal, as it happens, and there is only one breath to observe, there is only one body with sensations, so it doesn't matter if it's Eckhart Tolle teaching it, Buddha, or Krishnamurti. It's all one, universal truth. No matter who the messenger is, it leads to the same ultimate truth once it is given in a simple, direct, easy to understand format (without complicating it). Of course the path is different for everyone, and personal experiences vary depending on karma.

But I'm only taking my first steps on the path, and it's a long path ;)
I may very well be wrong about all of this, but experiement with it yourself and see what happens. These are just my own conditioned psychological responses after all!
« Last Edit: March 11, 2010, 10:42:57 AM by Lokuttara »
"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

xsmallard

Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #5 on: March 11, 2010, 03:59:55 PM »
May I suggest, that it might be worth considering, to have a separate discussion area, just for Goenka, regardless of the authors' positive or negative opinion. That way the same discussions that seem to be repeated over and over and over again can all be contained on one nice tidy area, allowing Goenka followers to read and discuss that issue.

Just a suggestion.

Best,
Don

Matthew

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #6 on: March 11, 2010, 04:05:23 PM »
Don,

Thanks for the suggestion. It's one I have been contemplating. Others views welcomed please.

Warmly,

Matthew

EDIT: Actually we had this discussion before. The consensus was strongly against. Maybe people just need to stop posting these stories and get on with meditating.
« Last Edit: March 11, 2010, 05:39:13 PM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
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Matthew

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #7 on: March 11, 2010, 05:43:04 PM »

Having read some Vipassana Journals, including the extensive Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal, published by the VRI ( http://www.amazon.com/Sayagyi-U-Ba-Khin-Journal/dp/8174140166 ), which traces the lineage of teachers in this form of Vipassana, it appears to me that this teaching has being maintained in it's purity from the accomplished Buddhist monk Ledi Sayadaw (1846-1923)......

Lokuttara,

What you say does nothing to change the point I made. Where is the unbroken lineage record from Gautama to Ledi Sayadaw ? You can't just miss out 2,200 years or so and make reference to the last 100 years of lineage and claim it to be pure, unbroken - or any such thing.

Warmly, in the Dhamma,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Lokuttara

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #8 on: March 13, 2010, 02:30:00 AM »
EDIT: Actually we had this discussion before. The consensus was strongly against. Maybe people just need to stop posting these stories and get on with meditating.

Sorry, I should have done more searching around before posting I guess.

And I'd agree, it's best to practise instead of talking about it and complicating something that is very simple. I usually stay from forums for this very reason, but I fely compelled to give a my positive Goenka experience as I sensed a bit of... dare I say it, prejudice, on this forum :), which is unfortunate, especially when the Goenka technique has been so helpful for me and many other people. Just trying to help balance things out a little.


Lokuttara,

What you say does nothing to change the point I made. Where is the unbroken lineage record from Gautama to Ledi Sayadaw ? You can't just miss out 2,200 years or so and make reference to the last 100 years of lineage and claim it to be pure, unbroken - or any such thing.

Warmly, in the Dhamma,

Matthew

I meant that it was kept pure since Sayadaw's time. Before that? All we have is our own judgement based on direct experience of the truth through meditation, then things seem to be really clear and these questions are answered. Each person must find their own path to the truth :)
"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

Matthew

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #9 on: March 13, 2010, 07:08:13 AM »
And I'd agree, it's best to practise instead of talking about it and complicating something that is very simple. I usually stay from forums for this very reason, but I fely compelled to give a my positive Goenka experience as .....

“When you want to move or want to talk, first examine your mind. And then, with firmness, act in the proper way. When you feel desire or hatred in your mind do not act or speak but remain like a log.” - Shantideva.

There have been many debates and controversies about Goenka here and some have been quite acrimonious. In all talk about him I now guide myself using Shantideva's advice.

Some benefit from Goenka's system, most seem not to. He makes false claims and I have serious reservations about him, his organisation and teachings which I have explained elsewhere in some detail.

However, if you are one of the people it works for I am not going to tell you you are mistaken. I have no such authority.

Warmly, in the Dhamma,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Lokuttara

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #10 on: March 24, 2010, 06:02:31 PM »
Some benefit from Goenka's system, most seem not to. He makes false claims and I have serious reservations about him, his organisation and teachings which I have explained elsewhere in some detail.

You say that "most seem not to"; I question that. I've been on numerous courses, and I have found that most have benefitted from it - most being close to everyone, with a small percentage who either leave before the end or discontinue the practise, or don't practise seriously. For those who continue the practise, it seems that 100% of them get great benefits. I've talked to quite a few people on courses through the years, and anyone I have asked who practises have found that it helps.

"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

Jhananda

Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #11 on: March 25, 2010, 02:00:22 AM »
Funny, Lokuttara, my experience of speaking with Goenka devotees over the last 35 years has shown most of them do not keep up a daily meditation practice, and most of them have no plans to ever sit another Goenka retreat.

elliberto

Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2010, 09:08:26 AM »
Quote
Funny, Lokuttara, my experience of speaking with Goenka devotees over the last 35 years has shown most of them do not keep up a daily meditation practice, and most of them have no plans to ever sit another Goenka retreat.

So? how does that differ from most other people who meditate?
And how does that exclude people still being able to benefit from it.
Speaking from my own limited experience: I visited a Goenka retreat, don't buy everything that was being said, don't plan to go on another Goenka retreat but I still benefited greatly.

Lokuttara

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #13 on: March 25, 2010, 12:20:26 PM »
Funny, Lokuttara, my experience of speaking with Goenka devotees over the last 35 years has shown most of them do not keep up a daily meditation practice, and most of them have no plans to ever sit another Goenka retreat.

It's quite possible that it varies from country to country, but here in Ireland people are very enthusiastic about Vipassana courses and certainly the majority seem to come back, either to serve or sit.

I would tend to agree about the daily practise though, but that doesn't mean they still don't get benefits along the path. Not everyone is in a big rush to become enluightened ;)
"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

Matthew

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Re: Goenka's Vipassna - my personal experience of 10-day courses
« Reply #14 on: March 26, 2010, 03:45:43 AM »
It's best to be in a calm rush to get enlightened. Most people give up when they realise the house and car might have to go to achieve this.

Warmly, in the Dhamma,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

 

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