Goenka technique

Discussion of Satipatthana bhavanā and Vipassana bhavana.

Goenka technique

Postby Jechbi » Thu Jan 01, 2009 5:56 pm

Hello all,

I would be interested in hearing more about the experiences others have had with Vipassana as taught by SN Goenka. I first encountered the technique in 2004 and have been engaged with it since that time. I'm aware that different people of different experience levels view the approach through different lenses. During one course I sat with a venerable monk from Sri Lanka who later gave me some additional context in which to understand Goenkaji's approach. He seemed gratified to have an opportunity to help out at the center, yet it also was clear that he took some of Goenka's discourses with a good-natured grain of salt.

In a different thread, Retro offered a comment that intrigued me:

retrofuturist wrote:I too have done a 10-day Goenka course (May 2007, I think) and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, even if my practice now is more specifically aligned to the suttas than it is to Mr. Goenka's technique.


For me, that raises the question: To what degree could Mr. Goenka's technique be more specifically aligned to the suttas, and is this lack of specific alignment something that has the potential to create obstacles for those of use who employ the technique? Or am I overthinking this?

I'd also be interested in the impressions of venerables here, if they feel it is appropriate to comment.

Metta
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jan 02, 2009 2:17 am

Greetings Jechbi,

The main thought that came to mind when I wrote that was that I no longer "sweep en masse".

The thing is, "sweeping" is totally consistent with the Satipatthana Sutta and so on, but it's not a stated, and therefore not essential method when meditating in accordance with the sutta. I think of it like this... here's a method that Mr. Goenka and his respective teachers found a useful way to follow MN10 and they're sharing this method with others for them to trial. Likewise, the Mahasi method of vipassana is different, but is also consistent with the suttas.

Both methods are quite specific and 'step-by-step' and I think that's particularly important when teaching complete beginners because otherwise there's a good chance they'll do something wrong.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Goenka technique

Postby pererin » Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:07 am

I too have taken part in a Vipassana retreat, and while it affected me profoundly I very much feel the need of further reading or advice regarding understanding Vipassana better and learning more about its practise. Any suggestions?

Metta,

Pererin
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby Ben » Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:27 am

Hi Pererin

A couple of suggestions for you:
  • Manual of Vipassana Meditation: U Ko Lay (A close friend of Sayagi U Ba Khin and Head of Dept of Patipatti, Rangoon University)
  • Manuals of Dhamma: Ledi Sayadaw (in particularly, Manual of Insight)
  • The Quiet Mind: John Coleman (inspirational)
  • Vedana and Sampajjana: VRI 1989 conference proceedings, VRI
The above should be available from http://www.pariyatti.com or http://www.dhammabooks.com
Kind regards

Ben
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby pererin » Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:36 am

Many thanks, Ben.

Metta,

Pererin
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby Ben » Tue Jan 06, 2009 2:14 am

By the way Pererin, there's a whole heap of articles in the VRI website: www.vri.dhamma.org in the newsletter archives. Some of the papers from 'vedana and sampajjana' are also there.
Cheers

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Re: Goenka technique

Postby cooran » Fri Jan 09, 2009 10:52 pm

Hello all,

I recently attended my second 10 day Retreat at Dhamma Pabha north of Hobart in Tasmania.
I have a few questions and concerns. The first of which is:

Sankharas:
Goenka-ji teaches that these are the habit patterns accumulated in this and previous lives. When sitting in meditation, bodily sensations arise - 'intensified, gross' - which he states are Old Sankharas coming to the surface. If you "maintain Equanimity" these old sankharas are released/evaporated. If you react with aversion or craving, you are creating new very deep sankharas.

I was experiencing agonising pain in the tendon/muscle at the side of my right knee. The teachers advice was as above, and that I ought not to change the position if at all possible. I endured for three days and then changed to using a kneeling stool. No further pain, except a sore muscle from what I had put it through.

I don't understand how physical pain (which is the body saying something is wrong) is viewed as some sort of 'garbage chute' for old kammic accumulations.

Thoughts?

metta
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:13 pm

Greetings Chris,
Chris wrote:Thoughts?


The following may be of interest...

Vedanā in Paṭiccasamuppāda by Vipassana Research Institute
http://www.vri.dhamma.org/newsletters/e ... 4-03.shtml

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Goenka technique

Postby Jechbi » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:14 pm

Hi Chris,

You may want to ask an assistant teacher about this, but I'll give you my take:

Chris wrote:Sankharas:
Goenka-ji teaches that these are the habit patterns accumulated in this and previous lives. When sitting in meditation, bodily sensations arise - 'intensified, gross' - which he states are Old Sankharas coming to the surface. If you "maintain Equanimity" these old sankharas are released/evaporated. If you react with aversion or craving, you are creating new very deep sankharas.
Well sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. If a spider crawls up and bites you while you're sitting, or a bee stings you, it's not a sankhara coming to the surface. Same thing with a cramp in your knee due to an unaccustomed posture, in my opinion. And regardless, I don't think reacting during sitting meditation is ever going to be a "new very deep sankhara." At worst it's going to be a sankhara like one written in the sand, which doesn't last long. (Just my opinion.)

Chris wrote:I was experiencing agonising pain in the tendon/muscle at the side of my right knee. The teachers advice was as above, and that I ought not to change the position if at all possible.
It sounds as if either you or the teacher may have misunderstood what was going on. I think usually the AT will advise the student to try a different position if there is recurring pain, NOT stick with the same old pain-inducing position.

Chris wrote:I endured for three days and then changed to using a kneeling stool. No further pain, except a sore muscle from what I had put it through.
Too bad the AT didn't suggest this sooner than three days.

Chris wrote:I don't understand how physical pain (which is the body saying something is wrong) is viewed as some sort of 'garbage chute' for old kammic accumulations.
Well, sometimes physical pain is the body's way of saying something is wrong, and sometimes it's not. Sometimes we perceive sensations as "negative" physical pain when in fact they're just ordinary sensations that don't signal any underlying problem. One point of the technique is to come to terms with those sensations and be aware of the reactive tendancies we all possess. Usually we just react without thinking. When we sit, we try not to.

Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about this. It's easy to become defeatist if the sitting meditation doesn't go as we expect, but really, each "mistake" is an opportunity to learn and begin again. It's all grist for the enlightenment mill.

Ben will probably have better insights.

Metta
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby Ben » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:38 pm

Hi Chris

It took me some years before I stopped confusing sankhara and vedana.
Sankharas manifest through vedanas, cittas, dhammas, and kaya and not one exclusively - to my knowledge. When one progresses with the technique, one can develop the subtlety of mind to be able to observe the rise and fall of different phenomenological experiences at the same time. By observing vedana one is observing the rise and fall of one aspect of sankhara.
If I had known you were going to endure sitting in the same position hour after hour without moving despite ongoing pain, I would have advised you against it.
Yes, some assistant teachers are more student-focused and more knowledgable than others.
Metta

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Re: Goenka technique

Postby pererin » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:48 pm

I suffered considerable back pain at points during my Vipassana retreat. The teacher, an eminently sensible man, simply told me to change my position. Pain eased, the meditation practice was thereby enhanced.
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby cooran » Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:27 am

Hello all,

Thank you for your replies - I also asked Ven. Dhammasiha (Abbot of Dhammagiri monestary near Brisbane) about this when I saw him today. He basically said the same thing as Ben, that it is best to shift position rather than incur an injury. He also explained that very many monks suffer from ruined knees due to meditation - though most are practicing other forms of vipassana than the Goenka-technique.

I also clarified and settled my other queries about various quotes from the Tipitaka which I felt had been embellished. Bhante Dhammasiha said that he felt the intention was wholesome and not to forget that Goenka-ji was speaking to an audience where the majority were probably not buddhist. He advised that although he does not use the Goenka technique himself, if one is attending a Goenka Retreat one ought to give full effort to practising and following that technique during the Retreat. He reiterated that Goenka-ji teaches a method which is accepted by Theravada especially Burmese buddhists, and there is no suggestion that he is teaching anything that is not dhammic.

Thanks again all,
metta
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby zavk » Tue Jan 20, 2009 11:29 pm

Jechbi wrote:
For me, that raises the question: To what degree could Mr. Goenka's technique be more specifically aligned to the suttas, and is this lack of specific alignment something that has the potential to create obstacles for those of use who employ the technique? Or am I overthinking this?


Hi Jecbi and all,

This is what I posted elsewhere; I think it's relevant here. Maybe you've read it but I'll post it again here anyway:

I think it is possible to contextualize Goenka's approach within the Satipatthana Sutta as well as other suttas and commentaries. The following excerpt is from Analayo's Satipatthāna: The Direct Path to Realization which I think is a very insightful study that reads the sutta in relation to other suttas to present a balanced interpretation. I highly recommend it. Anyway this is what he has to say about single-method practice (you can find this bit in the wiki on the sutta):

Several [Pali Canon] discourses relate the practice of a single satipaṭṭhāna directly to realization. Similarly, the commentaries assign to each single satipaṭṭhāna meditation the capacity to lead to full awakening. This may well be why a high percentage of present-day meditation teachers focus on the use of a single meditation technique, on the ground that a single-minded and thorough perfection of one meditation technique can cover all aspects of satipaṭṭhāna, and thus be sufficient to gain realization. (p. 22).

But he adds a caveat:
Thus any single meditation practice from the satipaṭṭhāna scheme is capable of leading to deep insight.... Nonetheless, an attempt to cover all four satipaṭṭhānas in one's practice ... ensures speedy progress and a balanced and comprehensive development. (p. 23)


I wasn't going to type from the book but I remembered this passage, so here it is:
The intriguing feature of the Buddha's approach is that his analysis focused mainly on the psychological underpinnings of views, rather than on their content. Because of this approach, he was able to trace the arising of views to craving (tanha), which in turn arises dependent on feeling. Conversely, by fully understanding the role of feelings as a link between contact and craving, the view-forming process itself can be transcended. The Pasadika Sutta explicitly presents such transcendence of views as an aim of satipatthana contemplation. Thus the second satipattana, contemplation of feelings, has an intriguing potential to generate insight into the genesis of views and opinions. p. (161)

Also he has this to say about U Ba Khin and Mahasi Sayadaw:
It is noteworthy that two of the most popular contemporary vipassana schools of the Theravada tradition recognize the importance of developing such bare awareness of whatever arises at any sense door as an advanced stage of insight meditation. To judge from writings of Mahasi Sayadaw and U Ba Khin, their particular meditation techniques are apparently mainly expedient means for beginners, who are not yet able to practise such bare awareness at all sense doors.


Best wishes,
zavk
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby Ben » Wed Jan 21, 2009 12:36 am

zavk wrote:
It is noteworthy that two of the most popular contemporary vipassana schools of the Theravada tradition recognize the importance of developing such bare awareness of whatever arises at any sense door as an advanced stage of insight meditation. To judge from writings of Mahasi Sayadaw and U Ba Khin, their particular meditation techniques are apparently mainly expedient means for beginners, who are not yet able to practise such bare awareness at all sense doors.

zavk


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Re: Goenka technique

Postby rowyourboat » Wed Jan 21, 2009 3:45 pm

I have not attended Goenka retreat but have heard tapes of his. So this is just my opinon. I feel there he uses certain terms differently from the suttas: As far as suttas go there are controversies regarding Goenka's interpretation of vedana:
suttas often seem to depic vedana as an applicable term to all stimuli (denoting its pleasant, unpleasant or neutral nature) arising from any of the sense bases

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... l#sn27.005

This has knock on effects as to what is being practiced -whether it is vedananupassana or kayanupassana (or even dhammanupassana using only one sense door)

another is his usage of the term sankhara to denote defilements. Sankhara has a broader definition within the suttas- karmically whoelsome, unwhole or neutral dhammas.

As far as the practice goes there is nothing mentioned in the suttas or the commentaries about sankharas arising and being dispelled. This is more in line with the western freudian concepts of releasing of repressed psychological trauma.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sankhara

'Bhangha' is another term- possibly with new usage with the tradition. It is said to denote a point where all body sensations disappear. Previously in the commentaries bhanga nana (knowledge of dissolution) is when everything seems to be dissolving. These two are different. I suspect that bhanga may occur in two instances- one is when samadhi is developed to a great degree and the mind cannot direct itself towards body sensations (this naturally happens in samatha) and focuses internally on the mind away from body sensations. Or it happens when there is stream entry.

I have seen many people after practicing Goenka. For some the outcome has been merely samatha (they go into jhana using the body scan). Others seem stuck in repetions of body scans which doesnt seem to progress far from that point onwards. Others have reaped the full benefit and gone all the way to stream entry following the traditional progress of insight.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... gress.html

The main limitation I see with the body scan method is the scanning itself. I feel it tends to give rise to more samatha than vipassana. For example lets imagine focusing a flashlight in a dark room, wich has a stream of flowing water down the middle. if we focus on just one spot things might look prety constant, but there will be some change visible as the water flows past (samatha). if we focus up and down this stream we will be able to see the ripples and eddies in the stream much better and sense impermanence much better (body scan). if we switch the flash light on and off and focus on different parts of the stream and even the room we would be able to see the impermanence at it's best. this would offer the best chance of letting go of all phenomena after seeing it's true nature, and not just the body, which is the purpose of vipassana. You will find that traditions that do the last form of vipassana are all confident about talking about attainment- ie -stream entry.

I believe that Goenka has done a great service to the world by making vipassana very popular and bringing it to many. Many people have benefitted from it. But I think there are areas which can be improved upon. I hope I wont be penalized for expressing my honest opinion.

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Re: Goenka technique

Postby Jechbi » Thu Jan 22, 2009 8:02 am

Hello Rowyourboat,
rowyourboat wrote:I hope I wont be penalized for expressing my honest opinion.
I hope everyone feels free to express their honest opinions as you have, in a helpful, informative way. The Goenka-taught retreats are not going to be everyone's cup of tea. There are far more experienced meditators out there that me, but I'd like to share a few thoughts in response to what you have offered.

With regard to vedana, my understanding is that Mr. Goenka describes it in connection with physical sensations in the body because those sensations are the object of this technique. But I don't have the impression that we're meant to understand that vedana only means sensations in the body and nothing else. See here.

rowyourboat wrote:another is his usage of the term sankhara to denote defilements. Sankhara has a broader definition within the suttas- karmically whoelsome, unwhole or neutral dhammas.
I agree with you that the term "sankhara" as presented in the Goenka discourses can easily be misunderstood, but Mr. Goenka seems to emphasize more that it refers to our "habit patterns," our habitual reactions stemming from ignorance.

rowyourboat wrote:As far as the practice goes there is nothing mentioned in the suttas or the commentaries about sankharas arising and being dispelled. This is more in line with the western freudian concepts of releasing of repressed psychological trauma.
I don't think Mr. Goenka encourages any effort at "dispelling" sankharas in some active, deliberate way. Rather, reactions come up seemingly coupled with sensations, and instead of compounding the reaction or building upon it, the idea is to observe it and understand it's nature, which is to arise and then pass way. It is anicca.

This is related to a point that Ven. Dhammanando made brilliantly in this thread, namely, that it is not self that breaks these links between vedana and sankhara:
Dhammanando wrote:The normal tendency of pleasant objects to generate attachment and unpleasant ones to generate aversion can be broken. But it is not 'we' who do it (i.e. it can't be done in any controlled, deliberative fashion, with a supposed self directing affairs), but rather, it's the effect of developing paññā that makes it possible.
:namaste:

A final minor point:
rowyourboat wrote:'Bhangha' is another term- possibly with new usage with the tradition. It is said to denote a point where all body sensations disappear.
I don't think that's what Bhangha means at all. It's not the point at which body sensations disappear, and I don't think that's ever taught in any discourse by Mr. Goenka (but I won't mind being corrected if I'm wrong).

I have seen a fair amount of criticism of (as well as praise for) the technique as taught by Mr. Goenka, and I encourage anyone to decide for themselves. Different strokes for different folks. For me personally, Mr. Goenka's approach has been very helpful.

Metta
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby rowyourboat » Fri Jan 23, 2009 3:14 pm

Hi Jechbi,

From what I have heard Goenka considers vedana synonymous with bodily sensations as he says that terms like 'somanasa' are used for mental pleasantness in the suttas. I listend to his entire satipatthana course tapes and I must say I found it hard going due to the way some terms were used. According to the former understanding, this also means that any mental unpleasantness or pleasantness must create bodily sensations- this is something I understood from some ardent Goenka fans. But I believe that the buddha asked us to see 'mind in mind' and not 'mind in the body'.

Any single method has some overlap onto other foundations of mindfulness. However for full comprehension (=full letting go in the buddhas dispensation) of any foundation we must dvelve deeply into that particular foundation because each of those foundations have special meaning in attaining nibbana. There is a sutta which says that a 'sekha'/trainee is someone who has partially practiced the four foundations and an arahanth is someone who has fully practiced the four foundations. As we know becoming enlightened is not easy and it would be detrimental for us to be attached to one technique for decades if it has not taken us right to the top. A wise monk told me that we should try any method wholeheartedly for 2 years as there is no one method which does it all for everyone- everyone is different. My brightest yogi, a woman who was a Goenka practitioner for many years-which probably got her to stream entry (again using the anonymity of this forum). But I introduced the jhanas to her and she said that she always felt that this was something which was missing in her practice. Later she said that the Goenka practice had helped her reduce cravings and aversions and so did not want to practice any further vedananupassana, to which I acceeded. Later when she erradicated all sensual craving, said that ashubha (foulness of the body) and metta (loving kindness) helped her the most in getting rid of craving and aversion. I am sharing this live example because this was one woman who was any meditation instructor's dream as her faculties were incredible. You could practically ask her to do anything and she could get results and progress out of it. So her part of the practice was 100% -the only thing which was holding her back would have been the limitations of the method she used (it is often the other way around). She is now attaining arupa jhana and nirodhasamapatti. I have seen how others have been helped by the goenka method- to various degrees. But I believe the problem is the buddha never taught only one type of meditation in the satipattana- and if anyone could have taken a person upto enlightenment using one meditation, it was the buddha. He taught various types as it takes various types- and the reason is that all meditations in the satipatthana aim at letting go- they all end with 'nacakinci loke upadiyati' not clining to anything in the world- we have different types of clinging and the various methods in the satipatthana are used to overcome them all one by one. so it just helps to do them all eventually. so I would say not to limit yourself just to Goenka but try them all, giving them enough time, eventually. I hope to go on a Goenka retreat myself one day.

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Re: Goenka technique

Postby Brizzy » Fri Jun 18, 2010 7:58 am

Apparently, we cannot create a sensation.........................

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=jX7pl_hFSVsC&pg=PA11&lpg=PA11&dq=goenka+create+sensations&source=bl&ots=agbRPUFA3W&sig=kqJv-yQCH3Dn8V1ma5JMNRq1aOU&hl=en&ei=byMbTMHPC8bIcYftmKIK&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=8&ved=0CEQQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q&f=false

I just jabbed a pen in my eye........my friend said "why the bloody hell, did you do that"? :cookoo: .......... my reply................"I did'nt do it"! :sage:

:smile:
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Re: Goenka technique

Postby fijiNut » Fri Jun 18, 2010 10:39 am

I have to break my silence in regards to to topic as I thought it would only be fair to balance out the views on this thread. I only share this because those who have doubts in regards to progress on the path of Dhamma in this tradition.

My first ever retreat was in the Goenka tradition in 2008 in New Zealand, and I still practice the technique, along with mindfulness of breathing and loving kindness meditation. Prior to that , I knew nothing about meditation and could not even sit for 10 minutes.

On the 2nd day, quite strong samadhi, I didn't want to get up from meditation.
By the end of the 3rd day, the mind settled into jhana, they were right, its better than sex! With total loss of body sensations,hit-me-with-a-stick, I still won't feel it, for at least an hour.
On the 4th day we changed to the scanning , the mind experienced dissolution of the body, nothing but rapid arising and passing away for 1 hour sitting, this scared me a little. The teacher just gave calm advice to just continue meditating.
Day 5th onwards till day 10, there was complete reversal; major defilements hit the mind, lust, aversion, the whole lot.

So call it beginner's luck, but subsequent retreats later, there hasn't been as much progress as the first retreat (maybe too much craving for results on my side).

So does this 'technique' work?
In my experience, and I am only speculating here- it could be the limitation of the technique(it's possible), or it could be the limitation of the parami of the practictioner, or it could be just a matter of time and ripening of kamma....

Eitherway, I am very grateful to have taken my first retreat in this tradition, and I hope those who have 10 days to spare give this technique a fair go.
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