10-day goenka retreat

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10-day goenka retreat

Postby delf7 » Fri Dec 02, 2011 8:13 pm

hello all, i am thinking of applying to attend a 10-day course in "vipassana meditation as taught by s.n. goenka in the tradition of sayagyi u ba khin" offered at a retreat in northern illinois, usa. the goenka organization holds these world-wide.
i am very interested in doing this, but in researching this, i have read some very bad reviews of mr. goenka's teaching (or should i say his "assistant teachers" as mr. goenka's discourses tend to be via videotape) and his "schools". i have also read some very good things (one such "review" by a trusted member of this forum, who i tend to believe).
i have read people calling his retreats "cult boot-camps" and "not based in true theravada" while others have called them "wonderful experiences".
i am curious as to if anyone here has attended any of these retreats and what impressions you had of the experience.
any input would be greatly appriciated.
kind regards,
delf
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby SeekingDharma » Fri Dec 02, 2011 8:26 pm

Hello delf,

I've read the same reviews as I was making this same decision. I am enthusiastically signed up for a February retreat and very much looking forward to it. For fear of an incorrect assumption, I'll defer to others with actual experience to say whether or not they feel it is worth it. If you've reviewed the same criticisms I did, I would recommend you look closer. In review of those "cult" comments and the like, I gained an impression that most of these people were not consistent meditators and did not have an understanding of what they should expect (this isn't a negative comment from them, but it helped me to understand where their feelings could be based). If you are looking for a meditation retreat, worst case scenario you've set aside 10 days to meditate--how can you lose? What ultimately made me cast aside my fears of those critical were talks of Goenka himself. 2 or 3 videos on YouTube was all I needed to at least dive in and make a decision for myself.

I hope I didn't muddy the waters for you, I very much look forward to my first 10-day Goenka retreat! :twothumbsup:
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby Ben » Fri Dec 02, 2011 8:36 pm

Greetings delf,

However difficult, try to put aside all that you may have heard - positive, negative and neutral.
Surely the proof of the pudding is in its eating? Ehi Passiko (see for yourself).

If you do decide to go through with a ten-day course - I wish you every success.
with metta,

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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby delf7 » Fri Dec 02, 2011 9:16 pm

SeekingDharma wrote:I hope I didn't muddy the waters for you, I very much look forward to my first 10-day Goenka retreat! :twothumbsup:


not at all, seeker, the water is still clear - just moving around a little.
we appear to be on the same page, as i too decided to check out some goenka videos after the negative "reviews" i read. my apprehension has lessened a great degree, and like ben said, we have to see for ourselves.
i am quite excited about this, as it will be my 1st retreat. still, i would like to hear from any other forum members who have taken, or are thinking of taking this course. thank you.
metta,
delf
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby manas » Fri Dec 02, 2011 9:17 pm

delf7 wrote:hello all, i am thinking of applying to attend a 10-day course in "vipassana meditation as taught by s.n. goenka in the tradition of sayagyi u ba khin" offered at a retreat in northern illinois, usa. the goenka organization holds these world-wide.
i am very interested in doing this, but in researching this, i have read some very bad reviews of mr. goenka's teaching (or should i say his "assistant teachers" as mr. goenka's discourses tend to be via videotape) and his "schools". i have also read some very good things (one such "review" by a trusted member of this forum, who i tend to believe).
i have read people calling his retreats "cult boot-camps" and "not based in true theravada" while others have called them "wonderful experiences".
i am curious as to if anyone here has attended any of these retreats and what impressions you had of the experience.
any input would be greatly appriciated.
kind regards,
delf
Hi delf,

I have not attended a Geonka retreat, but I have been on meditation retreats led by Theravadin monks and found much benefit from the increase in practice, the guidance etc. But the retreats that I attended were designed specifically so as to not cause too much stress to the laypeople attending them. My concern is that maybe some who go on more intensive retreats are not ready for the intensity of the practice that will be encountered there. The Buddha described the Path he taught as a gradual one:

Ud 5.5 wrote:Just as the ocean has a gradual shelf, a gradual slope, a gradual inclination, with a sudden drop-off only after a long stretch, in the same way this Doctrine and Discipline (dhamma-vinaya) has a gradual training, a gradual performance, a gradual progression, with a penetration to gnosis only after a long stretch.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/



I do not want to discourage you from the chance to practice more meditation, far from it! But I do ask, have you been practising meditation daily for a while already? Have you been keeping the five basic precepts strictly for a while already? Unless these two requirements were met, I would not go, personally; I would first put more effort into virtue and practising meditation with a regular daily schedule at home for a while, and if possible, find someone who has experience in meditation over a long period of time who can guide and assist you (a member of the Bhikkhu sangha (seek one out who is open to helping laypeople with meditation) is often a good place to start, ime). (Just one more thing, I think that you would need to keep eight precepts while on the retreat, so it might also be a good idea to 'try them at home' first, too, as even at home they can bring up a few challenges!)

Ok, just to reiterate: I am not saying 'don't go', I am saying, 'please consider preparing yourself first, by integrating basic virtue into your life, and meditating at home every day for a while, as preparation...'

~with metta :anjali: ~
Primum non nocere: "first, do no harm."
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby David2 » Fri Dec 02, 2011 9:43 pm

Delf7, whatever people say, just go if you are thinking of going.
You have nothing to lose.

If you don't go, you can't really say if it is for you or not. So just go.
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby delf7 » Fri Dec 02, 2011 9:49 pm

thank you very much manasikara, very good advice. i have only been practicing for a few months, and keeping on a daily schedule has been a challenge to say the least, so... i have thought that i might be rushing this a little, but at the same time, the reason i want to attend the course is to really learn vipassana - to really immerse myself in it.
i've always been the type of person who jumps right in the deep end, but maybe i should learn to tread water first?
i don't know, i will give this more thought. thank you again for your insight.
metta,
delf
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby Modus.Ponens » Fri Dec 02, 2011 9:57 pm

I have done a 10 day vipassana retreat in that tradition and it was the best thing that I did in my life. The technique is very useful and the results profound. I advise anyone to try it.

Having said that, I also have to say the following:

1- I've read that Mahasi style is more efficient in producing insight than Goenka style. The problem with Goenka tradition is that it requires a certain commitment to the tradition in order to be able to attend certain retreats, like the teacher's self course. If you have practiced any other meditation technique between the last retreat and the teacher's self course, for example, you can't attend the TSC. which brings me to the second point:

2- The whole Goenka organization may be a cult. Most acusations online of this organization being a cult are ignorant and could apply to any form of retreat, which would imply that every temple offering retreats are cults. However, there have been at least 2 cases I've encountered worth considering as more than ignorant talk. A critic from inside the organization (going by the name of "pamojja") apeared on e-sangha and described his case where he was threatened to either embrace the views of Goenka regarding the teachings or never being able to attend another course again. He tried to contact Goenka himself to expose the case but with no reply. Here lies the nature of my doubt: either Goenka was to busy to take care of that subject or he neglected it (which is bad) or he encouraged it (which is worse). Now bear in mind that all this happened on the internet and could mean nothing, but, nevertheless, I would like to make the warning.

Why do I recomend this retreat despite having a slight doubt that it is a cult? Because you can learn the technique _ which has nothing wrong and is very beneficial _ and still not become a cult member.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby David2 » Fri Dec 02, 2011 10:18 pm

delf7 wrote:i've always been the type of person who jumps right in the deep end, but maybe i should learn to tread water first?

How can I be sure I am capable of doing the meditation?

For a person in reasonable physical and mental health who is genuinely interested and willing to make a sincere effort, meditation (including "noble silence") is not difficult. If you are able to follow the instructions patiently and diligently, you can be sure of tangible results. Though it may appear daunting, the day's schedule is neither too severe nor too relaxed. Moreover, the presence of other students practicing conscientiously in a peaceful and conducive atmosphere lends tremendous support to one's efforts.

http://www.dhamma.org/en/qanda.shtml
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby Ben » Fri Dec 02, 2011 11:00 pm

Hi MP,
Modus.Ponens wrote:I have done a 10 day vipassana retreat in that tradition and it was the best thing that I did in my life. The technique is very useful and the results profound. I advise anyone to try it.

Which has been my experience.

Modus.Ponens wrote:Having said that, I also have to say the following:

1- I've read that Mahasi style is more efficient in producing insight than Goenka style. The problem with Goenka tradition is that it requires a certain commitment to the tradition in order to be able to attend certain retreats, like the teacher's self course. If you have practiced any other meditation technique between the last retreat and the teacher's self course, for example, you can't attend the TSC. which brings me to the second point:


Yes, at a certain point one is asked to decide whether this particular tradition is right for them. But for the vast majority of meditators - they are not asked. The commitment comes prior to eligibility for the long courses. The pre-requisites to sit the shortest long-course (20-day) is as follows:
    Must be a serious old student who is committed to this technique.
    Must have sat at least five 10-Day courses with Goenkaji or one of his assistant teachers.
    Must have sat at least one Satipatthana Sutta Course.
    Must have served at least one 10-Day course.
    Maintenance of daily practice of two hours per day for at least 2 years.
    Abstaining from killing, sexual misconduct, intoxicants and keeping other precepts to the best of one's ability for one year minimum.
    At least six months gap since last sat a long course.
    Ten day interval between long course and any other course.
    Spouse must be supportive of partner sitting long course.

The pre-requisites to sit longer courses is then progressively more stringent.

The application to sit a long course within this tradition must also be vetted and approved by assistant teachers who know you well and is then approved by the area teacher. The application also requires an interview between the student and the area teacher. This is to ensure that the student is ready for what is a very intense retreat experience.

I sat the Teacher Self Course in 1989/90. However, I would probably not qualify given what the requisites for that particular course is now.

AFAIK, we have a retention rate of around 15 percent of students who go on to continue practicing in daily life and come back for more ten-day courses, serve, and start doing the long courses. Most people spend years practicing in daily life and doing ten-day courses before doing a long course. So, by the time most people are asked whether they feel committed to this particular tradition - they in all likelihood have already come to the conclusion that this particular tradition is for them.

I don't think the request for commitment is a bad thing. The practice is taught in a step-by-step approach and some subtleties can only be taught in the context of a long course and after students have developed some depth of experience within this particular meditative tradition, and for that matter, some confidence.

Also keep in mind, MP, that during the 10-day course discourse, SN Goenka does not ask anyone to commit themselves solely to this particular tradition and suggests that some may wish to try different things and then stick to that which gives benefit.

Modus.Ponens wrote:2- The whole Goenka organization may be a cult. Most acusations online of this organization being a cult are ignorant and could apply to any form of retreat, which would imply that every temple offering retreats are cults. However, there have been at least 2 cases I've encountered worth considering as more than ignorant talk. A critic from inside the organization (going by the name of "pamojja") apeared on e-sangha and described his case where he was threatened to either embrace the views of Goenka regarding the teachings or never being able to attend another course again. He tried to contact Goenka himself to expose the case but with no reply. Here lies the nature of my doubt: either Goenka was to busy to take care of that subject or he neglected it (which is bad) or he encouraged it (which is worse). Now bear in mind that all this happened on the internet and could mean nothing, but, nevertheless, I would like to make the warning.

Why do I recomend this retreat despite having a slight doubt that it is a cult? Because you can learn the technique _ which has nothing wrong and is very beneficial _ and still not become a cult member.


Well, if it is a cult then it would be a surprise to me. I've been involved as a student/server for the last 26 years and most recently as a Trust member of a Vipassana Meditation Centre. I've also sat with and served SN Goenka. I've also met, sat with and served with very senior members of the tradition from Australia, India, Nepal, Myanmar and North America. I also met with Sayagi U Ba Khin's son and his wife and amongst many things we talked about - his views regarding the SN Goenka approach.

Having said that, I will say that there is a tendency among some newly minted 'old students' who as a result of an intense yet profoundly positive experience can exhibit a type of exhuberence that could be misconstrued as blind devotion/guru devotion. Over time, as these old students remain within the tradition and develop deeper insights, their over-exhuberence and near guru-worship gets dissolved. I will also say that for some people who do not have an optimal retreat experience - sometimes they blame SN Goenka, the tradition or the management for their experience.

What I will say with regards to the two cases you mentiond - there is more to them that meets the eye. Be careful of making a judgement based on only being exposed to just one side. The fact that an alternative point of view hasn't emerged from SN Goenka or his assistant teachers doesn't mean that there isn't another side to the story.
with Metta,

Ben
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby Modus.Ponens » Fri Dec 02, 2011 11:16 pm

Thank you for your answer Ben. Very civilized in face of what I said. I'm happy that we can discuss this in an open manner. My goal was exactly that, in order to reach the truth regarding this matter. We may never get to know it, but your experienced testemony certainly gives us more confidence in Goenka's tradition.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby Ben » Fri Dec 02, 2011 11:22 pm

It was my pleasure, MP!
with Metta,

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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby manas » Sat Dec 03, 2011 4:48 am

Hi delf,

I just wanted to remind you that I certainly would not want to dissuade you or anyone from intensively practising meditation, if it will be of benefit to them. Life is tenous and fragile. Buddhas arise only very rarely indeed, and we have been born human in an Age where the original Teachings are still extant (in the pali suttas). If you are a resilient type of person, both physically and emotionally, then maybe you could cope with just 'jumping in the deep end' as you put it.

Whatever you choose, I wanted to encourage you that Dhamma doesn't have to be an 'all-or-nothing' affair. We are allowed to enter the water gradually, or more quickly, according to what we can manage. I just hope that whether you go, or do not go, that your practice of Dhamma gradually increases, regardless; in Virtue, Concentration, and Insight, through the practice of all the eight limbs of the N8FP. However we do that, whether via retreats or right here at home, that's what really counts.

:anjali: metta
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby Buckwheat » Sat Dec 03, 2011 6:03 am

I just want to add that I will be attending one of these 10-day courses in March (I just got the acceptance e-mail today!). I'm trying not to expect too much one way or another. While I am slightly concerned about some of the cult criticisms, I also realize that any order for any spiritual practice to bear fruit, one must pick a tradition and really dig deep. I used to be one of those "mostly atheist/humanist, a little bit Hindu, little it Buddha, little bit Tao, little bit Christ" kind of people. While I feel that phase makes my practice a little richer, at a certain point I realized I was going to have to pick, and Buddhism was the best fit. Then I realized that I was going to have to pick a school, because some of the various schools contradict each other on some matters, and ended up picking Theravada (esp Thai Forest). My point is, I think that to give a particular approach a real shot, it does take some commitment to a particular tradition/approach as laid out by somebody of great spiritual depth because that approach, taken as a whole will balance all the elements of the approach to be of the greatest benefit.

I should also add, this is my first multi-day retreat, and my first Vipassana retreat. I'm nervous about stamina, but I hope the atmosphere helps me get through it. I have found that even one day retreats are a great boost for my meditation. I figure if I survive ten days, it will be of great benefit. I will be attending with a balance of skepticism and open mindedness. If I don't like it, I will try not to bother anybody while I just sit for 10 days. If I love it, I will attend more retreats.
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby Monkey Mind » Sun Dec 04, 2011 4:40 am

I concur with the person who said "best thing I ever did". Also, if I had not been dropped off at the retreat center, I would have left after the third day. I am glad I persevered. I've attended a few 10-day, 3-day, and 1-day retreats since that first experience.

Even if someday later you decide to practice in other traditions, the Goenka retreat is a good "boot camp" introduction to Dhamma and vipassana.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
Having thus identified self and others,
harm no one nor have them harmed.

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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby delf7 » Mon Dec 05, 2011 3:42 pm

after giving this much thought, i have decided to apply for the course. i had planned to "jump right in" a.s.a.p., but some good advice here has led me to decide to wait a little longer, so i could have a little more practice under my belt, and give me time to read more of the suttas to achive better footing before taking on the 10-day session.
the whole "could be a cult" warnings do not bother me, as i think it would be easy to call ANY retreat such as this "cult-ish".
my brother, who is also going to take the course, wisely pointed out that his experiences with A.A., as well as the u.s. military, could be called "cult-ish". as could be some kid's summer "bible study" camp. it seems that anything someone else doesn't understand could be called a "cult", so that doesn't worry me.
i am looking forward to it, but i am very aware that i need to "get ready" for it. much more reading, much more study and much much more practice need to be done before this undertaking.
in a nut shell, all i hope to get out of it is to better my understanding of vipassana. i can see nothing negative coming from the experience. as long as i learn something, even if only learning something about myself, it will be well worth it.
thank you all for your input, and we will let this interesting discussion continue.
kind regards,
delf
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby David2 » Mon Dec 05, 2011 4:11 pm

delf7 wrote:i am looking forward to it, but i am very aware that i need to "get ready" for it. much more reading, much more study and much much more practice need to be done before this undertaking.


Don't worry too much.
S. N. Goenka says to absolute beginners: "Don't prepare."
Afaik he himself did not practice meditation at all before going to his first U Ba Khin retreat.
The 10-day courses do not require any preparation or knowledge.
The courses are the preparation for the daily practice.
S. N. Goenka uses the term "Dhamma kindergarden" for the courses. :-)
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby SamKR » Mon Dec 05, 2011 6:29 pm

Thank you very much Ben for your nice reply. :twothumbsup:

delf7 wrote:after giving this much thought, i have decided to apply for the course. i had planned to "jump right in" a.s.a.p., but some good advice here has led me to decide to wait a little longer, so i could have a little more practice under my belt, and give me time to read more of the suttas to achive better footing before taking on the 10-day session.

As David said above "a little more practice" of meditation is not required to take the first course in Vipassana of U Ba Khin tradition. However, practicing other basic aspects of Dhamma (like Śīla), and preparing oneself to be open to this method before taking the course would certainly help.

the whole "could be a cult" warnings do not bother me, as i think it would be easy to call ANY retreat such as this "cult-ish".

Yes. I could never understand how Vipassana in Goenkaji's tradition could be a "cult". I have met many spiritual traditions, and I would say that this tradition is one of the least "cultish", or not "cultish" at all. As Ben said the request for commitment is a not bad thing, if you are really serious. Of course, being a big organization there could be a few people whose behavior or attitude may cause suspicion, but these are just exceptions.
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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Mon Dec 05, 2011 8:07 pm

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Re: 10-day goenka retreat

Postby Jhana4 » Mon Dec 05, 2011 8:33 pm

Hi delf7;

My apologies for posting a link for an answer, but I've written these responses a few times:
tips for when going on a Goenka retreat

I've been to two Goenka retreats in the U.S. back in the 90s. I've read the criticisms on the internet of the Goenka retreats. I don't think they are fair. I say that as someone who doesn't care for the organization, as I see it as having an authoritarian and sycophantic subculture ( which will not be an issue for you going on a 10 day retreat ). The retreats did a lot for me and can do a lot of for you. Just don't take that center's take on meditation and Buddhism as the last word. If you stay with Buddhist meditation you will eventually want to attend retreats from different organizations and study Buddhism on your own.
In reading the scriptures, there are two kinds of mistakes:
One mistake is to cling to the literal text and miss the inner principles.
The second mistake is to recognize the principles but not apply them to your own mind, so that you waste time and just make them into causes of entanglement.
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