The differences between Mahāsi Sayādaw and Goenka

Discussion of Satipatthana bhavanā and Vipassana bhavana.

The differences between Mahāsi Sayādaw and Goenka

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:49 pm

I have always been unclear about the exact differences between Mahāsi Sayādaw's methods for meditation and Goekna's, but they seem to be separate camps with supporters on both sides. Could someone help illuminate the distinction between the two methods, and perhaps give some advice on which approach they prefer?

Thanks so much!
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: The differences between Mahāsi Sayādaw and Goenka

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:19 pm

The way I like to put it is that its like the difference between a two-wheel-drive vehicle and a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Goenka's method, (U Ba Khin's method) lays more emphasis on mindfulness of respiration (which is mindfulness of the body), and mindfulness of feelings, than it does on the other two foundations of mindfulness. From my recollection (I undertook numerous 10-day retreats before my ordination in 1979), there is little mention of mindfulness of consciousness (cittānupassanā satipaṭṭhāna) and mental objects (dhammānupassanā satipaṭṭhāna).

For the raw beginner, the Venerable Mahāsi Sayādaw's method also stresses mindfulness of the body as the primary object (abdominal movements and bodily movements while walking etc.), but very soon the meditator is asked to extend his/her awareness to all four foundations of mindfulness.

A two-wheel drive vehicle is fine on a smooth road in ice-free conditions, but a four wheel drive vehicle is much better off-road or in snow or in difficult driving conditions.

Similarly, Goenka's method is fine in a protected retreat environment, but hard to maintain and develop in daily life. It seems that many meditators struggle with this conflict, unable to practice effectively outside the confines of the meditation centre. I know this is the case as several of my supporters have attended these retreats.

Technically, the U Ba Khin method is Samatha-Vipassanā, while the Mahāsi method is Suddha-vipassanā — that is the meditators strive to develop insight from the very beginning of practice, as soon as some momentary concentration has been established. Meditators on Goenka's courses do three days of samatha, then switch to what they call "vipassanā" on the fourth day, when they start sweeping around the body to observe sensations.

See also, Venerable Ledi Sayādaw's Manual of Resipiration on how to proceed from concentration to insight. He is the root teacher of that tradition.

The biggest fault with the U Ba Khin method is the lack of any systematic walking practice. There is too much emphasis on sitting. The result is a tendency to sloth and torpor, a higher likelihood of "special experiences" that may mislead the unwary meditator (see The Ten Corruptions of Insight, and an over-sensitivity to suffering.

The biggest fault with the Mahāsi method is that the meditator who doesn't practise diligently or lacks a skilled meditation teacher, may misunderstand the method, and think too much due to lack of tranquillity. Effort must be constant, diligent, and continuous throughout the entire day without a break.

The Buddha's method is what we should all practice. Strictly speaking it is not vipassanā meditation but mindfulness meditation. If we establish both mindfulness and concentration, insight will arise — otherwise it won't whatever we call our meditation practice or technique.

The essential point is to be mindful of each and every mental and physical phenomenon as it arises in the present moment. The particular technique that you use to get to that point is not the issue. Just use whatever works for you — Sunlun Sayādaw developed insight while hoeing his fields when he was still a farmer. Afterwards he became a monk, and his followers claim that he was an Arahant.
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Re: The differences between Mahāsi Sayādaw and Goenka

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:33 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:The way I like to put it is that its like the difference between a two-wheel-drive vehicle and a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

With due respect, Bhante, this is a mischaracterization.

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:Goenka's method, (U Ba Khin's method) lays more emphasis on mindfulness of respiration (which is mindfulness of the body), and mindfulness of feelings, than it does on the other two foundations of mindfulness. From my recollection (I undertook numerous 10-day retreats before my ordination in 1979), there is little mention of mindfulness of consciousness (cittānupassanā satipaṭṭhāna) and mental objects (dhammānupassanā satipaṭṭhāna).

There is more detail in the long courses (20-day, 30-day and longer). The ten-day course in the Goenka/U Ba Khin tradition is an "introductory" ten-day course for beginners.

The biggest fault with the U Ba Khin method is the lack of any systematic walking practice. There is too much emphasis on sitting.

Walking meditation is not emphasized in the introductory ten-day courses. In the long courses meditators are instructed to maintain meditative awareness throughout the night and day continuously and whichever posture one is in and regardless of activity one is engaged in.

The result is a tendency to sloth and torpor, a higher likelihood of "special experiences" that may mislead the unwary meditator (see The Ten Corruptions of Insight, and an over-sensitivity to suffering.

True of any meditative approach.

The Buddha's method is what we should all practice. Strictly speaking it is not vipassanā meditation but mindfulness meditation. If we establish both mindfulness and concentration, insight will arise — otherwise it won't whatever we call our meditation practice or technique.
"Vipassana meditation" is really just shorthand for meditation that cultivates vipassana/insight.
"Only those who take to meditation with good intentions can be assured of success. With the development of the purity and the power of the mind backed by the insight into the ultimate truth of nature, one might be able to do a lot of things in the right direction for the benefit of mankind."

Sayagyi U Ba Khin


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global Relief
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e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
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Re: The differences between Mahāsi Sayādaw and Goenka

Postby Virgo » Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:29 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:I have always been unclear about the exact differences between Mahāsi Sayādaw's methods for meditation and Goekna's, but they seem to be separate camps with supporters on both sides. Could someone help illuminate the distinction between the two methods, and perhaps give some advice on which approach they prefer?

Thanks so much!

They are both grounded in classical Theravada views on vipassana (I like). They are two different approaches to it. Goenka starts with anapanasati, meditating on the breath with samatha meditation to calm the mind and gain concentration, then switches to a method of scanning the body slowly for sensations paying attention to them and just observing them with bare awareness to gain insight into their nature (vipassana). The practice is always done sitting as the good Bhikkhu has pointed out.

The Mahasi method does not use samatha meditation on the breath or any other object. It goes directly to vipassana. However, the technique is to pay attention to, with bare awareness, all four frames of reference. One does this by using a technique of labeling all their experiences. One has a primary object. When one sits this is the moving of the abdomen with the breath (rising, falling, etc.) when it walks it is the movement of the feet (lifting, etc). The primary objects are any other things that one becomes conscious of, such as seeing, hearing, feeling, etc. One alternates between sitting and walking meditation.

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Re: The differences between Mahāsi Sayādaw and Goenka

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:31 pm

So Samatha is pure meditation on the breath in order to build concentration, while Vipassana is a more investigative focus on bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, and mental states?
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: The differences between Mahāsi Sayādaw and Goenka

Postby Ben » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:50 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:So Samatha is pure meditation on the breath in order to build concentration, while Vipassana is a more investigative focus on bodily sensations, thoughts, feelings, and mental states?


Samatha meditation is to develop right concentration (samasamadhi) to suppress the mental hindrances and develop a unitary experience of mind known as 'absorption' or jhana. One does this through continuous and unbroken awareness of the meditation object. In the first 3.5 days of a Goenka 10-day course one does this through the samatha form of anapana-sati (awareness of respiration). There are other samatha meditations (kasina meditation for example).
Vipassana (insight meditation) occurs when one observes one of the fundamental characteristics (impermanence, not-self, or unsatisfactoriness) of a particular mental or physical phenomena. Within the Goenka "tradition" one observes the characteristic of impermanence of sensations occuring on and in the body. One maintains continuous clear comprehension of the impermanent nature of sensations. There are other types of vipassana meditation that do not use sensation as its primary object.
kind regards,

Ben
"Only those who take to meditation with good intentions can be assured of success. With the development of the purity and the power of the mind backed by the insight into the ultimate truth of nature, one might be able to do a lot of things in the right direction for the benefit of mankind."

Sayagyi U Ba Khin


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global Relief
UNHCR Syria Emergency Relief AppealTyphoon Haiyan Relief AppealKiva: (person to person micro-finance)

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
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