SN Goenka retreats

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Johnny Dangerous
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SN Goenka retreats

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Jan 25, 2013 8:41 pm

Wasn't quite sure where to put this...

This came up in another thread, and i'm interested in people's opinions, I would like to do a long retreat one day once its possible for me, and frankly well...the Goenka retreat is free, and nearby so...

The few people I know personally that have done Goenka's retreats seemed to get alot out of them, I have known a number of sort of "un affiliated" Buddhists, a number of non-religious folks, and a couple "affiliated" Buddhists who have done them and seemed to get alot out of the experience, I have no heard anything bad from any of the folks I actually know in real life.

However, I have read some really negative things about the retreats as well..not being able to use the bathroom, other techniques and practices being put down consistently, an undue focus on The One True Technique and other various questionable sounding stuff. Obviously Goenka makes his claims of legitimacy to any tradition, and demands that you only practice his techniques when there, that is ok..it comes with the territory. I understand that you can't do mantra, bring your malas or any of that and would be fine with just doing his Vipassanna method for the retreat. However, as I have actually already been a "non religious" type Buddhist in the past, I don't relish the idea of going to retreat where I have to listen to a bunch of bashing of the form of Buddhism that I now consider my home in favor of a "non religious" version or whatever.

I am wondering about stuff that crosses the line into indoctrination, again not something that would be unique to Goenka, just wondering how many people have experienced these sorts of things at a retreat, or if what I read is isolated.

Is it possible that the actual centers in question play a role? It's my understanding they are mostly run by local volunteers and I live in the Pacific Northwest where people are notoriously polite and non-confrontational, I could see that perhaps the center here might produce less undesirable interactions like this just be virtue of being here, where everyone is always afraid of offending everyone else ;)

So basically if anyone is willing to volunteer to share their experience, i'd be appreciative. I'm interested in particular in hearing from people who are "affiliated", especially those that might be Vajrayana or Mahayana practitioners in or near a tradition, was your experience at the SN Goenka retreat compatible and beneficial to your practice?
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Fri Jan 25, 2013 9:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Grigoris » Fri Jan 25, 2013 8:59 pm

Check out thread over at our sister site too.
"My religion is not deceiving myself."
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"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Jan 25, 2013 10:12 pm

Thanks Greg, i'll look through it.

Another question for those who have attended, since Goenka claims to not be teaching "religion", what exactly is the context of what is taught?

The one person who I have talked to in person that gave an unusual response about the experience seemed to be under the impression that Goenka style Vipassanna was purposed mainly as a "self help" body scan process to remove trauma, and equated this somehow with the larger goals of Buddhism. I'm sure this person is possibly mistaken, but is the body scan actually being taught as a way to remove trauma in a sort of modern self-help sense specifically, or is this something that people might just mistakenly pick up?
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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby lowlydog » Sat Jan 26, 2013 3:03 am


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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Jan 26, 2013 3:24 am

I didn't realize the ten day courses were mandatory before you can do the shorter ones, I won't be able to do that for 16 years or so lol. Guess i'd better look elsewhere for now.
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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Yudron » Sat Jan 26, 2013 3:50 am

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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Jan 26, 2013 4:16 am

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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Yudron » Sat Jan 26, 2013 5:13 am

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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jan 26, 2013 6:45 am

Hi Johnny,

I did a Goenka retreat in Hong Kong back in 2007, after a year or so of Theravada (Mahasi-style) practice that I first learned at a Thai Wat in New Zealand. I actually found the retreat, and the Dhamma talks (which covered noble truths, dependent origination, etc) and the chanting, to be basically standard Theravada, despite Goenka's comments about it not being Buddhism. In fact a couple of Israeli guys who were living in China and studying Tai Chi, commented at the end (on the last day you can start talking) that they didn't expect it to be so Buddhist!

Some things can be irritating. The chanting sounds odd if you're used to Thai style (like the Ajahn Chah Forest Monks). The rules can seem officious (that will vary a bit from place to place), but that can happen at any retreat situation, and it's a good opportunity to develop some equanimity about that sort of thing. I personally found it very valuable, and when I had difficulties the AT gave me helpful advice. They are tough, strict, silent, Theravada-style retreats, so, as with any such retreat, many people (including me) will have difficulties at times.

Unfortunately, I didn't save what I posted at E-Sangha at the time, which had a lot more details.

:anjali:
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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Adamantine » Sat Jan 26, 2013 7:05 am

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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Adamantine » Sat Jan 26, 2013 7:28 am

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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Yudron » Sat Jan 26, 2013 7:31 am

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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Grigoris » Sat Jan 26, 2013 8:03 am

Don't know about the rest of you but I can be distracted by anything, anywhere, in company or alone!!!
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"Butchers, prostitutes, those guilty of the five most heinous crimes, outcasts, the underprivileged: all are utterly the substance of existence and nothing other than total bliss."
The Supreme Source - The Kunjed Gyalpo
The Fundamental Tantra of Dzogchen Semde

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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby elfin » Sat Jan 26, 2013 9:05 am

I did a Goenka retreat in 2011.

The plus side obviously is that it is for free. And their teachers are quite accessible. If you wanted you could have an interview with one of them at least every second day. I've never seen anything like that at another place. I was accustomed to getting an interview once a week or one time during the whole 10 day retreat.

Now to the unfortunate things:
I didn't like that before each meditation session you have to listen to a Goenka tape. I found this rather distracting. Besides I was hoping for longer than the usual 45 minutes meditation sessions which didn't happen as sessions were always interrupted by the tape.

There was quite some bashing of other religions and other buddhist groups happening. I was surprised by the amount of intolerance and I don't remember having heard anything like that at other buddhist events. I found it quite unusual as buddhist places are usually enormously tolerant. I remember one person leaving the course ahead of time because of that.

As to the technique, it was already mentioned that they do this body scan type of meditation. That didn't do anything for me and I prefer other techniques. I found it interesting,though, to check it out and learn something new.

The course organisators are quite enthusiastic about you learning how to meditate (they treat everyone who hasn't done a Goenka retreat before as beginner even if you already have quite some meditation experience) and to get enlightened. For me there were two ways about it. Although I appreciated their good intentions I found them a bit intense at times in the sense of being intrusive. E.g. they always went to peoples' quarters to get them to the meditation hall if people didn't turn up in time. And although there are times where they allow you to meditate anywhere on the ground they supervise you doing that. During one of those "free" sessions I went to meditate lying on a bench which lead one of the organisators directly to me making me aware that meditating lying somewhere might lead to you drowsing off. I was aware of that before she told me, though and I wanted to experiment with that nevertheless. So there was quite some discussion about that I didn't appreciate as surprisingly I am used to being treated as an adult. :smile:

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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Ben » Sat Jan 26, 2013 11:45 am


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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby chickenman » Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:50 pm

don't waste your time.
i went to one a few years ago, when i first got interested in buddhism. i was interested in theravada at that point in time, and it IS free, so i went. without going into a long-winded diatribe, i was creeped out by the whole experience. something screamed "wrong" right off the bat. the vibe was bad, sort of cult-like. all that was missing was a tall barbed-wire fence and guard towers. and as for the "teaching"... there was none.
the "teacher" did nothing but turn on and off the badly made 20-year old videos of goenka sweating, giving his talks and chanting. i met with the "teacher" only once. he came across as un-interested and a little too self-important. he gave the impression that i was wasteing his time by meeting with him, so i did not meet with him again.
the boot-camp style of the retreat was off-putting. i understood the "silent retreat" aspect and so the "no talking to fellow meditators" rules seemed reasonable, but you are told to not even look at anyone else, to ignore everyone, not to make eye contact or smile at anyone. the result of this was 25 guys all walking around with thier heads down like sad expressionless zombies, which, at least for me, was uncomfortable. forbidden to SMILE???? that's a little harsh.
i felt as if i was in a p.o.w. camp, always being watched by the staff. i developed some pretty bad constipation due to the food that was being served and then had to wait 2 days before someone on staff was given permission by the "teacher" to be give me something for it. it was a bad experience. i left after the 5th day because it was so uncomfortable and, well.... creepy.
it was not for me, and i would advise against it, but that is not to say you might find it rewarding.
if you do go, i hope you enjoy it.
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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:30 pm

Were you seriously forbidden to smile?
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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:58 pm

I don't believe that critical account. I did one Goenka retreat, end of 2007. At the very beginning they say 'you realize this is a ten-day silent retreat, involves long hours of sitting and complete silence, do you think you can deal with that, if not you had better not start'. Sure they try and talk people out of leaving once you've started, but nobody is compelled to stay. It is a tough retreat to do, no question, but I have no criticisms at all of the organisation or the facilities. The staff were courteous throughout. The training is provided at no charge, and there is no attempt to proselytize or recruit. I don't think I will attend another of those retreats, because I am interested in Mahayana, which that teaching is not. But that is the main reason.

//edit// it is true that you are discouraged from making eye contact with others during the retreat, but I really didn't find that troublesome. What really bothered me was the hunger pains from not having an evening meal, and the intense difficulty of staying still for 1-hour stretches, 6 or 8 times a day. But it was difficult, because it was difficult, not because of the organization or the people.
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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby Son of Buddha » Wed Feb 06, 2013 2:48 am


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Re: SN Goenka retreats

Postby ball-of-string » Wed Feb 06, 2013 4:10 am

I've been on a couple of 10-day retreats, several 3-day and 1-day retreats in this tradition. That first 10-day retreat is single-handedly the best thing I've ever done for myself. Having said that, if I could have left after the 3rd or 6th days, I would have. (A friend drove me to the retreat center and dropped me off, and it was in a remote location, so leaving would have been impractical.) If I had left after the 3rd or 6th days, I would probably be saying very negative things about the retreat. Every thing makes sense by the end: the strict rules, the difficulties of the practice, there really is a purpose to it. If I had left before the end, it all would have seemed pointless.

I am always a little baffled when I read some of the negative commentary on the Internet boards about these retreats. Once upon a time I accidentally joined a cult centered around worshipping a particular guru. Whatever else one could say about Mr. Goenka, good-bad-or-ugly, I've never felt like I was being asked to worship him, nor did he claim any special status in the world of meditation teachers.


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