I have been a student of SN Goenka since 1985. I've had the opportunity to sit long courses here in Australia, India, New Zealand and Myanmar. I also had the opportunity to sit and serve with SN Goenka both in Australia and at the main centre, Dhammagiri in Igatpuri, India. I'm also a past-trust member and secretary for a meditation centre offering courses under the guidance of SN Goenka. I hope I can answer some of your questions. As I am busy as the admin over at http://www.dhammawheel.com
, you are most welcome to contact me directly there for further information or clarification as I rarely have the time to make it to this fine site.
Johnny Dangerous wrote: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...
Courses are run purely on a donation basis and everyone involved inc. assistant teachers to course servers are unpaid volunteers. Meditators can only give a donation on completion of a ten-day course and only if they have the right volition to do so. While there is some light encouragement to practice dana, no one is pressured to give.
I recently completed a satipatthana sutta course (an old student only course) and being recently unemployed, I could only give a small sum as dana. Having been a trust member I know the cost of courses (and per student), and what I could give was only a fraction of that amount.
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.
That seems to be my experience as well. Most people get a lot out of it, but its not for everyone.
However, I have read some really negative things about the retreats as well..not being able to use the bathroom,
I would say that is a mischaracterization of what goes on. On Day IV, instructions for vipassana (vedananupassana) are given. There is a two hour session in the afternoon when the instructions are given that meditators are requested not to leave the meditation hall. On Day V, an additional instruction is given - during the three group sittings, one is requested to remain in the hall for the duration of the sit, not to move out of posture, to keep the eyes closed and to not open the hands. Its to help one to develop adhitthana. Most people, even very many old students have difficulty with the adhitthana sittings and ending up moving or opening their hands/eyes, but the important thing is to remain in the hall. Having served on many courses, I have followed students who have left the hall during these sittings and they are just gently requested to return. At any other meditation period - meditators can leave the hall to go to the bathroom, and there are breaks in the program through out the day, inc. before and after group sittings so that meditators can attend to the calls of nature.
other techniques and practices being put down consistently,
SN Goenka says repeatedly in discourses in the ten-day course that "we are not here to condemn other practices,...they have their own benefits..."
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.
Yes, SN Goenka is convinced of the efficacy of the practice, as was Sayagi U Ba Khin (his teacher), and others within the same lineage. Having practiced exclusively under his guidance for the better part of thirty years, I think there is something to it.
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.
If you were a non-religious Buddhist in the past, I think SN Goenka's approach will strike a chord with you. SN Goenka is famous for saying "I don't teach Buddhism", yet Burmese people consider what he teaches as garden variety Theravada.
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.
Some people develop aversion to his style of chanting (pre-breakfast meditation sessions), and one person mentioned to me that his instructions during meditation periods is hypnotism. The man is a masterful communicator. My experience has been that the longer I have continued to practice, the more critical I have been of SN Goenka and whether the benefits I have received were the products of wishful thinking and perception than real. And the conclusion that I have come to, time and again, that it has been and continues to be profoundly beneficial.
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
In 2007, I did a 20-day course in NZ. One of my co-practitioners was a guy who was very involved with the Centre in North Falk. When in Myanmar I stayed in the same hotel and travelled with the senior teachers of the California Vipassana Centres, who inc. some of the ex-directors of Pariyatti, and the director of the US Prisons Program within the tradition. They were truely remarkable, inspiring and fun and we had a great time on the short yattra prior to my 30-day course in Mandalay.
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?
The best thing for you to do is to do a ten-day course and find out for yourself. During the course, you will be expected to suspend your current practice but afterwards - you are your own master and you can return to them. In fact, SN Goenka encourages students to try out different things but then having settled on an approach, to give it one's full devoted attention.
I wish you well, and if you or anyone else wish to follow up, please feel free to contact me at Dhamma Wheel
, as it is unlikely I will be back during the life of this thread.