Concerns about upcoming Goenka retreat

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
Akalika
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Joined: Sun Nov 27, 2016 12:28 am

Concerns about upcoming Goenka retreat

Postby Akalika » Sun Nov 27, 2016 12:52 am

Hello everyone.

In a few days I will be attending my first Goenka Vipassana retreat. I am eager for the opportunity to meditate in silence for ten days, but just having read the Code of Discipline for this retreat, I have a pressing concern. In that code it says that the student must declare themselves willing to comply, for the duration of the course, with the teacher and his instructions, without any deviation. This is sensible, but for me it is not possible to accept any teaching or instruction which disagrees with what the Buddha taught in the Pali canon. Now, I don't know much about Goenka or his method, but I do know that I will be coming to the practice with my own understanding of the teaching and how to apply it.

On the first three days of the course, for example, we will be instructed to practice anapanasati. From what I know, Goenka teaches the student to focus on increasingly refined areas of sensation around the tip of the nose during this time. I have no problem with doing this, but I will be emphasizing clear comprehension of these sensations - which I'm not sure is taught in this method. To be clear: when observing the sensation of air as it touches the tip of my nose, I will emphasize knowing that air is touching the tip of my nose, rather than being blankly attentive to those sensations. For me, it is crucial to not simply be thoughtlessly focusing on sensations, but to be cognitively clear about the nature of those sensations. This is non-negotiable for me, because it is non-negotiable in the Suttas, so far as I understand them.

I fear that, by emphasizing clear comprehension, I will be "adding" something to the technique and therefore breaking the rule of accepting the teacher without deviation. I fear that I will be creating bad kamma by breaking the rules in this way, which will make progress during the retreat impossible and majorly impede my progress once the retreat has ended.

Will the good kamma of practicing the Eightfold Path outweigh the bad kamma of slightly deviating from the rules of the retreat? Please help me ease my mind!

Metta

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mikenz66
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Re: Concerns about upcoming Goenka retreat

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Nov 27, 2016 2:20 am

Hi Akalika,

I wouldn't worry about it too much. I did one Goenka retreat 10 years ago, which was very useful, since it was the longest, strictest, retreat that I had done at that time.

I came from a Mahasi background, so I hadn't used the touch of the breath much in any case. I'm not sure what you think is contradictory to the suttas (e.g. the first tetrad of MN 118) to just observe the sensations at the nostrils (but then I'm skeptical about most claims about consistency/inconsistency of techniques with the suttas - I don't see the suttas as teaching much detail about technique). Of course, that's not an ultimately complete practice, but the idea is to build enough concentration so that when you start doing the body-scanning exercises (after about three days) you are ready.

I've attended a number of other short retreats/daylongs with teachers who teach techniques different from than what I'm used to (including various Ajahn Chah students such as Ajahns Brahm and Tiradhammo), and I find they go much better when I don't internally argue with the instructions.

I presume they still use the same tapes of Goenaka for the instructions and Dhamma talks. As I recall, most of what he said was fairly standard Theravada, though with his own spin (as is the case for any teacher). I found just doing sitting was tough, since I usually do equal sitting and walking, so spent most of the short breaks walking to prevent my body from seizing up.

Another frustraion was that it was only towards the end that Goenka gave any instructions as to what to do outside of formal sits (as I recall the instruction was to just pay attention to sensations).

However, overall it was a great experience, and the "assistant teacher" was very helpful when I had occasional difficulties.

Have a great retreat!

:anjali:
Mike

Akalika
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Re: Concerns about upcoming Goenka retreat

Postby Akalika » Sun Nov 27, 2016 3:50 am

Hi mikenz66, thank you for your encouragement. :anjali:

Just to clarify:

mikenz66 wrote:I'm not sure what you think is contradictory to the suttas (e.g. the first tetrad of MN 118) to just observe the sensations at the nostrils


I definitely don't see a contradiction there, though I do personally believe that the suttas emphasize cognitive clarity about sensations over bare attention to them... in other words, knowing sensations as sensations, perceptions as perceptions, feelings as feelings, and so on. "Breathing in long, he discerns 'I am breathing in long'", etc. For me, it's really helpful to use mental "noting" to make my cognitions clearer, but I've heard that Goenka advises against it.

Having reflected on it further, though, I think it will be a good idea to let go of my personal interpretations and biases for the 10 days and give the method, as its taught, a full go on its own terms. My problem was (and is) that my current practice is so effective and feels so "right" to me, that I'm very reluctant to try new things... but that, too, is an attachment I need to work with. This will be a good opportunity to do so!

Metta

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mikenz66
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Re: Concerns about upcoming Goenka retreat

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Nov 27, 2016 4:16 am

Yes, I know how you feel - I found some of the details a little grating, including some of the organisational things that will vary from place to place (I happened to do the retreat in Hong Kong). However, the opportunity to have a strict 10-day silent retreat was great.

One of the striking things I recall is the following: Though it's only on the last day that there is some metta,after several days of body scanning we were watching the evening Dhamma video and a mosquito flew in. My first thoughts was "How can I get rid of it without hurting it?"

Oh, and the long sits scanning the body were great for my posture. Before and during the retreat I tended to slump to the right. During the retreat I took the advice of the assistant teacher and straightened up when I noticed that. Towards the end my body started straightening things out by itself. (That's not so uncommon once a certain amount of concentration is built up - it's not specific to this practice.)

:anjali:
Mike

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ganegaar
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Re: Concerns about upcoming Goenka retreat

Postby ganegaar » Tue Dec 27, 2016 11:31 am

I have being to one and have being a dhamma server in another. Both may parents have being to two.
Have no worries, the retreat is according to the Sutta's. Though I have not attended, there is another in Goenka retreats, called satipattana retreat, which I think just do the same meditation practically, but he clarifies how the method he advocates matches the sutta.

About taking refuge, I have a strange experience connected to the retreat. When i attended, it was my first retreat, and I had no idea!, (which may be a good thing in the hindsight!)
I think after first day, a strange hatred and animosity crept into me, even towards Goenka G. !, This hatred lasted an entire session i think. I have no idea why that happened, Its strange, that i was rejecting Goenka G, and was kind of even did not want to hear his voice, it was irritating, have no idea what took me over, and have no idea how i re-collected my self and got away from it!.

However, on hindsight, I do believe the fact that I had taken refuge in him as my teacher, and the tripple gem, probably would have helped me to over come the episode.

I am no meditation teacher, but my personal feeling is, just as you have also said, that we must stop the "critical thinker" of mind for the 10 days, do exactly as what he says, and evaluate the experience after 10 days!.

Wish you a happy fruitful retreat!.
Sīlepatiṭṭhāya naro sapañño, cittaṃ paññañca bhāvayaṃ;
Ātāpī nipako bhikkhu, so imaṃ vijaṭaye jaṭanti.


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