How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

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SilaSamadhi
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How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by SilaSamadhi » Sun Dec 31, 2017 4:29 pm

I recently learned the vipassanā meditation technique according to S. N. Goenka, and was wondering how legitimate it is according to practicing, educated Buddhists.

For example, how faithfully does it adhere to the Buddha's teachings, such as the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta?

As someone who studied other Suttas before (though not this one in particular), I was surprised by the strong focus on the body, and observing bodily sensations, as the central pillar of this meditation method.

The Buddha doesn't focus on the body in much of his teachings, and where he does touch on the body, it is usually to encourage disciples to let it go.

I want to know that whatever I am practicing has a solid base in Buddhist tradition. In addition any commentary you may have of Goenka in particular, I'll be happy to learn of other teachers who may be more legitimate in this sense, if such exist.

EDIT: to clarify, I am only asking about Goenka's vipassanā meditation technique. I understand there are comments about his organization, the structure of his retreats, and other issues peripheral to the technique itself. However, I am not asking about any of these things.
Last edited by SilaSamadhi on Sun Dec 31, 2017 6:34 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by DNS » Sun Dec 31, 2017 4:48 pm

See this previous thread with some legitimate criticisms and concerns about this tradition.
viewtopic.php?f=22&t=28041&p=400256

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SilaSamadhi
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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by SilaSamadhi » Sun Dec 31, 2017 5:50 pm

Thanks! I am reading through this previous thread, and see many comments about Goenka's courses, his organizational structure, etc.

I'd like to emphasize that my question is very specifically about his meditation technique alone.

That is, his particular methods of body scanning/sweeping, attending to sensations equanimously - as a main practice of both samadhi and (primarily) vipassanā meditation.

Since I am not going to attend another retreat, criticisms of all other aspects of the retreat or Goenka's organization are simply not very relevant to me.

I would like to know if I can safely follow the practice (the technique) with some assurance it is solidly based on the Buddha's teachings. If not, pointing out a different technique that is more solidly based on Buddhist teachings would be very helpful.

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by DNS » Sun Dec 31, 2017 6:00 pm

Okay, then no problem, yes, imo, it is Satipatthana Sutta based as his method starts with breath meditation and goes on to focus mostly on sensatios (vedana), which is definitely mentioned in the Satipatthana Sutta. You can safely go and ignore the structure / political issues and complaints.

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by Mr Man » Sun Dec 31, 2017 6:17 pm

Hi SilaSamadhi

There is this article from Ven. Analayo

The Ancient Roots of the U Ba Khin Vipassanā Meditation

https://host.pariyatti.org/treasures/Th ... tation.pdf

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by cappuccino » Sun Dec 31, 2017 8:22 pm

I advise reading the actual teaching from the Buddha
“Life is anxiety”

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by paul » Sun Dec 31, 2017 9:11 pm

Mindfulness of feeling is seen to be central to the four foundations of mindfulness when they are simplified into three, i.e. body, feelings and mind (including both state of mind and phenomena or objects of mind), where feelings constitute a transition between body and mind. Although it is orthodox to begin with the body as the most easily-observed foundation, a practice must organically move to a more comprehensive awareness of all four foundations:

“The 4 contemplations cover all the 5 groups of existence (khandha, q.v.), because mindfulness is meant to encompass the whole personality. Hence, for the full development of mindfulness, the practice should extend to all 4 types of contemplation, though not every single exercise mentioned under these four headings need be taken up. A methodical practice of Satipatthána has to start with one of the exercises out of the group 'contemplation of the body', which will serve as the primary and regular subject of meditation: The other exercises of the group and the other contemplations are to be cultivated when occasion for them arises during meditation and in everyday life.
After each contemplation it is shown how it finally leads to insight-knowledge: "Thus with regard to his own body he contemplates the body, with regard to the bodies of others he contemplates the body, with regard to both he contemplates the body. He beholds how the body arises and how it passes away, beholds the arising and passing away of the body. 'A body is there' (but no living being, no individual, no woman, no man, no self, nothing that belongs to a self; neither a person, nor anything belonging to a person; Com.): thus he has established his attentiveness as far as it serves his knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives independent, unattached to anything in the world.''
In the same way he contemplates feeling, mind and mind-objects.”—-“Buddhist Dictionary”, Nyanatiloka.

The contemplation of feeling must eventually lead to discrimination between “feelings of the flesh” and “feelings not of the flesh” (Satipatthana sutta, DN 22).

“A second way of viewing feelings as factors in a causal process is connected with the active production of feelings not of the flesh. In addition to providing an alternative escape from ordinary pain, the act of developing feelings not of the flesh allows you to gain insight into the process of fabrication that gives rise to feelings, and into the obsessions ordinarily produced by feelings of the flesh. These insights help lead to release from those obsessions. [… MN 44]
"This shows why feelings of the flesh are not simply to be accepted as they come. If you want to gain insight and release, you have to replace them with feelings not of the flesh to see what obsessions underlie them.”—-“Right Mindfulness”, Thanissaro.

The criticism of Goenka’s method is that it is designed for working people who have limited time and so is condensed in its form and scope. In India, some public servants are encouraged to attend Vipassana courses and are given leave to do so:
http://www.vipassana.co/research/The-Im ... Government

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:06 am

Greetings,

The main issues I have with the teaching on the 10 day course is...

- No attempt to first establish meditators in Right View, as if the technique itself will reveal the truth

- The bizarre (Jainist?) explanation of sankharas

- The disregard for the role attention (manasikara) plays in controlling the sweeping, and its subsequent role in the fabrication of dhammas. (In other words, the sweeping does not "uncover" feeling, it actually gives rise to them).

These don't make the Goenka practice illegitimate etc... they're just what I consider to be some limitations of it.

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 2:45 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:06 am
The main issues I have with the teaching on the 10 day course is...

- No attempt to first establish meditators in Right View, as if the technique itself will reveal the truth

- The bizarre (Jainist?) explanation of sankharas

- The disregard for the role attention (manasikara) plays in controlling the sweeping, and its subsequent role in the fabrication of dhammas. (In other words, the sweeping does not "uncover" feeling, it actually gives rise to them).

These don't make the Goenka practice illegitimate etc... they're just what I consider to be some limitations of it.

Metta,
Paul. :)
Its been a long time since I did a Goenka course, and, like many teachers, he did have some slightly odd interpretations. However, I don't understand the comment about righr view. As I recall the talks went over all the basic doctrine such as sila, 4NT 8 fold path, dependent origination, etc.

Mike

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 2:53 am

SilaSamadhi wrote:
Sun Dec 31, 2017 4:29 pm
As someone who studied other Suttas before (though not this one in particular), I was surprised by the strong focus on the body, and observing bodily sensations, as the central pillar of this meditation method.

The Buddha doesn't focus on the body in much of his teachings, and where he does touch on the body, it is usually to encourage disciples to let it go.
As others have said, the Satipatthana Sutta places a lot of emphasis on tracking of body movements and sensations. As do suttas about anapanasati, elements, etc. I'm curious what suttas about meditation you're referring to that don't mention using the body as a focus. There are of course recollections of the Buddha,etc and metta etc, but the liberating insight seem to come from understanding body (and mental) phenomena.

Mike

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Jan 01, 2018 2:54 am

Greetings Mike,
mikenz66 wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 2:45 am
Its been a long time since I did a Goenka course, and, like many teachers, he did have some slightly odd interpretations. However, I don't understand the comment about righr view. As I recall the talks went over all the basic doctrine such as sila, 4NT 8 fold path, dependent origination, etc.
He gave Dhamma talks, but as I said, there was "no attempt to first establish meditators in Right View, as if the technique itself will reveal the truth". Dhamma teachings (sometimes traditional, sometimes "slightly odd" (to use your words)) were given to support and justify the technique being taught, which itself is presented as a comprehensive encapsulation of the Dhamma.

Certain contemporary traditions seem to labour under the misconception that from Right Mindfulness comes Right View, but the suttas of the Buddha show a different causality altogether, and I cannot advocate for such reversals of Dhammic causality.

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 2:59 am

Sorry but you will have to define what you mean by establishing right view then if it's not what is in the talks.

Are you expecting fully developed right view to arise before anything else?

Mike
.

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by SilaSamadhi » Mon Jan 01, 2018 3:04 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:06 am
- The bizarre (Jainist?) explanation of sankharas
I was wondering about that! Goenka says that all sensations felt during body scan, if not of a very particular type - "subtle uniform sensations", aka "flow" - are sankharas, which are past conditioning.

He goes as far as to say that all our past conditioning is thus "coming to the surface" as we meditate, and if we remain equanimous to it - it dissipates forever.

I never read the satipatthana, but this explanation doesn't sound like something the Buddha would say. It is too simplistic, deterministic, mechanistic, and absolute.

Does it have any basis at all in the Canon?
retrofuturist wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 1:06 am
- The disregard for the role attention (manasikara) plays in controlling the sweeping, and its subsequent role in the fabrication of dhammas. (In other words, the sweeping does not "uncover" feeling, it actually gives rise to them).
This frankly sounds like a pretty big difference. As mentioned above, Goenka definitely claims that the sweeping attention "uncovers" past sankharas.

Why do these differences exist?

Is there a meditation technique more faithful to the Buddhavacana?

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Jan 01, 2018 3:10 am

Greetings Mike,
mikenz66 wrote:
Mon Jan 01, 2018 2:59 am
Are you expecting fully developed right view to arise before anything else?
In keeping with the suttas, I expect Right View to be taught to the point of stream-entry.

Never in the suttas did the Buddha send people off to meditate under a tree in order to become "independent in the teaching" by themselves. He established them in Right View to the point of stream-entry first (i.e. the arising of the Dhamma-Eye), and then meditation, using that Dhamma-eye, became a means by which to accelerate the path to arahanthood.

As above, this doesn't make the technique illegitimate, but it's undeniably a limitation of it. It's a limitation of any "technique", namely that "techniques" do not bring about stream-entry... Right View does. The failure of people to recognise this is part of the reason why there are so many horror stories coming out of such traditions about failed practices, mental breakdowns, wasted lives, and other assorted artefacts of the unsound unliberated mind.

For sutta context and substantiation: The Arising Of The Dhamma-Eye

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: How legitimate is S. N. Goenka's method of vipassanā meditation?

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Jan 01, 2018 4:29 am

Oh ok.

So your objection is not really to Goenka but to all teachers I can think of.

All teachers I am aware of develop right view in parallel with sila, mindfulness and concentration. Perhaps you can think of a counter example.

I'm curious where in the Satipatthana sutta or the many suttas describing meditatiion does it say to first become a stream enterer.

Mike

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