Goenka technique

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Jechbi
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Goenka technique

Post by Jechbi » Thu Jan 01, 2009 5:56 pm

Hello all,

I would be interested in hearing more about the experiences others have had with Vipassana as taught by SN Goenka. I first encountered the technique in 2004 and have been engaged with it since that time. I'm aware that different people of different experience levels view the approach through different lenses. During one course I sat with a venerable monk from Sri Lanka who later gave me some additional context in which to understand Goenkaji's approach. He seemed gratified to have an opportunity to help out at the center, yet it also was clear that he took some of Goenka's discourses with a good-natured grain of salt.

In a different thread, Retro offered a comment that intrigued me:
retrofuturist wrote:I too have done a 10-day Goenka course (May 2007, I think) and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, even if my practice now is more specifically aligned to the suttas than it is to Mr. Goenka's technique.
For me, that raises the question: To what degree could Mr. Goenka's technique be more specifically aligned to the suttas, and is this lack of specific alignment something that has the potential to create obstacles for those of use who employ the technique? Or am I overthinking this?

I'd also be interested in the impressions of venerables here, if they feel it is appropriate to comment.

Metta
:)
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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retrofuturist
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Re: Goenka technique

Post by retrofuturist » Fri Jan 02, 2009 2:17 am

Greetings Jechbi,

The main thought that came to mind when I wrote that was that I no longer "sweep en masse".

The thing is, "sweeping" is totally consistent with the Satipatthana Sutta and so on, but it's not a stated, and therefore not essential method when meditating in accordance with the sutta. I think of it like this... here's a method that Mr. Goenka and his respective teachers found a useful way to follow MN10 and they're sharing this method with others for them to trial. Likewise, the Mahasi method of vipassana is different, but is also consistent with the suttas.

Both methods are quite specific and 'step-by-step' and I think that's particularly important when teaching complete beginners because otherwise there's a good chance they'll do something wrong.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"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)

pererin

Re: Goenka technique

Post by pererin » Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:07 am

I too have taken part in a Vipassana retreat, and while it affected me profoundly I very much feel the need of further reading or advice regarding understanding Vipassana better and learning more about its practise. Any suggestions?

Metta,

Pererin

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Ben
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Re: Goenka technique

Post by Ben » Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:27 am

Hi Pererin

A couple of suggestions for you:
  • Manual of Vipassana Meditation: U Ko Lay (A close friend of Sayagi U Ba Khin and Head of Dept of Patipatti, Rangoon University)
  • Manuals of Dhamma: Ledi Sayadaw (in particularly, Manual of Insight)
  • The Quiet Mind: John Coleman (inspirational)
  • Vedana and Sampajjana: VRI 1989 conference proceedings, VRI
The above should be available from http://www.pariyatti.com or http://www.dhammabooks.com
Kind regards

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

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pererin

Re: Goenka technique

Post by pererin » Tue Jan 06, 2009 1:36 am

Many thanks, Ben.

Metta,

Pererin

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Re: Goenka technique

Post by Ben » Tue Jan 06, 2009 2:14 am

By the way Pererin, there's a whole heap of articles in the VRI website: www.vri.dhamma.org in the newsletter archives. Some of the papers from 'vedana and sampajjana' are also there.
Cheers

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..


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cooran
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Re: Goenka technique

Post by cooran » Fri Jan 09, 2009 10:52 pm

Hello all,

I recently attended my second 10 day Retreat at Dhamma Pabha north of Hobart in Tasmania.
I have a few questions and concerns. The first of which is:

Sankharas:
Goenka-ji teaches that these are the habit patterns accumulated in this and previous lives. When sitting in meditation, bodily sensations arise - 'intensified, gross' - which he states are Old Sankharas coming to the surface. If you "maintain Equanimity" these old sankharas are released/evaporated. If you react with aversion or craving, you are creating new very deep sankharas.

I was experiencing agonising pain in the tendon/muscle at the side of my right knee. The teachers advice was as above, and that I ought not to change the position if at all possible. I endured for three days and then changed to using a kneeling stool. No further pain, except a sore muscle from what I had put it through.

I don't understand how physical pain (which is the body saying something is wrong) is viewed as some sort of 'garbage chute' for old kammic accumulations.

Thoughts?

metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Goenka technique

Post by retrofuturist » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:13 pm

Greetings Chris,
Chris wrote:Thoughts?
The following may be of interest...

Vedanā in Paṭiccasamuppāda by Vipassana Research Institute
http://www.vri.dhamma.org/newsletters/e ... 4-03.shtml" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Metta,
Retro. :)
"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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Jechbi
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Re: Goenka technique

Post by Jechbi » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:14 pm

Hi Chris,

You may want to ask an assistant teacher about this, but I'll give you my take:
Chris wrote:Sankharas:
Goenka-ji teaches that these are the habit patterns accumulated in this and previous lives. When sitting in meditation, bodily sensations arise - 'intensified, gross' - which he states are Old Sankharas coming to the surface. If you "maintain Equanimity" these old sankharas are released/evaporated. If you react with aversion or craving, you are creating new very deep sankharas.
Well sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. If a spider crawls up and bites you while you're sitting, or a bee stings you, it's not a sankhara coming to the surface. Same thing with a cramp in your knee due to an unaccustomed posture, in my opinion. And regardless, I don't think reacting during sitting meditation is ever going to be a "new very deep sankhara." At worst it's going to be a sankhara like one written in the sand, which doesn't last long. (Just my opinion.)
Chris wrote:I was experiencing agonising pain in the tendon/muscle at the side of my right knee. The teachers advice was as above, and that I ought not to change the position if at all possible.
It sounds as if either you or the teacher may have misunderstood what was going on. I think usually the AT will advise the student to try a different position if there is recurring pain, NOT stick with the same old pain-inducing position.
Chris wrote:I endured for three days and then changed to using a kneeling stool. No further pain, except a sore muscle from what I had put it through.
Too bad the AT didn't suggest this sooner than three days.
Chris wrote:I don't understand how physical pain (which is the body saying something is wrong) is viewed as some sort of 'garbage chute' for old kammic accumulations.
Well, sometimes physical pain is the body's way of saying something is wrong, and sometimes it's not. Sometimes we perceive sensations as "negative" physical pain when in fact they're just ordinary sensations that don't signal any underlying problem. One point of the technique is to come to terms with those sensations and be aware of the reactive tendancies we all possess. Usually we just react without thinking. When we sit, we try not to.

Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about this. It's easy to become defeatist if the sitting meditation doesn't go as we expect, but really, each "mistake" is an opportunity to learn and begin again. It's all grist for the enlightenment mill.

Ben will probably have better insights.

Metta
:)
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.

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Re: Goenka technique

Post by Ben » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:38 pm

Hi Chris

It took me some years before I stopped confusing sankhara and vedana.
Sankharas manifest through vedanas, cittas, dhammas, and kaya and not one exclusively - to my knowledge. When one progresses with the technique, one can develop the subtlety of mind to be able to observe the rise and fall of different phenomenological experiences at the same time. By observing vedana one is observing the rise and fall of one aspect of sankhara.
If I had known you were going to endure sitting in the same position hour after hour without moving despite ongoing pain, I would have advised you against it.
Yes, some assistant teachers are more student-focused and more knowledgable than others.
Metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

pererin

Re: Goenka technique

Post by pererin » Fri Jan 09, 2009 11:48 pm

I suffered considerable back pain at points during my Vipassana retreat. The teacher, an eminently sensible man, simply told me to change my position. Pain eased, the meditation practice was thereby enhanced.

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Re: Goenka technique

Post by cooran » Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:27 am

Hello all,

Thank you for your replies - I also asked Ven. Dhammasiha (Abbot of Dhammagiri monestary near Brisbane) about this when I saw him today. He basically said the same thing as Ben, that it is best to shift position rather than incur an injury. He also explained that very many monks suffer from ruined knees due to meditation - though most are practicing other forms of vipassana than the Goenka-technique.

I also clarified and settled my other queries about various quotes from the Tipitaka which I felt had been embellished. Bhante Dhammasiha said that he felt the intention was wholesome and not to forget that Goenka-ji was speaking to an audience where the majority were probably not buddhist. He advised that although he does not use the Goenka technique himself, if one is attending a Goenka Retreat one ought to give full effort to practising and following that technique during the Retreat. He reiterated that Goenka-ji teaches a method which is accepted by Theravada especially Burmese buddhists, and there is no suggestion that he is teaching anything that is not dhammic.

Thanks again all,
metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Goenka technique

Post by zavk » Tue Jan 20, 2009 11:29 pm

Jechbi wrote:
For me, that raises the question: To what degree could Mr. Goenka's technique be more specifically aligned to the suttas, and is this lack of specific alignment something that has the potential to create obstacles for those of use who employ the technique? Or am I overthinking this?
Hi Jecbi and all,

This is what I posted elsewhere; I think it's relevant here. Maybe you've read it but I'll post it again here anyway:

I think it is possible to contextualize Goenka's approach within the Satipatthana Sutta as well as other suttas and commentaries. The following excerpt is from Analayo's Satipatthāna: The Direct Path to Realization which I think is a very insightful study that reads the sutta in relation to other suttas to present a balanced interpretation. I highly recommend it. Anyway this is what he has to say about single-method practice (you can find this bit in the wiki on the sutta):
Several [Pali Canon] discourses relate the practice of a single satipaṭṭhāna directly to realization. Similarly, the commentaries assign to each single satipaṭṭhāna meditation the capacity to lead to full awakening. This may well be why a high percentage of present-day meditation teachers focus on the use of a single meditation technique, on the ground that a single-minded and thorough perfection of one meditation technique can cover all aspects of satipaṭṭhāna, and thus be sufficient to gain realization. (p. 22).
But he adds a caveat:
Thus any single meditation practice from the satipaṭṭhāna scheme is capable of leading to deep insight.... Nonetheless, an attempt to cover all four satipaṭṭhānas in one's practice ... ensures speedy progress and a balanced and comprehensive development. (p. 23)
I wasn't going to type from the book but I remembered this passage, so here it is:
The intriguing feature of the Buddha's approach is that his analysis focused mainly on the psychological underpinnings of views, rather than on their content. Because of this approach, he was able to trace the arising of views to craving (tanha), which in turn arises dependent on feeling. Conversely, by fully understanding the role of feelings as a link between contact and craving, the view-forming process itself can be transcended. The Pasadika Sutta explicitly presents such transcendence of views as an aim of satipatthana contemplation. Thus the second satipattana, contemplation of feelings, has an intriguing potential to generate insight into the genesis of views and opinions. p. (161)
Also he has this to say about U Ba Khin and Mahasi Sayadaw:
It is noteworthy that two of the most popular contemporary vipassana schools of the Theravada tradition recognize the importance of developing such bare awareness of whatever arises at any sense door as an advanced stage of insight meditation. To judge from writings of Mahasi Sayadaw and U Ba Khin, their particular meditation techniques are apparently mainly expedient means for beginners, who are not yet able to practise such bare awareness at all sense doors.
Best wishes,
zavk
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Goenka technique

Post by Ben » Wed Jan 21, 2009 12:36 am

zavk wrote:
It is noteworthy that two of the most popular contemporary vipassana schools of the Theravada tradition recognize the importance of developing such bare awareness of whatever arises at any sense door as an advanced stage of insight meditation. To judge from writings of Mahasi Sayadaw and U Ba Khin, their particular meditation techniques are apparently mainly expedient means for beginners, who are not yet able to practise such bare awareness at all sense doors.
zavk
SADHU! SADHU! SADHU!
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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