Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

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squizzlebizzle
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Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by squizzlebizzle » Tue Jan 01, 2019 2:23 am

I recently attended a Goenka 10 day Vipassana retreat. In some ways it was extremely productive, and I got a lot of benefit out of the practice. But in some ways I am feeling confused about what to do next in my practice. I was hoping that I could get some perspective from other meditators about some of the issues which are ringing around in my mind since the retreat.

1. Is it the Vipassana, or is it the samadhi?

Having been for over a week silent, eating very little, sleeping little, and meditating every waking moment, I entered a deep state of concentration. Is it really the "scanning of sensations" which produced the uprooting of defilements that I experienced, or is it just the duration of concentration?
I don't actually feel convinced that sensations matter that much as an object of meditation, I had plenty of uprooting of defilements taking place in my own amateur dabbling with breath/body meditation.

2. can you ever know if you're doing the technique right?

If you ask the teacher at the course a question, the answer is really vague. I am not confident I'm doing it right. I hit all the milestones they said you are aiming for, I even had a dissolution of body experience at one point towards the end. But certain things, like "sweeping attention from head to toe," the language is so vague, what exactly does it mean to sweep attention? my attention is not a broom, what does this language *really* mean? Not being able to get confirmation about the technique makes me unsure if my guessing as to what the technique is is right or not.

3. They ask you to give up all other techniques?

They ask you to give up all other techniques and not to mix them. I understand the reasoning here. But this isn't a comprehensive technique, what was taught at this Goenka retreat. It just contains two tiny components. One: feel the breath in the nose when you lose focus. Two: alternate between "sweeping" attention from head to toe, and scanning each part individually. That's it. There's no room for experimentation or development or growth. They say not to let it become stale but how can it not become stale when there is no flexibility beyond these two very small pieces of technique?

I had been reading Thanissaro Bhikkhu's "each and every breath " and he talks a lot about visualising the breath energy flowing through the body, cultivating a sense of ease and well being, breathing in a way that brings a sense of nourishment. IT seems in the Goenka method that these things are actually forbidden. you are forbidden from trying to breathe in a way that brings a sense of nourishment - you have to breathe in a way that comes naturally. So if what comes naturally is tense and imbalanced you must remain with that. This kind of feels like a mandated impairment.

4. There is no such thing as Vipassana meditation that the Buddha taught?

Before this course I was confused about what Vipassana means really because there is always some distinction made between "shamatha" and "Vipassana" as being two very distinct things. This didn't make sense to me. Shamatha is calm focus. Okay. Vipassana is clear-seeing. Clear seeing of what? If I'm calm and focused, I'm seeing clearly. It seemed like playing word games, not a real distinction of practice. Ajahn Chah says the same thing in his discourses, that shamatha and Vipassana are not actually two different things even though people talk about them as though they are two different things.

After this course it seems "Vipassana meditation' is meant to mean "bodily sensation meditation." Which is fine , and I understand the logic of the way that attention to subtle bodily sensations will bring your attention to a deeper level of the mind and help you to uproot defilements.

But there was a lot of emphasis in the course about how Vipassana was the one real method of meditation the the buddha taught, and that it was lost to the world except for one lineage in Myanmar that kept it alive, up to U Ba Kin, and that this lineage was from when a king (Ashoka?) sent two arahants to Myanmar to teach it.

I looked into it and very reliable sources indicate that there is no thing that the Buddha taught called Vipassana meditation, and that this whole story about Vipassana being the buddha's method may not actually be true.

Here is a passage from a Thanissaro Bhikkhu article about Vipassana:

But if you look directly at the Pali discourses — the earliest extant sources for our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings — you'll find that although they do use the word samatha to mean tranquillity, and vipassana to mean clear-seeing, they otherwise confirm none of the received wisdom about these terms. Only rarely do they make use of the word vipassana — a sharp contrast to their frequent use of the word jhana. When they depict the Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying "go do vipassana," but always "go do jhana." And they never equate the word vipassana with any mindfulness techniques. In the few instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha — not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may "gain" or "be endowed with," and that should be developed together. ...

So, to answer the question with which we began: Vipassana is not a meditation technique. It's a quality of mind — the ability to see events clearly in the present moment. Although mindfulness is helpful in fostering vipassana, it's not enough for developing vipassana to the point of total release. Other techniques and approaches are needed as well.

Fuil text of the article here: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/aut ... etool.html

Some other sources say similar things.

Here is another comment I found on the matter:


Quite a few misguided Theravadan meditation teachers say the Buddha taught a meditation technique called 'Vipassana' (insight). This is clearly a gross error in dhamma. The meditation technique called 'Vipassana' was never introduced by the Buddha. It came as a latter invention by the priesthood of Theravadan Buddhism. It is in fact a repackaging of fragments of the Buddha's four discourse on Mindfulness (Sati) with the charismatic component of bliss (piiti), joy (sukha) and ecstasy (jhana) removed (See DN 22, MN 10, 118 and 119).

Full text here:

http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/crit ... nsight.htm

So, then, Vipassana meditation is not actually what the Buddha taught, and it is not actually a type of meditation. Forbidding the "mixing" of "other techniques" in order to focus solely on scanning of bodily sensations seems a forbidding of the complete course of meditation practice that the Buddha taught, as what the Buddha taught as the practice is decidedly not pure sensation scanning. If "Vipassana" and "shamatha" as described by the buddha are qualities of mind and not meditation practices, then to refer to them as meditation practices is both confusing and misleading with regards to the total goal.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion I remain unsure about what is the correct meditation practice that I, as a committed lay practitioner, should commit myself to in daily practice. I have long suspected that Jhana is the real and only secret sauce and the real meaning of "right concentration," but this isn't something I am able to practice yet.

I feel that I have, in some ways, even less confidence in Vipassana after attending this retreat due to the concerns laid out above.

If anyone has a perspective on any of these, I would greatly appreciate a second opinion on some of these issues. Thank you very much.

santa100
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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by santa100 » Tue Jan 01, 2019 3:06 am

squizzlebizzle wrote:Is it the Vipassana, or is it the samadhi?
You might want to check out Ven. Gunaratana's great article addressing the topic from a similar thread

SarathW
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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by SarathW » Tue Jan 01, 2019 3:13 am

I have never been to a retreat.
My suggestion to you learns from Sutta Pitaka about Jhana and Samadhi, especially from Anapanasati and Satipathana.
However, I recommend listening to Joseph Goldstein Satipathana series.
Last edited by SarathW on Tue Jan 01, 2019 7:21 am, edited 1 time in total.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by DooDoot » Tue Jan 01, 2019 3:19 am

squizzlebizzle wrote:
Tue Jan 01, 2019 2:23 am
1. Is it the Vipassana, or is it the samadhi?
"Vipassana" means to "see clearly" the three characteristics, four noble truths, cause & effect, etc. If vipassana actually occurred, you would not be asking these questions because you would have "seen clearly" the cause & effect leading to the removing of some defilements.
Having been for over a week silent, eating very little, sleeping little, and meditating every waking moment, I entered a deep state of concentration. Is it really the "scanning of sensations" which produced the uprooting of defilements that I experienced, or is it just the duration of concentration?
Mind aware of body calms sensations because the mind stops the thinking that is the cause of the sensations plus awareness of sensations naturally calms sensations. the calming referred to appeared to be the result of samadhi rather than vipassana.
I don't actually feel convinced that sensations matter that much as an object of meditation, I had plenty of uprooting of defilements taking place in my own amateur dabbling with breath/body meditation.
As I said, two things are occurring: (i) dissolving of defilements due to abstinence; and (ii) dissolving of defilements due to awareness of sensations. Note: the sensations are connected to the defilements. Defilements cause sensations.
If you ask the teacher at the course a question, the answer is really vague.
Most meditation courses are like this, regardless of the tradition.
I am not confident I'm doing it right.
Good. This makes you search.
I hit all the milestones they said you are aiming for, I even had a dissolution of body experience at one point towards the end.
Cool.
But certain things, like "sweeping attention from head to toe," the language is so vague, what exactly does it mean to sweep attention? my attention is not a broom, what does this language *really* mean? Not being able to get confirmation about the technique makes me unsure if my guessing as to what the technique is is right or not.
Techniques are like putting training wheels on a child's bicycle. They are merely to give beginners something to do. But, ultimately, the Buddha did not teach any techniques, apart from being vigilant (mindful) to keep the mind free from defilements.
3. They ask you to give up all other techniques?
Yes. Most schools do this. If you don't like the technique then move on.
They ask you to give up all other techniques and not to mix them. I understand the reasoning here. But this isn't a comprehensive technique, what was taught at this Goenka retreat. It just contains two tiny components. One: feel the breath in the nose when you lose focus. Two: alternate between "sweeping" attention from head to toe, and scanning each part individually. That's it. There's no room for experimentation or development or growth. They say not to let it become stale but how can it not become stale when there is no flexibility beyond these two very small pieces of technique?
They probably have more "advanced" instructions for long-termers.
I had been reading Thanissaro Bhikkhu's "each and every breath " and he talks a lot about visualising the breath energy flowing through the body, cultivating a sense of ease and well being, breathing in a way that brings a sense of nourishment. IT seems in the Goenka method that these things are actually forbidden. you are forbidden from trying to breathe in a way that brings a sense of nourishment - you have to breathe in a way that comes naturally. So if what comes naturally is tense and imbalanced you must remain with that. This kind of feels like a mandated impairment.
You should do what feels right for you. All open-minded beginners experiment with different techniques.
4. There is no such thing as Vipassana meditation that the Buddha taught?
The Buddha taught vipassana. But it is not really a "technique". Instead, it is a "fruit" of practise.
Shamatha is calm focus.
No. Shamatha is calm. Samadhi is focus. Shamatha & samadhi are not the same thing.
Okay. Vipassana is clear-seeing.
yes.
Clear seeing of what?
the three characteristics, four noble truths, cause & effect, etc.
Ajahn Chah says the same thing in his discourses, that shamatha and Vipassana are not actually two different things even though people talk about them as though they are two different things.
I doubt AC said this. He would have said they operate together. In other words, they are not two distinct types of meditation.

Meditation is samadhi. Samadhi has two fruits or results: (i) samatha; and (ii) vipassana.
After this course it seems "Vipassana meditation' is meant to mean "bodily sensation meditation." Which is fine , and I understand the logic of the way that attention to subtle bodily sensations will bring your attention to a deeper level of the mind and help you to uproot defilements.
No. It doesn't mean "bodily sensation meditation." The above is just a type of samadhi or concentration.
But there was a lot of emphasis in the course about how Vipassana was the one real method of meditation the the buddha taught, and that it was lost to the world except for one lineage in Myanmar that kept it alive, up to U Ba Kin, and that this lineage was from when a king (Ashoka?) sent two arahants to Myanmar to teach it.
This is just sectarian propaganda. The word "vipassana" has been "hijacked" here.
I looked into it and very reliable sources indicate that there is no thing that the Buddha taught called Vipassana meditation, and that this whole story about Vipassana being the buddha's method may not actually be true.
The word "vipassana" is found many times in the suttas. It is a "fruit" of the "eighthold path". Refer to MN 149.
Here is a passage from a Thanissaro Bhikkhu article about Vipassana:

But if you look directly at the Pali discourses — the earliest extant sources for our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings — you'll find that although they do use the word samatha to mean tranquillity, and vipassana to mean clear-seeing, they otherwise confirm none of the received wisdom about these terms. Only rarely do they make use of the word vipassana — a sharp contrast to their frequent use of the word jhana. When they depict the Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying "go do vipassana," but always "go do jhana." And they never equate the word vipassana with any mindfulness techniques. In the few instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha — not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may "gain" or "be endowed with," and that should be developed together. ...
Correct. Vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha — not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may "gain" or "be endowed with," and that should be developed together. Two fruits.
So, to answer the question with which we began: Vipassana is not a meditation technique.
Yes. Correct.
It's a quality of mind — the ability to see events clearly in the present moment.
No. It is not an ability but the actual seeing of events clearly. And it doesn't merely see events. It sees events as impermanent, not-self, mere elements, etc. For example, to see the breath is not vipassana. Vipassana is seeing if the mind is like this and the breath becomes like this then there is a cause & effect relationship between the mind & breath. Or it sees the breath is impermanent & not-self.
Although mindfulness is helpful in fostering vipassana, it's not enough for developing vipassana to the point of total release. Other techniques and approaches are needed as well.
Mindfulness is all that is needed. Mindfulness means "to remember" to "maintain" the mind in a state that is without defilements.
So, then, Vipassana meditation is not actually what the Buddha taught, and it is not actually a type of meditation.
It is a fruit of meditation.
Forbidding the "mixing" of "other techniques" in order to focus solely on scanning of bodily sensations seems a forbidding of the complete course of meditation practice that the Buddha taught, as what the Buddha taught as the practice is decidedly not pure sensation scanning. If "Vipassana" and "shamatha" as described by the buddha are qualities of mind and not meditation practices, then to refer to them as meditation practices is both confusing and misleading with regards to the total goal.
Correct. Also, sorry to steal your glory, but this is old news. Meditation traditions exist to attract people and they continue to serve this useful & necessary purpose.
In conclusion I remain unsure about what is the correct meditation practice that I, as a committed lay practitioner, should commit myself to in daily practice. I have long suspected that Jhana is the real and only secret sauce and the real meaning of "right concentration," but this isn't something I am able to practice yet.
Best to understand what mindfulness is. Although jhana is a factor of the path, it is sort of a "fruit" of right mindfulness.
I feel that I have, in some ways, even less confidence in Vipassana after attending this retreat due to the concerns laid out above.
You should have confidence meditation works in general because you experienced some good results.
If anyone has a perspective on any of these, I would greatly appreciate a second opinion on some of these issues. Thank you very much.
Sure. Above. :anjali:
There is always an official executioner. If you try to take his place, It is like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood. If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.

https://soundcloud.com/doodoot/paticcasamuppada
https://soundcloud.com/doodoot/anapanasati


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JamesTheGiant
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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by JamesTheGiant » Tue Jan 01, 2019 7:21 am

squizzlebizzle wrote:
Tue Jan 01, 2019 2:23 am
I recently attended a Goenka 10 day Vipassana retreat....
Good work presenting all those questions.
DooDoot answered them well. He's an annoying fellow sometimes, but he's on the ball. :lol:

I'm not going to begin answering all your questions, but I'll just say the Goenka technique is a really good one to have in your toolbox, among other techniques.

And the discipline you learned, meditating hours and hours, is super-valuable.

Next up for you, 30-day Mahasi retreat!

squizzlebizzle
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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by squizzlebizzle » Thu Jan 03, 2019 5:34 am

JamesTheGiant wrote:
Tue Jan 01, 2019 7:21 am
squizzlebizzle wrote:
Tue Jan 01, 2019 2:23 am
I recently attended a Goenka 10 day Vipassana retreat....
I'll just say the Goenka technique is a really good one to have in your toolbox, among other techniques.

This is part of my concern. If they claim you are forbidden from practicing any other techniques in order to practice this one, then there is no toolbox, no experimentation, no personal development. It's all or nothing. It seems wrong to me.

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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by JamesTheGiant » Thu Jan 03, 2019 6:58 am

squizzlebizzle wrote:
Thu Jan 03, 2019 5:34 am
This is part of my concern. If they claim you are forbidden from practicing any other techniques in order to practice this one, then there is no toolbox, no experimentation, no personal development. It's all or nothing. It seems wrong to me.
Yes, it's plainly wrong. But if you want to be a regular with that organization and keep sitting retreats with them, you gotta follow their rules.
But if you are okay with not going on a Goenka 10 day retreat again, branch out and enjoy what the rest of the meditation world has to offer.
There are lots of groups and retreats out there which don't demand total obedience.

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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by lostitude » Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:12 am

JamesTheGiant wrote:
Thu Jan 03, 2019 6:58 am
squizzlebizzle wrote:
Thu Jan 03, 2019 5:34 am
This is part of my concern. If they claim you are forbidden from practicing any other techniques in order to practice this one, then there is no toolbox, no experimentation, no personal development. It's all or nothing. It seems wrong to me.
Yes, it's plainly wrong. But if you want to be a regular with that organization and keep sitting retreats with them, you gotta follow their rules.
But they're not going to check, are they? :P

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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by JamesTheGiant » Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:51 am

lostitude wrote:
Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:12 am
But they're not going to check, are they? :P
For returning students they have a question about "Have you practised Other Techniques" on the online application form, and again when you arrive a paper form with the same questions on it.
So you'd have to lie, then sign your name. Twice. :thinking:

lostitude
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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by lostitude » Sun Jan 06, 2019 12:10 pm

JamesTheGiant wrote:
Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:51 am
lostitude wrote:
Sun Jan 06, 2019 11:12 am
But they're not going to check, are they? :P
For returning students they have a question about "Have you practised Other Techniques" on the online application form, and again when you arrive a paper form with the same questions on it.
So you'd have to lie, then sign your name. Twice. :thinking:
I see, that's a lot stricter than I imagined!

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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Jan 06, 2019 6:33 pm

The nature of the Goenka organisation makes these things seem rather heavy handed. The difference with a "normal" teacher is that you can discuss your progress and she/he can vary things to suit you. However, if you want to seriously make use of of a teacher, you'd probably take their advice about what to do or not to do seriously, otherwise you'd not really be their student.

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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by Pseudobabble » Wed Jan 09, 2019 5:17 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Sun Jan 06, 2019 6:33 pm
However, if you want to seriously make use of of a teacher, you'd probably take their advice about what to do or not to do seriously, otherwise you'd not really be their student.
If a teacher demands total obedience, and the exclusion of experimentation, they aren't a teacher but a petty autocrat.
"Does Master Gotama have any position at all?"

"A 'position,' Vaccha, is something that a Tathagata has done away with. What a Tathagata sees is this: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origination, such its disappearance; such is perception...such are fabrications...such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.'" - Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta


'Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.' - Genesis 3:19

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Re: Plagued with questions after 10-day Vipassana retreat

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Jan 09, 2019 6:27 pm

Pseudobabble wrote:
Wed Jan 09, 2019 5:17 pm
If a teacher demands total obedience, and the exclusion of experimentation, they aren't a teacher but a petty autocrat.
Yes, but that would be a rather extreme case. My experience is that I've got the most out of teachers by putting aside doubts, seriously listening, and trying what they suggest. For me, it's a waste of time and opportunity to be second-guessing.

So, for example, I followed the instructions on a Goenka retreat, and it turned out to be a really useful experience which I still draw on, though I never persevered with it as a main practice.

:heart:
Mike

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