Archive for April, 2008

Goenka Vipassana 10-Day Meditation Retreat Review – Part 2 of 3

Monday, April 14th, 2008

A BIT ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE:

I most definitely did experience a lot of sensations throughout my body that I would not otherwise feel, from pain to tingling to pulsing to hot and cold spots to “uniform subtle vibrations” etc, and I worked hard and did my best to remain focused and equanimous the whole time. The sensations arose and passed away, and everything always does (among many other things, they constantly stress the “law of impermanence” – everything always changes and nothing is permanent, so it is pointless to ever get attached to anything).

INTERESTING BUT NOT REALLY RELEVANT:

I had a hard time getting to sleep at night, because I could not turn the sensations off, and they were very distracting and kept me up.

They say that what the sensations are that you are experiencing are irrelevant. What matters is that you simply remain aware of them and equanimous to them. Most of the sensations I experienced were the mundane types of sensations I described above. I did however have a couple unusual sensations. One was the sensation of tears running down my face. The tears felt 100% real, and the when they first started I wiped my face but found that there actually were no tears. No sadness or other emotions were attached to them – I only felt the physical sensations and that’s all. For a few of the meditation sessions, I had “tears” streaming down my face for the full hour. Other times, I felt like I had a big gash in the middle of my forehead, and there were drops coming from it (blood?) and running down my nose.  I often still felt the tears & gash during the week after the retreat ended (when I was not meditating); after that the sensations faded away.  Very interesting, but as they say, meaningless, because the point is to just remain aware and equanimous as the various sensations arise and pass away.

THE POSITIVES:

  • It was run VERY well – it could not possibly have been run any more smoothly.
  • The food was excellent.
  • The accommodations were quite nice.
  • Most of the discourses (videos) in the evening were excellent.
  • The retreats are free, and are financed exclusively by donations. They do not allow you to donate any money until after you have completed a retreat, and even then they do not put any pressure on you to give them anything.
  • I’m quite sure that the primary motivation of everyone running the retreat was love and compassion for others (which of course indirectly benefits themselves also) – to have exclusively volunteers putting in so much time and effort running such a smooth worldwide operation was very impressive. This, along with their apparent desire just to help others, is what impressed me the most of all.

THE NEGATIVES:

  • Although they say all over their website that they are not a religious organization and are not sectarian, and they repeat the same thing a few times during the retreat, the fact is that they really actually are quite Buddhist. Half way through I seriously considered leaving for that reason (and also because of the constant very strange chanting of the teacher in a strange language – “Is he invoking evil spirits?” “Is he subliminally messing with my mind”?). Upon my insistence, they bent the rules and let me read a translation of the chanting, so I decided to stay. There were many other religious aspects that troubled me also.
  • I think there may have been a bit of mild brainwashing going on, but I made sure to always keep “one eye open” and I don’t think I was affected. If you are going to do a retreat I encourage you to be aware of this.

THE MAJOR NEGATIVE:

For me, the major negative was simply that I did not get any apparent results from the retreat. I feel the same as I did before the retreat, and I seem to act/react/think the same as before also in all the situations of my life. Therefore, unfortunately, I cannot say that the retreat was successful. Essentially, I am the same, and therefore I am disappointed.

In one of the discourses, the teacher (S.N. Goenka) explains that there are 3 ways to know that something is true. The first is that someone tells you that something is true (this is the least effective way). The second is that you figure out the truth yourself intellectually (this is the second most effective way). The third is that you directly experience something yourself and therefore know that it is true (this is the most effective way). I agree with that 100%.

Goenka constantly tells you not to accept something because someone else says so, including himself, but rather to believe things only if you experience them to be true, and he also constantly points out that by doing Vipassana Meditation, you are experiencing reality directly within the framework of your own body. This is true. But there is a big missing piece to the puzzle…

I have no direct experience that the fundamental underlying concept of the meditation is true: How do I know that the sensations I’m experiencing are Sankharas coming to the surface, and how do I know that I am eradicating them through this type of meditation? The only way I “know” this is true is because the teacher said so.

I suppose that this is why Goenka constantly tells us that the sensations are our Sankharas that are getting eradicated (we have no other way to know it), but he does not tell us that we are experiencing the sensations in our body (he doesn’t need to tell us that, because are directly experiencing them)

I pointed this out to one of the Assistant Teachers, who said that I’d experience the truth of the theory in my life afterwards – I would be and act and feel differently. Well, that is not measurable and therefore seems kind of like a “fuzzy” answer to me, and since I actually am not (as far as I can tell) any different now that the retreat is over… my experience actually tells me that the theory is incorrect.

Coming Next: A few more positives, and conclusion.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE TO PART 3 OF 3

(You will be able to leave comments at the end of Part 3 :) )