Reply To: Goenka´s Vipassana


Hi all,

This is a forum about Goenka’s vipassana technique, and now has turned to the possible dangers of meditation, especially of meditation retreats.

I do have a few additional thoughts to add on both topics. I have been hesitant to write these things since I used to be more or less intimately connected to the Goenka’s tradition. However, to some people the following may bring a useful perspective.

First, a tragic account of a young woman’s death:

She didn’t know what was real’: Did 10-day meditation retreat trigger woman’s suicide?

For those not familiar with the Goenka’s technique, a very quick recap:
(The full description of a course is above:

Anapana” means breadth meditation.
Vipassana” means observing physical, bodily sensations.

In a typical meditation sitting, someone may “do” anapana for a little while to calm the mind down, and once the mind is sufficiently calm, he/she then “does” vipassana.

“Doing vipassana” here means something like this: a person moves attention from the top of the head to the tips of the toes, noting sensations on the body parts along the way — pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. The meditator keeps a mind of equanimity toward these sensations.

There are variations to this, but the above is the gist of it.

The first drawback of this is of course the incorrect interpretation of anapana and vipassana. A student leaving the courses takes anapana as breath awareness and vipassana as the body scan technique. Many, including what we call “assistant teachers” who conduct these courses, do not bother to learn Buddha Dhamma further.

Goenka presented this body scan technique as the “Jewel of the Dhamma”, something that was lost from India but preserved in Myanmar (and now has been brought back to India). It was preserved in ancient time by the theros Sona and Uttara, transmitting down to the present day lineage:

Ledi Sayadaw
Saya Thetgyi
Sayagyi U Ba Khin
S N Goenka

The names of anyone in between are not known. It was speculated that Ledi Sayadaw learned this technique from someone in Mandalay.

I am sure these were holy people. At the same time, I remember being amused when I heard of the technique described in this way; after all, I had known of this body scan technique long before.

Because of this, I used to read some writings of Ledi Sayadaw, including the book that DanielSt mentioned in a different forum. I knew that Ledi Sayadaw was prolific, and wanted to see if he wrote of this body scan technique in this way. I found none; if anyone knows more of his writing in this regard, please share.

The other drawback is related to the “dangers” we’re discussing. A 10-day, residential course with many hours of sitting in silence each day may be “too much” for someone with a mental condition. In the application process, they do have a mechanism to detect such candidates, but I suppose from time to time someone “slips through”. Hopefully, an extreme case like the story above does not repeat.

These are my two cents. Hope some find it helpful.