Sunday, June 2, 2024

3 Things I Hated about Goenka's 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Course

Things I Hated About Vipassana Meditation Course

Goenka's 10-day Vipassana Meditation Course can be a life-changing experience.   10 hours of meditation per day is really powerful.  But there were a few things I hated about the course, so much that I doubt I will ever try it again in the future.  

Ok, the word hate is a bit too strong.  Let's just say things that I didn't like or that I found irritating.

I did learn some important lessons during my second Vipassana course, which I completed recently in Tiruvanamalai, India.  I even had some powerful meditation sessions during the first day.  But I'm not sure that will be enough to motivate me to do this course again.

Now, before I talk about the things I didn't like, if you consider Goenka your teacher please don't take it personally.  I'm not trying to be disrespectful.  I just need to be honest about my experience.  Before you leave any comment please make sure you read the article all the way till the end.


3 Things I didn't like about the 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Course 


So let me start with the things that I didn't like about the course.


1. Is it really non-sectarian?


One of the things that bothers me the most is that Goenka keeps repeating throughout the course that this is a non-sectarian technique.  Anybody can practice it regardless of their background.

But the truth is that this is a Buddhist meditation course.  

Ok, let me be clear.  I have no problem with it being a Buddhist course, I love Buddhist teachings.  I have done multiple times Buddhist courses in Kathmandu and in Bodhgaya

The issue that I have is that he insists this is a scientific non-sectarian technique when he is obviously promoting Buddhism.

All the evening discourses were actually dhamma lectures, Buddhist teachings.  Throughout the guided meditations, we also get to hear Buddhist teachings, and every meditation starts and ends with his “beautiful” chanting in Pali which of course is more Buddhist teachings. 

Yes, once you learn his Vipassana meditation technique you can go home and practice it without thinking of Buddhism.  But there is no way to do this course and learn the so-called non-sectarian Vipassana technique without having to be involved in Buddhist teachings.

And, he is not promoting Buddhism in general but only his particular tradition and technique.  

He talks of the Vipassana technique as if this was the only meditation technique Buddha gave, which was of course kept pure since the time of Buddha, more than 2000 years ago, only in his own country, Burma.

This to me is a huge red light.  When someone claims to have the ultimate truth, the most authentic technique, you gotta be suspicious.

On top of that, in my opinion, he has a condescending attitude towards other traditions or religions, especially Hinduism.   He mocks them but not in an obvious way.  I guess with his gentle and friendly character it goes unnoticed.

He does say several times that all techniques are good.  He has of course tried them all, but nothing is as transformative and life-changing as this Vipassana technique, according to him.


2. Goenka's Pali chanting


The second thing that I found really annoying during the course was his chanting.  Now, this is perhaps very personal, you know, beauty is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. I'm sure there are a lot of people who love his chanting and feel inspired by it.  But for me, it was just irritating.

The curious thing is that I actually love chants from different spiritual traditions.  

I absolutely love the Vedic mantras from India.  I've also spent a lot of time around the Buddhist communities in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia.  So I am familiar with their Buddhist chants which are either in Pali, Sanskrit, or even Tibetan, and I love them.

But Goenka's chanting is really not my cup of tea.  The actual chants are beautiful I believe but it's the way he chants them that hurt my ears.   

Maybe it is his Pali pronunciation that I don't like (although I don't know anything about Pali).  Or maybe it is because of the way he elongates the syllables.  Or perhaps because it seems he is trying to do throat singing, but it doesn't really work.  Or maybe it's my intuition trying to tell me something.

Whatever it is I just can't stand it. 

Now I knew this even from my first Vipassana course in 2011.  Even then I didn't like his chanting. But at that time I found it amusing. I would literally laugh about it (in silence of course. Lol).  

This time it was just intolerable to me.  I guess that's also because I wasn't able to sleep properly at night because of body pain, as I mentioned in my previous blog post.  So I was more irritable perhaps.


3. The evening discourses


And the last thing that I didn't like about the course was the evening discourses.  

OK, to be honest, the discourses are very engaging and they are packed with practical Buddhist teachings.  Goenkaji is a great teacher, that's for sure.  

But, at least in my perception, they were painfully long.  You know, this is the end of the day.  You probably feel exhausted after all the meditations you've done during the day, but Goenka keeps going and going.  I found them unnecessarily long.


3 Things I liked about the 10-Day Vipassana Meditation Course 


Fortunately, there were also a few things that I did like about the course.


1. Intense meditation like nowhere else


My absolute favorite thing about the course is having the opportunity to meditate 10 hours a day for 10 days. That's it.

To be honest I'm not so interested in the Vipassana technique but I don't think you can find many other courses or retreats that offer an experience like this.  Besides, Goenka's Vipassana course is spread all over the world.

So I feel grateful that Goenka probably used his past business skills to create a sort of “Vipassana franchise,” that allows people in almost any part of the world to join one of these retreats and have the same experience regardless of the place.


2. Free course


Another thing that I really like about this course is that it is completely free.  Well, not exactly free.  It is donation-based.  

This is a beautiful aspect of this course.  The opportunity that you get to join one of these retreats is thanks to the contribution of others who have done retreats before you and of the volunteers who come to assist during the courses. 


3. The Vipassana meditation technique


And I do like the vipassana meditation technique as taught by Goenka.  I think it is a very powerful and complete technique for mental purification and developing equanimity. 

I'll talk more about the technique in my next blog post, but if you've never tried any other meditation technique before, and if you are interested in Buddhist philosophy then this might be the only meditation practice you need.

Personally, I never joined this course to learn a new meditation technique or to learn about Buddhism.  I already had my own meditation practice, even before I joined my first retreat in 2011. 

The only reason why I joined this course was to have the opportunity to meditate for 10 hours a day for 10 days.  That's it.

But of course, I do appreciate the opportunity to gain insights from other techniques that can actually enhance my own meditation practice.  


So, what's the conclusion?


Now, although I have probably spent a lot more time talking about the things that I didn't like this doesn't mean that I believe the course is bad, or good.  It is obviously a very personal experience.  

The only thing that I can conclude after balancing the things that I hated vs the things that I loved, is simply that Goenka is not my teacher and, as I realized before while visiting Kopan monastery in Nepal, Buddhism is not my path.  

I didn't write this blog post to condemn the course or to tell anyone not to try it.  I just needed to vent a little, that's all.  As a matter of fact, if you have any interest in meditation I think you should definitely try it. It can be a life-changing experience for some.

And this now brings me back to the question, will I really never try this course again?

Well, on the last day of the course, right after I left the meditation center, I was convinced I would never do it again.  Seriously, the thought of listening to the same discourses and the chanting again completely put me off.

But now that it's been over a month after the course I feel just a little bit more open to the idea. 

I might consider, at some point in the future, enduring once more Goenka's chanting and discourses only to have the opportunity to meditate for 10 hours a day for 10 days. That remarkable level of awareness that you can only experience in a retreat like this is priceless.


But here is the real lesson


I should also mention that on Day 10 this equanimity business, which I also talked about in my previous blog post, was finally starting to sink in.  

During one of the meditation sessions, I had a flash of insight—“Maybe I should practice equanimity towards the irritation that I feel.”—Duh!

So, when Goenka's chanting started at the end of that meditation, I observed my emotional and physical reactions towards it. I noticed the irritation, the discomfort, the body tension, the changes in the breath, and so on, without adding more fuel to the fire. I simply observed.

Guess what happened then...

Well, nothing really.  Nothing happened, at all.  Lol.  

But during the next meditation session, something quite surprising did happen.  

After a few minutes into Goenka's chanting I realized that I had not noticed at all his chanting.  I had been completely oblivious to it for several minutes.  And when I finally became aware of it I didn't feel annoyed or irritated.  I just didn't care.

For ten days I had been reacting to the chanting as soon as it would start.  So I was making the same mistake I talked about in my previous blog post.   Instead of equanimity, I was creating more mental impressions of aversion.  Not surprisingly, my reactions were getting worse with each passing day. 

Even the title of this blog post speaks volumes about my lack of equanimity.  And that's the real lesson I want to convey with it. 

It took me only 100 hours of meditation and 10 days to learn the lesson.  Well, better later than never, right?

So maybe this is another reason why I could try once more Goenka's Vipassana Meditation Course. It could be a great opportunity to practice my equanimity whenever I feel irritated by the things I hated about this course. 

But I'm not making any plans.  We shall see.


I hope you enjoy reading this article and that you got something out of it.  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.  Thank you.

Oh and by the way, here are some articles from my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course which I did in 2011

2 comments:

  1. Marco, You have explained everything very well.
    Few thoughts/personal experiences -
    About Non-Sectarian:
    - Even I had same question in my mind when I was doing this course and heard non-sectarian many times.
    - Looks like truth is not told.
    Goenka's Pali Chanting:
    - You are right. I was also uncomfortable with Goenka's Pali chanting. But somehow I was able to manage it.
    Evening discourses:
    - I liked & enjoyed Goenka's Evening Discourses. In fact they helped/encouraged me to stay focused during 10 days. I use to wait for evening discourse almost every day.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing Dhananjay! I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one with these thoughts 🙏

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