S N Goenka Centers

S.N. Goenka Centers#

  • Name of Center: Vipassana Meditation Centers
  • Address: Many sites worldwide
  • Phone Number: There is no central phone number; call individual course sites instead.
  • Website: www.dhamma.org
  • Contact Email: A list of contacts worldwide is here.
  • Tradition(s): Deliberately secular Theravada.
  • Technique(s): Anapana and Vipassana in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin.
  • Teacher(s): S.N. Goenka teaches via prerecorded audio and video tapes. Assistant teachers are there to answer questions from students and introduce the tapes, but only very high-level AT's are allowed to give talks.
  • Cost: Free. Costs are covered by donations, and there is no penalty for not donating.
  • Accommodations: Varies by site.
  • Facilities: All sites will have separate living quarters and dining halls for men and women, a single large meditation hall, and a place for walking around outdoors. Well-endowed sites also have pagodas with individual cells for students.
  • Physical Setting: Typically set in rural areas close to major cities.
  • Food (Vegetarian/Vegan/etc.): Vegetarian breakfast and lunch, fruit and tea in the afternoon. Returning students must forego the afternoon snack unless they are ill.
  • Retreat Length(s): The basic retreat is 10 days, with longer retreats available for long-term students. There are also short courses for children and teens.
  • Typical Schedule:
    • 4:00 am Morning wake-up bell
    • 4:30-6:30 am Meditate in the hall or in your room
    • 6:30-8:00 am Breakfast break
    • 8:00-9:00 am Group meditation in the hall
    • 9:00-11:00 am Meditate in the hall or in your room according to the teacher's instructions
    • 11:00-12:00noon Lunch break
    • 12noon-1:00 pm Rest and interviews with the teacher
    • 1:00-2:30 pm Meditate in the hall or in your room
    • 2:30-3:30 pm Group meditation in the hall
    • 3:30-5:00 pm Meditate in the hall or in your own room according to the teacher's instructions
    • 5:00-6:00 pm Tea break
    • 6:00-7:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
    • 7:00-8:15 pm Teacher's Discourse in the hall
    • 8:15-9:00 pm Group meditation in the hall
    • 9:00-9:30 pm Question time in the hall
    • 9:30 pm Retire to your own room--Lights out
  • Issues of Taboos around attainment, real practice, disclosing insights, etc.: Assistant teachers tend to have pre-scripted answers to questions about attainments and insights. In my limited experience, these answers boil down to something like, "It's not helpful to think about these things. Your question comes from intellectual agitation, which is the enemy of your equanimity. Please continue working and you will see the benefit of the practice." The only concrete attainment mentioned in the nightly discourses is bhanga -- "dissolution--in which one experiences the ultimate truth of mind and matter: constantly arising and passing away, without any solidity. Solidified, intensified emotion and solidified, intensified sensation both dissolve into nothing but vibration. " Full enlightenment is often described in emotional terms, although it is also defined as the complete elimination of mental impurities.
  • Issues of Rites/Rituals: A 45-minute audio tape of Goenkaji's chanting is played every morning in the meditation hall and meditation cells.
  • Issues of Proper Dress: Tight, transparent, revealing, or otherwise striking clothing (such as shorts, short skirts, tights and leggings, sleeveless or skimpy tops) is not allowed.
  • Issues of Etiquette: No one is allowed to speak (except to AT's and course managers) until the 10th day of the course. No eye contact or notes either.
  • Issues of Language: Every site in the world uses the same English-language audio and video tapes for instruction and discourses. In many countries, the English instructions will be followed by a translated version in the local language. Some courses in America are also bilingual.
  • Health Issues: Course managers keep a variety of over-the-counter medicine for student use, and are happy to help.
  • Logistical Issues: Sites are often located in rural areas with little public transportation. Shared rides are facilitated by the office.
  • Strengths:
    • Very hard-core for an introductory course. With 10-hours of cushion time per day, 10 days in a row, everyone is bound to get something out of the experience.
    • It's a great place to send your curious friends or family members, because they will not have to pay for it unless they wish to donate.
    • Another advantage is that the content of the course itself never changes, and never gets worse than it was last time.
    • The video discourses are also pretty darn funny.
    • The S.N. Goenka organization does good service to humanity by making the courses free.
    • Some AT's go far out of their way to run courses for prisoners.
  • Weaknesses: With standardization and mechanization of the retreat comes narrowness that can be dogmatic. It would be impossible for all the thousands of students to get individual attention and guidance from an enlightened master, and so prescriptions for how to live a productive spiritual life are one-size-fits-all. Students are encouraged to commit to using one technique for concentration practice, and only the body-scan technique of vipassana; in fact, commitment is a prerequisite for entering the longer courses. Returning students who have sat four, five, or twelve 10-day courses already know the instructions and discourses by heart, but still have to listen to them during meditation periods. Sitting for periods longer than an hour and a half is difficult to arrange because of the way the schedule works. The quality of the Assistant Teachers is hit or miss.Some are excellent and inspiring,but others are highly uninspiring. In general, there is little intellectual material available to students in this tradition. The books published by this organization tend to be persuasive rhetoric about the value of dedicated practice, and lack detailed information about the territory beyond the A&P. Note that this is not a weakness for non-readers and true beginners.
  • Other Comments: Attending Goenka courses in different countries can be an excellent way to travel if you have a lot of extra vacation time. If you have already sat one Goenka course, you will be comfortable at any of the other centers around the world. The population includes lots of young outdoorsy people, so anyone who fits that description will probably make new friends at a Goenka course.
  • Overall Impression: A great way to find out what meditation is and what it can do, but staying in this tradition for more than a few courses is not for everyone.
  • Worthy of recommendation on the Dharma Overground? If you have never done insight meditation, yes. If you are poor and cannot afford other retreats, yes. If you are a nerd who has solid experience with other insight meditation techniques and have already passed the Arising and Passing Away and know it because you read Daniel Ingram's book and loved it, it's probably not for you.
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