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Is goenka a cult?

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Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/22/19 11:28 PM
When I get up to 4 hours a day sitting meditation,  I'm thinking of doing my first retreat. I currently  do 1 hour sit of concentration. And 1 hour sit of mahasi sayadow  vipasana.    Total of 2 hours  every day .i live near Massachusetts  so there is a goenka retreat and Insight society near by..  I'm hearing some  crazy  shit about the goenka retreats. Even by advanced meditators..   negative  reinforcement  and such.  Cult stuff.  People are leaving worse than when they went in ..    any opinions?

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 3:03 AM as a reply to Matthew Jon Rousseau.
Cult can be defined in different ways. In loose terms any group of people doing their thing can be a cult. I save the term only for groups who do something strange and harmful to themselves and/or others.

I think, as a whole, these people have good intentions and they wish to practice the dharma sincerely, despite of some problems and bad stories. I wouldn't say it is a cult. There are problematic factors, though, as has been discussed.

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 3:19 AM as a reply to Kim Katami.
I'm leaving   alcoholics  anonymous.  It is a vicious  cult.  They tell me their only way to quit drinking is the only way. And if Ieave i will die.... that kind of negative  re Enforcement  makes me want to drink. And it sets people up for failure ... VERY  HARMFUL..  it's that kind of mentality I'm worried  about, looking for a retreat  or system..     I heard .  Insight  meditation society  in BARRE MASSECHUSETTTS  is a very supportive positive (not to dogmatic)  place to learn.

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 3:43 AM as a reply to Matthew Jon Rousseau.
Dear Matthew,

Following Kim's definition, I agree: The Goenka people are not a cult. I say this after participating in four retreats (one as a server, and one recent retreat that ended quite badly for me). They have good intentions, I'm sure, and they have made meditation available for huge amounts of people who, I'm sure, have had great benefits. To my mind, a 10 day retreat is an excellent crash course in buddhism (the video taped dhamma talks every evening) and in anapana sati (meditation on the breath) and body scan. Thousands of men and women have huge benefit from this every year.

For me there are two major down sides:

1) They insist on "not mixing techniques" and sometimes talk in semi-cultish ways of "pure dhamma", meaning the Goenka teachings. Even though Goenka's instructions are very useful, they are certainly not the only useful instructions if you want to learn meditation, even if you restrict your self to the theravadan vipassana (Goenka has to some degree tried to colonize that term, even though the noting technique of Mahasi Sayadaw and several other techiniques are just as much vipassana). This said, I do think you should stick to the Goenka technique and carefully follow all instructions while on retreat. I think one owes it to the Goenka people, who work free of charge for the benefit of others, to follow their instructions when one is there. And, more importantly, I think this will give you the best and safest results.

2) The other down side is that Goenka is like the Ikea of the meditation world: This is standardized, although high quality teaching, and it does not suit every one. Furthermore it is not very flexible when something goes wrong: You don't have much personal contact with the teacher, and this can become a problem if you get into troublesome territory, which happens for a few people.

Even though I have experienced both these downsides personally, I would still recommend Goenka as a good way for most people to get initiated to intensive meditation. I would never "join the cult", meaning stick exclusively to the Goenka teachings, and I would not recommend that anybody did that. After the first initiation you need to think and feel for your self and find out witch techniques work best for you along the path.

I wish you well and good luck with the course.
Niels

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 6:50 AM as a reply to Niels Lyngsø.
I just want to express my appreciation for your very nuanced and thoughtful reply, Niels.

...

While I'm writing...
I had decided not to go on Goenka retreats because their IKEA package doesn't cater for unconventional and extreme food intolerances, which is very understandable for an ideally based organization, and also doesn't allow participants to bring any food supplements that would solve the problem. A couple of tea spoons of hemp proteine per day would make it possible for me to live on rice and carrots for ten days (which is what they offered me), but apparently Goenka himself chose all the recipes and they are part of the dharma, so they are not allowed to change them. I find that a bit... dogmatic. I'm not sure Goenka would have been that unflexible if he were still around to be asked. Anyway, when this thread came up, I felt that what the heck, I'm going anyway. Nobody has starved to death on ten days without proteine. I'll survive. There is probably some proteines in my finger nails if I get really desperate. Or maybe if I ask them very nicely I could get some boiled lentils once or twice. I wouldn't be able to come back for a second retreat, because I wouldn't stop using other techniques outside of the retreat, but it would still be a great experience to have done it once. 

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 11:54 AM as a reply to Niels Lyngsø.
Having done quite a few of the Goenka retreats it is my understanding that you are encouraged not to mix techniques while on the course but obviously when you leave you are ‘your own master’ as he likes to repeatedly point out. I think like all these things you have to use common sense and take responsibility for your own practice. The main idea of not mixing techniques on the retetreareat is do o that you are clear about the benefits of the practice and so students do not get confused about which practices are bringing which benefits. Certainly they encourage people to practice their techniques afterwards but that’s pretty common among groups and traditions I would say. It may present an issue when applying for longer courses but personally I’ve just ticked the boxes they want despite not fitting their criteria for acceptance exactly as they can be strict on these things. I don’t see an issue with that, I take responsibility for myself on retreats and think the whole thing with people getting themselves into trouble is pretty rare and could usually be avoided by not pushing themselves too hard (emotionally or physically) or just backing off generally and taking more of a loving kindness attitude rather than the whole attainment view of practice that seems to be becoming more prevalent.

As for being a cult, I would define that along the lines of any group that follow a very powerful central figure, have little contact with the broader dharma community, believe they are better than others in their practices and have very little authentic questioning and criticism of themselves within the group, that kind of thing. So I wouldn’t personally call the Goenka community a cult although there is certainly a strictness and rigidity there which is probably not that healthy. One of the problems is that it is very much a silent retreat format and so there’s very little Sangha engagement after that for many people, so actually I would say isolation and lack of support are bigger problems than being brainwashed or controlled in some way.

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 7:52 AM as a reply to Matt Perry Clark.
I use mahasi  sayadaw  techniques at home. I dont want to change  to much from an obvious  path. Waste  10 days than go back. To my sayadow stuff

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 8:38 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
I just want to express my appreciation for your very nuanced and thoughtful reply, Niels.

...

While I'm writing...
I had decided not to go on Goenka retreats because their IKEA package doesn't cater for unconventional and extreme food intolerances, which is very understandable for an ideally based organization, and also doesn't allow participants to bring any food supplements that would solve the problem. A couple of tea spoons of hemp proteine per day would make it possible for me to live on rice and carrots for ten days (which is what they offered me), but apparently Goenka himself chose all the recipes and they are part of the dharma, so they are not allowed to change them. I find that a bit... dogmatic. I'm not sure Goenka would have been that unflexible if he were still around to be asked. Anyway, when this thread came up, I felt that what the heck, I'm going anyway. Nobody has starved to death on ten days without proteine. I'll survive. There is probably some proteines in my finger nails if I get really desperate. Or maybe if I ask them very nicely I could get some boiled lentils once or twice. I wouldn't be able to come back for a second retreat, because I wouldn't stop using other techniques outside of the retreat, but it would still be a great experience to have done it once. 
It is understandable that the kitchen cannot provide different kinds of foods for participants, depending on their diet. However, to prohibit participants from brinning their oen foods or food supplements, I actually find it a cult-like feature. When people's diets are forcefully controlled what else could it be? That's what cults and cult leaders do, impose forceful control. If I was going, which I ain't, I'd smuggle protein drinks, chocolate bars and beef jerky even if I could sustain on rice and carrots just to show the finger to the system. Ha.

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 8:49 AM as a reply to Kim Katami.
That food stuff doesnt bother me. When in Rome  do as the Roman's do.  Every institution is going to have some tradition..cant escape it.  Who knows maybe mctb2 will dovelope a following and  some nuances are bound to arise.    Just seems like the reviews for Goenka  are dismal.  People aren't  leaving saying"wow I reached  tha AP or eqinimity"  I'm hearing most people saying g it felt like a  nervous  breakdown  and they lea e feeling like failures

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 10:38 AM as a reply to Kim Katami.
Kim Katami:
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
I just want to express my appreciation for your very nuanced and thoughtful reply, Niels.

...

While I'm writing...
I had decided not to go on Goenka retreats because their IKEA package doesn't cater for unconventional and extreme food intolerances, which is very understandable for an ideally based organization, and also doesn't allow participants to bring any food supplements that would solve the problem. A couple of tea spoons of hemp proteine per day would make it possible for me to live on rice and carrots for ten days (which is what they offered me), but apparently Goenka himself chose all the recipes and they are part of the dharma, so they are not allowed to change them. I find that a bit... dogmatic. I'm not sure Goenka would have been that unflexible if he were still around to be asked. Anyway, when this thread came up, I felt that what the heck, I'm going anyway. Nobody has starved to death on ten days without proteine. I'll survive. There is probably some proteines in my finger nails if I get really desperate. Or maybe if I ask them very nicely I could get some boiled lentils once or twice. I wouldn't be able to come back for a second retreat, because I wouldn't stop using other techniques outside of the retreat, but it would still be a great experience to have done it once. 
It is understandable that the kitchen cannot provide different kinds of foods for participants, depending on their diet. However, to prohibit participants from brinning their oen foods or food supplements, I actually find it a cult-like feature. When people's diets are forcefully controlled what else could it be? That's what cults and cult leaders do, impose forceful control. If I was going, which I ain't, I'd smuggle protein drinks, chocolate bars and beef jerky even if I could sustain on rice and carrots just to show the finger to the system. Ha.

Yeah, smuggling some hemp proteine could perhaps be an option, unless they really are cult-like enough to check people's baggage. I wouldn't do it just to show the finger to the system, because I suspect that there are beliefs about safety and responsibility behind this rigidity, even if I think it is being overprotective, and I also think it is only fair to accept the rules of the host. They are doing this for donations only, after all. I respect that. It provides opportunities for meditators with limited resources all over the world. Well, at least for healthy meditators. Which again is totally understandable since they all work for free. Still, I'll admit that your reply made me smile. 

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 10:41 AM as a reply to Matthew Jon Rousseau.
Matthew Jon Rousseau:
That food stuff doesnt bother me. When in Rome  do as the Roman's do.  Every institution is going to have some tradition..cant escape it.  Who knows maybe mctb2 will dovelope a following and  some nuances are bound to arise.    Just seems like the reviews for Goenka  are dismal.  People aren't  leaving saying"wow I reached  tha AP or eqinimity"  I'm hearing most people saying g it felt like a  nervous  breakdown  and they lea e feeling like failures


I have heard many people say it was a wonderful experience. They have retreats all over the world. Of course there will be some people reporting about bad experiences. From what I have heard, it is quite common to reach the A&P on their retreats. I don't know about the rest. 

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 12:04 PM as a reply to Matthew Jon Rousseau.
I don't think you would waste ten days at all. The Goenka approach very much covers the foundation of Buddhist practices and in my view is really compatible with other approaches as well. There's a lot of misunderstanding out there and of course since it has become such a big organisation there are people looking to criticise and shoot it down without actually having tried it themselves. Personally I recommend it, the whole thing is run on Dana and is given freely for the benefit of all and it's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses in my opinion. It's heavyweight Dharma though, not for the faint hearted.

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 2:05 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:

... I suspect that there are beliefs about safety and responsibility behind this rigidity, even if I think it is being overprotective, and I also think it is only fair to accept the rules of the host. They are doing this for donations only, after all. I respect that. It provides opportunities for meditators with limited resources all over the world. Well, at least for healthy meditators. Which again is totally understandable since they all work for free. Still, I'll admit that your reply made me smile. 
Beliefs about safety and responsibility. What do you mean by that? I cannot see the connection between imposed vegan (or vegeratian?) diet and free of charge-ness.

I think vegetarian and especially vegan diet in connection with dharma practice, (kinda comes with it) is another blind spot that should be discussed and questioned more in public.

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 2:13 PM as a reply to Matt Perry Clark.
+1 with what Matt said.
I have personnaly never witnessed any search in the personal belongings of students. It is mainly self discipline required.
I have been course manager a couple of times and the assistant teachers seemed very compassionate to me, if a bit rough on the edges (the technique tends to make you rough, maybe). They asked me to check on students that seemed fragile to them, and to report any behaviour that could indicate difficult times for a student. They were quite loving and concerned by the wellfare of the students. Some don't sleep, some don't eat, quite a few get quite exaltated from their experience. In one occasion, the teacher asked the student to eat in the evening and basically tried to ground him.
That said, the teachers believe in the technique to the point they will not acknowledge it can be harmful. And they will recommend anapana for any hardship (I witnessed a case where it was ridiculous, far as the guy was gone). It is also compulsory to attend the three group sittings (but you can meditate in your room on numerous occasions in the day).
I tried to express in an answer to Niels thread why I believed mixing techniques could be dangerous in certain occasions (of very intense practice).

Linda, about the food, I guess it depends on the center. I have seen people bring stuff that would be then served to them by the kitchen. But they do not encourage it, for sure. Nowadays many people are gluten or lactose intolerant, it is taken into account. And you can get an evening meal if your doctor prescribes it. Did you ask the center already? They could add dal or lentils to your rice and carrots!

About the cultish thing, there are aspects of the organisation that I do not like (it deserves its own thread. They have to do with the fact that it is entirely run by "old student" volunteers who found great benefits in the technique and who do not want their view to be challenged. Goenka himself encouraged this. A certain disdain for other techniques. An omerta concerning the phenomenology of the practice between teachers and students. The fact that Goenka's discourses are written in stone and insuperable... Well... It is not a cult but it has some elements of a religion in its inception (well, is that a cult then?)... I still believe the technique is deep and that most will get benefit from getting a good grip at it. I hope this helps...

With metta
Smiling Stone

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 2:46 PM as a reply to Kim Katami.
Kim Katami:
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:

... I suspect that there are beliefs about safety and responsibility behind this rigidity, even if I think it is being overprotective, and I also think it is only fair to accept the rules of the host. They are doing this for donations only, after all. I respect that. It provides opportunities for meditators with limited resources all over the world. Well, at least for healthy meditators. Which again is totally understandable since they all work for free. Still, I'll admit that your reply made me smile. 
Beliefs about safety and responsibility. What do you mean by that? I cannot see the connection between imposed vegan (or vegeratian?) diet and free of charge-ness.

I think vegetarian and especially vegan diet in connection with dharma practice, (kinda comes with it) is another blind spot that should be discussed and questioned more in public.

When I asked them about it, that's what they said. He planned the recipes carefully for best success and safety with meditation. Something like that. There are teachings about Kundalini yoga that states the necessity of wearing white clothes, and parents that believe all sorts of stuff with regard to their children's safety, so I just categorized it as non-scientific beliefs rather than crazy cult dogmas, although I'm aware that dividing line is arbitrary sometimes. Compared to parents who give their children bleach enemas on a regular basis because they are convinced that it will "cure" their childrens' autism, I think sticking to a particular set of tasty vegan recipes is totally fine, albeit somewhat amusing. They gave me all their recipes, and I really wish I could eat it because it seems delicious. 

By responsibility I mean they they are responsible for the wellbeing of participants on their retreats to some extent, and they want to stick to what they think is optimal. 

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/23/19 3:09 PM as a reply to Smiling Stone.
Great reply, Smiling Stone! Great to hear about the teacher who cared about grounding.

Yes, I already asked them about dietary needs and they could offer me rice and carrots, since neither their gluten free alternatives or their milk free alternatives would work for me. That was a local Swedish center. If you knew the extent of my intolerances you would understand, I'm sure. It is a several pages long document. I don't blame them. And I have already been to another retreat (not Goenka) where they gave me rice/quinoa and steamed vegetables (often one at a time) for every meal, but they allowed me to bring some seeds and a gluten-free hard bread made of seeds for proteine. That was perfect. I was never hungry. Didn't even eat much of the bread. 

I can't eat dal. I wouldn't be able to get out of the bed. There wasn't a single recipe that I would be able to eat, just as I expected. 

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/24/19 4:06 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Hey Linda,
Sorry to  hear about the extent of your food intolerances. It must be quite a hasstle in everyday life.
It is a pity because I would love to have your feedback on this practice (which does need a retreat setting) !
A good friend of mine follows a raw diet and did not attend any retreat for this reason...

What I heard about the menu is that it had been designed by nutritionists (there must be quite a few in the old students) to make sure people would get enough protein and a balanced diet in every season (there is a different menu for each season, to use the right veggies). And that it would remain cheap, of course.

Also, just ot be clear, it is certainly not vegan, as they make their own yoghurt in certain countries (you can get quite a lot at breakfast), and there is milk and honey... Quite a lot of milk in India!

To Kim, it seems reasoneable to me that they ask you not to bring meat on the premises and that they offer vegetarian catering, if you think a bit about the amount of suffering involved in the production of animal products. And dependent origination? I do not want to start an argument here (I do eat some myself sometimes, but I think eating meat in general is another blind spot that might be adressed at some point). 

Metta
Smiling Stone

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/24/19 4:56 AM as a reply to Smiling Stone.
I appreciate your concerns, Smiling Stone, but I have gotten used to it so it's not so bad. I will try to go on one of those Goenka retreats anyway. Oh yeah, that's right, milk and honey included in their diet. I was just being sloppy in my wording. I'm sorry. And there is nothing wrong with the food they offer or that it is vegetarian, as I see it. Quite reasonable. It would just be easier for me in my unusual situation if I could bring some seeds. 

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/24/19 6:20 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Well, I guess I would smuggle respectfully whatever dry food I need to go through the ten days. And eat it at meal times. They are concerned about maintaining the purity of the center (and the purity of the practice). Well, there is a whole issue about purity that makes me a bit sick... But I can relate to the volitions being "pure" in the sense of wanting good for oneself and for others, not harming etc... And not having food in one's room makes sense to avoid rat and mice issues, which would multiply if everybody brought his own stuff!
And... I did not feel THAT sorry for you!
Metta
Smiling Stone

RE: Is goenka a cult?
Answer
11/24/19 6:55 AM as a reply to Smiling Stone.
Haha, great. Yeah, I can see why they wouldn't want people to attract rats and mice. I'll see what I can do about it. Metta right back at ya.