Advice on practice & upcoming Goenka retreat.

Jose, modified 7 Years ago at 5/11/16 10:10 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 5/11/16 10:10 PM

Advice on practice & upcoming Goenka retreat.

Post: 1 Join Date: 5/11/16 Recent Posts
Hello dhamma friends,

It's wonderful to see such a great resource on the web for fellow practitioners. I'd like to ask for some helpful tips on my current practice and on an upcoming Goenka retreat and how best to prepare for it. I'll begin with some background:

I'm a 21y.o Male currently in Uni. which allows me a decent amount of time to study and practice the Dhamma. I started meditating seriously when I was 19 and have been practicing for an avg. of an hour a day for the last year or so, usually a bit more. My initial road into Buddhism was paved with books on Zen but I found them too cryptic and, well, too Zen to be of practical use for a beginner. Since then I've focused more on understanding and implementing the teachings from the Therevada tradition, particularly working with the teachings from the Thai Forest masters like Ajahn Chah and Thanissaro Bhikku, along with the Pali suttas. I immediately felt a connection with the clear and straightforward presentation of the Dhamma and T.B's books and talks in particular have been tremendously helpful. I have been using the instructions layed out in his 'Each And Every Breath' meditation manual in which he advises a broad awareness of the whole body which I use in conjuction with the BUDDHO mantra. A typical session follows this basic pattern:

I begin my sessions with the 'Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa' veneration to the Buddha as it just feels good to say it and provides a nice entry into the sit. I then use BUDDHO while scanning the body for tension and breathing through any tight spots for the first couple minutes to get settled. I then focus my awareness around the general area around the nose and throat. I've read many recommend narrowing the focus to a small area like the tip of the nose but this hasn't been as effective as the more open inclusive awareness for me personally and doesn't seem to impact my concentration. Sometimes I use the mantra the whole session and at other times I drop it once I see it's no longer needed, although it tends to be in the background even throughout my day outside of meditaiton which has been greatly helpful in developing concentration. I have also incorporated noting both in daily life and in mediation sessions. At first I would note incessently but the mind seems to have caught on to the practice and I've found that I can remain pretty mindful without the need to note everything like I did at first, though it's still a technique I emply often. I've also found metta practice to be a great complement to my usual practice, and usually end all sessions with the wish for all beings to be happy and free of the causes of suffering, a statement that initially felt a bit disingenous but that has been penetrating deeper into the heart with more sincerity. Along with that, I try to notice the 3C's as often as I can, noticing the impermanece of every breath or of sensations in the body, the fact that all events arise and cease on their own(especially feelings, thoughts, opinions), and the general unsatisfactoriness that seems to underlie experience. 

This unsatisfactoriness was made especially clear while meditating on LSD months ago, an experience that gave me a better appreciation for Chogyam Trungpa's description of the LSD experience as a 'super-samsara'. In fact, looking back it was some early LSD experiences that really highlighted the undisciplined nature of my mind and how easy it was for me to get lost in thought loops. This sparked my interest in contemplative traditions that provided techniques to train the mind and disidentify from the content of experience. In the last few months I feel my concentration has deepened and have been getting into what I believe is Jhana territory. About two to three weeks ago I had an unusual pressure in the head along with a tingling, swirling tentacle sensation in the middle of the forehead. The pressure and intensity of the sensations increased for a few days along with an increased ability, almost effortless, ability to concentrate until the pressure subsided and bliss-ful sensations started coming in waves from the middle of the forehead. In fact, this has continued even off the cushion and I can feel it tingling right now as I type this. Piti tends to arise within a couple minutes of sitting down to meditate and the last few weeks it has been prevelent even in daily life, particularly concentrated in the forehead region. I wonder if this is related to what Daniel describes as the A&P event, althought I've not felt much dark-night related phenomena following. I just note it, taking care to avoid any attachment to pleasurable feelings as it's become clear through the nice states that come from concentration practice that blissful states don't in themselves lead to liberation and they come and go just like everything else. I feel much more calm and at peace with a better understanding that clinging to sensations, both positive and negative is pretty much useless. I don't really know how far along on the path I am but I can say I notice a tremendous difference from what states of my mind I harbored prior to taking up the practices. I have noticed an increase in dispassion, not in a negative way but just a general lack of interest in things that previously took up much of my time and interest like music or movies(though I do browse the web quite abit..)

I've been reading Daniel's book and have been using some of the insight practices he recommends such as focusing on the arising and passing of sensations in the fingers. A question I have is, is it neccesary to create this hardline distinction between insight and concentration practice? I get the feeling that insight practice is viewed as the direct method to stream-entry but in my own practice this distinction between samatha and vipassana has never been that clear cut. I know some warn about getting stuck doing concentration but I feel the way I've been practicing has led to some good insight, though without a real-life teacher to point out any blindspots I may have I'm not sure how accurate this statement is. I occasionally practice with a Zen community but it's more of a group sitting than a place to discuss practice seriously. Another question I have is with the stages of insight, does one cycle through them everytime one sits down to meditate or is it more of a long-term progression through the stages? Can one progress through the stages doing a combination of samatha and vipassana at the same time? Can jhana practice in conjuction with the intention to notice the 3C's lead to the same stages?

I'm scheduled to do my first ever retreat in June run by the Goenka organization, and I'm looking forward to it quite a bit. I'd like to utilize my time there wisely and efficiently as I'm not sure when I'll have the chance to do another retreat. I'm hoping experienced practitioners can provide some useful suggestions for how to practice during the 10days to make good progress towards Stream Entry, & if I should utilize the body-scanning technique throughout the course or stick with the way I've been practicing or use another method. Thanks for reading!
Matt, modified 7 Years ago at 5/11/16 10:34 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 5/11/16 10:33 PM

RE: Advice on practice & upcoming Goenka retreat.

Posts: 316 Join Date: 1/14/14 Recent Posts
I've done two Goenka retreats.  The first one was my first real experience with meditation.  I found it an excellent experience, highly worthwhile.  Rejoining normal life afterwards was somewhat challenging.   There was no Goenka community near my home, so I ended up falling in with this MCTB crowd.  *That* was also highly rewarding.

My second Goenka retreat was a much different experinence.  The Goenka team really wants you to do their thing, nothing else. *Nothing Else* besides following Goenka's instructions.  But a year of non-Goenka practice was too much to walk away from, so I was always torn between following instructions, and doing my MCTB-inspired practice.  I think I would have been better off doing a home retreat (my home was going to be empty at the time)

My advise is, if at Goenka, do what Goenka askes you to do, to the N'th degree, don't hold back one bit.  It may be highly worth the effort.  If you can't do that, then it may be a painful, awkward experience.
Dream Walker, modified 7 Years ago at 5/11/16 11:32 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 5/11/16 11:32 PM

RE: Advice on practice & upcoming Goenka retreat.

Posts: 1644 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
I'd like to ask for some helpful tips on my current practice and on an upcoming Goenka retreat and how best to prepare for it.
Follow the instructions of Goenka the first time exactly, one exception - do not ignore certain sensations as unimportant though it may not be a body sensation. ALL sensations are worthy of investigation, even though Goenka focuses mostly on body sensations.
Good luck,
John B, modified 7 Years ago at 6/17/16 7:39 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/17/16 7:39 AM

RE: Advice on practice & upcoming Goenka retreat.

Posts: 69 Join Date: 6/16/16 Recent Posts
Hey Jose,

How did your retreat go? I just went on my first retreat, a 10-day Goenka retreat earlier this month. My story is somewhat similar to yours in that I was exploring concentration and insight in my sits for a couple years beforehand. I've started a practice journal since the retreat, and maybe you can relate to some of the experiences having recently done a similar body scanning practice.