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Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Mettafore 7/5/17 11:08 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Stephen 7/5/17 12:24 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Daniel M. Ingram 7/6/17 2:38 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Mettafore 7/7/17 3:31 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat I Dream of Jnani 7/16/18 3:11 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Ben V. 7/6/17 8:00 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat This very moment 7/6/17 6:23 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Noah D 7/6/17 10:19 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat JohnM 3/2/18 4:35 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Scott P 7/7/17 8:28 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat svmonk 7/9/17 11:12 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Jim Smith 7/18/18 12:21 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat spatial 7/16/18 5:33 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Jim Smith 7/16/18 6:35 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat I Dream of Jnani 7/16/18 6:10 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Ben Meijer 7/17/18 6:50 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Jim Smith 7/17/18 8:51 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat ivory 7/17/18 9:11 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Ben Meijer 7/17/18 11:07 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat I Dream of Jnani 7/17/18 3:54 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Thich Nhat Han Solo 7/19/18 12:44 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Daniel M. Ingram 7/19/18 7:44 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Mettafore 7/23/18 6:49 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat svmonk 7/19/18 10:41 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Conal 7/21/18 2:21 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat J C 10/21/18 2:34 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Ben V. 7/21/18 7:42 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat nancy nancy vail 10/21/18 2:04 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat J C 10/21/18 2:27 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Ben V. 10/21/18 8:14 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat deleteaccountplease thereisnofacility 2/14/19 2:06 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Daniel M. Ingram 2/14/19 10:10 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat magpie 2/14/19 11:28 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat Ward Law 2/14/19 3:57 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat magpie 2/14/19 5:38 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat deleteaccountplease thereisnofacility 3/4/19 3:24 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat MOE THU 3/9/19 1:58 PM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat I M Picike 6/26/19 11:47 AM
RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat JP 6/27/19 8:38 AM
Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/5/17 11:08 AM
Here is an article about Megan Vogt, who commited suicide after her first ten-day Goenka retreat. It is really painful to read this. It must be especially painful for her parents to lose their daughter at such a young age. I hope one day we are in a position to prevent such a thing from happening.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/5/17 12:24 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
Wow. A sad situation. It is frustrating to read how inept the center was at handling this situation. I started meditating seriously at a Goenka retreat and I would never recommend to someone to start with a Goenka retreat precisely for this reason--they are completely inept at handling difficult situations. I had a positive experience on my 10-day retreat and it taught me a lot of self-discipline which is valuable but I also was older and I had my mental trip together. This situation highlights the extremely problematic nature of limiting the role of the teachers who are physically there running the retreats. After doing a weekend retreat at a Goenka center about year ago I decided I would never return because it seemed to me the people running the retreat had very little to no interaction with students and didn't feel comfortable giving instructions based on their own experience, perhaps because they have a very limited role in the retreat. At least that's my understanding, and that is also borne out in the article's account of Megan's interaction. Many emails were left unanswered. I've since attended other retreats where the teachers are there in the flesh and not on a recording and I found that to be a much more balanced and human approach to retreat. It also completely changed my feelings about Goenka. Something about the idea of a free retreat is so appealing, especially for young people, who are also somewhat more vulnerable mentally. Anyway it would be interesting to read other people's experiences and thoughts. I'm sure there are some in this community who have gotten a lot of benefit from these style of retreats. I'm also confident there are many who have similar thoughts about Goenka as I do. What kind of support structures should be in place to help meditators work through difficult situations at the retreat center?

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/6/17 2:38 AM as a reply to Stephen.
There are a sizeable number of people who got a lot that is good out of the Goenka tradition who have posted such on this forum, just as there are probably hundreds of reports of people who did a 10-day or a number of 10-days in Goenka, crossed the A&P, didn't have it contextualized, and then either had lots of problems with the A&P kundalini stuff or the Dark Night that followed, lacked proper support, frameworks, and normalization, went on to make a mess of their lives, and finally found the maps, frameworks, and support and started putting things back together.

I tweeted that article out a few days ago after Willoughby sent it to me. Truly tragic.

Those of us who talk about the dark side of meditation get a lot of emails from people who are struggling in various ways due to the dharma and the strange effects it can produce. I personally get maybe 3-10 emails per week, most not nearly that bad, but perhaps every 2-3 months I hear from someone who is really having a hard time, and I try to give them what information that I can and then refer them to the very limited support network I have of those who have dual training in mental health and meditation difficulties. As an ED physician, I have a moderate mental health background, as we deal with a lot of psychiatric issues in the ED, but that is no substitute for specialists who are trained much more extensively than I am who can provide local support, but most of those people in most locations are woefully unprepared for the side-effects of intense dharma practice, or even sometimes light dharma practice, which can sometimes also produce profound difficulties.

Basically, until the mental health and medical world gets a clue about the vast range of what is possible from meditation and it becomes incorporated into standar medical and psychological/psychiatric/social-work curriculae, the good, the bad, and the life-threatening, there will not be nearly enough of the level of quality of local, on-the-ground support for meditators who run into these problems.

That said, local psych support is vastly better than what people often get at their surprisingly ignorant local meditation centers.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/6/17 6:23 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
I am wondering how experienced a meditator she was and how severe her anxiety was pre-retreat.  I have not been to one of these retreats but have heard via an interview with Rivers Cuomo that they only take people that have been sitting 2 hours per day for one full year. 

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/6/17 8:00 PM as a reply to Stephen.
My first retreat was at a Goenka center in 1999. It really plunged me into serious practice and I'm thankful for it. Mysecond retreat a year later plunged me into a hell and I was not well supported. The hell was more related to personal stuff, I tend to think, than to dukkha nana. I later turned to Mahasi style and still in that approach today. I think there is both really good stuff about Goenka retreats, and really shadowy stuff as well. I'm re-copying my original reaction to the above-cited article about the suicide here:

That's one of the problems with "one size fits all" methods like the Goenka tradition. One is told in this tradition that to learn vipassana, one has to do an intensive ten-day retreat. But not everyone fits into such a mold. For some it may be counter-productive or even dangerous. And vipassana CAN be learned and practiced by starting short daily sittings. The Buddha never said "if you want me to teach you then you have to sit in a ten-day course." Those ten day courses are modern inventions, with merit but also shadow sides that need to be addressed. Also, some centers need to stop denying cases such as described in this article or using false explanations for these cases, such as "well this person practiced Reiki before and mixing reiki with vipassana is dangerous and that's why this person killed himself after a retreat (this is a true story btw)". I also remember Paul Fleishman, a psychiatrist and assistant teacher in the Goenka tradition, came to give a talk at McGill University on vipassana (I think it was in 2002). In the question period, I asked him if it would be appropriate to switch to a "therapy" mode with students in ten-day retreats who began going through a breakdown. He began answering me by saying that such emotional breakdowns are very unlikely to happen in these 10-day courses. So yes, people at the intersection of psychology and meditation should take responsibility and address these realities, and make sure they don't keep their heads deep in the sand!

The Goenka centers do not require students to have had a regular practice before a retreat. In fact, the opposite is true. They teach vipassana only in ten-day retreats format. One has to have completed a ten-day retreat before they can join their weekly evening sitting groups. 

It is also questionable why Goenkaji never appointed teachers (he only appoints assistant teachers who have a very limited role with students). His rationale, as stated in an interview he once gave, was that if he appoints teachers they will teach differently and students will react to that. But it seems that Goenkaji himself is said to have taught somewhat differently from his own teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin (and somewhat differently from other appointed teachers by U Ba Khin such as mother Sayamagyi). To me these differences are not a problem. It's a good thing. It allows reaching more students who will adpat differently to different teaching styles. So yes, as said already in this thread, if his assistant teachers could freely share their wisdom in their own way, I think the support system would be improved. 

So is there another reason Goenka didn't want to appoint teachers? 

Mahasi Sayadaw once asked a student who he apopinted to teach in India, how his teachings were going. That student-now-teacher responded by saying it went well but that he taught a bit differently than him now. Mahasi Sayadaw responded by saying that this is ok, and that he himself taught differently from his own teacher (Mingun Sayadaw). Wow. That impresses me. And I find this so healthy compared to the rigid structure of the Goenka organization.

I think the rigid structure (ten-day one size fits all, Goenka as the only one allowed to teach, and more things I'm not mentioning) can contribute to making this organization poorly equiped to support students experiencing difficulties. 

This being said, I am still greatful for the work of Goenkaji, even though I've been put off by the shadow (i.s. non-addressed problems) material that should healthily be addressed. 

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/6/17 10:19 PM as a reply to This very moment.
Paul M.:
I am wondering how experienced a meditator she was and how severe her anxiety was pre-retreat.  I have not been to one of these retreats but have heard via an interview with Rivers Cuomo that they only take people that have been sitting 2 hours per day for one full year. 
say it aint so

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/7/17 3:31 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel,

I am really grateful for the role you are playing. I am especially thankful that you heard me out in times of confusion.

I am grateful that in mid 2013, I did my first Goenka course which opened up my world to a completely different dimension. And then later on, I read MCTB in late 2013 which convinced me to change to the Mahasi tradition; which was great as the personal interviews were invaluable.

I wish all these centers are more open about the risks associated with meditation practice before someone registers and/or have a well practiced contingency plan when s**t hits the fan. I doubt it will put off people from meditating. Drug companies do not seem to have that problem.

I saw this article being shared on a Facebook group about "Meditation in Myanmar". It was sad to see there were a few people busy defending the Goenka tradition and some speculating that she might have had hidden psychosis or did not practice with "equanimity" according to instructions.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/7/17 8:28 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
I have a lot of respect for the tradition, I've been to three 10 day retreats, but in my opinion they need to introduce changes. The retreats are too dogmatic and overly ascetic. The way this girl was handled is appalling. 

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/9/17 11:12 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
Thanx for posting this. Goenka seems to be the most egregious offender in terms of not offering much help to meditators who are having difficulty but even centers with teachers who supposedly have a "psychological" background like IMS do little better than dump a meditator having difficulty into the local emergency room for a 72 hr cooling off period, which may or may not work. And while Willoughby's paper is interesting from scientific perspective, it is a far cry from even the beginnings of formulating a treatment regime. IMHO what is needed is to have a psychological professional trained to talk with the person to figure out what "story" is playing in their head, then use an akideo manuver to change the story gradually toward something positive. I don't know if that will always work and it would probably be pretty time consuming, but I think it could work sometimes. Teachers should also talk more about negative outcomes and, like Daniel says in MCTB about practice in general, teachers should include what kind of training they have had to handle freakouts.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
3/2/18 4:35 AM as a reply to This very moment.
So helpful to join a group where these things can be discussed constructively. In many ways I cut my teeth on a retreat I did with Goenka-ji back in 1983 here in Japan. Although it blew the practice open for me, I came at it with a daily practice and some good introductory retreat work under my belt. My partner of the time went to a 10-day retreat two years later with video tapes and not very seasoned teachers, and by the tenth day she was experiencing full-blown terror. I felt if she had been given guidance and another few days she could have come out the other side, but instead she was left dangling and desperate, surrounded by euphoric revellers. She tried to maintain a daily practice but it was too overwhelming and it spoiled the idea of meditating for her. Time limits on retreats might be necessary but they come with serious limitations and consequences. The need for truly experienced guides who can teach and improvise based on their own insight and talents is also clear, I think.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/16/18 3:11 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
There are a sizeable number of people who got a lot that is good out of the Goenka tradition who have posted such on this forum, just as there are probably hundreds of reports of people who did a 10-day or a number of 10-days in Goenka, crossed the A&P, didn't have it contextualized, and then either had lots of problems with the A&P kundalini stuff or the Dark Night that followed, lacked proper support, frameworks, and normalization, went on to make a mess of their lives, and finally found the maps, frameworks, and support and started putting things back together.

I tweeted that article out a few days ago after Willoughby sent it to me. Truly tragic.

Those of us who talk about the dark side of meditation get a lot of emails from people who are struggling in various ways due to the dharma and the strange effects it can produce. I personally get maybe 3-10 emails per week, most not nearly that bad, but perhaps every 2-3 months I hear from someone who is really having a hard time, and I try to give them what information that I can and then refer them to the very limited support network I have of those who have dual training in mental health and meditation difficulties. As an ED physician, I have a moderate mental health background, as we deal with a lot of psychiatric issues in the ED, but that is no substitute for specialists who are trained much more extensively than I am who can provide local support, but most of those people in most locations are woefully unprepared for the side-effects of intense dharma practice, or even sometimes light dharma practice, which can sometimes also produce profound difficulties.

Basically, until the mental health and medical world gets a clue about the vast range of what is possible from meditation and it becomes incorporated into standar medical and psychological/psychiatric/social-work curriculae, the good, the bad, and the life-threatening, there will not be nearly enough of the level of quality of local, on-the-ground support for meditators who run into these problems.

That said, local psych support is vastly better than what people often get at their surprisingly ignorant local meditation centers.

Yes Sir and agree unequivocally here.

I have had Bipolar I severe, with psychotic features diagnosed since 2000, and haven't missed a day of my meds. Unfortunately I had to quit LiCarb nearly a year ago, but since 2001 (2nd hospital stay) my symptoms have been nonexistence due to a combination of Lithium and Valproic Acid (Depakote). Luckily, Depakote has kept me "rational" and on "this" side of hospital walls since the supervised Li taper. 

I wrote a mostly subjective persoanl experience (anecdotal) mini-treatise on which meditation techniques provided support during trying points in my personal Vipassana study, and conversely, which ones seemed to present dissonance and harm. Yet I have never had any "decomp" incident, even when practicing stints of 5-7 hours daily noting/shamatha.

I won't publish said document, since my teacher and I agreed that it was just too subjective, personal and speculative.

One thing is for sure. Being a great Sayadaw does not mean you aren't ignorant or stigmatized regarding the nature of mental illness, and some of your "stuff" actually takes precidence over "spiritual work", especially if you ever want the spiritual path to have the positive effects you imagine it might have. IMHO and in my Direct Experience.

All this being said, I have no personal experience with Goenka retreats or His teachings, positive or negative. Nor do I have an opinion.

Cheers.

"Ignorance can hide in the most unlikeliest of places." paraphrase from Peter Ralston - Cheng Hsin

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/18/18 12:21 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
https://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/06/york_county_suicide_megan_vogt.html
She had heard about the benefits of meditation from friends on the West Coast and wanted to try it, with the hopes it could illuminate her future.

Vogt wasn't the first to die by suicide after a meditation retreat, according to experts who are aware of other cases. And she wasn't the first to go into psychosis or experience serious mental issues after taking a grueling course, which can involve 10 hours a day of strict meditation.

While Megan had anxiety and was taking medication for it, she was never previously suicidal, her parents said.

I don't see this as an anomoly, just one suicide. I see it as another example of a continuing situation that is being willfully ignored by the organizers of the retreats.

My belief is that these retreats have a disproportionate number of people developing serious problems from them and it is in large part due to the technique they teach.  I also believe they should not take beginners, people who have never meditated before, and immerse them in their technique so intensively for so many days. And certainly not people with pre-existing conditions for which they are on medication. I don't care how many people they have helped, I don't see how they can continue the program and sleep at night.

My guess is making any type of change would be an admission of previous mistakes which they don't want to admit to themseves. Very selfish, very ego oriented..


There used to be (but no longer is) an article here: http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2011/09/bg-232-the-dark-night-project/

It was an interview with Willoughby Britton in which Willoughby describes some of the bad experiences people have had at retreats.

Here is an excerpt I posted to another discussion forum...


There tends to be an, I would say, increased sampling rate of reality. So your ability to notice things has increased.

And that might be pretty fun on retreat but when people get off retreat they still have so much information coming into their systems that it can feel very overwhelming, like stimulus overload. And along those same lines a lot of increase in sensory clarity and sensory threshold. So meaning that you can hear much softer sounds which also means that louder sounds sound louder and you might even feel them in a different sense.

Like a truck might feel like it’s actually driving through your whole body rather than just hearing it and that goes with every sound. So that’s the sort of cognitive effect. They tend to be very just overwhelming and disorienting. I would say one of the most, besides sort of sensory overload, one of the most common central features–it’s not everyone but its pretty close, which is a change in the way people experience their sense of self.

And this can be an attenuation in self or it can be a complete dropping away. And even though you can read about this and think that this might be the goal of the contemplative path. For a lot of people it’s very very scary when that happens. And so when I mean dropping the sense of self, it can be a lack of a feeling like there’s anybody controlling. So one word are coming out of the mouth like who would be speaking them. When you move your arms and legs and walk it’s not really sure who decided that. When somebody ask you a question there’s almost a panic feeling because you don’t know who’s going to answer the question. There’s a sort of temporal disintegration. So the sense of time can fall apart, along with that your sense of a narrative self over time. Part of the sense of self is about being able to have continuity over time. And if you just don’t have that kind of sense of past and future and you only have a sense of now, your sense of self just by not having a past and a future and being able to imagine that can be sort of truncated and attenuated.

And then temporal disintegration can kind of go even further beyond that where people almost like they’re waking up in a new reality every several minutes. And they don’t really have any way of describing the reality that came before that and it can be very disorienting. You can wake up and really have to study your environment to figure out who you’re talking to and what the conversation is about. You can learn to get good at that, but it’s pretty disorienting for a while. And then I don’t know if this go in order but I think that the most common symptom, it’s hard to say but again these are all really common, but one of the most common symptoms is fear. And the lost of the sense of self I think is very tied in with this fear. And people can have really phenomenal levels of fear. I mean really just existential primal fear.


And what’s interesting about this fear and what I think seems to differentiate it from a lot of other kinds of fears is that it doesn’t seem to have any reference point. It just comes out of nowhere. It can be very debilitating. And then along with fear spectrum you also anxiety and agitation and panic and paranoia. Those are pretty common. Then there’s a sort of affective dimension. Affective is emotional. And the affective dimension seems to go in both directions. There can be a massive lability.

Your emotions can get really high in both direction both manic manifestations, euphoria, sometimes grandiosity and also the worst depression, meaninglessness, nihilism the other end of things can also happen. In addition to that, people can also just lose all affect all together. They don’t feel anything. Things become numb. So it’s a pretty wide range of changes. But I don’t think anyone has gone through, anyone that we’ve interviewed hasn’t had some kind change in their emotional life.

And usually it’s sort of an eruption of emotional material. So that comes to the next level which is a de-repression of the psychological material. Very often it can be traumatic material but it can also just be whatever can be traumatic in our lives. It doesn’t necessarily have to be memories of death or abuse or something that would sort of classify as classic trauma. It can just be whatever our particular psychological knots are. They seemed to come up with practice in a way that doesn’t necessarily seem to be contained to the cushion. It’s almost like you tear something open and then it’s just open. That’s the sort of affective dimension. And then the last dimension is physiological. So there seems to be a lot of physiological changes which are really surprising to a lot of people.

So things like general musculoskeletal body pain, headaches, and very strange sensations. Because we told people not to use the word energy so we got a lot of metaphors. So things like being plugged into a wall, like having a thousand volts running through you. There are a lot of electricity type metaphors. And then finally we gave up because people just kept using the word energy. So it’s not really a scientific word but it seems to measure something so some kind of movement sensation in the body. Vibrations a lot of different kinds of vibration. Changes in temperature. People are having really hot flashes and burning sensations. And then the one that I am really fascinated by because everything that we’ve been talking about up until this point has been subjective, like you can’t really see it on somebody. But the last category is involuntary movements. They look like convulsions. People twitch. They report feeling like a lightning bolt going through them but you can actually see it. This is something that you could actually take a video of. Their arms flap. Grimacing; different kinds of facial ticks and contortions. That’s kind of the laundry list. Oh yeah, I forgot one whole category, which is perceptional changes. And perceptional changes along with this faster sampling rate there also seems to be I don’t know if I would call them hallucinations but experiences in every sensory modality especially visual lights.

So that would be a perceptional change. So the lights again are particularly interesting to me because they tend to differentiate a spiritual experience from a potentially psychiatric situation. But seeing pinpoints of light, people call them Christmas lights, they might be different colors or lightning of the visual field in general. I should say that all of these symptoms or sorry, experiences, these are not just things that are happening on the cushion during meditation. These are things that are happening off the cushion which is where this starts to become difficult. They’re fine when they’re on the cushion. But you need to go to work and these are happening. People are having involuntary movements at their desk at work and you know eruption of emotions that’s where it becomes difficult is when it comes into your daily life. And the other thing that was very surprising to me was the duration of symptoms.

So I asked people how long did this last and how did this affect your life to a point where it was really difficult for you to work or take care of children. So we call that clinical impairment. So far in our sample the average amount of time that somebody is impaired so this is not just how long this experiences last but how long they are to the point of interfering with daily functioning. The average amount of time was 3.4 years. It’s actually quite a long time and there’s a huge range in that duration. And so sort of the next wave of research is trying to figure out what determines that duration. So people seemed to go through these experiences fairly quickly like under a year and other people can last a decade. So we’re trying to figure out what are some of the factors that might predict that.

I wrote about the article
One of the schools mentioned in the Britton interview teaches a form of insight meditation where you focus your attention on bodily sensation. It's not too hard to imagine how you can really screw up your brain (recalibrate it) from doing that excessively.
But if you take a person who never meditated before and put them in a week long retreat where they meditate all day every day you might get a different result than if you tell them to mediate for 30 minutes a day and then after a year and send them on a weekend retreat.
There are a variety of dangers associated with meditation and you very rarely hear about them from meditation instructors or read about them in books about meditation - which is shameful.  I have written about them on my web site and warn my readers about them where I describe the meditation technique I practice:

https://sites.google.com/site/chs4o8pt/meditation-1#meditation_danger

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/16/18 5:33 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
I did one Goenka retreat last year (it was my first retreat in any tradition), and I am doing another one next week. I can definitely see how it could be said that they are not prepared to deal with this sort of thing, although I will say that they were very attentive to my personal needs.

When I was at the retreat, I did have some very difficult emotional stuff come up. I did not share it with the teacher, because I just assumed it was my problem to deal with, and didn't really relate it to the meditation. But then, I worked through it while I was there, and I am grateful to the center for giving me the place to do that. I could imagine that others might go home with those issues unresolved. I don't have any other retreats to compare it to, so I don't know how it could be handled better.

I don't know any details about the tragic situation that occurred here, but when I read this article several months ago, I was very irritated by the way it was written. Let me give some examples:

- "Meditators are only allowed to talk to one leader during one minute each day."

This just isn't true. You can schedule a 5-minute interview with the teacher once per day, but I am told that if you have additional concerns, you can speak with the teacher during free time. You are also free to speak with the manager about any practical concerns at any time.

- "Please forgive me for doing this," she wrote in a final note to her boyfriend Brian Dorsey that was jotted on a piece of mail. 'I remember what I did at the retreat. I finally got that memory. I can't live with me.'"

That quote makes her sound crazy, but my hunch is that the grammar is misquoted and that what happened here is that some repressed memory came back to her while she was at the retreat. This could have happened at any time, including while she was in therapy.

She was supposedly in a psych ward for 8 days after leaving the retreat, and she saw a therapist the night before she died. So, licensed mental health professionals were clearly not able to fix this situation. She did not kill herself at the retreat. Why is the blame being placed on the meditation center?

I don't mean to be a Goenka apologist. I just got the sense that this article was written with an unfair agenda.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/16/18 6:35 PM as a reply to Mettafore.
Meditation can create feedback loops in the brain. Leigh Brasington says that the intense pleasant feelings associated with jhanas are due to a feedback loop. My own research led me to the same conclusion independently. When you notice a pleasant sensation and focus your attention on it, that feels nice which increases the pleasure you feel, which feels nicer and increases the pleasure you feel further. As long as you keep your attention on the feeling, the feedback loop continues. A very intense emotion builds up the way you get a loud screech when you put a microphone next to a speaker amplifying the sounds picked up by the mic.

But what if you are meditating and you feel fear (maybe you have an anxiety disorder that you are on medication for), and your meditation teacher told you to focus your attention on what you are feeling... what happens then? Fear is scary so you feel more fear and you focus your attention on that and it's scarier.... And you do it all day every day for a week?

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/16/18 6:10 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:
Meditation can create feedback loops in the brain. Leigh Brasington (and I agree with him) says that the intense pleasant feelings associated with jhanas are due to a feedback loop. When you notice a pleasant sensation and focus your attention on it, that feels nice which increases the pleasure you feel, which feels nicer and increases the pleasure you feel further. As long as you keep your attention on the feeling, the feedback loop continues. A very intense emotion builds up the way you get a loud screech when you put a microphone next to a speaker amplifying the sounds picked up by the mic.

But what if you are meditating and you feel fear (maybe you have an anxiety disorder that you are on medication for), and your meditation teacher told you to focus your attnetion on what you are feeling... what happens then? Fear is scary so you feel more fear and you focus your attention on that and it's scarier.... And you do it all day every day for a week?
Exactly. What if you do it all day every day for years? It either transforms to a pleasant feeling (enjoying the Anatta), or worse case, the body acts out some defilement and -- disaster. Tons of opinions, drama and tragedy.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/17/18 6:50 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
Dear all,

Im a mental health therapist in theNetherlands, Im not a regular psychologist, Im an alternative therapist. Ive been a therapist since 2003, teaching certified courses to become a therapist since 2010. I treat and resolve lots of trauma, fears and phobias, depression and burnout, have quite some experience dealing with psychosis and exorcism. Im specialized in treating depersonalisation and derealisation syndrome.
Ive spend years doing the personal work cleaning up my past, and I still do that on a daily basis with meditation and self-help stuff, as well as still having a psychic coach.

I have attended 3 goenkha courses. Please click here for more information, including 4 videos.
https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/8819084



My 2 cents.

Every judgement says lots more about the person judging than about the girl and case.

Of course, with hindsight, we can start to look for all that is wrong. From what basic attitude? To look for who to blame? What is the basic attitude at the base of looking for what is wrong. Should we look at what is wrong? And to what purpose?

Zimbardo once made a compelling case to make sure we check, look at the apple, the barrel, or the barrel makers.

When I was there the third time I spent some time talking to the AT about screening safeguards, redflags, etc. The organisation has a policy to NOT allow people withsevere cluster B symptoms to attend their courses. Red Flags are Bi-polar, Schizophrenia, psychosis, borderline, and anti-psychotic medication. They do screen.

In the article, her therapist was asked for a vote or confidence regarding her stability and ability to attend the course. I tried to gauge their (AT) competency, and although they may know a thing or two about meditation for healthy people, they are not trained as mental health professionals.

Of course it is tragic that the girl did not get appropriate help, not even weeks after she has left, and mental health professionals did not react appropriately to the signals they must have gotten from her.

What was/is the responsiblity of the staff around her during the retreat? Should they be trained mentalhealth professionals as well as meditators? Should they have more personal relationships with the participants where you actually gauge the progress?

What was the responsibility of the mental health professional assessing her before she went on retreat? How could a mental health professional assess her ability to go through a Goenkha vipassana course if he/she did not at least attend one (preferably more) and have a working knowledge of the specific issues one can run into when meditating?

When Megan left and got checked into themental health facility directly after the 10 day course, how couldthose mental health professionals be capable of dealing with her? Do they have any real knowledge of Goenkha vipassana meditation regime?

My experience is that most people working in mental healthhave an educations which is lacking, based on book knowledge instead of having personal experience, lack sufficient personal growth neccesary to be able to handle the issues they are faced with. Im interested in improving quality, not blame, not standards of practice which divorce responsibilty to following a checklist.

If you want to talk about improving quality instead of looking at who dropped the ball, I could easily point to things that could be improved along the whole chain of people involved, from the vipassana organisation which does have their own background, attitude and (cultural) values, and approach which is very rigid, the AT and staff (training), to the mental health professional beforehand, to the mental health clinc afterwards, to the mental health professional(s) that dealt with her afterwards.


The USA has a enormous sue-them litigation culture. Never brought people back from the dead, never improves thesystem. Creates or induces more fear.

Are people allowedto have/experience a crisis?

Are people allowed to commitsuicide?

Are people allowed to make errors and fuck up as vipassana staff, mental health professionals, etc.?

Are theyto be educated or punished?

How can you learn if you dont make mistakes?

I believe spatial was right in his/her assessment.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/17/18 8:51 AM as a reply to Ben Meijer.
Ben,

If you have a class in flower aranging and among the people who take it you find an abnormally high number who develop psychological problems because of it, wouldn't you be suspicious that there is a real flaw in the class, the way it is taught, the subject that is taught?

By abnormally high I mean the students coming out of the course have a higher rate of psychological problems than the general population and a higher rate than the students before they took the course.

Isn't it true that the Goenka course does have an abnormally high number of people who devleop psychological problems because of it?

That is my interpretation of Willoughby's research, and seems to be confirmed by the level of paychological support they have come to provide for students. But I don't have the full information. Maybe you or Daniel can say if that is known to be true, known to be false, or unknown.

If we can establish that the course does harm to the students, we can have a better informed opinions about what if anything should be done differently.

If the course is causing psychological harm, I think it is legitimate to ask why they are continuing to teach it. "Helping people" is not a good answer in my opinion because there are other forms of meditation or less intensive courses that also help people but do not cause psychological harm.

Even having trained psychologists on the premises is not really a solution, it would be like having paramedics at a russian roulette tournament. In a situation where you know harm is being done it is better to prevent harm than treat it afterwards.  

If we know the class is harming people because some need treatment afterward, I would also wonder how many people are harmed to a lesser extent so they do not go to get treatment, but are harmed nonetheless. 

People should have the freedom to take risks. But to learn to use a wing suit, a responsible school will give the students gradual training to minimize the risks. They don't take a beginner, put him in a suit, and push him off an Alp. That is the equivalent of what the Goenka meditation class does.

Thanks

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/17/18 9:11 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:
It would be like having paramedics at a russian roulette tournament.


Haha

Jim Smith:
They don't take a beginner, put him in a suit, and push him off an Alp.


You're killing me man. Too funny.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/17/18 11:07 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Dear Jim Smith,



Normal, high or low. That is asking for a reason to judge.

I would love to read that research, also the start position, their research hypothesis, assumptions, description of how they selected their test subjects, etc. What are they trying to prove or show?

Dont start with "isnt it true...."
There is so much judgement before you even start.

I dont have any facts.

Also, please.... realise that vipassana courses attract people through reputation, just like therapists do. Lots of people are attracted for the wrong reasons, the desparate last hope people. You do know the kind. The same kind that would lie in the entrance screening because they want to get in.



Life itself does harm to people. Breakups, divorce, loss of a loved one, narcisistic bosses, and lots of personal growth workshops, therapists, even doctors.

Life itself does harm, and suffering is normal.

There are lots of people who are extremely happy with the result of the course, as looking on youtube will help you to see. The results are produced by the intensive course. Yes, this is powerful stuff, and yes, the same powerfull stuff can confront you with weaknesses that are already inside you, and yes people may actually not handle it correctly, they may flip. This can get you into a crisis. Remember the chinese word for crisis is also the same as opportunity.

I don see ANY reason to go along with your judgements.

I see no reason to agree with your assesment of having a trained psychologist at the russian roulette, because that is NOT comparable.
I already said im not impressed by MOST officially trained psychologists, for reasons stated above, and YES, a trained intuitive professional (whatever label you give them) who is both knowledgeable of red flags of the psychiatric type, and all of the meditation specific stuff (jhana stages, dark night, kundalini, ettc,)  if students are followed, we could prevent more people from getting into psychotic breakdowns, and also treat people who uncover repressed memories (trauma). However, then the support staff would have to really do much more treatment and that is a different business. Do you want to be a meditation teacher, or do you want to be a therapist?

Learning to swim is a perfect example. I recently saw a video of that. The first courses of baby swimming was pretty much just like you describe. Throw them in the water, push them underwater and be amazed at how they somehow manage to hold their breath, float and learn to swim.
So, what is your point?

As I stated, if you read David Chapman,

https://vividness.live/2011/06/16/the-making-of-buddhist-modernism/

https://vividness.live/2011/07/05/the-king-of-siam-invents-western-buddhism/
and other articles of him on protestant buddhism, etc.

or books alike

Aaronsons Buddhist Practice on Western Ground: Reconciling Eastern Ideals and Western Psychology
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1590300939/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_8?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

You will become acutely aware of the side order of asian culture that is what the vipassana course is embedded in.


Does that help ?

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/17/18 3:54 PM as a reply to Ben Meijer.
Ok, it seems we have an opinion explosion.

Here's a little attempt at perspective, and my delivery is not known for sounding humble (even though I admit I am not Truth personified and don't "really know" anything at all):

I've had Bipolar I, severe, with psychotic features [as a diagnosis] for 20 years. During my 1st episode two people were seriously injured two decades ago. One required surjury and the other required some stitches. They didn't sue or press charges because they knew I was in a psychotic state and they were my loving friends and rational people. Plus 4 New Orleans police had already beaten my naked bloody body to a pulp and left me for dead, prior to calling the ambulance and then leaving the scene quickly. They "put the boot in and maced me point blank after smashing my glasses." Talk about Dukkha. You can't imagine. Or maybe some of you can?

The teacher I have now traveled all over Malasia, India, on Wanderjars meeting and receiving teachings from Tibetan Rinpoches, Sayadaws (all the main ones talked about here like they are big authorities on Omniscience itself), and even Goenkaji himself. Just about two weeks ago he admitted that I myself have greater knowledge regarding mental illness than he does and he even asked me to do a writeup about it for his use in protecting other students of his, having seen me make significant progress in Mahasi's vehicle in a relatively short 3 years.

Here is what I have seen regarding Stigma and ignorance on both sides of this issue:

1.) Therapists and psychologists (including my own -- Psychopharmacologist and Psychiatrist in one) are quite ignorant regarding the Dharma/Dhamma in just about every Western case I've seen.

2.) At the same time, most hardcore Asian-taught Western layteachers seem to be quite ignorant about things like Norepinephrine re-uptake, mechanisms and consequences of serious mental illness, and exactly how destabilizing practices which emphasize the partite nature of "the body" and it's imagined "mental concomitants and factors" can be for those, and the consequences of a "decomp" as they like to call psychotic breaks.

I've read books and books on my own illness (since it is my responsibity to be the "quality control unit" for my own insurance paid clinicians) and I can compare and contrast the relative ignorance of others regarding my diagnosis. Sometimes I find a lacking here and it's frankly disturbing. Those who are concerned about this discontinuity on both sides are on the side of progress. We aren't being alarmist here, we are excercising Compassion.

Metta.

PS: I was recently told by my very own teacher that I "broke the preceipts by smoking pot" during a major personal crisis where I was nearly stabbed by my wife. It's no big deal, and I don't take it personally really...but my teacher took her side in which was almost a major disaster. No one makes a perfect decision every time, not even those with path(s). There won't be a schism in the dhamma today, but we all need to agree that there is ignorance on every side of every issue.

Edit: I'm not clean of drama and dirt naturally, and I had been grabbing and restraining my wife....trying to get her cell and holding her arms down (abuse). I lost my temper and subsequent "control" of my body as well.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/19/18 12:44 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
 
Having been deeply involved in the Goenka tradition for many years thought I'd throw in my 2 cents. I am not an apologist by any means, but I seek an objective overview.
 
The Goenka tradition undertakes extensive screening of applicants in regards to mental health before our course begins.

The problem with this process is that relies on honesty (& clear self-awareness) from the applicant. It is the policy of Goenka centres to not allow students with serious mental health issues to take courses because it is understood that the teachers are not qualified mental health professionals. This policy is for the safety of students & not out of a lack of compassion for people who suffer serious mental health issues.
 
As the article identified, the meditator in question was cleared by a mental health professional to take this course.

Where this fell down (quite badly) was in the follow-up with this student after the course. In such circumstances a Teacher should have certainly been in contact numerous times with this student to assist. It would appear, going on what's available in the article that there was a breakdown in the communication chain that should have never happened. However it must be noted, the psyche ward, with professional psychologists intervening didn't prevent the tragedy either.
 
The Goenka tradition is an entirely volunteer tradition from Head Teacher, through to Assistant Teachers, management, and everyone involved in the centre. No one is doing this as a profession. And no teacher is trained to be a qualified psychologist.
 
From my own experience, I have to admit to an at times alarming lack of follow-through relating to the side-effects of this meditation tradition from some of the teachers. A primary reason I think this occurs is that the tradition is very much focused on beginners. Every so often you're going to get a student who, practising effectively, has a very deep experience of Anatta and/or dissolution/AP. This can be quite a shock depending on the accumulated conditioning. At times a situation may arise in lay traditions where a student may have an experience a teacher does not have suffcient experience to address. 

On the flipside, there are teachers in Goenka tradition that have dedicated a huge amount of their life, experience, good intentions & follow-through with students who experience difficulties in the weeks following the course.
 
Daniel Ingram & Vinya Gutpa have discussed the notion of the shadow side of Buddhist Traditions far more effectively than I so I leave that conversation to them.
 
I think the following things need to happen within the Goenka (and probably most other similar Buddhist traditions - especially in western, non-monastic traditions):
  1. It needs to be stressed and understood deeply that the goal of meditation is to destroy the self. It's not to feel good, it's not to pursue experience, it's not about a happy life (although that will hopefully be a side effect). It's about destroying the totality of conditioning leads to the dissolution self. That's a pretty serious game to play & people need to understand that
  2. Meditators with mental illness need to proceed with caution & take self-responsibility for their own mental health & well-being
  3. These Traditions need to make it quite clear that these practices can result in some pretty intense experiences. The casualisation of ‘Mindfulness’ happening in the West is particularly alarming. En masse people are practising techniques that could lead to some pretty serious outcome on the Anatta front with no idea what they are playing with
  4. We need to all be open to discuss these problems without tradition based dogma getting in the way. We need to be scientific & rational.
  5. Somehow we need a breed of professional mental health professionals that understand meditation and its results. Most psychologist are, in my view, profoundly unqualified to deal with these meditative experiences. 
 
Finally, I wanted to point out that without coming across Goenka meditation in my life - it is very likely that I would be dead from the dangerous drug & alcohol abuse I was engaging in until the practice brought me out of the craving of addiction.  From my point of view the practice in this tradition has saved my life - a view shared by colleagues I have in this tradition.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/19/18 7:44 AM as a reply to Thich Nhat Han Solo.
While it is true that mental health screening may be of real value for meditation retreats, this presumes that it requires previously identified mental health problems to have problems on retreat once one gets into the potentially challenging stages, and this is clearly not true.

As numerous real-world reports indicate, plenty of people who have had no significant identifiable mental health problems, including plenty of people who were previously hyper-functional, PhDs, MDs, and other seriously accomplished, smart, capable, diligent, stable, sane people can have profound challenges when the stages of insight arise. Where it ethical for me to post such things on this forum, I could drown this forum in emails I have received over my 20+ years of talking about this stuff online that prove this.

Thus, I reject the "just screen people well and, if they are honest, and you only take the previously very sane ones, everything will be ok" hypothesis, as it is simply bullshit. In fact, one can find hundreds of similar reports already on this forum and its sister fora, as this has been one of the gathering places for the casualties of this dangerous view.

Again, that the Goenka tradition, which has had the stages of insight pointed out to them again and again, simply refuses to incorporate this validating and instructive meditation technology that comes straight out of the Theravada (upon which their tradition is based) into their curriculum and training is extremely vexing to those of us who wish to see them be able to do what they do but in a safer way.

In other topics, Buddhism is not about destroying a self, it is about seeing that the notion of such a thing was illusory to begin with and never actually was anything but a bunch of poorly perceived patterns of sensations. Still, the basic point that it can feel like a self is being destroyed, violated, destabilized, uprooted, shaken to the core and all of that clearly occurs, and that is what vipassana is designed explicitly to do, as mentioned. I agree completely that this should be posted in large signs at the gate along with the warnings.

Someone above mentioned that the pharmaceutical industry has no problem mentioning side effects and the like, but nothing could be further from the truth: they were forced to by the governments against their will, they fight this tooth and nail with powerful lobbies every single day, and even their advertisements, which write dangerous side-effects in the smallest fonts they are legally allowed to and have puppies and flowers and happy family scenes in their TV adds over someone reading the dangerous side-effects at nearly incomprehensibly fast speeds over these discordant images shows that they really hate being asked to say anything bad about their products. This should not be surprising, given that the purpose of corporations is to maximize sales, minimize costs, and provide all the value they can extract from their enterprises in the form of monetary profits to their shareholders.

The parallels here should be obvious, but the meditation world has no governing body forcing it to do anything, at least in the US.

I might suggest that it is a just matter of time before some government regulatory agency gets a whif of this (such as through NIH grants that fund research into the dark side of meditation, as well as journal articles and case reports that are starting to occur with greater frequency), and finally steps in with Buddha only knows what sorts of onerous and misguided regulations and restrictions, as is their fervent habit. Given my exposure to how this has gone in medicine, it is not likely to make anyone happy except lawyers.

That the meditative traditions generally appear to have neither the ethics nor sense to use their own technologies to provide effective warnings and disclosures of what can go wrong and how badly, as well as to use modern methods to study the incidences and odds of these well-reported side-effects happening and publish that data, shows that they suck just as badly as the pharmaceutical industry in this particular regard. Profit motives, dogmatic faith, ignorance (both willful and the regular variety), and cultural inertia all clearly trump morality and decency in this case.

Not to be needlessly paranoid, but imagine for a moment some fascist or similarly autocratic government, enamored of the state-sponsored religion, wary of other religions, interested in "purity of faith" and the centralization of power this provides, eager for excuses to repress other spiritual movements, eager to be shown to be "protecting the people from harm", zealous to appeal to their base of political and religious support, and intolerant of dissent and heterodoxy. Imagine what they would do with the information we are discussing here. Realize that this sort of governmental regulation and control of religion has been the norm over the vast majority human history and still occurs in numerous contemporary countries. It is easy for those of us who are so blessed as to live in areas of the world where this is not currently occurring to imagine that the fight has been won and that these conditions will persist and spread, but history is not on our side, nor are current world trends. The total proportion of people across history that have lived with freedom of religion and spiritual practice is statistically miniscule, so simple Baysenian analysis would suggest that this will continue to be true in general terms. I believe we should be appropriately wary and act responsibly so that we provide no excuses to those who are just begging for excuses.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/19/18 10:41 PM as a reply to Thich Nhat Han Solo.
Guess I need to wade in here, since I am one of those professional types Daniel mentions in his response who got into trouble at a retreat (for details, check out my memoir).

Basically, I agree that the positive benefits of meditation have been overhyped through all the press devoted to mindfulness. In the technology industry, this kind of overhyping has a model, called the Gartner hype cycle (see here for a graphical example). People get wildly enthusiastic about a technology - blockchains, machine learning, smart phones, you name it - and inflated promises are made. When the hype peaks, you can't pick up a mainstream publication like the NY Times without reading about it, and the technology hits the Peak of Inflated Expectations. But people start encountering problems and the expectations start meeting reality. Soon the technology gets to the Trough of Disallusionment, when nobody except the really committed technologists are working with the technology. Slowly, the real value of the technology becomes apparent as it is deployed for solving real problems, and the curve climbs through the Slope of Enlightenment to the Plateau of Productivity, and the technology become incorporated into people's work and personal lives, largely disappearing into the background.

Meditation is still near the Peak of Inflated Expectations I think. The comparison with the drug industry and the underplaying of negative side effects is an accurate one, and I think the time is long overdue for the Buddhist meditation community to come to some kind of consensus about how to deal with them (just as I believe that the time is long overdue for coming to agreement about how to deal with abusive teachers, such as the recent case with Sakyong Mipham, these cases have been occuring for the last 35 years since Richard Baker at SFZC, and I think it would be truely sad if Buddhism ended up like the Catholic Church). After the experience recounted in 2011 in my memoir, I spent some time privately communicating with people looking at the problem of negative outcomes, and, in particular, I was interested in organizing a high profile conference where people doing research on these problems could get together with teachers and come up with some kind of protocol for handling cases of people who freaked out to varying degrees. I was told that the research was not far enough along and discouraged from going forward with that path.

So I basically decided to hang out on this forum and respond to people who came on and reported problems.

Now, my observation is that, by and large, most people who report problems have attended a Goenka retreat (I actually did not, I attended a jhana retreat led by a Burmese saydaw). Since I have never attended a Goenka retreat, I don't know exactly why that might be the case, but I would say that the Goenka tradition needs to spend some time reflecting on this and maybe looking into ways to help people who get into trouble, for whatever reason. Since I know nothing about the tradition except what people who have attended a retreat report on this forum, I'll refrain from making any suggestions. Sooner or later, some high profile incident will occur, and the authorities are likely to become involved. As long as the First Amendment to the US Constitution is in force, the Feds would be on pretty thin ice trying to regulate or ban meditation, but they could try and who knows where the political world will be in five to ten years, given the disturbing lack of honesty and candor we are seeing from our so called leaders.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/21/18 2:21 AM as a reply to svmonk.
Hi all,

While any suicide is tragic, I wonder how statistically significant this is.  People commit suicide for all kinds of reasons which may have nothing to do with having attended a 10 day course.  Could it not just be that it happens more to Goenka students simply because there are significantly more of them than for any other tradition?

I think a lot more investigation and analysis of this needs to be done to see if there is a real problem.  I have attended 4 Goenka retreats and consider that it has raised my sanity level considerably so I would be very surprised if it causes people to commit suicide.

Conal

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/21/18 7:42 AM as a reply to Thich Nhat Han Solo.
Having been in a few  Goenka retreats in late 1990s (and had a freak out incident on my second retreat), I would also add the following recommendations:

1. To tailor practice recommendations to the individual. This tradition is very strict about having to complete their 10-day course. It's the only way they will teach you meditation: you have to do a ten-day. But some people don't have that capacity. But they could have the capacity to start slowly, like a short session per day in daily life and build from there. 

2. Allow people to leave the retreat when they really freak out. They really push it to finish the 10-day saying leaving before is like leaving a surgery in the middle before all is stiched back. I don't think that metaphore is always true for everyone. That's a big one. They make it hard for a student to leave. In his discourses I remember Goenka saying something like "some people, because weak-minded, leave the retreat on day 6".  I left on day six of my second retreat, and had to do therapy years later to realize, amongst other things, how stressed I was making myself through a guilt-trip that I was not able to complete a retreat. Instead of just accusing of weak-mindedness, why not just sit with a student and try to tailor a practice recommendation that fits them at this moment of their life (point 1), instead of pressuring them to finish a retreat when they experience powerful depression, dissociative states, etc?

3. Open up to the fact that there are different vipassana traditions out there that are as valid as theirs (Mahasi, etc), and that some may be more appropriate to a given individual, and therefore refer the student accordingly.

It is tragic this suicide incident, and we may not be able to fully understand whether, how, or to what degree or not the retreat set up those conditions for the student to become suicidal. But the above-mentioned rigidities of this lineage certainly do not help. They have a powerful method of training vipassana, and I benefited a lot despite the shadow side I see in this lineage. But shadow sides are better left addressed than not.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
7/23/18 6:49 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
I had no idea this post would get a big response after so much time. I am another highly educated (M.S.) professional who's been through the dark night couple of times trying to get back into the workforce. I'm having difficulty right now thinking about how I would get a job without disclosing my long depressions. Anyway, that is for another post.

After listening to the Thai forest tradition and others last year on YouTube, having some knowledge of the suttas, practicing Metta as my main practice, my perspective towards the Mahasi and Goenka tradition has changed a bit. I feel a lot more nuanced situational teachings can be given in the name of the Buddha.

Ajahn Brahm goes on and on about developing the attitude to be Kind, Happy and Generous (i.e., Right Intention). These are good things to do in general. But, guess what they absolutely transform your practice too. My point is to keep checking whether our intentions are Kusala or Akusala is super useful and knowing well the difference between both.

Someone mentioned that focussing on fear produces a feedback loop that accentuates it. Why are we doing that? The Buddha taught Sati in the context of the right effort i.e., if an unwholesome emotion arises, we got to find a way to extinguish it after acknowledging, not accentuate it. Stop doing Anapana and practice Metta instead if it gets worse.

Also, there are several balancing practices in the suttas: Shamtha to balance Vipassana; 32 Parts of the body to counteract lust, Metta to extinguish ill will and fear (also, the other Brahmaviharas), Dana to counteract selfishness, Death to counteract sloth along with exercise rousing energy etc.. Wholesome practice is very situational and nuanced. Being a one-trick pony won't get most people very far.

Sorry for the detour. But, I wonder if I would have done better if I had exposure (or to be more accurate guts to let go of attachment to my tradition sooner) to the full gamut of the Buddha's nuanced teachings and developed a better Yogi toolbox? Who knows? I also wonder whether a Shamtha-Vipassana coupled approach like the Buddha taught would have caused lesser destabilization? Would having a more nuanced tailored teaching lead to less misery and suicide? I hope so, but can't be sure.

Note: I have nothing against these two wonderful traditions.

If I had to go back in time and one path was a perfect worldly life with wealth, spouse and every trapping under the sun and the other was realizing emptiness but undergoing this suffering all over again I would still take the latter without blinking.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
10/21/18 2:04 AM as a reply to Ben V..
My question  is..is it a cult? They don't want you to leave before  the  end ,  they  remove all devices, you  are  not  allowed  to  touch ,  told when  to go to bed ,  freedom completely  removed. True, they don't try to convert but work periods are heavily  controlled  again. This could  vary from  center to center but it definitely  has  the  ability  to  abuse and control . .mind control . 

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
10/21/18 2:27 AM as a reply to nancy nancy vail.
It definitely has cult-like aspects, yes.
In fairness, you can keep your keys and cell phone and you can leave whenever you want - I certainly did.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
10/21/18 2:34 AM as a reply to svmonk.
It's awesome how that hype cycle graph looks just like the jhana! So we're in the A&P for meditation hype.

> As long as the First Amendment to the US Constitution is in force, the Feds would be on pretty thin ice trying to regulate or ban meditation

No, not as long as it's promoted as a mental health treatment instead of a religious practice. Look at the cases involving banning "conversion therapy" for precedent.

The real problem is that there's no clear line between meditation and ordinary noticing, but I suspect a world where mental health practitioners were banned from discussing meditation practices would be better than the mess we have now. Better still would be requiring training in meditation and dealing with meditation emergencies in order to practice mental health, but we don't even know how to deal with them now.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
Answer
10/21/18 8:14 AM as a reply to nancy nancy vail.
It's a difficult question to answer for me. There are aspects that sort of make it cult-like, in my opinion, or rather, sectarian.
When I was there they did remove various personal devices. In Mahasi retreats they didn`t, only encourage you not to use them to stay focused. 
About leaving a retreat: yes you can leave but they make it difficult for you to do so, unless you just pack and leave without telling anyone. They won't force you to stay in my experience but they will push for it, and I find some guilt tripping involved as I mentioned above, calling people who leave "weak-minded." In all fairness, they did let me leave in the end when I had my crisis back in 2000, and gave me advice of what to do when back home, but only after I had sneaked into the kitchen and called my father to reach out for him to come and pick me up. Until then they didn't want to let me leave.

Goenka very often says "this is a non-sectarian technique." He is the only teacher of vipassana/Dhamma I know that emphasizes saying that over and over again, and yet his organization is the one I find the most sectarian. Since my last experience there, I went to become a psychoanalytic therapist. I now see the over-emphasis of anything (in many cases at least)  as a compensatory mechanism for the opposite trait in the unconscious.

E.g. Someone who always says: "I don't want to talk against him but...". Translation in unconscious = "I want to talk against him, but feel guilty to do so."

Saying all the time "this is a non sectarian technique" = in the unconscious can mean: "I feel a sectarian trait in my personality but feel embarassed about it so I will convince myself that I am not sectarian by over-emphasizing I'm not."

"I don't want to talk against other meditation techniques but..."  = "I want to talk against them but don't want that self-image of someone who does."

You get the picture I think. I have a strong sense that Goenka wanted to establish himself as the only genuine vipassana ambassador in the world. He is genuine indeed, IMO, but far from the only one. 

Despite all this, there is genuine Dhamma, and very good teachings of it, in the organization. Goenka's discourses have so much good in it. I benefited a lot despite the above and appreciate his work for the Dhamma. I have felt much ambivalance about their tradition because of the mix of super-good Dhamma teachings and quasi-sectarian attitudes. I recently sent my 8-year old daughter to a one day meditation training for kids at their center (I failed to find anything of the sort in other vipassana schools in our area). She got pretty good concentration from the experience. And many seem to reach high up in the nanas going in their 10=day retreats.

So in the end, I'm still not sure if we could say it's a cult or a sect. They do have beliefs and behaviors that mimick such a thing: I have been told by a student there that they believe for instance that if you practice in a non-Goenka center (even if using their technique) the vibes of a non-Goenka center will make your practice "impure." But they won't try to cut you from your family or harass you if you leave their organization, like cults and sects do.

So perhaps to say it's a cult is too strong a word. Maybe "quasi-sectarian", or "rigid" would be more accurate.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
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2/14/19 2:06 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
This is so sad but unfortunately it isn't something new, or for that matter all that unusual.  I remember travelling around Thailand almost 20 years ago and coming across warnings in hostels about the dangers of Vipassana, especially for those who had a history of psychadelic drug use.  Some of the posters talked of suicide and at the time were blaming the silence for the detrimental affects.  Anyway it put me off long meditation retreats for years after, as it always stuck in my mind.  

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
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2/14/19 10:10 AM as a reply to deleteaccountplease thereisnofacility.
Yeah, I was staying at the Burmese Vihara in Body Gaya, India in late 1995 as the winter retreat season approached, and the abbot was complaining that soon enough they would yet again have manic/psychotic/suicidal/otherwise unstable yogis dumped off unceremoniously at their doorstep from those retreats for them to care for as best they could, as he said happened every year.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
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2/14/19 11:28 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
As I prepare for my first retreat longer than a weekend (a 10 day Goenka retreat), I’m struck by the many subtle hints of potential problems in the preparation emails and documents, but a lack of real caution or explanation of the interactions they are trying to control for. If it weren’t for my experiences and understanding, I would be worried for myself. I think in some cases the best thing that could happen for people who don’t have any room in their life for destabilization is that they practice poorly.

It’s interesting how hostels warned of the dangers of Vipassana especially for those with a history of psychedelic usage. It seems to me that the attitude most take towards psychedelic usage, which is careless of set and setting, with a severe lack of understanding of the history, science, potential for benefit or harm, as well as the myriad of ways to steer towards benefit or harm, also applies to meditation. Of course psychedelics have the reputation of being dangerous and yet in most cases do not leave the user feeling the reputation is warranted, and meditation has the reputation of being a positive, safe thing, when in most cases people who get serious experience difficult integrations. 

Psychedelics were the problem child for so long because of this, but that trial by fire they provide, if navigated skillfully, probably lends itself to more balance and stability when meditating. Unfortunately, it seems that a minority navigate the territory skillfully, and the ones who do keep quiet about what they experienced, so blanket statements such as vipassana being more dangerous for previous users of psychedelics get made, implying that it is not the way the vehicle is driven that is the problem, but the vehicle itself. It likely is not news to many here that the suicides or psychological fallout following psychedelic use have lots in common with what’s discussed here. I think the starting point for these problems as well as the territory which the people starting from stumble into is likely the same. As the Joseph Campbell quote goes, “the mystic swims in the same waters which the madman drowns in.”

Salvia divinorum extract use (which is the primary mode of usage in the west and differs greatly from the traditional usage with leaves, which stretches the experience out over a long period of time, resulting in closed eye visuals rather than a completely disconnect from consensus reality), which seems to me to be particularly well-suited to insight, has had some high profile suicides which, with the news stories changed around a little, would be indistinguishable from going too hard, too fast in meditation, lacking the proper morality (as related to intention), stability in daily life, and conceptual framework to understand or at least know where to look in order to understand what one may encounter during or after. It seems the common problem is landing in the middle and getting stuck there.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
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2/14/19 3:57 PM as a reply to magpie.
Salvia divinorum: I tried the extract a few times some years ago. It was not enjoyable or particularly lucid; I felt that the plant-spirit has a dark, unwelcoming vibration. I also read horror stories about people who consumed too much of it in one dose.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
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2/14/19 5:38 PM as a reply to Ward Law.
I think smoking the extract is highly inadvisable, but people have done it, are doing it, and unfortunately will continue to do it. Reading erowid trip reports you will come across some experienced meditators who structure their experiences and work into some very strange territory. Some people are very comfortable in the spaces they find themselves in. There’s also a huge amount of variation in experience, and intention has a large impact.  A common theme is the experience of no self, of the illusion of free will, etc, which can at least partly be explained through science, and which most people consider to be absolutely fucking terrifying and they do not at all want this to be true, hence its reputation as not being “fun.”

If you’re interested in the connection between salvia and the origin of consciousness, here is a starting point:
https://theconversation.com/is-the-key-to-consciousness-in-the-claustrum-25390

Also, as far as smoking the extract, the people who traditionally use salvia have lots of interesting things to say about its use. One of those things is that the spirit which inhabits the plant does not like to be burned, and although they associate it with the Virgin Mary (thus all of that archetypes correlates) I have read things essentially stating that she will use her power to teach those who contact her to show some respect (I assume by scaring the fucking shit out of people and rattling them to their core). They also make reference to the fact that some people who use salvia, even traditionally, do not “come back” to themselves, which I interpret as permanent psychosis.

There is a decent book called Salvia Divinorum: Doorway to Thought Free Awareness that people interested in this might find valuable.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
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3/4/19 3:24 PM as a reply to magpie.
I've been thinking a lot about suicide in the meditation community....  and I was wondering whether it could come from too much insight too quickly...  or just getting to a place of no longer needing to be here....

I remember reading a teacher in India saying this about an ex-student that he was released from samsara...  is that possible?

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
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3/9/19 1:58 PM as a reply to deleteaccountplease thereisnofacility.
I just found out this Megan Vogt case on internet seach (March 2019). So sorry for the girl.
What she needed was someone or teacher to understand what is happening to her in the center , in my opinion.

I remebered in a video that  Mr. Goanka once insisted to stay in prison ( to make himself a prisoner ) with his prisoner-students , because he knew such emotions or negative stuff can be brought up while his students were meditating, and he wanted to be there to assist them 24/7.

Even in the buddhist society ( like Burma , where I was from), meditating students encoutnered negative phenomenons due to not knowing how to proceed with stage they were in. A good master or teacher should very necessarily be around or guide the students at such point.

You need to find a method or a teacher properly too. Not all methods suit my personality based on my knowledge.

Meditation (Vipassana) should go with your own level of comfort , not forced upon. (It should go and observe naturally).
I felt like , " the more you let go, the more you gain ". A slight greed also should not come along with level of success.

Not every one has the same level or maturity of awareness.
Without prior knowlege, it can be very hard to mediate this long for someone like her.
She should just enjoy nature, go for fishing or treking, or going to beach. That should be good enough for this girl.

I started meditation class at 20. But, lost practice becasuse I was emotionally too young to grasp the whole idea. Needed to experience life more and get into society more. Since then, slowly developed vipassana understanding more along the way by reading and listening more about different practises, being aware all the time of myself, my thoughts, emotions, desires, my tendencies day to day.

I now, in mid 30s,  started again practising vipassana more intentionllay. 

The way I understand , the girl should have had a competent guide around her. But I cannont judge anyone, ( in the center ), since I did not know what happend firsthand.

Anyway, the vipassana centers are established for good use with good intentions and well-wishing. Things end up like this a very sad event. That is not the desired or intended results of vipassana meditation.
--------------------------
Please read " Mahasatipatthana Sutta " for a rough guide on awareness leads to wisdom.

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
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6/26/19 11:47 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
I am no trained professional, my brain's 5 cents:

I have noticed a trend in the extreme sports area (in this case caving and kayaking). Many of the people I know (mostly rock climbers), come from rather damaged backgrounds / i.e. families. 

(I know this points the finger...) But I have done a lot of research for myself... And I'll put this here frist: I AM SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS PARENTS OF ALL SUICIDAL KID IN THIS WORLD!!! 

Many people I know with extreme sports lifestyle, come from extreme situations of growing up as children with high stress. With either alcoholic parent backgrounds (myself), workaholics, or some sort of addiction... (craving)... which results in a LACK OF LOVE ENVIRONMENTS. Addiction = craving = suffering.

The result  of such environments is either kids who are severely overachievers (always a need to please the parent who is constantly unhappy) or underachievers (giving up, and extremely failing at having a moderate / well balanced life, due to lack of good examples of how to live a loving life from your parents)...  

It's never pretty for the parents when the child takes this path, to end the wheel of suffering. A wheel which I believe will always exist... (event the course says that...)

Self work is hard work. And comes with pain. When I look at the background I come from, it constantly makes sense, why I am the way I am… with goods and bads.

It's sad and insane that her mind took this path. Even the course discourse says that suicid is not the answer, but hard work is.

I don't believe in reincarnation. Except when you make kids. You literally reincarnate yourself together with another person, and continue to pass on certain genes. For example alcoholism it is more likely to stick on people who come from alcoholic background. But not only substance abuse, but any addiction... is reprogrammed into the child, because the parent doesn't know better. In these environments there is a prevalent addiction to suffering. Yes. The course says that people are addicted to suffering. 

Take care of yourself people and keep on observing yourselves. Truthfully.

Many people who run to nature run away from the realities of life and it's difficulties. To take a course like this means you have to face those realities face on! Which can be extremely difficult when all you know is how to run away... 

Many realizations and healing to you all!

RE: Suicide after ten day Goenka retreat
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6/27/19 8:38 AM as a reply to I M Picike.
Since this thread seems to be a recurring topic for concerns about the intersection of mental health and meditation, I wanted to leave some pointers to resources for working on both simultaneously, especially when difficulties arise.  Due to my personal experience tilting that way, these resources tilt a little bit more towards addressing trauma and emotional disregulation rather than mood disorders or losing touch with reality.

You may want to read the r/streamentry Guide to Health, Balance, & Difficult Territory if you haven't already.  There was another good thread there on how to avoid re-traumatizing yourself as well.

Good therapists can absolutely make a big difference. Although it may be difficult to find a good local one, some of them practice over Skype.  I've personally found somatic experiencing & EMDR helpful at actually processing and integrating trauma.  A good therapist will help you regulate yourself in treatment so that you can learn to dip into difficult mental and physical sensations and then dip back out again so you won't be overwhelmed or re-traumatized.  It can really make a big difference. 

I've also found DBT helpful for working through how trauma shows up in my relationships and actions and to start to undo learned patterns that are related to anger, fear, and shame.  It has also really helped with learning to set better boundaries in my relationships with others.  

More than any specific technique, what really helps is finding someone who understands trauma and who you can tell anything to without them being shocked or judgmental. Actually being able to verbally communicate your internal experience and memories of trauma to someone else and feel heard is very healing on its own.

When you're coming to practice with a trauma history, more insight is not necessarily going to be super helpful.  Perceptual/perspective shifts can be freeing, but hybrid high disregulation/high insight states are possible and not a lot of fun.  I personally wouldn't go for a long retreat until I felt like I really had the trauma piece mostly sorted out -- both in terms of neutralizing and integrating memories of past experiences and in terms of my life being on an even keel.  There have been a lot of times where it's felt like I need a really big or dramatic spiritual event or grand gesture from a loved one to feel better, but what's actually worked is trying to even out the highs and lows and to socially connect and continually work towards being more present.  Not to say that the big spiritual events haven't helped since they definitely have, but it seems to go better when they just pop up and I do my best to navigate through them rather than me intending to have more big events.