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Reductive Buddhadharma and Mindfulness Teaching
on January 1, 2017
The late S.N. Goenka should be commended for providing free ten-day meditation retreats – and he should be criticized for teaching reductive, de-esotericized Buddhist meditation.
While neophytes may be impressed with the simple, practical Vipassana meditation taught by Goenka, anyone who has studied the Buddha’s Sattipatthana Sutta, become a Stream-winner, and experienced the Jhanas, will dismiss his teachings as dumbed-down Buddhadharma.
There can be no En-Light-enment, no attainment of Nirvana, without becoming a Stream-winner and experiencing the Jhanas, the profound samadhis (states of contemplative absorption) described by the Buddha. But Goenka has nothing to say about this in this book. Moreover, there can be no real Vipassana (Clear Seeing) without awakening to the Stream; hence the so-called Vipassana that Goenka teaches is not real Vipassana. The Buddha did not teach Vipassana meditation (let alone the version of it taught by Goenka); he taught Sattipatthana (Foundational, or Integral, Mindfulness), which includes and transcends both Vipassana and Samatha (the one-pointed attentional practice taught by many contemporary Buddhist meditation teachers).
The spiritual cognoscenti laugh hard as they read the deluded Theravada Buddhist meditation teachers who all drink at the same Fountain of Ignorance. Like Goenka, they mistakenly conflate the term “concentration” with “samadhi,” and they misrepresent the Buddha’s Anatta teaching, wrongly insisting that it negates the reality of the Self.
The Buddha did not deny the reality of the Self, the true, transcendental ‘I.’ He simply taught that no Self could be found in the Five Skandhas (Grasping Groups). When Goenka writes, “Having explored body and mind to the deepest level, one sees that there is no immutable core, no essence that remains independent of the processes, the laws of impermanence,” he displays his spiritual ignorance. A Stream-winner who seeks (and finds) wherefrom ‘I’ thoughts arise will find the real ‘I,” the Self (or Buddha, or Christ).
What of the free ten-day meditation retreats offered by Goenka Vipassana Meditation? Check out the reviews online – critical and laudatory -- and draw your own conclusion.
To sum, Goenka teaches a reductive body-scan method of mindfulness meditation that beginners may find useful, but those who are serious about Buddhist meditation will need to look elsewhere for more integral and advanced mindfulness teachings.