What is Vipassana Meditation?
Vipassana is a meditation technique that claims to filter unwanted sensations of the body, explicitly suffering. It is a self-purification technique that utilizes self-observation to determine the nature of things in the world. It assumes that the only universal truth is the truth of impermanence—that all things and, consequently, all sensations come and go. By recognizing this truth, Vipassana meditators can rid themselves of anxiety and torment.
After all, Vipassana supposedly means seeing the true nature of things. Subsequently, it teaches people the ability to observe this true nature along with the corresponding sensation come and go. Since this meditation technique addresses the fundamental and universal truth about the human experience without preaching for a supernatural entity or deity, it has no conflict with religion, gender, or race.
Vipassana promises liberation and enlightenment for the best students who will engage in the meditation practice with full determination. It can also eliminate the main causes of anxiety and unhappiness: aversion, craving, and ignorance.
S. N. Goenka, one of the renowned Vipassana leaders, suggests that a person can only receive the Vipassana meditation’s true blessing if he continues to practice it in seclusion. He also shares that although the Buddha develops this meditation practice, everyone who is determined to learn the ways of the Vipassana can practice the meditation method.
The Buddhist scriptures also do not hold a solid proof of the specific meditation technique the Buddha used. However, the core of Buddhist teaching is about achieving the state of Nirvana or the fully awakened state. According to the Buddha, the two most important qualities that will get one to achieve Nirvana are Tranquility and Insight. A person can reach this state of complete awareness if he uses the proper meditation technique.
Criticism on S. N. Goenka’s Vipassana
Several people have criticized Mr. Goenka’s claims that the Buddha himself taught Vipassana meditation. In fact, the word “Vipassana” is hardly seen in the Sutipatthana Sutta. Yet, the teachings in the book resemble the principles of the Vipassana meditation. As such, people claim that the Vipassana is a meditation borne from the said book.
One of the reasons that Vipassana is associated with Buddha is that the definitive line between Buddha’s teachings and the Vipassana meditation gets blurry through the years. However, it is noticeably based only on one of the three books in the Pali Canon, the Sutipatthana Sutta, or the Discourse of Establishing Mindfulness.
People believe that the Vipassana is a product of radical adherence to the book, stating that it is the only necessary doctrine to achieve liberating insight.
As such, Mr. Goenka can lead people to join Vipassana meditation lectures using a false, misleading statement. It would be better to clarify that the Vipassana meditation technique is not from the Buddha himself—that it is, however, based on one of his main teachings.
Buddhist monks then searched for this meditation technique. But the two most prominent ones today are Samatha and Vipassana meditation. Samatha meditation develops the mind’s ability to maintain a high state of concentration for a span of time. This state of mind is called tranquil, which brings the deepest insight.
Thus, in comparing the two meditation types, people assumed that the Buddha was referring to the Samatha instead of the Vipassana as he described the type of meditation to reach Nirvana.
The earliest Vipassana manual was made by a Burmese monk, Medawi, as a response to another Burmese monk, Sangha. He held on to his belief that enlightenment is not possible in the modern era. The wide array of temptations and distractions will hold any person away from achieving the Nirvana state.
However, this reason itself propelled the rejuvenation of Vipassana in Burma, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. Most notably, many people wanted to address Western colonialism’s mission of replacing long-held beliefs with Western ones in an attempt to rescue the Vipassana meditation technique. Afterward, the New Burmese Method of Vipassana practice by U Naradah, made famous by Mahasi Sadayaw came to light.
This new version of the Vipassana is more popular than ever because they created the distinction between Samatha and Vipassana as a meditation practice. The distinction lies in each meditation’s goal: Samatha meditation aims at tranquility, while Vipassana aimed at awareness.
Goenka’s Vipassana business’s worst thing is that some of the centers’ staff are cruel and heartless, and intolerant policies bring such an attitude. Applicants who are looking for refuge and wanting to enter the centers might be refused for undisclosed reasons. Such rejections are not always justified, and some people who found their application rejected in some centers end up getting welcomed in some centers. The lack of transparency is suspicious.
Vipassana in Modern Society
Vipassana meditation can clear practitioners’ minds and experience serenity despite their busy lifestyles, which many people need.
It is a good treatment for distress—most individuals who experience distress resort to dangerous drugs to relieve the pain momentarily.
However, Vipassana meditation can give them exactly what they need to control their sensations and experiences.
It is also a good treatment for fear. Fear is a perpetual emotion in modern society because of the uncertainty that comes along with modern life. People always strive to keep their boats afloat, to keep the fear of failing at bay. Vipassana meditation removes all the sources of fear and lets the person recognize that fear is momentary and must not dominate a person’s life.
Anxiety is also prevalent in modern society. It is a type of fear, but it usually comes from an unknown source. Some philosophers believe that the nature of anxiety is the fear of the unknown; some also say that it is the fear of what the future holds. Vipassana meditation also relieves this emotion by letting the person stay at the moment and observe the present and fleeting emotions.
Then, there are disappointments. Sometimes, disappointments can get a hold of a person for a period of time and hinder his life progress. Disappointments can also sometimes evolve into paralyzing fear. Vipassana meditation teaches people that nothing settles in life and that everything is in transition.
With all these emotions that consume people every single second of their existence, Vipassana meditation comes as a timely activity. Mr. Goenka took notice of this fact and used the meditation technique as a business venture. He noticed that people crave things that can make distress, fear, anxiety, and disappointments go away and, subsequently, the booming mindfulness business industry.
The “Mindfulness Business.”
The business indeed presents itself as something completely free. There is no enrollment fee for people who want to experience Vipassana meditation. However, that is not entirely true. There is an unwritten rule that people should give donations at the end of the 10-day session.
The Vipassana meditation class lasted only for seven days, but it was changed to 10 days to give all the necessary Vipassana meditation essentials.
Supposedly, Vipassana teachers and practitioners do not charge fees to enrollees because of their mission to avoid commercialism, nearly destroying its goals. However, because of the established norm that people donate money at the end of the 10-day session as a form of appreciation for the program, the donations felt mandatory rather than optional.
It appears that Goenka was able to profit out of human suffering. The business model is excellent, and the centers have been bringing in clients from all over the world. Indeed, Vipassana meditation can be considered a clever business. Some people even stay longer than the usual ten days in order to learn more about the tradition. The donations are substantial, considering the cost of the investment in the Vipassana meditation.
Apart from the facilities, Vipassana meditation centers do not have expensive maintenance costs. Thus, the donations of hundreds of people who join Vipassana meditation courses come as pure income for the center and its practitioners.
What fuels the industry is people’s need for peace of mind, and there is no real competition for Vipassana in the mindfulness business industry.
What is wrong with S.N Goenka’s Vipassana?
In general, the established goal of meditation in modern society is to achieve inner peace or to meet the inner self. However, Vipassana meditation is focused on removing the suffering of the mind brought by the constant pressure in its environment. It teaches the person to control their minds and instill within it the temporal nature of things and events. As such, it does not necessarily give the enlightenment that people expect; rather, it merely gives them a temporary relief to their inner sufferings.
Thus, the Vipassana meditation course becomes an emergency means for people to release the uncontrollable emotions and free their minds from worries. But, it does not, in any way, teach the people how to achieve enlightenment.
In fact, people join meditation courses to achieve tranquility and peace, which goes beyond purging negative emotions from the mind. The Vipassana meditation course lacks this specific dimension and does not lead the way to enlightenment—only to the temporary fix of mental and emotional problems.
In addition, Vipassana meditation centers have a strict code of conduct for practitioners and visitors alike. This includes abstinence from several activities that people used to do in their daily lives. This code aims at separating the person from whom he used to be for him and concentrating on the meditation.
The code of conduct in the Vipassana centers is strictly implemented because one wrong behavior can spread like wildfire into the other visitors. If these unacceptable actions and behaviors are left unchecked, the entire meditation course will be deemed futile.
As such, it is important to follow the Vipassana meditation center’s code of conduct. If, however, a person chooses to disobey the code and engage in unwanted activities in the meditation center, he can be banned from all the meditation centers. These centers are of a single network; thus, they can send emails to all other centers regarding prohibited individuals.
The centers could also practically reject anyone’s application to their discretion. You will not be given access to the center even if you badly need it if they deem that you are not emotionally or mentally prepared for Vipassana. They do not share what their evaluation process is and how a person could improve his chances of getting access to the center.
The Cruelty of Vipassana Meditation Centers
Vipassana Meditation Centers strictly sanction disobedient visitors and practitioners. They only accept those they deem to be more patient, industrious, and loyal because they believe that such people will benefit most from Vipassana meditation. That defeats the purpose because meditation is supposed to be a healing tool as well. Yet, they approach it as if it’s something that should only be for those whose mind is already in an excellent state. As much as they love to see people succeed in harnessing the meditation technique’s power, they also punish those who are unfit and will not help further their cause.
To put things into perspective, they can teach the attitudes and values that matter most to human beings in their quest to achieve inner peace but can flip the table on a person in any instance of intolerable attitude.
Vipassana practitioners believe that their center is a sacred place that only has room for respectful individuals. They also believe that attitude is a key factor in the success of meditation practice. These two core beliefs justify their cruelty against disobedient members and the sanctions and punishment for it.
It is perfectly understandable that many people have raised concerns about being banned from an institution that espouses understanding and generosity as their core principles—that they are hypocritical in refusing to understand the given situation.
Some people have branded the Goenka Vipassana meditation center as exploiters of the people’s misery, ripping off desperate individuals who are looking for badly needed help.
Goenka centers also seem to espouse ethics that they themselves do not follow. By shutting the gates on the unfortunately banned individuals, they fail to offer a helping hand to the most needed individuals.