All Life Is Suffering

The creation of a Guantamo Bay like environment in the pseudo-Buddhist sectarian „Vipassana“meditation camps of the S.N. Goenka movement

Are you a masochist? A spiritual masochist with autistic tendencies and an overly authoritative father maybe? Then I have just the right thing for you:

I ran into a guy in Rishikesh who told me of the supposedly free 10 day so called “Vipassana” retreats the “Dhamma” outfits originally founded by a Sayagyi U Ba Khin from Burma (now Myanmar) offer. What a steal: 10 days sitting, all meals provided, one’s own room, huge meditation hall – what could go wrong!

But one step at a time: The daily routine, starting 4am and ending at 9pm with 3 breaks for breakfast, lunch and tea seemed harsh but 10 hour sittings are promised to let you progress fast on the wheel of “Dhamma” (their version of Dharma) towards the ultimate goal. So I signed in, surrendered my phone and valuables into the vault for safekeeping and happily moved into my 2x2m cell with attached bathroom expecting a strict but exhilarating 10 days to come.

Man, was I ever wrong!

Have you ever sat in a hall with eighty Indians most of whom are new to meditation? Not one of my favorite situations to be in. I got farted towards on my front, serially burped on my back, repeatedly and extremely loudly coughed at, sneezed at and not to be forgotten there was yawning and snot pulled up the nose in 30 second intervals. Plus there was more traffic of people getting in and out of the hall during sittings than passengers move at Victoria station at 3pm. None of these clowns would have lasted 10 minutes in Buddha Hall in Poona, nor in any other meditation hall I since visited in the ashrams I lived in over the last decades. They would have been expelled, probably for good.

At the first sitting I was introduced to a bodiless voice of some Pali sing sang that sounded more like the howling a lovesick sea lion. It kept on and on, finally ending with a triple “bah, bah, bah” by the audience, right out of “the sheeple’s handbook for the devout religionist”. It really made my hair stand up. This not only went on in each and every single sitting of which there were 10 every day, it culminated in a 90 minute long discourse of a guy who reminded me of Jabba the Hutt. This person was telling me all about HIS version of Vipassana and in the course of that getting everything wrong about the real method. The audience was mesmerized.

In his famous discourse on morals he claimed one should and in fact must be truthful in speech and at the same time never hurt anyone (in speech) by punishment of missing enlightenment. Talk about a double bind right there. While he was lying right out of his nose, mind you. Granted, it takes a few decades of life experience, possibly the reading of some 6000+ books to figure that out right away and none of the audience seemed old and/or experienced or even smart enough for that kind of discernment. No sir, good behavior does NOT come first; it is a result of rising in awareness, usually thru meditation, not vice versa. No sir, equanimity is not the be-all-end-all of life, discernment is. Without that you will never know what to do in a given situation. And discernment equals wisdom without which a nice person is just a mindless do-gooder who will likely do more harm than good in any given circumstance. And this you do not get by sitting watching you body sensations, not even in equanimity. And so on. I could write an essay about the obvious b/s he spouted about Buddhism and Vipassana, not even being an expert on that religion.

As mentioned we were expected to sit for 10 hours. Of course nobody in the hall could do even one straight hour without changing position once or twice, not even me with 30+ years of almost daily sitting experience. But “Jabba” insisted. In his daily discourse he would repeat the mantra that the good student would ignore the pain or transcend it with his method (which did not work, no surprise there). Even the super devoted German “server” moved every 30 minutes or so, and that after numerous 10-day sitting experiences. He still had the insolence to lecture us on how to sit right during those mind numbing discourses. When I told him to f*ck off he was visibly disturbed, and never talked to me again (well, THAT worked!). Part of hell for me was that in spite of accumulating evidence of horse manure distributed among the participants I did try to follow instruction for about six or seven days as good as I could – with the result of exceedingly painful sittings that lasted for shorter and shorter periods of time without position change. Any yoga apprentice could have told me that in advance. Maybe I should take up yoga next.

Is the essential message that the historical Buddha used Sayagyi U Ba Khin’s style of Vipassana correct? It seems very unlikely that 376 million Buddhists, including the master of all trades, Osho, got it all wrong and only THIS guy has it right. But what a powerful sales proposal it is. Anyone educated in hypnotic language can recognize the speech pattern used by him and subsequently there was very little meditating going on as everyone was put into a mild trance by that slime bag before meditation even started. It was quite revolting really, once you recognized the intent behind all that love & light garbage. He would veery slooowly and with a thick accent spread his religious drivel onto his quite literally captive audience.

His proposed secret, allegedly used over the centuries only in Burma, and now graciously offered “for free” to the world, consists of something I learned in 1978 in the Auditorium Maximum of the University Hamburg. Then it was called “autogenes Training”. He also in a manner of speaking uses the real Vipassana technique which quite simply is the watching of the in- and out breath but calls this by a different name and ostensibly proposes this to be only the entry level to be quickly overtaken by his “real” version. He also gives a wrong instruction how to do it with emphasis on “feeling sensations” when in fact that is not the emphasis of Vipassana at all. In the course of his 15 hours of “discourse”, if you can call it that because it is more of a sales proposal, he again and again explains his technique, which btw. could be taught to a smart 10 year old in 15 minutes. The enthralled audience gives the visual impression of listening to the messiah himself. Talk about trance induction and the dumbing down of participants.

How in hell can moving your consciousness around your body and thereby releasing old tension with equanimity towards these bodily impressions remove old karma? This is the all important feature he insists again and again … and again, ad nausea.  Beats me.

But hey, there was once a guy called Maharishi who would sell you a “personal mantra” for 400 bucks that can do the same, and make you invincible to boot and allows you to live forever. For an extra five grand he even taught you to fly. He sold millions of them, some even to the Beatles. He is dead now. He was an accountant and a 100% fraud. But don’t tell that to his disciples.

Back to the sect at hand: there is also an “assistant teacher” on location for questions one might have. I asked only two. The first one was “if I get suffocated by an attacker should I defend myself or remain in equanimity towards this bodily sensation?” – He did not understand what I was saying. He did not have enough command of the English language for such a complicated grammatical construct. So he cleverly waved to his German assistant, a lifeless rigid figure who regardless of his young age came across like a corpse. He woke up from trance with this genius reply: “This does not happen to good people and if it ever did they should learn Tai Chi”. Thank you very much. What a shame, over a million Tibetan Buddhists who where mercilessly slaughtered by communist minions with Kalashnikovs did not get that life saving wisdom in time. Or they where all wolves in sheep clothing and deserved what was coming. Who knows with those Asian types anyway?

The other question arose when one morning on day six I experienced a strong vertigo. He did not understand the word. I had to explain “like drunk” – waving my body around. Now, he had just given us a sermon on the importance of watching bodily sensation with equanimity. He repeated exactly that sermon as answer to my question. Then he summoned me to sit in front of him, and repeated it again. He must be used to really dumb audiences. Needless to say this did nothing to alleviate my condition which turned out to be simple dehydration.

Yeah, the food. They call it “a simple vegetarian diet”. That is an euphemism for white rice with overcooked veggies, mostly carrots and peas. I lost 4 KG in 10 days – which I think was the sole benefit of that entire exercise.

In every scam there is a financial side. This joint runs on donations, which is touted as the great selfless work of their founding fathers. But as audits into the red cross, Caritas, UNICEF and other NGOs, that are based on the same donation principle, show again and again: up to 90% of the donations end up in the pockets of the trustees. I have a strange feeling this case is no exception. On the evening before we all got our money back, “Jabba” made it clear that the sole task of a “householder”, that is anyone with an income, is to donate a sizeable part of it to charity. When I went collecting my goods the next day there was already a crowd gathered at a table set up exclusively to receive checks and cash for that purpose. I asked a few westerners who had done these courses and no-one gave less than 100 bucks. Pretty good for an investment of maybe 15 bucks for food and gas and electricity and another 3 bucks for 2 or 3 Indian workers. The rest was done by so called “servers”, volunteers that were not paid. You do the math.

What did I take away from that entire episode? Mainly how Jim Jones could get his followers to drink the cool aide and how Scientology is so successful is fleecing their members with an equally convincing story of the ultimate goal, in this case to become a “Thetan”, exclusively thru their means.

In the day and age of the internet where anyone can read about Dolores Cannons findings, life between lives with Michael Newton, OBEs with Robert Monroe, NDEs, past life regressions, UFOs and alien abductions, MK Ultra and a super corrupted elite running the show using money, manipulation and guns to control the masses, a seemingly simple solution wrapped into a childish world-view still finds its fanboys and-girls. Ignorance is bliss after all, for the simpleton humanist hippie as well as the intellectually lazy newager. And of course the old adage assigned to Einstein today holds truer than ever: “The stupidity of the average human and the Universe are without bounds, and I am not sure about the latter”.

Samvado  April 2019

Addendum: I have written the piece above right after my first experience with the S.N. Goenka sect. It’s content stands BUT in the meantime I considered two things: one, is there a benefit for the novice Goenka follower even if what he is trained to do has nothing to do with Vipassana? And second: can someone who knows the real technique make use of the setup without being driven nuts by the noise and turmoil in the meditation hall and those mind numbing discourses?
To answer the first question it would be necessary to know the level of experience of the “victim”; if he is of lesser experience but has a sufficient amount of natural intelligence i.e. discernment this may well be the entrance to real meditation, like it was with TM in my case, many decades ago. However if one gets stuck in this method the damage could out weight the advantage as running around actively with your awareness through your body (or any other place) has, like all activity, an effect, even a therapeutic one, but is not meditation, but quite the opposite.
The second question is a subjective one. I will answer it for me personally and some may think me too insensitive or even rough but that’s what I am at the moment, so be it. Anyone sharing my stance could possibly gain quite some depth even in an environment like Goenka’s. Of course you need to be a bit thick headed. The ever vigilant religious volunteers aka “servers” WILL terrorize you directly (with incessant bell ringing in front of your abode) and semi-legal “advice” you “must” come, you have agreed to it etc.etc. – While good earplugs help against the bell boys it needs self assured clarity to make sure these Boozos get the message that their message is not welcome. Tell them to shut up. Likely the “assistant teacher” will get to know you are not attending video discourse; tell him a story he likes to hear, like you have done and heard this so often and you would rather continue to meditate in your room, or whatever, promise him anything but remain steady in your resolve not to attend the video brainwashing as it WILL disturb anyone with a semi functional brain. If you give in and do attend your next hours will be spent thinking about how stupid anyone must be to fall for that shit including creating elaborate strategies how to save them from their own dumbness.
None of this is Vipassana, so save yourself the trouble and resist.

If you manage to get around that indoctrination crap and wear earplugs during the sittings in the hall you will be save from the mind numbing Jabba-the-hut sing-sang and the multitude of human created noises around you. In that case the structure works for you and you will likely have 10 days of intense meditation – and those are, at least financially, for free.
Of course financially supporting such an endeavor is out of the question (and needless, they build huge golden temples for your money, google it!) so be prepared to leave the premises as soon as you receive you items (money, passport, mobile phone) back on day 10 and resist the temptation to engage other members in discussions after the none-talking ban is lifted and everybody wants to be your brother. At this stage of their spiritual evolution you likely will accomplish nothing by challenging their believe system but risk being outed as “intruder”, which may well lead to your ban for the future. That would be a shame.
There are pitiable few options for the normal meditator i.e. none-monk, not fully committed member of a ZEN school or other such institution or ashram to do a similar 10-day retreat. Some Osho related places offer them at great intervals but even those are mellowed down to 4-6 sittings per day and usually not even 10 days long. I have not been able to find any open Vipassana retreats from Buddhist schools. So this seems to be the only game in town and at this price it’s hard to beat.
I have done only one so far but plan to do at least one other to test my hypothesis in real life. If I am wrong I will be expelled, if I am right I know where to sit and go and stay deep in the midst of free religious bullshit thrown at everybody else. That in itself is worth something!

Footnotes:

I only found this after the fact but I have to agree 100% with my old guru:
Osho On Vipassana and Goenka:
https://www.satrakshita.com/osho_on_vipassana_and_goenka.htm

If you want to do the right thing listen to the right instructions here:
https://www.satrakshita.com/audio/Osho_on_Vipassana.mp3

Or read it here:
https://www.satrakshita.com/the_orange_book.htm#Osho_talks_about_Vipassana

Contrary to claims of exclusivity for facilitating enlightenment by the above mentioned sect there are a few alternatives that are said to also work:
http://www.meditationiseasy.com/meditation-techniques/vigyan-bhairava-tantra/