Subforum: Traditions > Tibetan Buddhism > Tibetan Buddhism General Forum
Thread title: Goenka vs. Vajrayana? Did this happen?
Date: Dec 1st 2006

Forum member:

I did a Goenka style Vipassana 10-day silent retreat a few years back, and during the final “talking” day a few people when they found out about my Tibetan practice told me a story, which seems to have different versions:

Goenka either challenged the Dalai Lama saying the practice he was teaching trumped Vajrayana methods in terms of results, and the Dalai Lama responded by having very experienced monks from his monastery enroll in a 10 day course, -or the Dalai Lama had heard about the Goenka courses, was intrigued, and likewise sent senior monks to give it a trial.

In both versons, the outcome was declared that all of the monks reported back that it was a
very profound practice.

I’m just wondering if there is verifiable evidence/validity to these stories, or if they are rumors, -and if they are valid, if anyone knows any more specifics in terms of the monks’ views on the technique.

Addtionally, I heard that Pema Chodron recommends people to do a Goenka retreat at least once a year, and I was wondering if this was correct too.

I’m wondering because I feel that I got a lot out of it, and I am interested in doing another one, and wanted to know if other Tibetan Buddhists have experience with Goenka’s
practice and teaching and if so, if they’ve have found them helpful and how so, etc..

Also, if anyone managed to secretly keep certain tantric commitments while there, etc.

A second forum member:

I learned Vipassana before encountering the Vajrayana. When I explained this to my teacher Trungpa Rinpoche, he taught me a practice to incorporate both approaches. He clearly saw no problem with this.

A third forum member:

I’ve been practicing Vipassana meditation taught by SN Goenka and sutta, sutra study for the last 16 years. My teacher told me it is an excellent foundation to start from regarding Vajrayana practice. I meditate one hour a day and go to Vipassana retreat once a year.

The only conflict that may arise as I see it is if you mix vipassana with other methods. When I do vipassana meditation one hour a day that is all I do in that one hour. I do not believe Vipassana meditation is for everyone, my Dharma teacher felt it was best suited for my needs.

A fourth forum member adds:

I first started practicing Vipassana Meditation in 1985 and have done many courses both here in Australia and in India. Over that period I have completed in excess of 21 ten-day courses and numerous other ‘special’ courses for more experienced practitioners.

Your report is news to me! I have never heard of that story until now. However, I must say that I have witnessed many clerics of other religions, as well as many more practitioners of other religions, including Buddhist monks and lay people from varying traditions, attend SN Goenka’s ten-day courses. And the vast majority of them report profoundly positive results. Sometimes, the monks, priests, nuns, imams, are sent under the instruction of the leader of their institution, abbot, etc.

While I have been a respectful and interested observer of Tibetan Buddhism, I cannot verify that Goenka’s Vipassana ‘trumps’ Vajrayana. I guess you should practice that which you have confidence in, however, I would encourage you to do another ten-day course if you are so inclined.

A fifth forum member provides a reference to the text of the interview with vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka from Shambala:

the interview from Shambala

Namdrol (Former E-sangha global moderator):

It’s all bullshit.

Further discussion, then Namdrol makes the following point:

The idea that vipassana is a more effective method than Vajrayana is simply absurd.

I am sure HHDL sent some people to a ten day sit– why not? This whole thing actually started appearing as a story because Steven Batchelor felt he benefitted from a ten day sit more than years of doing Vajrayana practice.

It’s basicall a bunch of nonesense

Some more discussion and then Namdrol again:

Even the best and smartest paramitayana practitioner is very dull compared to even the dullest Vajrayana practitioner.

Why? Because they have chosen a path than cannot lead to awakening in less than three incalculable eons.

Just do the math: 3 interminable eons vs. at most 16 lifetimes even if you do not practice.

There is really nothing to discuss– this is simply a matter of fact from a Vajrayana point of view, and one stated through the Dzogchen tantras as well.


9 Responses to “Vipassana”

  1. Simon Says:

    I was a student of a very famous lama who insisted that we learn Vipassana before even thinking about Dzogchen…..The problem is not Dzogchen it is that E Sangha promotes a distorted version of one particular Dzogchen guru’s teachings.

  2. Rachael Says:

    I haven’t heard those stories, but i’ve sat & volunteered on half a dozen or more of those Vipassana centre courses, and I distinctly remember at one of them (sorry I can’t remember which one, might have been Blackheath/Sydney in 2000?) there was an entourage of proper asian MONKS in orange robes they called “Venerables” having a tour of the place & it was quite a big deal to us lowly mortal beginner-type servers that they were at the centre. I remember being too scared to even look at them in case i did something wrong (that whole male/female segregation thing). They were quite lovely though, always smiling & very polite.

    So they definately went for a look-see at least!

  3. Steve Rogers Says:

    I’m amazed at the ignorance of these e-Sangha people. All I can do to help the sorry situation is NOT rejoin e-Sangha. I was a member for a while but soon bumped into the intolerant and narrow-minded Henry.

  4. Hendrick Says:

    I am reading about Dzogchen and from everything I can gather about it, the technique seems to be exact copy of vipassana/mindfulness with the only difference of being introduced by the teacher and few other cultural (Tibetan) elements.

    Can someone please explain?
    For example in Pali Canon Buddha gave this teaching
    “Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: in the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed2 will be merely what is sensed; in the cognized will be merely what is cognized. Practising in this way, Bāhiya, you will not be ‘because of that’. When you are not ‘because of that’ you will not be ‘in that’. And when you are not ‘in that’ then you will be neither here not beyond nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering.”

    Also in the sutta’s somewhere the Buddha mentioned about
    “just like the full moon free from cloud … just as the moon when free from cloud, free from mist, free from smoke and dust, gleams and glows and shines, so too the monk who is delivered from all defilements gleams and glows and shines.”

    Goenka’s Vipassana teaches non-reaction in order to have thoughts self liberated… This can obviously be applied to day to day things.

  5. fwtw Says:

    Hi all friends,

    I guess that was what Buddha meant when he said that there are a lots of path to enlightenment (I read it somewhere but could not remember the exact details). Based on your karma, certain technique is suitable for some people.


  6. Saraha Says:

    2600 years and still nothing can be added or subtracted from the 8 fold path !

  7. Steve Rogers Says:

    I know someone who was advised to study Vipassana with Goenka by the Dalai Lama himself.

  8. jason Says:


    I can answer your questions but probably it is better for you to email me direct.

    Regardless, Dzogchen does use shamatha/vipasana or shi’ne/lhag’tong (tib) within the ngondro (or preliminaries) of the Four Naljors Ngondro – the defining characteristic is that the practices are entirely formless, whereas in the Sutric versions of shamatha/vipassana one utilizes form in the practice, whether that form is breath or a more specific instruction.

    Contact me for further elucidation if you wish!


  9. orgyen Says:

    I’ve been practicing Ngondro (preliminaries) of the Dudjom Tersar lineage of Dzogchen teachings. The moment my mind came in contact with the practice I was fascinated. Although I do my prostrations and practice for 1-2 hours a day, I haven’t been practicing too long.

    However, I participated in a 10 day course under the Goenkaji technique of Vipassana and it was “so wonderful”. It was literally a life changing experience in every sense, physical & mental.

    Not to belittle or fuel any bias, but I experienced more results of liberating mental defilements (isn’t that the whole point?) through the ten day course than my limited several months and tenths of thousands of prostrations doing Ngondro.

    Something pointed out by Goenkaji really made me think, which is that, everytime we use chanting, mantras, recting, praying, visualizing, imagining colors or shapes, although they do indeed focus the mind and sharpen concentration, they are artificial creations which disassociate our experience of the actual reality as it truly is. In any case, the thoughts we use to produce the above, are sankara (desire/aversion) generated thoughts, and precisely sankaras are what we are working to erradicate in their totality in order to achieve the ultimate state of wisdom based equanimity.

    Also, even if the Dzogchen Teachings of Perfection are techniques designed by enlightened masters, or Termas discovered by them, these schools of Buddhism base themselves on the Buddha’s experience of enlightenment and his teachings, implying at least that they occur later in time. As far as my limited understanding goes, the goal of any school, tradition or technique of Buddhism (particularly Vajrayana) is to imitate his equanimity fully, not to contact devas or fly with dakinis or be astounded by colors and visions (making this a byproduct but not an incentive).

    So then I ask myself, why not practice the exact and precise technique which he himself used to attain his own full liberation? Including the fact that he incited and practiced absolutely no rituals or ceremonies or offerings, stating clearly that those who wished may do so, but that he didn’t like to do them. He would pay homage to all the Buddhas of the three times (past, present & future) but would never raise a bowl of rice or light any incense.
    Besides, even if the Buddha himself were standing before us, he might overwhelm us with boundless compassion and kindness, but he could do nothing to clean our own impurities. Each one must walk his own path and achieve his own libertation. In his own words, cut down any person who stands between you and your path, be it your mother or father, or the Buddha himself.

    This post was simply to share my mind with other dharma seekers, my intention was merely to sincerely express my deeply lived experience and questions. For the mean time I will be giving the Goenkaji Vipassana technique a trial run after the 10 day course I recently emerged from to truly taste any further benefits, and will of course have council with the lama under which I’ve taken refuge.

    May all beings be blessed with happiness, peace and be liberated.

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