It appeared that most students learning Buddhism will automatically assume Vipassana Meditation taught by Mr. S. N. Goenka synonymous with Buddhist meditation, methods taught by the Buddha, is it so?


Remark Added 15/03/2017

The knowledgeable Suminda (@Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena) pointed to an article which attempted to establish the "U Ba Khin Vipassana method told by Mr. Goenka" its connection with Mahayana (of the Chinese Lineage), this should definitely be refuted. Mr. Goenka himself with his entire Insight Movement is completely unrelated to the Mahayanist teaching.

In the article Ven. Analayo wisely drew inspiration from the Mahayanist Sutra however, it's uncertain under what circumstance someone provided him an incorrectly translated work:

念諸息遍身, 亦念息出入, 悉觀身中諸出息入息, 覺知遍至身中乃 至足指遍諸毛孔, 如水入沙, 息出覺知從足至髮遍諸毛孔亦, 如水 入沙.

Mindfulness [during] all breaths pervades the body, [while] being as
well mindful of the out- and in-breaths. Completely contemplating the
inside of the body [during] all out-breaths and in-breaths, awareness
pervades and reaches inside the body up to the toes and the fingers
and pervades every pore [on the surface of the body], just like water
entering sand, aware from the feet to the hair [while] breathing out
[and in], pervading every pore as well, just like water entering sand.

This should read as (translation is mine):

Set the mind to all the breaths be aware of their permeating the whole body (念諸息遍身). Also be mindful of the breath going-out and going-in (亦念息出入). Thoroughly observe all the out-going and in-going breaths inside the body (悉觀身中諸出息入息), be conscious of their permeating from inside the body unto the toes and fingers even pervading all the pores, as if water entering sands (覺知遍至身中乃至足指遍諸毛孔, 如水入沙). [When] breath going-out, be conscious of it from feet unto the hairs pervading all the pores, also as if water entering sands (息出覺知從足至髮遍諸毛孔, 亦如水入沙).

It definitely has nothing to do with Mr. Goenka's "body-scanning" technique.

Here breath is not simply the air coming in-out the nose-mouth that we do in breathing. Ānāpānasmṛti (Pali: Ānāpānasati) meditation taught by most of the general media is incorrect. There are at least 3 stages: counting, following, stillness; progressed gradually.

4 Answers 4


Goenka tradition seems to be most close to meditation instruction sourced directly from the Suttas. A course is divided into parts:

  1. Anapana - cultivation of Samadhis (1/3 of the length of the course)
  2. Vipassana - cultivation of Panna (slightly less than 1/3 of the lenth of the course)
  3. Metta - (1 or 2 days depending on the length of the course.)

Anapana closely follows that of the [Maha] Satipatthana / Kayagatasati Suttas.

In the Vipassana part, the main instruction is whatever the sensation contemplate its impermanence and be equanimous towards it.

Having fully understood all things, he knows whatever feelings there are, whether pleasant, painful or neither painful nor pleasant.

As regards to those feelings,

he dwells contemplating impermanence in them;

he dwells contemplating dispassion [fading away of lust] in them;

he dwells contemplating ending (of suffering) in them;

he dwells contemplating letting go (of defilements).

When he dwells contemplating impermanence in them, contemplating dispassion in them, contemplating ending in them, contemplating letting go, he does not cling to anything in the world.

Not clinging, he is not agitated; being not agitated, he himself surely attains nirvana.

He understands, "Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, done what is to be done, there is no more for this state of being."

Pacalā Sutta

Similarly there many more Suttas which similar instructions re occur throughout the whole cannon. E.g.: Pahāna Sutta, Avijja Pahana Sutta 2, Dīgha,nakha Sutta, Sal,āyatana Vibhanga Sutta, Indriya Bhāvanā Sutta, Dhātu Vibhaṅga Sutta, Titth’ayatana Sutta

Bhikshus, just as if a man were sitting covered from head to foot with a white cloth, so that there would be no part of his body to which the white cloth did not extend; even so, the monk sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright mind. There is no part of his entire body that is not pervaded by pure, bright mind.

Kaya,gatā,sati Sutta


so, too, a monk reviews this very body, wrapped in skin and full of various impurities, from the soles of the feet upwards and from the crown of the head downwards

Kaya,gatā,sati Sutta, Sati’patthāna Sutta

As below, so above [upwards from the soles of the feet, and downwards from the tips of the hairs.]

Iddhi,pāda Vibhanga Sutta

This is similar in tone to the head to foot scanning technique.

In Buddhism, common term is letting go. The Suttas on Letting Go sheds more light on how to do it. They are: Pahāna Sutta and Avijja Pahana Sutta 2. This is the exact way that is being taught by S.N.Goenka.

Also an interesting read might be: The Ancient Roots of the U Ba Khin Vipassanā Meditation by Ven. Analayo, which quotes some parallel in the Mahayana Tradition which you (@Bhumishu 米殊) are from I believe.

Instead of intellectually debating on whether the course is this or that why not take the course and clear you doubts. You can apply through: http://www.dhamma.org/en/index and course are conducted in many centres around the world. You can choose a location convenient to you.

What matters if the techniques works for you or not than is it this or that. So best is just try it.

  • No comment on Ven Analayo's article - I don't have time to read it. By the title it's U Ba Khin's method, not Mr. Goenka's - equate a student's = the teacher's this is illegitimate analogy. U Ba Khin didn't speak English nor Hindu, I bet. No Comment + doubts on the claim "some parallel to Mahayana" - almost all the Mahayanist teachings (based on the Sutras) are not available in English or other language. Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 8:22
  • Mahayanist by tradition is dispassionate to scholastic interpretation of any Sutras, for those scholars usually not having real practice and direct experience in any Buddhist teachings. Mahayanist has a term for them: 文字般若 (wisdom on the lips). Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 8:22
  • I don't call myself Mahayanist or related myself to any school, I learn from direct reading the Chinese Classical Sutras. I read some Agama Sutras, which composed most of the Theravadist canon. At the same time I'm scrutinizing the Chinese source too. Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 8:26
  • It seems this answer has NOT directly answered the OP if Mr. Goenka's a Buddhist tradition. In meditation there are many shared grounds, incl. the modern chic taught by the health clubs, spas, beauty salons, so are those traditional Indian Brahmic ones, not to mentioned the 四禪八定 (4 Dhyana 8 Samadhi) are shared among all meditators. Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 8:33
  • I can't understand why Mr. Goenka's "wheel" logo is of many spokes and pressed. If it's a Buddhist sect, the Dharma Wheel is 8-spokes and a perfect circle, in this case Mr. Goenka's wheel is wrong, unless he has explanation about it which I haven't heard of. Further, is Mr. Goenka ever proclaimed in public he is a Buddhist? A Buddhist take refuge in the 3-jewels: The Buddha, The Dharma and the Bhikkus. But in the Mr. Goenka's one only said: Thanks dhamma. Why? Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 8:40

Very simple answer. Mayahana is not Buddhism, it is a branch / sect of buddhism. Similarly Theravada is also a branch / sect of Buddhism. Buddithing is far from sectarianism. Buddhism teaches a universal law applicable to everyone.

The Dhamma transmitted by Goenka come from the Theravada tradition. There is no connection with the school of Mahayana.

Goenka never defined himself as a buddhist and considered the Buddha's teaching in a very practical way.

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    I think his main idea was too a avoid -ism and religious organisation to be as open as possible to everyone. It is in that sense that he didn't wanted to define the centers as buddhist centers, but as vipassana meditation center. As far as I know if you go check his predecessors it goes back to Ledi Sayadaw en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ledi_Sayadaw Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 11:11
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    @Bhumishu米殊 If you teach the law of physics discovered by Eistein at university? Are you an eisteinist? No. You teach it because it widely accepted as a valid teaching that allowed us to make a lot of discoveries. Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 3:12
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    to complete the response, regarding Ven. Analayo, he apparently himself practiced Goenka method for ten years and stated it as a "correct but not the only one" way to practice vipassana. source: wiseattention.org/blog/2012/09/07/… Commented Mar 18, 2017 at 7:43
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    You were answered previously by another member regarding this. Goenka stated himself that there is more than one way to practice but that this way worked well for him and the students and teachers before him. whether it follows the suttas by the letter or spirit, or if it is an oral tradition is not that important. Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 12:29
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    I'm not here to win a argument. I have followed zen soto teachings for many years and experienced myself a 10 days retreat. In Shinkantaza there is no breath observation at all, it is still nonetheless called buddhism, and the label matter little to me. As for the barber analogy, you are right, I rather indeed listen with a bit more confidence to someone who had a well recognized and established teachers and most of the time satisfied students then someone who just show clear egotic behavior and pretend to have experienced surpernatural experience. Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 12:29

The Goenka method seems to not be the same method as taught by the Buddha:

  1. The method of the Buddha is based in 'letting go' (vossagga), as stated at the end of the Anapanasati Sutta, which states mindfulness & other factors have a quality that results in 'letting go' (vossagga). This 'letting go' is most clearly stated in SN 48.9 & SN 48.10, which state the noble disciple reaches jhana (meditative absorption) by making 'letting go' (vossagga) the meditation object.

  2. When 'letting go' is properly established, the breathing in & breathing out will become the primary meditation object and will accompany the arising of other primary objects, such as pleasant feelings (vedana), mental states (citta) & the ultimate truths of the three characteristics & cessation (dhamma).

  3. Goenka's primary method is based on body scanning of mental sankharas or stress, which Goenka mistakenly calls 'vedana' or 'sensations'. These 'sensations' are mental formations of stress born from greed, hatred & delusion rather than 'vedana' ('feelings'). In reality, 'vedana' are pleasant & unpleasant 'feelings' rather than mental formations stored in the physical body.

  4. The Buddha's method is summarised as the development of samatha-vipassana (tranquility & insight) in tandem (MN 149). The Goenka method seems to not have enough scope for the development of tranquillity & the resultant rapture.

  5. The Buddha's method aims for the four jhanas, because they are pleasant abidings (with rapture). The Middle-Way of the Buddha is a way of happiness of pleasant feelings from meditation, avoiding sensual pleasures & self-torment. The Goenka method has elements of self-torment, where it focuses in unpleasant or painful feelings (rather than aims for pleasant feelings of jhana).

  6. The Buddha taught meditation in all four postures, namely, sitting, walking, standing & lying down. The Goenka method seems to mostly or only focus on sitting meditation.

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    3 - the method is body scanning and awareness to any sensation that arise, pleaseant or unpleasent. There is no emphasis on pain, stress, or any other feeling.
    – Roy
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 19:58
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    4 - peace, harmony, equanimity and awareness are often emphasised in Goenkas teaching.
    – Roy
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 20:01
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    5 - there is no focus on unpleasant feelings. It is also emphasised that the technique isn't about self torture. I think Goenkas courses are different from one place to the other, but at least in some, students are specifically told to move if they experience too much pain
    – Roy
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 20:07
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    6 - after improving focus through sitting meditation, students are instructed to keep practicing in all postures and situations.
    – Roy
    Commented Feb 22, 2017 at 20:11
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    I have been to a course of Goenka vipassana in Japan, and the comments made by Roy are correct, there is no such thing as focusing on the pain or self-torture. We were allowed to change posture if we couldn't bear the pain. It was in many ways a lot less strict and painful than some zen retreats I experienced. Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 6:55

I read the book of The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation by S.N. Goenka something like 15 years ago. My memory may be wrong.

The man who advised me this book, told me that it was the teaching of a very special branch of Buddhism, completely deprived of religious mythology, which was a only found in some remote temples of Myanmar/Burma.

The man also told me that it was the closest to the true teaching of Buddha, because it was not poluted by a deification of the man Siddharta Gautama as can be found elsewhere.

Sorry for the biais of my answer, since I cannot cite my sources, and I quote another man, from memory. And sorry if you think it's incorrect.

  • Thank you anyhow. I read that book too, before my learning Buddhism. I'm pretty sure Mr. Goenka's is not Mahayanist, now by asking this question with more resources pulled from Theravadist I come to close to conclude that Mr. Goenka's related to none of the Buddhist tradition. More so after reading the article I stated in my OP "added remark", that Ven. Analayo's article instead gave hint that Mr. Goenka has wrongly interpreted the Sutta, his method is not even agreeing with Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga. Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 17:29
  • Your remark makes me think you are thinking that all written witnesses of Buddha's time were more correct that Buddha's speech instead. Just like Jesus or Lao-Tz, they have not written anything in definitive written text form. There may be a reason for that, maybe. I think so. Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 21:34
  • Obviously u misread my comment and u have neither read Ven. Aanalayo article nor my OP. Regards Commented Mar 19, 2017 at 10:34

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