7

Vipassana-style meditation has been adapted to treat patients to prevent recurrence of depression and anxiety through MBCT, and to treat chronic pain and stress through MBSR. More info on this can found in this answer.

On the other hand, there have been some reported cases (see here) of people who attended the 10-day Goenka vipassana retreats and became psychotic and suicidal.

I have also heard that such negative effects may be a normal part of a meditator's progress, called the "dark night" or "death of the ego" (according to this answer). These could be part of the sixteen stages of insight (according to this page), namely bhaya nana or "knowledge of the appearance as terror" and adinava nana or "knowledge of the contemplation of disadvantages".

Questions:

  1. Are episodes of psychosis resulting from 10-day vipassana retreats the result of something not right (e.g. pre-existing mental conditions, the side effect of combining other techniques such as mantra or tantra with vipassana), or is it a normal part of progress in vipassana meditation? If the two are different, then what is the difference?
  2. For lay people, are the Goenka retreats considered too intense and thus out-of-moderation? Is it better for lay people to attend weekly sessions and spend less than an hour daily in meditation, rather than the intense and rigorous Goenka retreats?
  3. Is it better for lay people to practise in such a way that they will not reach the "dark night" stages because these stages are more suited for monks?
  4. Is it required for lay people to find a teacher who can determine what is moderate for them, or can they just follow generic instructions?
  • It seems to me all answers to this will be very much opinion-based. I know we have historically been very liberal with "soft" answers that are based on one's general understanding rather than on scripture, but I'd like to keep this site somewhat close to its original Q&A format and avoid going too far in the direction of a generic web forum. That said, I will not close this question and will let the community decide where to draw the line on this. – Andrei Volkov Jan 2 at 16:17
  • 1
    If there can only be opinion-based answers to a question, then I think it's not good. However, for this question, I think there can also be experience-based answers, so it should fall within the scope and rules of Buddhism.SE. – ruben2020 Jan 2 at 16:33
  • Vipassana is not thought as temporary cure like the whole Noble path isn't. It's likely that misuse or "mis-selling" may lead to effects not really objected..., and yes, vipassana is not useable for housholder in it's full sense. No use of answering on "for lay people" (e.g. householder) at all. Either one leaves house for the path or not and there is not any advice in regard of householder-homeless relation and tread, since nonsensical. – Samana Johann Jan 5 at 1:00
5

Daniel Ingram writes a lot about the 'dark night' and working through it. In an interview (Buddhist Geeks I think - sorry no exact reference) he said that dark night will be encountered by

  1. Intense meditators who really go for it - many hours a day over months
  2. Committed but steady meditators who meditate every day for around 30 minutes and maybe go on a week's retreat once a year. Then after 20 years - bang - they are in the dark night

So according to Daniel you don't need to be a intensive meditator to get the dark night effects. You just need to be reasonable committed and practise over a long enough period. So advising lay people to moderate probably wouldn't be effective - at some point they are going to hit something unpleasant. Perhaps the best thing would be to make them aware and give them tools to cope. That approach is one of the major themes in Daniel Ingram;s book.

On a personal note - My practice is firmly in the second category but I have banged up again some crappy stuff. Not "dark night" but crippling doubt and inability to move forward for extended periods. I think it just happens.

3

The "dark night" stages are absolutely necessary to get to the point that thoughts, emotions and feelings does not disturb your peace of mind. Suffering is inevitable to have to reach the stages where peace, contentment, stillness becomes continous in daily life. So yes, you can practice in moderation. But practising in moderation can lead you to be lazy in spirituality and you can fall back to the "normal" way of living, which is insane and only lead to more and more suffering. And then you'll experience the "dark nights" because of the "normal" way of living. Look to the news and you'll see that people are frequently having "dark nights" and they don't only hurting themselves but destroying other people's lifes without any drop of guilt and remorse. I think that suffering is inevitable for everyone who comes to the physical world. The physical body and the brain puts our beings to a prison that there is no escape from these energies. The low frequency energies that spirituality leads us to face is not something that is new to us. These dark energies have always been with us, we were born to this life with these energies and in our past lifes these energies were in our mind, causing us suffering most of the time. This is the truth of humanity.

Unless we go beyond the dark night(s) and reach to the spiritual stages that true peace, joy and contentment is continous in our daily life, these energies will continue to occupy our minds and will become even worse in time.

1

Meditation is much like a bullet train. Meditation is extraordinarily efficient at what it does. Going on retreat, one often ends up at new and unfamiliar destinations. These can be quite unsettling to the unprepared. I flipped out at my first retreat. The Roshi even asked someone to look after me personally for a day or so after the retreat out of concern for my mental state. Thank you, Stephen Kow, for looking after me. 🙏

So I got off the meditation bullet train and walked. And it took decades to get back to the same place the bullet train took me to. But by then it had become a good place.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.