Any teaching taken out of context, repeated in loop by ignorant parrots, can be dangerous… The Buddha's words have been used e.g. to attack an ethnic and religious minority in Myanmar, or e.g. to minimise the guilt of Japanese soldiers during WWII (« there's no self, there's no being truly being killed »)… The words of an experienced and sensitive teacher can become an insensitive, insensible hammer when quoted and yielded by less qualified, less awakened repeaters.
Retreats in the Goenka traditions are based on the traditional teachings of the spiritual leader Goenka, who died in 2013. His daily lessons have been videotaped and are played nightly for meditators at retreats. So there is no "main teacher" on site. Volunteer "assistant teachers" are supposed to guide meditators, but their qualifications are unclear (read: usually none, the only requirement is that they have attended at least one previous meditation course). There is generally one "lead" assistant teacher who is supposed to be trained… if you're lucky… but that doesn't even mean (s)he will speak your language well enough to understand, let alone discuss, a subtle change of mindset (which might later snowball into devastating madness).
By now, I've heard of enough cases of psychosis (including one of my friends), heard of enough bad advice given, heard of enough ludicrous assertions (the Buddha only taught the (mahā)satipatṭhāna sutta, really?), and met enough people who needed serious post-retreat psychological help, in order not to recommend the vipassana retreat in the Goenka tradition. And yes, I know of some people who got a lot from these retreats, and who will sound like enthusiastic supporters, good for them, but « it went well for me, therefore it should go well for you too » is very flawed and self-centred logic!
And this is not because I doubt of Goenka's attainments, but because of the way the teachings are now spread, without a qualified and experienced meditator to help people go through the difficulties that may arise. This is irresponsible, in my view: it's too easy to wash one's hands and say it's the problem of the meditator going crazy. Blaming the victim and denial of personal responsibility go against "right effort".
In large public settings, it is responsible to have first aiders, AED defibrillators, etc. You don't know "who" might have an emergency, but you know it's likely "someone" will.
In the same way, if you run meditation retreats, you ought to be trained enough in psychology (ideally both Western and Eastern versions) and in meditation techniques to cope with the inevitable troubles that "someone" will experience. You also ought to run retreats in languages you're truly fluent in.
No teacher is perfect, no one makes no mistake, but "right effort" certainly calls for refraining from complacency or negligence… Running retreats without sufficient proficiency in the side-effects of what you prescribe is negligence.
Passing information (by playing tapes) is not the same as understanding, which itself is not the same as manifesting wise appropriateness…
One has to remember that the student's circumstances dictate what's appropriate, the teacher's preferences don't (one of the founding principles at )!
If you don't experiment with powerful medication (without the supervision of some doctor, who knows more than his own health history), then don't experiment with powerful mental techniques (without supervision of some qualified practitioner, who knows more than just his own spiritual history)!
by BupSahn Sunim:
ANOTHER MEDITATION RELATED SUICIDE
As we have discussed before meditation [sometimes] has a darkside, and while such tragic outcomes are rare, there is a growing body of research that highlights the dark side of intense meditation.
Vogt wasn't the first to die by suicide after a meditation retreat, according to experts who are aware of other cases. And she wasn't the first to go into psychosis or experience serious mental issues after taking a a course of intense meditation.