A rebuttal to Mr Jeffrey Brooks, a.k.a. Jhanananda: Part – III: Suppression of Jhana by the VRI organization

continued from part – 2

In the link below, Mr Brooks’ alleges that Jhana is suppressed at a Goenka Center

Now, this in my experience is simply not true. There is no suppression of Jhana in this tradition. In fact getting up to the fourth Jhana is considered mandatory for liberation. This does not sound like a suppression of the Jhanas to me. Mr Brooks allegation is simply inaccurate.There is a lively exchange between me and Mr Brooks’ regarding this. My youtube handle is Lalitaditya Muktapida. I will summarize it here

Masculineffort: This time while I was serving a Goenka course, a Thai Gentleman who was a fellow server freely talked about his experience of Jhana while practicing anapana sati. Nobody felt it necessary to censure him or tell him he was practicing wrong. In a 10 day course, during Anapana days, nothing or no one prevents or stops you from going up to the 8th Jhana. And while observing sensations, going up to the 4th Jhana is considered mandatory for liberation. I feel you have judged Acharya Goenka unfairly.

Mr Brooks replies after a few days

Jeffrey Brooks: You might wish to consider that until I criticized your beloved guru-ji he, and his assistant teachers regularly marginalized contemplatives who bumped into jhana. So, you can thank me for making it possible to experience jhana at a Goenka retreat. However, this suggests that Goenka and his assistant teachers are still clueless as to the experience of jhana.

Again this statement is not accurate either. Acariya Goenka talks about the Jhanas in the Satipatthana sutta discourses which were recorded in the 1990s or 1980s (not sure). He mentions other traditions in Burma where people go right up to the 8th Jhana. This is Webu Sayadaw’s tradition, unless I am very much mistaken. The Venerable Webu Sayadaw was the one who requested Sayagyi U Ba Khin to start teaching. Does Mr Goenka now sound like a man who would supress the Jhanas? Mr Brooks was kicked out in the 2000s. The discourses applauding the Jhanas were recorded in the 1990s at the latest. How then is it possible that Goenkaji accepted the validity of the Jhanas after Mr. Brooks’ criticism? I say as much

Masculineffort: In the Satipatthana discourses which were recorded in the 90s, Goenkaji talks about all Jhanas, 1-8. He mentions the benefits of the Jhanas and how they are useful to penetrate deeply into the 4 noble truths. He does say that Jhanas 1-4 are sufficient for liberation. No where does he demonize the Jhanas. With great respect, he mentions Webu-Sayadaw tradition where they go all the way to the 8th Jhana to observe reality penetratingly. So, it is not correct for you to claim credit, Mr Brooks!

I comment further

Masculineffort: As I understand it, your experience with Mr Nothnegal took place in the 2000s. After the Satipatthana discourses were recorded. So your assertion that you were the one to thank for the present situation is incorrect. Also, I would love to have Mr. Nothnegal’s viewpoint in this story. Every story after all has two sides. And Mr. Nothnegal’s side is missing in this story. Based on the evidence, I cannot accept your claim that Goenka-Ji and his assistant teachers marginalized Jhana-experiencers

To Mr Brooks’ credit, he makes is reasonable and he says that his being kicked out was taken as evidence that Jhana is suppressed by Goenkaji’s organization

Jeffrey Brooks: Well, the evidence is I was kicked out of a Goenka course because my head bobs slightly when I meditate. It just so happens that when I am in deep meditation my head tends to bob on its won. Mr. Nothnegal kicked me out because I would not make my head stop bobbing. I tired to explain to him it bobs on its own. It just so happens that my head bobs when I am in jhana. I took it that the experience of jhana is forbidden at a Goenka course.

But here he makes further sweeping claims

Jeffrey Brooks: After getting kicked out of a Goenka course because my head bobs when I am in jhana I did a great deal of research into how Buddhist meditation teachers understand the experience of deep meditation. From that research I have found no evidence to support a belief that any Buddhist priest of meditation teacher has meditated deeply in more than 2000 years. However, you are free to believe and express what you wish. I just hope that you feel I have the same freedom.

First I regretted his getting kicked out.

Masculineffort: Your experience was very unfortunate. I am very sure that some of the teachers I have meditated under in Goenka retreats would never do what Mr Nothnegal has done. As long as you were attempting to keep your attention on your breath, none of the teacher’s I know would have bothered about your unintentional head bobbing. This suggests that Mr. Nothnegal should not be a teacher. But Jhana that is achieved with breath as the object is not only permitted, but applauded in this tradition.

But the later part of his reply got me very curious. What was this research he had done? No buddhist priest of meditation in the last 2000 years had attained Jhana? Who was the last one? And how does he know this last guy attained Jhana but the others did not? What about Buddhaghosa, Ledi Sayadaw, Webu Sayadaw? What makes him so sure that these three had not attained Jhana? If you say no one in the last 2000 years, that means around A.D. 12 there must have been one who did? Who was this? And what was the methodology used to determine that he did indeed attain the Jhanas? I was curious and I posed the question to him after empathizing with his experience of getting kicked out.

Masculineffort: Certainly, I would accord you that same freedom. Does my conduct anywhere suggest otherwise? Belief however must be open to questioning. One must be able to defend one’s beliefs in a reasonable way. So I have a couple questions for you

1. Does this group of non-Jhana experiencers include Buddhaghosa bhadantachariya, Webu Sayadaw and Ledi Sayadaw?

2. By your research, who was the last Buddhist adept who has experienced Deep Jhanic states?

Now here, I seem to have upset him with my line of questioning.

Jeffrey Brooks:

1) Well, first you are the one filibustering my channel; whereas, I am not filibustering yours.

2) I agree beliefs must be unpacked if we want to become enlightened in this very lifetime. So, since we are on the topic of Goenka, then he claims the Buddha taught a meditation technique that was called ‘vipassana;’ however, the term in the suttas that is used for the practice of meditation is ‘sati’ as in sati-pathana, kay-gati-sati, anapana-sati, etc. So, your Goenka-ji seems to be wrong here.

Okay, so he considers my conduct improper. But why? What have I done? But again his argument over semantics of the use of the term Vipassana. I mean who cares what it was called? How is this practical? How does this help anyone? Aren’t we losing the plot here? What a non-sequitor! He continues.

Jeffrey Brooks:

3) Yes, to your 1st question, Buddhaghosa surely had no experience of jhana, because his Vissudhimagga is a joke.

4) The name of the last arahat appears to be lost to history. However, the Abidhamma and the Vissudhimagga are 2 of my proofs that Buddhism has been dead for 21 centuries. The fact that no Buddhist priest today understands jhana, nor its significance is further proof that Buddhism is dead and has been so for a long time.

His comments again raise more questions. What does he mean the Visuddhimagga is a joke. Why is it a Joke? What does Buddhaghosa say that makes it a Joke? And what about the Ven. Webu Sayadaw and the Ven Ledi Sayadaw? That question goes unanswered. Why has he chosen not to answer that? And he claims the last arahat is lost to history. Then what is the basis for the statement that no one in the last 2000 years has attained Jhana. When you say something like that, should you not also mention who that guy was? Then how do you know it was 2000 years ago and not a 1000 years ago or 2500 years ago? I wanted to question him further regarding this, but first I needed to consider that he considers my presence at his channel to be filibustering. My presence is unwelcome. If that is so, I must respect his boundaries and withdraw my presence. I say as much

Masculineffort: Filibustering your channel has never been the intention. The intention is to learn where you are coming from thus allowing me to examine my own beliefs rigorously. To this end, I have already mailed an AT from the Goenka tradition asking for clarification whether it is standard practice to ask a person to leave the course if his head bobs unintentionally. If you still feel my conduct is improper, I apologise. Therefore, unless you indicate otherwise, I will cease commenting with immediate effect.

My curiosity is still there. So I register on his forum. But it seems you cannot post there without permission from Mr. Brooks. So I send him an email asking permission to post there or at the very least ask him if he would like to come and post on this humble blog.

Dear Mr Brooks,

This is Lalitaditya Muktapida from youtube. I have several comments on your youtube channel for the video, “The Experience of Jhana is forbidden at a Goenka Retreat”
I regret if my comments can be interpreted as filibustering. In my defense, that was not my intent. I do not understand why you interpreted it that way. I have said as much on your page and have ceased commenting or asking questions on that page pending your approval.
My curiosity regarding your research is still unsatisfied however. I still have questions. May I continue asking questions on this forum of yours?
In case I am also unwelcome on this forum, may I ask you to comment on my blog in answer to my questions?

—Lalit

Before I comment any further, let us give Mr Brooks a chance and see what he has to say before coming to any definite conclusions.

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About masculineffort

A Man should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, seduce a woman, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
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10 Responses to A rebuttal to Mr Jeffrey Brooks, a.k.a. Jhanananda: Part – III: Suppression of Jhana by the VRI organization

  1. Paul says:

    I find it difficult to take Jeffrey Brooks’ critique seriously. It is loaded with non-neutral and accusatory language. The amount of trouble he had accepting his status as a “new student,” (which, as you point out, is strictly for organizational convenience) speaks volumes to the amount that the amount that his ego was invested in his experience at the retreat, and of course, it just gets worse from there.

    It’s too bad. It seems that he’s got a tremendous amount of practice under his belt, but his humility has not matched pace with his practice, and that is a dangerous combination that leads to ego inflation.

    Goenka retreats have evolved a very specific format that works well and is accessible for many people. It obviously doesn’t work well for Mr. Brooks, but rather than surrender to the technique and give it a fair shot, and rather than deciding it doesn’t work for him and leaving, he attempted instead to bend the retreat to conform to his own ideas of how meditation should be performed. When this didn’t work, he resorts to accusations of “cult” behavior.

    • Friend, it seems Jeffrey Brooks has only been practicing concentration. Concentration for concentration’s sake or for the sake of pleasure will not liberate one. It will not lead to the arising of the Wisdom that transcends all misery. The purpose of concentration is to be able to look piercingly and penetratingly at the nature of reality. That, Mr Brooks is not doing. The tremendous amount of practice, which you refer to, is only that of concentration. Not wisdom.

  2. Paul says:

    A much better, well-reasoned critique of Goenka retreats can be found here:

  3. Clearly you are new to the SN Goenka’s teaching model, because when I was booted out of one of his retreats about 14 years ago, the term ‘jhana’ was never referred to in his retreats, except in private discussions with the assistant teachers who claimed jhana was a meditation technique that they did not approve of. So, apparently, SN Goenka has learned a few things in my criticism, such as jhana is not meditation technique, but the definition of sama-samadhi in the suttas (see DN-22). Now, if he could only learn that there is no place in the suttas where vipassana is described as a meditation technique. It is in fact a superior fruit (maha-phala) of the contemplative life, (see DN-2).

    • Paul says:

      I doubt that Goenka ever regarded your criticism at all. The Goenka/U Ba Khin is a “dry” insight school like several other schools (Mahasi Sayadaw comes to mind) and doesn’t emphasize development of the jhanas. I realize this offends your sensibilities, but that’s the way it is. I’m sure Goenka had familiarity enough with the suttas to know that vipassana is not described as a meditation technique there. However, the term “vipassana meditation” is used in traditions outside of the Goenka/U Ba Khin tradition to describe this dry insight technique. Your insistence on semantics is a bit pedantic.

      “The fact that no Buddhist priest today understands jhana, nor its significance is further proof that Buddhism is dead and has been so for a long time.”

      Mr. Brooks, are you saying that you have a greater understanding of the Buddha’s teachings than any Buddhist priest today?

      • Friend, Paul. It is wonderful to read your comment. I too am bewildered by Mr. Brooks insistence on Semantics.

        Still, I’d like to make a small clarification. My understanding is that GoenkaJi does not talk about the Jhanas in his regular 10-day course due to his belief that Theory must keep with practice. But in the more advanced courses such as Satipatthana, special 10-Day, there is talk about the Jhanas and they are talked of in a very positive way. Certainly this tradition emphasizes the Jhanas. They are considered essential. But Jhanas just for the sake of Jhanas is considered just pleasant living. According to this tradition, Jhanas are useful only to the extent that one uses them to look piercingly and penetratingly into the nature of misery. So I have to disagree with your statement that this school does not emphasize the Jhanas. It just says that even if you do not get to the Jhanas, purification still happens by equanimously observing the impermanence of Phenomena. In the Jhanas, this process just speeds up and the purification is much deeper.

        Also if you read the VRI publications on Ledi Sayadaw, it becomes clear that Ledi Sayadaw had got to the 4th Jhana. This event is praised in the said article.

    • Sir, I was not there when you were booted out. This is much like a he-said she-said situation. I’m not saying you are lying. I’m saying I don’t know. But there is a big possibility that you were booted out because your conduct was not proper.

      As for Jhanas, did you not read what I said about the Satipatthana Sutta discourses? The Satipatthana course is not a regular 10 day course. You barely even read my rebuttal.

    • Patricia Kelly says:

      Hello Mr Brooks,
      Firstly I would like to thank you for your very informative experience of Goanka retreat. I also was kicked out after 5 days because I was shaking. The assistant teacher asked what I was experiencing when I told him my experience I knew I would be out of there as his micro expressions gave it away.

      • lalit says:

        That is fascinating Ms. Patricia Kelly. I am assuming from your name that you are a female. And it seems the assistant teacher you were talking to was male (as you refer to the teacher as a He). I always thought that the courses have two teachers, one male and one female. The male teacher talks exclusively to the male students and the Female students talk exclusively to the female students. So it does seem that the course you attended was a strange one indeed.

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