The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation as Taught by S. N. Goenka


The Ancient Meditation Technique that Brings Real Peace of Mind

Vipassand-bhavand, "the development of insight," embodies the essence of the teaching of the Buddha. As taught by S. N. Goenka, this path to self-awareness is extraordinary in its simplicity, its lack of dogma and, above all, its results. The Vipassana technique can be successfully applied by anyone.

Based on the lectures and writings of S. N. Goenka--and prepared under his direct ...

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The Ancient Meditation Technique that Brings Real Peace of Mind

Vipassand-bhavand, "the development of insight," embodies the essence of the teaching of the Buddha. As taught by S. N. Goenka, this path to self-awareness is extraordinary in its simplicity, its lack of dogma and, above all, its results. The Vipassana technique can be successfully applied by anyone.

Based on the lectures and writings of S. N. Goenka--and prepared under his direct guidance--The Art of Living shows how this technique can be used to solve problems, develop unused potential, and lead a peaceful, productive life. It includes stories by S. N. Goenka, as well as answers to students' questions, that convey a vivid sense of his teaching.

S. N. Goenka's Vipassana courses have attracted thousands of people of every background. Unique among teachers of meditation, Goenka is a retired industrialist and former leader of the Indian Community in Burma. Although a layman, his teaching has won the approval of senior Buddhist monks in Burma, India, and Sri Lanka, a number of whom have taken courses under his guidance. Despite his magnetism, he has no wish to be a "guru" --instead he teaches self-responsibility. This is the first systematic study of his teachings to appear in English.

The first systematic study in English of S.N. Goenka's extraordinary teaching of the Buddhist path to self-awareness.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060637248
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/2009
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 113,749
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

William Hart has studied Vipassana for many years. Since 1982, he has been conducting Vipassana courses in the West as an assistant teacher of S.N. Goenka.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Search

All of us seek peace and harmony, because this is what we lack in our lives. We all want to be happy; we regard it as our right. Yet happiness is a goal we strive toward more often than attain. At times we all experience dissatisfaction in life -- agitation, irritation, disharmony, suffering. Even if at this moment we are free from such dissatisfactions, we can all remember a time when they afflicted us and can foresee a time when they may recur. Eventually we all must face the suffering of death.

Nor do our personal dissatisfactions remain limited to ourselves; instead, we keep sharing our suffering with others. The atmosphere around each unhappy person becomes charged with agitation, so that all who enter that environment may also feel agitated and unhappy. In this way individual tensions combine to create the tensions of society.

This is the basic problem of life: its unsatisfactory nature. Things happen that we do not want; things that we want do not happen. And we are ignorant of how or why this process works, just as we are each ignorant of our own beginning and end.

Twenty-five centuries ago in northern India, a man decided to investigate this problem, the problem of human suffering. After years of searching and trying various methods, he discovered a way to gain insight into the reality of his own nature and to experience true freedom from suffering. Having reached the highest goal of liberation, of release from misery and conflict, he devoted the rest of his life to helping others do as he had done, showing them the way to liberate themselves.

This person -- SiddhatthaGotama, known as the Buddha, "the enlightened one" -- never claimed to be anything other than a man.

Like all great teachers he became the subject of legends, but no matter what marvelous stories were told of his past existences or his miraculous powers, still all accounts agree that he never claimed to be divine or to be divinely inspired. Whatever special qualities he had were pre-eminently human qualities that he had brought to perfection. Therefore, whatever he achieved is within the grasp of any human being who works as he did.

The Buddha did not teach any religion or philosophy or system of belief. He called his teaching Dhamma, that is, "law," the law of nature. He had no interest in dogma or idle speculation. Instead he offered a universal, practical solution for a universal problem. "Now as before," he said, "I teach about suffering and the eradication of suffering." He refused even to discuss anything which did not lead to liberation from misery.

This teaching, he insisted, was not something that he had invented or that was divinely revealed to him. It was simply the truth, reality, which by his own efforts he had succeeded in discovering, as many people before him had done, as many people after him would do. He claimed no monopoly on the truth.

Nor did he assert any special authority for his teaching-neither because of the faith that people had in him, nor because of the apparently logical nature of what he taught. On the contrary, he stated that it is proper to doubt and to test whatever is beyond one's experience:

Do not simply believe whatever you are told, or whatever has been handed down from past generations, or what is common opinion, or whatever the scriptures say. Do not accept something as true merely by deduction or inference, or by considering outward appearances, or by partiality for a certain view, or because of its plausibility, or because your teacher tells you it is so. But when you yourselves directly know, "These principles are unwholesome, blameworthy, condemned by the wise; when adopted and carried out they lead to harm and suffering," then you should abandon them. And when you yourselves directly know, "These principles are wholesome, blameless, praised by the wise; when adopted and carried out they lead to welfare and happiness," then you should accept and practice them.'

The highest authority is one's own experience of truth. Nothing should be accepted on faith alone; we have to examine to see whether it is logical, practical, beneficial. Nor having examined a teaching by means of our reason is it sufficient to accept it as true intellectually. If we are to benefit from the truth, we have to experience it directly. Only then can we know that it is really true. The Buddha always emphasized that he taught only what he had experienced by direct knowledge, and he encouraged others to develop such knowledge themselves, to become their own authorities: "Each of you, make yourself an island, make yourself your refuge; there is no other refuge. Make truth your island, make truth your refuge; there is no other refuge."'

The only real refuge in life, the only solid ground on which to take a stand, the only authority that can give proper guidance and protection is truth, Dhamma, the law of nature, experienced and verified by oneself. Therefore in his teaching the Buddha always gave highest importance to the direct experience of truth. What he had experienced he explained as clearly as possible so that others might have guidelines with which to work toward their own realization of truth. He said, "The teaching I have presented does not have separate outward and inward versions. Nothing has been kept hidden in the fist of the teacher."' He had no esoteric doctrine for a chosen few. On the contrary, he wished to make the law of nature known as plainly and as widely as possible, so that as many people as possible might benefit from it.

Neither was he interested in establishing a sect or a personality cult with himself as its center. The personality of the one who teaches, he maintained, is of minor importance compared to the teaching. His purpose was to show others how to liberate themselves, not to turn them into blind devotees. To a follower who showed excessive veneration for him he said, "What do you gain by seeing this body, which is subject to corruption? He who sees the Dhamma sees me; he who sees me sees the Dhamma."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2007

    A reviewer

    First, a very wee bit about me: before learning the meditation technique taught by the Indian-Burmese meditation master S. N. Goenka, I'd practiced in other traditions for more than 15 years and completed many long retreats. Initially, I only attended a Goenka course because the 10-day retreat was offered for free 'I'm a frugal sort of guy'. But I left with a priceless gift, convinced this type of meditation truly works better than other kinds. To call it a 'Goenka course' is actually a little misleading since it suggests that Goenka invented this type of meditation. He didn't. He learned it in Burma, where it is believed that over the millennia Burmese monks and meditation teachers have preserved the exact method the Buddha himself used. Whether or not this meditation technique is truly the Buddha's original practice, doesn't really matter much once you try it, it is so powerful, you're likely to see how this approach can truly free us from negativity. Spread almost solely through word of mouth, Goenka's courses are now offered on every inhabitable continent on the globe. According to the independent Buddhist magazine Buddhadharma, each year an estimated 100,000 people take a Goenka course. This means he has probably taught more people Buddhist meditation than anyone in history--including the Buddha himself! 'Admittedly, the comparison is a bit silly since the Buddha wasn't able to offer retreats via audio and videotape.' It's worth noting, that although a layman, Mr Goenka, who is independently wealthy, has never made any money from teaching Buddhism. As already noted, his famous ten-day meditation courses are offered for free. After finishing a course, students may give a donation 'to the nonprofit foundation that takes care of the expenses of running a meditation center', but contributions are totally voluntary and there is never any pressure to give. [PARAGRAPH BREAK] [PARAGRAPH BREAK] [PARAGRAPH BREAK] Goenkaji, as his students call him, has a beautiful voice, a delightful accent, a grandfatherly warmth, and a terrific sense of humor. These qualities work well to balance his passion and seriousness of purpose. During a course, he gives a clear and accessible framework for understanding Buddhism and how to do this type of meditation. Through collaboration with the assistant teacher Bill Hart, The Art of Living faithfully presents Goenka's teachings from his 10-day course--minus the meditation instructions and, naturally, the sound of his lyrical voice. The book's strength's are those of Mr. Goenka's: clarity and accessibility. Most of his explanations are illustrated with a traditional Buddhist parable or with a story from his extensive teaching experiences. The book's weakness is that Mr. Goenka's charisma is diminished in print. Like any great teacher or storyteller, the book can't recreate his uncanny sense of timing and his animated voices. Perhaps this weakness isn't apparent to those who read the book before taking a course 'I took a course before reading the book'. Calling this a 'weakness,' though, is not to dis' The Art of Living, which is a valuable resource in its own right. It is helpful to have Mr. Goenka's presentation written down and the book includes some Q & A not presented during a course 'Mr. Goenka, who was born in 1924, and now has compromised health has retired from active teaching'. The Art of Living is generally read by two types: someone who has recently finished a ten-day Goenka retreat or by someone considering taking a course. For the first group or ¿old students¿, the book is a great refresher and offers details you may have missed on the video or audio tape. For the total newcomer, there is a minor dilemma: is it best to know what to expect before you go or to go totally fresh so you get the full impact of his words when you hear them 'live.' Since I took my first course before reading the book and had a powerful exper

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2010

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