Celebrated Vipassana meditation teacher S. N. Goenka interprets the Buddha’s teachings in this collection of lectures, essays, and interviews. These writings provide insights into how one of the most influential contemporary Buddhist practitioners defines Vipassana and how he uses it to achieve peace of mind and lead a happy, useful life. Included are transcripts of recent talks given at the World Economic Forum in Davos and at the Millennium World Peace Summit, and a previously unpublished interview conducted by Alan AtKisson, former editor of In Context magazine.
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About the Author
S. N. Goenka has trained more than 700 assistant teachers who conduct courses in Vipassana centers around the world. He is the author of The Discourse Summaries, The Gracious Flow of Dharma, and Satipatthana Sutta Discourses.
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Inner Peace Through Inner Wisdom
By S.N. Goenka
Pariyatti PublishingCopyright © 2002 Vipassana Research Institute
All rights reserved.
S. N. Goenka
A Teacher for the World
Mr. Satya Narayan Goenka, the foremost lay teacher of Vipassana meditation, was a student of the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma (Myanmar). The technique which Mr. Goenka teaches represents a tradition that is traced back to the Buddha. The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma — the way to liberation — which is universal. In the same way, Mr. Goenka's approach is totally nonsectarian. For this reason his teaching has a profound appeal to people of all backgrounds, of every religion and no religion, from every part of the world.
From Businessman to Spiritual Teacher
Mr. Goenka was born in Mandalay, Myanmar, in 1924. He joined his family business in 1940 and rapidly became a pioneering industrialist, establishing several manufacturing corporations. He soon became a leading figure in Myanmar's large influential Indian community, and for many years headed such organizations as the Burma Marwari Chamber of Commerce and the Rangoon Chamber of Commerce & Industry. He often accompanied Union of Burma trade delegations on international tours as an advisor.
In 1956 Mr. Goenka took his first ten-day Vipassana course at the International Meditation Center in Rangoon, under the guidance of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. In 1964-1966 Mr. Goenka's businesses and industries were taken over when the newly installed military government of Myanmar nationalized all industry in the country. This gave him an opportunity to spend more time with his teacher for meditation and in-depth training, all the while remaining a devoted family man and father of six sons. After fourteen years practicing with his teacher, he was appointed a teacher of Vipassana himself and devoted his life to spreading the technique for the benefit of all humanity. Shortly thereafter he came to India and conducted his first ten-day meditation course in 1969. In India, a country still sharply divided by caste and religion, Vipassana has been widely and easily accepted because of its nonsectarian nature.
The Vipassana International Academy (Dhamma Giri) was established in 1974 in Igatpuri, near Mumbai, India. Courses of ten days duration and longer are held there continuously. In 1979 Mr. Goenka began traveling abroad to introduce Vipassana in other countries of the world. He has personally taught tens of thousands of people in more than 400 ten-day courses in Asia, North America, Europe and Australasia.
In response to an ever-growing demand, he started training assistant teachers to conduct these ten-day residential courses on his behalf. To date, he has trained more than 700 assistant teachers who have, with the help of thousands of volunteers, held Vipassana courses in more than 90 countries, including the People's Republic of China, Iran, Muscat, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Russia, Serbia, Taiwan, Cambodia, Mexico and all the countries of South America. More than 100 centers devoted to the teaching of Vipassana have been established in 21 countries. Today more than 1,000 courses are held annually around the world. One of the unique aspects of these Vipassana courses is that they are offered free of any charge for board, lodging or tuition; the expenses are completely met by voluntary donations. Neither Mr. Goenka nor his assistants receive any financial gain from these courses.
A prolific writer and poet, Mr. Goenka composes in English, Hindi and Rajasthani, and his works have been translated into many languages. He has been invited to lecture by institutes as diverse as the Dharma Drum Mountain Monastery (of Ven. Sheng Yen) in Taiwan; the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations where he stressed for the assembled spiritual leaders the overreaching importance of inner peace to effect real world peace.
Teaching for All Sections of Society: From Prisoners to Government Officials
Vipassana meditation has been taught to prison inmates and staff in many parts of India as well as the United States, Britain, New Zealand, Taiwan and Nepal. There are permanent Vipassana centers in two Indian prisons. More than 10,000 inmates have attended ten-day Vipassana courses in jails and prisons. One thousand prisoners participated in a ground-breaking ten-day course conducted by Mr. Goenka in Tihar Jail, Delhi, in April, 1994. What started in a dramatic way in Tihar has now spread all over India. Convinced of its positive effects the Government of India has recommended that every prison in the country should organize ten-day Vipassana courses for inmates. As a result hundreds of prisoners continue to participate in Vipassana retreats every month. In addition, thousands of police officers have also attended Vipassana courses at the meditation center at the Police Academy, Delhi, and at other centers in India.
Men and women from all walks of life successfully practice Vipassana. They include the highly educated and the illiterate, the wealthy and the impoverished, aristocrats and slum-dwellers, devout followers of every religion and followers of none, the powerful and the powerless, the elderly and the young. Courses have been organized for people with disabilities, including the blind and leprosy patients. Other programs have focused on school children, drug addicts, homeless children, college students and business executives.
High level institutions in India, such as the governments of the states of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh; large corporations such as the Oil and Natural Gas Commission; leading research institutes such as the Bhabha Atomic Research Institute; and national training institutes such as the Indian Institute of Taxation — all encourage their employees to attend Vipassana courses as part of their ongoing job training.
Commitment to Peace
Mr. Goenka believes and teaches that for peace outside (among nations, among different communities) there must be peace inside. Individuals must learn the "art of living "in order to live peaceful lives. This is the heart of his teaching to people from different backgrounds. One important consequence of his work in India has been a subtle but telling influence on interreligious harmony. Thousands of Catholic priests, Buddhist monks, Jain ascetics, Hindu sanyasis and other religious leaders have come, and continue to come, to Vipassana courses. The universality of Vipassana — the core of the Buddha's teaching — is providing a way whereby ideological differences can be bridged and people of diverse backgrounds can experience deep benefits without fearing conversion.
Mr. Goenka recently made history in India when he and a leading Hindu leader, HH Shankaracharya of Kanchi, met and together exhorted Hindus and Buddhists alike to forget past differences and live in harmony. After this initial meeting Mr. Goenka also met HH Shankaracharya of Sringeri and many other top Hindu leaders in an effort to establish harmonious relations between Hindu and Buddhist communities.
Despite this positive development, mere exhortations alone cannot bring about the much desired reconciliation and cooperative spirit. Only when individuals undertake to remove from within themselves the blocks to peace and harmony can peace begin to flower outside and affect society. For this reason Mr. Goenka has always emphasized that the practical application of meditation is what will enable human beings to achieve inner as well as outer peace.CHAPTER 2
Vipassana Meditation and the Laws of Nature
An Interview with S.N. Goenka by Alan AtKisson
Introduction: I can't tell you anything about what Vipassana meditation feels like, because I've never done it. But while definitions are tricky, what we call "spirituality" — the reaching of human awareness and conduct toward "that truth which passeth all understanding" — seems basic to meeting the enormous challenges of our times.
Which is why I accepted an invitation to interview S. N. Goenka during his 1992 visit to the Seattle area, where I was living at the time. Goenka — a leading teacher of the ancient Vipassana meditation technique — is not spiritual "leader" in the sense one usually means by the term, for he has no "followers." He would likely prefer to be described as a scientist who researches the relationship of mind, body, and matter via insight meditation, and teaches others how to do the same — directly, for themselves.
A former wealthy industrialist, born in Burma to parents of Indian descent, Goenka turned to Vipassana (which means "insight," as in "seeing into reality as it is") when nothing else could alleviate his severe migraine headaches. He was introduced to the practice — reputed to be the method of meditation originally taught by the Buddha, though Vipassana itself is not a sectarian movement — by senior Burmese government official and meditation master, Sayagyi U Ba Khin.
Goenka became a devoted practitioner of Vipassana, and in 1969, having given up his businesses in Burma, he moved to India to begin teaching the technique in the land where it originated.
Two decades later, there are Vipassana meditation centers throughout the world, and they attract people from all faiths.
Many things seem to distinguish Vipassana (as taught by Goenka) from other meditation techniques, including its insistence on receiving an initial ten-day training directly from a qualified teacher.
But more importantly, in an era when too many priests and gurus have been accused of sexual or financial misconduct, the Goenka-led Vipassana network seems beyond reproach. As Goenka explains below, no one is allowed to pay for training in Vipassana, and no teacher is permitted to earn money from teaching. The expenses of those who take the training courses are covered by donations of time and money from students who came before them and want to help spread the benefit of the practice.
The following is condensed from a lengthy interview conducted at the Northwest Vipassana Center in Onalaska, Washington, in the summer of 1991.
— Alan AtKisson
* * *
Question:Many people today are embracing the idea that truths are multiple — that there are many different kinds of truth, that truth is something created by humans and that there is no one ultimate truth. Yet Vipassana, as I understand it, seems to point toward an understanding of truth as something absolute. From the perspective of Vipassana, what is truth?
Goenkaji: You are quite correct when you say that, generally, human beings have created truth. Different people have different views. Human beings are intellectual beings, and at the level of intellect — reasoning, logic — someone will say, "Perhaps this is so. It appears to be so. This seems logical." Someone else will say, "No, this is not logical, that is logical." All those perceptions are at the intellectual level, and the intellect has its own limitation — it differs from person to person.
But there are basic laws of the nature: for example, fire burns. What does this have to do with intellect? It is simply the truth. If you put your hand in the fire, it burns. If it does not burn, it is not fire, though it may be something else. This is the law of nature, which can be experienced by one and all. It is not somebody's intellectual game — it is truth.
Vipassana meditation works with the actual truth, which can be experienced by one and all. Vipassana is not an intellectual game. It is also not an emotional or devotional game. This is another kind of truth that human beings create: "I have great devotion in Buddha, so whatever Buddha says is the truth." "I have great devotion for Jesus Christ," and I will say, "Whatever Jesus Christ said is truth." These are devotional games and they also vary from person to person.
So truths which are based on devotion, or truths which are based on intellect, will always differ. They cannot be the same. But truth based on actual experience will remain the same.
Vipassana gives importance to the actual experience. The truth experienced by each individual is the truth for that person.
Now there are levels of experience; one may not be able to experience a particular truth now. But as one goes deeper inside — experimenting, experimenting, and starts experiencing subtler things, then everyone will experience the same subtle reality at the deeper level. It is not that only a particular gifted person will experience it — the law of nature is the same law for everybody.
Anybody who puts a hand in fire gets burned. Fire won't discriminate for a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew. The defilements of the mind act the same way: if you generate anger, hatred, ill will, animosity, passion, fear, ego, worry, anxiety — any impurity in the mind — it will make you miserable, it will make everyone miserable. The result is the same for an Indian or a Russian, a European or an American. The law of the nature does not discriminate, does not favor. This is truth, truth eternal — for everybody, all the time, past, present and future.
Similarly, if the mind is free from these defilements — if one does not generate anger and the mind is free from negativity, if the mind is pure — one will notice that the mind becomes full of love, full of compassion and goodwill. These good qualities arise naturally in a pure mind. And when these wholesome qualities are in the mind, one naturally feels very peaceful, very harmonious. Again, this is a law of nature. Whether you are a Muslim or a Hindu or a Christian, makes no difference, white or black or yellow, makes no difference.
Purity of the mind makes us feel very happy, peaceful and harmonious. We may belong to any community, any religion, any sect or none at all. Vipassana is beyond all religions, beyond all sects, beyond all beliefs, beyond all dogmas or cults. It is a pure science of mind and matter — of how they interact, how they keep on influencing and being influenced by each other. This reality is not to be accepted at the intellectual level, not to be accepted at the devotional level; it has to be experienced by each individual.
Suppose I have never experienced the burning of fire. I may have understood it intellectually because others have said, "If you put your hand in fire, it will burn." But once I have actually put my hand on a fire, and I find that it burns, naturally I will keep my hand away from fire afterwards. In the same way, if we understand intellectually that all these negativities make us unhappy, this is an intellectual understanding. But when you go deep inside, you can experience this truth for yourself: "Look, anger has arisen, and I have become so agitated. Passion has arisen, I have become so agitated. When any impurity arises, I become so agitated, so irritated, so miserable." You are experiencing it. And when you experience it directly, the next time you will be more careful not to generate such negativity: "Look, this is like fire. If I generate anger, it burns.
This is not a sermon, there is no a devotion involved: it is a fact, a hard fact of the life. If you defile your mind nature, the law of nature, starts punishing you then and there. It won't wait until after death and take you to hell. You suffer the pangs of hell now. You become so miserable. Similarly if you keep your mind pure — full of love, compassion and goodwill — it starts giving the reward here and now. Look, your mind is pure, no negativity: you feel so peaceful, so happy. So simple.
That's all Vipassana is, just following the law of nature. And by practicing, practicing; experiencing, experiencing, one starts changing the behavior pattern of the mind.
To come out of misery and live a happy life — everyone wants this, but one doesn't know how to do it. By the practice of Vipassana you go to the depth of your mind — where the actual misery starts because of these negativities, where the actual happiness is experienced because of the absence of these negativities — and once you start experiencing these things for yourself, a change automatically happens in your mind. You live a better life. Everyone lives better life.
Question:Is Vipassana a religion?
Goenkaji: No. There is no cult or sect or religion involved in Vipassana. For example, people used to be under the impression that the world was flat. And Galileo said, "No, it is round and it rotates on its own axis." This was so even before Galileo; it was so at the time of Galileo; it was so afterwards. People simply started accepting it: "Yes, it's true, it's round, it's rotating." They didn't get converted to "Galileoism," they didn't become "Galileo-ists." Similarly, there is a law of gravity in nature. Newton discovered it. That doesn't mean he created a law; the law was always there. The law of relativity was there too; Einstein discovered it.
Excerpted from Meditation Now by S.N. Goenka. Copyright © 2002 Vipassana Research Institute. Excerpted by permission of Pariyatti Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsS. N. Goenka: A Teacher for the World,
Vipassana Meditation and the Laws of Nature An Interview with S.N. Goenka by Alan AtKisson,
Essays by S. N. Goenka,
Hatred Is Never Appeased by Hatred,
The Universal Message of Peace Address to the Millennium World Peace Summit, August 2000,
The Meaning of Happiness,
The Art of Living,
How to Defend the Republic,
Awareness of Natural Respiration,
Walk the Path Yourself,
The Importance of Daily Meditation,
Awaken in Wisdom,
The Essence of Wisdom,
Work Out Your Own Salvation,
Freedom from Addiction,
The Merits of Dana,