Friday, October 4, 2013

S.N. Goenka: The Man who Taught the World to Meditate

" I am against conversion (to Buddhism). In my speech at UN, the first thing I said was that I am for conversion, but not from one organised religion to another, but from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation."
  (Indian Express interview, 2010)[4]

"A teacher should not be made an idol, like a god. He is a teacher. If you want to get any help, you practice what is being taught, that's all." 

(Indian Express interview, 2010) "

(On ritualism)... 
"if my teacher had asked me to perform rites or rituals, I would have said good-bye. My own Hindu tradition was full of rituals and ceremonies, so to start again with another set of rituals didn't make sense. 

But my teacher said, "No ritual. Buddha taught only sila, samadhi, panna. Nothing else. There is nothing to be added and nothing to be subtracted." 

As the Buddha said, "Kevalaparipunnam." (Pali: "The whole technique is complete by itself.") "
(Shambhala Sun interview)


Disciples and relatives at S N Goenka’s house in Mumbai on Sunday. Vasant Prabhu

Vipassana guru:  The ancient technique was part of prison reforms carried out in Delhi's Tihar Jail in early 1990s and it was taught to inmates there. Later, several prisons in India and other countries introduced Vipassana for inmates. 

In 1982, Goenka began to appoint assistant teachers to help him meet the growing demand for courses.

In 2000, Goenka addressed the Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Besides India, Vipassana centres have come up in countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand under his  guidance.


Satya Narayan Goenka did not set out to be a meditation guru... created a  non-sectarian movement.

He was an Indian businessman who happened to come across the teachings of a then-radical Burmese Buddhist tradition which had adapted Buddhist meditation practices and taught them to laypeople. 

That may not seem so radical today, but one hundred years ago, it absolutely was.
Goenka was one of many laypeople whose lives were changed by meditation - but he had the widest influence.

He was a core teacher for the first generation of "insight" meditation teachers to have an impact in the United States, and through them, to popularizers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) is now taught across the country in hospitals, schools, even prisons.

Indeed, the very notion that meditation may be practiced in a non-religious, non-sectarian way owes much to Goenka.

Basically a rationalist and a pragmatist, Goenka emphasized that meditation was not spirituality and not religion, but more like a technology - a set of tools for upgrading and optimizing the mind.
... You don't have to believe anything, wear special clothes, or chant special words in order to calm the mind, improve memory, and attain the various other benefits of meditation.

At the same time, Goenka did work within a specific Buddhist tradition, and created a very rigorous format designed to attain certain levels of mental understanding on ten and twenty day silent retreats.

To Westerners, he can indeed seem like the very image of the Indian sage, talking about enlightenment while insisting on a very demanding (and inflexible) set of contemplative exercises. 

Goenka retreats are austere - not only no speaking, but also no reading or writing, and with arduous schedules of concentration and meditation.

Goenka's method has become something of a fixation for his followers.

To this day, Goenka-style retreats are taught by Goenka himself - by video, of course - and it was Goenka's insistence on this point that led some of his leading American students to break from their master and create the forms of mindfulness more familiar to us today. 

Studies suggest that one million more Americans take up meditation every year - mostly in healthcare contexts.

These people are not interested in enlightenment or awakening, and they aren't about to spend ten days in silence watching videotapes of spiritual teachings.

 They are taking up mindfulness (basically, paying attention to present-moment experience in a particular, focused way, whether in formal meditation or in other activities) because they're suffering from chronic pain or post-traumatic stress.

Or they're doing it because they work at Google, or Twitter, or Apple, or one of the dozens of technology companies using mindfulness to improve the performance and well-being of employees.

This is how the teachings known as the "dharma" have evolved - beyond religion, beyond spirituality, into every walk of life. 

America is on the threshold of a mindfulness revolution. As the data regarding mindfulness's economic impact becomes better developed and better known, we are going to see mindfulness offered everywhere - not for reasons of spirituality, but for sheer economics.

These technologies decrease healthcare costs, improve productivity, and speed processes of healing...

Although Indian by descent, Mr. Goenka was born and raised in Burma. While living in Burma he had the good fortune to come into contact with U Ba Khin, and to learn the technique of Vipassana from him.

After receiving training from his teacher for fourteen years, Mr. Goenka settled in India and began teaching Vipassana in 1969. In a country still sharply divided by differences of caste and religion, the courses offered by Mr. Goenka have attracted thousands of people from every part of society. In addition, many people from countries around the world have come to join courses in Vipassana meditation.

by Jay Michaelson 

Author, 'Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment'

Reads more:
 LINK:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-michaelson/sn-goenka-dead_b_4016374.html

Goemka was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2012 for social work.

S. N. Goenka
Born Satya Narayan Goenka
January 30, 1924
Mandalay, Burma, British Indian Empire
Died September 29, 2013 (aged 89)
Mumbai, India
Occupation vipassana meditation teacher
Spouse(s) Elaichi Devi Goenka

Satya Narayan Goenka

(January 30, 1924 – September 29, 2013) was a noted Burmese-Indian teacher of Vipassanā meditation

Born in Burma, he followed the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, under whom he trained for 14 years. In 1969, he shifted to India and started teaching meditation, and started a mediation centre at Igatpuri, near Nashik in 1976.

In time, he became an influential non-sectarian teacher of the Vipassana movement and a pioneer of the Vipassana meditation in India.[1] He trained more than 800 assistant teachers and each year more than 100,000 people attend Goenka led Vipassana courses.

The technique which S. N. Goenka teaches represents a tradition that is traced back to the Buddha. Goenka emphasizes that, "The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma - the way to liberation - which is universal"[2] and presents his teachings as non-sectarian and open to people of all faiths or no faith.

 "Liberation" in this context means freedom from impurities of mind and, as a result of the process of cultivating a pure mind, freedom from suffering.[3] Goenka calls Vipassana meditation an experiential scientific practice, through which one can observe the constantly changing nature of the mind and body at the deepest level, a profound understanding that leads to a truly happy and peaceful life.

Ten-day Vipassana courses are held all over the world where students learn the technique while observing Noble Silence and following a strict moral code of conduct.

To quiet the mind during Vipassana courses, students are asked to have no contact with the outside world or other students, though they may talk to an assistant teacher about questions concerning the technique or to a student manager for any material problems.

Mere observation of breath allows the mind to become naturally concentrated, a practice called Anapana.

This concentration prepares one for the main part of the practice—non-attached observation of the reality of the present moment, as it manifests in one's own mind and body. This is the Vipassana practice itself which involves carefully "scanning" the surface of the body with one's attention and observing the sensations with equanimity, becoming progressively more aware of their ever-changing nature.

Goenka explains in his talks that the practice of Vipassana is the essence of the path of Dhamma, the path to Truth. He does not claim that this Vipassana tradition is the only way to Truth, and constantly reminds students of the Universal and non-sectarian quality of this path. However he claims that an authentic tradition survived in Burma, passing from teacher to student in a long lineage from the time of the Buddha to his teacher, U Ba Khin, and now through himself, to the student.

In his courses and lectures Goenka describes Vipassana meditation as a scientific investigation of the mind-matter phenomenon.

Theoretical component

Goenka invites students to consider the theoretical aspects of his teachings, advising that they can take out whatever they find objectionable. Goenka repeatedly states that the goal of the technique is to attain the deathless.

In the Vipassana Journal 2nd Ed. 1983 in an article titled "Let us talk sense" at p. 29 Goenka quotes Buddha, who is reported to state, "Open are the gates of the deathless state to those with ears (who can hear) who renounce their lack of faith".

Goenka also provides some instructions and theory online through the Vipassana Research Institute, where he indicates deathlessness as the goal of the technique:

"Fight this battle. Lust is something which keeps following you life after life and it is a very deep sankhara. Whenever sexual desire arises in the mind don't focus on the object of the lust. Just accept the fact of lust as lust. "

At this moment my mind is full of lust.

" Accept this, and see what sensation you have. At that moment start observing whatever sensation predominates anywhere in the body, and keep understanding, "

Anicca, anicca. This is not permanent, this is not permanent. 
This lust that has come is also not permanent; let me see how long it lasts." In this way the sexual desire becomes weaker and weaker and passes away. "

Escaping the cycle of becoming, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth again is according to Mr. Goenka the ultimate goal of the technique.

On the Vipassana Research Institute website Mr. Goenka has written an article titled:
"Was The Buddha A Pessimist?" - Acharya S. N. Goenka 

"The Noble Truth of suffering is explained in four aspects. . .


To experience for oneself the unborn state where nothing arises

To experience for oneself the deathless state where nothing passes away. . ."

"If a person of any race, caste or class—walking on the path of the Dhamma (Universal Law) by the development of morality, mastery over the mind and experiential wisdom—attained the first of the four stages of liberation, he was called an Ārya (a Noble One).

This stage is called sotāpanna (stream-enterer)—that is, this person has entered the stream of complete liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Such a person is partially liberated. 

One is totally freed from the possibility of future lives in the lower worlds because of eradication of all kammas (karmas) that would take one to such lower worlds even though one still has some kammas left which will result in a maximum of seven lives before final liberation from all rebirth. 

Hence, one is entitled to the epithet of ārya. 

Continuing the practice of Vipassana, the practitioner successively becomes a sakadāgāmī (once-returner), anāgāmī (non-returner) and finally attains the state of an arahat (fully liberated being). 

Thus, ārya-satya (Noble Truth) is a truth through the experience of which anyone can become an ārya—noble person. . . . 

We get attached to the five aggregates thinking, 
"This is my mind," 
"This is my body," and 
we cling to them as "me" and "mine". 

This deep attachment to these five aggregates leads to the repeated cycle of birth and death. 

Who can deny the truth of this reality of suffering?

 At least all the spiritual traditions of India accept the cycle of becoming as misery and aim at getting liberated from this cycle, to attain the deathless."

External links



 Other sources:

 Press Trust Of India : Mumbai, Tue Oct 01 2013

Shambhala Sun web site

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