Mr. S.N. (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 organisations 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 Centre in Rangoon, under the guidance of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. In 1962 Mr.Goenka’s industries and businesses were taken over when the newly installed military government of Myanmar nationalised 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 14 years practising with his teacher, he was appointed a teacher of Vipassana 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 non-sectarian nature.
The Vipassana International Academy (Dhamma Giri) was established in 1974 in Igatpuri, near Bombay, India. Courses of ten days and even longer duration are held there continuously. In 1979 Mr. Goenka began travelling 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 Australia.
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. More than 80 centres devoted to the teaching of Vipassana have been established in 21 countries. Today more than 1000 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.
Poet and Speaker at distinguished forums
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; 2000
· the Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations, New York, 2000
· Spirit in Business Congress in New York, 2002
· Spirit in Business Congress in Vught, Netherlands, 2002
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. At the Millennium World Peace Summit (United Nations, New York) he stressed for the assembled spiritual leaders of different religions the overriding importance of inner peace to effect real world peace.
One important consequence of his work in India has been a subtle but telling influence on inter-religious 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 uniquely positive development, mere exhortations cannot bring about the much desired reconciliation and co-operative 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. S.N. Goenka has always emphasised that the practical application of meditation is what will enable man to achieve inner as well as outer peace.
The spread of Vipassana
S. N. Goenka began conducting Vipassana courses in India in 1969; after ten years, he was invited for the first time to teach in other countries. The first course in the West was held in July 1979, at Gaillon in France. For over a decade Mr. Goenka travelled regularly to Western countries and conducted ten-day courses.
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, Cuba and all the countries of South America. More than 80 centres devoted to the teaching of Vipassana have been established in 21 countries.
Today more than 1000 courses are held annually around the world and over 100,000 people attend these ten-day Vipassana meditation retreats.
Vipassana across Europe
At present there are seven Vipassana meditation centres in Europe:
Ø France: first Vipassana course in 1979, purchase of centre in 1988.
Ø United Kingdom: first course in 1979, purchase of house in 1987, purchase of centre in
Ø Switzerland: first course in 1980, purchase of centre in 1999.
Ø Germany: first course in 1983, rental of a hotel since 1993, purchase of centre in 2000.
Ø Italy: first course in 1986, purchase of centre in 1998.
Ø Spain: first course in 1984, purchase of centre in 1999.
Ø Belgium: first course in 1985, purchase of centre in 2000.
Moreover, many more courses are offered in several countries at rented sites: first course in the Netherlands in 1988, in Portugal in 1990, in Israel in 1991, in Sweden in 1992, in Russia in 1993, in Romania and Serbia in 1995, in Ireland in 1996, in Hungary, in Denmark, Greece and Austria in 1998 and in Poland in 2002.
Vipassana Centre in Belgium and Germany
The Vipassana centre is situated in the Northeast of Belgium, about 15 km from Sittard (Netherlands), 20 km from Genk (Belgium) and 45 km from Aachen (Germany). Belgium as a trilingual country (Dutch, French and German) is a suitable location for this international centre. Courses are held in 4 languages: English, Dutch, French and German.
The buildings were formerly used as a family hotel. There are 30 double rooms with attached bathrooms. There is also a large meditation hall, kitchen, dining halls and some dormitories.
The centre can accommodate up to 100 people. It is located in a rural green area and is a very suitable place for holding meditation retreats ( www.pajjota.dhamma.org ).
Two courses a month are taking place and since opening in June 2000 about 3,000 people have attended retreats.
The German Vipassana centre is located between Plauen (Sachsen) and Hof (Bavaria) in former East Germany, 15 km away from the Czech border. It lies between the cities of Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and Prague and can be reached within 300 km driving distance.
Situated on top of a hill, the centre overlooks the surrounding Vogtland. The nearest village is about 1 km away so the Vipassana centre remains quiet and undisturbed.
The newly renovated centre can accommodate up to 100 people and opened its gates in December 2002. It offers a regular course programme of two courses a month (www.dvara.dhamma.org ).
For details of courses throughout Europe and worldwide you can visit the Vipassana international website at www.dhamma.org .
All over the world organisations have been established by practising students to offer Vipassana meditation courses as taught by S.N. Goenka. These organisations are legally accepted by the respective governments and are functioning as the official body organising Vipassana courses in this tradition. All Trusts work according to the same Vipassana principles and are non-sectarian and non-commercial in character.
Organisations in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany
In 1987 a legal Trust was organised in Germany called Vipassana-Vereinigung e.V. In 1998 Trusts were founded in the Netherlands and Belgium, namely Vipassana Stichting and vzw Vipassana Belgium.
These organisations share the aim of organising Vipassana courses as taught by S.N. Goenka.
Everyone who has completed a Vipassana course is an old student and he/she can offer his/her service freely in any of the following fields: organisation of courses, serving on courses, kitchen and household work, working in the garden or maintaining the buildings, editing of a magazine, organising information evenings, etc.
In this way the operation is supported by old students who have benefited from the technique and who want to share this with others.
The ongoing work of the Trusts is prepared by temporary or permanent committees such as course organisation, kitchen, household, outreach, finances, newsletter, garden, construction, planning, etc.
Trust meetings are held periodically. Trustees, assistant teachers and other old students present at the meeting take part in the discussion and the decision making process. At the Trust meetings the different commitees also meet in order to discuss the ongoing work and new projects in their respective fields.
All work of trustees and assistant teachers is done on a volunteer basis.
All expenses are met by donations from students who, having completed a Vipassana course and experienced the benefits, wish to give others the same opportunity. In this way the finances of the Vipassana organisations are funded by voluntary donations. The Trusts are not involved in any commercial activities.
Vipassana and Social Change
Vipassana is increasingly recognised and used as a means for improving human welfare.
The Vipassana Research Institute aims to study the application of Vipassana in different fields, such as education, rehabilitation, decrease of stress, (addiction) therapy, management and personal development. From a professional standpoint, the Institute seeks to explore the practical role and potential of this technique in modern society.
Vipassana in prisons
Vipassana has proved to be an effective tool for the social rehabilitation of prisoners in jail. Since 1995 ten-day Vipassana programmes for prison inmates and staff have been introduced in many parts of India. There are three permanent Vipassana meditation centres in Indian prisons, where more than 10,000 inmates have attended courses. Convinced of its positive effects the Government of India has recommended that every prison in the country should organise ten-day Vipassana courses for the rehabilitation of the inmates.
Jail authorities in the West are likewise becoming interested in this application of Vipassana. To date courses have been successfully held in several United States prisons, also in the United Kingdom, Spain, Mexico,Taiwan, New Zealand and Nepal.
At the North Rehabilitation Facility, Seattle, USA,Vipassana has been an ongoing part of the treatment programme. Due to the encouraging results of ten-day residential retreats at NRF, the National Institute of Health in 2000 awarded a three-year grant to the University of Washington to study the long term effects of Vipassana meditation on addictive behaviour in inmates.
More information: www.prison.dhamma.org
Vipassana in drug rehabilitation
Vipassana is used as a part of a holistic rehabilitation programme in a Swiss drug therapy facility. The programme aims to help clients overcome their addiction. This rehabilitation concept was evaluated by the Swiss Department of Justice and showed positive results.
More information: www.startagain.ch
Vipassana in training and business administration
Thousands of police officers have completed Vipassana courses as part of their training at the Police Training College (PTC) in Delhi, capital of India.
More information: www.kiranbedi.com/vipasanameditation.htm
The civil service career of Mr. Goenka's teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin, is another example. As the head of several government departments of the Union of Burma, Sayagyi instilled a heightened sense of duty, discipline and morality in his subordinates by teaching them Vipassana. Efficiency increased and corruption was reduced.
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. In 1996 India's most industrialised state, Maharashtra, began offering expenses-paid leave to officials every three years for Vipassana practice, to help them deal with stress.
More information: www.executive.dhamma.org
Men and women from all walks of life successfully practise 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 organised for people with disabilities, including the blind and leprosy patients. Other programmes have focused on school children, drug addicts, homeless children, college students and business executives.
These experiments underscore the point that societal change must start with the individual. Social change cannot be accomplished by lectures and sermons; discipline and virtuous conduct cannot be instilled in students simply through textbooks. Criminals do not become good citizens out of fear of punishment; ethnic and sectarian discord cannot be eliminated by punitive measures. History shows the failures of such attempts.
The individual is the key. Each person must be treated with love and compassion. Each must be trained to improve - not by exhortations to follow moral precepts, but by being instilled with the authentic desire to change. This is the only change which will endure. Vipassana has the capacity to transform the human mind and character. The opportunity awaits all who sincerely wish to make the effort.