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‘Vipassana was like coming home’

S.N. Goenka brought the Buddha's teaching of ‘living wisdom’ back to the country of its birth.


October 2, 2013 2:27:37 am

S.N. Goenka brought the Buddha’s teaching of ‘living wisdom’ back to the country of its birth.

By Zarina Mehta Screwvala

On September 29,Vipassana acharya S.N. Goenkaji passed away. He died as he lived,aware and smiling. It is impossible for any student to express the sense of gratitude one feels towards their teacher. I wrote this as his funeral procession was taking place,spending this time practising Vipassana and co-ordinating some details for the Vipassana PR committee I’m on. I know he will approve.

Related: Vipassana guru S N Goenka dies

At some point in all our lives,no matter how happy or sad,we come to a point where a vague dissatisfaction creeps in. It’s the “I’m missing something” feeling. This happened to me seven years ago and the funny thing is,I was so happy in my personal and professional life. But I still felt that I hadn’t done anything meaningful with my life or really helped anyone. I felt that I was missing the real meaning and purpose of my life.

Related: Thousands attend last rites of Vipassana guru in Mumbai

To me,Vipassana was like coming home. Taught by Goenkaji in the tradition of his teacher,Sayagyi U Ba Khin in Burma,Vipassana meditation is a practice that can be traced back to the Buddha. Goenkaji learnt under his teacher for 14 years and then came to India in 1969 to conduct a Vipassana course in Mumbai for his ailing mother. Despite the fact that he knew barely 50 people in the country,hundreds of people started coming to him. Sayagyi U Ba Khin’s dream of re-establishing Vipassana in the country of its birth was thus realised.

Related: ‘Vipassana was his world’

In 1976,Goenkaji established the first permanent Vipassana centre in the country at Igatpuri,where I did my first course. Today,Vipassana is taught at more than 170 centres in over 90 countries around the world. More than 100,000 students learn Vipassana each year in 59 languages. Vipassana courses,which are free of cost,in keeping with Goenkaji’s wishes,are also held in schools and jails,temples and mosques. Everything is paid for by the dana (gift) from past students.

A prolific writer and poet,Goenkaji composed in English,Hindi and Rajasthani,and his works have been translated into many languages. He was invited to lecture at forums as diverse as the Dharma Drum Mountain Monastery in Taiwan,the World Economic Forum at Davos,the Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations in New York,and the Spirit in Business Congress in the Netherlands,to name a few.

Goenkaji emphasised that the Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma (Dharma in Pali) — the path of liberation — which is universal,non-sectarian and open to people of all faiths and beliefs. Indeed,his courses are filled with people from across countries and religions. I have sat in courses with ladies in burqas,Catholic nuns,Buddhist monks and Israeli Jews. Vipassana is a scientific exploration of the mind and body. It is a kind of meditation that calms and purifies the mind,and is taught in a simple and clear manner that can be understood by all. Vipassana is the practical aspect of the Buddha’s eight-fold path of sila (morality),samadhi (concentration of the mind) and panna (wisdom).

In our 10-day courses,we start with a base of morality (sila) by taking eight vows: not to lie (this includes any kind of exaggeration or gossip),steal,kill,etc. The environment and the silence help us greatly to keep these percepts. We are then taught samadhi,the first step of Vipassana anapana meditation,which means to concentrate the mind by the observation of the breath. By observing the breath,we start observing our mind. On the fourth day,we are given the gift of Vipassana,which is panna (wisdom). There is a mystery around the actual practice of Vipassana that I would not like to reveal,it must be experienced for oneself. It is “living wisdom” born of one’s own experiences. I find it inspiring that these same words and practice were taught by the Buddha himself.

Vipassana has changed me fundamentally. It has helped to see things from a completely different viewpoint — that of others. It has helped to control my (horrible) temper. Above all,it has worked to help me understand the true purpose of life and the empowering idea that we are responsible for everything that happens to us. This gives us great comfort,joy and hope for the future.

The writer is the founder and managing trustee of Swades Foundation and co-founder UTV Group (Now Disney UTV)

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