Can Meditation Prevent Serious Sickness

Mr S. N. Goenka. Teacher of Vipassana

I first saw Goenkaji, as he was affectionately called, in the Mid 1980s.  He would have been in his sixties at this time.  He died very recently at age ninety; a gentle man who taught the world much.
I first saw Goenkaji, as he was affectionately called, in the Mid 1980s. He would have been in his sixties at this time. He died very recently at age ninety; a gentle man who taught the world much.

Can meditation ward of illness? - Serious illness?

Can Vipassana Meditation prevent cancer? Can deep, daily Insight Meditation ward off serious illness? I don’t have a definite answer to that question but I suspect that it lessens the likelihood. If it does not completely stop one from getting sick, then it does help ameliorate the symptoms of illness. It lessens their probability. Certainly, the late Sri Satya Narian Goekna (1924-2013) the recognized modern day teacher of Vipassana Meditation, believed meditation can cure sickness. He tells of how its practice cured him of an illness that even the best medical practitioners of the world had given up on.

Part of Dhamma Bhumi in the Blue Moutains of NSW

Dhamma Bhumi has grown through the years.  All of the work has been carried out by unpaid volunteers, making it the show piece it is today.
Dhamma Bhumi has grown through the years. All of the work has been carried out by unpaid volunteers, making it the show piece it is today.

Sinus attacks rendered Goenka helpless, the suffering was intense

Goenka, who in his earlier years had been a hard-headed and successful businessman in Burma before moving to India to teach Vipassana, had suffered dreadfully from recurring sinus headaches. These would occur regularly and be of such intensity that he simply could not function. He’d go to bed for several days until the pain subsided. Being quite wealthy, he had visited the best doctors in his own country only to be told – eventually – that they could do nothing for him. He was advised to go to Japan. It was believe that country had the best specialists concerning his particular problem. They’d probably be able to fix him. So he went

Goenka travelled the world for a cure

In Japan the medical specialists eventually gave up on him. But, there was still hope. It was recommended by friends he visit Harley Street, London. The doctors there were equal to the best in the world, he was told. Unfortunately the medicos of Harley Street, too, could not cure him of his sinus headaches, which were apparently getting worse with time.

New York! They’d fix him up over there. They were at the forefront of these types of illnesses, he was told. So off to New York he went, only to have it proclaimed for the final time that there was no cure for what he had. He’d have to learn to live with it.

Vipassana Meditation takes you deep,deep within.

Eventually your own highly focused attention, with mind absolutely still, will take you deep within the physical until it gives way to dimensions you never knew existed.
Eventually your own highly focused attention, with mind absolutely still, will take you deep within the physical until it gives way to dimensions you never knew existed.

Hope gone, a friend suggested a meditation retreat

Resigned to it, Goenka came home to Burma. Here he was told by a colleague that perhaps if he went into a meditation centre it would help. Meditation? – Ridiculous! Of course, Goenka rejected this. He didn’t need silence and meditation. What he needed was a scientific and practical cure. However, his friend persisted and, after sometime, Goenka thought. “Well, what have I got to lose?”

Good health is a side effect not a goal in itself

Being an important businessman, Goenka thought he’d quite easily get to see the current head teacher, U Ba Khin at the local meditation retreat. It wasn’t as easy as he thought. All people were equal to U Ba Khin. He’d have to wait his turn. But eventually an interview was granted.

“Why do you want to undertake a course here?”

“I’m wondering if it will cure me of my dreadful sinus problems.”

“A Vipassana Centre is not a hospital – go to hospital.”

“They cannot cure me?”

“Well, you cannot come in here. If you do come in, it must be for the right reasons. You must be seeking the Truth. You must be dedicated to finding out who and what you are and working towards enlightenment.” Can you do that? Will you be honest and true and diligent? Are you willing to do what you are told?”

“Yes.”

“Well, it is possible that the practice will take away your health problem. But that is a side effect. That is not the end goal. The end goal for you is purity of the mind.”

The main meditation hall as it is today

When I first visited Dhamma Bhumi the dining room was an army tent, the office a caravan, and the mediation hall...well...it's now just one more dormitory.
When I first visited Dhamma Bhumi the dining room was an army tent, the office a caravan, and the mediation hall...well...it's now just one more dormitory.

A Vipassan Course is not an experience in pleasant relaxation

Agreement was reached. Goenka could come in an undertake a course. But he had to pledge that he would stay for the full duration of that course. He’d be in the camp for a full month; a long time. Once inside, there would be no leaving. The place was surrounded with high walls. The gates were locked to the course practitioners for the whole period of the course. In effect, it was much like a prison.

A woman once told me that Vipassana is more painful that giving birth

Now, as I’ve described, a Vipassana Meditation Centre is no holiday camp. The discipline - most of which is self-imposed - is extremely strict: up at 4-00 am, meditation for twelve hours a day, complete silence, only two meals a day: breakfast and lunch; no food after midday. A man or woman, although surrounded by others, is to live as if in complete isolation, communicating with no one unless it is a real emergency. It is hard – very hard. I know, for I’ve undertaken many such courses (though of only 9 or 10 days duration) and I know the pain, both mental and physical one has to endure.

Set overlooking the beautiful Megalong Valley, Dhamma Bhumi is a place of peace.

There are walking tracks where one can get away from the buildings; area and be alone to contemplate.
There are walking tracks where one can get away from the buildings; area and be alone to contemplate.

Goenka lasted a day before he wanted out

Goenka lasted just one day. Then, being a man of influence, managed to get the word to friends outside. He arranged for his chauffeur to pick him up that very night. All he had to do was climb over the wall and he’d be free. He was making his way from his billet to the wall when one of the other meditation students, an American woman, spotted him and approached him. She done earlier courses and knew the great benefits one could gain.

“Don’t go. Give it one more day. If you can’t stand it by then, then leave. But give it just one more full day.”

He did. And he stayed the whole thirty day course. When he came out his whole attitude towards life hand changed. Goenka went on to become one of the most successful meditation teachers of recent times. And his sinus attacks completely stopped after that course. He never had a single one from then on.

He stayed on and the rest is history

Goenka is convinced that the purifying of the contents of the mind which goes on in an intense Vipassana course helps to cure sickness and I am of the same opinion. Certainly it helps attenuate psychological trauma such as phobias and fears. In my own case it has done this. And yes, it has helped with tangible physical things such as the disappearance of a growth I once had on my back. In deep meditation, I could feel the healing energies (though I did not interpret them as such at the time) coming in from several directions and centering on the lump. That lump had been there for a good decade, maybe longer. When the course finished it had shrunk down to a tiny white dot possibly one hundredth of its earlier size. It seemed to have just melted away.

A mediation hall. Most newcomers meditate in groups.

Once one has become an 'old student,' that is, attended more than one course, the meditaor is often allocated a meditation cell in the pagoda.  Here, one can go really deep.
Once one has become an 'old student,' that is, attended more than one course, the meditaor is often allocated a meditation cell in the pagoda. Here, one can go really deep.

Vipassana, properly practised, will free you of a great deal of suffering

Then there was a time I had a tooth ache. As I objectively observed the sensation of pain it gradually, over a period of a few days, became less and less. Eventually it disappeared altogether and there was nothing wrong with that tooth. I’ve still got it and it still healthy twenty-six years later.

But the most dramatic was how I got over my phobia about spiders. However, that in itself is another story which I wrote about in my book, Where Are You – Me? It was worth a whole chapter in itself so I won’t go into it now.

The aura can be felt with practice

This is a Kirlian photograph of the human aura.  The colours give away not only our state of mind but our state of health. After some years of practice I found that I could feel the auric body/ies moving through and arouind my physical body.
This is a Kirlian photograph of the human aura. The colours give away not only our state of mind but our state of health. After some years of practice I found that I could feel the auric body/ies moving through and arouind my physical body.

This one's the 'real deal' Not just a way, but a super-highway towards enlightenment

Of course there are many types of meditation. However, they can be broken down – as far as I can see – into three categories: meditation which uses visualization techniques, meditation which uses words or chanting, and meditation which uses neither of these but relies instead on ‘the actuality’ of how things are. This is Vipassana; the concentration of the attention on what is happening in the here and now. Everything to do with it is natural. No imagination. No speculation. It is a progression from the natural into deeper aspects of our self, without the use of imagination, or reasoning – just being – that sets Vipassana apart. But I won’t go into that further here, either. I’ve written enough about it in other books and essays.


One doctor's views on Vipassana's health benefits

Here is a short essay written by a Dr. Abhaykumar K. Shah back in 1982.

Manifestation of bodily disease is often the result of disturbances in the psyche. For example, if one’s desires are frustrated, this frustration will manifest as symptomatic complaints and diseases such as angio-neurotic oedema, urticarial rashes, high blood pressure, hyperactivity, peptic ulcers, diabetes mellitus, asthmatic attacks, eczematious conditions of the skin, palpitation, angina attacks of heart, ulcerative colitis, frequent loose motions, mucous colitis, etc, as well as hysterical diseases.

The root cause is repeated and long-term aversion

The root cause of these problems is the psychic process whereby aversion is produced. This process of repeated reaction to aversion produces functional disturbances in various organs and glands, which, in turn, produce metabolic and hormonal imbalances. If this process continues for some time, it even produces pathological disturbances in various organs which can lead to ulceration, tensions, spasms and various mental disturbances.

Vipassana restores balance and equanimity thus producing health

Vipassana is a form of meditation by which balance and equanimity of the mind process is brought about by awareness of sensations produced in the body by samskaras through viewing them with mere observation without producing any attachment or aversion. This mental balance and equanimity leads to peace and harmony in the bodily functions, resulting in relief of psychosomatic diseases. The gland which is primarily affected by this process of Vipassana is the supra-renal gland, which particularly produces various hormones in a body under stress.

There are now Vipassana Centres in many countries

Be it enough for you, if you’re motivated by this essay, to check out Vipassana for yourself. It is now quite well known and centers for its practice have been established in countries right around the world. So, if you do want to find out things about yourself you never knew before; if you do wish to move beyond self-actualization to self-realization, then Vipassana could well be the path for you.

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Tarunponders profile image

Tarunponders 8 months ago from Roorkee, India

Sir,

Is this incident true that Goenkaji wanted to venture out the first day of his course? I happen to be a Vipassana Meditator myself but never came across this. Also were you eligible to do a thirty day course as a first course in those days? Because nowadays it is very strict, you ought to have done I believe a few 10 day courses and certain other courses to be eligible for a biggie. Please throw light on this.

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