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What Is Goenka Vipassana Meditation
The Glogal Vipassana Pagoda
What Is Goenka Vipassana Meditation
What is Goenka Vipassana meditation? Goenka is an Indian national, born and grew up in Myanmar (Burma). He learned Vipassana meditation technique from a Burmese Vipassana meditation teacher in Myanmar, and later Goenka was officially appointed by this teacher to teach others on Vipassana meditation. Goenka was very successful in his teaching methods and his 10-day Vipassana meditation course took on the name “ Goenka Vipassana Meditation”.
Vipassana meditation was discovered by the Buddha in India over 2500 years ago. The Buddha practiced this Vipassana meditation and gained deep insights into the realities of life and existence. From the Buddha’s discovery of Vipassana meditation, the technique was passed down by learned monks and spread to neighboring countries like Myanmar (Burma) and Sri Lanka (Ceylon). In time, Buddhism disappeared from India, while the teachings of the Buddha gradually spread to the East.
According to the Goenka Vipassana website, the Buddha’s Vipassana meditation technique was directly introduced into Myanmar by two monks from India during King Asoka’s time (304 BCE - 232 BCE). And ever since the Vipassana meditation technique discovered by the Buddha was preserved and passed on by generations of Burmese monks in its pristine form to the present day.
Buddhist meditation can be broadly grouped into three types. Of course, meditation essentially revolves around the training of the mind. The first type is what we called Metta (goodwill) meditation, where meditators spread their thoughts of peace and goodwill to all living beings. The second type is Samatha (tranquility) meditation where meditators cultivate mental concentration to achieve mental tranquility. The third is Vipassana (insight) meditation. Vipassana means seeing things as they really are and not as they seem to be; the real insight and not mere perception.
The 10-day Goenka Vipassana Course is about this training of Vipassana. The course will lead the student to understand what Vipassana is all about, and the intensive meditation sessions are practical mind-training techniques that will lead the student to experience real insights into the mind and body.
The 10-day Goenka Vipassana Course
From the start, as presented in the Goenka Vipassana website, the reader is reminded that this 10-day Goenka Vipassana course is one that is universal suitable for everyone irrespective of race or religious belief. The only criterion is that the student must agree to follow all the instructions throughout the 10 days. It is required that the student enroll with an “open mind” to receive instructions and work on them during the 10 days, without any prejudice or resistance. Throughout the course, the student is always being reminded that it is only during these 10 days that he is subject to this rigid requirement. The purpose is not to “brainwash” but to ensure that the student be given a chance to faithfully follow through the correct technique in order to experience positive results.
At the end of the course, the student is again reminded that once this course is completed, he or she is free to decide whether or not to practice this type of meditation. Throughout the course, there will be a qualified meditation teacher appointed by Goenka himself to guide the students. There is no “personality” cult whatsoever, as the teacher is just another ordinary person who is more experienced in the Goenka Vipassana meditation technique. The entire course is guided through by Cds of Goenka’s personal instructions and at the end of each day by Goenka’s Dvd course explanation. This ensures the uniformity of the 10-day course conducted throughout the world. The 10-day course is free of charge. Students may only donate upon completion of the course if they choose to do so.
Despite such stringent control to ensure the purity and universality of this course, there are still unwarranted accusation that Goenka and his 10-day Goenka Vipassana course is a cult. The truth is always in the course. I have recently attended the course and found that the course is definitely universal and practical. There is no hidden agenda whatsoever.
What is in this 10-day Goenka Vipassana course
This 10-day Goenka Vipassana course is conducted within the premises of the Goenka Vipassana center. There are hundreds of such Goenka Vipassana centers around the world. They are very decentralized, each center has its own management and financial support is purely from donations by past students. However, the course is standardized by the use of Goenka’s personal Cds and Dvds during the meditation sessions and each night. Being a meditation center, each center is usually sited in a pristine and quite location with plenty of trees and pleasant natural surroundings.
The students are required to observe 5 basic moral precepts:
1. Not killing.
2. Not stealing.
3. Not committing sexual misconduct.
4. Not telling lies.
5. Not taking intoxicating substances.
The students are also required to maintain “noble” silence throughout the first 9 days, but they are free to ask the meditation teacher on questions pertaining to the course.
For the first three and a half days, the students are taught simple meditation on observing the breath around the nostril area, to cultivate greater level of concentration. This type of meditation is the Samatha meditation. The “observing the breath” method is called Anapanasati.
After this period, the students start with the practice of Vipassana meditation. With an improved mind concentration, the student is guided to look inward into the body and observe sensations throughout the body. With a concentrated mind, the student is now better able to observe these sensations with an equanimous mind, and not reacting to them. By consistently observing these sensations over time, the students will be able to experience the phenomena of mind and body, how they interact and inter-react, and manifest themselves into our personality traits. From here, one’s spiritual journey begins and with persistent practice in Vipassana meditation, one will experience realization of the true nature of existence. With this realization of the true nature of the mind and body, one comes to understand and accept the vicissitudes of life, being able to live in peace and harmony with the society and the world at large.
This 10-day Goenka Vipassana course is about this universal truth, and how everyone is able to realize it through diligent practice of Vipassana meditation.
Vipassana meditation in prisons
Goenkaji's Vipassana meditation technique has been practised even by prisoners inside the prison premises. It first started as a trial program in Jihar jail India in the early 1990s. The successful trial program in Jihar then spread to other prisons around the world in countries including Israel, Mongolia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar, United Kingdom and the United States.
You can watch the two Youtube videos at the end of this article. The first is called "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana" featuring the first experiment in Jihar Jail. The second is "The Dhamma Brothers", a trailer for a documentary about the experiences of 4 prisoners of Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama undergoing the 10-day Vipassana course.
S. N. Goenka
Who is Goenka
Satya Narayan Goenka, popularly known as S. N. Goenka, and affectionately addressed as Goenkaji, was born in 1924 and is now 88 years old (this year 2012). He was born in Myanmar (Burma) and grew up to become a very wealthy and successful businessman in Myanmar. Being an Indian, Goenkaji is also very influential amongst the Indian community in Myanmar. He used to hold many important honorary positions in organizations and societies of the Indian communities in Myanmar.
Goenkaji came into contact with Vipassana meditation when he was searching for a cure for his severe migraine pain. He learned Vipassana meditation from the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin (6 March 1899 – 19 January 1971). U Ba Khin was a very well known Vipassana teacher. He was also the first Accountant General of Myanmar. Goenkaji continued to practise Vipassaha under U Ba Khin for the next 14 years. In July 1967, Goenkaji was officially authorized by U Bha Khin to teach his tradition of Vipassana meditation. In 1969, Goenkaji settled in Bombay, India, and began teaching the 10-day Vipassana course. From 1982, Goenkaji began to appoint assistant teachers to assist him. From these dedicated and experienced assistant teachers, the 10-day course is now freely available throughout the world. Today, the Goenka Vipassana tradition has centers all over the world teaching the 10-day Vipassana course free of charge to anyone and everyone who cares to learn.
In 2012, Goenkaji was conferred the Padma Bhushan, the highest civilian award of India from the President of India. Goenkaji has travelled extensively and has addressed important organizations worldwide. This includes Harvard Business Club, Indian Parliament, Dharma Drum Mountain Monastery (of Ven. Sheng Yen) in Taiwan, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Smithsonian Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association, and the “Millennium World Peace Summit” at the United Nations (August, 2000).
To cap off Goenkaji’s outstanding achievements and contributions to world peace, a Global Vipassana Pagoda was built on Gorai Island, Mumbai, India. The structure was designed in the image of the Shwedagon Golden Pagoda of Yangon, Myanmar. The Global Vipassana Pagoda was inaugurated by the President of India on 8th Feb 2009. The 325 feet high Global Vipassana Pagoda is a monument symbolizing peace and harmony. It has the world’s largest stone dome without supporting pillars, with a huge hall that can accommodate more than 8000 meditators.
My personal experience during the 10-day Vipassana meditation course
Are you interested to know about my personal experience on this 10-day Vipassana meditation course? Each Goenka Vipassana meditation center has its own unique name without the name Goenka. I believe this is to ensure that the name Goenka is not being promoted, but instead the term “Vipassana” is emphasized. However, there is always an added footage below the name of the center stating "Vipassana Meditation As Taught By S.N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin".
I attended the 10-day course on 5 December, 2012 at the Gambang centre near Kuantan, Malaysia. The name of the center I went to is called “Dhamma Malaya Vipassana Centre”.
You can read my two-part article on my personal experience during the 10 days here: “Goenka Vipassana Meditation; My Personal Experience”.
You can go direct to the official website of Goenka Vipassana Meditation to find the centers around the world.
All Component Things Are Impermanent (Breaking News 30 September 2013)
Sadly, Goenkaji has passed away peacefully at the ripe old age of 89 at his residence in Mumbai, India,on Sunday, 29th September, 2013 at 10:40 PM.
May our teacher of peace and tranquility attain the final bliss.
Aniccavata Sankhara (All component things are indeed transient)
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Speech by S. N. Goenka : “Millennium World Peace Summit” at the United Nations (August, 2000)
The Dhamma Brothers
The Dhamma Brothers (Trailer)
Doing Time, Doing Vipassana
Eilona Ariel, The Producer Of The Above Videos "The Dhamma Brothers" & "Doing Time,Doing Vipassana"
Eilona Ariel attended the 10-day Goenka vipassana course and was so convinced of its effectiveness that she proceeded to contribute to the dissemination of this course through her films. She is a documentary film-maker and has produced the two videos above, "The Dhamma Brothers" and "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana".
Below is the video on her talk about her personal experience in the Goenka vipassana 10-day course and her subsequent quest to produce documentary films on the subject.