MR. SATYA NARAYAN GOENKA, the foremost lay teacher of Vipassana meditation in the tradition of the Venerable Ledi Sayadaw, was a student of Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma (Myanmar). Vipassana meditation is a tradition that traces back to the Buddha. The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma—the way to liberation—which is universal. Because the technique is nonsectarian it has appealed 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 quickly became a pioneering industrialist, establishing several manufacturing corporations. He became a leading figure in Myanmar’s influential Indian community and for many years headed such organizations as the Burma Marwari Chamber of Commerce and the Rangoon Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He often accompanied Union of Burma trade delegations on international tours as an advisor.
In 1962, when a new military government in Myanmar nationalized all industry in the country, Mr. Goenka retired from business. In 1969, after fourteen years of training, he was appointed a teacher of Vipassana. He devoted the rest of his life to spreading the technique, for the benefit of all.
That same year he went to India and held his first ten-day meditation course. In a country still sharply divided by caste and religion, Vipassana was widely and easily accepted because of its nonsectarian nature.
In 1974 Mr. Goenka established the Vipassana International Academy at Dhamma Giri, lgatpuri, near Bombay (now Mumbai), India. Courses of ten days and longer have been regularly held there ever since. Five years later, in 1979, he began traveling to introduce Vipassana in other countries of the world.
Mr. Goenka personally taught tens of thousands of people in more than 300 ten-day courses, including in India, France, Australia, Nepal, Canada, Japan, U.S.A., Sri Lanka, U.K., Myanmar, Switzerland, Thailand, and New Zealand. In response to an ever-growing demand, he started training assistant teachers to conduct ten-day residential courses on his behalf. Before his death in 2013 he trained more than 600 assistant teachers. They have conducted courses, with the help of thousands of volunteers, in more than ninety countries, including China, Chile, Iran, Spain, U.A.E., South Africa, Nicaragua, Taiwan, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Russia, Belgium, Serbia, Cambodia, and Mexico.
More than seventy centers devoted to the teaching of Vipassana are now established in twenty-one countries. There is never any charge for courses, and more than 700 courses are offered annually around the world. None of the assistant teachers receive any financial gain from these courses; neither did Mr. Goenka.
A prolific writer and poet, Mr. Goenka wrote in English, Hindi and Rajasthani. His works have been translated into many languages. He was 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, and the Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations.
Teaching for all
Vipassana meditation has been taught to prison inmates and staff in many parts of India, as well as in the United States, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Colombia, Britain, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Nepal. In all, more than 10,000 prisoners have attended ten-day Vipassana courses in prisons around the world.
One thousand prisoners participated in a course conducted by Mr. S. N. Goenka in Tihar Jail, New Delhi, in 1994. The success of this course led to Vipassana courses in more prisons. In 2000 a course for about 500 prisoners was held in Yerawada Central Prison in Pune. Seeing the positive results from large and small prison courses, the government of India recommended that every prison in the country should organize ten-day Vipassana courses for inmates.
In Tihar inmates continue to participate in Vipassana courses every month, at a permanent Vipassana center established in the prison. Thousands of police officers have also attended Vipassana courses, at a meditation center in the Police Academy in New Delhi, and at other centers throughout India.
Men and women of all walks of life have practiced Vipassana. They include the highly educated and the illiterate, the wealthy and the impoverished, aristocrats and slum-dwellers, devout followers of many religions and followers of none, the powerful and the powerless, the aged and the young. Courses have been set up for disabled people, including the blind and people with leprosy. Other courses have focused on school children, drug addicts, homeless children, college students and business executives.
Commitment to Peace
Mr. S. N. Goenka believed that for peace to exist outside (among nations, between 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.
One important consequence of his work in India has been the subtle but telling influence on inter-religious harmony. Thousands of Catholic priests, Buddhist monks, Jain ascetics, Hindu sanyasis, and other religious leaders have come to Vipassana courses. The universality of the Buddha’s teaching of Vipassana bridges ideological gaps without any threat of conversion.
Only when individuals remove from themselves the roots of their unhappiness can peace and harmony begin to flower within them — and reach out to affect their families, friends, and society. Vipassana meditation empowers people to achieve inner as well as outer peace.