In August and September 2000, Goenkaji visited United Kingdom and United States after a gap of many years. Naturally, there was a lot of enthusiasm among meditators about his visit. Goenkaji undertook this tour to participate in the Millennium World Peace Summit at the United Nations and to visit various centers and cities in UK and USA for the spread of Dhamma.
It was a difficult tour given Goenkaji’s age and health. However, he did not want to spare any effort for the spread of Vipassana. In this landmark Dhamma tour he reached out to meditators and Dhamma workers from Europe, USA and Canada to understand their difficulties, to give them guidance and to inspire them on the path of Dhamma. Vipassana has struck deep roots in these regions due to Goenkaji’s efforts in the eighties when he used to visit these areas almost every year. However, advancing age and increasing demand on his time in South and South-east Asia had made it increasingly difficult for Goenkaji to travel to the West in the nineties. When he undertook this tour, ignoring the difficulties of extensive travel and his health problems, the meditators in the West were overjoyed. They worked hard to make best use of his time.
The UK Tour.
He first went to UK on 11 August. From the airport Goenkaji went straight to Dhamma Dipa, the Vipassana center in Hereford. Hundreds of meditators had gathered there for the opportunity to meditate with him and to meet him. About 500 students from all over Europe attended the one-day course at the center, which was held in a marquee on 12 August. Goenkaji gave Anapana and Vipassana to the students many of whom had the opportunity to meditate with him for the first time in their life. He met various trusts, Dhamma workers and teachers from many countries in Europe, heard their report and gave them guidance on development of Vipassana activity in their areas. He was also interviewed by BBC World Service Radio and a German Weekly at Dhamma Dipa.
On Sunday, 13 August, Goenkaji gave dana to the Venerable Bhikkhu Sangha. Apart from the venerable monks, many distinguished expatriate Burmese came to visit the center and participate in the Sangha Dana. The occasion epitomized the feeling of gratitude from meditators of this tradition to the Sangha who had preserved Vipassana through the millennia. Ven. Dr. Rewata Dhamma gave words of blessings. Ven. Dr. Rewata Dhamma has been of much support to Goenkaji right from the beginning of his efforts in the spread of Vipassana. On this occasion, the Venerable Mahathera praised Goenkaji's work of teaching the Dhamma as the Buddha taught it and bringing the Triple Gem to so many people all over the world.
After traveling to London on the evening of 13 August, Goenkaji continued his busy schedule. He was interviewed by journalists from the Times and Asian Age. He also gave a short interview on BBC World Service Television. On 14 and 15 August he gave two public talks on "Vipassana Meditation and its Relevance in the 21st Century". The first talk was given at Kadwa Patidar Centre, Harrow, Middlesex. About 900 people attended and listened attentively to the Dhamma talk, which was covered by Zee TV. Press interviews followed after the talk. The second public talk at Friends' House, Euston Road, London was also keenly attended by about the same number of 900 people including venerable bhikkhus, many prominent citizens, and His Excellency the Ambassador of Myanmar to UK. It was followed by private interviews with the media covering the event.
The USA Tour.
Goenkaji left UK on Wednesday, 16 August. He went to Vipassana Centre in Dallas, Texas, USA. On 17 August, he meditated with the students of the ten-day course, met assistant teachers and Dhamma workers in the morning and gave a public talk at the Garland Centre for performing Arts in the evening. A reporter from the Dallas Morning News interviewed him.
After the public talk he met many meditators who had come from cities such as Houston and Oklahoma. On Friday, 18 August he traveled to Chicago and gave a public talk on the same day on "Practical Spirituality, Vipassana Meditation in Secular Society." at "Unity in Chicago" Hall. After the talk he met various Vipassana student in the area. He also met Lucia Meijer, a serious meditator and a key Prison official who has been the force behind Vipassana courses in NRF prison in Seattle.
From Chicago he went to California Vipassana Centre (CVC), on Saturday 19 August. On Sunday 20 August, he met hundreds of meditators, Dhamma workers and assistant teachers at CVC, Dhamma Mahavana. He continued to meet meditators till 11 in the night. On Monday 21 August, he gave Anapana and Vipassana at the one-day course at CVC in which more than three hundred meditators took part. The same evening he traveled to Fresno, a nearby city, to give a public talk on Vipassana. After the talk he traveled to Los Angeles and continued his tireless activity. On 22 August, in the morning, he was interviewed by Michael Jackson, a popular host of a radio programme. In the evening he gave a public talk at Wilshire-Ebell Theater in Los Angeles. Like most of his talks, this talk was attended by people from diverse religious, racial, ethnic and socio-economic background.
Goenkaji traveled to San Francisco on Wednesday, 23 August to speak at the prestigious Commonwealth Club Radio Programme. He continued to meet Vipassana meditators throughout his stay in San Francisco. He was interviewed for the "Shambhala Sun" in the evening. The next day, 24 August, he was interviewed on KPFA Radio Programme. In the afternoon, "India West" magazine interviewed him. In the evening, he gave a public talk at Scottish Rite Center, Oakland, CA.
On Friday, 25 August he travelled to Silicon Valley from SF to address a select group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. In this small group of successful Indians in Silicon Valley, Goenkaji explained how Vipassana, a gift from India to the world, was preserved by Myanmar and how it is ancient but as relevant today as in the past and how it could be practised by one and all without any need for conversion from one organized religion to another organized religion. In the afternoon, he was interviewed by "Inquiring Mind" magazine.
The same day in the evening he gave a public talk at Stanford Memorial Auditorium on the Stanford University Campus in Palo Alto, CA to a crowd of about 900. After the talk and questions and answers, he met individual meditators as well as groups of meditators. While speaking at the Stanford university that has given so many prominent scientists and major scientific discoveries to the world, Goenkaji explained how the Buddha was a super-scientist: How he discovered the truth about mind and matter and their interaction, the truth of suffering and the truth of happiness. He said that Buddha was not a founder of religion but a scientist who investigated the reality inside to find out the root cause of suffering and the way to happiness; and with infinite compassion gave the technique of Vipassana, of investigating reality inside and finding eternal happiness within to the humanity.
During his stay in California, he met with trustees and assistant teachers from Seattle, Colorado, Mendocino, Canada and many other regions. On Saturday, 26 August Goenkaji traveled to New York. On Sunday, in spite of the hectic and tiring journey, he went to give Anapana and Vipassana at the one day course in Manhattan, New York where about 400 meditators had gathered. Before giving Anapana to the course, he met about 60 expatriate Cambodians and a few other meditators from Philadelphia and encouraged their plan to have a Vipassana center in their area in near future. In the evening, he was interviewed by the editor of "Tricycle" magazine.
The Millennium World Peace Summit began on Monday, 28 August at the United Nations General Assembly Hall. On 29 August, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan gave the inaugural address to this first ever gathering of religious and spiritual leaders in the UN. On the same day Goenkaji was among the pre-eminent religious leaders who were invited to meet Kofi Annan. Goenkaji addressed an audience of about a thousand delegates plus hundreds of observers in the session entitled Conflict Transformation that focused on the themes of religious harmony, tolerance and peaceful coexistence. "Rather than converting people from one organised religion to another organised religion," said Goenkaji, "we should try to convert people from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation and from cruelty to compassion." In keeping with the Summit’s theme of seeking world peace, Goenkaji stressed in his speech that peace in the world cannot be achieved unless there is peace within individuals. "There cannot be peace in the world when people have anger and hatred in their hearts. Only with love and compassion in the heart is world peace attainable."
An important aspect of the Summit is the effort to reduce sectarian conflict and tension. Regarding this Goenkaji said, "When there is anger and hatred within, one becomes miserable irrespective of whether one is a Christian or a Hindu or a Muslim." Similarly he said to a thunderous applause, "One who has love and compassion with a pure heart experiences the Kingdom of Heaven within. This is the Law of Nature, or if one would rather, God’s will."
In summing up Goenkaji quoted the Emperor Ashoka who in one of his Rock Edicts said, "One should not honor only one’s own religion and condemn other religions. Instead, one should honor other religions for various reasons. By so doing one helps one’s own religion to grow and also renders service to the religions of others. In acting otherwise one digs the grave of one’s own religion and harms other religions as well. Concord is good. Let all listen and be willing to listen to the doctrines professed by others."
On the same day in the evening, he addressed the Harvard Business School Club of Greater New York to explain based on his own personal experience as to how Vipassana helps a businessman both in his/her business and personal life. During the summit programme Goenkaji met many religious leaders. He also spoke during the reception of Indian delegation at the Waldorf Astoria and also at an informal meeting of Hindu and Buddhist leaders conveyed at the Waldorf Astoria.
On Friday, 1 September he went to the Dhamma House in Flushing, New York to meet the meditators from New York region. A big group of expatriate Chinese meditators had the opportunity to seek his guidance on various issues as he spent more than three hours with them. On Saturday, 2 September his public talk at Sheraton Hotel in Flushing, New York was attended by a capacity crowd that included many expatriate Chinese and Indians along with Caucasian and African American people. During his stay in New York, he was interviewed by the Voice of America for their Hindi programme and by TV Asia.
After the talk Goenkaji traveled to Vipassana Meditation Centre, Massachusetts (VMC, Mass.). On Sunday, September 3 and 4, Goenkaji met many meditators and participants of the Conference on "Medicine, Science and Spirituality in the light of Vipassana Meditation" that was held at VMC, Mass. He met a group of scholars from Harvard Divinity School to discuss various aspects of theory and practice of the Buddha’s teaching and its non-sectarian nature. He also met the Sheriff and staff of a prominent local prison who were accompanied by a federal judge (an old student of Vipassana) and inspired them to start a Vipassana programme for the prisoners in their jail. He gave the closing address to the conference on the topic "Vipassana, Science of Mind and Body". The centre was full to its capacity and many meditators were staying outside the centre as they came from far off regions including Canada to meet Goenkaji and listen to him.
On Tuesday, 5 September he gave a public talk in Northampton at Smith College Chapel. He explained the practical, pragmatic, scientific, result-oriented, non-sectarian and here-and-now nature of Vipassana meditation. Like in many of his talks before he said, "Let us focus on the commonalties of all religions, on the inner core of all religions which is purity of heart. We should all give importance to this aspect of religion and avoid conflict over the outer shell of the religions, which is various rites, rituals, festivals and dogmas."
On the morning of Thursday, 6 September Goenkaji gave a talk to a huge gathering of old students at VMC, Mass. in which he told them, "You all are the torch-bearers of Dhamma! Your peaceful behavior and happy life alone would attract others to Vipassana." Many meditators from different areas were inspired by their meeting with Goenkaji. A big group of meditators from Canada also met him. He gave permission to meditators from Toronto to purchase land near Toronto, Canada for a new Vipassana centre. In the evening he gave an hour-long interview to the University of Massachusetts radio. Afterwards, he gave Anapana to ten-day course students.
Goenkaji left the centre on the morning of Friday, 7 September to go to New York city where he met a group of Global Leaders of Tomorrow (of the World Economic Forum) and a few staff-members of Fortune magazine. In this informal meeting, Goenkaji explained the importance of spirituality in business and business leadership; and how Vipassana due to its secular, non-sectarian, practical and result-oriented nature could be a tool to introduce spirituality in the business world. On 8 and 9 September, he had meetings with senior teachers of Vipassana about various aspects of Vipassana activity in USA. He also continued to meet meditators and assistant teachers on these days. Goenkaji left USA on 10 September after giving a new and historic impetus to the Vipassana activities in USA and Canada.