(The following article by S. N. Goenka was written after his visit to Myanmar with over 750 foreign meditators.)
My revered teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin ardently wished that Myanmar repay its debt to India by returning the invaluable jewel of Vipassana to the land where it had originated more than two millennia before. He was confident that there were many in India with immense pāramīs who would wholeheartedly accept Vipassana and would join in the effort to spread it around the world. He was also confident that there were many in other countries with pāramīs who were waiting for this jewel, who would feel blessed to obtain it and would contribute in different ways to help its spread. This is exactly what happened. Sayagyi’s Dhamma wish is being fulfilled.
With the coming of the Sayagyi Centenary Year at the beginning of the new millennium, a similar Dhamma wish arose in my mind: that meditators from India express their gratitude to Myanmar, the country that returned Vipassana to its homeland, and that they be joined by the hundreds of thousands of meditators around the world who have benefited from Vipassana. In fulfilment of this wish, a pilgrimage was planned to the Dhamma country of Myanmar. Despite short notice, it was hoped that 200 to 250 meditators from India and abroad might take part. Instead, it was a pleasant surprise to see 750 meditators from 32 countries and all five continents come to Yangon. After participating in an International Conference at the Dhamma Joti centre in Yangon, many then set out on the pilgrimage.
In spite of all the efforts made to provide proper facilities, the pilgrims had to face hard travelling. Still, these Dhamma sons and daughters always had smiles on their faces and a reverential attitude toward my motherland, Myanmar, in their hearts. I was deeply touched to see this.
Since ancient times, people have gone on pilgrimage to India from Myanmar and other countries where the Teaching of the Buddha has been preserved. But this was the first time in history that hundreds from India and around the world went on a pilgrimage to Myanmar.
The pilgrims meditated together with large numbers of their local Dhamma brothers and sisters at Dhamma Joti. The big Vipassana family gathered as well to meditate at Shwedagon, the largest and most revered pagoda in Myanmar, which enshrines hair relics of the Buddha. With the kind permission of the management and trustees, entry was permitted in the early morning and late evening, when the Pagoda gates are normally closed. Meditators sat at the International Meditation Centre in northern Yangon, where I learned Vipassana at the feet of Sayagyi. For the welcome they received, we are grateful to the teacher there, my Dhamma brother U Tin Yi, and to Mother Sayama.
Another destination for the pilgrims was the village of Dalla across the Yangon River, where a centre still exists established by Saya Thetgyi, the first lay teacher of Vipassana. Further from Yangon is the famous Kyaiktiyo Hill, where a pagoda stands atop a balancing rock on the edge of a cliff. After the exertion of climbing the hill, all tiredness was removed by meditating in an atmosphere charged with the pure vibrations of Dhamma.
The pilgrims proceeded northward to Mandalay. There they meditated at the Dhamma Maṇḍapa centre and the Mahamuni Pagoda, and visited the Sagaing Hills where Vipassana has been practiced for centuries. At the monastery of their Dhamma brother, Sithagu Sayadaw Nyanissara, they were received with great kindness and hospitality.
The pilgrims visited sites associated with Ledi Sayadaw, who was responsible for the rebirth and spread of Vipassana in modern times. They went to Monywa and the nearby Ledi village, where he was born and taught Dhamma, and they also saw the hillside cave where he used to meditate. In addition, in Kyaukse they visited the monastery of Webu Sayadaw, a revered monk of recent years who gave so much encouragement and inspiration to Sayagyi.
A few of the pilgrims went to Mogok to meditate at the two Vipassana centres there, Dhamma Ratana and Dhamma Makuṭa. In this city famed for its gems of ruby, they experienced the gem of Dhamma in all its splendour. The return journey southward led through the historic city of Pagan, ancient capital and city of pagodas, which left an indelible impression.
All arrived back in Yangon feeling joyful though tired by the journey. Since then I have been receiving letters from pilgrims telling about their happy experiences. I am pleased to see so many enchanted by my motherland. Their words recall to mind an important incident in my life.
When I came to India in 1969 to begin teaching Vipassana, the Government of Myanmar kindly issued me a passport, something almost impossible to obtain then. This allowed me to hold the first Vipassana course in India, with my parents participating. The Ganges of Dhamma started flowing all over the country after that.
From the very first year, many foreigners participated in Vipassana courses alongside Indians. After their courses they entreated me to come to help their families, friends and others who could not visit India to benefit from the munificent Dhamma. In doing so they were simply voicing Sayagyi’s wishes. But I was unable to accede to them: the passport I had received in Myanmar was valid for travel only to India, not to any other country. I sought endorsements for other countries but government policy made it impossible to grant my request.
Finally I made a Dhamma resolution: if the policy did not change even after I had spent ten years serving in India, I would apply for Indian citizenship and travel to teach Vipassana in other countries on an Indian passport. Ten years passed; I obtained Indian citizenship and an Indian passport, and was able to set forth on a Dhamma journey abroad.
At this point I learned that the Myanmar government would not give an entry visa to any former citizen who had changed his nationality after leaving Myanmar on a Myanmar passport. This news was extremely painful for me. I did not want to be prevented from entering my motherland. On the other hand, the momentous duty of Dhamma Dūta Dhamma envoy beckoned. Therefore I had given up citizenship of the country of my birth, dear to my heart. I consoled myself with the thought that perhaps this was the working of Dhamma, so that both the countries of origin of Vipassana India and the protector country of Myanmar should receive credit for the spread of Vipassana around the world. This is what is happening.
Nevertheless, the longing repeatedly arose in my mind to return somehow to my motherland. I wanted to meet my Dhamma brothers and senior monks to gain further strength and knowledge of Dhamma. I was also confident that sooner or later the Myanmar government would grant me entry since it knew that I had changed my nationality only to serve Dhamma and not for any personal, political or commercial gain. This Dhamma service was increasing the prestige not only of India but also of Myanmar. Sooner or later I would certainly get the opportunity to go back to my motherland.
Dhamma is truly powerful. The opportunity indeed came when the Myanmar government invited me to Myanmar to talk to senior monks about my Dhamma work. I returned with great joy. With humility I spoke at the monks’ Pariyatti Universities in Mandalay and Yangon. The bhikkhus were fully satisfied that what I was teaching was nothing but pure Dhamma. For my part, this visit to Myanmar gave me incomparable joy. It was natural that I was delighted to return to my motherland after 22 years. And this motherland gave me birth not once but twice first when I emerged from my mother’s womb, and second when I broke the shell of ignorance by learning Vipassana at the feet of my revered teacher.
The moment I stepped on that land I felt that I had come back to my mother’s lap. The entire atmosphere was charged with the vibrations of Dhamma, and I received immense Dhamma strength. I was delighted to meet my Dhamma brothers U Tin Yi, U Ba Pho and U Ko Lay. I was very fortunate to be able to pay respects to the Venerable Mingun Sayadaw, and receive blessings and guidance from him. Later, whenever I remembered my experience of Dhamma vibrations in Myanmar and the strength I derived there, I attributed these to my natural attraction toward my motherland and my delight in returning there after so long. But now on this pilgrimage, my Dhamma children had the same experience; they strengthened my conviction that my motherland is charged with Dhamma vibrations, giving boundless joy to any meditator who goes there.
I find the people of my motherland amiable and virtuous. Is it because I am biased in their favour? I think not. On the pilgrimage all the participants felt the same. People in the cities and villages of the Dhamma country of Myanmar are peaceful and simple, contented in every situation. A Dhamma daughter from the U.K. writes, "The January trip to Burma was so special for me.… I think that the Burmese are among the nicest, kindest and most humble people in the world."
An Indian pilgrim writes, "This tour was no less than a tour of the celestial realm.… The influence of Dhamma is evident all over Myanmar. People there are so innocent and serene. We in India cannot even imagine that people could be like this."
Who would not be elated to read and hear such comments about one’s motherland and its inhabitants! When I hear the comments of the pilgrims about the people of Myanmar, my mind is filled with delight.
Blessed is the land of Myanmar, which preserved in its pure form the technique of Vipassana for more than 2,000 years. We are grateful to Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos along with Myanmar, as these five countries preserved the words of the Buddha. But Myanmar alone preserved the beneficent practice of Vipassana. If the Bhikkhu Saṅgha of this country had not kept the practice of Vipassana alive, today the entire world would have been in darkness for want of this technique.
Hail to the land of India, where this pure meditation originated. Hail to the land of Myanmar, which again made available the pure Dhamma, which gave the path of pure Dhamma to the world and showed the Way leading to welfare for the suffering people of the world.
The country that gave me birth,
the country that gave me the Dhamma
Baba, I can never forget
the land of blessings, Myanmar.
Doha by S. N. Goenka
Impressions of Myanmar
(by a Vipassana meditator)
This winter Goenkaji and Mātāji traveled to the newest centre in Myanmar, Dhamma Makuṭa. It is the second centre in Mogok, a town of about 35,000 people, located about 70 miles northeast of Mandalay. About ten percent of Mogok’s population have already attended Vipassana courses in our tradition and many of the Dhamma workers who served the Centenary Seminar at Dhamma Joti came from Dhamma Ratana, the first centre in Mogok. Several of the 30 students from Myanmar who traveled to Dhamma Giri this February to sit long courses were from Mogok.
The new centre is located high on one of the hills surrounding the town. Mogok is surrounded by beautiful pagodas, as well as mines that are the source of many of the world’s rubies, sapphires and emeralds. From the centre there are views of the city and the surrounding pagoda-covered hills. The centre has a large Dhamma hall with temporary dining facilities under it, and male and female dormitory-style accommodations, which had coal fires burning in clay bowls to provide warmth in the winter nights in this northern area. A pagoda with cells is under construction. Eventually the centre will have private accommodation suitable for long courses.
The Dhamma workers at Dhamma Makuṭa took very attentive care of all of the visitors who came with Goenkaji to this special inauguration of their centre. May this new centre flourish, and may the many students from around the world who visit it benefit from the strong Dhamma vibrations in this part of Myanmar.
North India Dhamma Tour
Goenkaji and Illaichi Devi began their visit to North India in Jaipur in March 2000 with a Dhamma talk to about 40 of the senior-most administrators of the state government. In the following days, Goenkaji gave additional public talks to: a general audience of about 1500, at the University of Rajasthan, and to officers in training at the Rajasthan Institute of Administrative Services. He also answered questions of media persons at a press conference, and gave Vipassana during a ten-day course at Dhamma Thaḷi.
From Jaipur they travelled to the newly constructed centre of Dhamma Sota, at Sohna, south of Delhi. Goenkaji gave Vipassana to the students who were sitting the 10-day course¾ the first at the new centre.
The next day there was a large press conference at the India International Centre, New Delhi. A one-day course, organized at Logicstat Farm was attended by over 700 old students. Goenkaji gave Anapana in the morning, and returned to give mettā and Dhamma discourse. In the discourse Goenkaji talked about how pleasant and fruitful it is to meditate together (samaggānaṃ tapo sukho). He also emphasised the importance of daily meditation and the great benefits of Dhamma service.
During the next few days in Delhi, he gave talks to 500 trainees (constables and officers) at the Police Training College; to Tihar Jail inmates; and to a gathering of Members of Parliament and their family members. The talks addressed specific interests and concerns of these audiences, and were followed by many questions.
A three-day public talks series held at the large indoor Talkatora stadium was very well-attended. A group sitting for about 500 old students preceded each talk. On the last day, a talk in English was given to about 150 bureaucrats.
The Spread of Dhamma
(The following is an excerpt from Goenkaji’s address to assistant teachers and Dhamma workers, December 31, 1999.)
This is not only the start of a new millennium but also the centenary of the birth of the great householder saint, Sayagyi U Ba Khin. In fulfilment of his hopes, this is the time for Vipassana to arise. The darkness of ignorance, the darkness of misery exists everywhere around the world. The light of Vipassana is needed, and the light of Vipassana is arising.
May all of you strengthen yourselves in Dhamma, in sīla, samādhi, paññā, mettā; only then will you be able to help others. First help yourselves and then start helping others.
The next millennium is for peace, for harmony, for Dhamma. May the darkness of ignorance pass away. May the light of Dhamma spread round the world. May Vipassana spread for the good of many, for the benefit of many, for the liberation of many.
There will be four 10-day courses in China this year, at the same Monastery where the first Vipassana course was held in April 1999. This is one of the oldest and most prestigious Chan temples in northern China.
Chinese meditators in the New York area have formed a trust to undertake the great task of helping Vipassana spread to China. With the success of the first course, the door to China has opened, and strenuous efforts will be made to serve this country.
For the upcoming courses Dhamma servers are needed who have a strong volition to serve under difficult conditions and who can pay their own traveling expenses. Interested meditators may contact:
Jeff Cai, Registration Committee, UBKMT of NY,
Rm. 3A, 133-32 41st Road, Flushing, NY 11354.
Tel. (718) 445-7856 (home), (718) 965-2588 (work);
Vipassana students in Israel have signed a one-year lease on a noncenter course site. As one meditator put it, "It will be the first time we shall have a place of our own for such a long time and we don’t have to go around like vagabonds." In 1999, Israel had 2300 applications for 11 ten-day courses, but only 1007 students could participate because of limited space, while 1000 requests remained on the waiting lists.
Course Experiences: Jan. 2000, Muscat, Oman
¨ I had been trying to practise dispassion (equanimity) even before I had heard of Vipassana. But that was at a very gross level. However, Goenka is a masterful teacher, and under his guidance, I believe that I have achieved the psychological integration that I had had when I was a baby. I am aware of myself like never before. I will do my best with the technique and prove or disprove the entire technique to myself. ¨
¨ My second Vipassana course took me to greater depths, though the way ahead is several thousand miles long. I returned home feeling as if I had been cleaned with bleach and detergent! The personal interest and commitment of the organisers added to the success of the course.¨
Mr Satyendra Nath & Mrs Laj Tandon
Teaching of Pali, Co-ordinator of Children’s courses and to serve Dhamma Sota
Mr John & Mrs Joanna Luxford
Training of assistant teachers in Europe
Mr Don & Mrs Sally McDonald
To serve Malaysia and Hong Kong
Mr Philix and Mrs Yuyen Lee
To serve People's Republic of China and overseas Chinese
Mr Klaus & Mrs Nadia Helwig
To serve Taiwan
Mr Ross Reynolds
To serve New Zealand
Senior Assistant Teachers
Mr Dennis Austin & Mrs Louie Tomscha
To serve Dhamma Mahāvana
Mr Kishanlal Sharma
U Oung Kyi, Myanmar
Children Course Teachers
Daw Mi Mi Hlaing, Mogok, Myanmar
Daw Cho Cho Sein, Mogok, Myanmar
Miss. Jamuna Panthi, Mogok, Myanmar
Miss Kumari Panthi, Mogok, Myanmar
Daw Mya San, Yangon, Myanmar
Daw Kyin San, Yangon, Myanmar
Daw Kyin Kywe, Yangon, Myanmar
Daw Wi Wi, Mandalay, Myanmar
Daw Myat Lay Khain, Mandalay, Myanmar
Daw Win Kyi, Mandalay, Myanmar
Daw Mi Mi Khain, Mandalay, Myanmar
Vipassana Conference In Massachusetts
A conference will be held at the Vipassana Meditation Center, Dhamma Dharā, in Massachusetts on 3 and 4 September, 2000. The title is Vipassana Meditation: Insights from an Ancient Tradition II Medicine, Science and Spirituality.
The conference will provide participants with an opportunity to explore Vipassana intellectually, from diverse standpoints. It will address features that have encouraged many people to practice Vipassana, such as its potential contributions to medicine and healing, and its comfortable integration with the empirical attitude towards proof. Other lectures will deepen participants’ knowledge of the exact descriptions of reality that were used by the Buddha, and will compare modern science and technology with the Buddha’s method of transcending suffering. The conference will also focus on Vipassana’s augmentation of spiritual and emotional life in the light of poetry and literature.
This conference is intended for people who have never meditated but who have an interest in science, medicine or spirituality. Scientists, doctors, health care providers, historians, humanists, students of life and disciples of the spirit will find topics of interest. In addition, old students will find inspiration to deepen their understanding of the practice. New students attending the conference are strongly encouraged to join the preceding ten-day course from 23 August to 3 September. Old students are encouraged to help spread the word about this conference to people in the above fields an ideal way to introduce family, friends and colleagues to Vipassana mediation.
Contact: Vipassana Meditation Center,
386 Colrain-Shelburne Road., Shelburne, MA 01370, U.S.A.
Tel. (413) 625-2160; Fax. 625-2170;