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founded by S. N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin






A Store-House of Answers by Mr. S. N. Goenka

In the course of his Dhamma work, beginning in 1969, Goenkaji has been asked thousands of questions, by Vipassana students and others all over the world. The questions range a fascinating spectrum from what is Dhamma, Vipassana meditation, aim of life, human misery, God, rebirth to insomnia....   The answers and questions have been broadly categorized under various sections based on the nature of the question.  It must be remembered, however, that Goenkaji's favourite answer is always: "You must experience the truth yourself. Only then it becomes a truth for you. Otherwise it is only someone else's truth". To Vipassana students, Goenkaji has always emphasized that the real answers can only come from continuous and correct practice of Vipassana.   The Q & A Bank, therefore, serves as a guide and inspiration to Vipassana students, and an encouragement to non-students to undertake a Vipassana course, and directly experience its immense benefits.   Abandoning false illusions, moving towards the truth, may we keep walking step by step, advancing towards the true goal. May all beings be happy!  

Questions have been classified alphabetically:  


How can we avoid bad habits like smoking cigarettes and chewing pāna?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Not only smoking cigarettes or chewing pāna—there are so many different types of addictions. When you practice Vipassana, you will understand that your addiction is not actually to that particular substance. It seems as if you are addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or pāna; but the real fact is that you are addicted to a particular sensation in the body. When you smoke a cigarette, there is a sensation in the body. When you chew pāna, there is a sensation in the body. When you take a drug, there is a sensation in the body. Similarly, when you are addicted to anger or passion, these are also related to body sensations. Your addiction is to the sensations. Through Vipassana you come out of that addiction. You come out of all outside addictions also. It is so natural, so scientific. Just try and you will find how it works.

This technique is very practical, but can everybody benefit from it—even those who suffer from severe addictions, such as to drugs or alcohol?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: When we talk of addiction, it is not merely to alcohol or to drugs, but also to passion, to anger, to fear, to egotism: all of these are addictions. All these are addictions to your impurities. At the intellectual level you understand very well: “Anger is not good for me. It is dangerous. It is so harmful.” Yet you are addicted to anger, you keep generating anger. And when the anger has passed, you keep repenting: “Oh! I should not have done that. I should not have gotten angry.” Meaningless! The next time some stimulation comes, you become angry again. You are not coming out of it, because you have not been working at the depth of the behavior pattern of your mind. The anger starts because of a particular chemical that has started flowing in your body, and with the interaction of mind and matter—one influencing the other—the anger continues to multiply.

By practicing this technique, you start observing the sensation which has arisen because of the flow of a particular chemical. You do not react to it. That means you do not generate anger at that particular moment. This one moment turns into a few moments, which turn into a few seconds, which turn into a few minutes, and you find that you are not as easily influenced by this flow as you were in the past. You have slowly started coming out of your anger.

People who have come to these courses go back home and apply this technique in their daily lives by their morning and evening meditation and by continuing to observe themselves throughout the day—how they react or how they maintain equanimity in different situations. The first thing they will try to do is to observe the sensations. Because of the particular situation, maybe a part of the mind has started reacting, but by observing the sensations their minds become equanimous. Then whatever action they take is an action; it is not a reaction. Action is always positive. It is only when we react that we generate negativity and become miserable. A few moments observing the sensation makes the mind equanimous, and then it can act. Life then is full of action instead of reaction.

This practice morning and evening, and making use of this technique in daily life—both of these start to change the behavior pattern. Those who used to roll in anger for a long time find their anger decreases. When anger does come, it cannot last for a long period because it is not so intense. Similarly, those who are addicted to passion find that this passion becomes weaker and weaker. Those who are addicted to fear find the fear becoming weaker and weaker. Different kinds of impurities take different amounts of time to come out of. Whether it takes a long time to come out of them, or a short time, the technique will work, provided it is practiced properly.

Whether you are addicted to craving—or aversion, or hatred, or passion, or fear—the addiction is to a particular sensation that has arisen because of the biochemical flow (asava). This type of matter results in reaction at the mental level, and the reaction at the mental level again turns into this biochemical reaction. When you say that you are addicted, you are actually addicted to the sensation. You are addicted to this flow, this biochemical flow.

The asava of ignorance is the strongest asava. Of course there is ignorance even when you are reacting with anger or passion or fear; but when you get intoxicated with alcohol or drugs, this intoxication multiplies your ignorance. Therefore it takes time to feel sensations, to go to the root of the problem. When you get addicted to liquor, or addicted to drugs, you cannot know the reality of what is happening within the framework of the body. There is darkness in your mind. You cannot understand what is happening inside, what keeps on multiplying inside. We have found that in cases of alcohol addiction, people generally start benefiting more quickly than people who are addicted to drugs. But the way is there for everyone to come out of misery, however addicted they may be, however ignorant they may be. If you keep working patiently and persistently, sooner or later you are bound to reach the stage where you start feeling sensations throughout the body and can observe them objectively. It may take time. In ten days you may only make a slight change in the habit pattern of your mind. It doesn’t matter; a beginning is made and if you keep practicing morning and evening, and take a few more courses, the habit pattern will change at the deepest level of the mind and you will come out of your ignorance, out of your reaction.

We keep advising people who are addicted to smoking—even ordinary tobacco smoking—that if an urge arises in the mind, not to take the cigarette and start smoking. We advise them: “Wait a little.” Just accept the fact that an urge to smoke has arisen in the mind. When this urge arises, along with it there is a sensation in the body. Start observing this sensation, whatever the sensation may be. Do not look for a particular sensation. Any sensation at that time in the body is related to the urge to smoke. And by observing the sensation as impermanent, anicca, it arises, it passes; it arises, it passes; and in ten minutes, fifteen minutes, this urge will pass away. This is not a philosophy but the experiential truth.

Similarly, for those who are addicted to alcohol or addicted to drugs, when an urge arises, we advise them not to succumb immediately, but to wait ten or fifteeen minutes, and accept the fact that an urge has arisen, and observe whatever sensation is present at that time. By applying these instructions, they have found that they are coming out of their addictions. They may not be successful every time, but if they are successful even one time out of ten, a very good beginning has been made because the root has started changing. The habit pattern lies at the root of the mind, and the root of the mind is strongly related to the sensations on the body: mind and matter are so interrelated, they keep on influencing each other.

If this law, this law of nature, is merely accepted intellectually, or devotionally, the benefit will be minimal—it may inspire you to practice. But the real benefit accrues through the actual practice. It is a long path, a lifetime job. Even a journey of ten thousand miles must start with the first step. For one who has taken the first step it is possible that one will take the second step, the third step, and like this, step by step, one will reach the final goal of full liberation.


In Dhamma much emphasis has been given to leading a life of simplicity and detachment. In the world today, how can a householder achieve these objectives?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: You see, more importance should be given to detachment. Simplicity will follow, but it should not be the aim. Otherwise Dhamma will deteriorate. There will be a class of people who will just make a show, "Look how simply I live," but deep inside there will be attachment for wealth and riches, etc. This does not lead to liberation. So the aim of Dhamma should be to develop detachment. Once detachment is developed, none of these things will hold any attraction. Naturally, simplicity will develop. But if this becomes the aim, it will become a show. More important is purification of the mind through detachment. 

You spoke about non-attachment to things. What about non-attachment to persons?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes, there should be non-attachment to persons also. You may have true love, compassionate love for someone. But when you have attachment, then you don’t have love because you expect something, material or emotional, from this person. When you have attachment, you are expecting something in return. When you truly start loving this person, then you only give; it is one-way traffic. You don't expect anything in return. Then the attachment goes, the tension goes. You are so happy.

How can the world function without attachment? If parents were detached then they would not care even for their children. How is it possible to love or be involved in life without attachment?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Detachment does not mean indifference; it is correctly called ‘holy indifference’. As a parent, you must meet your responsibility to care for your child with all your love but without clinging. Out of pure, selfless love, you do your duty. 

Suppose you tend a sick person, and despite your care, he does not recover. You don’t start crying; that would be useless. With a balanced mind, you try to find another way to help him. This is holy indifference: neither inaction nor reaction, but real, positive action with a balanced mind. 

How can you be passionate about life but remain detached at the same time?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Come to Vipassana and you will know how! It looks so difficult now because you don’t know how to balance the mind at the deepest level. You try to impose this balance at the surface level. That itself is difficult. And even if you have made your mind balanced at the surface level, the lack of balance remains at the depths. You can’t come out of it. Vipassana is for this purpose, so that you can work at the root level and become really happy.

Performing right action, isn’t that kind of an attachment?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No, no, no. Understand attachment. The only yardstick to measure whether you are attached or not attached is that whatever you are doing with proper understanding and if you are attached to it, then if you miss and you become sad because you have missed it, then you are attached. But suppose you miss and you are not sad: “Well, it couldn’t happen this way—couldn’t happen, so what? I did my best and the result didn’t come, so it didn’t come.” Then you are not attached.

You will never become sad with a balanced mind, with any result that comes, because the results are not in your hands. Nature does that. You have done your job and left the result to nature, to Dhamma: “Thy will.”

So it’s being willing just to make a mistake and…

Mr. S. N. Goenka:If you make a mistake, you understand, “Well I made a mistake.” Next time you try not to make a mistake, to do it in a proper way and yet you are not successful; again smile. Again work in a different way, again smile. With every failure, if you are happy, if you are smiling, then you are not attached. But if failure makes you sad and a success makes you highly elated, then certainly you are attached.

All right. So the right action is just the action you take, it’s not …

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Just the action, not the result. The result will automatically be good, Dhamma does that. We don’t have the power to choose the result, the result is not in our control. Our control is to do our duty. That’s all: you have done your duty.

It’s getting clearer. Thank you.


What is the Dharma of ātma, soul?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Observe yourself and you will find what is happening inside. What you call “soul,” what you call ātma, you will notice, is just a reacting mind, a certain part of the mind. Yet you remain under the illusion that: “This is ‘I.’ See, this is ‘I,’ this is ‘I.’” This illusion of ‘I’ will go away, and then the reaction will go away, and you will be liberated from your misery. This does not happen by accepting philosophical beliefs.

It is said, "Ātmā is immortal." What happens to ātmā after nirvāna? If it does not exist after nirvāna, then the belief that ātmā is immortal is wrong. Would you throw some light on this issue?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Believing that Ātmā is immortal is a philosophical belief. First one has to believe that there is an ātmā, a soul, and then one has to believe that it is immortal. Both these beliefs are strongly interconnected. If ātmā, or the soul, is not immortal then ātmā is useless to me. I accept ātmā simply because somebody says that it is immortal, and by ātmā I understand it is "I." If somebody whispers in my ear, "Well look, everything is mortal, impermanent in this world, but you are permanent, you will always remain," I feel elated by this belief, "Wonderful, I will remain! Everything, the body, mind and the entire universe passes away, but I will remain!"

The tremendous amount of attachment that ignorance helps us develop to "I" is strengthened by this kind of belief. There is a reason behind the formation of all these philosophical beliefs. Our job is not to say, "No, it is wrong," to give reasons why, and get involved in debates and arguments—that won’t help. Neither should we confirm the belief.

Leave it aside. All right, if the belief is that there is a soul that it is immortal, then let me investigate this belief. Vipassana is nothing but investigating the truth pertaining to oneself within the framework of the body. The first thing that you come across is your bodily structure. By Vipassana, as you keep moving from the gross to the subtle, to the subtlest, you will reach a stage where you will start experiencing every tiny subatomic particle which is arising and passing. And you will realize, "Well this is not ātmā, because ātmā is immortal and this is not immortal."

Similarly, you keep on observing the entire mental structure. As you observe from the gross to the subtle, to the subtlest, you will reach the stage where you will find that the mental structure is also nothing but wavelets arising and passing. By this experience you are investigating, like a scientist, what the truth is. When you reach the stage where the entire mind and matter phenomenon is just arising and passing—and in that whole process the impurities are eradicated—then a stage comes where you transcend the field of mind and matter and you experience something which is called nibbāna, where nothing arises, nothing passes away. You may say it is immortal. But when you reach that stage there will be no "I." That stage has to be experienced by each individual. Without that, again it will become just a philosophy.

Accept only the reality pertaining to the truth that you experience within the framework of the body and keep moving. The answer will come, Vipassana will help to supply this answer. 

What is the effect of Vipassana on the chakras?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Chakras are nothing but nerve centers on the spinal cord. Vipassana takes you to the stage where you can feel activity in every little atom of your body. Chakras are just a part of that. This activity can be experienced in the entire body.

How do you define eternal life in your meditation system?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is not my meditation system! It is an Indian meditation system, ancient India’s meditation system. The life is eternal, but you have to make it purified, so that you live a better life, a good life. Don’t try to find the beginning of life, when it started—what you will gain by that? The life is starting every moment; this ball is rolling. It is rolling in a wrong way, and you are a miserable person. Come out of that misery. That is more important than anything else.

The body and soul I presume are considered separate in Vipassana. Can they remain that way always?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Let us forget for a minute whatever the philosophical belief is behind this statement and focus on two truths that lie before us. There are impermanent and permanent realities. The realm of the permanent is eternal, absolute, and one may call it soul, god, state of nibbana or moksha. Whatever name one knows it by, it is the eternal state where nothing ever changes; it is as it is forever. Everything else is in the impermanent realm where everything is in a state of flux, always changing, constant creation and destruction. The difference between the two is not to be understood by the intellect, but is to be directly experienced. 

All along one has been increasing the stock of craving and aversion; now with practice one will start purifying the mind, reducing the stock of defilements till one finally moves beyond the realm of the impermanent. Only then will one experience that which is absolute and permanent, never changing. As this state cannot be put in words, if it is ever described in words it will be misleading. It must be experienced and Vipassana can give that experience. Of course it takes time to reach that state since one does not know how big the stock of defilements which one has accumulated is, and how long it will take to clear that stock. But the journey from impermanent to permanent has to begin now. 

What are vibrations? How do they affect us?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Everything in the Universe is vibrating. This is no theory, it is a fact. The entire Universe is nothing but vibrations. The good vibrations make us happy, the unwholesome vibrations cause misery. Vipassana will help you come out of effect of bad vibrations - the vibrations caused by a mind full of craving and aversion. When the mind is perfectly balanced, the vibrations become good. And these good or bad vibrations you generate start influencing the atmosphere all around you. Vipassana helps you generate vibrations of purity, compassion and goodwill - beneficial for yourself and all others.    

The Gītā says swadharma [our own Dharma] should be followed, not paradharma [the Dharma of others].

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It depends how you interpret it. To me, swadharma is the Dharma of human beings. A human being has been given this wonderful faculty to observe oneself and come out of the misery, come out of the bondage. An animal cannot do this, a bird cannot do this, an insect cannot do this. If you are just living the life without using this faculty, then you are living the life of an animal, the life of a bird, the life of an insect. Then no difference between you and that being—you are not living the life of swadharma, you are living the life of paradharma. For swadharma, you must learn how to come out of your bondages, by observing the truth within yourself.

What is God? Where is he? Who is he? What is his form?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: What should I say? Ultimate truth is God I would say.

Who is God?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Truth is God. Realize the truth within you, and you will realize God.

Is there a God who created earth?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: I have not seen such a God. If you have, you are welcome to believe. For me, truth is God, the law of nature is God, Dhamma is God, and everything is evolving because of Dhamma, because of this law of nature. If you understand this, and live according to the law of Dhamma, you live a good life. Whether you believe in a supernatural God or not, makes no difference.

Don't we need God's power?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: God's power is Dhamma's power. Dhamma is God. Truth is God. When you are with truth, when you are with Dhamma, you are with God. Develop God's power within yourself, by purifying your mind.

Are you an atheist?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: (Laughs). If by 'atheist' you mean one who does not believe in God, then no, I am not. For me, God is not an imaginary person. For me, truth is God. The ultimate truth is ultimate God.

What is life after death?  

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Every moment one is taking birth, every moment one is dying. Understand this process of life and death. This will make you very happy, and you will understand what happens after death.  

Do you believe in re-birth? 

Mr. S. N. Goenka: My believing or not believing will not help you. Practice Vipassana, and you will reach a stage where you can see your past, and you can see your future. Then only believe. Don't believe something just because your teacher says so. Otherwise, you will be under the clutches of a guru, which is against Dhamma.   

Cause and Effect

Aren’t there any chance happenings, random occurrences without a cause?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Nothing happens without a cause. It is not possible. Sometimes our limited senses and intellects cannot clearly find it, but that does not mean that there is no cause.

Can you describe in practical terms what is happening in the body and in the mind, how this law of cause and effect works, and how this change can help us?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The Buddha said that understanding the Dhamma is nothing other than understanding the law of cause and effect. You have to realize this truth within yourself. In a ten-day course, you have the opportunity to learn how to do this. This investigation of truth pertaining to matter, pertaining to mind and pertaining to the mental concomitants, the mental contents, is not merely for the sake of curiosity, but to change your mental habit pattern at the deepest level of the mind. As you keep proceeding, you will realize how the mind influences matter, and how matter influences the mind.

Every moment, within the framework of the body, masses of subatomic particles-kalāpas-arise and pass away, arise and pass away. How do they arise? The cause becomes clear as you-investigate the reality as it is, without influence from any past conditioning or philosophical beliefs. The material input, the food that you have taken, becomes a cause for these kalāpas to arise. You will also find that kalāpas arise and pass away due to the climatic atmosphere around you. You also begin to understand the formation of the mind-matter structure: how matter helps matter to arise and dissolve, arise and dissolve. Similarly, you understand how mind helps matter to arise and dissolve. You will also notice that at times matter arises from the mental conditioning of the past-that is, the accumulated sakhāra (conditioning) of the past. By the practice of Vipassana, all of this starts to become clear. In ten days, you do not become perfect in this understanding but a beginning is made. You learn to observe: At this moment, what type of mind has arisen and what is the content of this mind? The quality of the mind is according to the content of the mind. For example, when a mind full of passion (or a mind full of anger, or a mind full of fear) has arisen, you will notice that as it arises, it helps to generate these subatomic particles.

When the mind is full of passion, within this material structure, subatomic particles of a particular type arise, and there is a biochemical secretion that starts flowing throughout the body with the stream of the blood or otherwise. This type of biochemical flow, which starts because a mind full of passion has arisen, is called kāmāsava (lit.: sensual flow).

Now, as a very objective scientist, you proceed further, simply observing the truth as it is, observing how the law of nature works. When this secretion of kāmāsava starts, since it is the biochemical produced by passion, it influences the next moment of the mind with more passion. Thus, this kāmāsava turns into a craving of-passion at the mental level, which again stimulates kāmāsava, a flow of passion at the physical level. One starts influencing the other, starts stimulating the other, and the passion keeps on multiplying for minutes together, at times for hours together. The behavior pattern of the mind of generating passion is strengthened because of the repeated generation of passion.

And not only passion but also fear, anger, hatred, and craving-every type of impurity that comes in the mind simultaneously generates an āsava (flow). And this āsava keeps stimulating that particular negativity, that particular impurity, resulting in a vicious cycle of suffering. You may call yourself a Hindu, or a Muslim, or a Jain, or a Christian-it makes no difference-the process is such, the law is such, that it is applicable to one and all. There is no discrimination.

Mere understanding at the intellectual level will not help to break this cycle, and may even create difficulties. Your beliefs from a particular tradition may look quite logical, yet these beliefs will create obstacles for you. The intellect has its own limitation. You cannot realize the ultimate truth merely at the intellectual level. The ultimate truth is limitless, infinite, while the intellect is finite. It is only through experience that we are able to realize that which is limitless, infinite. Even those who have accepted this law of nature intellectually are not able to change the behavior pattern of their minds, and as a result they are far away from the realization of the ultimate truth.

This behavior pattern is at the depth of the mind. What is called the "unconscious mind" is actually not unconscious; at all times it remains in contact with this body. And along with this contact of the body, a sensation keeps arising, because every chemical that flows in your body generates a particular type of sensation. You feel a sensation-pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, whatever it is-and with the feeling of this sensation, you keep reacting. At the depth of your mind, you keep reacting with craving, with aversion, with craving, with aversion. You keep generating different types of sankhāras, different types of negativities, different types of-impurities, and the process of multiplication continues. You can't stop it because there is such a big barrier between the conscious and the unconscious mind. When you practice Vipassana, you break this barrier. Without Vipassana the barrier remains.

At the conscious level of the mind, at the intellectual level of the mind, one may accept the entire theory of Dhamma, of truth, of law, of nature. But still one keeps rolling in misery because one does not realize what is happening at the depth of the mind. Sensations are there in your body every moment. Every contact results in a sensation. This isn't a philosophy, it is the actual truth which can be verified by one and all.

On the surface, the mind keeps itself busy with outside objects, or it remains involved with games of intellectualization, imagination, or emotion. That is the job of your "tiny mind" (paritta cittā), the surface level of the mind. Therefore you do not feel what is happening deep inside, and you do not feel how you are reacting to what is happening at the deeper level of the mind.

By Vipassana, when that barrier is broken, one starts feeling sensations throughout the body, not merely at the surface but also deep inside because throughout the entire physical structure, wherever there is life, there is sensation. And by observing these sensations, you start realizing the characteristic of arising and passing, arising and passing. By this understanding, you start to change the habit pattern of the mind.

Say, for example, you are feeling a particular sensation which may be due to the food you have eaten, which may be due to the atmosphere around you, which may be due to your present mental actions, or which may be due to your old mental reactions that are giving their fruit. Whatever it may be, a sensation is there, and you are trained to observe it with equanimity and not to react to it; but you keep on reacting because of the old habit pattern. You sit for one hour, and initially you may get only a few moments when you do not react, but those few moments are wonderful moments. You have started changing the habit pattern of your mind by observing sensation and understanding its nature of impermanence. This stops the blind habit pattern of reacting to the sensation and multiplying the vicious cycle of misery. Initially, in an hour, you get a few seconds, or a few minutes of not reacting. But eventually, by practice, you reach a stage where throughout the hour you do not react at all. At the deepest level you do not react at all. A deep change is coming in the old habit pattern. The vicious cycle is broken: your mind was reacting to the chemical process which was manifesting itself as a sensation, and as a result, for hours together, your mind was flooded with a particular impurity, a particular defilement. Now it gets a break for a few moments, a few seconds, a few minutes. As the old habit of blind reaction becomes weaker, your behavior pattern is changing. You are coming out of your misery.

Again, this is not to be believed because the Buddha said so. It is not to be believed because I say so. It is not be believed because your intellect says so. You have to experience it yourself. People coming to these courses have found by their experience that there is a change for the better in their behavior.

Are you saying that everything in this life is predetermined?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Well, certainly our past actions will give fruit, good or bad. They will determine the type of life we have, the general situation in which we find ourselves. But that does not mean that whatever happens to us is predestined, ordained by our past actions, and that nothing else can happen. That is not the case. Our past actions influence the flow of our life, directing them towards pleasant or unpleasant experiences. But present actions are equally important. Nature has given us the ability to become masters of our present actions. With the mastery we can change our future.

But surely the actions of others also affect us?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Of course. We are influenced by the people around us and by our environment, and we keep influencing them as well. If the majority of people, for example, are in favour of violence, then war and destruction occur, causing many to suffer. But if people start to purify their minds, then violence cannot happen. The root of the problem lies in the mind of each individual human being, because society is composed of individuals. If each person starts changing, then society will change, and war and destructions will become rare events.

What is destiny?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: For each of us, life moves in a flow. According to our karmas of the past, the flow of our life goes in a particular direction—miserable or happy, whatever it is. This is because of our own karmas; nobody else has created this. Whatever you have done in your past is gone; you can’t help it. But today you are your own master. With your present practice, you can change the entire flow. So destiny can be changed. You are your own master, the master of your present.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, Vol. 21, No. 3, September 1994)

How can we help each other if each person must face the results of his own actions?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Our own mental actions have an influence on others. If we generate nothing but negativity in the mind, that negativity has a harmful effect on those who come into contact with us. If we fill the mind with positivity, with goodwill toward others, then it will have a helpful effect on those around us. You cannot control the actions, the kamma of others, but you can master yourself in order to have a positive influence on those around you.

Why do people cause suffering for us?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Nobody causes suffering for you. You cause suffering for yourself by generating tensions in the mind. If you know not to do that, it becomes easy to remain peaceful and happy in every situation.

Isn't suffering a natural part of life? Why should we try to escape from it?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: We have become so involved in suffering that to be free from it seems unnatural. But when you experience the real happiness of mental purity, you will know that this is the natural state of the mind.

Can't the experience of suffering ennoble people and help them to grow in character?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes. In fact, this technique deliberately uses suffering as a tool to make one a noble person. But it will work only if you learn to observe suffering objectively. If you are attached to your suffering, the experience will not ennoble you; you will always remain miserable.

If one does something wrong, then one is bound to suffer in the future?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No, not in the future, but here and now ! The law of nature punishes immediately, at the very moment one starts generating a defilement in the mind. One cannot generate a defilement and feel peaceful. The misery is instant. Only when you realize that suffering is here and now that you will change the habit pattern of generating defilements that lead to wrong verbal or physical action. If you think, 'Oh, I'll be punished only in future lives, and I'm not bothered now', it won't help.

Are only human beings in misery? Are other beings living a harmonious life?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Misery is everywhere, but other beings can’t come out of their misery because they can’t observe the reality within themselves. Nature—or if you want to call it "God Almighty"—has given this wonderful power only to human beings, to observe the reality within ourselves and come out of misery. Make use of this wonderful power that is given to us.

We are used to understanding that there is a cause behind every effect. If that is so, then what is the cause behind the existence of this world of mind and matter?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Ignorance and sankhara (mental conditioning). Because of ignorance we keep generating sankharas and because of sankharas we keep multiplying our ignorance. These two support each other and the entire universe continues because of that, nothing else.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, September 2002 issue)

How can we avoid karma?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Be the master of your own mind. The whole technique teaches you how to become your own master. If you are not the master of your mind, then because of the old habit pattern, you will keep on performing those actions, that karma, which you don’t want to perform. Intellectually you understand: “I should not perform these actions.” Yet you still perform them, because you do not have mastery over your mind. This technique will help you to become the master of your own mind.

If all causes have a specific effect, how do we have freedom of choice to liberate ourselves from our karma?   

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Because of cause. The cause of your understanding this cause of your understanding. This cause of understanding helps you come out of the reaction of generating new sankharas (conditioning of the mind). The cause of ignorance results in generating more and more sankharas and rolling in it. The cause of wisdom results in helping to come out of it. The cause is there, All the time you are using the cause of ignorance. You keep on rolling in misery. Now by practice of Vipassana, you are making use of the cause of wisdom. You don't make new sankharas. 

Somebody does an evil deed and goes to the lower world. Someone else does the same amount of evil, it bears fruit immediately and he gets it over with in this life. Why is there this difference?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Because one understands what Vipassana is. In Vipassana, the fruit of the past life will come up first as a sensation on the body. If it was an evil deed, very unpleasant sensations will arise in the body. For example, if you abuse or hit somebody, you generate anger. When you generate anger you are burning inside, so whenever the fruit of this seed comes it will come with burning. When burning comes you are trained how to observe it, it loses all its strength and passes away.

Suppose a thorn has gone into your flesh. As it goes in it is very painful. If you want to take it out, you have to use a needle to go in deep. Again it is painful. Whatever sensation you experienced while performing an action, the same type of sensation you will experience while getting the fruit of it. Those who are good Vipassana meditators will observe, not react, not allow it to multiply, and it passes away. You are free from it. If you don’t practise like this, then naturally you will get the fruit of it later. 

Why did God give birth to human beings?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Our own actions gave birth to us. Depending on the kind of actions we indulge in, during the moment of death those similar kinds of sa­khāras raise their heads and become the cause of the next life. We alone are responsible. Why blame poor God? What kind of God would bother to give us birth again and again and put us through so much misery? Why blame him? We are responsible and want to put the blame on somebody else. Purify yourself and you will see that you become free from the cycle of birth and death.

Is being wealthy good karma? If it is, does that mean that most people in the West have good karma, and most people in the Third World have bad karma?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Wealth alone is not a good karma. If you become wealthy but remain miserable, what is the use of this wealth? Having wealth and also happiness, real happiness - that is good karma. Most important is to be happy, whether you are wealthy or not.

Many people in India live in poverty. Do these people have to suffer like this because they have bad kamma of the past?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Well, if you believe in the law of nature, that as you sow, so you will reap, then certainly they do. Anybody who is suffering must have done something wrong in the past. But this should not make you feel, "I will never come out of my misery, I have done so much wrong in the past and my destiny is such." All the past kamma that you have done is done. Your present kamma is important and so powerful. If you are a Vipassana meditator, have confidence. If a person like Angulimāla, who had killed 999 people in this very life (and we don’t know what he had done in the past), could eradicate his past kamma by the practice of Vipassana, why have pessimism? Have all the optimism. You have this wonderful technique by which you can come out of all your misery. 

concentration (Samadhi)

What is the difference between Vipassana and concentration?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana is not merely concentration. Vipassana is observation of the truth within, from moment to moment. You develop your faculty of awareness, your mindfulness. Things keep changing, but you remain aware - this is Vipassana. But if you concentrate only on one object, which may be an imaginary object, then nothing will change. When you are with this imagination, and your mind remains concentrated on it, you are not observing the truth. When you are observing the truth, it is bound to change. It keeps constantly changing, and yet you are aware of it. This is Vipassana.

Why do we observe only the breath?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Because it will eventually pave the way for Vipassana. Breath is a true fact. It is the truth that is closely associated not only with our body but also with our mind. Like a scientist, we have to diligently discover the truth about ourselves, our body and mind. Moreover, this knowledge should be based at the experiential level and not on what we are told or study in books, etc. We have started this practice of observing the breath, so that we can learn the truth about ourselves. This will enable us to get rid of our faults on the one hand and conserve and expand our virtues on the other. All this is possible only if we know our minds, and the mind can be known through the breath. We are observing the breath; and in the process, we begin to know our mind. While learning about the mind we can also reform it. Thus, the mind and respiration are closely linked. This will become more evident as you progress on the path of meditation. While observing the breath, some angry thoughts may occur in the mind. You will notice that the normal pace of the breath gets disturbed and it becomes fast and heavy. And the moment the mind gets rid of anger, the breath becomes normal. This shows how the disorders of the mind are related to our breathing process. As you meditate further, you will understand all this better. But you will only understand this phenomenon clearly if you work with the pure breath. If you add anything to the breath, then you will fail to grasp all this. For these reasons, we work with the breath. Respiration is related not only to the body but to the mind as well. When we breathe in, the lungs get inflated with air and when we breathe out, the lungs are deflated. This is how the respiration is related to the body. And as it was just explained, if an impurity arises in the mind, the normal pace of the breath gets disturbed. This is how respiration is related to the mind.

Why do you give so much importance to the observation of normal respiration?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Because the Buddha wanted you to. He is very clear that one must observe the breath as it is-yathabhuta. If it is long, you are aware, "it is long"; if it is short, you are aware, "it is short". Yathabhuta. If you make your respiration unnatural, artificial, you will give more attention to change the respiration according to your wishes. Your attention will not be with the reality as it is, but with something that you have created. 

Therefore, we emphasize it must be always natural breath-as it comes in naturally, as it goes out naturally. If it is long, just be aware that it is long. Don't try to make it short. If it is short, just be aware that it is short. Don't try to make it long. If it is going through the right nostril, then observe that it is going through the right nostril. If it is going through the left nostril, then observe it through the left nostril. When it passes through both the nostrils, observe the flow through both the nostrils. 

Then you are working according to the instructions of the Enlightened One. Don't try to interfere with the natural flow of the breath. And if you find that the mind is wandering too much and you cannot feel the natural breath, then you may take a few-only a few-intentional breaths, slightly hard breaths, so that you can bring your mind back to the observation of the breath. You have to keep in mind that your aim is to feel the natural breath. However soft it is, however subtle it is, you must be able to feel it. That is the aim.

Why do you want us to keep our attention at the entrance of the nostrils and above the upper lip while practicing Anapana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Because again, it is a very clear instruction given by the Enlightened One. In Patisambhidamagga, he clearly says that you must be aware of the incoming breath, the outgoing breath, and mukha-this area above the mouth. He calls it mukhanimitta. It is clearly explained in Patisambhidamagga and in Vibhanga, what is mukhanimitta: it means nasikagge, the front portion of the nose at the entrance of the nostrils. Also, the Buddha says that it must be Uttarotthassa majjhimappadese. Uttara means above; ottha is lip; and majjimappadese is the middle portion. And in the Mahasatipatthana sutta, he says, establish your awareness here, parimukham satim upatthapetva. Sati means awareness; parimukham means the area above the lips. 

The Buddha is so clear in his instructions. We cannot deviate from his instructions. And as you practice, it becomes very clear why the Buddha chose this small area. This is the area over which the incoming breath and the outgoing breath must pass. The incoming and outgoing breath touches the area at the entrance of the nostrils and above the upper lip. That is why he wanted you to keep your attention here. For those with long noses, the breath is likely to touch the entrance of the nostrils. For those with short noses, it usually touches the area above the upper lip. So he chose this area-either at the entrance of the nostril, nasikagge, or the middle part of the upper lip.

The Buddha does not want us to imagine that the breath is coming in or the breath is going out, you must actually feel it. When you are attentive, you can feel its touch somewhere in this area.

For a very new student, we say even if you feel the breath inside the nostrils, it is okay. But ultimately you have to be aware of the touch of the breath in this area. Why? Because for samadhi, concentration of mind, citta ekaggata [one-pointedness of the mind] is very important. For a new student, a bigger triangle including the whole area of the nose is okay. But within a day or two, the student is asked to observe a smaller area. It becomes very clear, as you keep on progressing on the path given by the Buddha, that the area of concentration must be as small as possible.

It also becomes clear that the object of concentration must be very subtle. That is why when the mind is wandering too much, you are allowed to take a few hard breaths, but after that, you must come back to the natural breath. And as your mind gets concentrated, the breath will become softer and softer, finer and finer, shorter and shorter. You won't have to make any effort. It happens naturally. Sometimes the breath becomes so short, so fine, like a thin thread, that it feels as if immediately after coming out it makes a U-turn and enters the nostrils again. So when the area is small, the object of concentration is very subtle, and you continue without interruption, the mind becomes very sharp.

The Buddha was sabbaññu-he knew everything so clearly. There is an important nerve centre in this area. When your mind is sharp and you are aware of this area, your mind becomes so sensitive that you start feeling some sensation in this area. The purpose of Anapana, the purpose of samadhi, is to take the next step of Vipassana. Vipassana is not Vipassana if you don't feel sensations. 

Therefore, he taught us in a very systematic manner. Start on a small area with the natural breath. The breath will become subtler and subtler; the mind will become sharper and sharper. This area will become very sensitive and you will start feeling sensations. Everywhere around the world, people coming to the courses and practicing the technique given by the Enlightened One, start feeling sensations in this area on the second or third day. The Buddha taught the technique, the path, very systematically. We don't want to deviate from what he taught. 

Coming back to the first question of why we work with the natural breath-there are other techniques especially in India where one controls the breath, for example, the technique of Pranayama. One takes a deep breath and stops for some time; one exhales and stops for some time. We don't condemn other techniques. We understand that Pranayama is good for physical health. But the Buddha wanted us to use the awareness of the natural breath to reach the next step of feeling sensations. This controlled breathing, Pranayama, is not suitable because it is artificial breath. 

Buddha wanted us to observe natural breath because it takes us to the stage where we can practice Vipassana. Those who want to practice Pranayama for health reasons, let them practice it separately. Don't connect it with Vipassana. When you practice Vipassana, natural breath is important, yathabhuta, as it is.

Why should we work with respiration only?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Respiration is the truth. Respiration is related to your mind and matter, and you are here to make an analytical study of mind and matter. So you start with respiration, and then go to a deeper level of mind and matter.

How is equanimity related to samādhi (concentration of the mind)?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Samādhi can be without equanimity. With the base of craving one becomes fully concentrated. But that kind of samādhi is not right samādhi. That is with the base of impurity. But if the samadhi is with equanimity, then it gives wonderful results, because the mind is pure and concentrated, so it is powerful with purity. It cannot do anything that will harm you or harm others. But if it is powerful with impurity, it will harm others, it will harm you. So equanimity with samādhi is helpful.

You have asked us to live in the present. Does this imply that we should not plan for the future at all? Does it mean that we should not be ambitious?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: These are two different questions, and quite relevant as well. It is certainly not wise to live in the present and not think about the future at all. While observing the breath, you are also gaining awareness of the workings of the mind. You have observed that it has become a permanent habit of the mind to always generate thoughts about the past or the future. The mind does not want to focus on its present task of observing the breath. When it is involved in thoughts of future, the mind's energy gets reduced and therefore it is unable to work with full potential on the task at hand. And, when the actual time for taking the right action comes, the mind has exhausted all its energy. So with the mind firmly rooted in the present, think and plan the immediate task at hand. Set your goal and keeping it in sight, walk step by step towards it. Once the goal is set, you should not think about it any more. This way, every step you take will be a step in the present. But remain aware of each and every step you take. This will eliminate all possibilities of making mistakes.

You may wonder how you will be able to lead your life if you do not plan for the future. We have a limited reservoir of energy and therefore it should be utilized with wisdom. We should only use as much as is required for planning the future. We tend to exhaust our energy by unnecessarily tormenting the mind with thoughts of the future. "This may happen or this may not happen. We may do this or we may not do this?" Oh! Indulge in all this thinking only when it is required. Right now, your job is to observe the breath so that you learn to remain in the present. If we adopt the habit of remaining firmly in the present, we will be able to take the next step properly. Thus, to establish this habit pattern of the mind, we emphasize staying with the present.

To be ambitious is not bad at all. We set a definite aim for our life. For instance, we study to fulfil a certain ambition, or we are doing meditation for a certain purpose. But if we get attached to our goal and constantly worry about it while making no efforts to attain it, then it is futile to have any ambition. What is the point in being ambitious about a thing which prevents you from taking the right course of action? Decide about your aim and then strive to achieve it. If you are thirsty, then go and get water. Merely crying for water and worrying about it will not quench your thirst. Make the desired effort to obtain water, drink it and satisfy your thirst. What is wrong with this? Similarly, there is no harm in having a good ambition and making efforts to attain it. But if you get obsessed with it and only worry about its fulfilment without making any efforts in that direction, then you will go off the track and fail- even a good ambition will not be successful. So have the right ambition and strive hard to attain it.

How can the observation of breath assist in practising the moral precepts (sila)?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: This is indeed a good question. If the observation of breath does not help us to preserve morality and establish ourselves in Dhamma, then it is a futile exercise. This technique will be very beneficial in living a good life. If we continue to observe the natural flow of respiration, we will find that it helps us to gain control over our mind. Our mind will not be as weak and restless as before. Its ability to concentrate will improve. The more it concentrates, the stronger and wiser it gets. Its faculty of awareness improves. If anger arises in the mind, it will instantly become aware of it. Then all you have to do is to observe the respiration. A few minutes of observing the breath will eliminate anger from the mind. Earlier, when we were in a bad mood, we used to either abuse the other person or we would lose control and hit him, thus breaking our sila. So Anapana has prevented us from doing a harmful deed. Any wrong act we perform defiles the mind, and the person practising Anapana immediately becomes aware of this. The only way to get rid of the impurity is to observe the breath for some time. If we continue to observe the breath, the impurity will be removed and we will be saved from breaking our sila.

What is the mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The mind is what thinks! The entire thought process is due to the mind. It is the mind that is constantly involved in the various actions of thinking, reading and pondering over what has been read, etc. During its course of thinking, the mind may act beneficially or harmfully. If it adopts the wrong habit pattern, then it will generate feelings of ill will and animosity for others. If instead, the mind reforms itself, then although it will still have thoughts they will now be thoughts for the well being of others. If someone has shortcomings, the mind will want that person to overcome his shortcomings because now the mind knows that due to his shortcomings, that person will perform wrong actions which will make him more miserable and unhappy. So the mind will harbour thoughts of goodwill towards that person. It will want the person to refrain from doing bad deeds and thus save himself from burning in the fires of suffering. We observe that it is the nature of the mind to generate thoughts all the time. Therefore, our most important duty is to guide the mind towards a healthy thought process and prevent it from taking the path of unhealthy thinking patterns. Our entire effort is aimed towards understanding this nature of the mind and correcting it if it goes on the wrong path.

Who reforms the mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is the mind that reforms itself. A part of the mind is always observing its own functioning. If there are thoughts in the mind, it will analyse the nature of these thoughts. Whenever negativity or a feeling of animosity arises in the mind, this same part instantly issues a warning that such negative emotions are undesirable and should not occur in the mind. This part may be called intellect or the part of the mind which is always alert regarding the functioning of the mind and is trying to reform it. If the mind can develop the habit of observing the truth as it appears, then this fact will become clear- that the moment the mind is defiled, it is punished with suffering; and if it is purified, the suffering is removed. It is this observing part of the mind which will understand this process and thus change itself. Nobody wants to remain agitated. Everyone wants to lead a happy life without miseries. To attain this state, the observing part of the mind tries to change the nature of the remaining part of the mind.

How can Anapana help to reform the mind? How can Anapana lead to purity of mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: As long as the mind is engaged in doing Anapana, that is, in the observation of the flow of respiration, it is without any thoughts, and as a result of this, it is without any defilements. It is our thoughts which defile the mind. Mostly while we are thinking, there is craving or aversion. Pleasant thoughts generate craving and unpleasant thoughts generate aversion. But when we are observing the incoming and outgoing breath, there is no reason for us to generate either of these emotions and so these are moments of purity in the mind. More and more of these moments of purity will reverse the habit pattern of the mind. The mind that was previously generating impurities will now become pure. This transformation, which initially takes place at the surface level of the mind, will gradually take deep roots as you progress on the path of Vipassana. 

You say we are meditating to sharpen the mind. How do we sharpen the mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If you are with the reality and not reacting to it, naturally the mind gets sharpened. The mind gets blunt when it reacts, more and more reaction makes the mind very gross. When you don’t react, its natural reality is very sharp, very sensitive.


What is wrong with wanting material things to make life more comfortable?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If it is a real requirement, there is nothing wrong, provided you do not become attached to it. For example, you are thirsty, you need water-so you work, get it, and quench your thirst. But if it becomes an obsession, that does not help at all; it harms you. Whatever necessities you require, work to get them. If you fail to get something, then smile and try again in a different way. If you succeed, then enjoy what you get, but without attachment.

I'm sort of confused about the difference between craving something and wanting something. I can't imagine not wanting some things. They may make one miserable, but they help guide some of my choices

Mr. S. N. Goenka: You see, the only way to examine whether one has been craving or just wanting something naturally, is that, when you miss it—when you don't get it—what happens? If you don't get something, and you become miserable, that means you were craving. It was more a mental desire than a need for the body. And because the mental desire is not fulfilled, you get upset. So let it not result in misery; then there is no craving. For example, you want something, and you try to get it. If you don't get it, you smile. You did your best. Alright, let me try again. But why lose the balance of the mind? Why become miserable?

So, you're not saying not to want things?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No, no, how can that be? Wanting is there, but wanting should not turn into craving. And the dividing line is so fine, one doesn't know when it turns into craving. So keep on examining to see—when I don't fulfil my desire and if I become miserable, then, certainly, wanting has turned into craving.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, December 1987 issue)

Is a strong desire the same as craving?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: There is a difference. Whether there is craving or not, will be judged by whatever you desire. If you don't get it, and you feel depressed, then it was craving. If you don't get it, and you just smile, then it was just a desire. It didn't turn into craving. Whenever there is a craving and clinging and you don't get something, you are bound to become miserable. If you are becoming miserable, then there was some craving. Otherwise, no craving.

Is it okay to have a craving for enlightenment?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is wrong. You will never get enlightenment if you have a craving for enlightenment. Enlightenment just happens. If you crave for it, you are running in the opposite direction. One cannot crave for a particular result. The result comes naturally. If you start craving, " I must get nibbana, I must get nibbana", you are running in the opposite direction of nibbana. Nibbana is a state which is free from craving, and you want to reach that state with craving - not possible.  

Can't there be wholesome cravings and aversions-for example, hating injustice, desiring freedom, fearing physical harm?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Cravings and aversions can never be wholesome. They will always make you tense and unhappy. If you act with craving or aversion in the mind, you may have a worthwhile goal, but you use an unhealthy means to reach it. Of course, you have to act to protect yourself from danger. If you do it overpowered by fear, then might you develop a fear complex which will harm you in the long run. Or, if with hatred in the mind, if you are successful in fighting injustice, then that hatred becomes a harmful mental complex. You must fight injustice, you must protect yourself from danger, but you can do so with a balanced mind, without tension. And in a balanced way, you can work to achieve something good, out of love for others. Balance of mind is always helpful, and will give the best results.

How about planning for the future? Would you call that craving?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Again, the criterion is whether you are attached to your plan. Everyone must provide for the future. If your plan does not succeed and you start crying, then you know that you were attached to it. But if you are unsuccessful and can still smile, thinking, "Well, I did my best. So what if I failed? I'll try again!"- then you are working in a detached way, and you remain happy.

You tell us to neither indulge in craving nor in aversion. Then how do we live our lives?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Try it! Life will only get better and not result in inaction. Dharma does not turn us into vegetables, that anyone can come and cut us and we sit passively saying that we are non-violent. If a person is indulging in wrong action towards us then we will speak to him with compassion. If he persists we will speak firmly or even take firm action against him, but there will be no anger within us; only compassion for him. If we get angry with him then we are not on the right path. We will certainly stop him with loving kindness or even with firmness, but without anger. This is not just for our own benefit but for his own welfare as well, because if he persists in negative behavior he will only generate unhappiness for himself and for others. Vipassana teaches us to live rightly. 

If craving and aversion are to be avoided, what are they replaced with?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: They are replaced with love, compassion, good will. Whenever the mind is impure, it becomes more and more impure as you start generating craving and aversion.

This is a habit pattern going back far into the past. Before, you kept on generating craving and aversion; and now again you generate craving and aversion. You are becoming more and more miserable.

By this technique, the habit pattern changes and the mind becomes purer and purer, free from craving, free from aversion. A pure mind by nature is full of love, full of compassion. You don’t harm yourself, you don’t harm others.

Just eradicate the impurities in the mind and love and compassion is a natural result.

Some people would feel that they might be giving up some of the joy in life to also be giving up the participation in that agitation

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No. Life will be so joyful! Say you have enjoyed a particular type of life, having this sensual pleasure, that sensual pleasure. You say this is very joyful. But once you experience the joy of a balanced and peaceful mind, and you compare the two, you will find there is no comparison. The difference is like the difference between light and darkness, it is so great. One feels so happy: “Look, I have come out of it.“ One does not become like a vegetable, with no emotion in one’s life. No, one’s life is full of joy, full of life. Life becomes so bright and so good, so life-full. It is not lifeless.

But to the person who has not experienced this, it looks like illusion—”Oh, such peace of mind is not possible. Enjoying things at the sensual level is more important.” It’s not that after learning Vipassana we will run away from the sensual pleasures—but there will be no attachment to them. If we miss it, we miss it—still we are happy. If we get it, we get it—still we are content. Ordinarily, when you miss it, you will feel so depressed. With this technique, that depression will go away, so that you really are happy.

Daily Life

How to practice Vipassana in daily life?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Take a Vipassana course, and then you will understand how to apply the practice in your life. If you just take a course and don't apply it in life, then Vipassana will become just a rite, ritual, or a religious ceremony. It won't help you. Vipassana is to live a good life, every day, every moment.

What is the difference between Vipassana and life?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If Vipassana is developed within us it becomes an integral part of our lives. If it is only discussed intellectually and not practiced then it is of no use to us.

Vipassana focuses on the internal reality. That’s fine, but what about the external reality that really causes a great deal of suffering? What use is Vipassana in dealing with the real pain of the world?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Understand, Vipassana is not an escape from the problems of day-to-day life. One comes to a course for ten days to learn the technique of Vipassana and gain strength to face the problems of the outside world—just as you might go to a hospital to become physically healthy, and then leave to live healthily in the world. Similarly, when you learn to use this technique of observing the reality inside, you can face the problems outside more easily. It is not that by the practice of Vipassana all the problems will disappear; but rather, your ability to face them will improve.

The problems of the outside world are created by individuals living in the darkness of ignorance. Just as lighting one lamp will dispel the darkness around it, similarly, one person practicing Vipassana will affect society. If more people practice Vipassana, slowly this will start having a positive influence in the world. Even if only this one person is practicing Vipassana at least he or she will be able to face the problems and find solutions. And those solutions will be healthy solutions.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, September 1992 issue)

How can a truly Dharmic person face this adharmic world?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Don’t try to change the adharmic world. Try to change the adharma in yourself, the way in which you are reacting and making yourself miserable. As I said, when somebody is abusing you, understand that this person is miserable. It is the problem of that person. Why make it your problem? Why start generating anger and becoming miserable? Doing that means you are not your own master, you are that person’s slave; whenever that person wants to, he can make you miserable. You are the slave of someone else who is a miserable person. You have not understood Dharma. Be your own master and you can live a Dharmic life in spite of the adharmic situations all around.

Please tell us what kind of changes we can expect through Vipassana practice?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: To experience this is precisely the reason why we are asking for 10 days of your time. How else can we teach you what we are trying to explain! You have to give something in order to gain something. These discourses will not tell you much, you need to experience what we are saying for yourself. Let this talk be an inspiration for you to try it and see if it really helps in purifying the defilements or not. This experience is very pleasing and you will find that your life starts changing for the better. 

Can we get complete happiness and complete transformation through Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is a progressive process. As you start working, you will find that you are experiencing more and more happiness, and eventually you will reach the stage which is total happiness. You become more and more transformed, and you will reach the stage which is total transformation. It is progressive.

I know what wholesome action is, but I cannot put this knowledge into practice in real life. My mind is not steady and I am both greedy and lazy

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The knowledge that you have gained is only intellectual. When you realize this at the experiential level, you will begin to develop strength. You will begin to feel at the experiential level that you need to remain equanimous in all situations of life. Let the conviction come at the experiential level, and you will grow more and more confident as you keep on practicing Vipassana in the right way, with understanding. 

Some people have impurities, but they feel happy and don’t look miserable. Please explain

Mr. S. N. Goenka: You have not entered the minds of these people. A person may have a lot of money, and others may feel: “Such a happy person. Look, he has so much wealth.” But what you don’t know is that this person can’t get sound sleep; he has to use sleeping pills—a very miserable person. You can know for yourself how miserable you are, going deep inside. You can’t understand at the external level by seeing sombody’s face whether he or she is miserable or happy. The misery lies deep inside.

You talk so much about suffering and mental defilements. Isn’t your message pessimistic?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: How is it pessimistic? This is the most optimistic message! Misery exists, but if there is a way to come out of misery, the message is full of optimism. If somebody says, “There is misery and no way to come out of it, you have to suffer misery your whole life,” that would be pessimistic. But here the message is, “You can come out of it!” Whatever the misery may be, there is a way to come out of all the miseries. It is the most optimistic message!

How does one escape anger?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: With the practice of Vipassana. A Vipassana student observes respiration, or the bodily sensations caused when angry. This observation is with equanimity, with no reaction. The anger soon weakens and passes away. Through continued practice of Vipassana, the habit pattern of the mind to react with anger is changed.

I can't suppress my anger, even if I try.  

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Don't suppress it. Observe it. The more you suppress it, the more it goes to the deeper levels of your mind. The complexes become stronger and stronger, and it so difficult to come out of them. No suppression, no expression. Just observe.    

What would you say is the purpose of life?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: To come out of misery. A human being has the wonderful ability to go deep inside, observe reality, and come out of suffering. Not to use this ability is to waste one's life. Use it to live a really healthy, happy life!

What is the ultimate goal of life?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The ultimate life, the ultimate goal, is here and now. If you keep looking for something in the future, but you don't gain anything now, this is a delusion. If you have started experiencing peace and harmony now, then there is every likelihood that you will reach the goal, which is nothing but peace and harmony. So experience it now, this moment. Then you are really on the right path.

How to accomplish one’s goals and ambitions?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Purify your mind by Vipassana and you become the master of your mind. Then you will find that all the work you do at the mundane level will be successful. At the supra-mundane level also, your work will be successful. So be the master of your mind. Make your mind pure.

Please help us understand how to integrate Vipassana into the business world?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It can be integrated into everyone's life. A businessperson has a lot of responsibility and has to deal with many people-the employees, the workers in the factory, or people in management. Or the government officials and all that. Vipassana will help you deal with people in a way that is very friendly, because your mind will be full of love and compassion for others. So, whenever any situation arises that disturbs you, accept the fact: now my mind is disturbed. Just observe the sensations for some time, and you will find that you again become calm. With a calm and tranquil mind, a balanced mind, whatever decision you make will be a good one; whatever problem comes, you can solve it easily.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, May 2002 issue)

As an industrialist and in business, do you see that Vipassana could ever spread into business?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Oh certainly. Earning money—just earning money—doesn’t give peace. I have passed through all that so I know having a lot of money is full of misery. But money with Dhamma will give so much peace. And this money will be used for a good cause, which is good for them, good for others.

How can we make others peaceful?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Make yourself peaceful! Only then you can make others peaceful.

Isn't this technique self-centered? How can we become active and help others?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: First you have to be self-centered, you have to help yourself. Unless you help yourself, you cannot help others. A weak person cannot help another weak person. You have to become strong yourself, and then use this strength to help others and make others strong also. Vipassana helps one develop this strength to help others.

How can I practice Dharma and yet hold on to my hopes and aspirations to make the world a better place?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: You have aspirations, there is nothing wrong in that. But to attain your aspirations, if you keep on generating impurity in your mind, you are far away from your goal. You are losing the peace and harmony of your mind. With peace of mind, maintaining perfect balance of the mind, do whatever is necessary in human life, good for you and good for others.

What is the relevance of Dhamma to a person on the street whose stomach is empty?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Dhamma is helpful to everyone, rich or poor. A large number of people living in poverty come to Vipassana courses and find it very helpful. Their stomachs are empty but their minds also are so agitated. With Vipassana, they learn how to be calm and equanimous. Then they can face their problems and their lives improve. They also come out of addiction to alcohol, gambling and drugs.

I can understand meditation will help maladjusted, unhappy people, but how can it help someone who already feels satisfied with his life, who is already happy?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Someone who remains satisfied with the superficial pleasures of life is ignorant of the agitation deep within the mind. He is under the illusion that he is a happy person, but his pleasures are not lasting and the tensions generated at the deep levels of the mind keep increasing, to appear sooner or later at the surface of the mind . When that happens, this so-called 'happy' person becomes miserable. So why not start working here and now to deal with that situation?

Which is better: temple construction, service, teaching or hospital work?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: All these social services are important; there is nothing wrong with them. But do them with purity of mind. If you do them with an impure mind, generating ego, it does not help you and it does not help others. Do it with purity of mind, with love, with compassion and you will find that it has started helping you, and it has started giving real benefit to others also.

Dhamma and Sect

What is Dhamma?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: What one's mind contains, at this moment, is Dhamma. Dhamma is everything there is.

The original Pali term for Buddhism is Dhamma, which, literally, means that which upholds. There is no English equivalent that exactly conveys the meaning of the Pali term.

The Dhamma is that which really is. It is the Doctrine of Reality. It is a means of Deliverance from suffering, and Deliverance itself. Whether the Buddhas arise or not, the Dhamma exists. It lies hidden from the ignorant eyes of men, till a Buddha, an Enlightened One, realizes and compassionately reveals it to the world.

This Dhamma is not something apart from oneself, but is closely associated with oneself. As such the Buddha exhorts:

"Abide with oneself as an island, with oneself as a Refuge. Abide with the Dhamma as an Island, with the Dhamma as a refuge. Seek no external refuge."

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, January 1977)

Is there any difference between Dharma and Dhamma?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: There is no difference.

What is the difference between Dharma and duty?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Whatever is helpful to you and helpful to others is your duty, is Dharma. Whatever is harmful to you and harmful to others is not your duty, because it harms you and also harms others.

How do you equate religion and Dhamma?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If religion is taken in a sectarian sense, like Hindu religion or Muslim religion or Buddhist religion and so on, then it is totally against Dhamma. But if religion is taken as the law of nature, the universal law of nature, then it is the same as Dhamma.

What is the difference in Dharma between Hindus and Muslims?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Understand: I am not against Hindus or Muslims. I am friendly to everyone, but I am against calling them Dharma. Call them a group of people, call them a sect, but when you call that sect "Dharma," you are just deluding yourself and others. Dharma is universal. Hindu-dharma is only for a particular society or a particular sect, so it is not Dharma. It is the same with Muslim, Buddhist or Christian. They should all survive, they should have goodwill for each other. If everybody is a Dharma person, then it makes no difference whether one calls oneself a Hindu or a Muslim—they will live in a very cordial way, because they are all Dharmic people. To be a Dharma person is more important than to be a staunch Hindu or a staunch Muslim.

In India there are many types of religious practices, social customs and caste. In these conditions how can Vipassana be helpful?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana is the only way to help in such a situation. In all these sects, communities, beliefs, dogmas, rites, and rituals, there is something universal: the goal of purifying the mind to such an extent that you will not harm yourself or others. Now one may belong to any community or belief, but everyone can accept this easily.

An example: A large number of Christian priests and nuns come to courses and some have said, "You are teaching Christianity in the name of Buddha." Everyone wants the mind to become pure. Similarly, whether one is a Jain or a Hindu or anything else, if one starts doing Vipassana, one finds it is universal and good for all. These differences will all be immaterial for people who start working in Vipassana. And this will give a unity to the country, a unity to all humanity. It is a very positive thing to do. 

Please clarify distinction between Dhamma and sect. It seems that the poison of sectarian religious fundamentalism is about to destroy the entire human civilization. Can this be averted?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes, it is our duty to keep explaining to people what Dhamma is, and what sectarianism is. It is very unfortunate that when Dhamma comes up in its pure form, very soon it deteriorates into a sect. So the difference between the two should be made clear to help avert this catastrophe throughout the world and especially in a country like India, where there is so much sectarian division and so much strife. But this problem is everywhere in one form or another.

For one who practices Vipassana, it becomes very clear what Dhamma is: Dhamma is the law of nature. Dhamma is always universal, the law of nature is universal. Sectarian things can never be universal. They are different from one another. To those who practise Vipassana, it becomes clearer and clearer, "See, as I defile my mind, nature starts punishing me here and now. It is not that I have to wait for my next life for the punishment. Similarly, as I purify my mind I am rewarded, and I am rewarded here and now. This is the law of nature, this is Dhamma."

If we perform any pure action—vocal, mental, physical—then certainly we are on the path of Dhamma because we are rewarded and we start helping others. Otherwise we are harmed and we harm others also. This very simple distinction between Dhamma and sect must become clearer and clearer. To those who meditate, it becomes clear that one yardstick by which to measure whether one is really progressing in Vipassana or not is whether attachments towards sectarian beliefs, philosophical beliefs, sectarian rites and rituals, sectarian religious celebrations, etc. are getting dissolved. If the attachment is still very strong one may feel, "I am progressing in Vipassana," but actually this person is not progressing in Vipassana. If one progresses in Vipassana, then naturally, without any effort, all attachments will go away, because one has started understanding what the real universal Dhamma is. This cannot be forced on people. We can’t expect the whole world to start practicing Vipassana. The real solution comes only when people start experiencing the law of nature; it will become clear only by the practice. On our part we should keep explaining to people what Dhamma is and what sect is and encourage them to practise and see for themselves.

What is the difference between sectarian beliefs and Dhamma beliefs?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Beliefs are always sectarian. Dhamma has no belief. In Dhamma you experience, and then you believe. There is no blind belief in Dhamma. You must experience and then only believe whatever you have experienced. 

Sectarianism seems to be another form of casteism. How should we safeguard against these evils?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: To me, sectarianism is worse than casteism. Discrimination on the basis of caste is a poison, but is limited only to India; sectarianism has now become universal. Everywhere people are obsessed with their own sect and feel, "My sect is the best!" For them their sect has become Dhamma.

The Dhamma is the law of nature. It is universal, it can’t belong to a particular sect. If one generates negativity in the mind one is bound to become miserable; one may call oneself Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, or Muslim, but this fact does not alter because it is the law of nature. Likewise, if one eradicates the impurities of lobha, dosa, moha [craving, aversion, ignorance] from the mind, one is bound to feel liberated and peaceful.

One may consider oneself religious yet not have even a trace of Dhamma, in which case the label has no meaning. But if anyone from any religion is full of Dhamma and is a good person, then this person will help to create a healthy society. So long as sectarianism keeps raising its head there cannot be peace in the world. Equally, so long as casteism keeps raising its head in this country, there cannot be peace in this country.

The Buddha condemned casteism and said one is not a brāhmaṇa [of the highest caste] just because one is born to brāhmana parents: One becomes a brāhmana only by purifying the mind. One who is called a śūdra [low-caste] because of being born in a śūdra family can become a brāhmana by purifying the mind.

Therefore we have to keep giving importance to Dhamma, and keep explaining that both sectarianism and casteism are the enemies of Dhamma. No matter what caste or religion one belongs to, if one does not care to live the life of sīla, samādhi and paññā, one has wasted one’s life, harmed oneself, and harmed others.

If you get established in sīla, samādhi, and paññā, no matter what religion you belong to, you are a good, liberated, and pious person, and good people make a good society.

This must be emphasized not merely in discussions or discourses, but in actual practice. Anyone who begins to practise Vipassana will see how useless it is to pride oneself on one’s religion if one does not practise sīla, samādhi, and paññā; and if one is practising these one may belong to any religion. 


I heard a famous person speak recently, someone who was obviously very insightful, very wise, very intelligent, very brilliant—but also, to my perception, very egoistic, in a way that seemed potentially dangerous to that person and to others. How do you recommend responding to a person like that?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: You see, if you simply say to that person, “Look, you are a very wise person, but to me it seems that you are also an egoistic person,” that won’t help. This person will become more egoistic: “What do you know? You are a mad fellow. You don’t know that I am free from ego.” That’s what this person will say.

The best thing is to try to purify oneself first. With a pure mind, whatever you say will be very effective. When the words come from a pious-minded person, even this full-of-ego person will start thinking, “Yes, perhaps this is correct. Now let me examine this. There must be something wrong in me.”

But when you say, with any kind of anger or hatred, “Oh, this fellow talks as if he is a very wise person, but he’s really a mad fellow”—when even the volition carries some hatred—the words will carry no meaning. No purpose will be served, because the vibration of anger or hatred will go with them. When you have hatred, that vibration of hatred will go and touch this person and he will become agitated; he won’t like it. But if a vibration of love goes with the same words, you will find a big change happening.

Everyone who wants to help others to come out of misery, or come out of their defects, must first come out of that particular defect oneself. A lame person cannot support another lame person. A blind person cannot show the path to another blind person. Vipassana helps you first become a healthy person yourself, and then automatically you will start helping others to become healthy.

Should we try to avoid our ego and try to push it down or should we just let it be?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Never push it down. You cannot push out or suppress the ego. It keeps on multiplying by that. It will naturally get dissolved if you practise. Let it happen naturally and this technique will help. Dhamma will help.

I find that I am every egoistic and quick to belittle other people. What is the best way to come out of this problem?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Come out of it by meditating. If the ego is strong, one will try to belittle others, to lower their importance and increase one's own. But meditation naturally dissolves the ego. When it dissolves, you can no longer do anything to hurt another. Meditate and the problem will automatically solved.

Why do I keep reinforcing this ego? Why do I keep trying to be "I"?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: This is what the mind is conditioned to do, out of ignorance. But Vipassana can liberate you from this harmful conditioning. In place of always thinking of the self, you can learn to think of others.

You speak of the ego 'I' only in negative terms. Hasn't it a positive side? Isn't there an experience of 'I' which fills a person with joy, with peace and rapture?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Through practice of Vipassana, you will find that all such sensual pleasures are impermanent; they come and pass away. If this 'I' really enjoys them, if they are 'my' pleasures, then 'I' must have some mastery over them. But they just arise and pass away without my control. What 'I' is there?

Q: I'm speaking not of sensual pleasures, but of a very deep level.

Mr. S. N. Goenka:At that level, 'I' is of no importance at all. When you reach that level, the ego is dissolved.

There is only joy. The question of 'I' does not arise then.

 Well, instead of 'I', let us say the experience of a person.

Feelings feel; there is no one to feel it. Things are just happening, that's all. Now it seems to you that there must be an 'I' who feels, but after beginning to practice Vipassana, you will reach the stage where the ego dissolves. Then your question will disappear!

For conventional purposes, yes, we cannot run away from using words like 'I' or 'mine' etc. But clinging to them, taking them as real in an ultimate sense will only bring suffering.


What do you mean by 'being equanimous'?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: When you do not react, you are equanimous.    

Can we feel and enjoy things fully and still be equanimous?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Certainly. Life is to enjoy wholesome things. But not with an attachment to anything. You remain equanimous and enjoy, so that when you miss it you smile : "I knew it was going away. It has gone away. So what?" Then only are you really enjoying life. Otherwise, you get attached, and if you miss it, you roll in misery. So no misery. In every situation be happy.  

Surely it is unnatural never to react? 

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It seems so if you have experienced only the wrong habit-pattern of an impure mind. But it is natural for a pure mind to remain fully equanimous. An equanimous, pure mind is full of love, compassion, healthy detachment, goodwill, joy. Equanimity is purity. Learn to experience that.    

How can we be involved in life unless we react?

Mr. S. N. Goenka:  Instead of reacting you learn to act, to act with a balanced mind. Vipassana meditators do not become inactive, like vegetables. They learn how to act positively. If you can change your life pattern from reaction to action, then you have attained something very valuable. And you can change it by practising Vipassana.    

How is equanimity related to samadhi (concentration of the mind)?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Samadhi can be without equanimity. With the base of craving one becomes fully concentrated. But that kind of samadhi is not right samadhi. That is with the base of impurity. But if the samadhi is with equanimity, then it gives wonderful results, because the mind is pure and concentrated, so it is powerful with purity. It cannot do anything that will harm you or harm others. But if it is powerful with impurity, it will harm others, it will harm you. So equanimity with samadhi is helpful.   

If someone is purposely making our life miserable - how to tolerate this? 

Mr. S. N. Goenka: First of all, don't try to change the other person. Try to change yourself. Somebody is trying to make you miserable. But you are becoming miserable because you are reacting to this. If you learn how to observe your reaction, then nobody can make you miserable. Any amount of misery from others cannot make you miserable if you learn to be equanimous deep inside. Vipassana will help you. Once you become free from misery inside, this will also start affecting others. The same person who was harming you will start changing little by little.        


Before, you mentioned that Buddha was enlightened. What do you mean by “enlightened"?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Someone who explores the truth within oneself and explores it to the ultimate end, experiences the reality pertaining to the mind and the body, and then transcends that experience to the ultimate reality beyond mind and matter, is an enlightened person.

If there is no "I," then what is it that needs enlightening?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Good question. Ignorance needs enlightening, what else? The bondage needs liberation that's all. Nothing else.

How can we become enlightened as Siddhārtha Gotama did?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Everyone can become enlightened. Enlightenment is not the monopoly of Siddhārtha Gotama. He said: "Before me, so many people became enlightened, and after me also so many are going to become enlightened." Anyone who comes out of ignorance at the experiential level is an enlightened person. Any human being can practise this and become enlightened.

Can you tell me if it’s possible to reach enlightenment by any path other than Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: You can give it any name. People have reached the stage of enlightenment and have not given it the name of Vipassana. But when we go deeply into what they did, we find that they did Vipassana. They didn’t call it Vipassana because they didn’t know the name Vipassana. Unless you examine yourself and take out the impurities, you cannot be enlightened. And when you examine yourself and take out the impurities—this is Vipassana. You can call it Vipassana, or you can call it any name—what difference does it make?

Are there any liberated people living presently?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes. Vipassana is a progressive path to liberation. As much as you are free from impurity, that much you are liberated. And there are people who have reached the stage where they are totally free from all impurities.  

Is meditation the only way to get liberated? 

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes. Just accepting something with blind faith will not help. You have to work for your liberation. You have to find out where the bondage is, and then you have to come out of that bondage. This is Vipassana. Vipassana enables one to directly experience the real cause of bondage, the real cause of misery, and enables one to be gradually liberated from all miseries. So liberation comes from the practice of Vipassana.  


Why is vegetarian food helpful for meditation?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: When you eat meat or something, then this being - animal or fish or whatever it is - for its whole life was generating nothing but craving, aversion, craving, aversion. After all, human beings can find some time when they can come out of craving and aversion. These beings cannot come out of it. So every fibre of their body is vibrating with craving and aversion. And you yourself want to come out of craving, aversion and you are giving an input to all of that. So what sort of vibrations you will have. That is why it is not good.    

Can a non-vegetarian succeed in Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: When you come to a Vipassana course, only vegetarian food is served. But we don't say that if you take non-vegetarian food, you will go to hell. It is not like that. Slowly, you will come out of eating meat, like thousands of Vipassana students have. You will naturally find there is no more need for you to have non-vegetarian food. Your progress in Vipassana will certainly be better if you are vegetarian.  

I want to know if I can fast?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No, no. Total fasting is not good for this technique. Neither total fasting nor overeating. It is a middle path. Eat less - what is necessary for the body - that's all. Fasting you can do later on just for your body's sake - that's another question. But for meditation, fasting is not necessary.  

Global Vipassana Pagoda

We have heard that a large pagoda is being built near Mumbai. What is the purpose of this pagoda? How is it related to our meditation?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The pagoda is a pagoda, and it will be for meditation. You see, unfortunately during the last 2,000 years people in this country have lost, I will say really totally lost, the truth about Buddha and the truth about Buddha’s teaching. Not only lost, but distorted it in a way that misleads people. Unfortunately there have been some episodes of the Buddha’s life shown on TV here, which have created more confusion. Then how can we give people the correct information?

So an idea came to have a huge monument—and there are people to help to get it done—with a gallery where Buddha, his life and his teaching will be shown. People will come out of curiosity to find out what this monument is, and they will get all this information.

Moreover, it will be used for meditation. Fortunately we have been able to procure some genuine relics of Buddha. The Mahabodhi Society has agreed that they will give some part of the relics that they have. And some have been sent by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to be kept there. So all serious students can sit in that pagoda and meditate. And I know with my personal experience: The vibration of Buddha relics is so strong that the whole atmosphere will get charged with that. Moreover, it will be a huge area—about 350 feet in diameter, a circular hall under a 350-foot-high pagoda. About 10,000 people will be able to sit there. Quite possibly a time may come when people would like to have Anapana taught—even for a few minutes. All right, we might give mass Anapana.

Let me explain a little more about this pagoda project. This is not only for a pagoda. Now we have so much difficulty here at Dhamma Giri. Applications come in such large numbers and people have to wait sometimes for months to get their turn. I feel very sorry because of that, but we are helpless. If we allow more than 500 people here—if we construct more buildings—the centre will become so difficult to manage. But there is so much demand. What can be done? So along with this pagoda there will be a huge area—negotiations are going on now—of about 100 acres or more. Besides the pagoda, behind it, there will be a centre.

Here at Dhamma Giri we have simultaneous courses—30-day courses, 45-day courses, along with simultaneous 10-day courses. I know very well that students who are taking such long, deep courses are disturbed when the ten-day students come—vibration-wise it is not very helpful. So I feel it is necessary that we must have a centre where only long courses are given. Two courses should not be given simultaneously. Either here or there will be only long courses, or at a centre between Mumbai and Igatpuri—say about one or one and a half hours away from Mumbai and about one and a half hours from Igatpuri. At times maybe one centre will have only long courses, and the other will have regular courses. At times the other centre will have long courses, and this centre will have shorter ones. We will distribute the work like that. That is another reason.

A third reason cropped up: Your Teacher is getting old, white-haired. So he has sympathy for people who are getting old. Many elderly people want to spend the rest of their life in a Dhamma atmosphere. So we are going to have a Dhamma village. Between the pagoda and this centre there will be a Dhamma village where people will own their own residences. And in that atmosphere of Dhamma there will be residences for people who are comfortably off—they can have some small mini-farmhouses, some bungalows, two bedrooms, one drawing room, a kitchen, etc. There will also be accommodation for people who cannot afford that much but want to live there. There will be all sorts of facilities for people. They can come and stay there for one or two months, or stay for the whole life; there is no objection. There will also be an old age home where no money is involved. The whole atmosphere in this old age home will be suffused with Dhamma. In the Vipassana village and old age home only Vipassana meditators will stay, nobody else. The whole atmosphere must be a Vipassana atmosphere. In the old age home where no money is involved, you get your food, your residence and all facilities for meditation. There will be a Dhamma hall, perhaps a pagoda will be constructed, and you can meditate very easily.

Another important thing that is going to develop there is an institute on a big scale. Here at Dhamma Giri people come to learn Pāli. We know what difficulty they have to face. Even for their residence they have to keep moving from one room to the other. We don’t have sufficient residences for the Pāli scholars. And when they are living here for a long time, people expect them to be doing Dhamma service. Sometimes the management think they are just learning Pāli for one or two hours a day so they should be doing other things as well. It can put a big burden on them.

So there will be an institute where they can work and study Pāli, Sanskrit, Hindi, whatever they like, and the words of Buddha in detail; and they will get good accommodation, their own residences. The whole atmosphere will be such that meditators can work better and be their own masters. So the plan is also for this purpose. This is a dream of your Teacher. I hope it will be fulfilled. 

Guruji, there is an apprehension that the pagoda now being constructed at Mumbai may turn Vipassana into another sect

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes, yes. Well, if this teacher has at least a few more years of life you will see that he will not allow anything we do to turn to sectarianism. If the pagoda becomes a tool for making Buddha’s teaching a sect, an organized religion, then all our teaching has gone to mud—we have not understood what Buddha’s teaching is. If this pagoda is used for people who come and pray, "Oh pagoda, please give me this, I need this," then the whole thing will become an organized religion, certainly.

How are we going to use the pagoda? It will be used in the proper way: For meditation and for the spread of Vipassana, so people learn what Vipassana is. Many people will come just out of curiosity wondering, "Such a magnificent building, what is inside it?" And when they go inside they will get some information, "Well look, this was the Buddha, this is what he taught, these things happened in his life, Vipassana made him a Buddha, and Vipassana made him a good Dhamma teacher for the whole world." People will get so much benefit.

If they get the inspiration to enquire about Vipassana, we will give information. Out of say 10,000 people who come, if even 100 get inspired to take a course, well 100 benefit and at least the rest get the right message. So we will see that this pagoda is not allowed to develop into another sect. Otherwise our purpose will be lost. 


How to come out of inferiority / superiority complexes?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: This is what Vipassana does. Every complex is an impurity of the mind. As that impurity comes to the surface, you observe it at the level of body sensations. It passes away. It arises again. Again you observe. Again it passes away. Like this, these complexes weaken and ultimately do not rise again. Just observe. Suppression or expression is harmful. Vipassana helps one come out of all complexes.

Does Vipassana heal the physical body?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes, as a by-product. Many psychosomatic diseases naturally disappear when mental tensions are dissolved. If the mind is agitated, physical diseases are bound to develop. When the mind becomes calm and pure, automatically they will go away. But if you take the curing of a physical disease as your goal in practicing Vipassana, instead of the purification of your mind, you achieve neither one nor the other. I have found that people who join a course with the aim of curing a physical illness have their attention fixed only on their disease throughout the course: 'today, is it better? No, not better...Today is it improving? No, not improving!' All the ten days they waste in this way. But if the intention is to purify the mind, then many diseases automatically go away as a result of meditation.

A friend of mine has cancer and I was telling her about this technique. I was wondering if this was something she could use to help cure her?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It can help her mind to face the problem. Many cases of cancer have been helped very much by this technique in the sense that there is no more pain from cancer, and one can face the misery. Some people have even died from cancer practicing Vipassana and they have died very peacefully without any misery. In some—very few—cases the cancer has been cured, but one should not come with the idea of curing it. The technique is to purify the mind.

I understand that. I noticed that when I have a sore throat and I start to meditate, then I can get rid of my sore throat or headache.

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It happens—in many ways, in different ways. Physically one gets benefited, but that is just a by-product. The main thing is how to get benefited at the mental level.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, June 1987 issue)

You say that we should not come to Vipassana to cure a disease. However, we see that many ailing people have found benefit. Why do you discourage this?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: We don’t discourage people from coming out of their illness. But the goal should be very clear: Vipassana is to purify the mind so that the mind is free from all illnesses. If the goal is only to come out of a certain disease, your motivation is wrong and you won’t work properly; all the time your attention will be towards your illness. When your attention is not on the object on which you should be working, you can’t benefit. You will attain neither this nor that.

The aim is to come out of all the illnesses of life which make us unhappy. Yes, when the mind is purified, all psychosomatic diseases will have to go, they can’t remain, but we don’t say that physical diseases will also be cured. Some may indeed be cured, but the goal is to purify the mind. 

Can a mentally retarded person gain control over himself by Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It depends. If one cannot understand what is being taught, then there is no magic, no miracle in the technique. It is a mental exercise. Just as you do different physical exercises, so you do this mental exercise. One should be at least intelligent enough to understand what the exercise is, and then to practise it. There are some who have been helped, but we can’t say that everyone will be helped. 

How to deal with insomnia?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana will help you. When people can’t sleep properly, if they lie down and observe respiration or sensations, they can get sound sleep. Practice. Try, and you will find that it is very helpful.

For the past ten to twelve years, I haven't been able to sleep properly.

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana will solve this problem, depending on how properly you work. If you come to Vipassana with the sole aim of getting sound sleep, then it's better you don't come! You should come to Vipassana to come out of the impurities of your mind. There is a great disturbance because there is so much negativity in the mind, so much worry. All these worries, negativities and impurities will start getting eradicated by Vipassana, and you will start getting very sound sleep.

I am emotional, sensitive and always full of anxiety. Can these be overcome by Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Certainly. This is the purpose of Vipassana—to liberate you from all the miseries. Anxiety and worry are the biggest miseries, and they are there because of certain impurities deep within you, which will come on the surface and pass away. Of course it takes time. There is no magic involved, no miracle involved, no gurudom involved. No guru will put his hand on your head and make you a liberated person—nothing doing. Somebody will just show you the Path. You have to work out your own liberation. Walk on the Path.

I am always full of anxiety. Can Vipassana help me?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Certainly. This is the purpose of Vipassana - to liberate you from all miseries. Anxiety and worry are the biggest miseries, and they are there because of certain impurities deep within you. With practice of Vipassana, these impurities will come on the surface and gradually pass away. Of course, it takes time. There is no magic, no miracle, no gurudom involved. Somebody will just show you the correct Path. You have to walk on the Path, work out your own liberation from all miseries.

What is depression? Is it an external, or an internal, problem?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: All problems are internal. There are no external problems. If you go deep inside and discover the cause of your misery, you will find that every cause lies within yourself, not outside. Remove that cause, and you will be free from misery.


By reciting mantra or by visualisation some meditators can reach a very calm and peaceful state of mind and can also be aware of their body sensation at the same time. Can they reach the same final results as those obtained by the technique in your tradition?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is true that by reciting mantra or by visualisation one can reach a very calm and peaceful state of mind. This is dhyānic meditation. Bodhisattva Siddhārtha Gautama learned this samādhi up to the seventh and eighth dhyānas from Ācārya Alāra Kālāma and Ācārya Uddaka Rāmputta respectively, the renowned teachers of the dhyānas of those days. But these could not give him full liberation. After attaining enlightenment through Vipassana which was discovered by him, he added sampajañña, that is prajñā of anityatā to these dhyānic meditations. This was Buddha's contribution to the samādhis of those days and this alone helps to eradicate anuśaya kleśa, that is the impurities of mind at the root level, and makes the mind pure.

Even if one does not work with Vipassana, in some cases, bodily vibrations arise by these dhyānic meditations. But most of the time it is because of the verbalization of a particular mantra. As this happens to be created vibration and not natural vibration, it is not in line with Vipassana, which wants us to observe the natural vibration for which the Buddha uses the words yathābhūta (as it happens naturally). Moreover a Vipassana meditator has to keep on realizing these experiences with the understanding of Anityadukkha, and anātma. This helps to purify the mind at the root level by eradicating anuśaya kleśa, which is missing in the ordinary dhyānic practices.

How does Vipassana differ from other meditation techniques like the use of mantras. Don't they also concentrate the mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: With the help of mantras, visualization of any shape or form one can easily get the mind concentrated, no doubt. But with Vipassana, the aim is to purify the mind. And mantras generate a particular type of artificial vibration. Every word, every mantra will generate a vibration, and if one keeps working with this mantra for long hours, one gets engulfed in the created vibration. Whereas, Vipassana wants you to observe the natural vibration that you have - in the form of sensations - vibrations when you become angry, or when you are full of passion, or fear, or hatred, so that you can come out of them.

Metta (Loving Kindness)

What is metta?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Metta or Metta Bhavana is the technique of generating vibrations of goodwill and compassion that a Vipassana student is first taught on the 10th day of a 10-day Vipassana course. Later, at the end of every Vipassana course, or a 1-hour sitting, a meditator is asked to practice metta, to share the merits gained with all beings. Metta vibrations are tangible vibrations whose beneficial power increases as the purity of the mind increases.  

Is mettā some sort of energy? Is it limitless? Does the amount of mettā increase and decrease over time?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Well, every individual generates mettā. So it increases and decreases according to the capacity of the individual. If the individual becomes purer and purer, the mettā becomes stronger and stronger. If the mind of the meditator is very weak or full of impurity, then the mettā is very weak. It is generated by the meditator.

Does metta get stronger as samadhi (concentration) gets stronger?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes. Without samadhi, the metta is really no metta. When samadhi is weak, the mind is very agitated, and it is agitated only when it is generating some impurity, some type of craving or aversion. With these impurities, you cannot expect to generate good qualities, vibrations of metta, or karuna (compassion). It isn’t possible.   At the vocal level, you may keep on saying "Be happy, be happy’, but it doesn’t work. If you have samadhi then your mind is calm and quiet, at least for a moment. It is not necessary that all the impurities have gone away; but at least for that moment when you are going to give metta, your mind is quiet, calm, and not generating any impurity. Then whatever metta you give is strong, fruitful, beneficial.  

Is the generation of metta a natural consequence of the purity of the mind, or is it something that must be actively developed? Are there progressive stages in metta? 

Mr. S. N. Goenka:  Both are true. According to the law of nature – the law of Dhamma – as the mind is purified, the quality of metta develops naturally. On the other hand, you must work to develop it by practicing Metta Bhavana. It is only at a very high stage of mental purity that metta is generated naturally, and nothing has to be done, no training has to be given. Until one reaches that stage, one has to practice.   Also, people who don’t practice Vipassana can practice Metta Bhavana. In such countries as Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand, Metta Bhavana is very common in every household. However, the practice is usually confined to mentally reciting "May all beings be happy, be peaceful". This certainly gives some peace of mind to the person who is practicing it. To some extent good vibrations enter the atmosphere, but they are not strong.   However, when you practice Vipassana, purification starts. With this base of purity, your practice of Metta naturally becomes stronger. Then you won’t need to repeat these good wishes aloud. A stage will come when every fiber of the body keeps on feeling compassion for others, generating goodwill for others.  

How does mettā help in the development of muditā (sympathetic joy) and kārunā (compassion)?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Muditā and kārunā naturally follow as one develops mettāMettā is love for all beings. Mettā takes away the traces of aversion, animosity and hatred toward others. It takes away the traces of jealousy and envy toward others.

What is muditā? When you see other people progressing, becoming happier, if your mind is not pure, you will generate jealousy toward these people. "Why did they get this, and not I? I'm a more deserving person. Why are they given such a position of power, or status? Why not I? Why have they earned so much money? Why not I?" This kind of jealousy is the manifestation of an impure mind.

As your mind gets purer by Vipassana and your mettā gets stronger, you will feel happy when seeing others happy. "All around there is misery. Look, at least one person is happy. May he be happy and contented. May he progress in Dhamma, progress in worldly ways." This is muditā, sympathetic happiness. It will come.

Similarly, when you find somebody suffering, kārunā automatically arises if your mind is pure. If you are an ego-centred person, full of impurities, without the proper practice of Vipassana, without mettā, then seeing someone in trouble doesn't affect you. You don't care; you are indifferent. You try to delude yourself saying, "Oh, this fellow is suffering because of his own karma. How can I do anything about it?" Such thoughts show that the mind is not yet pure. If the mind becomes pure and mettā develops, hardness of heart cannot stay; it starts melting. You see people suffering and your heart goes out to them. You don't start crying; that's another extreme. Rather, you feel like helping such people. If it is within your means, you give some tangible help. Otherwise, at least you help with your vibrations: "May you be happy. May you come out of your misery. "Even if you have no material means to help somebody, you always have this spiritual means.

What is true compassion?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is the wish to serve someone, to help him come out of suffering. But it must be without attachment. If you start crying over the suffering of another, you have no real compassion for that person, you only make yourself unhappy. This is not the path of Dhamma. If you have true compassion, then with all love you try to help others to the best of your ability. If you fail, you smile and try another way to help. You serve without worrying about the results of your service. This is real compassion, proceeding from a balanced mind.


What is mind? Where is it?  

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The mind is there in every atom of your body. This is what you will understand by practising Vipassana. With it, you will make an analytical study of your mind, an analytical study of your matter, and the interaction of the two.  

When you say mind, I am not sure what you mean. I can’t find the mind.

Goenkaji: It is everywhere. With ever atom, the mind is there. Wherever you feel anything, the mind is there. The mind feels

So, the mind—you don’t mean the brain?

Goenkaji: Oh no, no, no. Here in the West, you feel that the mind is only here. No, no, nothing doing. It’s a wrong notion.

The whole body?

Goenkaji: Yes, the whole body is mind. The whole body!

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, Vol. 39, No. 4, December 2012)

What is the mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The mind is what thinks! The entire thought process is due to the mind. It is the mind that is constantly involved in the various actions of thinking, reading and pondering over what has been read, etc. During its course of thinking, the mind may act beneficially or harmfully. If it adopts the wrong habit pattern, then it will generate feelings of ill will and animosity for others. If instead, the mind reforms itself, then although it will still have thoughts they will now be thoughts for the well being of others. If someone has shortcomings, the mind will want that person to overcome his shortcomings because now the mind knows that due to his shortcomings, that person will perform wrong actions which will make him more miserable and unhappy. So the mind will harbour thoughts of goodwill towards that person. It will want the person to refrain from doing bad deeds and thus save himself from burning in the fires of suffering. We observe that it is the nature of the mind to generate thoughts all the time. Therefore, our most important duty is to guide the mind towards a healthy thought process and prevent it from taking the path of unhealthy thinking patterns. Our entire effort is aimed towards understanding this nature of the mind and correcting it if it goes on the wrong path.

Who reforms the mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is the mind that reforms itself. A part of the mind is always observing its own functioning. If there are thoughts in the mind, it will analyse the nature of these thoughts. Whenever negativity or a feeling of animosity arises in the mind, this same part instantly issues a warning that such negative emotions are undesirable and should not occur in the mind. This part may be called intellect or the part of the mind which is always alert regarding the functioning of the mind and is trying to reform it. If the mind can develop the habit of observing the truth as it appears, then this fact will become clear- that the moment the mind is defiled, it is punished with suffering; and if it is purified, the suffering is removed. It is this observing part of the mind which will understand this process and thus change itself. Nobody wants to remain agitated. Everyone wants to lead a happy life without miseries. To attain this state, the observing part of the mind tries to change the nature of the remaining part of the mind.

You spoke about taking out the bad qualities from the mind. What does that mean?  

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Like you have emotions in you - feelings of depression in you - feelings of animosity towards others. All those are bad qualities. They keep you unhappy. With these you harm yourself and you harm others. Little by little you have to take them out. And you will enjoy great peace of mind.  

What is the connection between the mind and the brain?  

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The brain itself is just a physical organ. As you deal with other parts of the body, you deal with the brain in the same way, that's all. Nothing special to do with the brain. But the mind is totally different. In the West, all importance is given to the brain as if the mind is located here. Nothing doing, it is everywhere. The mind is in the whole body. So give attention to the whole body.  

What is superior to mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: First know what mind is. Then you will know what is beyond mind, what is superior to mind.

If you purify the body, you purify the mind?  

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No. Even though you purify the body, the mind may remain dirty and it will again make the body impure. So the root is the mind, not the body. The body is just the base. With the help of the body, the mind is working, but the mind has to be purified. You keep on washing your body as much as you can, but the mind is not washed. Mind remains still impure. Mind has to be pure. But if you purify the mind, the body gets purified. It has an effect. The aim of Vipassana is to purify the mind.  

What is the characteristic of a pure mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Purity is the characteristic of a pure mind. By purity we mean the state of mind which is without any defilements like anger, animosity, ill will, craving, clinging, etc. If there is any such negativity in the mind, how can it be called pure? In fact, it will lead to some negative act of the body or speech. An impure mind will lead to some impure action. This way you not only harm yourself but others as well. On the other hand, if the mind is pure, it cannot act in a wrong way. It will benefit itself and others as well. This is the basic characteristic of this technique- that we purify our mind so that we are saved from doing harmful deeds through our speech and body. We try to develop this quality of purity of mind so that all our acts are beneficial. A pure mind will never generate ill will against any one. Instead, it will generate good will, affection and compassion for one and all. These are the qualities by which the purity of the mind is assessed.

You say we are meditating (during Anapana) to sharpen the mind. How is the mind sharpened?  

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If you are with reality and not reacting to it, naturally the mind gets sharpened. The mind gets blunt when it reacts. More reaction makes the mind more gross. When you don't react, its natural reality is very sharp, very sensitive.  

What is a sensation?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Whatever you feel at the physical level on your body, we call it a sensation.

Why do you get sensation?

Goenkaji: Because you are alive. Your mind and matter—nāma and rūpa—are working together. Where there is no nāma, no mind, one cannot feel. An inanimate body cannot feel sensations. This pillar cannot feel sensations. Wherever there is life, sensations can be felt.


We should lead a moral life, but morality is deteriorating in the whole world.

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is all the more important that Dhamma should arise at this time, when morality is deteriorating! The time when there is darkness all around is the time when the day should break, the sun should arise.

You yourself say that people can have wonderful meditation experiences without maintaining the precepts. Isn’t it then dogmatic and inflexible to put so much stress on morality?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: I have seen from the case of a number of students that people who give no importance to sīla (moral conduct) cannot make any progress on the path. For years such people may come to courses and have wonderful experiences in meditation, but in their daily lives there is no change. They remain agitated and miserable because they are only playing a game with Vipassana as they have played so many other games. Such people are real losers. Those who really want to use Dhamma in order to change their lives for better must practice sīla as carefully as possible.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, April 1986 issue)

Compared to most other teachers, your courses put much heavier emphasis on discipline and morality. If one sīla [moral precept] is broken, surely it should not be such a big issue. Your attitude is too fundamentalist

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Understand: Following the Five Precepts means that you abstain from any unwholesome action, vocal or physical, which will disturb others. The Precepts are part of this technique; they are the foundation of this technique. If the foundation is weak, you cannot build a house on it. The foundation is necessary at least for the 10 days of a course. If you keep on breaking your sīla, even one sīla, you will find there is a big storm in your mind, which you do not know now. As you practice, you go to the depth and you find what disturbance it creates. Every time you break a sīla, you have to generate a defilement. And every time you generate a defilement, there is a great disturbance in the mind. How can you go to the depth of the mind then? It becomes difficult. Therefore, for those 10 days, you have to observe sīla, you have to work in discipline. After 10 days, you are your own master. Nobody forces you, nobody comes to examine whether you are observing sīla or not. But you yourself will start understanding, “Every time I break sīla in my life, I am harming myself. I am harming myself and then I harm others.” And slowly you will start coming out of this old habit of breaking sīla.

(Ccourtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, October 2012 issue)

During the course sīla is easy to keep, but out there in everyday life it is not so easy

Mr. S. N. Goenka: You learn here how to keep sila outside. It's not that you keep sila only on 10-day courses and then you forget about it. This technique will help you. You will understand by this technique that you can't break sila without generating some impurity or the other in the mind. And you will understand that whenever you generate any impurity in your mind-anger, hatred, ego, passion, anything-you lose the balance of your mind, you become miserable. Whenever you break sila, you make yourself miserable. At the intellectual level you understand that you are keeping sila to help others, to keep from harming others. But deep inside, you also understand: I am not obliging anybody by observing sila; I am helping myself. By sila, I keep myself happy and peaceful, and I help others to remain happy and peaceful too.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, May 2002 issue)

What is the importance of nourishment, sexuality and livelihood in helping or hindering progress in meditation?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: During an intensive meditation course it is essential that the meditator eat vegetarian food. Outside of that, it is sufficient that the meditator become moderate in nourishment, naturally taking care to eat healthy food. Many students become vegetarians naturally.

In the same way, during a course one is requested to abstain from any sexual activities, but in daily life you can continue to have sexual relations with your wife or husband. We have to also understand that the practice of Vipassana meditation leads you naturally to eliminate sexual desire. Gradually the meditator will become full of love for others without expecting anything in return. Passion is replaced by compassion. At this stage sexual activity becomes inadequate to express such pure love. Without any repression or suppression, the meditator enters into a stage of natural celibacy.

Regarding livelihood, a meditator can do any profession, but it should be a profession that does not harm other beings and that contributes to the welfare of others. In this regard, the most important thing is mental volition. Whatever job you are doing, you should do it with the feeling of serving society, in exchange for which you receive remuneration to maintain yourself and your family.

What about sex within the framework of Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: For a new Vipassana student, we don't say that you have to have suppressed celibacy, forced celibacy. It is not healthy. It creates more difficulty, more tensions, more knots. So that is why the advise for a Vipassana student is have relations with one spouse, one man-one woman, and disciplined sex. And if both are Vipassana meditators, a time will come that they will naturally come out of the need for sex. Sex is not necessary. By nature, they are contented, so happy, the body relations have no meaning. But that should happen naturally, not forcefully. So as one starts practicing Vipassana, it is not necessary one should be celibate. But at the same time, there must be relations with only one person; otherwise, this madness will continue. Then the passion keeps on multiplying, one cannot come out of it.

What is disciplined sex?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Disciplined sex is where you don't go mad about sex, where one is not a sex maniac. If one keeps running from one sexual relation to the other, one is not disciplined. If you are with one person, then naturally the sex relations becomes less. If you have sexual relations with many, then it multiplies. The law of nature is such. When you put petrol on the fire, the fire multiplies.

What is the difference between right and wrong sexual conduct? Is it a question of volition?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No. Sex has a proper place in the life of a householder. It should not be forcibly suppressed, because a forced celibacy produces tensions which create more problems, more difficulties. However, if you give free licence to the sexual urge, and allow yourself to have sexual relations with anyone whenever passion arises, then you can never free your mind of passion. Avoiding these two equally dangerous extremes, Dhamma offers a middle path, a healthy expression of sexuality which still permits spiritual development, and that is sexual relations between two persons who are committed to each other. And if your partner is also a Vipassana meditator, whenever passion arises you both observe it, at the level of bodily sensations as Vipassana trains you to do. This is neither suppression nor free licence. By observing you can easily free yourself of passion. At times a couple will have sexual relations, but gradually they develop towards the stage in which sex has no meaning at all. This is the stage of real, natural celibacy, when not even a thought of passion arises in the mind. This celibacy gives a joy far greater than any sexual satisfaction. Always one feels so contended, so harmonious. One must learn to experience this real happiness.

Is the fifth precept to abstain from intoxicants or to abstain from being intoxicated? After all, drinking in moderation, without becoming drunk, does not seem particularly harmful. Or are you saying that drinking even one glass of alcohol is breaking sila?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If you practise Vipassana seriously and one day you drink a glass of wine out of forgetfulness or at a social gathering, that day you will find that your meditation is weak. Dhamma cannot go together with the use of intoxicants. If you really wish to develop in Dhamma, you must stay free from all intoxicants. This is the experience of thousands of meditators. By drinking even a small amount, in the long run you develop a craving for alcohol. You don't realize it, but you take a first step towards addiction, which is certainly harmful to yourself and others. Every addict starts by taking just one glass. Why take the first step towards suffering?

Why is drinking only one glass of wine a breakage of sīla?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: One glass becomes more. So why not come out it from the very beginning?

Once one becomes addicted, it is so difficult to come out of the addiction. Why not refrain from anything that is addictive?

Another important reason is that if someone who has come out of all kinds of intoxicants and is progressing in meditation takes even a very small quantity of alcohol, that person will immediately feel that it creates agitation and will feel unhappy. They can’t take it.

Understand, with the experience of so many who have progressed, that this goes against Dhamma, against the purification of the mind. Ignorance causes impurities to develop and intoxicants are closely associated with ignorance. They drown all your understanding. Come out of them as quickly as possible.

What is the definition of sin?

Mr. S. N. Goenka:  Whatever defiles our mind is a sin. All vocal or bodily actions which disturb the peace and harmony of others, which harm others, first defile one’s own mind. Only then will one perform unwholesome actions. These are all sinful actions. 

You mentioned that we should choose a job or profession, which causes no harm to others. But the social system today is based on cheating and corruption. How is it possible to avoid corruption?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is unfortunate that there is so much corruption and dishonesty in this country. However, this does not mean that we too should become a part of it. We should follow the example of the lotus that grows in mud, in water, but rises above the water. Not a single drop of water can stick to it. 

Similarly, we have to live a pure life in spite of living in a corrupt society. Whatever work we have to do, we will do it honestly. It will be difficult because the entire atmosphere is unfavourable. This is exactly what you are learning here. 

No matter how unfavourable the situation, you are your own masters: the masters of your mind, the masters of your future. You can create a good future for yourself. You can create heaven for all instead of hell. 

Therefore, however tough the situation, we will not commit any unwholesome deed, and automatically, Dhamma will start helping us.

Why do you give so much importance to morality and maintaining the five precepts of sīla, in Vipassana courses?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: I have seen from a number of students that people who give no importance to sīla, or morality, cannot make any progress on the path. sīla is the foundation of Dhamma. When the foundation is weak, the whole structure will collapse. For years, such people may come to courses and have wonderful experiences in meditation, but in their daily lives there is no change. They remain agitated and miserable because they are only playing a game with Vipassana, as they have played so many games. Such people are real losers. Those who really want to use Dhamma in order to change their lives for better must practice sīla as carefully as possible.

Why is it so important to maintain the Five Precepts on Dhamma land?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: It is important to observe the Five Precepts everywhere but it is especially important on Dhamma land.

The first reason is that it is so difficult to observe these precepts in the outside world. In daily life there are many reasons why people break their sīla. But on Dhamma land, where there is a wonderful Dhamma atmosphere, the influence of Māra is much weaker than in the outside world, so you should take advantage of this to strengthen yourself in sīla. If you cannot observe sīla in an atmosphere like this, how can you expect to maintain sīla in the world? How will you develop in Dhamma?                                     

Secondly, it is meritorious to observe sīla anywhere, but observing sīla on Dhamma land is more meritorious. Equally, it is harmful to break sīla anywhere, but breaking sīla on Dhamma land is more harmful. Understand why this is so. As soon as a defilement is generated in the mind you contribute a bad vibration to the atmosphere, and you can’t break any sīla unless some impurity first comes in the mind and then manifests as an unwholesome action of speech or body. If you generate that kind of vibration in a marketplace full of unhealthy vibrations, you contribute something bad to the atmosphere, no doubt. But it is already full of bad vibrations, so your contribution is inconspicuous—just as a new stain on a dirty shirt is inconspicuous. But if you generate mental defilements in the good atmosphere of a centre, you pollute the atmosphere in the same way that even a tiny spot of dirt spoils a clean white shirt.

The mind doesn’t stay idle; it generates either impurity or purity. When you don’t generate impurity you generate purity, good vibrations, and these are your positive contributions to the atmosphere. After all, how does land become Dhamma land? By the meditation of good-hearted people generating good vibrations, which permeate the atmosphere. This is your dāna to the centre, and it is far superior to material dāna.

The more people who meditate in one place, the stronger the vibration becomes. And the good vibrations at a Dhamma centre are helpful not only to those who attend the present courses; they also accumulate. This atmosphere of pure Dhamma will support students for generations, for centuries. You don’t know who will come to your centre after five or ten generations, after centuries. What a wonderful gift you are giving to those unknown people. Your dāna is wonderful.

Equally, the negative vibrations you generate are harmful not only to the present meditators, but also to future meditators who won’t get the strong, good atmosphere that they should. That is why it is important to observe sīla on Dhamma land. It is fruitful for the one who generates good vibrations by observing sīla, and fruitful for others now and in the future. Therefore observe sīla. It is the foundation of Dhamma. Keep this foundation strong. 

Why is there segregation of sexes on a course?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: This would not have been necessary if we were working with other types of meditation which impose a good layer at the surface of the mind, making you forget everything that is deep inside.

But this technique is totally different. From the very beginning it starts an operation of the mind, taking out the impurities from the deepest level. When you operate on a wound, only pus will come out; you can’t expect rose water to come out. What is the pus of the mind? Now the worst pus that you have is sexual passion. The entire loka in which you are living is called kāma-loka, the loka where sexual passion is predominant. Even at the apparent level your birth is because of the sexual contact of your parents. The base of sexual passion is deep inside. And if sexual passion comes on the surface, it becomes stronger for a male when he is in contact with the vibration of a female. When a female develops passion, it is strengthened by contact with the vibrations of a male. And if you remain intermingled while you are doing this operation, it is dangerous. It will harm you. Instead of your coming out of passion, there is every possibility that you will multiply passion. So better remain separated as much as possible. It is essential. 

Noble Truths

Could you say a little about the four noble truths?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Again, these are so universal. Nobody can deny the first noble truth, the reality of suffering. Association with undesirables [undesirable objects, people, situations] and disassociation from desirables brings suffering. So the first noble truth, the truth of suffering or misery, is universal. The second noble truth, the cause of misery, looks different from the inside than from the outside. It seems that I am miserable because something happened outside that I didn’t want to happen, or something didn’t happen according to my wishes. But deep inside, everyone can realize that the misery I am suffering is caused by my reaction of craving or aversion. I like something, and I generate craving. I dislike something, and I generate aversion. This second noble truth is common to all.

So, too, the way to come out of misery is common to all, because you have to eradicate the root of your misery, where craving and aversion start. At a gross level, a good way to do that is to practice sīla—that is, don’t perform any action, physical or verbal, that will disturb or harm other beings, because simultaneously it will harm you. Then work with samādhi; control your mind. But mere control is not sufficient; you must go deep and purify your mind. Once it is purified, craving and aversion are gone, and you have reached the stage where there is no misery at all. It’s all so scientific; people accept it so easily. Of course, if we keep fighting over dogma, difficulties arise. But I say, just practice and see: Are you suffering or not? Isn’t this the cause of the suffering? And isn’t it eradicated by practicing in this way?

Perhaps at the intellectual level, one can come to understand this reasoning about the Four Noble Truths, but how is it possible to explain, in a way that is understandable for the common person, that life is suffering and that the practical realization of this Noble Truth can lead to freedom from suffering?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: This is dukkha - this is a universally bitter truth which cannot be eliminated by ignoring it or by turning away from it. We cannot close our eyes to it and wish it away. We cannot make it go by any speculation or argument. To accept the reality of dukkha is to accept the truth. When we accept the truth of dukkha, only then can we seek a way to come out of it. 

Can there be any impediment to accepting the truth of dukkha? How evident is this truth, how clear is this fact? How the lives of all living beings are infused with dukkha! We cannot even imagine how great is the suffering of all sentient beings. In this tiny span of time while I am engaged in speaking these sentences, on this earth countless smaller beings are being devoured and crushed in bloody jaws; they are being ruthlessly swallowed without any pity. Can we ever measure their agony, their pain, their dukkha

Even if we leave aside the suffering of the sentient beings of the animal kingdom, how immeasurable and limitless is the dukkha of man alone? In this one moment of existence, how many sick people in the hospitals of the world are groaning in agony? How many, having sensed impending death, are crying in vain, in fear and anguish? How many, at the loss of their wealth, prestige, their position, their power, are beset at this moment with pain? Who can have any reason for not accepting the truth of suffering while living in this universe where there is suffering everywhere?

We certainly do not wish to say that in life there is only dukkha and not a vestige of any pleasure. But are the pleasures of the senses really something that can be called happiness? Does not that glitter of happiness contain within it the shadow of pain? There is no sensual pleasure which is permanent, unchanging, everlasting. There is not a single pleasure in the sensual sphere which one can enjoy with satisfaction forever. All pleasures are impermanent, are changing, must come to an end. Whatever is impermanent is unsatisfactory, after all. When we get attached to something because it seems pleasurable to us, how great is the sorrow when that pleasure is no more; the pain becomes intense.

In the eyes of the world, a person may be considered very happy or even consider himself very happy. How long do people enjoy such pleasures? How quickly does the momentary brightness turn to darkness! As much as a person gets involved in and attached to these pleasures, to the same degree he involves himself in inevitable suffering. But one who enjoys pleasantness with detachment - clearly understanding its impermanent nature - is always safe from the suffering when pleasure ends. Therefore, while enjoying these pleasures, if we are aware of their changing, impermanent nature, if we are aware of the inherent dukkha in them, then we remain free of the pain that comes along when these pleasures end. To see dukkha in our pleasures is to see the truth which destroys dukkha; this is a righteous way of life which ensures our well-being.

The purpose of seeing the truth of dukkha is that as soon as the dukkha raises its head, we see it, we apprehend it, and at once extinguish the fire of this dukkha so it cannot spread. If we are aware of the dukkha involved in attachment to pleasure, then we will not allow the fire to spread. While enjoying the pleasure, we will tend not to get tense or excited, and when the pleasure ends, even then we won't become miserable, because all along we have understood the ephemeral nature of pleasure. So, the ceasing of the pleasure does not necessarily become a cause for suffering.

Everyone, without any exception, experiences some of the truth of suffering, but it is only when the suffering is experienced and observed objectively, rather than indulged in, that the truth of it becomes beneficial. Then it becomes a Noble Truth. To cry, to whimper, to writhe in pain because of some physical suffering is, no doubt, seeing the truth of suffering, but to observe and understand the suffering underlying the apparent enjoyment of boisterous laughter, wine and song is to really see the Noble Truth of suffering.

As long as we are unable to observe the real nature of sense pleasures, we shall continue to cling to them, we shall continue to yearn for them-and this is, after all, the main cause of all our suffering.

So, if we are to fully understand, fully comprehend dukkha, then we have to understand and consider the subtle reality. At the level of experience, within the framework of one's own body, one observes the transitory, impermanent nature of reality and thus realizes the nature of the entire mind-matter universe. The world of the senses is impermanent, and whatever is impermanent is suffering.

To understand and to observe this reality is to comprehend, to appreciate the First Noble Truth; and it is this understanding of the Noble Truth of suffering which can take us toward freedom from all suffering.

Often we are able to understand and accept at the intellectual level what has been said but still miss what the deepest cause of our suffering is?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: At the root of all our suffering there is always some attachment, there is always some craving. Let us try to understand desire more thoroughly, more completely and in greater depth.

We are constantly experiencing an infinity of cravings. We see a form with our eyes which seems beautiful, and our desire is stimulated. We hear something, we smell something, taste something, touch something tangible which is pleasant, and at once desire it. Our attachment raises its head. Similarly, when we recall some sense pleasure which gave us intense pleasure-we at once become desirous of experiencing it again. Or if we imagine some sense pleasure which we have not so far experienced, then the craving to experience it manifests itself.

The desire for the objects of these six senses arises because the objects of the senses make us restless. For what we do not possess, there arises a strong craving. We get only dissatisfaction from what we have. Where there is clinging, there is dissatisfaction, and where there is dissatisfaction, there has to be clinging. Dissatisfaction with what is and craving for what is not, both these keep us miserable. 

Even if we were to realize the suffering of greed and clinging at an intellectual level, still we could not come out of this misery by means of such intellectual knowledge. Throughout life, we have been involved in a spirit of greedy competition. Right from childhood, the constant desire has been to get ahead of others. In the mad spirit of competition, life has become a free-for-all-the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest prevails. Life has become tense and full of restlessness and striving.

But where do we find happiness and well-being in this rat-race, when before we achieve the object of our desire, we are disturbed with discontentment. In our efforts to achieve, we lose the equilibrium of our minds. And having succeeded in our achievement, instead of enjoying the satisfaction of possession, we become still more agitated to acquire more, to hoard more.

All such activity-which in its beginning begets anxiety, restlessness, tensions, suffering; which brings more of these undesirable states of mind as it expands; and which ends in more suffering-how could this seeming progress at the material level usher in an era of peace and prosperity?

This does not mean that householders should shun all material activity and spend their lives in poverty. People must work to eliminate their own poverty as well as that of others too. They should really work hard but also maintain a balanced mind while they are engaged in work. If, under the influence of attachment and craving, they were to lose their human dignity, peace and equilibrium, despite having amassed material wealth they certainly would not have achieved any real happiness. To achieve real happiness, one must maintain equilibrium of the mind, reasonableness of the mind.

The disease of clinging and competition spreads like an infectious illness and constantly keeps on spreading throughout humanity. Mankind thus loses peace and tranquillity. This inordinate competition and desire thus becomes the breeding ground for our misery, not our happiness. Peace lies in keeping it at bay. Peace lies in keeping it at arm's length, peace lies in keeping ourselves beyond the reach of the tentacles of inordinate craving and useless competition, and in keeping our mind always balanced and equanimous.

Let me ask you about suffering. What about children who are in great physical pain? They have no control over their suffering

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Parents are responsible for the joy, happiness, or misery of the child, at the initial stage. They need to give them a good atmosphere. If the parents are agitated all the time, quarreling, feeling anger, hatred, this, that, then the whole atmosphere of the family is such that the child cannot experience what real happiness is.

At present, there are so many different kinds of exploitation going on, so people are hesitant about every kind of meditation, whatever it is. But in a few years time, when more and more people start experiencing it, then this will become a part of the life of the society. Now we have our schools, colleges, gymnasiums, hospitals—these are necessary for the society. In the same way Vipassana centers will become necessary for the society. The children will go to these centers—not necessarily for ten days. They will just start by observing their respiration for few minutes. It will become a part of their teaching in the school.

In India, there is a school period which is called P.T., “physical training.” I say, why not also have “M.T.,” a few minutes of mental training? Ten minutes is enough, and the whole day works much better. Some of the schools have started this and are getting very good results. This will become very popular; it is bound to happen. Some people take it as a religion, a cult, or a dogma, so naturally there is resentment and opposition. But Vipassana should only be taken as pure science, the science of mind and matter, and a pure exercise for the mind to keep it healthy. What could be the objection? And it is so result-oriented, because it starts giving results here and now. People will start accepting this.

There are always initial difficulties—when a Vipassana center is started, the neighbors might say, “Oh, who are these people, what are they going to do here?” But after one, two, three years, they find it is something so good, it helps them also. Some of them will come and participate, and the word will start spreading. It has happened this way at every center. The initial year, there is a little turmoil. The second and third year, the neighbors start cooperating. It’s bound to spread.

In face of these situations which we encounter daily, what is the way to end the suffering and agitation that is in us?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If a thing arises due to a certain cause, it can certainly be eradicated by eradicating the cause. Suffering, we have seen, arises because of craving and aversion. If these are completely eliminated, then as a matter of course, suffering will also be eliminated. 

It is easy to accept this truth at the theoretical level but so difficult to realize it at the experiential level. And unless one experiences in practice the eradication of the causes, the resultant end of suffering can never be attained. A truly liberated person does not merely expound the theory of the eradication of suffering; he shows the way to achieve this end. Thus, the way to come out of misery is essentially practical, not merely theoretical.

To eradicate the sources of suffering-craving and aversion-one must know how and where they arise. Through personal experience, a liberated person discovers and then teaches that they always arise whenever there is a sensation. And a sensation arises whenever there is contact of a sense-object with a sense-door-of material vision with the eyes; of sound with the ears; of odor with the nose; of taste with the tongue; of touch with the body; of thought with the mind.

We must eradicate craving and aversion at their source-that is, where the sensation arises. To do so, we must develop the ability to be aware of all the sensations within the body. For this purpose, we should train our minds to become sharp and sensitive enough to feel the sensations at all levels. Along with this distinct awareness, we must also develop the faculty of maintaining equanimity towards all the sensations-pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. If we maintain this awareness and equanimity, we will certainly not react; when sensation arises, one will not again generate craving or aversion.

Many people today are embracing the idea that truths are multiple—that there are many different kinds of truth, that truth is something created by humans and that there is no one ultimate truth. Yet Vipassana, as I understand it, seems to point toward an understanding of truth as something absolute. From the perspective of Vipassana, what is truth?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: You are quite correct when you say that, generally, human beings have created truth. Different people have different views. Human beings are intellectual beings, and at the level of intellect—reasoning, logic—someone will say, “Perhaps this is so. It appears to be so. This seems logical.” Someone else will say, “No, this is not logical, that is logical.” All those perceptions are at the intellectual level, and the intellect has its own limitation—it differs from person to person.

But there are basic laws of the nature: for example, fire burns. What does this have to do with intellect? It is simply the truth. If you put your hand in the fire, it burns. If it does not burn, it is not fire, though it may be something else. This is the law of nature, which can be experienced by one and all. It is not somebody’s intellectual game—it is truth.

Vipassana meditation works with the actual truth, which can be experienced by one and all. Vipassana is not an intellectual game. It is also not an emotional or devotional game. This is another kind of truth that human beings create: “I have great devotion in Buddha, so whatever Buddha says is the truth.” “I have great devotion for Jesus Christ,” and I will say, “Whatever Jesus Christ said is truth.” These are devotional games and they also vary from person to person.

So truths which are based on devotion, or truths which are based on intellect, will always differ. They cannot be the same. But truth based on actual experience will remain the same.

Vipassana gives importance to the actual experience. The truth experienced by each individual is the truth for that person.

Now there are levels of experience; one may not be able to experience a particular truth now. But as one goes deeper inside—experimenting, experimenting, and starts experiencing subtler things, then everyone will experience the same subtle reality at the deeper level. It is not that only a particular gifted person will experience it—the law of nature is the same law for everybody.

Anybody who puts a hand in fire gets burned. Fire won’t discriminate for a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Jew. The defilements of the mind act the same way: if you generate anger, hatred, ill will, animosity, passion, fear, ego, worry, anxiety—any impurity in the mind—it will make you miserable, it will make everyone miserable. The result is the same for an Indian or a Russian, a European or an American. The law of the nature does not discriminate, does not favor. This is truth, truth eternal—for everybody, all the time, past, present and future.

Similarly, if the mind is free from these defilements—if one does not generate anger and the mind is free from negativity, if the mind is pure—one will notice that the mind becomes full of love, full of compassion and goodwill. These good qualities arise naturally in a pure mind. And when these wholesome qualities are in the mind, one naturally feels very peaceful, very harmonious. Again, this is a law of nature. Whether you are a Muslim or a Hindu or a Christian, makes no difference, white or black or yellow, makes no difference.

Purity of the mind makes us feel very happy, peaceful and harmonious. We may belong to any community, any religion, any sect or none at all. Vipassana is beyond all religions, beyond all sects, beyond all beliefs, beyond all dogmas or cults. It is a pure science of mind and matter—of how they interact, how they keep on influencing and being influenced by each other. This reality is not to be accepted at the intellectual level, not to be accepted at the devotional level; it has to be experienced by each individual.

Suppose I have never experienced the burning of fire. I may have understood it intellectually because others have said, “If you put your hand in fire, it will burn.” But once I have actually put my hand on a fire, and I find that it burns, naturally I will keep my hand away from fire afterwards. In the same way, if we understand intellectually that all these negativities make us unhappy, this is an intellectual under- standing. But when you go deep inside, you can experience this truth for yourself: “Look, anger has arisen, and I have become so agitated. Passion has arisen, I have become so agitated. When any impurity arises, I become so agitated, so irritated, so miserable.” You are experiencing it. And when you experience it directly, the next time you will be more careful not to generate such negativity: “Look, this is like fire. If I generate anger, it burns.

This is not a sermon, there is no a devotion involved: it is a fact, a hard fact of the life. If you defile your mind nature, the law of nature, starts punishing you then and there. It won’t wait until after death and take you to hell. You suffer the pangs of hell now. You become so miserable. Similarly, if you keep your mind pure—full of love, compassion and goodwill, it starts giving the reward here and now. Look, your mind is pure, no negativity: you feel so peaceful, so happy. So simple.

That’s all Vipassana is, just following the law of nature. And by practicing, practicing; experiencing, experiencing, one starts changing the behavior pattern of the mind.

To come out of misery and live a happy life—everyone wants this, but one doesn’t know how to do it. By the practice of Vipassana you go to the depth of your mind—where the actual misery starts because of these negativities, where the actual happiness is experienced because of the absence of these negativities—and once you start experiencing these things for yourself, a change automatically happens in your mind. You live a better life. Everyone lives better life.

Other techniques

Can we combine two or more meditation techniques?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: You can combine as many techniques as you like, but don't combine them with Vipassana. Vipassana is unique technique, and combining it with anything else will not help you. It may even harm you. Keep Vipassana pure. Other techniques only give a veneer to the surface of the mind. But Vipassana makes a deep surgical operation; it takes out complexes from the depth of the mind. If you combine it with any other technique, you are playing a game which may be very harmful to you.

Why is it harmful to mix techniques?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Every rite, ritual or ceremony is nothing but a corrupt form of pure Dhamma. If people keep this corrupt thing along with the purity of Vipassana, the rituals will again become predominant in their mind, "That is more important. I am a traditional Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, so that must be there." They can’t get the real benefit of Vipassana.

Another reason is that from one enlightened person to another there is a big gap. During that gap the technique disappears, but the words somehow remain, though the real meaning is lost. And without practice even pure Dhamma taught by an enlightened person will slowly become a sect.

For the head of a sect, the number of followers is important and the aim is to increase this number. Whether people get real benefit or not is unimportant to him. If one of the followers asks for a technique, he will explain the words that remain in his own way, and give a technique without understanding the real meaning of those words. His wish is to keep the followers happy within his sect. And now that starts and people get very attached, "This is given by our wonderful ācariya who is definitely in contact with an enlightened person, so what he says is perfectly all right."

Dhamma becomes polluted because things are started by these people who know nothing of how to purify the mind at the depth. They find some formula here or there, and start these things. If these are added to Vipassana it will get polluted. Then the efficacy of this pure Dhamma will definitely be lost.

Now what will be added? If somebody wants to calm the mind, he will be told, "All right, you’d better recite this word." And the word given is the name of the one who started this particular sect, "...because he is an enlightened person." So every sect will repeat a particular name. Now, one becomes calm because this word is repeated. They think, "Ah, our tradition is wonderful. It gives such peace." But they have missed the real essence of Dhamma.

What is Dhamma? The purpose is to come out of the wheel, the process of birth and death. Every time you generate a sankhāra by reacting to a pleasant or unpleasant sensation, you are giving a push to this wheel. If you don’t reach that place where craving and aversion originate and instead you work at the surface level, then the process of multiplying your misery, your craving and aversion, goes on. When you recite a word only the surface level of your mind is reciting. Deep inside the whole process is the same.

Now if you add this to Vipassana, what happens? Every word has its own vibration, and if you keep on reciting the same word your entire body gets engulfed in the vibration that you have created. It is good at the surface level; it works like a shield so that no bad vibration can enter. But you have forgotten to work with your own vibration.

The technique of Vipassana is to change the habit pattern at the deepest level of the mind. When you are repeating a word you are not changing the habit pattern, because you don’t know what vibrations there are when something is either pleasant or unpleasant. You don’t know how you are reacting to the natural vibrations which keep on working deep inside your body and mind. You have just put up a good shield of created, artificial vibrations. You have created a hindrance for yourself.

What other kinds of pollution are there? You can sit down and imagine something, and your mind gets concentrated with this image. Now how will you reach the stage where you observe craving and aversion arising at the deepest level? You have diverted your conscious mind to an imagined object, and forgotten all about your unconscious mind.

There is another difficulty: The whole technique is to examine the reality within yourself by disintegrating the entire mind-and-matter phenomenon. Only then can you reach the stage which is beyond mind and matter. And now you are creating another illusion, an imaginary shape which is integrated, and you don’t do anything to disintegrate this. How can you come out of ignorance? All this integrated reality is ignorance, it makes you feel that this is "I, mine." Only when that gets disintegrated and dissolved can you understand it is all subatomic particles, wavelets, vibrations. When you reach that stage you find that the entire mind-matter structure is essenceless.

So those who understand Dhamma properly must be careful. You should not add anything simply to please the followers of traditional beliefs or philosophies.

The Dhamma is so complete; there is nothing to add—kevalam paripunnam. It is parisuddham, that is, there is no question of taking out anything. Keep it paripunna and parisuddha and you will get all the benefits. 

What do you think about self improvement by mind programming, by self hypnotizing?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Well, hypnotizing is hypnotizing. It may benefit you for a short time, but the habit pattern of the mind at the deepest level remains as it is. You have to change the depth of the mind, the root of the mind. The habit pattern of the mind should be changed totally and for that one has to work at the root level. Vipassana works at the root level.

Rites and Rituals

Can non-householders be allowed during the Vipassana course to do some of the compulsory daily practices of their own religion for a short period—like sāmāyika, pratikramana, sandhyā, etc.?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: This would be harmful. Understand: The names of practices that are used here—sāmāyika, pratikramana, kāyotsarga, sandhyā—are all words of pure Dhamma, of Vipassana. But today the essence is lost; it is just a lifeless shell which they are performing.

For example: At the source of the Ganges the water is so pure, but it gets dirtier as the river descends. By the time it reaches the sea the water is so polluted you cannot drink it or even wash clothes in it. Now the same thing is found in Dhamma: It starts with such crystal purity, but as it descends all sorts of pollution comes in, and then it is of no use.

Dhamma must be kept in its purity. Such people who perform these rites and rituals must be made to understand what their rite is.

One word that is used is sāmāyika. The literal meaning of this is that the mind becomes equanimous. What do they do for this sāmāyika? They sit and repeat a set formula for forty-eight minutes. Now you sit here for one hour so you have given more sāmāyika, as far as the time is concerned.

But in those forty-eight minutes they repeat a certain formula without understanding that this is done by the surface of the mind, the conscious part of the mind. By diverting the mind to an object—the recitation of a certain word—one feels that the mind is becoming equanimous. Which part of the mind? Just the surface of the mind. The totality of the mind must become equanimous and then it is sāmāyika.

The entire mass of the mind is agitated all the time. Even though the surface has become calm, deep inside there is agitation—craving and aversion. From the very beginning Vipassana helps you to work at that depth, and make the deepest level of the mind equanimous. When people understand that Vipassana is nothing but sāmāyika, the trouble goes away. Attachment to rites, rituals, ceremonies, your particular formula—all that is the pollution of the Ganges water.

Similarly, another word—kāyotsarga—means to eradicate attachment towards this body. Now what do you do? Again you sit down and start reciting a set formula. At the conscious level you recite that formula and feel that you are doing kāyotsarga. Vipassana takes you to the stage where you don’t have attachment to even the tiniest particle of your body. It becomes so clear: Vipassana is kāyotsarga.

Similarly for pratikramana. The word pratikramana means to come back. Now you sit down for some time and remember, "Today I did these unwholesome actions at the physical, mental and vocal levels. Oh, it was bad. In future I won’t do these." It is good, but which part of the mind is doing that? Again, only the surface of the mind.

Deep at the unconscious level, you are making the same mistakes which you want to rectify. Craving and aversion are there; these are the roots. If you can’t take these out, all purification of the mind at the surface level is not really pratikramana, which is to come back to the original state of purity.

The Enlightened One said that the mind by itself is pure: Keep away the impurities, and it is pure. When the mind is in its natural, pure nature, if suddenly an unpleasant sensation arises and it makes the mistake of developing aversion towards this, then it has gone out of its own limit—atikramana. You remember, "Oh, it has gone beyond its limit. Bring it back within the boundary where there is no aversion. Oh it has gone towards craving. Bring it back within the boundary where there is no craving." That is pratikramana. And this is what you are doing in Vipassana. If we encourage people, saying, "All right, because you have taken a vow, carry on," then we are harming them.

Another word used is sandhyā. One literal meaning is that the day and night join together. A deeper meaning is samyak-dhyāna, to meditate in a proper way. The proper way means your entire mind should get concentrated with purity; this is sandhyā. And what is being done now? In the name of sandhyā you recite certain mantras for a few minutes; and you have finished your job. Vipassana gives you samyak-dhyāna, the real sandhyā. People who are involved in rites and rituals will understand all this provided you tell them, "Work on this. Suspend judgement for ten days. If you keep on doing your rites you won’t understand what is being taught here."

I have come across a few cases where people practise Vipassana for some time and also follow their own rites and rituals. When some benefit comes due to the practice of Vipassana, they think, "This benefit came because of my rite. I am so perfect in my rites and rituals." They don’t understand that the benefit is a hundred per cent because of Vipassana. Your rites, rituals, and fasting are meaningless. Only if you leave them aside and then try, can you give a real evaluation of Dhamma.

Then the question comes that during the course somebody might do these rites. Well, if he has worked with all his rites and rituals and gone away, what can we do? Even if you find out later on, we don’t have any stick to run after him. He or she has missed the full advantage of Vipassana.

But if one comes to know that a particular student is continuing to practise all those rites and rituals during a course, then very compassionately tell them, "No, it is harmful. You have to stop it. You have taken a vow not to mix up things, at least for these ten days. Don’t do it." In spite of repeated warnings if someone doesn’t agree, then very compassionately ask these people to leave. You must be very strict. There is compassion in this discipline. You are strict to help others, not to please yourself. With great compassion be strict. 

Can students continue Vipassana along with their rites and rituals after leaving the course?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If they start understanding, "This is an empty shell, and Vipassana is the real essence, yet I can’t let go of the empty shell," then at least they should keep the two apart. Do these rites and rituals, then leave a gap and do Vipassana later. They can continue like that, although it is not healthy. But as they grow they have to come out of these rites and rituals. Rites and rituals can’t go together with Vipassana. 


Why don't we live in a state of peace?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Because experiential wisdom is lacking. A life without wisdom from one's own direct experience, is a life of illusion, which is a state of agitation, of misery. Our first responsibility is to live a healthy, harmonious life, good for ourselves and for all others. To do so, we must learn to use our faculty of self-observation, truth-observation.

What is the point of seeking peace within when there is no peace in the world?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The world will be peaceful only when the people of the world are peaceful and happy. The change has to begin with each individual. If the jungle is withered and you want to restore it to life, you must water each tree of that jungle. If you want world peace, you ought to learn how to be peaceful yourself. Only then can you bring peace to the world.

Suffering, war and conflict are as old as history. Do you really believe in a world of peace?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Well, even if a few people come out of misery, it is good. When there is darkness all around and one lamp has started giving light, it is good. And like this, if one lamp becomes ten lamps, or twenty lamps, the darkness will get dispelled here and there. There is no guarantee that the entire world will become peaceful, but as much peace as you can make yourself, that much you are helping the peace of the world.

Do you have any views on issues such as hunger and nuclear war?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: These are very important issues in society; you can’t close your eyes and run away from them in the name of Vipassana or in the name of any meditation. As Buddha said, “One cannot practice Dhamma, one cannot practice meditation, if he is hungry.” So, this is a very important issue. Every war is harmful; nuclear war is much more harmful. But then just having an ideal aim of keeping society away from such wars will not help. Each individual has to come out of the tensions within. The tensions in society, the tension in the nation, the tension between nation and nation, individual and individual, are all because of the impurity in the minds of the individuals.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, June 1986 issue)

How does Vipassana solve the problems of society?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Society is after all, nothing but a group of individuals. To solve the problems of society, the problems of the individual must first be solved. We want peace in the world, yet we do nothing for the peace of the individual. How is this possible? Vipassana makes it possible for the individual to experience peace and harmony. Vipassana helps to solve the individual’s problems. This is how society begins experiencing peace and harmony. This is how the problems of the society begin to be solved.

Isn't society influenced by the actions of one another?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Of course. We are influenced by the people around us and by our environment, and we keep influencing them as well. If the majority of people, for example, are in favour of violence, then war and destruction will occur, causing many to suffer. But if people start to purify their minds, then violence cannot happen. The root of the problem lies in the mind of each individual human being, because society is composed of individuals. If each person starts changing, then society will change, and war and destruction will become rare events.

If Dhamma has to be lived in one's personal life then how will happiness be achieved at the community level in society?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: These teachings will certainly prevail at the community level. In the first course a mere 14 people attended, but this was a great start for a country which had completely lost Vipassana. Those 14 turned into 24, then into 50 and then 100 and now there are many centres all over the world. The centre at Igatpuri which is the mother centre, Dhammagiri, now receives applications from 1000 – 2000 people per course while it can accommodate just 600 to 700 people. Vipassana is growing rapidly and a time will come, as it was in the past, where meditation centres will open in cities, towns and villages and the work will develop at the community level, just as gyms and akhadas are important in villages, towns and cities to keep the body fit and healthy.

Why do you call your teaching an “art of living”? And how can meditation be used as a tool for creating a better society?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The entire teaching of Buddha is an art of living. If one lives the life of sila, of morality, this itself is an art of living. But living an ethical life while having many negative reactions in the mind also makes one unhappy. So controlling the mind and purifying the mind—samadhi and pañña—along with sila, one lives a very peaceful and harmonious life. When one lives a life of negativity, one remains tense within and gives nothing but tension to others. When one is living a peaceful, harmonious life, one generates peace and harmony for others also. It is for this reason that Sayagyi used to call Buddha’s teaching an art of living, as a way of life, a code of conduct.

In my own life before meeting Sayagyi, I found the tension was so horrible that I remained miserable, and I made others miserable. Coming onto the Path, I found that I was much relieved. I started living a better life, which was more beneficial for the members of my family, for my friends and for society. So if an individual remains full of negativity, society suffers. If an individual changes for the better, it has a good effect on society.

What role do you see for Vipassana meditators in the area of social action, such as helping others in the world—the poor, hungry, homeless, or sick?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Helping others is absolutely essential for every Dhamma person. For someone who is meditating, of course the main aim is to purify the mind. But one indication that the mind is becoming purified is that the volition arises to help others. A pure mind will always be full of love and compassion. One cannot see people suffering all around and say, "I don’t care. I am working for my own liberation." This sort of attitude shows a lack of development in Dhamma. If one is developing in Dhamma, then naturally, in whichever capacity, with whatever abilities one has, in whichever field one can serve, one should serve. But when you are serving people in different social fields, in a school or a hospital or some other institution, you may develop this madness, "Now that I have really purified my mind and am giving all of my time for serving people, the purification process will continue by itself. I should stop my morning and evening sittings because I am doing so much work now. I am doing such a great social service." This is a serious mistake.

With real purity of mind, whatever service you give will be strong, effective and fruitful. Keep purifying your mind, keep examining whether your mind is really becoming purified, and keep serving people without expecting anything in return. 

Can people be involved in social issues and still devote time to doing Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: “Devoting time to Vipassana” is only when you join a course like this for ten days. Thereafter, it is a part of your life. You may lead a very good life as a social worker—you are serving people—but you will serve people much better if you serve yourself. If you keep your mind pure and full of peace and harmony, then you will find that your service is so positive, so effective. But deep inside, if you remain agitated, there is no peace in you and then any service that you give will not be that effective.

(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter,  June 1986 issue)  

If we distract ourselves with meditation, aren't we taking away from the energy we should be devoting to rectifying the rampant social ills on our planet?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana meditation is for this purpose only. A Vipassana meditator does not become selfish, thinking “I am only working for my liberation, for my happiness.” As you progress on the path, and the mind becomes purer and purer, naturally the volition starts: “May more and more people get this wonderful technique, may more and more people come out of their defilements.” This love and compassion is a part of the technique, of the teaching of this technique. Don’t worry that you will run away from your responsibilities. You will perform your responsibilities much better than you did without Vipassana.

(Courtesy:  International Vipassana Newsletter, October 2012 issue)

Now there are many different Vipassana centers around the world but misery, struggles, wars, etcetera are increasing. Is there something wrong in Vipassana? Can't Vipassana make the world peaceful? If we cannot stop wars, the future surely will be in ruins. What more can we do for the sake of world peace?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If there is peace within each person, there is bound to be peace in the world. Unless there is peace within, you can't expect peace in the world. Vipassana is teaching peace within the individual so that it spreads as peace in the world.

Without confusing your mind with all such questions, carry on meditating and see that you get the benefit yourself. If you get the benefit, others will also benefit. And this is how there will be peace. If more and more people practice Vipassana, there is greater chance of world peace. There can't be world peace unless there is peace within individual human beings.

If more and more people practice Vipassana, if more and more individuals live a peaceful life, we are approaching closer to world peace.
The best thing is that those who have taken courses should continue to progress on the path. And those who have not should take a 10-day course and see the result. The result is always obvious. The result is always good. Keep on practicing yourself, and keep on helping others to develop on the path!
Instead of involving yourself in all kinds of questions, practice! Practice for your good. Practice for the good of others. Practice for the good of the whole country. Practice for the good of the whole world. Practice, practice, practice!

What about corruption, which is increasing day by day?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: People have forgotten the law of nature. If these very people start observing the truth within themselves, it will become impossible for them to live a corrupt life.

There is great turmoil in some parts of India and also violence all over the world. Can Vipassana play a role in relieving this?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana is the only way to solve these problems, not only in India but throughout the world. Such violence arises where there are deep impurities such as anger, hatred, and animosity in the minds of the people, and on some excuse or other these negativities are manifested. If the mind is full of negativity, it will succumb to violence and harm others.

We all want peace in the world but how will it happen? No amount of sermons, punishment, or violent opposition can solve this problem. The only way is for each individual’s problems to be tackled with Vipassana.

After all, society is made up of individuals. If you forget the individual and want to change the whole world, you will not be successful. If the whole jungle has withered and you want to see it green and blooming, you have to water the root of every tree. If each tree becomes green, the entire jungle will become green. Similarly, you have to deal with individuals; although it takes time, there is no other way. Vipassana is the only solution.

See that Vipassana spreads. We must have compassion, not hatred, for these miserable people—the terrorists and those who use violence. They need Vipassana. If they get Vipassana, they will certainly change for the better.

People have changed through coming to Vipassana courses, and this is bound to happen because it is the nature of Dhamma. And when the individual changes, society will change. If even ten percent of society practise Vipassana and manifest their purity, goodwill, and mettā, they will start to attract more and more people, and the whole society will start changing. This is the only solution. 

You were speaking earlier of the laws of nature and, right now, many people are observing that nature itself is in trouble. Some are concerned that much of nature is, in fact, dying, and many parts of our natural world are experiencing great suffering. Many people feel a great urgency about responding to that suffering and sometimes they feel anger towards those people who are causing it. What do you recommend? How might they respond to the suffering that they see—both in nature and in human society—with equanimity?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: There are two aspects to this problem. One aspect is polluting the whole natural atmosphere, for example by different kinds of chemicals which harm the vegetation, the life of animals, birds and so on. Of course, any sensible, wise person must stop such pollution. If nature gets polluted, nature’s harm is secondary. We are getting harmed. If the whole atmosphere becomes poisonous, how can people, who have mainly made it poisonous, live a healthy life? They have to live in this atmosphere, and they are spoiling it. So it’s not that they should be kind to nature—I would say, better be kind to themselves. We don’t understand what we are doing. Nature may be polluted now and later on again may become fresh again—after, say, some hundreds of years. Meanwhile, what have we done to ourselves?

So people should think about themselves. I want everyone to be selfish, but selfish in a proper sense. Right now, people don’t know where their real self-interest lies, and they harm themselves. People need to be compassionate toward themselves.

Chemical poisoning is one kind of pollution that is harming people. But another, bigger pollution, happens whenever our minds generate a defilement. That defilement is nothing but a vibration—an unhealthy vibration. It first it defiles the atmosphere within ourselves, and then it starts permeating the atmosphere around us. If I become angry, I am the first victim of my anger. I am the first person who is harmed by it. The second victim will be affected a little later, but first, I’ll be harmed. Then, after I am harmed by this anger, the vibration that goes out from me pollutes the whole atmosphere around me. If there are more and more angry people, how can you expect people to live peacefully in that atmosphere? It’s impossible.

In a family, if there is one angry person, all the family members will become very unhappy. And if all of them are angry, it is a hell. What sort of life is that? But this is what is happening! People forget that when they generate negativity they are not only harming others, they are harming themselves. But if they learn Vipassana, this technique which nature has given us, they can come out of this pollution. See how peacefully they live now, how harmoniously! They are giving peace and harmony to the atmosphere. Anybody who comes in contact with that atmosphere will start feeling peace and harmony.

So that pollution is, to me, is more dangerous. For ages we have been doing this. Saintly people who experience the truth, come and say, “Oh, no, don’t do this.” But still we do. Because we do not understand that we are harming ourselves.

It is the same for the external pollution—people should understand that they are harming ourselves. A factory owner who is polluting the atmosphere with chemical gasses is not only harming others, he is harming himself also, living in that atmosphere. He can’t have a separate atmosphere for himself. But one who is polluting the atmosphere at the mental level is suffering much more. The moment he starts generating anger, he is its first victim, and becomes a very miserable person.

So the atmosphere outside us is bad, as you say, and something has to be done. But when you said that people become angry when they see the pollution, that is not helpful. They have started producing another pollution with their anger. Anger cannot solve the problem. You must have compassion for other people. They are ignorant, they don’t know what they are doing. We have to be firm and very stern, and very strong in opposing them, but deep inside there must be only love and compassion, no hatred. Hatred and anger cannot solve any problem.

Vipassana plays an important role in social change. You have been carrying out its propagation since 1969. However, casteism, communalism and sectarianism are constantly on the rise. Would you like to suggest something that could eliminate these evils?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: There is only one way, ekāyano maggo, and that way is to change each individual. When you want to change society you have to change the individual. After all, society is nothing but a mass of individuals. Each man matters most. And when you talk of man, who is nothing but the combination of mind and matter, mind matters most.

So we should help people understand that since mind matters most, each individual has to change the behaviour pattern of his or her own mind in order to come out of the misery resulting from all this casteism, sectarianism and communalism. People must be shown how they are generating such negativity because of these evils of society.

When you learn Vipassana and look inside yourself you understand, "Look, as soon as I generate hatred I start harming myself. Before harming anyone else, look, I start suffering."

People don’t like to suffer, but they don’t realize that every time they generate negativity in their minds they are harming themselves. The first victim is oneself when one generates negativity. If more and more people begin to realize this they will start coming out of suffering. However, it takes time.

India is a country with such a large population; you should not expect the entire country to have changed in only these last twenty-five or twenty-six years. But I am very hopeful because a beginning has been made. For the last 2,000 years this wonderful law of nature, the Dhamma, has been lost to us. Fortunately the neighbouring country maintained it in its pristine purity from generation to generation, although among very few people. Now we have got it in its pure form.

Now I am sure that the results we are beginning to see will have an impact on society. If a whole jungle has withered away and you want to see it green again, each individual tree has to become green. Each tree must be watered properly at its root. When each individual tree becomes healthy, the entire jungle will become healthy. If individuals become healthy, society becomes healthy. Vipassana is doing its own job. It may take time, that can’t be helped. But the results are coming and I am quite hopeful it will change society. 

Although there is an emphasis on secularism in India there are many castes, creeds and faiths. Would you like to say something about resolving the problems that arise out of these?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana solves all such problems. One cannot be said to be a high- or low-grade person just because one has come out of the womb of a woman of a particular caste. Dhamma does not discriminate in that way. A human being is a human being whether of this or that caste or community. If one is established in Dhamma this is wonderful, and others have to pay respect. But if somebody is of very high caste but does not practise Dhamma, this person deserves pity.

At a Vipassana centre everyone works together and understands that it is only the Dhamma that makes one high or low. The problems of caste or community dissolve. People from all communities, religious traditions and castes sit together, stand in line and eat together. They forget whether they are rich or poor, highly educated or uneducated, from high or low caste. Vipassana is the only solution, not only for this country, but also for the world. 

It strikes me that what you are saying is something that all political leaders should hear

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Well, it starts from there. Every good or bad thing starts from the top and percolates through the society. If these people remain bad, the whole society has to suffer, and can’t get the truth. But if the leaders start realizing that they are more or less owning the destiny of the whole hu- man society, then they should live a better life, a good life, which can give a good example to the people—an example not just of power, but purity. Purity is the greatest power. If they learn how to keep their minds pure, they won’t pollute the atmosphere around. And if they start doing that, it will certainly be so helpful to the whole human nation.

Kindly enter politics to establish Dharma in India and solve the present problems.

Mr. S. N. Goenka:  I have read in the newspapers that politics should be kept away from Dharma. I am totally against this view. Politics must be full of Dharma. The trouble is that the country has taken Dharma to mean sectarianism. Politics must be free from sectarianism, not from Dharma. If there is Dharma in politics, it will be wonderful. The whole country will become so pure, so happy, so peaceful.

Spread of Vipassana

How would you like your students to carry on your legacy after you? What is your unfinished business that you wish to accomplish? Is there anything that we can do for you?

Goenkaji: Dhamma will take care. I need not worry about that. I keep on teaching Dhamma, and those who are developing on the path will carry on. Even now, many of them have started carrying on and helping me. Perhaps in my absence also, the same thing will continue.

In view of the vast expansion of our Vipassana work and its importance to humanity, do you have a vision of how it can continue to spread in its purity in the future, even after you are not here?

Goenkaji: Well, the people who are responsible for the spread of Dhamma must understand that the purity of the technique is the most important part of its efficacy. India lost this wonderful technique within 500 years of the Buddha. This was due to a number of reasons, but the main reason was the mixing of the technique with different rites, rituals, philosophical beliefs, etc. After some time those rituals and beliefs became more predominant than Vipassana itself, and as a result it slowly lost its efficacy. So we have to be very careful that this should not happen again. We already lost it 2,000 years ago and now that it has come again in its pure form we should maintain the purity so that it gives good results for as long as possible. The moment people start making it impure they will begin to lose the good results. People come from different traditions, from different walks of life. They should not try to impose their beliefs or their traditions on this technique. If people realize this important point then whether I am here or not, this technique will long continue to help people.

Most organizations, as they become larger, are preoccupied with their own growth and expansion. How can we protect our Dhamma organization from making this mistake?

Goenkaji: The cause of the problem is included in the question. When these organizations work for their own expansion, they have already started rotting. The aim should be to increase other people’s benefits. Then there is a pure Dhamma volition and there is no chance of decay.

When there is a Dhamma volition, "May more and more people benefit," there is no attachment. But if you want your organization to grow, there is attachment and that pollutes Dhamma. 

How is the Vipassana organization set up to prevent the kinds of abuse—especially financial and sexual—that have plagued so many other spiritual organizations?

Goenkaji: Financial abuse is impossible in this tradition, because anybody who teaches must have some other means of livelihood. This teaching can never become a profession or a means of livelihood for the teacher, or the assistants, or those who serve on courses. Anybody who gives any kind of assistance in this organization must have his or her own means of livelihood. So that nobody expects anything. And even if something is offered, they are not supposed to take it. They are giving this service because they have gotten so much from it—as in my case.

I got so much from this technique. I was a very rich, very angry person, and very unhappy. I had a lot of problems in my life. And this technique took me out of those problems as if I had a totally new birth. So, because I feel so happy with this technique, I feel like sharing with others, because I know people are miserable in the same ways I was.

Rich or poor, everyone is living an egoistic, self-centered life, generating negativities, becoming miserable. If this technique is given to these people, they will become happy. So one feels like sharing it.

In the same way, there are those who have learned from me—thousands of them around the world—who feel like sharing. Some cannot serve, cannot give time, so they donate money. That donation is not like a fee for what they received. What they got, they got for free. They donate so that others can learn this technique. You see, this technique is such that it can only be given in a residential course—people have to come and stay for ten days. So there are boarding, lodging, and other expenses. But we do not charge people for those expenses—there is not a trace of commercialism involved. So where does the money come from? It comes from old students, who may feel that, “I can’t personally go and serve people directly. But I am comfortable in many ways, so I will give five dollars, or ten dollars, or five thousand dollars, according to my capacity.” And this is how it works.

Now, there are other way of exploiting people: one is socially. Those who start teaching may try to keep people under their clutches, like slaves: “My guru says I must murder that fellow,” or “Whatever you have in your house, bring it and donate it here.” All such things are possible, if people become slaves. The Vipassana tradition is totally against that. Each individual is one’s own master. There is no “gurudom” involved. You experience the practice yourself. If you find it is good for you, then accept it. Don’t accept the word of a guru unless you have experienced the teaching and found it helpful to you and helpful to others.

A guru may say, “You are a very ordinary person, I am such a wise, enlightened person, so whatever I say, you must accept.” That is totally prohibited in Vipassana. Each individual has to enlighten oneself, and then only should one accept the truth—not because the teacher says so. Not because the Buddha said so. Not because the Christ said so. Not because the scriptures said so. You experience, yourself, the truth, and you find that, “Yes, it is good for me, good for others.” Then you accept it.

Now with regard to sex, we have seen—and it is a very sorry state—that some people who are teaching spirituality (not all, but many of them) have had sexual relations with their own students. The whole teaching of Vipassana goes completely against that, because when a teacher gives the technique, gives Dhamma to anyone, then this person becomes like a son or a daughter of the teacher. A teacher must have that much love and that type of love and compassion, like the love of a father or a mother. How can one think of such madness as having sexual relations with one’s students? Such a person is not fit to teach Dhamma. His mind is so full of passion, lust, impurity. How can he or she teach this—a technique for ridding the mind of impurities? Such a person is not allowed to become a full teacher. One is given the responsibility to teach only when one has developed to a stage where the mind is reasonably pure, and where one cannot have even a thought of sexual relations with a student. All assistant teachers are trained to develop these qualities and if anyone is found to have committed this kind of misconduct he or she will immediately be de-authorized from assistant teaching.

Since there are still not very many centers, and so many people in the world who can’t get to one, it must be difficult to choose where to make this training available. Most of the new centers are being created in the West. Is the strategy to have it spread first in the places where people already do have enough to eat and can take care of them-selves in that way?

Goenkaji: No. I don’t say that only such people can come, because of my experience in India where there is so much of poverty. Any ordinary, intelligent person will understand that first the stomach must be filled. A person with an empty stomach, how can he meditate? But that person also needs Vipassana, as much as a very rich person. To me, they are equally miserable.

Now, for the person who does not get even enough to fill the stomach one time during the day, this is so difficult. If that person comes to a course, for those ten days, at least, he is worried less about food. That person gets free food, free lodging, everything required, much better than he gets in his hut outside. And then he learns Vipassana. Going back out, he is able to face his difficulties much better. Of course, he has difficulties. I say the rich person has got more difficulties, but people never understand that.

In India, 25% or 30% of the people coming to the Vipassana courses live below the poverty line. Even people who sometimes go all day without eating, they come. After the ten days, their family members come sometimes and thank us. This person may have no money, but whatever money he does earn, even a small amount, he spends on alcohol or gambling, because he thinks this is the only way to come out of misery: “If I have some alcohol, I will forget the misery; by gambling, I might earn more.” So these two addictions are there even with the poorest people in India. After just one or two courses, they are freed from these unwholesome habits. Automatically. Nobody tells them, “Going back home, you should not take alcohol.” Nobody tells them, “Going back home, don’t gamble.” All that addiction is addiction towards body sensations. And once they have learned to observe body sensations, they come out of these addictions.

Vipassana has easily freed people from their addiction to drugs or alcohol, because all addiction is to body sensation. It looks as if one is addicted to alcohol, but no—one is addicted to the sensation that is created by taking alcohol, and one wants that sensation again and again. One has to take something to generate that sensation. Now through Vipassana, one learns that when the sensation comes, one simply observes. I am not reacting, so my attachment to it goes away.

So those people who are so poor, they start getting benefited even at the material level. Whatever they earn they now use for their family, for themselves. They have started living a better life. Previously, they were not earning because of their agitated mind, because of the alcohol, because of the gambling. Now their mind is steadier, and they start earning much more. Whatever work they do, they get better results. So their earning increases, and their expenditure goes down. Materially, they are becoming better. These results are happening everywhere.

If a rich person who is very self-centered practices Vipassana, the self-centered nature goes away. That person realizes, “All this money that I am earning or that I have, why is it for me alone? It has come from the society. Of course it should be used for my maintenance or the maintenance of those who depend on me. Certainly I am a householder, I am not a monk or a nun. But it should also be used for the society, for the good of others.” This person was just exploiting the society by grabbing money, legally or illegally, while other people were suffering. Now this person becomes so generous, for the good of others, and comes out of suffering in that way. Because this person was himself suffering. When he comes out of it, his accumulation is used for the good of others—that is also natural law There is no magic to changing the society, no miracle required. Things have gone so bad, let them come out in a proper way. They will, because Vipassana has started creating results.

We have just heard that a very large stūpa may be built somewhere in India. We would be interested to learn a little about this, such as where it might be located, what it is going to be like, how it is to be built, and what it is intended for. Can you tell us anything about it?

Goenkaji: I do not yet know myself when it will be built, where it will be built, or whether it will be built or not.

One thing must be very clear: Our aim, in everything that we do, is to let people properly know about Buddha and his teaching, about Vipassana—so that they don’t have any doubts about the teaching and they get inspiration to come to the courses. The benefit that people get will not be because of this pagoda but by the meditation that they will do once they have understood the actual life of Buddha. So many misunderstandings have cropped up in this country during the last twenty centuries. These must be eradicated. The real teaching of Buddha, his life, and how people benefited from it, all that will be explained—if it is possible, if it really comes up.

Now there are many different Vipassana centers around the world but misery, struggles, wars, etcetera are increasing. Is there something wrong in Vipassana? Can't Vipassana make the world peaceful? If we cannot stop wars, the future surely will be in ruins. What more can we do for the sake of world peace?

Goenkaji: If there is peace within each person, there is bound to be peace in the world. Unless there is peace within, you can't expect peace in the world. Vipassana is teaching peace within the individual so that it spreads as peace in the world.

Without confusing your mind with all such questions, carry on meditating and see that you get the benefit yourself. If you get the benefit, others will also benefit. And this is how there will be peace. If more and more people practice Vipassana, there is greater chance of world peace. There can't be world peace unless there is peace within individual human beings.

If more and more people practice Vipassana, if more and more individuals live a peaceful life, we are approaching closer to world peace.
The best thing is that those who have taken courses should continue to progress on the path. And those who have not should take a 10-day course and see the result. The result is always obvious. The result is always good. Keep on practicing yourself, and keep on helping others to develop on the path!
Instead of involving yourself in all kinds of questions, practice! Practice for your good. Practice for the good of others. Practice for the good of the whole country. Practice for the good of the whole world. Practice, practice, practice!

As an industrialist and in business, do you see that Vipassana could ever spread into business?

Goenkaji: Oh certainly. Earning money—just earning money—doesn’t give peace. I have passed through all that so I know having a lot of money is full of misery. But money with Dhamma will give so much peace. And this money will be used for a good cause, which is good for them, good for others.

Do you see any danger in Vipassana meditators mixing Vipassana with the therapies or techniques with which they earn their livelihoods?

Goenkaji: As soon as you mix Vipassana with your livelihood you are harming yourself and also others. Understand how this happens: You might help people by some kind of therapy, and there is nothing wrong with helping people, carry on with that; but once you add Vipassana to it, people will think that the benefit they have gained from Vipassana is because of the other therapy. Even if they realize that the benefit is due to Vipassana, now Vipassana will be seen as a secondary therapy—just a supplement to the main therapy.

That is how you might start harming others. Anybody who creates an obstacle in the progress of another on the path of liberation is performing the most unwholesome action possible. It is very harmful. Under no circumstances, either directly or indirectly, should Vipassana be used as a profession, as a livelihood.

The Buddha

You expound the teachings of the Buddha but don’t call them Buddhist. Why don’t you disseminate the Buddhist Dhamma?

Goenkaji: Well, Buddha never taught Buddhist Dhamma. He taught only Dhamma. Who am I to teach Buddhist Dhamma? I am just a son of Buddha and I got this as an inheritance from Buddha. So I must teach exactly as Buddha taught. If we call it Buddhist Dhamma then it will remain limited to a certain community only. But Dhamma is unlimited, it is for all. The Buddhist Dhamma will be for the Buddhists, Hindu Dhamma will be for the Hindus, and Jain Dhamma will be for the Jains. It makes it limited, whereas Dhamma is unlimited. So it is better to teach Dhamma, which anybody can practise and get the same results, same benefit.

Is Vipassana part of Buddhist religion? Can people of other religions practice it, or does it interfere with other kinds of religious practices? Why would Christians, for instance, want to do this?

Goenkaji: One thing should be clear—this definitely is not Buddhist religion. At the same time, it is definitely the teaching of the Buddha. One should understand that ‘Buddha’ means an enlightened person, a liberated person. Enlightened, liberated persons never teach a religion; they teach an art of living, which is universal. They never establish a sect or religion. So there is no such thing as Buddhist religion; it is an art of living. Anybody belonging to any community, to any sect, to any religious group can easily practice it because it is universal, an art of living.

Peace of mind is sought by everyone; purity of mind is sought by everyone. Christ was a wonderful person who taught not only peace and harmony but also purity of mind, love, compassion. So those who follow the teachings of Christ would certainly like to develop these good qualities of purity, love, and compassion. When they come to courses, they don’t feel that they are coming to a foreign religion. A number of times, very senior priests and nuns have told me that we are teaching Christianity in the name of Buddha.

You keep referring to the Buddha. Are you teaching Buddhism?

Goenkaji: I am not concerned with 'isms'. I teach Dhamma, and that is what the Buddha taught. He never taught any 'ism', or any sectarian doctrine. He taught something from which people of every background, every religion, can benefits. He taught the way with which one can to live a life full of benefits for oneself and other. He didn't merely give empty sermons saying, ' Oh, People. You must live like this, you must live like that". The Buddha taught practical Dhamma , the actual way to live a wholesome life. And Vipassana is the practical know-how to lead a life of real happiness.

A sammāsambuddha is a being that rediscovers the technique of Vipassana. Does it mean that no meditator can ever be a sammā-sambuddha?

Goenkaji: Why not? A meditator can be a sammāsam-buddha but it takes time, it is not easy. When we say that a sammāsambuddha rediscovers the technique, that means somebody becomes a sammāsambuddha only at a time when the technique is totally lost. Otherwise he is not a sammāsambuddha. He has to rediscover something which is totally lost. So he takes his last birth at a time when the technique of Vipassana is totally lost in the world and he rediscovers it.

Can you explain the Buddha's concept that the entire universe is contained within this very body?

Goenkaji: Indeed, within this body turns the wheel of becoming. Within this body is the cause that puts into motion the wheel of becoming. And so within this body is also found the way to attain liberty from the wheel of suffering. For this reason investigation of the body - correct understanding of the direct physical reality within - is of utmost importance for a meditator whose goal is liberation from all conditioning.

What is the best way to do Buddha puja? 

Goenkaji: The Buddha himself explained on many occasions, what is proper Buddha puja (worship of Buddha). Just before his mahāparinibbāna (passing away) when flowers were being showered on him, he said that this is not a proper veneration of the Buddha. He pointed out to two bhikkhus who were meditating seriously at a distance at that time and said that they were venerating the Buddha in the right way. 

All Buddhist meditation techniques were already known in yoga. What was new in meditation as taught by the Buddha?

Goenkaji: What is called yoga today is actually a later development. Patanjali lived about 500 years after the time of the Buddha, and naturally his Yoga Sutra shows the influence of the Buddha's teachings. Of course, yogic practices were known in India even before the Buddha, and he himself experimented with them before achieving enlightenment. All these practices, however, were limited to sila (morality) and samadhi (concentration of the mind), concentration up to the level of the eight jhana, the eight stage of absorption, which is still within the field of sensory experience. The Buddha found the ninth jhana, and that is Vipassana, the development of insight that will take the meditator to the ultimate goal beyond the misery of sensory experience.


We have heard that you are writing a detailed introduction to the Tipitaka, the teachings of the Buddha, which will inspire meditators. Would you like to throw some light on this and also say when it is likely to be in print?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Well, I’ve taken up this job knowing full well my limited knowledge of the Pāli language. But when I read Buddha’s words in the language spoken by him I feel so inspired. Before I came to Vipassana, before I came in contact with the Buddha’s words, I should say I knew nothing about Buddha or about his teaching. It is shameful that when I took my first course I had not even read the Dhammapada. I had no knowledge at all of these teachings.

So I can quite understand that although large numbers of people here in India have respect for Buddha (of course, some say he is an incarnation of God), they know nothing about his teaching. When they come to Vipassana courses they are amazed and are so fascinated by such a wonderful teaching that they want to know more. However, for most students, to learn Pāli in order to read the Buddha’s words is too large an undertaking. So I just wanted to give the gist of the teachings to inspire students. I am not a professional writer, but still I try to write.

Now the first volume will give as much information as possible about the Buddha. Not just about his physical appearance, but the Dhamma body of the Buddha, the qualities of the Buddha. For example, Iti’pi so bhagava araham… I try to explain the meaning of the quality araham and how Buddha displayed this quality. In this way, each quality of the Buddha is explained along with related incidents in order to give detailed information about the Tipiṭaka under different headings.

The next volume will be about Dhamma, to explain how Buddha was not a founder of any religion or any sect. What he taught was the law of nature; he discovered the law of nature. I would say that he was a super-scientist. Modern science seeks only our comfort. But this super-scientist sought to eliminate all our miseries in a scientific way. You see, Dhamma is not Buddhism. Buddha never taught Buddhism. He had nothing to do with Buddhism. He taught Dhamma. He called those who were following his teachings dhammiko, dhammattho, dhammim, dhammacari, dhammavihari. He never used the words Baudda or Buddhism. This point should be well understood by students. This is the purpose of the second volume.

The third volume will be about Sangha. It is commonly understood that anyone who wears a particular robe is Sangha. Well yes, this is apparent Sangha, no doubt. But when Buddha refers to one who has become Sangha he means that this person has reached a certain stage and has become a saint, an ariya. Only then is one Sangha. So many became Sangha through his teachings. This should give inspiration to the students. They will think, "I may come from a particular tradition, with a particular belief, but once starting to practice Dhamma I begin purifying my mind. In a very scientific way it is becoming more and more pure. I am on the way toward the goal of totally purifying my mind." This third volume will include examples of persons who became Sangha.

So I am trying. I don’t know how successful I will be nor can I say when the work will be completed. With all the other responsibilities it will take time. But I will do my best. 

Are new editions of the CD-ROM being planned? And does this have any relevance to patipatti (practice of Vipassana)?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Well, the first work is completed and I congratulate all those people who worked on this. This is not final, other versions will come out. But one point should be very clear with all those who are working on the project: For us the propagation of pariyatti is not the final aim. For us patipatti is the aim. Pariyatti will help.

Why have we collected all these scriptures? Because many books, many old scriptures were lost in China, Tibet and other countries. Who knows if more will get lost? If I look at a Pāli book printed about a 100 years back in Burma, many of the books listed in the references are no longer available. Within these 100 years so many books have been lost. Before more get lost, it is my duty to keep them alive by putting them on CD-ROM.

Now we have three scripts on CD-ROM and two more scripts will be added, and quite possibly four or five more. In all it might be six, seven, we cannot say. But when another two scripts and some more volumes are included—which may be completed in a few months—we will put it on the Internet and make it open for discussion.

What is the main purpose of that? Now Dhamma Giri is a world centre for patipatti and the Internet will be used by this centre for discussion on all aspects of patipatti. So we will start a sort of discussion on the Internet. We will put forward an item, and say, "We feel that bodily sensation is very important in the teaching of Buddha." People will respond, "No, no. The word ‘vedanā’ means ‘feeling’, the ‘feeling’ means ‘mind’." Let it come, let communication start in that way. If we are making a mistake, we don’t feel shy to rectify it. But if others have gone wrong somewhere, then at least they will learn what is the correct translation of what the Buddha said.

This is only one example. There can be so many things like this that we can discuss. For instance, there is the question, what is ‘sampajañña’? Even the Atthakathās sometimes might have not have given the proper answer. For us, when there is a difference between Atthakathā and the Tipitaka, Tipitaka is more important. Instead of Buddhaghosa I go to Buddha, "What do you say, sir? How should I understand this?"—not to Buddhaghosa. If the Atthakathās give a clear explanation, it is perfectly all right. But if the explanation is not clear, for me Buddha is more authentic. So all those things will come up now, with this international discussion which will start in a few months’ time as soon as we put it on the Internet.

Now a wonderful thing has arisen because of this CD-ROM—here is one example: When I came to this country to fulfil my teacher’s wish that Vipassana should get established in India and then spread around the world, the first thing that came in my mind was, "I have come here to teach Buddha’s teaching as Dhamma, not as Buddhism. The moment I say I have come here to teach Buddhism, nobody will even listen to me, let alone spend ten days with me to learn it." But this was not strategy for me—it was my conviction, because Buddha was so very much against sectarianism.

After so many years, the CD-ROM came out and I asked somebody who was working on it, "Please look for the word ‘Bauddha’—that means Buddhist or Buddhism—is it written anywhere?" There are 146 volumes, more than 55,000 pages, millions of words—but not a single ‘Bauddha’ is there. "Buddhism" is never used anywhere—neither in Atthakathā, Tipitaka nor tīkā—nowhere is this word found. Not at all. I was so happy.

How did the teaching of Buddha deteriorate? Now we have to investigate how this word Bauddha started. Who first used this word? To me—I am very frank—whoever first used the word Buddhism or Buddhist, in any language, was the biggest enemy of Buddha’s teaching. Because the teaching had been universal, and now out of ignorance, he made it sectarian. Buddhism is only for Buddhists but Dhamma is for all. The moment you say Buddhism, then you are making Buddha’s teaching limited to a certain group of people, which is totally wrong.

So we will make inquiries and discuss these things with people on the Internet. We will give information to people and if they have any other information, we’ll be able to get this from them. This centre here will become important for the discussion of Buddha’s teaching pertaining to Vipassana. If anything comes which is pertaining to any kind of philosophical arguments, we will say, "No, no, thank you. We don’t discuss that. We will discuss only things which will support the work of Vipassana." 

It has been mentioned that in Burma there are various writings on palm leaves that VRI would like to publish before they deteriorate and are lost. If this is correct, can you tell us something about the contents and significance of these writings as well as where they originally came from?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: All these palm leaves contain literature in Pāli language. Certain palm leaf texts have already been published so we won’t deal with these. But there are some palm leaves with literature which has never been published. Certainly it will have something to do with Dhamma because it is in Pāli, so we want to bring it back here, print and publish it, and use it for our research. It is all to preserve the cultural inheritance of our country, which India has lost. Everything in Pāli was lost in this country. If somewhere something exists, it is our duty to bring it here and get it published and make use of it for Vipassana.

Vipassana Courses

What do you suggest to people who cannot attend a ten-day course?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Make a determination to attend a ten-day course. Without that, nothing can be done. There is no magic, no miracle. Why should I ask people to spare ten days of their life, if I could just sit here and teach them in an hour? That would be easy, but it wouldn't work. One has to spare ten days of one's life to learn the technique. It is such a deep, subtle technique. Ten days is the minimum time needed to learn it properly.  

Can one learn Vipassana from a book? 

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No. It can be very dangerous. Vipassana is a very delicate and deep operation of the mind. One must take a 10-day course, to make a beginning.  

How can professionals, who have less time, practise meditation?  

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Meditation is all the more important for professionals! Those who are householders, who have responsibilities in life, need Vipassana much more, because they have to face situations in life where there are so many vicissitudes. They become agitated because of these vicissitudes. If they learn Vipassana, they can face life much better. They can make good decisions, correct decisions, which will be very helpful to them.  

How can one take a Vipassana course?   

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Applications for a Vipassana course can be sent to any Vipassana centre in India or abroad. There are certain rules, a Code of Conduct that one must agree to follow before applying for a course. Doing a Vipassana course is voluntary, there can be no compulsion here. But during a Vipassana course, the course rules have to be strictly followed. These rules are to enable a student to get maximum benefits from doing a Vipassana course.  

What are the charges/fee for a Vipassana course? 

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Charges?! Dhamma is priceless! There is no fee and there can never be a fee charged for teaching Vipassana. Vipassana courses are completely free of charge. Earlier, for a short time, some small actuals were charged for boarding and lodging expenses. Fortunately, that has been removed. So one does not have to pay anything to attend a Vipassana course.  

Why are there no fees charged for doing a Vipassana course?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: One reason, as I said, is that Dhamma is priceless. It cannot be valued in money. Another reason is that a student taking a Vipassana course practices renunciation from the householders' responsibilities, for the duration of the course. He or she lives like a monk or a nun, on the charity of others. This is to reduce the ego, a big cause of one's misery. If one even pays a small token fee, then the ego gets built up, and one may say, "Oh, I want this. This facility is not to my liking", "I can do whatever I want here", and so on. This ego becomes a big hindrance in progressing on the path of Dhamma. This is another reason why no fee is charged. This has been the Dhamma tradition for millennia. The Buddha did not charge any fee for distributing this invaluable gem of Vipassana!  

How are expenses met for a Vipassana course, since no fee is charged from students?  

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The expenses are met from voluntary donations (dana) from students who have completed at least one Vipassana course. The donation, in money or services, is given with the Dhamma volition that, "As I benefited by getting this wonderful technique due to the generous dana of others, may others also benefit ". Most important is the volition with which the dana is given. Even a handful of fertile soil given with a pure Dhamma volition, is far more beneficial than a bag of gold given with ego, or with no Dhamma volition. The dana given with a pure mind gives benefits to the giver.   However, this does not mean that somebody will go around at the end of the course, asking every student if he wants to give a donation. A table is put in a quiet corner, and whoever wishes to give dana goes there and gives it, that's all.    

Why do you say the early morning hours are good for meditation?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Going to bed early and getting up early is a very good habit. It keeps you healthy. The early morning hours are also very good for meditation, for your daily practice, because that is the time when all others are sleeping ; so most of this craving - when people awaken, everybody craves, the whole atmosphere is full of craving, you can't meditate better. Everybody is sleeping, you meditate - best time.    

Vipassana Meditation

Do you think that U Ba Khin taught exactly what the Buddha taught? Did he adapt the Buddha's teachings to modern times? And if so, how and what did he change from the original teachings?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: There was no change in the teaching, but U Ba Khin certainly made the way of presenting the teachings of the Buddha more adapted to the people who came to him. To the non-Buddhist, English-speaking Western people, who were more scientific minded, he would present the teaching in a more scientific way. So the explanation was made more palatable to those who were coming to learn, but the actual practical teaching remained the same.

Why is your teaching called "in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin"? Did he inaugurate a tradition of Buddhism?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: He always referred to the tradition of the Buddha, the tradition that was transferred to Myanmar and was continued down through the three generations of teachers we spoke about: Ledi Sayadaw, his disciple Saya Thetgyi, and finally U Ba Khin. We use the term "in the tradition of U Ba Khin" because he was the last teacher and was very well-known in his country, but this does not mean that this is a technique invented by him. It's an old -technique which he was teaching in a modern way.

Please briefly explain what is Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana is an objective observation of the functioning of the mind-body phenomenon from moment to moment. It is 'Yathābhūta jñāna darśanam' i.e. wisdom of realisation of the truth as it is. Vipassana Meditation is a technique to observe the reality about oneself objectively, at the experiential level; to observe it "AS IT IS", not just as it appears to be.

What is it that you’re actually teaching? What is the goal of your teaching?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: I am teaching a way of life, a code of conduct, an art of living. The goal is to learn how to live peacefully and harmoniously, how to live in morality, how to live with control over the mind, and how to live with the spirit of the mind full of good qualities like love, compassion, goodwill.

I know the Buddha’s teaching doesn’t give importance to miracles, but aren't they useful to attract others?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: If you attract others by miracles, then they will look only for miracles. They won’t practice. The biggest attraction is seeing how a very miserable person has changed so much—how a person with a terrible, inhuman life has changed with compassion. That is the biggest attraction, the biggest miracle. Of course miracles do come. As you practice, you go deeper and miracles come. But don’t show these miracles to anybody. Otherwise Dhamma will get polluted. Keep the Dhamma pure. It is not for showing miracles. It is for showing how people get liberated from their misery. That is more important.

Can you explain the Buddha's concept that the entire universe is contained within this very body?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Indeed, within this body turns the wheel of becoming. Within this body is the cause that puts into motion the wheel of becoming. And so within this body is also found the way to attain liberty from the wheel of suffering. For this reason investigation of the body - correct understanding of the direct physical reality within - is of utmost importance for a meditator whose goal is liberation from all conditioning.

All Buddhist meditation techniques were already known in yoga. What was new in meditation as taught by the Buddha?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: What is called yoga today is actually a later development. Patanjali lived about 500 years after the time of the Buddha, and naturally his Yoga Sutra shows the influence of the Buddha's teachings. Of course, yogic practices were known in India even before the Buddha, and he himself experimented with them before achieving enlightenment. All these practices, however, were limited to sila (morality) and samadhi (concentration of the mind), concentration up to the level of the eight jhana, the eight stage of absorption, which is still within the field of sensory experience. The Buddha found the ninth jhana, and that is Vipassana, the development of insight that will take the meditator to the ultimate goal beyond the misery of sensory experience.

You talk about conditioning of the mind. But isn’t Vipassana also a kind of conditioning of the mind, even if a positive one?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: On the contrary, Vipassana is a process of de-conditioning. Instead of imposing anything on the mind, it automatically removes unwholesome qualities so that only positive, wholesome qualities remain. By eliminating negativities, it uncovers positivity, which is the basic nature of the pure mind.

Is Vipassana the only way to that purity?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Well, what do you mean by the “only way”? We have no attachment to the word “Vipassana.” What we say is, the only way to become a healthy person is to change the habit pattern of one’s mind at the root level. And the root level of the mind is such that it remains constantly in contact with body sensations, day and night. What we call the “unconscious mind” is day and night feeling sensations in the body and reacting to these sensations. If it feels pleasant sensation, it will start craving, clinging. If it feels unpleasant sensation, it will start hating, it will have aversion. That has become our mental habit pattern.

People say that we can change our mind by this technique or that technique. And, to a certain extent, these techniques do work. But if these techniques ignore the sensations on the body, that means they are not going to the depth of the mind.

So you don’t have to call it Vipassana—we have no attachment to this name. But people who work with the bodily sensations, training the mind not to react to the sensations, are working at the root level. This is the science, the law of nature I have been speaking about.

Mind and matter are completely interrelated at the depth level, and they keep reacting to each other. When anger is generated, something starts happening at the physical level. A biochemical reaction starts. When you generate anger, there is a secretion of a particular type of biochemistry, which starts flowing with the stream of blood. And because of that particular biochemistry which has started flowing, there is a very unpleasant sensation. That chemistry started because of anger. So naturally it is very unpleasant. And when this very unpleasant sensation is there, our deep unconscious mind starts reacting with more anger. The more anger, the more this particular flow of biochemical. More biochemical flow, more anger. A vicious circle has started. Vipassana helps us to interrupt that vicious cycle. A biochemical reaction starts; Vipassana teaches us to observe it. Without reacting, we just observe. This is pure science. If people don’t want to call it Vipassana, they can call it by any other name, we don’t mind. But we must work at the depth of the mind.

Is our tradition the only tradition of pure Dhamma?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Understand what pure Dhamma is: The law of nature, the truth about mind and matter and their interaction, how mind and matter are influencing each other and how this can be experienced. It is not the play of useless intellectual games. Buddha wanted us to experience Dhamma.

When you start experiencing the truth at the depth of the mind, you find that it is the same with everyone. Not just at the surface level, the paritta citta, the conscious mind, but at the depth. The problem lies at the depth of the mind where the behaviour pattern of reaction begins. There is a Pāli word, nati, which means inclination. At the depth of the mind where there is an inclination towards reaction, the unwholesome process begins. For example, the reaction of anger is triggered by this inclination and one continues to react with this anger for a long time. As this repeats itself over and over again, the behaviour pattern of reacting with anger is strengthened. This happens similarly with passion or any other defilement.

For behaving like this you are responsible. No outside power is producing this behaviour. You are doing it out of ignorance. Now, with Vipassana you begin to understand, "Look at this game I’m playing. I am harming myself. I am making myself a prisoner of my own behaviour patterns." If you start observing this process deep within yourself, you will find that naturally it stops, and eventually you’ll reach the stage where even this inclination towards reaction does not arise. What else can pure Dhamma be than this?

If you work at only the superficial level of the mind and either give it a good layer or else divert the attention to some other object in the attempt to come out of this pattern of reaction, you do find that the mind becomes calm. But this is only at the surface of the mind. Deep inside the same inclination towards reaction is still going on and unless you reach that point how will you really change this behavior pattern? Vipassana is the way to reach that level and observe the reality as it is. Without your trying to change it, it will get changed if you simply observe it. In this way you are coming out of your prison, out of your bondage. This is why it is the only way, pure Dhamma, ekāyano maggo

Isn’t it arrogant to claim that this tradition of Vipassana is the purest teaching of Buddha?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: There is no arrogance involved. I came to Buddha’s teaching with all the doubts in my mind. First, [I encountered] the practical aspect of it, which gives results, which is so logical, pragmatic, scientific, result-oriented. But I was not fully satisfied. I wanted to go through the words of Buddha. And after going through his words, I found that every action we take in Vipassana is exactly according to the words of Buddha. If people had not maintained the purity of this technique and also had not maintained the purity of the words of Buddha, there would have been confusion in the world. Fortunately, Sangha [the community of followers of the Buddha] has maintained the purity of the technique as well as the purity of the teachings in words. So we can see how the words tally with the practice, and how the practice tallies a hundred percent with the words of the Buddha. That is why we say it is the purest way of Buddha’s teaching.

Many people come to something like Vipassana because they feel they are suffering in some way. But what about the person who doesn’t feel he or she is suffering, who feels quite happy and satisfied? What motivation would they have to do this work?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Generally speaking, we can say that Vipassana helps everyone. One may be at any level in life, but one cannot say “there is no room for any improvement in me.” One may be a very peaceful person, one may be a very intelligent person, very wise, very successful. There may be no obvious miseries in one’s life. And yet, if one starts Vipassana, one starts improving—one becomes a much better person than before. Experience has shown this.

But frequently, when somebody says “there’s no misery in me,” this is only a delusion. This person does not know how much agitation there is inside. One remains deluded, in this sensual pleasure, that sensual pleasure; this satisfaction, that satisfaction—this is only at the surface level. Deep, deep inside, there is so much dissatisfaction. So much discontent. So one must first realize that “I am a sick person,” and then must realize, “this is the cause of my sickness.” And then one must try to remove that cause, to come out of the sickness. So one must have at least this motivation—to become a better person than what I am.

Very successful business people have become better business people, very successful writers have become better writers, artists have become better artists—in every sphere, in whatever profession one is involved, we find this general improvement in the mundane field occurs after one has practiced Vipassana. Leave the supra-mundane aside for the moment—it doesn’t matter. But in the mundane, worldly field, as you progress in Vipassana, you will get better results.

How is Vipassana different from escapism?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana is to face the world. No escapism is permitted in Vipassana.

How does Vipassana differ from other meditation techniques like the use of mantras. Don't they also concentrate the mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: With the help of mantras, visualization of any shape or form one can easily get the mind concentrated, no doubt. But with Vipassana, the aim is to purify the mind. And mantras generate a particular type of artificial vibration. Every word, every mantra will generate a vibration, and if one keeps working with this mantra for long hours, one gets engulfed in the created vibration. Whereas, Vipassana wants you to observe the natural vibration that you have - in the form of sensations - vibrations when you become angry, or when you are full of passion, or fear, or hatred, so that you can come out of them.

How would you compare psychoanalysis and Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: In psychoanalysis you try to recall consciousness past events that had a strong influence in conditioning the mind. Vipassana, on the other hand, will lead the meditator to the deepest level of the mind where conditioning actually begins. Every incident that one might try to recall in psychoanalysis has also registered a sensation at the physical level. By observing physical sensations throughout the body with equanimity, the meditator allows innumerable layers of conditioning to arise and pass away. He or she deals with the conditioning at its roots and can free himself or herself from it quickly and easily.

What is the difference between Vipassana meditation and hypnotism? Are they relevant in these times?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Vipassana and hypnotism are poles apart. Vipassana awakens us from delusion and takes us into reality. Hypnotism takes us into a world of imagination. Hypnotism leads us into a certain state of being via imagination, whereas Vipassana brings us out of imagined reality and shows us the truth. Vipassana teaches us to see reality as it is and to know its true nature, that is, its impermanent nature. Thus by seeing its ephemeral nature, one learns to see there is nothing to hold on to. One then starts coming out of his or her attachments and aversions. In hypnotism, this profound work cannot be done. 

What is the difference between Vipassana and self-hypnotism? Does one get the same benefit from both?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No. Vipassana wants you to observe the reality as it arises naturally, not a created, artificial reality. When you start giving any kind of suggestion, it is a created experience. It is an artificial layer that you are giving over your conscious mind. This can be good, it gives results. If you are a better person at the surface of the mind you get benefit from that. But the accumulated complexes of your impurities deep inside remain as they were. So Vipassana teaches you to go deep inside and take them out by observing whatever reality manifests itself from moment to moment. No layer should be applied, nothing should be imagined, no hypnotism, no autosuggestion. At the depth of the mind these go totally against Vipassana. These two go in totally opposite directions. 

What is the difference between hypnotism and meditation?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: The true meditation techniques of ancient India were totally against hypnotism. Some techniques did use hypnotism, but this is totally against Dhamma. Dhamma makes you self-dependant. Hypnotism will never make you self-dependant. Therefore, these two do not go together.

Can kuṇdalinī be awakened by the practice of Vipassana?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: What is kuṇḍalinī? Kuṇḍalinī is the activation of nerve centres on the spinal chord. By the practice of Vipassana, every atom of the body gets activated. Kuṇḍalinī is just a small part of that. Practise Vipassana and you will easily understand the difference between the two.

Wisdom (Panna)

Everything in the world is impermanent. Yet certain principles contained in the scriptures and in the law of mathematics are always the same, such as two plus two makes four. Then how can everything be impermanent?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes, everything in the field of mind and matter is impermanent and this impermanence is permanent. It is permanently impermanent. Things keep on changing. So far as matter is concerned, it keeps on changing. So far as mind is concerned, it keeps on changing. The nature of change cannot be turned into a nature of non-change. It will always be changing.

There are four, basic, ultimate truths. One ultimate truth pertaining to matter; another ultimate truth pertaining to the mind; a third ultimate truth pertaining to the mental contents; and the fourth ultimate truth, the nibbānic stage. All of them are permanent. The first three are permanent in their nature of change. And the fourth is permanent in its nature of no change—there can’t be any change. So everything is, in this respect, changing and non-changing.

Emphasis is given to that which constantly changes because out of our ignorance and madness we develop attachment to that which will change, and once it changes we become depressed. The attachment brings misery. For that purpose the whole teaching of Vipassana is to keep understanding that whatever is changing is permanently changing. This nature of change doesn’t go away, but our attachment to it has to go away, otherwise we will suffer. Vipassana is for that purpose only, not to establish any philosophy.

Ramana Maharshi spoke about the belief that there is awakening without "doership." I have a question about doership, in that there are times when the effort to do does not lead towards equanimity. I feel that sometimes I long not to long, or I seek not to seek. I would like to be awake rather than in pursuit. The more I’m in pursuit, the more I seem to be moving away from my goal

Mr. S. N. Goenka: What Ramana Maharshi said was correct, but he was speaking of a higher stage. A beginner who starts on the path has to work. You are being taught to reach the stage that is without "I" (anattā), and when there is no "I" there is no doer. But if we say there is no "I" in the beginning, you could become confused and think you do not need to work. You must first understand, "Well, I have to take steps on the path."

A time will come when you understand, "There is a path but there is nobody to walk over it, there are only steps being taken on the path." That stage has to come naturally. If the "I" is still there in you and you try to impose a feeling that the "I" is not there, it is not helpful.

That is why the Buddha’s teaching is to work first with anicca. When you get established in anicca, then dukkha will naturally become clear to you, and you will understand that however pleasant a feeling may be it passes away. If you develop attachment to it you will become miserable. So misery is inherent in even the most pleasant experience. Understanding of dukkha becomes more and more predominant once you are established in anicca.

When you are established in anicca and dukkha, then the third stage—an understanding of anattā—develops, and you think, "What is this phenomenon?

Where is ‘I’? Things are just happening, there is just a flow of mind and matter

interacting." When the "I" dissolves at the experiential level it is helpful. An imposed conception of anattā will not help. That is why the Buddha never advised us to start with anattā. Start with anicca, then dukkha will follow, and anattā will develop.

When Ramana Maharshi spoke of no doer, he spoke of anattā, the third, final stage. He must have reached that stage, so naturally he spoke about it to people who he felt were developed. But it does not mean that a beginner should start working in that way. 

If you purify the body, you purify the mind?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: No. Even though you purify the body, the mind may remain dirty and it will again make the body impure. So the root is the mind, not the body. The body is just the base. With the help of the body, the mind is working, but the mind has to be purified. You keep on washing your body as much as you can, but the mind is not washed. Mind remains still impure. Mind has to be pure. But if you purify the mind, the body gets purified. It has an effect. The aim of Vipassana is to purify the mind.

You talk about conditioning of the mind.But isn't this training also a kind of conditioning of the mind, even if a positive one?

Mr. S. N. Goenka: On the contrary, Vipassana is a process of de-conditioning. Instead of imposing anything on the mind, it automatically removes unwholesome qualities so that only positive, wholesome qualities remain. By eliminating negativities, it uncovers the positivity which is the basic nature of the pure mind.