Respected Goenkaji, my good friends, Shriyut Ram Singhji and Shriyut Vaish, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I consider it a privilege to be invited to inaugurate this International Seminar on "Vipassana-its relevance to the modern world". When Shri Vaish contacted me in London for this purpose, I did point out that in choosing me for this task, he was committing an error of judgement. Standing here before this distinguished gathering of learned monks, senior civil servants, doctors and industrialists, academics and educationists, my apprehension is confirmed. If you therefore find my opening remarks lacking in erudition, experience or inspiration, you know who to blame.
The quintessence of the Indian heritage and in fact of all great cultures can be summed up in two profound words. "Know Thyself". The heritage of India occupies the pride of place in that ceaseless quest of humanity. All great sages and saints of India and of all the world directed their quest towards the goal of knowing oneself and the world around us. Only when we see ourselves and the world around us, do we see truth in all its dimensions. That is why the ancient sages in India said: "Yah pashyati sah pashyati" which means that those who perceive the truth in all dimensions alone see and understand the truth. Seeing is realization. That is Vipassana for us, a mix of philosophy, science and technology. And that is why Vipassana is free from theological dogma, religious ritual and sectarian limitations. Prince Siddhartha Gautama of India more than 2500 years ago, succeeded in that quintessential quest of humankind. Through him and his teachings, the Enlightenment of humankind everywhere was in prospect.
Vipassana is a practical, non-sectarian meditation technique, free of any religious ritual. The technique is meant to assist in achieving the exalted objective of self-realization. Goenkaji and his preceptor Sayagyi U Ba Khin who was also a layman and was the first Accountant General in our neighbouring Myanmar deserve our highest admiration for having resurrected and revitalised the ancient technique. The practice had been confined earlier to only a handful of monks who had preserved it in its pristine purity through a "Guru Shishhya Parampra" (tradition of teacher-pupil relationship) for more than two millennia. It was left to Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Myanmar and Goenkaji to share that precious heritage with the world at large.
To Goenkaji, we are especially grateful for having taken up the mission to spread this technique far and wide across the globe for the last twenty five years by his lucid exposition and succinct explanations. The rapidly growing number of Vipassana Centres throughout the world and its increasing acceptance by people irrespective of their sex, caste, creed, religious belief, language or nationality augurs well in modern times when we find ourselves in the thick of sectarian strife in the society.
As the Preamble of the Constitution of UNESCO declares: "Wars begin in the minds of men and therefore it is in the minds of men that defences of peace must be constructed". It seems evident to me that any systematic practice which can calm and purify the mind, fill it with universal love and compassion, and quicken and activate creative impulses and intelligence, is the need of our time. If elite groups in society, whether in bureaucracy or in politics or in business are able to avail themselves of the benefits of Vipassana or other forms of meditation, many problems which thwart our aspirations for the establishment of peace, harmony and happiness in the world today could be resolved. And if the ordinary citizens can derive benefit from this extraordinary technique, we may yet be able to facilitate humanity's passage to peace, progress and well-being.
The ancient Indian heritage in the Upanishads and in the Jain and Buddhist traditions reflected a unique understanding of human consciousness and refined the knowledge of consciousness. Lord Buddha's teachings showed the way to Enlightenment at the confluence point on Intellect (Prajnya) and Compassion (Karuna). Lord Buddha did not shackle his followers in any narrow grooves of sectarian dogma. His message was Emancipation through Enlightenment, and Enlightenment through reflection and meditation. Vipassana is a way of reflection and meditation, a scientific technique of experiencing one's own consciousness and directing one's consciousness to experience one's self in all its physiological functions, and the diverse reaches and ramifications of consciousness coursing in our system. There are no barriers and frontiers of religion in the Vipassana technique of meditation. It has the objectivity and universality of a scientific principle.
The core of Lord Buddha's teachings was enumerated by him in the Noble Eightfold Path. His emphasis was on the "Middle Path", avoiding all extremes including those of sensual indulgence and mortification of the flesh. The treasures of the teachings of Lord Buddha which contained the wisdom of the Middle Path are now being made available to the wide world, thanks to Goenkaji who has embarked on the historic task of bringing out the ancient authoritative teachings as contained in Pali Tipitaka along with its important commentaries and sub-commentaries in an unabridged form. That vast literature will provide the authentic text and the context of Buddhist teachings and will furnish the ontological and teleological underpinnings of those teachings. It is eminently desirable that Tipitaka should be rendered into Devanagari script and I hope that it would pave the way for the translation of these volumes in the lingua franca of our country as well as other Indian and international languages.
I am informed by my friend, Mr. Ram Singh that the first set of eleven volumes will be available at the concluding session of this Seminar and copies will be presented to the Ambassadors of our neighbouring countries of Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka who share this great legacy with India and have helped in preserving it for over two millennia. I greatly look forward to receive that treasure of wisdom myself for my own edification and enlightenment. To enter into that grand edifice of Buddhist wisdom through the portals of Tipitaka would enable us to look upon the world though the windows of Vipassana with clarity.
I am very pleased to learn about the grand success of a unique meditation camp which concluded only this morning in Tihar Jail, one of the biggest prison complexes in India. I understand that more than one thousand prisoners participated in the 10-day course. It is really a remarkable achievement for which I warmly compliment Smt. Kiran Bedi, Inspector General of Prisons and whom I see sitting here in our midst. Her bold initiative deserves to be welcomed and applauded. I recall that some twenty years ago, Mr. Ram Singh who was Home Secretary to the Government of Rajasthan had originated the idea of prison reform in Jaipur through Vipassana meditation. The seed sown in Jaipur seems to be blossoming in Delhi. One can see a glimmer of hope that the success of Sayagyi U Ba Khin in transforming the A.G.'s office in Myanmar may be repeated elsewhere also, perhaps in Tihar Jail where the most recent experiment was conducted so successfully. I suggest that a sustained effort should be made in that direction.
May I once again thank Shriyut Goenkaji and the organisers for having given me the honour to inaugurate this International Seminar, which I do with the greatest joy. I hope and pray that your deliberations may bring greater understanding of Vipassana, its underlying philosophy and its continuing and contemporary relevance to human well-being and the betterment of the world in the times in which we live.