Vipassana as an Instrument of Reform in Government in Ancient Times
In the remote past, as far back as the third century BC, Ashoka, the great emperor of India, used Vipassana as an instrument of reforms in the governance of his vast empire. His actions in the administration and management of state reflect piety, love, magnanimity and high moral discipline. He organized a system of government-efficient, humane and responsive to public weal, unparalleled in human history.
The record of his administration, chiseled on rocks in different parts of his empire, on the highways and hills, caves and public places enshrines the noblest sentiments of a man who loved his people like his own children, respected all sects and religious faiths and who instilled confidence in the neighboring countries for peace and concord.
In one of his most renowned edicts - The Delhi Topra Pillar, Ashoka gives a comprehensive review of the measures he took during his reign. The inscription states that whereas kings and rulers prior to him cherished the same wish as him for the advancement of people had failed, but he succeeded. He explains in the edict that he used Nijjhatiya - differently interpreted as inner-meditation, reflection and contemplation - Vipassana. It further states that, this fact should be engraved on stones and pillars so that his message endures while the Sun and Moon shine on Earth!
This is indeed an eloquent record of an effective use of Vipassana to achieve the aims of a government committed to the welfare of the people.
In the post-Ashokan period, the impact of Vipassana continued for several centuries as the graphic accounts of the Chinese pilgrims indicate. They speak highly of the culture and civilization of the people and how they lived in peace, prosperity and harmony.
In the recent past, Sayagyi U Ba Khin, the most outstanding teacher of Vipassana meditation, As the Accountant General of Myanmar, he introduced far reaching reforms in various government departments. He succeeded in eradicating corruption, instilled efficiency, accelerated the pace of decision-making and fostered harmony and better relationship. He has maintained that meditation can help in "creating a reservoir of calm and balanced energy to be used for the building of a welfare state and as bulwark against corruption in public life."
Vipassana as an Instrument of Reform in Government in Modern Times
Even before the first course for executives was held in the New York City, many high level Government officials had attended the 10-day Vipassana courses. After experiencing the immense benefits of the technique themselves, these Government officials initiated the idea of using Vipassana as an instrument of reform, for the benefit of many.
The Government of Rajasthan took a pioneering decision to introduce Vipassana as an instrument of reform in the government organisations. As a first step, Goenkaji was invited to conduct a Vipassana course in the Central Jail, Jaipur in the year 1975 for jail inmates and some members of jail staff. The courses yielded wonderful results. The convicts felt remorseful and greatly relieved of tensions, with perceptible change noted in their behaviour. The jail staff who participated in the course, developed greater awareness towards their duties and responsibilities.
The success of the course led to the organisation of a course in the Rajasthan Police Academy in early 1976, in which police officers of all ranks participated. The course had a profound impact on the behavioural pattern of the participants. They got a clear perception of their functions and roles, and developed greater awareness of their duty towards the society. In March 1999, a historic course was conducted for 1200 Police Cadets with great success.
During the same period, some senior officers in the Government of Rajasthan (Home Department), who attended Vipassana courses were instrumental in initiating internal reforms in the department, leading to the reduction of paper work, quicker decision making, clearance of pending work accumulated over years and better staff-officer relationship. Departments coming within the jurisdiction of Home Department were re-organised and their training system streamlined resulting in greater efficiency, economy in functioning and inculcation of trust and harmony.
The Government of Maharashtra also took a decision to provide an opportunity to senior officials to avail of the benefits of Vipassana courses for which they would get commuted leave and actual travel expenses according to their entitlement.
The Government of Madhya Pradesh has taken a decision that officers joining Vipassana courses held in the State Academy of Administration will be treated 'on duty'.
The Government of Rajasthan decided that police personnel of all ranks belonging to State and Subordinate Services be exposed to Vipassana meditation courses, including personnel of various police stations in the city of Jaipur. In a major policy decision, the Government has enabled all cadres of Government officials to have the benefit of 'special leave' to attend Vipassana courses. The Government has also decided to have regular courses for trainees in the State Institute of Public Administration and Rajasthan Police Academy and other training institutes.
Government officials across the world also attend Vipassana courses and are experimenting with Vipassana technique as a measure of reform. These measures have led to the start of Vipassana courses in prisons and have played an important role in improving lives of prisoners all over the globe - Nepal, Thailand, Israel, England, Canada, Colombia and America.
Vipassana in Corporates
From the initial days of Vipassana courses being held in India, senior management and heads of many business houses have sat courses and experienced the beneficial results of the technique themselves and have encouraged their staff to attend the courses. The experience of a number of business enterprises has shown that the introduction of Vipassana meditation to the people in the organization, has improved the working atmosphere, the co-operative attitudes, the discipline and the harmony within. Managers have become more patient in dealing with business uncertainties and are more tolerant in dealing with troublesome employees.
Observing the benefits of Vipassana, many business and non-business organizations have begun providing paid leave to their employees to attend Vipassana meditation courses. Some have treated Vipassana as a training programme, some have included it in their Human Resources Development activity and yet others have simply considered it as an aspect of employee welfare. Vipassana has reduced instances of confrontation and situations where conflicts arise unnecessarily. After all, Vipassana makes a person live happily and happy individuals make a happy organization. Employees become grateful towards their employers for giving them the opportunity to learn Vipassana and employers reap the rewards in the form of higher productivity and better morale.
Address at World Economic Forum Davos, Switzerland
S. N. Goenka, the Principal Teacher of Vipassana Meditation, was invited to participate in the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland from 27th January to 1st February, 2000. This is the highest level meeting of global leaders in politics, business and media, where they meet informally to discuss various issues facing the world. WEF Annual Meeting is often referred to as the summit of summits and that year's meeting had a special significance being the first such meeting in the new millennium. It was noteworthy that spirituality was added among the business affluence and the political influence of the world leaders in those fields.
Goenkaji spoke in the gathering in various sessions on "The future of religion", "Death: Exploring the taboo", "Anger and how to deal with it" and "The meaning of true happiness".
The participants in the Annual Meeting in Davos included Prime Ministers, Presidents and kings of over forty countries including USA, Germany, UK, Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, Mozambique, Indonesia, Jordan, South Africa and Egypt. Deputy Prime Ministers, Vice-presidents and finance ministers of many more countries came. The richest and the biggest businessmen, most influential media barons, scientists and academicians were among the participants. This was the first time that the message of Vipassana was transmitted in this elite gathering.
In the world today which is largely dominated by economic concerns, what is the future of religion? This was the theme on the panel discussion on the morning of January 27. Because of his success in taking Vipassana to people from all the religious and racial backgrounds, Goenkaji was requested to describe how the practice of a tradition transcends dogma and cultural elements. In this session he emphasized that the inner core of every religion is morality, love and compassion. The outer shell of religion is rites, rituals, dogmas and philosophical beliefs. One should not condemn these, but one should be careful not to confuse these with the essence of religion.
Goenkaji explained how the teaching of the Buddha is non-sectarian, universal, practical and result-oriented. The teaching of Sila, that is morality is common to all the religions and acceptable to all. The teaching of Samadhi, that is concentration of the mind, and of Panna, that is purification of mind, is also universal and acceptable to all. Undue attachment to one's own beliefs and intolerance of other cultures and beliefs causes strife. If the essence of the Teaching were given all the importance, nobody would find anything objectionable in it. Goenkaji proposed the idea of a generic religion whereby the commonalties of the religions will be emphasized. In Vipassana, people will find such a generic religion which will allow them to continue with their cultural traditions, while teaching them to live a happy and harmonious life. This will bring an end to the violence and wars that go on in the name of religion. The audience were pleased with Goenkaji's exposition and listened attentively.
On the 27th January, in the evening, Goenkaji participated in a session over "Death: Exploring the taboo". Speaking about death, Goenkaji said that death is a taboo because of fear about death. He explained how a Vipassana meditator eradicates fear by exploring the reality within and dies fearlessly. He said that there were numerous examples of Vipassana meditators who die in a fully conscious and peaceful state of mind. When one experiences anicca within, the attachment to the physical and mental structure starts decreasing and so does the fear of death. A practitioner of Vipassana knows from his own direct experience that one dies and is born every moment. Later in Zurich, while answering a question about birthdays, he said smilingly that when you learn the truth about mind and matter, you would say "Happy birth moment to you!" instead of "Happy birthday to you!".
"What Should You Do When You Are Angry" was the topic of the evening session on the 28th January and Goenkaji was the speaker. Goenkaji explained, "The law of nature is such that one who generates anger is its first victim. One is bound to become miserable as one generates anger. It is quite obvious that anger arises when something undesirable has happened, when someone has created an obstacle in the fulfilment of one's desires. Even to the most powerful person in the world, undesirable things keep on happening and he or she is helpless to prevent it. Even when one knows that anger is bad and wants to get rid of it, anger continues to overpower from time to time. To solve this problem, one has to seek a deeper reason for the anger within oneself. Simply diverting one's mind to some other activity is only a temporary solution. One must go to the root of the problem. One must learn to observe anger." He then explained how the simple technique of Vipassana, which involves equanimous observation of sensations with the understanding of their impermanent nature, helps one to come out of anger.
On Monday, the 31st of January, Goenkaji was the sole speaker in the session titled "Is This As Good As It Gets? The Meaning of Happiness”. Goenkaji said that an individual or a nation must strive for material growth and scientific advances, but material prosperity can lead to true happiness only if there is a base of spirituality. He said that "Secular Spirituality" helps one to progress in the worldly affairs, and still helps one realise at the experiential level that material comforts, worldly pleasures, fame and power are fragile and ephemeral and how they alone can not give lasting happiness. He explained how Vipassana is a practical way to get true happiness that is beyond superficial pleasures. The audience listened with rapt attention and later asked many questions about Vipassana.
All the speeches of Mr. S. N. Goenka were received with keen interest. The seed of Vipassana was planted in the most elite group of the society. Its fruits came after two years, in 2002, with the completion of the first 10-day course in Vipassana especially conducted for business executives and government officials.
'Spirituality in Business' Conference
The Spirituality in Business conference began in USA on April 21, 2002 with Goenkaji giving the opening keynote address and setting the tone for the whole event. In his address he defined "spirituality" broadly as the core element in all religions, consisting of morality and a disciplined mind that strives to become pure through the experience of reality as it is. Contrasting this inner core with the outer shell of rituals, dogmas, he exhorted the approximately 500 assembled businessmen to first incorporate this core of spirituality into their personal lives. They could then better bring these same values into their work for the benefit of customers, employees and society at large. In two follow-up sessions Goenkaji spoke more specifically about how Vipassana offers a direct, scientific path for the development of spirituality.
The First Vipassana Course for Executives
From April 24 to May 6, 2002, Goenkaji presided over a special course for executives and leaders at the Eastover Resort in Lenox, Massachusetts. One hundred men and women, old students and new, came from all over the United States and from 16 other countries. Most of them were business people or professionals, including doctors, lawyers, engineers and consultants.
Though the course was taught by his assistant teachers, Goenkaji personally gave instructions for Anapana, Vipassana and Metta, and answered students' questions on two consecutive evenings.
His Metta instructions stressed the importance of developing love and compassion for others, especially in these times of terror and bloodshed. He emphasized that, although we must attend to our own liberation, a true sign of progress on the path is our concern for others and the ability to work for the liberation of all beings.
This was a particularly strong course. The students, determined not to waste this rare opportunity, worked hard from the very beginning, and their evident desire to fully comprehend the technique led at every opportunity to long lines of questions
On the last evening Goenkaji delivered a special discourse on spirituality in business. He reminded the students of the important role they play in society and their responsibility as leaders to set a good example for others by developing a harmonious life. Nothing is wrong in earning a living, he said, but it must be done honestly, without greed or ego. If you are dishonest or arrogant with your customers, he asked, how can you expect to receive the good opinion of the general public or feel peace within yourself?
Establishment of Centers for Executive Courses
Since 1979, the technique of Vipassana began to spread in India and around the globe, as Goenkaji traveled to conduct courses in western countries and many centers were established. People from all walks of life, different social and religious backgrounds attended courses and benefited immensely from this non-sectarian technique. Many business executives and high ranking government officials also attended the courses and after experiencing the benefits, found themselves better-equipped to deal with challenges in their personal and professional lives. They even started motivating their subordinates and other staff members to learn Vipassana, which in turn, led to a more positive work environment for all. In the absence of a local center, they often facilitated the arrangement of gypsy camps at different locations for the benefit of many. The continued efforts of Goenkaji and the wholehearted support of such executives has led to a dramatic increase in the number of Vipassana centers, establishment of the Vipassana Research Institute, MITRA upakram, courses in prisons, schools and other institutions.
Exclusive courses are being held for professionals at Centres in Texas, Massachusetts, Washington State, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Australia/New Zealand. It was Goenkaji’s desire to have centres devoted to conducting Vipassana Courses for professionals and executives in metropolitian cities, thereby encouraging them to taste the nectar of pure dhamma. Following this vision, two such centers, Dhamma Pattana and Dhamma Vipula, were built in Mumbai, India. This would enable them to play a crucial role in the spread of Vipassana across all levels of society. This has been well received by high-ranking government officials and business executives all over the world.