A challenge from a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi
As long ago as the early 1970s, Mr. S. N. Goenka was teaching meditation to children. Shortly after he left Myanmar, he met Vinoba Bhave, a leading disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, who was revered throughout India. Goenkaji explained what he was doing. Vinoba Bhave was impressed but he said, “I will believe this is worthwhile only if you can show that it works with hardened criminals and undisciplined school children.”
Goenkaji gladly accepted the challenge. He soon had the opportunity to show that Vipassana works. The first prison courses were organized in Rajasthan and were very successful. Equally positive were the results of Goenkaji’s efforts to teach groups of children.
Despite that, more than a decade passed until the launch of a formal meditation program for children. The first course took place in 1986, in a school located in the Mumbai suburb of Juhu. It was within walking distance of the Goenka family home, and several of Goenkaji’s grandchildren participated in it as well. Every day Goenkaji would go over to the school to sit with the children, tell stories and explain about the practice of Anapana.
That first course was followed by many more, in India and around the world. Meditators enthusiastically stepped forward to serve. Although the format kept evolving; the response from participants, parents and teachers has consistently been positive.
Anapana in a School Setting
During a six-month period in 2007, more than 120 courses were held in 48 Mumbai schools, with six different languages of instruction (English, Marathi, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Urdu). Of the 9,000 participants, over 8,000 children were 15-year-olds scheduled to write board exams in April 2008. One aim of the program was to see the impact of Anapana practice on the students’ exam results. It turned out that the percentage of students who passed the board exams was higher than it had been in many years.
The meditation program was suspended in 2008 and 2009, but it resumed in 2010 on a smaller scale. This time, the courses were centralized in a few larger schools. Over a three-month period, approximately 2,900 children attended a total of 33 courses.
The experiment taught several important lessons: First, administrators and schoolteachers need to be committed to supporting an Anapana programme in schools. Detailed planning is important to cover all aspects of a course. The schools must give their students time to continue practicing daily after an Anapana course. And on an ongoing basis, it is vital to develop Dhamma servers to serve on such courses.
Other countries that have held courses, involving schools, include Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Australia, Germany and Britain.
Regular daily practice is the key to long-term benefits. Schools that have tried just five to 10 minutes of Anapana per day have had impressive results. Studies of the participants found a significant increase in self-discipline, honesty, cooperation, attentiveness, cleanliness and concentration. At the same time there were a decrease in irritability, quarreling, use of abusive language and feelings of inferiority.
In the last two decades, there have been courses for children on six continents. Every year over 60,000 children participate around the world.
In North America, there were 30 children or teens’ courses held in 2009, more than half of them in non-center locations. There are also, frequent courses in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia.
But India is where the most courses are held, and where the number of participants is the largest. Particularly notable are the courses held in schools or with their involvement.
Support by Maharashtra Government for Children Courses
The Government of Maharastra passed a GR No 'Sankirn 2011/296/11/se-3' on 5th October, 2011 for introdution of Anapana Courses to all primary and secondary schools in the state of Maharashtra.
As per the GR, schools are required to conduct a One-Day Anapana Meditation course for all their children studying in 5th to 10th Std. These courses are of 5-6 hours duration with emphasis on daily practice of 10 min. The Anapana Meditation course has to be conducted by Vipassana Research Institute and its authorized representatives only.
The GR also makes it easy for school teachers and adminstrators to attend a 10-Day Vipassana Course at the Vipassana Meditation Centers. For this, they can avail of special 14 days paid leave on duty. For this purpose, the Vipassana Center conducting the course, provides them a attendance certificate.
MITRA Upakram (MITRA Project)
MITRA Upakram is an initiative of the Government of Maharashtra, in association with Vipassana Research Institute, to facilitate the wholesome mental growth of school children. MITRA Upakram, which is the project name to inculcate 'Right Awareness' aspires to cover 2.5 crore school children and 1 Lac school teachers. MITRA, which stands for MIND IN TRAINING for RIGHT AWARENESS also means DOST in Hindi Language or FRIEND in English. Under MITRA Upakram, schools arranged Anapana courses for children, with the support of Vipassana Research Institute (VRI).
Under MITRA Upakram, by December 2014, more than 25 lakh school children have learnt Anapana and more than 10,000 school teachers have attended 10-Day Vipassana meditation courses.
For more information about MITRA Upakram, please click here.
Children course activity in Kutch district (Gujarat)
From June 2010 to March 2011, about 6,500 children of all the schools of the villages in Mundra Taluka attended One-Day Anapana course. Later on during April-May 2011, in the cluster meetings of primary and secondary school teachers of the entire Kutch district, about 5,000 school teachers were introduced to Vipassana.
Once again from June 2011, a research project to teach Anapana in all the schools (primary & secondary) of all the villages of whole Kutch district, began. Till 30 September, more than 14,000 children attended One-Day Anapana courses.
At a few schools in Anjar Taluka, all the students and school teachers meditate together twice a day, before their first class and after their last class, for about 10 minutes. In about 7 Talukas, children are now meditating once a day in the morning in some of the schools covered so far.
Application to special groups
India has also experimented with courses for autistic children, homeless children, orphans, children with hearing and speech impairments, and children with physical and mental disabilities. In Pune, for example, a home for destitute children has offered Anapana courses for the last 10 years to its 400+ residents. Some children have gone on to learn Vipassana in longer courses. Daily meditation has immensely improved their self-confidence. Again in Pune, the local Vipassana center has hosted repeated courses for children with hearing and speech impairments. (See "Anapana for children with hearing and speech disabilities" below.)
In Myanmar, there have been courses for children with visual or hearing impairments, children affected by leprosy, and juvenile offenders in various institutions. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008, old students organized a visit to southern Myanmar to offer physical assistance as well as Anapana courses; about 1,500 children participated within a few weeks.
Anapana for children with hearing and speech disabilities
For 15 years, Sangeeta Shinde had taught in a school for children with hearing disabilities, in Pune. When she was appointed a children’s course teacher in 2005, she felt confident that she could explain Anapana to the children she worked with, daily. After all, she had plenty of teaching experience and she knew sign language.
But there was a problem she hadn’t thought about: Suppose you have a roomful of children meditating with eyes closed. How do you get them to open their eyes at the end of a session if they cannot hear you?
In a flash, Sangeeta saw the solution to the problem: Simply turn on the overhead fans. The children would automatically open their eyes to see what was happening, and then she could give them new instructions.
This is an example of the practical problems that arise when teaching meditation to hearing-impaired children. And it is also an example of the simple, creative solutions found by Sangeeta and others, like her.
Some 27 participants, mostly in their upper teens, joined the first course in February 2006 at the local center, Dhamma Punna. It was a one-day session that helped the students get oriented and try out Anapana in a couple of sessions. Later, courses have expanded on this format. Participants have more time to practice Anapana. They also interact in small groups and learn metta. They watch videotapes of Goenkaji. In some courses, the teacher displayed poster-boards with a translation into the local language, Marathi. More recent experiments have involved the use of PowerPoint slides to note important points, while an interpreter provides a complete version in sign language. Efforts are now under way to produce a CD explaining Anapana in sign language.
Between early 2005 and December 2010, Dhamma Punna offered 19 courses for students with hearing and speech impairments. The courses continue to evolve. But they have proved that the reverberations of Dhamma can reach children without the physical ability to hear. And the children have shown that they are as receptive as anyone, to the Dhamma.
A short film on Anapana meditation for hearing and speech impaired children. It has been filmed at the centre in Pune, India with students from Ruia Special school:
Other countries have also experimented with courses for children who have hearing and sight disabilities. The results have been impressive. For more details, please click here.
Meditation Course at Ma Niketan Home for Children, Mumbai
Ma Niketan Home for Children, is a large campus with beautiful surroundings. It is a small village in itself. The girls who are admitted in this institution come from various backgrounds. There are children who have lost both their parents, some who were found abused, harassed and abandoned on the roads, some from broken families, while others were found lost on the roads and admitted here by good Samaritans.
Ma Niketan has a clean environment, provides good and healthy food, proper dress to all the children, which is made possible by generous donations received from well-wishers. The institution also makes arrangements for primary schooling for the children and other vocational training like stitching, embroidery work, computer training, typing, so that the children can become independent and earn their own livelihood.
The sisters serving in the institution pay good attention to all the children. However, inspite of all the facilities and comforts provided (which children from normal families also do not enjoy due to poverty or other reasons), the children staying in this institution miss the personal attention, parental love and affection which they would otherwise enjoy if they lived with their family. They miss the family atmosphere full of care, sharing with siblings and other such joys of being with one’s own family members. Thus, deep within their hearts, they experience a void, which makes them miserable.
The mind after all fails to relish what is available and always craves for what is lacking. Therefore, one continues to remain miserable. - What a strange habit pattern of the mind?
Four sisters working in this institution had already done a few Vipassana meditation courses in Dhamma Giri. One of them, who is a senior sister working for this institution approached the Vipassana Institute and asked if it was possible to conduct an Anapana Course for their children to which she got a positive reply. A residential course was arranged for 170 girls within the age group 11-23 years. The course commenced at 7.00 p.m. on 29th October, 1998 and concluded on 31st October, 1998 at 4.00 p.m. The time-table of the Anapana course included 3-4 hours of sitting meditation in the hall, two hours of counselling in small groups, discourses by Mr. S. N. Goenka, explaining the technique; games, creative activities, cartoon films, stories, and rest periods.
The object of meditation given to the students was observation of pure, natural breath - as it comes in, as it goes out - which was not sectarian or objectionable in any manner. By watching the pure and natural respiration continuously over a period of time, the children understood the true flickering nature of their own mind, its nature of rolling in the past and future, and in the process, getting anxious and tense. Gradually, as they practised, the mind got trained to remain aware of the present by observing their breath, which is the reality of the present moment. Only then, can one experience inner peace and tranquillity. Their concentration improved, resulting in better performance and increased confidence in all spheres of life.
The children learnt that by developing strong friendship with their own breath, they gained mastery over their mind and got rid of impurities like fear, anger, hatred, jealousy, which made them miserable and resulted in causing misery for others. Observance of silence was emphasised while meditating in the hall and children were also encouraged to try and maintain silence while doing other activities, as besides continuity of practice and other rules, silence is the main key to success.
The course was successful benefitting the participants immensely. For more details, please click here.