‘‘मोघा जाति च वण्णो च, सीलमेव किरुत्तमं। सीलेन अनुपेतस्स, सुतेनत्थो न विज्जति॥
‘‘खत्तियो च अधम्मट्ठो, वेस्सो चाधम्मनिस्सितो। ते परिच्चज्जुभो लोके, उपपज्जन्ति दुग्गतिं॥
-Worthless are caste and creed, precious is Sīla. Unworthy is a learned if immoral.
If a Kshatriya is immoral or a Vaiśya too, leaving both [the Deva and Human realms] they will journey to the lower planes.
-[Jātaka Aṭṭhakathā 362, Sīlavīmaṃsajātakavaṇṇanā 66-67]
Related Discourses by Mr. Goenka
Inner Peace for World Peace
Peace within Oneself, for Peace in the World
Universal Spirituality for Peace
Vipassana for the Betterment of the Society
Role of Dhamma in Improving the Society
Applying Dhamma in Life
Buddha: The Super-Scientist of Peace
How to Defend the Republic!
Hatred Never Ceases through Hatred
Relief for the Earthquake-Affected
Freedom from Addiction
Vipassana is Optimism, Realism and Workism
Related research Papers
The Relevance of Vipassana for the Environmental Crisis-by S. S. Joshi
Vipassana-Its Relevance to the Individual and Society-by Usha Modak
Dharma—Its role in Current Social Problems-by Sally McDonald
Vipassana—a Practical Solution-by Ian Hetherington
Dharma and Science-by Prof. P. L. Dhar
Vipassana in Natural Calamity
Vipassana is an art of living and can be used in every situation. Following are some of the examples demonstrating application of Vipassana in the moment of crisis
Vipassana in Japan—the Earthquake and its Aftermath
Friday, March 11 was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies and a feeling that spring would soon be with us. The first plum blossoms were already in bloom and the cherry blossoms would shortly follow.
At 2:46 p.m., when the first tremor of the earthquake began, 50 students plus Dhamma servers and the teacher were seated in the meditation hall at Dhammadicca. It was Day 9 of a 10-day course; and with the opening instructions for the group sitting finished, the hall was silent.
Two Vipassana centers serve Japan: Dhamma Bhanu (Kyoto) in the southwest, and Dhammadicca (Chiba) in the east. Dhammadicca, located less than two hours from central Tokyo, primarily serves the residents of the capital and eastern cities and was much closer to the epicenter of the quake. Fortunately neither center was damaged and all students are safe and well. Despite two emergency evacuations from the meditation hall and numerous aftershocks, the course at Dhammadicca completed successfully and most students left on Day 11.
In rapid succession following the initial quake, Japan faced a crisis on multiple fronts: a 10-meter tsunami tidal wave had stuck along the eastern coast, causing severe damage; six nuclear reactors were damaged, four of them seriously; and workers were struggling to control a radiation leak.
At first, teachers and trust members considered throwing open Dhamma Bhanu, the Kyoto center, as a halfway house for meditators and their families who might have been made homeless in the regions hardest hit by the tsunami. But after further consideration, we agreed that the best service we could offer would be to make available the invaluable Dhamma vibrations at the Vipassana centers—the islands of Dhamma where meditators could take refuge from the fears and anxieties pervading the country.
With this spirit in mind, a message was sent out to all old students, welcoming them to come to either center and participate in a series of special group sittings.
In addition to the regular three group sittings that would be held each day, there would be the opportunity to meditate with other old students for up to three days or, if preferred, join in with the various service projects taking place at the center.
Two weeks have now passed since the initial quakes and still aftershocks continue in Chiba and elsewhere almost daily. There have been shortages of daily necessities here and there, and everyone is deeply saddened to see such heartbreaking images of those who have suddenly lost everything, including many who have lost their loved ones. Still, it is heartening to observe the society behaving with such dignity and composure.
The nuclear crisis continues despite the heroic efforts of the Samurai 50—the technicians battling against the odds to regain control of the damaged reactors. There is periodically some good news and we all think we have now turned a corner, but it is then followed by more bad news.
Numerous messages of support and encouragement have flowed in from Dhamma friends and well-wishers around the world, and have been gratefully received. We are reminded how fortunate we are that we have the strong international Dhamma community thinking of us, and that we have the words and teaching of the Buddha that have come down to us through the ages:
“Make an island of yourself, make yourself your refuge, there is no other refuge. Make Dhamma your island, make Dhamma your refuge, there is no other refuge.”
May all beings be happy!
-By Chris and Sachiko Weeden, acariya living in Japan near Tokyo
Firsthand account of Cyclone Nargis from Dhamma Joti, Myanmar
(The following message is an edited version of a letter written by a Burmese meditator, describing what happened as Cyclone Nargis hit Dhamma Joti in Yangon, Myanmar, on Day 8 of a 10 day course.)
On Day 8 at Dhamma Joti there are 104 female students and 77 male students attending the course.
The winds became extremely strong from about 11:00 pm last night and electricity was cut off. At 4:00 a.m. when the gong rang, I went out to assess the damage to the center. Some trees were broken and branches down but nothing was blocking the way to the hall. It looked safe.
At 4.30 a.m., all of us Dhamma servers waited along the walkway with emergency lamps and flash lights to light the way to the Dhamma Hall. The sound of the wind was getting stronger and all was dark except the path to the hall.
By 5:00 a.m., when the teachers arrived in the hall, the wind was so strong that it was almost opening the windows. The meditators continued to meditate though we were becoming quite worried. As the dawn light started lighting up the center, we could see that many trees were down and all the others were leaning heavily in the wind.
At 6:00 a.m., as usual, Goenkaji’s chanting was played. By this time most trees were broken and many were covering the walkways. The ladies’ dormitory roof was nearly collapsed. There was only one pathway left usable to go from the Dhamma Hall to the dining hall. The dining hall was the safest building as there were no big trees near it and it was only one story.
Before the chanting finished the wind and water started coming into the Dhamma Hall. At the end of the chanting we started evacuating all the students to the dining hall in groups. First I went with the 10 youngest meditators and ran with them to the dining hall. We told all the meditators to leave all unnecessary things and not to use an umbrella. The wind was so bad that if they used an umbrella, they could fly away. The first group arrived at the dining hall safely and the next group followed again headed by Dhamma servers. When only old and disabled people were left, two Dhamma servers helped each remaining meditator and we got everyone to the dining hall safely.
A delicious breakfast of noodles was waiting for us. Imagine, in this severe storm the kitchen workers were preparing food for 200 people! After breakfast the students were requested not to go back to their rooms as the dining hall was the safest place. The teachers sent a message that the course will stop for a while, but all meditators should keep on meditating as they sat in the dining hall.
At 10:00 a.m. the wind and rain were still severe. The teachers arrived in the dining hall and called three of us to meet them and discuss what to do. They wanted to continue the course, since we were already on the eighth day, and asked our advice. We said, we would follow all the instructions of the teachers and do the best for the benefit of all meditators.
After the meeting we started looking around at the center to see what the damage was and how we could continue the course. By lunchtime the storm had passed and we had figured out a plan to continue the course.
The Dhamma Hall roof was broken and part of it had totally blown off in the wind. It was drenched inside, cushions, everything. It was now impossible to use the Dhamma Hall. Fortunately we had batteries and cassettes. These were intact because some servers had covered them carefully before leaving the hall.
Under the Dhamma Hall is a place which we typically use for Sunday group sittings. Only one place in this room was wet because of a leak from upstairs. This room became the Dhamma Hall.
Two female dormitories were mostly in good shape, but the two-story women’s building was the worst-hit. All the roofs of the toilet and bathrooms were gone, and the hall where female meditators were sleeping was wet and dripping with water. The first floor was totally unusable. Thirty-seven female meditators had to be re-accommodated. Room had to be made in the other dormitories; there was no other way. Double rooms now had four people in them.
After lunch the students moved all of their belongings into the new accommodations. The center had enough supplies, including pillows, blankets, mosquito nets and bedsheets, for the meditators so they could stay without problem. Lungis, t-shirts, and sweaters were borrowed and given to those who needed them.
The course re-started at the 2:30 p.m. group sitting with 94 females and 58 males. Some students had to leave to look after family and situations on the outside. CD and cassette players were used with batteries as we didn’t have a generator.
By the night of Metta Day (Day 10) there were no batteries left for the emergency lighting. There were a few flashlights left working so we used these, candles, and mosquito coils to light the way.
Fortunately, we had filters for drinking water and a 500-liter water tank, which was full. However, the problem was water for washing. We were able to manage by having all the meditators carry water from the water tank in buckets for toilet use and washing.
Dhamma Joti is in relatively good condition. We are all happy and content for what we could do for the meditators. We feel great gratitude towards Dhamma, our teacher Goenkaji, and the teachers who kept conducting the course.
The storm is a natural disaster. But we can pass this with Dhamma power. We can help the meditators to run to the light of Dhamma (Dhamma Joti).
(Courtesy :International Vipassana Newsletter,Vol. 35, No. 2, June 2008)
Nepal, When the World Shakes
“Sabbo loko pakampito—The entire world is shaking.” Vipassana meditators hear these words often in a course. But no one expected to experience this reality with anything like the intensity faced by the people of Nepal on April 25, when the worst earthquake in 80 years ravaged the country. It killed more than 8,500 people, injured thousands and left as many as 2.5 million people homeless.
At Dharmashringa, the center closest to Kathmandu, it was early afternoon on Metta Day of a course. According to the conducting teacher, “All the participants had had lunch and were talking with each other. Then the earthquake struck. It was like nothing any of us had experienced in our lifetimes. The shaking was very strong and went on and on. Some of the walls connecting the pillars supporting the pagoda collapsed, making the structure vulnerable.” The students were sent home one day early, and upcoming courses had to be cancelled.
Subsequent inspections found more damage at Dharmashringa. The entire pagoda structure is being assessed. It will definitely need major repairs but hopefully can be saved. Severe cracks appeared in one of the men’s residences, and the top floor will have to be demolished and rebuilt. A wall collapsed on the top floor of the main women’s residence, and many cracks appeared on lower floors. The building will need extensive repairs. This will limit the number of women students on courses.
The seven other centers in Nepal were less hard hit, suffering little to no damage. Fortunately, no one was injured at any of the centers.
The earthquake was followed by hundreds of repeated tremors, with one of these reaching a magnitude of 7.3 on May 12, resulting in more deaths. Another quake (magnitude 4.2) occurred on May 23, during a session to formally conclude the course that was interrupted at Dharmashringa on April 25.
Apart from the destroyed buildings and loss of electricity, the frequent recurrences have left people with a profound sense of anxiety. This makes it harder to return to ordinary life. Many people continue to spend nights in the open, and some even refuse to enter multi-story buildings for their work.
Like other Nepalese, Vipassana meditators have been looking after their families and helping where they can in the relief efforts. In many places, group sittings are continuing as usual.
At Dharmashringa, courses remain suspended so that efforts can focus on repairs. The trust is considering other options for holding 10-day courses. One possibility is to bring forward the plans for a second center in the Kathmandu area. Land has already been purchased for Dhamma Nibhā (“Splendor of Dhamma”), and it might be possible to start courses there in tents. In the present circumstances, people might feel safer in such facilities.
On behalf of Nepalese meditators, Dr. Roop Jyoti (the teacher for Nepal) has expressed appreciation for the outpouring of expressions of concern and offers of help.
The Importance of Equanimity
(Following is an extract from a message by Acariya Dr. Roop Jyoti to Nepalese meditators.)
Buddha has shown us the path that leads us out of misery and suffering. If we follow that path, we are sure to avoid and come out of misery and suffering.
Fear is an impurity of the mind. The more the stock of fear we have within us, the fiercer is our fear when the earthquake strikes. If we have, through Vipassana meditation, reduced the stock of fear within us, little fear will come if at all when an earthquake strikes.
Buddha said that our life is like an arrow shot from the bow. It will fall when it has to fall. We will die when we have to die.
We must remember that if our life has to end at a particular moment, it will end, whether or not there is an earthquake. But if that is not the time when our life has to end, it will not end, whether or not there is an earthquake.
Goenkaji told us repeatedly that we have to live a life of Dhamma. Dhamma is not something we just practice when we sit a course. It is also not something that we just practice when we do our daily meditation. We must make use of it in our daily life.
What is necessary is to maintain our equanimity at all times. If we maintain our equanimity, we will not be affected by fear, and an equanimous mind will help us take the right action whether or not there is an earthquake.
May all those who have suffered misery in the recent earthquakes … come out of their misery and suffering by the practice of Dhamma.
Letter From Kathmandu
My husband and I were at Dharmashringa when the first earthquake struck. I had experienced earthquakes before but this one seemed different, longer than usual. Despite the panic of some of the students around me, I kept trying to bring my attention back to my sensations, to awareness of arising and passing away. I was on Dhamma land, I told myself, which was a gift particularly at a time when nature reminds us of something we don’t usually remember: that we are bound to pass away.
Telephone communication was difficult, so my husband decided to return to Kathmandu to check on our relatives. In the city, he found fear and destruction.
Weeks later, people continue to be in fear. Many still sleep in tents either because they lost their house or they are afraid that the building where they live will fall down on them.
Two things come to mind in these circumstances. First, I feel extremely fortunate to be able to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, and to know anicca by direct experience. Second, I would like all of those who live in fear to be able to experience the truth of anicca and come out of their suffering.
But first, people must be relieved of their thirst and hunger, and they need a roof over their heads. A few nights after the earthquake, some of us Dhamma servers decided to go to the Teaching Hospital, the biggest medical facility in Kathmandu. We brought with us two gas stoves. In no time, we were serving hot tea and cookies to injured patients, some with beds indoors and others in rough tents outside. It brought some comfort to them to know that there were people who cared.
Once things began to return to normal, we started visiting villages around Kathmandu, which suffered far more damage than the city. We were accompanying a group of doctors from the same hospital. At first, we had no idea what we would encounter, what people would need or how we could help. We were able to give them some food and bring back injured people to the hospital. And with more money available, we started going further into the countryside. Everywhere, we found destruction; the houses built of semibaked bricks were now rubble. We delivered sacks of rice, oil, lentils and salt. Sometimes, it was easy to deliver this help. At other times, people fell to quarreling over the food.
We are not sure how this story will end. But every time we give to those in need, we do it with one volition: Through this help, may these suffering people come in contact with Dhamma.
(Paula Fernández from Chile and her Nepalese husband are Vipassana meditators living in Kathmandu.)
(Courtesy: International Vipassana Newsletter, June2015 issue)
Embracing Painful Death with Equanimity in Earthquake
Just now, I have received a message that a meditator, Meena Asher, from Kutch passed away peacefully and equanimously in this earthquake. She had done her first Vipassana course in 1978 and had been meditating regularly for the past twenty-three years. She benefited greatly from it and inspired her brothers, sisters and other members of her family to take part in Vipassana courses. Today, five of them are serving as assistant teachers of Vipassana and conducting courses at various places.
Like everyone else, this Dhamma daughter also had to face many ups and downs in her life. Because of her practice of Vipassana, she always maintained the balance of her mind. She lived an exemplary life: accepting all situations with composure without ever complaining about anyone. Her life was exemplary. When the earthquake struck at 8:50 a.m. on 26th January 2001, she was working in the kitchen and was trapped under the rubble of the collapsed building. The bones of her neck and back were broken. The others-her only daughter and her elder sister-in-law with her son and daughter-were also crushed near her and passed away. We cannot imagine the mental state of a woman trapped under the debris of stone and brick, who is alive but cannot make the slightest movement. How must she have passed each moment! One cannot imagine how painful each moment must have been waiting and hoping that someone would remove the pile of rubble or at least hoping to hear someone's voice or to see a ray of light from outside.
She was trapped under the rubble in this unbearable condition not merely for one or two hours but for ten hours. She was finally rescued from the rubble at about 7:00 p.m. that day. People saw that there was not the slightest sign of agitation on her face. The pain in her back and neck must certainly have been unbearable. But, let alone crying or lamenting, she did not even sigh in pain. Nor did she have any tears in her eyes. She was lying peacefully with her head on the lap of her nephew, who had survived because he had been outside at the time of the earthquake. It was not that she was unconscious; she was fully conscious. She asked for water to drink. But there was no sign of misery on her face or in her voice. Lying in this condition and practicing Vipassana, she passed away peacefully after an hour and a quarter. Truly, she had learned the art of dying. She used to say repeatedly that Vipassana had taught her the art of living. The technique that taught her the art of living happily and equanimously in every situation had also taught her the art of dying peacefully even in the presence of excruciating pain. In the present history of Vipassana, there have been many meditators who have peacefully embraced a painful death in this way. Among them, there have been some who refused to take narcotic painkillers even while suffering from the extreme agony of the terminal stage of cancer, choosing instead to observe the pain dispassionately, and passed away peacefully. This meditator also has left an ideal example of an inspiring Dhamma death.
The technique of Vipassana teaches one to live a life of peace and harmony even in the face of the greatest adversity. May it benefit all those affected by the earthquake. May their broken hearts be healed. May they get the strength to start their lives anew. May they become peaceful! May they become contented!
(Excerpt from an article'Relief for the Earthquake-Affected' by Mr. S. N. Goenka)
Messages from Prominent Figures in Society
Message from His Holiness: The Dalai Lama
Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment and taught in India more than two and a half thousand years ago, consequently I am often asked whether Buddhist teachings and techniques continue to be useful in the present day and age. I believe that even today his teaching remains refreshing and relevant, because no matter who we are or wherewe live, we all want happiness and dislike suffering.
Like other spiritual traditions, Buddhism deals with basic human problems. So long as we continue to experience the basic human sufferings of birth, disease, old age, and death, there is no question of whether it is relevant or not. The key is inner peace. If we have that we can face difficulties with calm and reason, while remaining happy within. The teachings of love, kindness and tolerance, the conduct of non-violence, and especially the Buddhist theory that all things are relative are a source of that inner peace.
It has long been a tradition that wherever the teachings of the Buddhas have been revered and practised, communities of followers have built reliquary monuments known as stupas or pagodas. And wherever they have been built, they have been regarded as sacred, for like religious images and scriptures, they represent aspects of enlightenment. They are a source of inspiration. We say that for a Buddhist practitioner their function is to support faith, because they encourage the aspiration to acquire the qualities of the enlightened mind.
It is especially fitting that the Global Vipassana Pagoda should have been constructed in India, the very land where the Buddha taught. Seeing, honouring and entering the Global Vipassana Pagoda will encourage visitors to develop respect and admiration for the Buddha’s special insight, which in turn may be among the causes for developing such qualities within ourselves. Therefore, on the propitious occasion of its inauguration, I pray that the Pagoda may become an inspiration for peace and happiness throughout the world, now and in the future.
Benazir Bhutto and Vipassana
by Dr. Roop Jyoti, Kathmandu
In the summer of 1994, I got a call from the Home Ministry in Kathmandu. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was on an official visit to Nepal, wanted to visit Dharmashringa Vipassana Center in Kathmandu.
Arrangements were made to show her around and explain the Vipassana meditation technique in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin as taught by S. N. Goenka. Unfortunately, the visit was cancelled.
Two years later, the Foreign Ministry contacted us again. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba was going to Pakistan and there was a specific request from Benazir Bhutto to bring along a Vipassana teacher.
Our Principal Teacher, Acharya Goenkaji asked me and Nani Maiya Manandhar, both senior teachers, to go with the delegation. Benazir Bhutto was busy with the state visit and sent word that she would meet us as soon as she was free. On the last day of the state visit, the Nepali delegates were returning to Karachi in the afternoon to fly back to Kathmandu. Nani Maiyaji and I were finally summoned at 3pm, after the rest of the delegation had flown off.
Benazir Bhutto had heard much about Vipassana and wanted to learn the technique there and then. We told her it required a ten-day retreat. She did not have such time, and insisted to be taught right away. Acharya Goenkaji had foreseen such a response and had given permission to teach her the Anapana technique. So, Nani Maiyaji taught her Anapana. Benazir Bhutto started practising right away and found it very calming. She said that she had not slept for days and after the session of Anapana, she wanted to take a nap because she felt so tranquil.
We waited while she had a restful sleep. After a few hours, she emerged looking refreshed and happy. We explained to her the salient aspects of Vipassana: a means out of human suffering and misery; not a ritual of an organized religion but an art of living. Vipassana involves no conversion from one religion to another and is open to all without any barrier of caste, creed or gender. The technique helps people control unruly minds and cleanse them of impurities like fear, anger, hatred, ill will, animosity, greed, passion and restlessness. Vipassana teaches how to diminish the ego and to find truth about oneself and to achieve inner peace.
We talked a bit more about Vipassana and where she could possibly sit through a full ten-day course. We also gave her books, tapes and videos. By this time, it was late in the evening and the last flight from Islamabad to Karachi was about to leave. We rushed to the airport. Upon the prime minister’s order, two seats had been kept for us and the plane took off as soon as we boarded it. When we landed at Karachi that night, we learnt that there had been a military coup and Benazir Bhutto had been deposed. We were the last visitors she met as prime minister.
Last week, as news of her assassination came in, I was filled with sadness, but took solace in the fact that she had learned Anapana, an important part of the Vipassana technique. May she be happy and peaceful in her heavenly abode.
Message from Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, President, AICC
The Global Vipassana Pagoda in Mumbai is not only a beautiful new landmark, it is also a glowing beacon of peace and non-violence, radiating hope, harmony and a powerful healing touch.
In recent years, the practice of Vipassana is attracting more and more people of all ages in India. Its meditation regime that emphasizes self-observation and mental purification, enables us to better understand ourselves, and through detachment, to rediscover the universal and eternal truth that are often lost sight of in the midst of busy, stressful daily lives.
Such reflection and meditation, shorn of superstition, ritual and narrow sectarianism, not only helps us to find answers to the doubts and questions that are a part of the human condition. It also gives us the strength to cope with pain and suffering and reach out to others with humility, understanding and compassion. Through the practice of Vipassana, we are able to live our lives with greater serenity.
I am sure the Global Vipassana Pagoda, with its magnificent meditation hall, will help spread peace, harmony and the noble message of Lord Buddha. I am sure too that this Pagoda, which reflects the architectural genius, the artistic skill and, above all, the deep spiritual faith of all those involved with its construction, will be an abiding symbol of peace not just for Mumbai and India but for the entire world.
Interview with Priyanka Gandhi
…When was that moment that you knew for sure that you would never be in this profession [politics]? …And since you identify it as a definitive moment, what was that moment for you?
Actually, I went for Vipassana meditation. I was so troubled by the fact that I didn’t know my mind, I just disappeared and went for 10 days of meditation, to better know my own mind, rather than what other people want of me.
Did something happen that made you take such a decision?
No, just introspection.
(Source: Interview of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra by Barkha Dutt in Hindustan Times, New Delhi, April 25, 2009)
Select Questions & Answers with Mr. S. N. Goenka
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.
For more questions & answers, please click here.
Inner Peace for World Peace
Address by Mr. S. N. Goenka to the Millennium World Peace Summit on 29 August 2000 at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations. In this address, he explained why every individual should be happy and peaceful to form an ideal society
Role of Dhamma for better Governance
In this discourse, Mr. Goenka explains how Dhamma can help in the betterment of the Society and how it can act as a tool for better governance
Significance of Dhamma (Hindi)
In this discourse, Mr. Goenka explains how Dhamma can act as a unifying source for integration of society.
Acharya S.N. Goenka's Earthquake message (Hindi)
In this discourse, delivered during the aftermath of Gujarat earthquake, Mr. S. N. Goenka explains, importance of kālika dāna (timely aid) and how the practice of Vipassana enables one to live an equanimous life in such great adversity. He also narrates an example of one of the Vipassana meditators who passed away peacefully and equanimously in this earthquake.