-By John Luxford
When people hear that Vipassana meditation has become well established in New Zealand, they often express surprise: "How did such a wonderful center come about? However was it financed?" New Zealand is a small country with a population of about three million. It is far away from the rest of the world in the south seas, yet in the year, 1997, there were seventeen ten-day courses held at Dhamma Medini.
It is a testament to the spread of Dhamma that this tranquil center has arisen in this far off corner of the globe. This story is not so different from the development of other centers except that here there was not a large group of students to get things underway. When Goenkaji started teaching in India in the early 1970’s a few New Zealanders participated in the courses.
Most of these were young people travelling through India. Some of these first students were fortunate, and after experiencing the benefits of Vipassana, were able to stay for extended periods in India, attending courses and getting quite well established in the practice. As these students returned to their homeland they continued their twice daily sittings. Other New Zealanders became attracted on hearing about the Dhamma, and soon there were requests for courses to be arranged. Soon courses conducted by Assistant Teachers were held in rented sites at least twice a year.
These courses had between 20 and 50 students attending. Goenkaji himself taught much larger courses in New Zealand in the early 1980’s. Students attending these early courses in New Zealand generally had little to give as donation, and for quite a number of years the course organizers operated with just the minimum of funds. Students often expressed the desire to have a center in New Zealand, but it seemed unrealistic to even contemplate purchasing land. We were a very small group with basically no funds, wanting to make a vast financial outlay. However the local meditators felt that when the time was right the Dhamma would certainly grow firm roots in the fertile soil of New Zealand. In 1986 a local meditator suddenly offered a substantial loan for the purchase of a permanent center. A few enthusiastic students searched for land and found a large secluded site with great potential about one hour north of Auckland. When word spread that a possible center had been found, other students offered dana (donation) and loans. Normally local councils do not allow farms to be divided but this land was an exception and it was possible to subdivide into four plots.
These sections could be sold to meditators and the money raised would repay the loans. This was how, in early 1987 the New Zealand center was purchased. Goenkaji named it Dhamma Medini, Land of Dhamma. The facilities at Dhamma Medini were rudimentary for the first few years. The meditation hall was an old barn, the dining room was an old army tent and students stayed in tents. Although the Trust now owned a beautiful center there were no funds to build appropriate facilities. Nevertheless the students were undaunted in their enthusiasm and met to plan the next stage. After much discussion, plans for a large building were drawn up. It would include a meditation hall, kitchen, dining room and accommodation for about twenty, being the first stage of the long-term development plan. The finances of the Trust were not sufficient to undertake such a large project, but it was decided to start the foundations, as an inspirational step. The cornerstone of the spread of Vipassana as taught by Goenkaji is that all donations must come from those who have completed a Vipassana course.
At this point the Dhamma Medini Trust learnt a good Dhamma lesson concerning the importance of working only on a donation basis. Seeing the shortage of funds the Trust was advised that a community bank was giving large grants to non-profit charitable organisations that were providing services to the community. The Trust fitted their narrow criteria and after discussion it was decided to apply for a grant. The first lesson we learnt was that when students heard of the possible grant from the bank, those who were planning to give dana held back. We then heard that the bank had certain conditions: a plaque should be put up informing of their generosity, and they wanted us to let other groups use the center when we are not conducting courses. Of course, the Trust could not accept these requirements, so in due course the bank turned down our application. Yet the feeling amongst all the meditators involved was one of joy on hearing this news, because we had realized how sacred the principle of pure dana is.
As it turned out, funds were soon loaned and donated by meditators and the building was completed with this pure basis. It opened in 1995, and now stands as a manifestation of meditators’ confidence and gratitude to Dhamma. Now the center is developing well. A new block of twelve single rooms is nearing completion. There are more accommodation blocks planned, then a new meditation hall. Dhamma Medini is a center with which all who visit cannot help being impressed. Students have put enormous effort into the development of Dhamma Medini but when one reflects on the center’s growth, clearly the major contributing factor has been the powerful influence of Dhamma that wanted this center to arise here. There were so many difficulties and hindrances, sometimes seeming to being surmountable, yet all the difficulties were overcome by keeping to the Dhamma principles that Goenkaji has elucidated. May Dhamma Medini and the spread of Vipassana in New Zealand continue with the same loving service that has been the foundation in these early years. May all beings be happy.