News and Events
S. N. Goenka, Teacher of Vipassana Meditation and founder of over seventy-five Vipassana Centres around the world, was invited to participate in the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland from 27 January to 1 February 2000. This gathering of the global leaders in politics, business and media is where they meet informally to discuss various issues facing the world. The WEF Annual Meeting is often referred to as the summit of summits and this 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 at 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 Davos included Prime Ministers, Presidents and kings of over forty countries including the U.S.A., Germany, U.K., Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, Mozambique, Indonesia, Jordan, South Africa and Egypt. Deputy Prime Ministers, Vice-presidents and finance ministers of many more countries also attended. The richest 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 that 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 introducing Vipassana to people from all religious and racial backgrounds Goenkaji was requested to describe how the practice of a tradition transcends dogma and cultural elements. Richard Block, President, World Union for Progressive Judaism, Israel; Prof. Tu We Ming, Harvard University, USA; Kassis Nabeel, Minister and Coordinator General of Bethlehem 2000 project and Prof. Keith Ward, Prof. Of Divinity, University of Oxford, U.K. were on the panel with him. 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". Richard Block, President, World Union for Progressive Judaism, Israel; Prof. Kathleen M. Foley, Dept. of Neurology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, USA and Prof. Keith Ward, Prof. Of Divinity, University of Oxford, U.K were on the panel. 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. Goenkaji was the speaker while John R. O'Neil, President, Center for Leadership Renewal, USA was the moderator. Points of discussion were: In our time-compressed and competitive world there seem to be more and more opportunities than ever to get upset when things don't go our way. Anger can ruin relationships, professional careers and health. What should be done to eradicate anger? 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". Derrick de Kerckhove, Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at University of Toronto in Canada introduced Goenkaji. 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.
When Vipassana meditators in Europe learned about Goenkaji's visit to Davos, they naturally wanted him to visit Vipassana centres in their respective countries. There are Vipassana centres in UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland. But due to his health and his busy schedule he could not go to these centres. He did, however, stop in Zurich for a couple of days on his way back from Davos so that assistant teachers, trustees, Dhamma workers and meditators from different European countries could meet him. On the morning of 2nd February, Goenkaji meditated with about 250 meditators from different parts of Europe and also managed to meet most of them. Many meditators were able to get various aspects of their practice clarified by Goenkaji.
In the evening of 2nd February, Goenkaji gave two public talks in the Congress Hall of Zurich. The first one, at 6.00 pm, was only in English and was addressed to a selected audience of about three hundred people. In this talk Goenkaji explained the practical, result-oriented and scientific nature of Vipassana. The second talk at 7.30 pm was open to general public. It was simultaneously translated into German by an interpreter. The one thousand capacity hall was almost full. This was rare for a public talk in Europe where an audience of five hundred is considered large for a public talk. This showed that more and more people are becoming interested in Vipassana. The audience included intellectuals, businessmen and professionals. It was announced that the talk would last an hour and would be followed by questions and answers for half an hour. But such was the interest in the talk that the question-answer session lasted for an hour. During the two hours of discourse and question and answers, the audience listened quietly and attentively to the clear exposition of Dhamma by Goenkaji.
On the morning of the 3rd February, representatives of a local Buddhist organisation and journalists of the leading Swiss newspaper came to interview Goenkaji. They were keen to know why the discipline was so strict in the tradition in which Goenkaji teaches and how this tradition was different than some of the other traditions that claim to impart the Buddha's teaching. Goenkaji explained how he was attracted to the pure Dhamma as taught by his teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin because of its universal and scientific nature. Though he came from a different background, he could not find any fault with it. Most importantly, he started getting huge benefits even with the initial few steps on the path of Dhamma. He said, "I feel immense gratitude towards the country of Myanmar (Burma) which preserved the Dhamma in its pristine purity. It is the bounden duty of everybody who has received this peerless gift from Myanmar to preserve it in its pristine purity. The results of this pure teaching are seen all around the world. To keep this purity, strict discipline is very important. If the discipline is lax at the Vipassana courses, the teaching will soon become impure. If the teaching becomes corrupt, it does not give optimum results and then eventually disappears." The interviewers also wanted to know why Goenkaji dissociates himself from some of the meditators who have learned Vipassana from him and have started teaching on their own. Goenkaji replied that there were two things about which he was very careful: first was to prevent Dhamma from getting commercialised and the second was to keep the sanctity of teacher-disciple relationship in Dhamma. Goenkaji said, "Dhamma is invaluable. It gets devalued the moment one starts charging money for it. How could I associate with those who have commercialised Dhamma? A teacher of Dhamma teaches others to come out of passion. It is out of question for me to accept when a so-called Dhamma-teacher himself has sexual relations with his or her students. I can never agree to such a thing. I am very particular that a Dhamma teacher's dealings with the students are full of compassion and are totally devoid of passion. These are the two issues on which I can not compromise." There could be some differences in various techniques but these were the issues, according to Goenkaji, on which all those who claim to be the followers of the Buddha should never compromise.
The two days in Zurich were further proof that the clock of Vipassana has struck in the remote corners of the world, even in places where the words of Dhamma were totally unheard of just a few decades back. Goenkaji went to Europe after a gap of almost ten years. These ten years have seen a steady growth of Dhamma there. The seeds that he had carefully planted, patiently nurtured and lovingly guarded have now grown into big trees in the form of Vipassana centres in many European countries and are giving the cool shade of Dhamma to many a weary traveller. May more and more people walk on the path of Dhamma to come out of misery and to live a happy life. May all beings be happy.
The 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 left lost 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, etc so that the children can become independent and earn their own livelihood.
The sisters serving in the institution pay good attention to all the 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 joy 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 29-10-98 and concluded on 31-10-98 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 Shri S.N. Goenkaji, explaining the technique; games, creative activities, cartoon film, stories, and rest periods.
The object of meditation given to the students is observation of pure, natural breath--as it comes in, as it goes out--which is not sectarian or objectionable in any manner. By watching the pure and natural respiration continuously over a period of time, the child starts to understand the true flickering nature of her own mind, its nature of rolling in the past and future, getting anxious and tense. Gradually, as one practises, the mind gets trained to remain aware of the present by observing the breath, which is the reality of the present moment. Then one experiences inner peace and tranquillity. Concentration improves, resulting in better performance in all spheres of activities and the child starts gaining confidence.
The child learns that by developing strong friendship with her own breath, she can gain mastery over her mind and get rid of impurities like fear, anger, hatred, jealousy etc., which makes her miserable and results in causing misery for others. Observance of silence is emphasised while meditating in the hall and children are 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. Some of the extracts of a few experiences of children are quoted here below:
I always thought of the future--I shall work in this manner, I shall pass securing good marks but it never happened. But when I observed my breath and trained my mind to remain in the present, I realised that I must live in the present and instead for so many days I lived building false dreams about the future. I liked this aspect of the technique very much and now I shall take great efforts to surely become the master of my mind. All this time, I was a slave of my mind, thinking of the future, which was not good for me. Now, I shall observe the five precepts as taught by Goenkaji so that my life will improve. The best thing I liked was that one should always say, ‘May all beings be happy’. Everyday, I shall start my day saying, ‘May all beings be happy’ and go to sleep after saying the above sentence.--------Unknown child
I also loved keeping silence because we always keep talking. Sometimes, we ourselves don’t realise what wrong we have said. But when we keep silence, then we get the strength and time to think so that we shall only talk what is good.--------Translated from Hindi
The programme was a good experience for me, as it gave me an opportunity to make me aware of my inner feelings towards myself and towards others. It made me conscious of my being. Though tiring at times, it was good. In the course of two and a half days, I could control my emotions and anger to some extent. So if I want to have full control over my emotions and anger, I need more practise and I intend to do so. The first thing is that I could not at least sit for half an hour but now I can sit much straight as before and also I don’t need any balance. I used to get catches in my legs but now it is normal after doing this. I think that I found something new and wonderful in my life. So many years, days and months passed but I never believed or noticed that I have something in me. But now, I shall continue this till the end of my life.------Lavina
Attending this Anapana course I have understood the incoming breath and outgoing breath and this technique is the most useful technique in my life. How much my mind wanders! My mind is now wandering less and my life has started improving.---------Translated from Hindi
In these three days, I learnt Anapana Meditation. I developed concentration of my mind and learn four things viz. Karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), samta (equanimity), and the importance of impermanence. By just doing this much if I am not fully satisfied, I wish to do ten-day course in future.--------Translated from Marathi
At first when I started working, I felt quite bored and my legs started paining, head ached severely and I felt I was trapped in some great difficulty. Then I thought that my friends are also doing this course and they are all sitting silently. Are they also facing the same trouble like me or not ? Then we were instructed that those who work sincerely and seriously get the best fruits of their efforts. Then I started working seriously putting my mind in my work. I then asked my friends whether they also experienced pain and they replied that when we get the opportunity to learn something in our life then should we not take the benefit of such opportunity? I once again applied my mind fully to my work and soon the thoughts that troubled me earlier affected me lesser, the anger that I used to experience came easily under control and I became peaceful and started understanding the precepts that I had not understood earlier. However, even now, I don’t like to meditate but now I am the master of my mind, not the slave of my mind. Whatever the type of thought arises in my mind, Anapana has given me the strength to get rid of it.-----Translated from Marathi
First we had no idea of this Anapana Sati meditation. But in these three days when we understood Anapana meditation then my friends and myself felt very happy as though after so many years our closed mind fluttered like beautiful butterflies. With this Anapana technique our mind became quite understanding. We learnt the importance of compassion, sympathetic joy, equanimity, confidence, forgiving nature, humility and following the timetable. Goenkaji narrated many stories by which we learnt that meaning of life is not narrow but is very broad. By this Anapana we have learnt not to get tense and fresh thoughts have sprung in the mind.-------Translated from Hindi
Excerpts from the experiences of children who attended the Children’s course at Dhamma Giri in October 98.
It was a very good experience and I have also learnt many things in these three days which I would not have learnt years sitting home. I learned to control our mind, which would help me in my future life... I am thankful to everyone, the teachers, workers, and Goenkaji I promise that I will follow what is taught to me by Goenkaji. ---Sejal Vaira
I like the work and would like to come again. I have never felt so good in my life until now. I will go home and tell my mother about Anapana and tell her how much I learnt. I love Anapana very much.----Tanumansa Bagrodia.
It was very nice to come here first as it is an International place. It increased my concentration. Here our mind is quiet as the atmosphere of Dhamma Giri is quiet. My memory power has increased.-----Veena D
The weather is very nice. There is silence everywhere. The teachers are very good. I enjoyed here. And the most important is the meditation. It is very good for us. It will help us in studying, health and everything in life. Thank you very much for giving me a chance to come her. I will try to improve in meditation.-----Deepika Barve
We are taught in a very nice way. I wish to come here again because I have the world’s greatest medicine, which can cure everything. I can never do wrong things because meditation has completely changed me. ------Kushita Vasant
The course was a lot of fun and the teacher was very inspiring. I liked meditating because it gave me peace of mind. We were surrounded by tranquillity. Staying in the dormitory helped me to make new friends.----Amrita
Vipassana Research Institute
Dr. W.S. Bhatki
Due to motivation and the inspiration provided by Shri Ratnakar Gaikwad, Additional Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai, a concept of holding Vipassana meditation course for leprosy patients of the hospital was introduced. Shri Ratnakar, on his first visit to the Ackworth Municipal Hospital for Leprosy was over whelmed by the greenery within the hospital campus, residing right in the heart of Mumbai and felt that the general environment is conducive for holding a Vipassana course here. He further pursued the idea and brought it to reality.
The leprosy patients-- the inmates of the hospital, are predominantly long term residents of the hospital. They have already suffered from relentless social stigma which dislocated them from the outside society and made them spend their life in the hospital. Any external element trying to understand them by coming close and spending time with them, is always welcome. In view of this, the idea of some people form the outside world coming and staying in the hospital for ten days for holding Vipassana meditation camp was welcomed by the inmates with enthusiasm without knowing what Vipassana is.
As a first step, a video cassette of Shri Goenkaji was heard, one hour each on three consecutive days which provoked many inmates to know more about this technique and participate in the same. In further meetings, many inmates asked questions regarding the course details and its requirements. They were mainly worried about their physical handicap due to leprosy, which may not permit them to sit in one position for hours. They were also sceptical about their routine medications and dressing of their wounds during the camps period. Once they were confident that they will not be inconvenienced to sit in one position as they can even sit on the chairs and any medication required will be continued even during the ten days of the course, many of the expressed willingness to participate. However, some of them could not be permitted, as they were required to look after day-to-day routine activities in the hospital inpatient and outpatient section. Nevertheless, a group of forty patients was identified to take part in the first ten day Vipassana meditation course organised in the month of May 1997. One staff-member also joined the course.
As the date to commence the first course was fixed, the patients and the staff of the hospital were all determined to make it a great success. The requirements to hold this type of course were enlisted and were completed one by one. The places for Dhamma Hall, residence for male and female participants and for assistant teachers and volunteers were fixed and were improved by painting, etc. About forty cushions with blue cloth covers were prepared by the leprosy patients themselves in just two days. Arrangements of breakfast, lunch, evening meals were made form the hospital kitchen. Everything was set to commence the course on the stipulated day and timing.
The inmates of the hospital and the staff-members were extremely fortunate to have Goenkaji to inaugurate the course for leprosy patients at the Ackworth Leprosy Hospital. His inspiring speech was tailored specially for the occasion, taking into account the fact that the participants in the course were leprosy sufferers. The audio record of the same speech is being used for subsequent programmes too. Goenkaji himself taught ``Anapana’’ to the participants in the inaugural session.
Everything went on as per schedule. Many inmates as well as the staff of the hospital were putting in co-ordinated efforts right from early morning to evening to provide all the requited facilities so that the course being undertaken by the participants could be smoothly practised without interruption. The entire atmosphere within the hospital campus changed and became holistic.
The assistant teachers who conducted the course grasped the minds of not only participating patients but also of other patients and staff members in a short time. During the ten days’ main course, the Assistant Teacher also took short introductory sessions almost in all inpatient wards and also for the group of the staff making everybody aware about Vipassana meditation. The other volunteers who stayed in the hospital campus for ten days also quickly assimilated with the hospital atmosphere and freely mixed with the leprosy patients without any inhibitions. This made the attitude of the inmates very positive towards the programme.
The unique nature of the participants and their sincerity in completing the course made Goenkaji visit the hospital camps once again on the metta day. On the same day he also addressed the meeting of many eminent persons.
On completion of the first course, everybody congratulated the participants while they profusely thanked assistant teachers, volunteers and others who helped them follow the path towards ``Dhamma’’ though Vipassana meditation. They could not express their feelings in terms of Sila, Samadhi and Pragya but the light in their eyes, the bold determination in their voice showed that there was a great change in them by which they can totally face the dreaded disease they are suffering from and the stigmatising society they are living in.
As head of the hospital, I had opportunity to participate in the organisation of the course from the very beginning to the end. Moreover; the enlightenment enthused in the participating leprosy patients inspired me to participate in the course myself. I took the opportunity by attending a ten-day course at Igatpuri in June 1997.
Participation in the Vipassana meditation course was a great experience. The scientific approach of introspection gives one ample opportunities to go through the intricacies of one is own mind and behaviour, possibly through ``Anapana’’ and `Vipassana’ To remain equanimous without reacting to any event will be a goal to be achieved and this ten days course could be just a first step towards the goal. The immense benefits and the experience gathered during the course cannot be expressed in words and I sincerely thank those who introduced Vipassana to me.
We could organise two more ten-day courses during July and August 1997 at Ackworth Leprosy Hospital without any difficulty. These courses were not only attended by the inmates but also by more staff members and by some OPD patients. With the existing facilities and little more inputs a ``Vipassana Meditation centre’’ can be established at the Ackworth Leprosy Hospital for the benefit of many more.
Subsequent to ten-day courses, now it has become a permanent feature that every day, one hour each morning and evening, all old students practise meditation in the ``Dhamma Hall’’. Since June 1997 onwards a one-day course from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. is being arranged on second Sunday of every month in which not only old students among inmates but also from nearby areas are also taking part. In the near future, the Ackworth Municipal Hospital for Leprosy could become one of the well-known centres for holding Vipassana meditation camps.