The Great Meditation Teacher S.N. Goenka: A Student's Appreciation
By Asoka Bandarage
I was born and raised in Sri Lanka as a Buddhist. However, it was only when I started doing vipassana, or insight meditation under the great meditation teacher S.N. (Satya Narayan) Goenka in 1987 that I began to truly appreciate the depth of the Buddha's teaching and its value to the world. It is impossible to repay the debt I owe Goenkaji, to refer to him by the respectful and affectionate name we students use. However, in the ancient tradition of homage to teachers, I would like to share a few words of appreciation for Goenkaji's selfless dedication to hundreds of thousands students across the world and his enormous contribution to the betterment of the world at large.
Much of what passes as Buddhism in the West today is little more than commercialized pop psychology. In contrast, Goenka, a successful Indian businessman and a student of the Burmese teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin, established a global network committed to serious meditation, strict moral discipline and free of charge to all comers. Drawn from the Theravada Buddhist tradition, Goenka's teaching provides an entirely secular and non-sectarian approach to human liberation. Despite the rigorous schedule, the demand for his 10-day silent retreats and the longer advanced courses continues to increase. Under S.N. Goenka's auspices, the Vipassana Association has established nearly two hundred meditation centers, and more are being planned, including one in the mid-Atlantic United States. Goenkaji also established the Vipassana Research Center in India to advance the study of Buddhist philosophy and Pali, the language of the Buddhist texts. However, like the Buddha, he approached liberation primarily through bhavana or meditation rather than intellectual study.
The 10-day retreat introduces the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha and three types of meditation taught by him: anapana, focused on breathing, vipassana, focused on bodily sensations, and metta, which focuses on generating loving kindness towards all. The clear and concise discourses and rigorous instruction, as developed by Goenkaji, helps students develop experiential understanding of anicca the impermanence of all phenomena and cultivate equanimity and non-attachment to self. More information on Goenka courses can be obtained from www.dhamma.org
All courses use Mr. Goenka's original audio and video recordings of his meditation instructions and discourses. This unique and innovative use of technology allows for a uniformity of presentation free from change and adaptation by individual teachers. The commitment of the students to the Goenka tradition is evident in that the centers operate through dana, voluntary donations of money and labor from students who have completed courses. All the assistant teachers, managers, and assistants work for free, cultivating the generosity and selflessness that lead to the peace and happiness that is our ultimate aim. 'Be Happy' is Goenkaji's refrain.
S.N. Goenka passed away on 29 September 2013 at the age of 89. May he attain the peace of Nibbana.
'Whatever is subject to origination all that is subject to cessation'- The Buddha