Mar 29, 2010
S. N. Goenka
S.N. Goenka is the spiritual leader of the Vipassana Meditation technique. Yes, he simply wants to call it a technique. I never knew about him until I attended the 10-day Vipassana Meditation course. I've only seen him through his video discourse - roughly an hour and a half a day, everyday for 10 days. But he left an indelible impression.
He's not an upstart who started a movement yesterday. Vipassana predates Christianity. It started 2500 years ago when Buddha realized there was no one at that time to teach him how to be fully realized but himself. Thus he developed this technique. From its place of origin in India, this technique found itself in Burma where it has been preserved in in original form as it was carefully handed down from teacher to student all throughout its history. It was predicted by sages that after 2500 years, Vipassana will find it's way back to India and will be reintroduced to the world. Goenka fulfilled that prophecy. From a small band of practitioners in Burma in 1969 (when Goenka left for India), Vipassana is now practised globally with 100,000 new students every year. He could have founded a religion on the basis of this technique and hailed himself as a new messiah. I'm sure he'll have leagues of followers who'll follow him to the ends of the world. But that's not him...and that's not how he wants Vipassana to become. Ego has no place in Vipassana.
In this day and age, self-styled religious leaders present themselves as earth-bound incarnation of divinity whose name is chanted repeatedly to attain mind-body convergence. Their altar-image is adorned and worshipped like a deity. S.N. Goenka is NOT that.
Gunning for the Applause
I am reminded of a rock climber who once told me she was somehow saddened to see the state of technical know-how of the local climbers given the progress made by their counterparts in southeast asia. Why? Because she said, the local climbers stop pushing the boundaries when they hear the applause. It became a very comfortable state to be in - the spotlight, the peer respect, and the occasional free beer. Like the Sirens of the Iliad, they get intoxicated and decide to stay where they are. Gurus who bask in the adulation of their followers are no different. S.N. Goenka is NOT that.
When a person meditates regularly or become a seeker, he inevitably develops these powers. That's considered a given. Even the casual meditator develops these powers...whether she likes it or not. What powers? A seasoned meditator may be able to astral travel, see elementals, see auras, or even desolidify the body into its sub-atomic constituent. Slowly, quantum physicists are beginning to realize that what the mystics have been talking about for centuries, this abstract altered state, is an exact description of the world of quantum mechanics...beyond the atom, and into the infinitestimally small world of quarks, hadrons and positrons where movement through time is possible, where existence in 2 different places at the same time is possible, a world where the word "definite" does not exist (yes, theoretical physicists have mathematically come up with equations to support it). And what about the powers of the fully enlightened ones? I don't know. They don't talk about it, and I don't know of anyone whom I could ask.
Rock Star Gurus
Yes, seekers who eventually develop these powers AND capitalize on such powers, develop a following. The adulation becomes intoxicating. They develop a tremendous attachment to this public clamor that they now see themselves as gurus - now, the world needs them. The quest for enlightenment stops and focus is centered on keeping the flock who provide them their sense of importance. They've become spiritual rock stars. In the book An Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, he talked about such gurus, peddling their powers to anyone interested. Of course, in this day and age, such self-proclaimed gurus try very hard to tap into the North American market where their predecessors have been lavished by a fleet of Rolls Royces and a hareem of blue-eyed blondes.
No Thank You
Goenka on the other hand, warn his students not to pursue these avenues of power but instead remain faithful to the practice. Being a teacher (yes, he doesn't even want to be called a guru...just a Vipassana teacher) all these years with millions (?) subcribing to Vipassana, he could have taken this Rock Star-road many years ago if he only wanted to. But he pursued the practice instead and devoted his life to the service of Vipassana. I swear, there's not a drop of Hollywood in him. Neither does he subscribe to self-deprecating demeanor alluding to humility. He has spent over 50 years of his life in the service of humanity, not wanting anything in exchange for it. I have no doubt in my heart and mind that he is a fully realized being - beyond the material trappings, beyond ego...only compassion.
The Answer Lies Within
This charismatic 80+ year old tells his students not to take his truth just because he teaches the path. In fact, Goenka encourages his students to question the sensibility of the practice. You don't see any picture of him on the meditation grounds either. When you see him on the video, he's not perched up on a throne with rose petals thrown his way. He presents himself as a simple man who wants to teach the same technique developed by Buddha, to fully liberate people from their cravings and misery - that's all. No talk of God, no ritual, no dogma, no rites, no worhip, no nothing. He maintains that everything a person needs to liberate himself from misery lies within himself - no one else; not from Goenka, not from any guru, not from any religion, government or tradition.
Who's Pulling the Strings?
I'm blown away by that. This is the very stuff governments, religions, cults, or even societies fear the most - an empowered person who doesn't need them; a person who actually thinks for herself. These institutions rely on control. Without control, their stature is greatly diminished. In many cases, they keep the public ignorant so they can keep calling the shots. A public who cannot critically think for itself is essentially a marionette. But Goenka shatters that myth.
I can say so many things about Goenka, even from just the video discourse and my readings about him. But three things overpower everything else - his humility, compassion and his utmost devotion in the teaching of Vipassana. We are so fortunate to have him walk amongst us.
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 1 (sitter): The Beginning Apr 1-12, 2009
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 2 (server): Enlightenment, Anyone? Oct 21 - Nov 1, 2009
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 3 (sitter): Forgiveness Mar 24 - Apr 4, 2010
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 4 (sitter): Getting Established in the Technique Apr 25 - May 6, 2012
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 5 (sitter): Seeing the Bigger Picture Aug. 20-31, 2014
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 6 (server): Serving at Battambang, Cambodia Sep 17-28, 2014
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 7 (server): Vipassana as an Art of Living May 5-17, 2015
- 10-Day Vipassana Silent Meditation Retreat Part 8 (sitter): Satipatthana Sutta Vipassana Mar 16-25, 2018
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