S.N. Goenka – An Eternal Soul Passes On


Dinkar Chheda at the prayer meeting held to offer Shradhanjali to Goenkaji.

By Manu Shah

HOUSTON: “May all beings be happy”- “Sabka mangal ho”. Vipassana meditators have heard this compassionate phrase uttered by their teacher S.N. Goenka after every meditation session and discourse but the voice that set us on the path of Dhamma or Truth has been stilled.  Goenkaji passed away peacefully at his residence in Mumbai on the 29 of September at the age of 90 and was laid to rest with full state honors.  Though saddened, one also recalls his words that everything in Nature is transitory, impermanent or as he would say in Pali, “anicca, anicca, anicca.”

Vipassana is a form of meditation that was rediscovered by the Buddha 2600 years ago. Goenkaji stumbled upon this technique by chance. He was a successful businessman in Burma but was plagued by severe migraines for which there was no cure.  A friend suggested he try Vipassana with the acclaimed spiritual master Sayagji U Ba Khin. Goenkaji tried it and found not only the cure to his migraines but also the path to liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

In 1969, Goenkaji came to India to teach Vipassana.  The response was phenomenal and soon he was holding camp after camp to teach this way of life to eager learners. As the demand for these camps grew, he began to train teachers and establish Vipassana centers all over the world.  Today there are more about 170 centers all over the world of which 75 are in India and 16 in the US. This technique was also taught to prison inmates and the transformation in them was astoundingly positive.  In 2012, Goenkaji was conferred the Padma Bhushan for his tireless efforts at spreading dhamma and social work.

What Goenkaji offered was a nonsectarian, nonreligious method of meditation. During the 10 day retreat, one worked with the breath (anapana) and later, on the subtle sensations that arise and pass away on the body. He explained that the evils of aversion, craving and ignorance that bind one to the cycle of birth and death can be overcome by following the precepts of sila (moral conduct), Samadhi (concentration) and panna (wisdom).  He did not believe in conversions and often remarked that with Vipassana, the only conversion that takes place is from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation.

 Not surprisingly, his rationalism and meditation technique attracted people from all walks of life and faiths. According to Ramesh Bhutada, a firm believer in Vipassana meditation, Goenkaji can be credited with “introducing practical meditation to the western world.”

Following the news of Goenkaji’s death, Houston’s Open Forum radio talk show co-hosted by Dinkar Chheda, Jagat Kamdar and Dr. Subodh Bhuchar held a one hour discussion on October 5, inviting both Vipassana teachers and practitioners to explain the technique and how they benefitted from it.  Karunakar Reddy and Bharati Chedda, two senior meditators explained that Vipassana is a way of observing the truth with equanimity by staying aware at all times.

One of the first callers was Swatantra Jain who described Vipassana as the “best thing that happened to him.” He explained how one works with the conscious mind, learns awareness and observes the impermanency of things in nature.  To a question posed to him about how it is not possible for some people to take 10 days off for a meditation course due to work and family responsibilities, Swatantra Jain replied that it is a question of priorities.  This technique can change your life, increase efficiency and bring happiness but some people would rather “spend six hours at a party but not six hours for their soul.”

An interesting piece of information was given by one of the hosts who said that following the death of two ministers due to stress, the Maharashtra government passed a law stating that anyone who desired to do the Vipassana course would be granted paid leave!

The second caller was a Senior Vipassana teacher – Anita Kinra, who explained that Vipassana helps purify the mind, be present in every moment and removes negativity. The mind, when calm, helps us make the right choices and “act rather than react.”

Vijay Pallod, a Vipassana meditator, was surprised that the demise of such a renowned spiritual leader had not been covered by the local Indian newspapers of America as well as the mainstream papers of India. He also voiced the opinion that Goenkaji deserves the Nobel Prize for inspiring so many to walk on the path of truth or dhamma and creating peace and consciousness in the world.  Quoting Goenkaji, he said that “there can be no outer peace without inner peace” and this can be achieved by meditation.

Yet another caller, Ramesh Anand spoke about how meditation helps in the removal of old defilements (sankharas) while Bharati offered a simple yet illuminating example of the change that Vipassana can bring about.  She explained that anger changes breathing patterns. Practicing Vipassana regularly will teach one to observe the anger and breath and instead of exploding with anger, one will learn to keep calm. This brings peace and happiness not only to oneself but also to those around you.

A one hour prayer meeting was held at Keshav Smriti on October 6 to offer Shradhanjali to Goenkaji.  A brief introduction about Goenkaji by Dr. Shankar Bhat was followed by meditation after which several practitioners came forward to recount their experiences with the technique and how it had benefitted them by improving their personal relationships and perspective on life. Dinkar Chheda summed it up beautifully when he said that the “more I learn to experience, appreciate each moment, calm and peaceful I feel.”

 The prayer meeting also offered an opportunity for meditators to interact with each other. A suggestion was made to hold a group sitting once a week at a more central location (the present one is held at Conroe, Houston) which was enthusiastically discussed.

For further information about Vipassana meditation or to find a center in the US, visit www.dhamma.org or www.pariyatti.org