By Sulekha Nair
Not too many of its followers today would know this, but Vipassana-a form of meditation that can be traced back to the Buddha himself-was introduced to India by S N Goenka.Goenka, who passed away yesterday at his Mumbai home, brought this technique to India from Myanmar, following in the ways of U Ba Khin, his teacher.
A former industrialist born and raised in a staunch, conservative Hindu family in Burma (as Myanmar was known then) stumbled upon Vipassana searching for a 'cure' for his migraines.Interestingly, Khin refused him at first, chiding him for looking at an ancient way of meditation for something so mundane.
In an interview to Norman Fischer, poet and author of Buddhist writings, Goenka said, "People are attracted by the results of the practice that they see in others. When a person is angry, the influence of that anger makes everybody unhappy, including themselves. You are the first victim of your own anger. This realization is another thing that attracted me to the Buddha's teaching. In my early days, I believed that you lived a moral life in order not to disturb the peace and harmony of the society."
Handing over his business to his family, Goenka spent the rest of his life learning and teaching the meditation.
In 1969, Goenka came back to India and re-introduced Vipassana (the teaching was lost over the years) and set up the first meditation centre in Igatpuri, Nashik.
From then on, Vipassana spread fast and wide garnering followers from all walks of life.
Subhash Chandra Goel, Chairman at Essel Group, a mulit-sector conglomerate, who donated land for the Global Vipassana Pagoda at Borivali, is one of them.
He tells us that Goenka's death is a 'personal' loss for him. "I had met many teachers but Goenkaji inspired me with his simplicity. I was attracted to it as it does not follow any rites or rituals and is scientific."
About the future of the Vipassana in India, Goel says that though Goenka was instrumental in setting up of the 60 centers in India and 173 around the world, he had the foresight of giving them independent charge.
Condoling his death, Ratnakar Gaikwad, Chief Information Officer, Maharashtra says that he was 'fortunate' to be close to the teacher. "I was associated with many of his projects. I was immensely benefitted with the meditation, which gave me peace of mind and a positive approach to life."
"I am not mourning his passing but am very grateful that he gave us the technique of meditation," says Anu Aga, ex chairperson at engineering major Thermax . "I was looking for answers when my husband passed away," she says of her foray into spiritualism.
Aga who had met Goenka on several occasions says what she remembers him is for his sense of humor. "That was refreshing and remarkable," she adds.
Goenka, who received the Padma Bhushan in 2012 for social work, also engaged with other disciplines of academia and art in his pursuit of spreading Vipassana throughout India.
Dr. Sharda Sanghvi, Director at Vipassana Research Institute (VRI), says that Goenka practiced what he preached.
"It was his desire that VRI should conduct research in Vipassana as he felt that was the need of the future," says Sanghvi, who is also a Professor of Pali (an an Indo-Aryan language associated with Buddhism) at the University of Mumbai.
"I am glad VRI got the University of Mumbai's recognition for the MA (by research) and PhD programs recently when Goenkaji was alive."
Dr. Yojana Bhagat, coordinator, Department of Pali, University of Mumbai, credits Goenka for providing the department with translations and books on Pali from the VRI."Many of our students are Vipassana followers and the few who aren't, are send to do a 10-day Vipassana course," she says. "Because the technique teaches you the practical aspects of the Buddha's teachings while the academic discipline at the University introduces you to the teachings," she adds.
Sulekha Nair works for Entrepreneur magazine