Promoted by S.N. Goenka, vipassana meditation is getting increasingly popular among people from all strata of society. Based on the Buddha's teaching but eschewing any hint of religion, it is a simple technique for self-purification
EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH S.N. GOENKAAre you satisfied with the way vipassana has been spreading?
I'm satisfied that the work began well. But it can't be complete till it embraces the whole world, till there is no differentiation of caste, creed or religion.
The simpler a person's chitta (mind) is, the greater he is as a person and vice versa. But every person has the resources to attain simplicity. Today, India is getting divided on the basis of religion and caste. The Hindus claim their identity, the Muslims their own. But each religion teaches these fundamentals of simplicity, of not doing anything with your mind, body or spirit that would demean you. If all of us were to follow these teachings, most of the problems will be solved.
What is the connection between vipassana and Buddhism?
Buddha never preached Buddhism. We have compiled 140 volumes of Buddha's existing talks into a CD-ROM and found that the word Baudhya or Buddhism is not mentioned even once. Buddha talks of dhamma (Pali for dharma), not Baudhya dhamma. Buddha was against organized religion. It was his followers who later created a religion out of his talks. A person who identifies with a religious community can never attain dhamma.
How is the Buddhist community reacting to vipassana?
They have accepted it. We impart Buddha's teachings as he himself taught in its pure form. He taught simplicity and morality, which can be practiced by people of all religions.
What about other vipassana groups?Are their techniques similar to yours?
You should ask them why they didn't use the word vipassana before 1969. I don't want to speak badly of anybody but many people do seem to have started a kind of department store of therapies. This science of vipassana had disappeared from India, in fact the whole world. It was only a handful of people who had preserved this system in Burma.
Why are you making these pagodas at Igatpuri and Mumbai?
Originally, a pagoda was supposed to be hollow, without any idol inside. It was meant to be a place where people go to clear their chitta or mind. But Buddhists turned it into a religious place. Now we are creating pagodas the way they were supposed to be. The Mumbai pagoda will have an exhibition on Buddha but no idol in the main meditation hall. Its shape will also create positive vibrations for meditation.
The pagoda is inspired by the stupas or Buddhist domes, which are originally Indian. So, we are not creating a Buddhist association. We are just bringing back what is originally from India.
Our main intention is to present what Buddha actually said. Swami Ram Das, who has been into science himself, said when he attended one of our camps that Buddha begins where modern psychology has now reached and goes beyond. Nobody has studied the mind in as much depth as Buddha. We have lost most of our Pali civilization. None of the pages from the Pali literature are in India now. But Buddha's words have been preserved in Burma. It is our duty to restore them.
Is there any connection between vipassana and Thich Nhat Hanh's face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2"> mindful meditation?
See I don't want to speak against anybody. But in our tradition, we are taught that we should practice Buddha's teachings as they are, without distorting or changing them. But many people are developing their own techniques. Buddha has never said that you watch your thoughts while meditating. He has only asked you to accept the thoughts as they come and let them be.
Are you grooming a successor?
I always tell people that I'm no miracle maker, I'm not a god. I've just learnt a technique that I'm teaching to others. After me, my students will go on teaching.
How will you ensure the purity of the teaching after you?
There will be no centralization of the institute. Each center will continue to work as a separate unit. That way, even if rot sets in one center, the others will continue the tradition.
People say that your 10-day vipassana course is very strict.
Most people who attend the courses manage to take 10 days off their busy schedule to come here. So I must give them the maximum that is possible within those days. If I'm not strict, then these days will be of no use.
Sometimes, Muslims insist on saying the namaz during the course. But they are told that for these 10 days, they can keep their religion and caste aside, and go inward instead. When a person has done five of our courses, we see if he can live by these values and then register him for the 20-day course and so forth.
What do you think is the ultimate goal of vipassana?
The ultimate aim is to clean the mind. Nirvana is beyond mind and matter. It can come to you anytime depending on how pure you are. In that state, all your senses stop functioning. It could be for a second, a minute, or longer, but for that brief period, you are beyond all sensation, all thought.
What is the role of morality? Does the code change with time?
The essence of morality cannot change. On the surface it seems that morality is for governing the society and maintaining law and order. But Buddha goes much deeper. The nature of any negative emotion is that it disturbs the mind and it will always be so. A person who goes beyond these negative desires alone can attain happiness. That is the law of nature. The manifestation of feelings might change, but the essence of morality is consistent.
Is lust the strongest of emotions that disturb the mind?
Yes, it is. Since our origin is from sex, it is consistently on our mind. But it is possible for a person to get rid of these thoughts. When we train our teachers, we see if they have any other means of income so that they don't turn Vipassana into a business. We also see to it that an unmarried person who hasn't gone beyond lust teaches only people of his own gender. A couple once came to me and were asked if they had any alternative mode of income to look after their children when they beget them. Their reply pleased and surprised me. They said that there couldn't be any possibility of children since they had long ago ceased to have any sexual relationship. They had gone beyond it. That is the ultimate celibacy, not to abstain, but to go beyond.
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