S. N. Goenka

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S. N. Goenka
Born Satya Narayan Goenka
30 January 1924
Mandalay, Burma, British Indian Empire
Died 29 September 2013(2013-09-29) (aged 89)
Mumbai, India
Occupation Vipassana Meditation Teacher
Spouse(s) Elaichi Devi Goenka

Satya Narayan Goenka (30 January 1924 – 29 September 2013) was a noted Burmese-Indian teacher of Vipassanā meditation. Born in Burma, he followed the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, under whom he trained for 14 years. In 1969, he shifted to India and started teaching meditation, and started a meditation centre at Igatpuri, near Nashik in 1976. In time, he became an influential non-sectarian teacher of the Vipassana movement and a pioneer of Vipassana meditation in India.[1][2] He trained more than 1300 assistant teachers and each year more than 120,000 people attended Goenka-led Vipassana courses.

The technique which S. N. Goenka taught represents a tradition that is traced back to the Buddha.[3] Goenka emphasises that, "The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma - the way to liberation - which is universal"[4] and presents his teachings as non-sectarian and open to people of all faiths or no faith. "Liberation" in this context means freedom from impurities of mind and, as a result of the process of cultivating a pure mind, freedom from suffering.[5] Goenka calls Vipassana meditation an experiential scientific practice, through which one can observe the constantly changing nature of the mind and body at the deepest level, a profound understanding that leads to a truly happy and peaceful life.

He was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2012 for social work.


Early life and background[edit]

Born on 30 January, 1924 in Burma (now Myanmar) to Indian parents from the Marwari ethnic group, Goenka grew up in a conservative Hindu sanatani household.[6] He was a successful businessman when in 1955, at the age of 31, he started experiencing migraine headaches. Unable to find proper relief, at the suggestion of a friend he met with the Vipassana teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin (1899 – 1971). Though initially reluctant, Ba Khin took him on as a student.[1][7][8] Thereafter, he trained under Ba Khin for the next 14 years.[1][9]


In 1969, allowed by Ba Khin to teach, he left his business to his family and shifted to India, where he started teaching Vipassana meditation (insight meditation). Seven years later, in 1976, he opened his first meditation centre, the Vipassana International Academy, also known as Dhamma Giri, in Igatpuri near Nashik, Maharashtra. Goenka remained the principal teacher of Vipassana till 1982, when he started training meditation teachers. He also established the Vipassana Research Institute in Igatpuri in 1985.[1][9]

Pagoda at Dhamma Giri Meditation Centre, Igatpuri, which was founded by Goenka in 1976.

Soon he began teaching 10-day intensive meditation retreats, and by 1988 had taught numerous people, including several thousand Westerners.[10]

Today, there are 227 Vipassana meditation centres worldwide (including more than 120 permanent meditation centres) in 94 countries,[11] including US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand; this includes 56 centres in India.[1][9]

In 2000, Goenka also laid the foundation of the 325 ft. high Global Vipassana Pagoda, near Gorai Beach, in Mumbai, which opened in 2009, and has relics of Buddha and a meditation hall.[1] It was built as a tribute to his teacher, who in turn wanted to pay back the debt to India, the land of origin of Vipassana. However, unlike his protégé, Ba Khin was unable to acquire a passport, and thus had been unable to travel to India in person.[6]

Goenka was also a prolific orator, writer and a poet. He wrote in English and Hindi. He travelled widely and lectured to audiences worldwide including at the World Economic Forum, Davos, and at the “Millennium World Peace Summit” at the United Nations in August 2000.[12] For four months in 2002, he undertook the Meditation Now Tour of North America.[13]

He was conferred the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian honour in India for social work on the occasion of India's 63rd republic day in 2012.[14]

He died on 29 September 2013, at his home in Mumbai. He was survived by his wife Elaichi Devi Goenka, also a prominent meditation teacher, and six sons.[1]


Upon his death, Jack Kornfield, noted American author on Buddhism wrote, "In every generation, there are a few visionary and profound masters who hold high the lamp of the Dharma to illuminate the world. Like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh, Ven. S.N. Goenka was one of the great world masters of our time. [He] was an inspiration and teacher for Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, Ram Dass, Daniel Goleman, and many other western spiritual leaders."[15] Jay Michaelson wrote in an Huffington Post article titled, "The Man who Taught the World to Meditate", "He was a core teacher for the first generation of "insight" meditation teachers to have an impact in the United States."[16]


Ten-day Vipassana courses are held all over the world where students learn the technique while observing Noble Silence and following a strict moral code of conduct.[17]

To quiet the mind during Vipassana courses, students are asked to have no contact with the outside world or other students, though they may talk to an assistant teacher about questions concerning the technique or to a student manager for any material problems. Mere observation of breath allows the mind to become naturally concentrated, a practice called Anapana. This concentration prepares one for the main part of the practice—non-attached observation of the reality of the present moment, as it manifests in one's own mind and body. This is the Vipassana practice itself which involves carefully "scanning" the surface of the body with one's attention and observing the sensations with equanimity, becoming progressively more aware of their ever-changing nature.

Goenka explains in his talks that the practice of Vipassana is the essence of the path of Dhamma, the path to Truth. He does not claim that this Vipassana tradition is the only way to Truth, and constantly reminds students of the Universal and non-sectarian quality of this path. However he claims that an authentic tradition survived in Burma, passing from teacher to student in a long lineage from the time of the Buddha to his teacher, U Ba Khin, and now through himself, to the student.

In his courses and lectures Goenka describes Vipassana meditation as a scientific investigation of the mind-matter phenomenon.

Theoretical component[edit]

Goenka invites students to consider the theoretical aspects of his teachings, advising that they can take out whatever they find objectionable. Goenka repeatedly states that the goal of the technique is to attain the deathless.

In the Vipassana Journal 2nd Ed. 1983 in an article titled "Let us talk sense" at p. 29 Goenka quotes Buddha, who is reported to state, "Open are the gates of the deathless state to those with ears (who can hear) who renounce their lack of faith".

Goenka also provides some instructions and theory online through the Vipassana Research Institute, where he indicates deathlessness as the goal of the technique:[18] "Fight this battle. Lust is something which keeps following you life after life and it is a very deep sankhara. Whenever sexual desire arises in the mind don't focus on the object of the lust. Just accept the fact of lust as lust. "At this moment my mind is full of lust." Accept this, and see what sensation you have. At that moment start observing whatever sensation predominates anywhere in the body, and keep understanding, "Anicca, anicca. This is not permanent, this is not permanent. This lust that has come is also not permanent; let me see how long it lasts." In this way the sexual desire becomes weaker and weaker and passes away. "

Escaping the cycle of becoming, the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth again is according to Mr. Goenka the ultimate goal of the technique.

On the Vipassana Research Institute website Mr. Goenka has written an article titled Was The Buddha A Pessimist? - Acharya S. N. Goenka[19]

"The Noble Truth of suffering (dukkha) is explained in four aspects. . .
Asaṅkhatattha: To experience for oneself the unborn state where nothing arises
Amatattha: To experience for oneself the deathless state where nothing passes away. . ."

"If a person of any race, caste or class—walking on the path of the Dhamma (Universal Law) by the development of morality, mastery over the mind and experiential wisdom—attained the first of the four stages of liberation, he was called an Ārya (a Noble One). This stage is called sotāpanna (stream-enterer)—that is, this person has entered the stream of complete liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Such a person is partially liberated. One is totally freed from the possibility of future lives in the lower worlds because of eradication of all kammas (karmas) that would take one to such lower worlds even though one still has some kammas left which will result in a maximum of seven lives before final liberation from all rebirth. Hence, one is entitled to the epithet of ārya. Continuing the practice of Vipassana, the practitioner successively becomes a sakadāgāmī (once-returner), anāgāmī (non-returner) and finally attains the state of an arahat (fully liberated being). Thus, ārya-satya (Noble Truth) is a truth through the experience of which anyone can become an ārya—noble person. . . . We get attached to the five aggregates thinking, "This is my mind," "This is my body," and we cling to them as "me" and "mine". This deep attachment to these five aggregates leads to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Who can deny the truth of this reality of suffering? At least all the spiritual traditions of India accept the cycle of becoming as misery and aim at getting liberated from this cycle, to attain the deathless."

Meditation Centers[edit]

The entrance to the Prachinburi Vipassana Meditation Center, Thailand.
The main Dhamma hall in the Prachinburi Vipassana Meditation Center, Thailand.

The Vipassana Meditation Centers that he has helped to establish throughout the world offer 10-day courses that provide a thorough and guided introduction to the practice of Vipassana meditation.

Online booking to Vipassana Courses can be done through www.dhamma.org. There are no charges for either the course or for the lodging and boarding during the course. These courses are supported by voluntary donations of people who want to contribute for future courses. Only donations made at the end of the course go towards paying for future new students.

With the ever-growing number of people learning Vipassana from these centres, Goenka tries to ensure that the whole network does not become a sectarian religion or cult. He recommends the expansion should be for the benefit of others, not mere expansion for the sake of expansion due to any blind belief—but with the intention may more people benefit, rather than for the sake of your own organisation's growth. Through the application process, however, much effort is made to prepare potential students for the rigorous and serious nature of the intensive 10-day meditation.

People with serious mental disorders have occasionally come to Vipassana courses with the unrealistic expectation that the technique will cure or alleviate their mental problems. Unstable interpersonal relationships and a history of various treatments can be additional factors which make it difficult for such people to benefit from, or even complete, a ten-day course. Our capacity as a nonprofessional volunteer organization makes it impossible for us to properly care for people with these backgrounds. Although Vipassana meditation is beneficial for most people, it is not a substitute for medical or psychiatric treatment and we do not recommend it for people with serious psychiatric disorders.

The organisation of the centres are de-centralized and self-sufficient, and may be run by volunteers of varying experience, which may account for differences in attitudes and experiences. In an effort to provide a more uniform experience in all of the centres, all public instruction during the retreat is given by audio and video tapes of Goenka. When asked about problems related to growth and expansion, Goenka is quoted as:

The cause of the problem is included in the question. When these organisations work for their own expansion, they have already started rotting. The aim should be to increase other people’s benefits. Then there is a pure Dhamma volition and there is no chance of decay. When there is a Dhamma volition, "May more and more people benefit," there is no attachment. But if you want your organisation to grow, there is attachment and that pollutes Dhamma.[20]

Students practising Goenka's Vipassana technique at the meditation centres are asked to agree to refrain from practising any other religious or meditative practices for the duration of the course. Concerning practices of other religions, Goenka says, "Understand. The names of many practices are all words of pure Dhamma, of Vipassana. But today the essence is lost; it is just a lifeless shell that people perform. And that has no benefit."

Global Vipassana Pagoda[edit]

One of Goenka's wishes was fulfilled in November 2008 when the construction of the Global Vipassana Pagoda was completed on the outskirts of Mumbai. He hopes that this monument will act as a bridge between different communities, different sects, different countries and different races to make the world a more harmonious and peaceful place.

The Pagoda contains the world’s largest pillar-less stone dome structure and is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world wanting to learn more about it and Vipassana meditation. Architecturally, this building is by far the largest single-span stone dome in the world, twice as big as the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican. At its centre is a circular meditation hall, 280 feet in diameter, which has a seating capacity of 8,000. At 325 feet height, it is almost as tall as a 30-story building. Approximately 2.5 million tons of stone was used in the construction.

In an 1997 article titled Why the Grand Vipassana Pagoda?,[21] Goenka explained that the Pagoda would house relics said to be from Buddha, which he said actually help people:

"Usually such pagodas are solid. But with the help of the most modern techniques of architecture, instead of building a solid pagoda, a vast meditation hall will be built within it, at the centre of which these sacred relics will be installed so that thousands of meditators can sit around them, meditating together and benefit from their Dhamma vibrations."

Vipassana Research Institute[edit]

Goenka believes that theory and practice should go hand-in-hand and accordingly has also established a Vipassana Research Institute to investigate and publish literature on Vipassana and its effects. The Vipassana Research Institute focusses on two main areas: translation and publication of the Pali texts, and research into the application of Vipassana in daily life.[22]

Vipassana in prisons[edit]

Goenka was able to bring Vipassana meditation into prisons, first in India, and then in other countries. The organisation estimates that as many as 10,000 prisoners, as well as many members of the police and military, have attended the 10-day courses.

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana is a 1997 documentary about the introduction of S. N. Goenka's 10-day Vipassana classes at Tihar Jail in 1993 by then Inspector General of Prisons in New Delhi, Kiran Bedi. Bedi had her guards trained in Vipassana first, and then she had Goenka give his initial class to 1,000 prisoners.[23]

The Dhamma Brothers is a documentary film released in 2007 about a prison Vipassana meditation program at Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama. The film concentrates on four inmates, all convicted of murder. It also includes interviews of guards, prison officials, and local residents, and includes re-enactments of the inmates' crimes.


  • "May all beings find real peace, real harmony, real happiness."
  • "A teacher should not be made an idol, like a god. He is a teacher. If you want to get any help, you practice what is being taught, that's all." (Indian Express interview, 2010)[6]
  • "I am not against conversion. In my speech at UN, the first thing I said was that I am for conversion, but not from one organised religion to another, but from misery to happiness, from bondage to liberation." (Indian Express interview, 2010)[6]
  • (On ritualism) "...if my teacher had asked me to perform rites or rituals, I would have said good-bye. My own Hindu tradition was full of rituals and ceremonies, so to start again with another set of rituals didn't make sense. But my teacher said, 'No ritual. Buddha taught only sila, samadhi, pañña. Nothing else. There is nothing to be added and nothing to be subtracted.' As the Buddha said, 'Kevalaparipunnam.' (Pali: 'The whole technique is complete by itself.') "(Shambhala Sun interview, 2001)[8]
  • "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." (Shambhala Sun interview, 2001)[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Vipassana pioneer SN Goenka is dead". Zeenews.india.com. 30 September 2013. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  2. ^ "Remembering SN Goenka, the man who brought Vipassana back to India". Firstpost. Retrieved 2013-12-21. 
  3. ^ http://www.buddhismuskunde.uni-hamburg.de/fileadmin/pdf/analayo/AncientRoots.pdf
  4. ^ Mr. S. N. Goenka retrieved on 22 September 2012
  5. ^ The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation retrieved on 22 September 2012
  6. ^ a b c d "‘You have to work out your own salvation’". Indian Express. 3 Jul 2010. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  7. ^ "Remembering SN Goenka, the man who brought Vipassana back to India". First Post. 30 Sep 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c Norman Fischer (September 2001). "The Universal Meditation Technique of S.N. Goenka (interview)". Shambhala Sun. pp. 1–3. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c "Vipassana guru SN Goenka no more". DNA India. 30 Sep 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  10. ^ Jack Kornfield (1988). "13. U Ba Khin". Living Buddhist Masters. Buddhist Publication Society. p. 243. ISBN 978-955-24-0042-1. 
  11. ^ "Vipassana Meditation Courses by Alphabetical List". dhamma.org, the official site of Vipassana Meditation in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin as taught by S.N. Goenka. Retrieved 5 Oct 2013. 
  12. ^ Wednesday, August 30: Venerable Vipasarachaya Dr. S.N. goenka Millennium World Peace Summit.
  13. ^ "S.N.Goenka Tour of the West". Events.dhamma.org. 2002-06-23. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  14. ^ "Padma Awards Announced". Ministry of Home Affairs, Press Information Bureau, Govt. of India. 25 January 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  15. ^ "Honoring a Great Meditation Master’s Passing". Jack Kornfield. October 1, 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-21. 
  16. ^ Jay Michaelson (2013-09-30). "S.N. Goenka: The Man who Taught the World to Meditate". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-12-21. 
  17. ^ "Introduction and code of discipline for courses". Dhamma.org. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  18. ^ "Vipassana-Practice". Vridhamma.org. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  19. ^ Was Buddha Pessimist
  20. ^ Goenka, S. N. (2007) For the Benefit of Many, p.32. Vipassana Research Institute. ISBN 8174142304.
  21. ^ "Why the Grand Vipassana Pagoda?". Vipassana Patrika, Vipassana Research Institute. Vol.7 No.8 October 1997 (original 17 September 1997). Retrieved 2014-04-14.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. ^ Why was the Sakyan Republic Destroyed? by S. N. Goenka (Translation and adaptation of a Hindi article by S. N. Goenka published by the Vipassana Research Institute in December 2003
  23. ^ Holden, Stephen (July 8, 2005). "Prisoners Finding New Hope in the Art of Spiritual Bliss". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-08. 


  • Kesavapany, K. (2008) Rising India and Indian communities in East Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 9789812307996


  • Hart, William (1987). The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation: As Taught by S. N. Goenka. HarperOne. ISBN 0-06-063724-2
  • Goenka, S.N. (1989). Come, People of the World: Translations of selected Hindi couplets. Vipassana Research Institute, Igatpuri, India.
  • Goenka, S.N. (1994). The Gracious Flow of Dharma. Vipassana Research Institute, Igatpuri, India.
  • Goenka, S.N. (1998). Satipatthana Sutta Discourses: Talks from a course in Mahā-satipatthāna Sutta (condensed by Patrick Given-Wilson). Vipassana Research Publications, Seattle, USA. 104 pages, English/Pāli ISBN 0-9649484-2-7
  • Goenka, S.N. (2000). The Discourse Summaries: Talks from a Ten-day Course in Vipassana Meditation. Pariyatti Publishing. ISBN 1-928706-09-6
  • Goenka, S.N. (2003). For the Benefit of Many: Talks and Answers to Questions from Vipassana Students 1983-2000 (Second Edition). Vipassana Research Institute. ISBN 81-7414-230-4
  • Goenka, S.N. (2004). 50 Years of Dhamma Service. Vipassana Research Institute. ISBN 81-7414-256-8
  • Goenka, S.N. (2006). The Gem Set in Gold. Vipassana Research Publications, USA. ISBN 978-1-928706-29-8, ISBN 1-928706-29-0.

External links[edit]