Born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1924 to Indian parents and raised in a devout Hindu household, Goenka was a successful businessman. In 1955 he met the Vipassana teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin who he studied and trained under for the next fourteen years.
Goenka went on to create a non-sectarian vipassana meditation program that has helped hundreds of thousands of people in countries around the globe. In order to ensure consistency of the training given by 800 instructors worldwide he was one of the first teachers to design courses based on videos of his own lectures, something that is commonplace in Buddhist and Hindu centers today. He was also one of the first to advocate for a more secular approach to sharing the wisdom of Buddha’s teachings, saying that people of any religion were welcome and stressing the commonality of all great religious and many secular points of view.
When we were designing the What Meditation Really Is courses and retreats, Goenka’s program was one of the inspirations for our efforts. In that spirit we have created a program that captures the essence of Buddha’s meditation instruction as explained by the Sogyal Rinpoche into a progressive system that people of all religious and non-religious backgrounds can find benefit from.
Goenka’s spirit of altruism, he never took money for any of his retreats, is perhaps the most striking aspect of his life. It is caught most movingly in the documentary film Doing time, Doing Vipassana, where in order to establish a meditation program in a horrible prison in New Delhi, Goenka insists on living with the prisoners as he teaches 1,000 of them. The results are amazing, and the prisoners testimonies captured on film make the case for teaching Vipassana in prisons. To date more than 10,000 prisoners as well as many of the guards and prison officials have participated in a ten day retreat.
Please join me and meditators all over the world and spend a few minutes meditating in honor of this truly amazing teacher. May the program he founded continue to bring the wisdom of the Buddha’s teaching as living experience to people for many, many years to come.