Thor Peng Tiong
Originating from India, Mr. Goenka was born in Myanmar in 1924. In 1969, he was handed the baton by renowned Buddhist teacher the Venerable Obakim to instruct students on Vipassana Meditation. Now he is based in Bombay, spreading to the people the teachings of Buddha. He also travels to Europe and America to instruct Vipassana courses.
In February 1998, I was in New Delhi, India to attend in the ten-day Vipassana Meditation course. As the Chinese saying goes, “Only the one who drinks the water knows whether it is warm or cold; hence only those who have gone through the Vipassana course will really know what it is like.” This ten-day course indeed roused a huge chance within myself, and I was able to let go of my previous rigid beliefs and fanciful thoughts. That was the first time in my life that I ever experienced such peace and tranquillity.
I am really grateful to all the friends and the teacher who had prompted me to attend this course, because what I gained from it was simply so bountiful! And special thanks go to Mr. Goenka for organizing so many Vipassana courses worldwide, and for allowing people who seek spiritual improvement and tranquillity to learn this unique art. I am one of those who benefitted greatly from his generosity and concern!
Last year, Mr. Goenka was in Singapore for a two-day seminar. Response was enthusiastic, and many interested friends who came to know more about Vipassana have been practicing regularly since then. This is certainly gratifying.
I was fortunate enough to meet up with Mr. Goenka then, and had a meaningful chat with him. His wisdom and “beyond mundane” state of mind is really rare. Let us take this opportunity to step into his inner world together, and let his words cleanse us spiritually…
Q: We are keen to have a course similar to Vipassana for children in Singapore. Its emphasis would be on activating their self-potential. How should we go about achieving this?
A: Vipassana courses for children started in India, and since then have spread to Taiwan, Burma, Thailand and some Western countries. They have been successful. However, it is important to take note only to organize two or three-day courses for children, and not the normal ten-day course. The teacher, on the other hand, must be an individual who has gone through the ten-day course.
Q: Has there been any research done so far?
A: Yes, lots of it. It has been found that, with Vipassana, the students have sharper memories and their ability to understand increases. In addition, Vipassana helps a student to focus on an object with no distraction. For example, in exams, many students previously failed because they are distracted by anxiety. Vipassana teaches the students the technique to observe (the paper) before starting and helps the mind to calm down. It is good to start Vipassana at a young age as it aids in character-building. When they reach sixteen or eighteen years of age, their minds will be more open when they take the full course.
Q: Many people relate meditation to religion. How, in this case, can we convince the government to help in this cause?
A: Convince them that the teachings of Buddha is not a religion. Buddha never founded a religion, the fact is that it was only six, seven hundred years after Buddha that his teachings became organized. He originally taught only morality, that everyone must lead a moral life, and learn how to control the mind in order to lead a moral life. This goes true for other communities and religions. To purify the mind is not a religious subject. It is the intellect, the science of the mind! It is about how sensation arises, how ignorance arises. There are no rites, no rituals, no religious ceremonies, and there is no philosophy. Buddha was the super-scientist who discovered that everything that arises in the mind flows with the sensation of the body. He was the one who found out that we are reacting to sensations and not anything external. This is pure science, which we practice, which anybody can practice! We use Buddha’s name like we use Einstein’s name.
We use the word “Buddha”, but we do not say we are “Buddhists”. The bottom line is … be a good human being. Therefore, we have to convince the authorities that Buddha was the great scientist who understood the interaction between mind and matter, how impurity arises, and how, with every impurity, comes misery. Buddha found the way for us to come out of it. His position is to help people come out of sickness.
Q: Is it necessary for Vipassana meditators to be vegetarians?
A: During the course, they have to be vegetarians. Later on, we do not insist that they continue their vegetarian diet. However, we have found out that, most of the time, after a Vipassana course, they automatically become “full-time” vegetarians.
Q: Can you elaborate on the root problem of suffering?
A: It is a mental impurity! Buddha found out that one is miserable because of the impurity in the mind. A craving arises not because of external factors, but because of the sensations which arise in one’s body. Buddha discovered that life starts with mind and matter. With this comes contact, then sensation, and it is this sensation that we react to. He taught us the world of sensation and change. Anybody can do this at any place!
Q: What about modern diseases?
A: Vipassana will treat any medical disease totally. With regard to physical ailments, there are cases of diseases, for instance, cancer, being reversed after Vipassana. However, we do not say that Vipassana will cure any physical ailment. Instead, we say that Vipassana helps a person be positive (about his/her desire). When your mind is sound, it reflects on your body, and vice versa. This is the law of nature.
Non-meditators usually think too much unnecessarily, while Vipassana teaches one to be equanimous about one’s disease. Whatever treatment he or she is given, he or she takes it positively. However, Vipassana should not be taken for treating physical illnesses. It is more for mental purification, that is, to make your mind healthier. With the mind healthy, naturally the body starts getting healthier too.
Q: How do we love a person without attachment?
A: The love we usually talk about is commercial love. When we love someone, we expect that person to love us back. It is conditional. With Vipassana, we get to know pure love. We give this love to others without expecting anything in return. This is the love that is effective.
Q: Is it not very difficult to love without expecting love in return?
A: It is not difficult! You just have to practice properly, and you will find yourself developing. You will find that this love is so pure, and you just want to give and give without expecting anything in return! You can call this a one-way traffic. And as you practice more, it becomes natural. This is why so many teachers go around teaching without expecting any sort of pay-back. They are so happy to give, and they have so much love for everybody.
When your mind is filled with hatred (impurities), what sort of love can there be? But when your mind is purified, what you possess is real love, the kind that Buddha wanted people to have, the kind he wanted people to practice. However, unless you practice (purifying your mind), everything is just a ritual.
Q: What is our mission in life?
A: To live a good life, one which is good for ourselves and for others. A life with peace and harmony, and to generate nothing but peace and harmony for others, so that they, can live in peace and harmony.
Q: How do we overcome fear?
A: Nothing can arise in the mind without sensation in the body. If fear arises in your mind, you just have to accept that it is present in your mind at that moment, but do not let it lead you into doing things. Otherwise, it would become an intellectual game in which you keep rolling in. Any sensation that you have in your body at that precise moment is related to that fear. A good Vipassana meditator would notice what sensation that is, and see how long it last. He or she would then notice the fear slowly and gradually diminishing. This is true for anger, obsession, egoism or any impurity in the mind. When you have a crisis, and you are suffering from depression, accept that it is in your mind and do not relate it to the cause. Just observe the sensation (of this depression) and you will come out of it.
Q: How can a busy businessman lead a peaceful life without giving up his business?
A: It is not necessary to give up your business in order to lead a peaceful life. Instead, the attachment to your business should go. Be detached from it and you can work much more effectively. My personal experience is such that I used to feel exhausted at about eight O’clock at night after working the whole day. However, after fourteen years of practicing Vipassana, at that time (eight O’clock), I feel refreshed and could keep on working.
I am not the only one to have experienced it. Hundreds of others have found that their capacity to work increased after Vipassana. At the same time, they are able to look out for other responsibilities as well, e.g., family, business and social responsibilities. When a business is attached to his business, he becomes very tense. But when he is detached, there is no tension.
Mr. Goenka’s affable nature was certainly unforgettable. I could feel that every single sentence and every answer he gave came sincerely from the deepest part of him. Sitting beside him, I felt a natural sense of peace arising. It was as though he was a benign father teaching his children how to live a peaceful and meaningful life.
I believe that all who had ever met him, like me, loves and deeply respect him, because the love emanating from him is so strong that there is no choice but to be touched by it!