Mr S N Goenka and his wife Elaichidevi are well-known and respected teachers. Their presentation of the ancient Indian technique of Vipassana has been readily accepted the world over as being a simple, non-sectarian and universal method of insight by self observation. More about the teachers and the tradition that the teaching comes from is given below.
Since Mr Goenka started teaching in 1969, the technique has spread to every continent of the world and there are more than one hundred Vipassana Meditation centres. All the centres are independently run by volunteers and courses are funded by donations from previous students. More than 800 assistant teachers have been trained to teach adults in 10-day and longer courses and every year there are more than 1600 such courses.
Shorter 1 to 3-day courses were designed by Mr Goenka in 1986 to give children the introductory steps of the technique. He started training children’s course teachers to use the proven format, in the centres and later at schools, camps, remand homes and institutes for handicapped and homeless children.
In 2000 he recorded instructions for a one-day course in English and appointed regional co-ordinators, one or more in each country, to oversee and provide guidance to new teachers. There are more than 600 teachers for children. All of them and the volunteers who assist them are practicing meditators who have an interest in helping young people, free of charge. Care is taken in screening the helpers to ensure they are suitable for the responsibility. There are more than 1000 courses for children worldwide each year.
See the Course dates section for further details.
The technique is presented in a non-sectarian format. The ethical behavior that is the basis of the technique is common to all religions. People of all religious backgrounds, and none, can participate without any conversion involved. The course fits in well with values education promoted in schools, whether they are secular or religious based.
Mr S N Goenka (known to his students as Goenkaji) was born in a Hindu business family in Mandalay, Burma (now Myanmar) in 1924 and he passed away in 2013.
As a youth he excelled in study. At 16 years of age he was due to attend University in Rangoon, but he had to take over the principal role of managing the family business because his father became very ill. Goenkaji also married young as was common then. At an early age he was such a success in business that he became a leader in community organizations - in education, religion, social activities, literature and arts.
However at that time he suffered badly from migraine headaches. He could not sleep for many days and nights at a stretch for many years. Ordinary pain killers gave no relief and sometimes he had to resort to using morphine. This background gave Goenkaji a deep understanding of the pressures faced by young people.
He travelled around the world on business then started searching for a cure from all the best doctors in Europe, USA and Japan. No one could help him.
Fortunately, he came in contact with Sayagyi U Ba Khin, a man of great talent, wisdom and dedication to society.
Sayagyi was a senior official in the Burmese government and a master teacher of Vipassana Meditation, which was passed down from a chain of monks to lay teachers decades earlier. Goenkaji was at first cautious about learning what he felt was a “Buddhist” tradition but he was reassured by Sayagyi that there was no need for conversion. Goenkaji started practicing Vipassana under his guidance and very soon was not only free from his suffering of migraine, but had found more happiness than his wealth could have bought him!
Goenkaji then practiced in depth for fourteen years while still attending to his growing family and business responsibilities. Without warning, the government took over all his industries and most of his wealth was gone. In 1969 he returned to India to take care of his sick mother and taught a course for her and thirteen other students. His intention was to return to Burma but more people started requesting such courses. They came from all walks of life and all religions. The universal non-sectarian teaching appealed to people from the diverse society of India, and the other nationalities who soon started coming.
Mrs Goenka (known as Mataji) was also trained by Sayagyi U Ba Khin and authorised as a Vipassana teacher. She later joined Goenkaji in India and since 1979 they travelled to many countries to teach. In 2000 Goenkaji addressed the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. During a tour in 2002 he was invited to speak at the United Nations at a World Peace Summit. Despite his international recognition, Goenkaji always placed emphasis on the effectiveness of the teaching rather than the personality of the teacher.