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S. N. Goenka

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
Website //

Satya Narayan Goenka (30 January 1924 – 29 September 2013), commonly known as S.N. Goenka, was a Burmese-Indian teacher of Vipassanā meditation. Born in Burma of Indian descent, he became a student of Sayagyi U Ba Khin, under whom he trained for 14 years. In 1969, with Ba Khin's blessing, he relocated to India where he established a meditation centre at Igatpuri, near Nashik in 1976. His teaching was notable for its emphasis that the Buddha's path to liberation was not a sectarian religion but a universal path of knowledge that was fundamentally scientific in character. In time he became an influential pioneer of Vipassana meditation initially in India then throughout the world where he established a network of meditation centres.[1][2] He trained more than 1300 assistant teachers who conduct courses using recordings of Goenka, and today more than 120,000 people attend Goenka-led Vipassana courses each year.

The technique that Goenka taught represents a tradition that is traced back to the Buddha.[3] However, there is no requirement to convert to any religious belief system. Goenka explained that, "The Buddha never taught a sectarian religion; he taught Dhamma - the way to liberation - which is universal"[4] and presented 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 describes Vipassana meditation as an experiential scientific practice, in which one observes the constantly changing nature of the mind and body at the deepest level, through which one gains a profound self-knowledge that leads to a truly happy and peaceful life.

Goenka was invited to address the Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders on 29 August 2000 at the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations in New York City where he received repeated standing ovations. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2012.


  • Biography 1
    • Early life and background 1.1
    • Career 1.2
  • Legacy 2
  • Teachings 3
    • Theoretical component 3.1
  • Meditation Centers 4
  • Global Vipassana Pagoda 5
  • Vipassana Research Institute 6
  • Vipassana in prisons 7
  • Quotations 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Sources 11
  • Bibliography 12
  • External links 13
    • Transcripts 13.1


Early life and background

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 severe, debilitating migraine headaches.[7][8] Unable to find medical 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][9][10] Goenka trained under Ba Khin for the next 14 years.[1][11]


In 1969, authorised by Ba Khin to teach, he left his business to his family and moved 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 was the only teacher until 1982, when he started training assistant teachers. He established the Vipassana Research Institute in Igatpuri in 1985.[1][11]

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

From the start, he taught 10-day intensive meditation retreats, and by 1988 had taught numerous people, including several thousand Westerners.[12]

Today, there are 227 Vipassana meditation centres worldwide (including more than 120 permanent meditation centres) in 94 countries,[13] including US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and Thailand; this includes 56 centres in India.[1][11]

In 2000, Goenka 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 an orator, and a prolific writer and 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.[14] For four months in 2002, he undertook the Meditation Now Tour of North America.[15]

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.[16]

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 Goenka's 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."[17] 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."[18]


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.[19] To quiet the mind, 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.

Courses start with observation of natural (i.e. not controlled) breath, which allows the mind to become 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 systematic "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

Goenka invites students to consider the theoretical aspects of his teachings, advising, though, that the important aspect of the technique is its practice. Students are free to accept his theoretical background or to reject any part of it that they find objectionable.

His interpretations of the term vedana (as 'bodily sensation') and sampajanna (as 'constant thorough understanding of impermanence') [20] differ from how these terms are understood in many Buddhist traditions.

Meditation Centers

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 Goenka 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 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 many 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.[21]

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

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 hoped 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?,[22] 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

Goenka believed that theory and practice should go hand-in-hand and accordingly he 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.[23]

Vipassana in prisons

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.[24]

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)[10]
  • "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)[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Vipassana pioneer SN Goenka is dead". 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. ^
  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. ^ "Master of the Dhamma: An Interview with S. N. Goenka". Inquiring Mind 4 (1). Summer 1987. 
  8. ^ "S. N. Goenka, Pioneer of Secular Meditation Movement, Dies at 90".  
  9. ^ "Remembering SN Goenka, the man who brought Vipassana back to India". First Post. 30 Sep 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c  
  11. ^ a b c "Vipassana guru SN Goenka no more". DNA India. 30 Sep 2013. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  12. ^  
  13. ^ "Vipassana Meditation Courses by Alphabetical List"., the official site of Vipassana Meditation in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin as taught by S.N. Goenka. Retrieved 5 Oct 2013. 
  14. ^ Wednesday, 30 August: Venerable Vipasarachaya Dr. S.N. goenka Millennium World Peace Summit.
  15. ^ "S.N.Goenka Tour of the West". 2002-06-23. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  16. ^ "Padma Awards Announced". Ministry of Home Affairs, Press Information Bureau, Govt. of India. 25 January 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2013. 
  17. ^ "Honoring a Great Meditation Master’s Passing". Jack Kornfield. 1 October 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-21. 
  18. ^ Jay Michaelson (2013-09-30). "S.N. Goenka: The Man who Taught the World to Meditate". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2013-12-21. 
  19. ^ "Introduction and code of discipline for courses". Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  20. ^ Goenka, S.N. (2002). The importance of Vedanā and Sampajañña : a seminar, February 1990, Dhamma Giri, Igatpuri. (2nd ed.). Igatpuri, Maharashtra, India: Vipassana Research Institute.  
  21. ^ Goenka, S. N. (2007) For the Benefit of Many, p.32. Vipassana Research Institute. ISBN 8174142304.
  22. ^ "Why the Grand Vipassana Pagoda?". Vipassana Patrika, Vipassana Research Institute. Vol.7 No.8 October 1997 (original 17 September 1997). Retrieved 2014-04-14. 
  23. ^ 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
  24. ^  


  • 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

  • Vipassana Research Institute, website.
  • Vipassana Meditation (As taught by S.N. Goenka), website
  • Introduction to Vipassana Meditation by S.N. Goenka (video files).
  • Podcasts about Vipassana Meditation (audio talks).
  • Brief biography of Goenka at VRI.
  • S.N. Goenka Meditation Now Tour of North America.


  • The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation based upon a talk given in Berne, Switzerland.
  • An Interview with S. N. Goenka Tricycle: The Buddhist Review | Winter 2000
  • Universal Spirituality for Peace the complete text of the address given by Goenka to the United Nations General Assembly | 29 August 2000
  • Q&A by Goenka BuddhaNet | 1997 & 1999
  • Meeting Between Goenka and Krishnamurti BuddhaNet | 17 October 2000
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