Burmese Meditation Guru Goenka Dies at 90

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 30 September 2013

Burmese national Satya Narayan Goenka, a leading lay teacher of Vipassana meditation and the highly respected founder of an international network of meditation centers, died on Sunday in India. He was 90 years old.

Goenka “passed away peacefully” at his residence and the funeral will be held on Tuesday in Mumbai, according to the Vipassana Research Institute’s website.Famous for his nonsectarian approach to meditation, his teachings attracted people from across the globe, of all backgrounds, and of countless religions and creeds.

A Burmese citizen of Indian descent, Goenka was born in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city, in 1924. After joining the family business in 1940, he became a leading figure in Burma’s influential Indian community and led business groups including the Burma Marwari Chamber of Commerce and the Rangoon Chamber of Commerce & Industry. He often accompanied government trade delegations on international tours as an advisor.

After receiving 14 years of Vipassana meditation training from his mentor U Ba Khin, Goenka traveled to India in 1969 and held his first 10-day meditation course. Thanks to its nonsectarian nature, the training was widely accepted in a country divided by caste and religion.

In 1979, Goenka began travelling abroad to introduce Vipassana to other countries. He personally taught tens of thousands of people in hundreds of 10-day courses around the world, in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Japan, the United States, Canada, Europe, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand. He trained more than 800 assistant teachers and each year more than 100,000 people attend Goenka-inspired Vipassana courses. More than 70 centers devoted to the teaching of Vipassana have been established in 21 countries.

Goenka once said Vipassana, though originally a teaching of the Buddha, was not only confined to Buddhism.

“Everybody from any religion and society can practice it easily, for Vipassana is universal and [concerns] the art of living,” he said.

Among his efforts to spread Vipassana meditation, one of the most remarkable may be his bringing the practice into prisons, first in India, and then in other countries as well. The Vipassana Research Institute estimates that as many as 10,000 prisoners, as well as many police and military personnel, have attended the 10-day courses. In Burma, the courses were first taught in prisons in 2008.

Asked during a workshop whether he believed peace was possible in armed conflicts that had been raging for decades, Goenka offered no assurances, but stressed personal responsibility.

“There are no problems that come from outside,” he said, explaining that individual inner peace would help prospects for a more far-reaching world harmony.

“All trouble comes from inside. Go down deep inside and find the root cause of your suffering. Remove it and you will be free.”