S.N. Goenka (1924-2013)

S.N. Goenka

As many of you probably know by now, S.N. Goenka, the preeminent lay teacher of Vipassanā meditation in the tradition of U Ba Khin and founder of the Dhamma Giri Meditation Centre, passed away a few days ago.

Some of the best write-ups about his life and work are those by Erik Braun for the Tricycle blog, Sharon Salzberg for The Daily Beast, and Justin Whitaker for American Buddhist Perspective. I recommend that you take a look at each of them.

In addition to being one of the titantic figures in the transmission of the Dharma and meditation instruction in the last century, Goenka-ji was also very committed to bringing the teachings to places of great need — including prisons. As part of the work for our “Buddhist Ministry and the Prison-Industrial Complex” course at University of the West this semester, in fact, Dr. Jane Naomi Iwamura and I have ended up talking about Goenka-ji and his work a good bit. On the first day, we even showed our students the film Doing Time, Doing Vipassana, which tells the story of the historic first 10-day Vipassanā retreat held at Tihar Prison in India.

We should lament Goenka-ji’s loss on many fronts, not the least of which is “Engaged Buddhism.” He wasn’t often spoken of as one of the prominent Engaged Buddhists (and he probably wouldn’t have cared for the label), but in many respects he sure was in word and deed, and on his own terms.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!

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