Satya Narayana Goenka died on this day, the 29th of September, 2013, at his Mumabi home. He was survived by his wife Elaichi Devi Goenka, six sons, and a generation of Vipassana meditation practitioners.
It is probably not possible to overstate his importance at the foundation of the modern insight meditation movement. He trained more than 1300 “assistant teachers,” who conduct retreats led by, at least as counted at Wikipedia, by 120,000 people a year. It’s probably true. May be more.
He was a disciple of the Burmese householder meditation master Sayagyi U Ba Khin. Following fourteen years of training, In 1969 Ba Kinh authorized Goenka, better known as S N Goenka, as a meditation teacher.
Following the pattern he learned and mastered, Goenka led ten day meditation retreats. During these retreats he applied the ancient Buddhist text attributed to Gautama Siddhartha, the Satipatthãna Sutta, (the Sutra on Establishing Mindfulness) in a pretty straight-forward way. It follows a progression of attention to the body, feelings and mental states, and from there considering the nature of experience and consciousness.
In 1976 Goenka established a meditation center in India. His retreats quickly became enormously popular. Among the people he trained directly or indirectly were the Western Buddhist meditation teachers Sharon Salzberg, Daniel Goleman, and Joseph Goldstein.
Following the emerging modernist expression of Burmese Buddhism, Goenka presented his teachings as non-sectarian, universalist, and scientific. Each of these terms can be challenged, and there are plenty of authors today who do so. There was also a current in his personal approach to the disciplines that some have described as “cultish.”
And. Goenka has been described as one of the “core teacher for the first generation of ‘insight’ meditation teachers to have an impact in the United States” and the West in general. His importance introducing Buddhist meditation disciplines and making them accessible to modern seekers probably cannot be overstated.
So, a pause to notice and to note.
Incense and bows…