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Norman Fischer: Is this a guided meditation, in which you say, "Notice sensations at the top of the head, notice sensations here, notice there."?

S.N. Goenka: Yes, very much so, in the sense that the students remind themselves to keep on moving systematically. If they don't notice any sensation, they stay for about a minute and then move on calmly. Whether some sensation crops up or nothing crops up, you keep moving.

Norman Fischer:
The sutras speak of many kinds of people with many different tendencies. Do you find that this technique works better for some kinds of people than others, or that some people can't do it?

S.N. Goenka: In my experience, I haven't found a single person who has been unable to do it. The most illiterate people from the villages in India, people who had never heard what Buddha taught, and people who are long-time devotees of Buddha-all get equal results. It's so simple. When I ask them to observe the breath, they observe the breath. An illiterate person can also observe the breath. And they can take their attention to a particular part of the body. Why should there be any difficulty?

Norman Fischer: You addressed the World Peace Summit at the United Nations. What is the relevance to world peace of a meditation technique, which seems like a very personal thing?

S.N. Goenka: We want peace in the entire human society, yet we don't care whether there is peace in the mind of the individual. When we talk of human society, the human being matters most. And when we talk of peace, the mind matters most. So the mind of each individual matters most. Unless there is peace in the mind of the individual, how can there be peace in the society?

There may be different techniques. We don't say that this is the only way. For me it is the only way, but other religions say that they have another way for people to find peace and harmony. Very good, go ahead.

But what I am teaching is universal. Anybody can practice it, from any religion or tradition, and they will get the same result. We have people coming to vipassana courses from every religion in the world, and they all get the same result. I don't tell them, "Convert yourself from this religion to that religion." My teacher never asked me to convert to a religion. The only conversion is from misery to happiness.

Norman Fischer: The fact that there is no ritual makes it easier for people all over to join.

S.N. Goenka: More than two thousand Christian priests and nuns have taken the meditation course. One nun, a mother superior who was over 75 years old, told me, "You are teaching Christianity in the name of Buddhism. I should have learned this technique fifty years ago." Because there was no technique in her background. She had sermons on love and compassion for others, but they still left her asking how to actually practice love and compassion. With the vipassana technique you purify the mind at the root. Love comes naturally. You don't have to make an effort to practice metta, loving-kindness. It just comes.

Norman Fischer: So even though there is no conversion effort, others are nonetheless attracted to this practice?

S.N. Goenka: 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 themself. You are the first victim of your own anger. This realization is another thing that attracted me to the Buddha's teaching. In my early days, I believed that you lived a moral life in order not to disturb the peace and harmony of the society. In other words, as a Hindu I understood that one must live a life of morality to oblige society.

But when I took my first ten-day course, I started to understand that I was not obliging anybody else, I was obliging myself. Because when I performed any unwholesome action, I couldn't perform that action unless I had generated defilement in my mind. Every defilement, every unwholesome action, starts with an unwholesome mind. As the Buddha said, "Pubbe hanatu attanam, paccha hanati so pare"-"you first harm yourself and then you harm others." You can't harm anybody without harming yourself."

That was so revealing to me. Previously when I was angry, my mind was absorbed in thinking about the other person and the situation. My mind would just roll around in that without knowing that it is such thoughts that fuel the fire of anger. I had never been taught to observe myself. When I started observing myself, I discovered anger, lots of burning. My whole body burned, my heart rate increased, tension increased. I thought, "What I am doing? I am burning myself!"

Having practiced the meditation technique, now I know that when I live a life of sila I oblige myself first, not others. Others get obliged, which is good, but I am the first person to benefit. That is a wonderful difference in the Buddha's teaching from any other teaching I know.

Norman Fischer:
I understand that you have a good friendship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Can you tell us how that developed, particularly since His Holiness' tradition, with all its color and ritual, contrasts with your approach?

S.N. Goenka: In the first year when I moved to India from Burma, there was a big public function put on by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's followers, who had become Buddhists. They invited me to their annual celebration of the day that Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism. There were some one and a half million people in attendance. His Holiness the Dalai Lama was invited, along with me and the Japanese teacher Fuji Guruji. We were invited as chief guests, and each of us gave a speech. Mine was translated into Tibetan and His Holiness liked it so much that he said that he wanted to meet me and discuss things.

We started at nine o'clock the next morning and at two-thirty or three we were still talking-all about technique. He was very happy with my teaching. But when I said, "Quite a few people on the second day or third day see light," he responded, "No, no. That must be illusion. How can somebody see light in three days? It takes years to see light."

I replied, "Venerable sir, I saw light in my eyes. And so have many other people. I would not say it is an illusion. You better send a few of your lamas and let them experience it. If I am wrong, I will rectify it. I don't teach them that they must see light. It is merely a sign, a milestone on a long path, not the final goal."

So he sent three lamas to my next course in Sarnath. All three of them saw light, and they were so happy. When they went back and explained that to His Holiness, he was also happy. He said, "Goenka, come here and give a course to my people." Then I wrote him back, "When I give a course these are the rules. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, but if your high lamas don't agree to my rules, I cannot teach." He sent a message back to me, "Goenka, they will follow whatever you say for the full ten days. So don't worry; they will follow your rules."


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