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The course took place in the Tibetan library in Dharamsala, not far from where His Holiness was living. On the first day, when I told all the very top-ranking lamas my rules, they protested: "But every day, we have rituals to perform, we have to chant so many recitations, we have to prostrate so many times."
"Nothing doing," I replied. "For ten days, nothing doing." And they said, "No, we can't break our life-long vow." So I sent word to the Dalai Lama, "Sir, I can't teach. Your people don't agree. I'm sorry, I have to go." And he sent word to the lamas through his private secretary, "You have to followGoenka's instructions, even if it means breaking your rules. Whatever he says, you must agree to do." They all did it, and they got the same result. Rites or no rites, rituals or no rituals, the technique gives results.
Normally I don't go out during a course, but the Dalai Lama wanted to discuss how it was going, so I visited him two times. We had long discussions in detail about the technique I teach and about his technique also-without judging, just exploring with inquisitiveness. We each enjoyed our discussions tremendously. Since then we have been friends.
I am not interested in any kind of politics. Of course I have great sympathy for whatever is happening to the Tibetan people, but I can't take up that cause. It's not part of my duty as a dharma teacher. Even the most undemocratic person, even the greatest tyrant, will be a good person if he practices. Just as Buddha was not interested in the politics of the different kings of his day, so that's not my job either. His Holiness understands that very well. We are not political friends, but rather dharma friends.
He did keep asking me about sunnata, emptiness. "You've got no sunnata?" he would ask. But after I explained my understanding of it, he accepted what I said: that when all solidity is dissolved in the technique, and there's nothing but vibration remaining, that is sunnata. Then you experience something beyond mind and matter-sunna-nothing to hold there. You have sunna of the mind and matter sphere and sunna of the beyond mind and matter sphere. His Holiness seemed to be quite happy with that explanation. He had no objection.
S.N. Goenka is a teacher of Vipassana meditation in the tradition of the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma (Myanmar).
Norman Fischer is a poet and Zen priest who served as abbot of San Francisco Zen Center from 1995 to 2000. He is now a senior teacher at the Center and the founding teacher of the Everyday Zen Foundation and co-author of Benedict's Dharma: Buddhists Comment on the Rule of St. Benedict (Riverhead).
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