Satyanarayan Goenka the master of Vipassana Meditation,
Jearnt the technique from Sayagyi U Ba Khin who belonged
to a long lineage of celebrated Mipwanduachers Goenkaji
and his assistant teachers teach Vipassana in residential
Ten-day courses organised around the world.
Though Vipassana and Satipatthana are synonymous, in order to
clear any misunderstanding in this regard, special Satipatthana
courses are conducted in which Goenkaji expounds the Sutta in
evening discourses which enable the meditators to get direct
inspiration from the words of the Buddha. Each chapter in this
book is condensed from these daily evening discourses.
"Liberation can only be gained by practice, never by mere discussion."
These words of Goenkaji should remind the reader that the purpose
of theory(pariyatti) is to support and inspire the practice(patipattt),
and not to supplement it.
S.N. Goenka, or Goenkaji as he is widely and respectfully referred to,
is well known in numerous countries of the world as a
master teacher of meditation. He received the technique that he
reaches in the 1950’s from Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Burma, who in
turn received it from Saya Thet, who received it in turn from the
venerable monk, Ledi Sayadaw, who in turn received it from his
own teacher in along line of teachers descended directly from the
Buddha. The achievement of this line of teachers in preserving
the technique through such a long period of time is extraordinary,
and a cause for gratitude in those who practise it. Now, in a
world hungry for inner peace, there has been an extraordinary
spread of the technique in Goenkaji’s lifetime: at the time of this
writing meditation courses are given in 55 meditation centres as
well as many temporary campsites in India and around the world,
attracting about 40,000 people annually, a number which is growing
In spite of his magnetic personality and the enormous success
of his teaching methods, Goenkayi gives all credit for his success
to the efficacy of Dhamma itself. He has never sought to play the
role of a guru or to found any kind of sect, cult or religious organisation.
When teaching the technique he never omits to say
that he received it from the Buddha through a chain of teachers
down to his own teacher, and his gratitude to them for the benefits
that he has personally gained in his own meditation is evident.
At the same time, he continually emphasises that he does
not teach Buddhism or any kind of "ism," and that the technique
that he teaches is universal, for people from any religious
or philosophical background or belief.
The standard meditation course in this tradition is a residential
course of ten days’ duration. Participants commit themselves to
staying on the course site for the full ten days, observing a rigorous
timetable, maintaining complete silence among themselves.
for the first nine days. At the beginning of the course, they take
the five precepts as given by the Buddha to householders: to refrain
from killing, to refrain from stealing, to refrain from telling
lies, to refrain from sexual misconduct (which involves the maintenance
of complete celibacy for the duration of the course), and
to refrain from taking any intoxicants. They start with the practice of
Andpana meditation, that is, the observation of the natural
breath. On the fourth day, when some concentration has been
gained, they switch to the practice of Vipassana, the systematic
observation of the entire mind: matter phenomenon through the
medium of bodily sensations. On the last full day, they practise
Metta-bhavana, that is, loving kindness, or sharing the merits that
they have gained with others.
Although his family was from India, Goenkaji was brought up
in Burma, where he learnt the technique from his teacher Sayagy
U Ba Khin. After being authorised as a teacher by U Ba Khin he
left Burma in 1969 in response to his mother’s illness, to give a
ten-day course to his parents and twelve others in Bombay. The
inspiration that he imparted and the extraordinary results of his
teaching led to many more such courses, first in campsites around
India and then later in centres as these began to spring up. From
1979 onwards he also started giving courses outside India, notably
in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, France, England, North America,
Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. All of these areas today have
one or more centres.
Unfortunately around this time confusion arose among some
meditators as to how to practise Vipassana. The question arose as
to what was Vipassana and what was Satipatthana. In tact Vipassana
and Satipatthana are synonymous. They are the same.
In order to enable meditators to work directly with the Buddha’s
words and to dispel this confusion, Goenkaji gave the first
Satipatthana Sutta course at Dhammagin, the main centre near
Bombay, from 16 to , 22 December 1981. The discipline and
timetable of a ten-day course remained, but the participants could
study the text of the Sutta in the break periods, if they wished.
Goenkaji’s evening discourses explained and expanded on the
Sutta. In this way pariyatti (the theoretical study of Dhamma)
and patipatti (the actual practice of Dhamma) were most
Each of the chapters of this book is a condensed version of the
daily evening discourse given by S.N. Goenka during a Satipatthana
Sutta course held at Dhamma Bhimi, Blackheath, Australia, in
November, 1990. The book is intended as a companion volume
to the Maha-satipatthana Sutta, The Great Discourse on the Estab-
lishing of Awareness (VRI, 1998), with its introduction and notes,
published by the Vipassana Research Institute. That volume con-
tains the full text of the Sutta and is used as a handbook by medi-
tation students who are attending the course. The condensed
discourses in this book contain only short excerpts from the Sutta,
and it is not intended to be used on the course, where students
are able to hear the original discourses directly by means of
videotape. It may, however, serve as an aid to meditators after the
course as a review of the content, as an aid to further study of the
texts for scholars, and to assist with translation and better understanding
for the benefit of those whose mother tongue is not English.
"I iberation can only be gained by practice, never by mere discussion."
These words of Goenkaji give a fitting background to the origin and
reason for these discourses and for the Satipatthana Sutta course itself.
Goenkaji has always emphasised the importance of the actual
practice of meditation; theory and study are understood as a support
to the practice. In the Satipatthana discourses he warns of
how unfortunate it would be if a centre became devoted only to
the study of theory. On Satipatthana courses, as with the ten-day
courses, the full meditation timetable 1s followed, the discourses
being restricted just to one period in the evening. This means that
the participants can use the theory as a foundation from which to
investigate and experience realities inside themselves directly,
rather than being tempted to get caught up in mere intellectual
debates about it. Not that intellectual study is discouraged, but as
Goenkaji emphasises, theory and practice should go together.
Similarly, on a ten-day course, the teachings in the discourses proceed
from sila (morality), to samadhi (mastery of the mind), to
parivia (wisdom through insight) as the meditators are introduced
to each at a practical level.
A prerequisite for the Satipatthana course in this tradition is
the completion of three ten-day courses, regular daily practice,
and at least a minimum maintenance of sila, by keeping the five
moral precepts. It is noteworthy that the Sutta itself contains no
mention of sila. Goenkaji explains the background in the opening
discourse given on Day Two: the Sutta was given to the people of
Kuru, who already had a strong background of sila, going back
generations. To talk of sila to them was unnecessary; its importance
was already understood and assumed. It is also important
today that meditators taking this course and working with this
Sutta have at least a basic understanding and practice of sila.
Without this foundation of morality, it is impossible for them to go to
sufficient depth in their practice to work effectively with the teaching
in the Swtta. Many of the original audience of the Sutta were
already highly developed in their own meditation, needing very
little guidance to be able to reach higher stages. While such
attainments are not necessarily expected today, a requirement of
the course is that the Satipatthdna students at least have some
solid experience in this meditation, as well as familiarity with the
It was also no coincidence that Goenkaji’s teaching of the first
course in the Satipatthdna Sutta at Dhammagiri was immediately
followed by his teaching of a one-month Vipassana course. The
further understanding gained from attending a Satipatthana course
forms an essential base for practice during a long course, and is in
fact a requirement for taking long courses in this tradition. This
understanding forms a very important and helpful guide for the
meditator during the extended solitude spent in practice during a
long course. Additionally, the long course discourses refer frequently
to the teachings of this important Sutta, which are also
echoed in many other suttas.
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