Saturday, November 22, 2008

India 'to step up piracy battle'

INS Mysore (File photo)
India is expected to increase its deployment in the Gulf of Aden

India is bolstering its naval presence in the Gulf of Aden to tackle piracy off Somalia's coast, reports say.

The Indian navy is planning to send at least one more warship to the area, according to local media reports.

And Delhi has formally been given permission to act under a UN resolution allowing navies to pursue pirates into Somalia's territorial waters.

Piracy incidents have surged off the Somali coast and a number of Indian crews have been on hijacked ships.

On Tuesday, an Indian warship sank a suspected pirate "mother ship" after it came under attack in the Gulf of Aden.

Earlier this week, a Saudi Arabian super tanker, the Sirius Star, was hijacked along with 25 crew. The tanker, loaded with oil worth $100m, is now anchored off the Somali coast.

Security Council mandate

According to local media reports, the Indian navy now plans to send at least one more warship to the Gulf of Aden.

INS Mysore - a destroyer - could be deployed as early as next week, reports say.

Map showing areas of pirate attacks

The Navy refused to confirm the report, saying it did not discuss deployment of ships.

Under a UN Security Council resolution passed in June, states co-operating with Somalia's transitional government are permitted, for a period of six months, to enter its territorial waters to "repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea".

The international forces are allowed to use "all necessary means", in a manner consistent with relevant provisions of international law, according to resolution 1816.

India is among several countries currently patrolling the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

In recent weeks, there has been a growing demand for multinational efforts to fight the pirates, with more than 90 vessels attacked this year.

France, India, South Korea, Russia, Spain, the US and Nato also have a presence in the region.

'Pirate-infested waters'

India has called for greater co-operation between foreign navies to tackle the piracy threat.

India deployed INS Tabar in the Gulf of Aden on 23 October, and it has escorted 35 ships safely through the "pirate-infested waters", the navy says.

Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Shipping in India has confirmed that seven Indians are among the crew of the MV Delight, a Hong-Kong registered Iranian cargo ship, which was hijacked on Tuesday.

The 25-member crew includes two Pakistanis, seven Filipinos, seven Iranians and two Ghanaians.

The ship was carrying wheat and was bound for Iran.

A week ago, 18 Indian crew members of the Japanese-owned cargo ship MV Stolt Valor were released after being held by pirates for two months.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered continuing civil strife.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

In these troubling times, some videos from SN Goenkaji

Introduction (short) A short video (2 min) about the observation of breath and bodily sensations in Vipassana Meditation can be viewed with the free Quicktime movie player.
Introduction "A Simple Path"
Interview with S.N. Goenka: This video gives an introduction to Vipassana Meditation technique. (19 min)
U.N. Peace Summit
at United Nations, New York, Aug 2000
“Universal Spirituality for Peace”
S.N. Goenka lectures about world peace and the role of religion. It was addressed to religious leaders from all over the world, that participated in the “Millenium World Peace Summit”.
Real Video Format. (15 min)
WEF (World Economic Forum) Interview with S.N. Goenka at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 2000.
Real Video Format. (15 min)
Vipassana in Prisons “The Dhamma Brothers”, view the trailer of the documentary film about the first Vipassana Meditation course held inside the highest level maximum-security state prison in Alabama, USA, 2002 (2 min)

India 'sinks Somali pirate ship'

INS Tabar [File picture]
The Indian navy is now patrolling off the Somali coast

An Indian navy warship has destroyed a suspected Somali pirate vessel after it came under attack in the Gulf of Aden.

INS Tabar sank the pirate "mother ship" after it failed to stop for investigation and opened fire instead, an Indian navy statement said.

There has been a surge in piracy incidents off the coast of Somalia.

The latest attack came days after the Saudi-owned Sirius Star supertanker and its 25 crew were seized by pirates and anchored off the Somali coast.

Vela International, operators of the Sirius Star, told the BBC no demands had yet been received from the pirates. The company also said all the crew were safe.

Indian Navy spokesman Commander Nirad Sinha describes the attack

The biggest tanker ever hijacked, Sirius Star is carrying a cargo of two million barrels of oil - a quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily output - worth more than $100m (£67m).

Analysts say the pattern of other hijackings suggests a ransom request is likely to follow. Given the value of the tanker and its cargo, that is expected to be a sizeable demand.

Two of the captive crew are British. The UK Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said the Royal Navy was co-ordinating the European response to the incident.

"The problem of piracy around Somalia is a grave danger to the stability in the region," he told the BBC.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered continuing civil strife.


India is among several countries already patrolling the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

Map showing areas of pirate attacks

The Indian navy said the Tabar spotted the pirate vessel while patrolling 285 nautical miles (528km) south-west of Salalah in Oman on Tuesday evening.

The navy said the pirates on board were armed with guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers.

When it demanded the vessel stop for investigation, the pirate ship responded by threatening to "blow up the naval warship if it closed on her", the statement said.

Pirates then fired on the Tabar, and the Indians say they retaliated and that there was an explosion on the pirate vessel, which sank.

"Fire broke out on the vessel and explosions were heard, possibly due to exploding ammunition that was stored in the vessel," the Indian navy said.

Some of the pirates tried to escape on two speedboats. The Indian sailors gave chase but one boat was later found abandoned, while a second boat escaped.

INS Tabar has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden since 23 October, and has escorted 35 ships safely through the "pirate-infested waters", the statement said.

Last week, helicopter-borne Indian marine commandos stopped pirates from boarding and hijacking an Indian merchant vessel.


On Tuesday, a cargo ship and a fishing vessel became the latest to join more than 90 vessels attacked by the pirates this year.

The Sirius Star oil tanker (file photo)
Carrying 2m barrels of oil
Biggest vessel to be hijacked

The first vessel, a 25-crew cargo vessel transporting wheat to Iran, was attacked in the Gulf of Aden, while contact was lost with the crew of 12 on the fishing boat.

Piracy off the coast of East Africa and the Gulf of Aden - an area of more than 1m sq miles (2.6m sq km) - is estimated to have cost up to $30m in ransoms this year, a UK think tank has said.

The hijackings account for one-third of all global piracy incidents this year and the situation is getting out of control, according to the International Maritime Board.

The pirates who seized the Sirius Star are a sophisticated group with contacts in Dubai and neighbouring countries, says the BBC Somali Service's Yusuf Garaad.

Much of their ransom money from previous hijackings has been used to buy new boats and weapons as well as develop a network across the Horn of Africa, he adds.

Shipping companies are now weighing up the risks of using the short-cut route to Europe via the Suez canal.

However, travelling around South Africa's Cape of Good Hope would add several weeks to average journey times and substantially increase the cost of goods for consumers.

See Video:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the wrong side of law

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Delhi

Chunchun Kumar
Chunchun Kumar's wound is still raw

For Chunchun Kumar of Bihar's Nawada district, it was just another evening as he lounged around at a tea stall in his village along with a friend.

But, then something happened that changed his life.

"It was 17 March of this year. There were six of them. When we first saw them, they were beating up the temple priest. He was lying on the ground, they were kicking and punching him," Kumar says.

"Then they started hitting two other men. Then they came into the tea shop and they beat us black and blue. Then they fired at us."

Kumar lifts up his shirt to show a bullet mark on his abdomen. The wound is still oozing.

The perpetrators were no ordinary criminals.

Says Kumar, "They were all policemen. I don't know why they were angry. They were all drunk, they were like drunk elephants, they went on a rampage."

The shocked villagers complained to the police authorities, and the offending policemen were suspended from duty and arrested.

'Very serious'

Additional director general of police in Bihar Anil Sinha confirmed the incident.

"Two of the policemen who were inebriated vandalised the tea shop and began firing despite protests from their other colleagues. They were arrested and, although they have been released on bail, they are facing criminal charges."

Kumar's fight for justice recently brought him to the Indian capital, Delhi, where he narrated his story at India's first National People's Tribunal on Torture.

Activists say torture by police is rampant in India.

"The problem of torture is very serious. Today we have around 1.8 million cases of police torture each year in India," says Henri Tiphagne of People's Watch, an NGO.

Policemen in India
The police are often a law unto themselves, say campaigners

Mr Tiphagne says the victims mostly are from the poorer sections of society.

"They are generally the (low-caste) Dalits, the tribals and the Muslims. And torture is used by those who are in power, those who possess, the landlords and the companies who put pressure on the police to carry out torture," Mr Tiphagne says.

Mr Anil Sinha says cases of human rights violations involving the police are "exaggerated" by activists.

"It's a kind of stereotype being dished out by the NGOs and activists. And because police have a bad reputation, so people take such allegations to be correct.

"We do not condone any human rights violations by police in any manner, and such cases are rare. We have a mechanism in place to deal with such cases and penalise the guilty," Mr Sinha says.

Shankar Sen, a retired police officer and former member of the human rights commission, says: "The policeman's work is very complex, there are pressure on him to deliver results, the police are exposed to extraneous influences and pressures."

But, he says, that does not condone torture. "It's illegal, and as a policeman I know it doesn't work."

Mr Sen admits that police torture is prevalent. "Torture does take place, it's very common, but it's unacceptable. Some allegations against the police are shocking."

Meenakshi Ganguly of Human Rights Watch says nearly every police station in India can be held guilty of torture.

'Arbiter of justice'

In many parts of the country, she says, the situation is so bad that people will not got to a police station to file a case fearing prosecution and retribution.

"There is this pattern of impunity. The fact that police believe they can get away with it has added to the problem," Ms Ganguly says.

"The greater problem is that an average policeman believes himself to be the arbiter of justice. Instead of going to the court, he himself is delivering justice.

Arun Kumar with parents PP Raju and Lakshmi
Arun Kumar's mental age has been reduced to one year

"The policeman is not supposed to punish the criminal, he is supposed to catch the criminal," she says.

For the victims of torture and their families, it is a long haul.

Arun Kumar of the southern city of Bangalore was picked up by the police after his employer suspected him of having an affair with his wife.

Kumar's parents, PP Raju and Lakshmi, say their family home was ransacked, Kumar was taken to the police station where he was beaten up and tortured for days.

Unable to bear the pain and the trauma, Kumar drank pesticides in an attempt to kill himself.

He survived, but his parents say their son's mental age has been reduced to one year - he is on medication and requires constant care.

The guilty policeman was suspended for a week, but reinstated later. The family has a long fight ahead of them.


Says Mr Tiphagne, "A case I initiated in 1981 ended in 2007 with the dismissal of the officer. So I have hope in Arun Kumar's case too."

But, he says, this long wait can be a huge deterrence for even the most determined.

Henri Tiphagne of People's Watch.
Mr Tiphagne says nearly 2 million cases of torture take place in India every year

"The torture at the police station ends, but the torture of institutions continues. It's more of a psychological and mental nature, it is very challenging. Most people don't have the courage to withstand that, very few survive that," Mr Tiphagne says.

So while the victims continue to live with the trauma, most of the perpetrators get away.

They are also emboldened by the fact that India has no clear law on torture.

The country signed the UN Convention on Torture in 1997, but even 10 years later, it has not ratified it.

"We have to change our culture. We have to create awareness that torture is illegal. The civil society will have to get involved," says Meenakshi Ganguly.

"People will have to get past the fact that torture happens only to other people. And once that happens, it will change," she says.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Unusual rush of voters in Kashmir

Voters queue outside a polling station in Ajas, in Bandipora constituency in Indian-administered Kashmir on November 17, 2008

In Indian-administered Kashmir, there has been an unusually strong turnout in the first phase of elections for a new state government.

Queues of hundreds of voters formed from early morning in the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley, defying a boycott called by separatist groups.

Voters have also come out in strength in the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

Meanwhile, troops fired teargas shells and used batons to break up anti-poll protests in the Bandipora area.

Correspondents say that the turnout in Muslim-majority constituencies was just over 50%, slightly less than elections in 2002, with many Muslims taking part even though many do not accept Indian rule in their troubled state.

The election is being seen as a stern test for Indian rule of the disputed Himalayan region.

In recent months there have been huge pro-independence demonstrations in Kashmir which were met with force by the security forces, leaving many dead.

And dozens of separatist leaders have been detained to prevent them leading protests against the poll.

Voting is being held in seven phrases, lasting until 24 December. Counting of votes will take place on 28 December.


The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Bandipora says the boycott call had little impact in the Bandipora and Sonawari constituencies.

Indian paramilitary soldier in Srinagar
The security presence in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir is high

"Unusually large numbers" of voters have turned up to cast their ballots in Ajas village, in Bandipora, in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, he says.

The voters included men and women and they all said they had come to vote by choice, our correspondent reports, and were not deterred by the chilly weather. "The polling centre in Ajas was so crowded that we could not enter it."

One voter, Ali Mohammad, told the BBC: "We support azaadi (independence from India), but elections are important for the day-to-day administration. We need a government."

Meanwhile, security forces fired teargas shells and used batons to break up stone-pelting protests in Bandipora.

In one place, about 100 protesters held a march, chanting anti-India and pro-freedom slogans. Police and paramilitary troops used batons to disperse them.

Brisk polling was reported in the three constituencies of Poonch district in the Hindu-majority Jammu region.

Enthusiastic voters queued up since the morning to cast their votes early, the BBC's Binoo Joshi from Jammu reported.


The BBC's Damian Grammaticas visits a polling station in Bandipura

Security was tight across the state with armed soldiers and policemen deployed on every road and at almost every junction in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley.

Half a million troops provided a massive security blanket.

Over the summer hundreds of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims staged some of the biggest protests in a generation against Indian-rule.

The row began after the state government allotted a plot of land to a Hindu religious shrine trust.

Following violent protests, the government revoked the land transfer order.

This led to violent protests in the Jammu region too.

Police broke up the demonstrations in the valley and the Jammu region and dozens of people were killed, many of them unarmed protesters.

The authorities have jailed or put under house arrest up to 100 separatist leaders who have called for a boycott of the vote.

They asked their supporters to march on polling stations.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Srinagar says India is hoping the election will help restore its battered credibility here.

Depending on the number of people who heed the call to shun the poll, the legitimacy of India's rule over Kashmir may well be questioned, our correspondent says.

See Video:

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Universal Meditation Technique of S.N. Goenka

Norman Fischer interviews S.N. Goenka

Hundreds of thousands of people—from iliterate Indian farmers to Roman Catholic priests—have benefited from the famed 10-day meditation course pioneered by vipassana teacher S.N. Goenka. Drawing from the Buddha's earliest teachings, Goenka teaches a simple yet powerful technique of close attention to every sensation.

Norman Fischer: Please tell us, if you will, how you became involved in practicing and teaching Buddhist meditation.

S.N. Goenka: At first, I hesitated in getting into the Buddha's teaching. I was born and raised in Burma in a very staunch, conservative Hindu family. We were told from a very young age that the Buddha was wonderful because he was an incarnation of Vishnu. But his teaching was not considered good for us.

However in 1955, at the age of 31, I started experiencing severe migraines and couldn't get any help or relief. At that time, a very good friend—I have always been very grateful to him—said, "Go and take this ten-day meditation course." I hesitated. If I became a Buddhist, what would happen to me? I wouldn't believe in a soul, I wouldn't believe in God. Then I would go to hell. No, this was not for me.

I hesitated for a few months, but then my friend pushed me again: "Why don't you go and see U Ba Khin?" As well as being a teacher of vipassana (insight meditation), U Ba Khin was a householder, and in fact, a government official. When I went to see him, I immediately felt that he was a saintly person. The first thing I said was, "I have come for my migraine headaches." He said, "No, Goenka, I can't help you. Go to a doctor."

Because of that response, I was very much drawn to him. You see, at the time I was a very popular person in my own community. I was president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, as well as president or secretary of at least twenty social organizations, including hospitals and schools. Usually, a guru feels great about having such a prominent person as a student. But instead he said, "No, I won't take you." He had no attachment to name or fame or gain. He explained very lovingly, "Look, what I teach is a path of high spirituality from India, but our country has lost it. Don't devalue it. Don't make use of this technique to treat some physical disease. This technique is to take you out of all misery, not just the misery of a migraine."

His approach attracted me, but I was still doubtful. This was Buddhism, after all. Then he asked me a question: "You are a leader of the Hindu community here in Burma. Does your Hindu religion have any objection to sila [Pali: morality]?" No religion in the world would say that they are against morality. So I replied, "No sir, I have no objection to sila."

He continued: "How can you observe sila if you have no control over your mind? I will teach you control of the mind. I will teach you samadhi." In Hindu scripture, samadhi, concentration, is regarded as a very high thing. The rishis, the great meditators, all do samadhi. But we householders don't know what samadhi is. We revere samadhi, but we don't know what it is. If somebody wants then that is wonderful. "No sir," I replied, "I have no objection to samadhi."

Then he said, "Well, mere samadhi won't do. It will control your mind, but deep inside the behavior pattern is like a sleeping volcano. It will erupt again, and you will forget everything and you will break your sila. So I will teach you the purification from the deepest level of the mind, panna [Pali: wisdom]. Do you have any objection to panna?"

At the time, I was a teacher of the Bhagavad Gita. I'd been explaining prajna [Sanskrit: wisdom] to people, but I never really knew it, I never practiced it. It was mere talk. Many times after giving a lecture on prajna, I would come home and feel so sorry. Why had I spoken of all these things? I had no trace of liberation from craving, liberation from aversion. I had so much ego and yet I talked of prajna. So I said to U Ba Khin, "If somebody teaches me panna, no sir, I have no objection."

"Well Goenka," he replied," I will teach you only sila, samadhi and panna. Nothing else. Just accept that. If you accept that, then come." So I took the ten-day course and I found it good. The teachings of the Buddha were so complete, so pure.

Norman Fischer: In my Zen practice and in other forms of Buddhist practice, there is a lot of ritual, and also clergy and hierarchy. Do you feel there's any benefit or advantage for Buddhism in ritual?

S.N. Goenka: I don't wish to condemn anybody, but if my teacher had asked me to perform rites or rituals, I would have said good-bye. My own Hindu tradition was full of rituals and ceremonies, so to start again with another set of rituals didn't make sense. But my teacher said, "No ritual. Buddha taught only sila, samadhi, panna. Nothing else. There is nothing to be added and nothing to be subtracted." As the Buddha said, "Kevalaparipunnam." [Pali: "The whole technique is complete by itself."]

Norman Fischer: Can you please tell us about your course of instruction in vipassana-the details of it, how it goes, how you teach people?

S.N. Goenka:
Everyone who comes to the basic ten-day vipassana course must take five precepts, because morality is very important as a basis. New students, at least for those ten days, must observe these precepts very scrupulously. If one keeps on breaking sila, one cannot practice at all. After the ten days are completed, students are their own masters. If they find it is good for them to continue with the precepts, then they can do so. Older students take eight precepts.

For the samadhi aspect of the program, we work with the respiration, the breath. We use the natural breath as it comes in and as it goes out, keeping attention to a limited area-the entrance of the nostrils. Then from the fourth day onward one is trained to observe the sensations throughout the body-pleasant, unpleasant or neutral-and understand their basic nature. Every sensation has the same nature: arising, passing away, arising, passing away.

Understanding this impermanence, one maintains equanimity as much as possible. One doesn't react, and not reacting starts changing the habit pattern at the deep level of the mind. Over time, one has built up and strengthened the blind habit pattern of reaction. Any pleasant experience-craving. Any unpleasant experience-aversion. This habit pattern has to be broken. It can be broken at the surface level, but the Buddha wanted to purify the totality of the mind, so we work at the deepest level.

Norman Fischer:
Do practitioners simply observe whatever sensations arise in the body, or do they go systematically through the different parts of the body?

S.N. Goenka: We use a systematic approach. We want the students to reach the stage where they experience all kinds of sensations and experience them in every part of the body. If you work systematically, then the stage of experiencing all kinds of sensations throughout the body comes much earlier.

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."

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).

The Universal Meditation Technique of S.N. Goenka, Norman Fischer, Shambhala Sun, September 2001.

Click here for more articles on Mindfulness Meditation

Click here for more articles on How to Meditate

To order this copy of the Shambhala Sun,
click here.

To order a trial subscription to Shambhala Sun, click here.