Buddhism Goenka
Frank Neubert
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 July 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 July 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0200


Satya Narayan Goenka (b. 1924–d. 2013) was a lay teacher of Theravada Buddhist vipassana meditation and probably the most influential figure in the globalization of vipassana meditation. Born into an Indian family in Burma (Myanmar), he worked as a government official. During a ten-day vipassana retreat under the guidance of Sayagyi U Ba Khin (b. 1899–d. 1971), a disciple of Saya Thetgyi (b. 1873–d. 1945) and Ledi Sayadaw (b. 1846–d. 1923), Goenka was healed of his migraines. In consequence of his conviction in the efficaciousness of vipassana (“insight”; also associated with “awareness” and “mindfulness”) meditation, he became a regular meditator and was appointed a meditation teacher in 1969. That same year, he founded the meditation center Dhamma Giri, in Igatpuri, India, near Mumbai. In the early 21st century, in addition to Goenka’s school, which has become a global center, Igatpuri hosts the Vipassana Research Institute and the Dhamma Tapovana, which offers longer courses. According to the website Vipassana Meditation (see Vipassana Meditation, cited under Source Material), there are sixty-six meditation centers in India (compared with thirty-seven in 2007) and numerous centers in ninety-four countries worldwide (compared with twenty-three countries in 2007). The meditation technique is taught in ten-day courses attended by new and old students. According to Goenka’s teachings, full participation in at least one such course is necessary to learn the technique (other schools of vipassana meditation offer shorter courses). In continuation of one’s meditative practice, longer courses are offered for the more advanced students. All courses take place in the closed atmosphere of the center and provide total retreat from one’s environment, including abstinence from contact with the outside world and a nine-day silence vow that is broken on the tenth day of the course as part of the meditation practice. Since the 1970s, Goenka’s technique has been used therapeutically by psychologists and psychiatrists (including with prison populations) in methods of mindfulness-based therapy (MBT); it has also been applied in training of government officials and police both in India and worldwide. Furthermore, vipassana meditators often serve as test persons in efficaciousness studies in psychology and medical sciences (e.g., neuroscience). Goenka influenced many Western teachers of vipassana meditation, some of whom were appointed by him, as well as researchers, among them Jack Kornfield (b. 1945) and Joseph Goldstein (b. 1944), the founders of the Insight Meditation Society, in Barre, Massachusetts (1975), the first vipassana meditation center established outside Asia. The first center outside India of the Goenka school proper, the Dhamma Dharā, in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, was founded in 1982.

General Overviews

There are very few texts introducing Goenka, his school, and his technique of vipassana meditation. Moreover, an in-depth study from a religious studies perspective does not exist in the literature. Hart 1987 can be recommended as a first overview, from an insider perspective, whereas Neubert 2008 and Neubert 2010 present brief overviews of the history and development of the movement. Sardella 2010 looks at Goenka and his technique in the historical context of Burmese lay Buddhist reform of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • Hart, William. The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation as Taught by S. N. Goenka. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987.

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    This is the most comprehensive introduction to Goenka’s technique of vipassana meditation, though written from an insider perspective. The book was prepared under Goenka’s guidance and, with the support of the movement, has been translated into numerous languages (including German, French, Italian, and Spanish).

  • Neubert, Frank. “Ritualdiskurs, Ritualkritik und religiöse Praxis: Das Beispiel von Vipassanā nach S. N. Goenka im ‘Westen.’” Numen 55 (2008): 411–439.

    DOI: 10.1163/156852708X310518Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    German-language article that introduces Goenka, his school, and the doctrinal and historical background, with a focus on the notions of ritual and religion, as employed negatively by the Goenka school.

  • Neubert, Frank. “Satya Narayana Goenka und die Vipassana-Meditation.” Handbuch der Religionen, suppl.23 (2010): section VII-2.7.

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    Brief German-language overview of Goenka’s biography and background of the meditation and its schools in the German-speaking countries.

  • Sardella, Ferdinando. “Shifts in Burmese Buddhism: The Practice Lineage of S. N. Goenka.” Jadavpur University Journal of Sociology 3.3 (2010): 1–14.

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    Sartella interprets Goenka’s school in terms of the historical development of Burmese lay Buddhist reform. He also underlines the stress on service to humanity, as propounded by Goenka, in opposition to a view of more inwardly directed Buddhist meditation practice.

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