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Questions and Answers with S. N. Goenka
 
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Questions and Answers with S. N. Goenka

(The following is from The Gracious Flow of Dharma, published by VRI.)

Question: How can we avoid karma?

Goenkaji: Be the master of your own mind. The whole technique teaches you how to become your own master. If you are not the master of your mind, then because of the old habit pattern, you will keep on performing those actions, that karma, which you don’t want to perform. Intellectually you understand: “I should not perform these actions.” Yet you still perform them, because you do not have mastery over your mind. This technique will help you to become the master of your own mind.

Question: How can a truly Dharmic person face this adharmic world?

Goenkaji: Don’t try to change the adharmic world. Try to change the adharma in yourself, the way in which you are reacting and making yourself miserable. As I said, when somebody is abusing you, understand that this person is miserable. It is the problem of that person. Why make it your problem? Why start generating anger and becoming miserable? Doing that means you are not your own master, you are that person’s slave; whenever that person wants to, he can make you miserable. You are the slave of someone else who is a miserable person. You have not understood Dharma. Be your own master and you can live a Dharmic life in spite of the adharmic situations all around.

Question: What is the ultimate goal of life? That is, what does all this harmony lead to?

Goenkaji: The ultimate life, the ultimate goal, is here and now. If you keep looking for something in the future but you don’t gain anything now, this is a delusion. If you have started experiencing peace and harmony now, then there is every likelihood that you will reach the goal, which is nothing but peace and harmony. So experience it now, at this moment. Then you are really on the right path.

Question: What is the Dharma of ātma, soul?

Goenkaji: Observe yourself and you will find what is happening inside. What you call “soul,” what you call ātma, you will notice, is just a reacting mind, a certain part of the mind. Yet you remain under the illusion that: “This is ‘I.’ See, this is ‘I,’ this is ‘I.’” This illusion of ‘I’ will go away, and then the reaction will go away, and you will be liberated from your misery. This does not happen by accepting philosophical beliefs.

 

Q: How to deal with insomnia?

A: Vipassana will help you. When people can’t sleep properly, if they lie down and observe respiration or sensations, they can get sound sleep. Practise. Try, and you will find that it is very helpful.

Question: Some people have impurities, but they feel happy and don’t look miserable. Please explain.

Goenkaji: You have not entered the minds of these people. A person may have alot of money, and others may feel: “Such a happy person. Look, he has so much wealth.” But what you don’t know is that this person can’t get sound sleep; he has to use sleeping pills—a very miserable person. You can know for yourself how miserable you are, going deep inside. You can’t understand at the external level by seeing sombody’s face whether he or she is miserable or happy. The misery lies deep inside.

Question: Is there any shorter way?

Goenkaji: I would say this is the shortest way. You have to change your habit pattern; you have to go to the root of your problem. And the root of problem is inside, not outside. If you learn how to take a dip inside, if you start changing things at the root level, this is the shortest way for you to come out of your misery.

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(The following is adapted from the question-and-answer session that followed Goenkaji’s talk at Vancouver during his tour of North America in 2002.It was first published in the April 2011 International Vipassana Newsletter.)

Question: You talk so much about suffering and mental defilements. Isn’t your message pessimistic?

Goenkaji: How is it pessimistic? This is the most optimistic message! Misery exists, but if there is a way to come out of misery, the message is full of optimism. If somebody says, “There is misery and no way to come out of it, you have to suffer misery your whole life,” that would be pessimistic. But here the message is, “You can come out of it!” Whatever the misery may be, there is a way to come out of all the miseries. It is the most optimistic message!

Question: Many prophets have said that the end of the world or a cleansing of the Earth is coming. Do you belief this is true? Why or why not?

Goenkaji: We are responsible for spoiling the purity of the Earth. We are generating so much pollution. We talk so much about chemical pollution, which is visible. It is harmful, but what about mental pollution? Everyone generates negativity, and the entire atmosphere gets polluted. We are responsible for that, and we are responsible to purify this atmosphere. Change the habit pattern of the mind and the Earth will become free from all the miseries.

Question: How can I practice Dharma and yet hold on to my hopes and aspirations to make the world a better place?

Goenkaji: You have aspirations, there is nothing wrong in that. But to attain your aspirations, if you keep on generating impurity in your mind, you are far away from your goal. You are losing the peace and harmony of your mind. With peace of mind, maintaining perfect balance of the mind, do whatever is necessary in human life, good for you and good for others.

Question: Do you believe in reincarnation?

Goenkaji: I am not interested in these beliefs. Beliefs are always blind beliefs. Why believe? Experience it. See what happens after death, whether you get reincarnated or not. Then only accept it!

Question: How can you be passionate about life but remain detached at the same time?

Goenkaji: Come to Vipassana and you will know how! It looks so difficult now because you don’t know how to balance the mind at the deepest level. You try to impose this balance at the surface level. That itself is difficult. And even if you have made your mind balanced at the surface level, the lack of balance remains at the depths. You can’t come out of it. Vipassana is for this purpose, so that you can work at the root level and become really happy.

Question: If craving and aversion are to be avoided, what are they replaced with?

Goenkaji: They are replaced with love, compassion, good will. Whenever the mind is impure, it becomes more and more impure as you start generating craving and aversion.

This is a habit pattern going back far into the past. Before, you kept on generating craving and aversion; and now again you generate craving and aversion. You are becoming more and more miserable.

By this technique, the habit pattern changes and the mind becomes purer and purer, free from craving, free from aversion. A pure mind by nature is full of love, full of compassion. You don’t harm yourself, you don’t harm others.

Just eradicate the impurities in the mind and love and compassion is a natural result.

Question: Can’t I still have fun in life if I learn Vipassana?

Goenkaji: Have fun, but with equanimity! Don’t lose your equanimity, and have fun. Nothing wrong in enjoying fun!

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Q: This last hour I was able to sit without moving. It was almost like a dip in a pleasant river. But I don’t know that I was aware all the time, I don’t know... It wasn’t the same consciousness. When I came out of the room, I was shocked to find the room here.

SNG: Sometimes it happens, when there is an unpleasant gross sensation then the mind is more aware of it, because it is so unpleasant. But when you come to pleasant sensation, the time passes away and you don’t know how it happened. So whenever this pleasant sensation comes, come back to Anapana. You are aware, you are aware …

Q: For about three days now as I have been focusing on the physical sensations, I have been seeing visually, with my eyes closed, corresponding images and they seem to be coming more frequently.

SNG: Images of the parts of the body? Visions?

Q: Yes. Like flowing, glowing … doing strange things … and it is disturbing.

SNG: Whenever such visions come, don’t try to stop them because the more you try to stop them, you are giving them so much importance that you will miss your sensations. Nor take any interest in them. Just ignore, don’t give them any importance. Let them be there and you carry on with your sensations. Give more importance to sensations. They will fade away, automatically they will fade away. If you start giving importance to them, then the sensations will fade away. So give more importance to sensations.

Q: All the time when I am meditating, even when I’m not, there’s a thought going on ... I can feel all the parts of the body, but there is also a thought happening.

SNG: Thoughts, don’t worry about the thoughts. If you are aware of the sensations, then it will look as if you have got two minds. One mind is with the sensations, the other mind is chattering. Actually there are not two minds; it is the same mind coming here, going there; coming here, going there, such fast movements. It’s like two parallel lines of dots.

But because you have to come every moment to the sensation—when there is a thought, you come back to sensation; when there is a thought, you come back to the sensation—then this line of thoughts is making sankhāras, but the sankhāras are like a line drawn on the water, they won’t go deep. But if you forget about the sensation and you keep on chattering, having thoughts, thoughts, they will make such deep sankhāras.

So it is good that you are with the sensations, and keep on giving more importance to the sensations. Don’t worry about the thoughts, they will pass away.

Q: A couple of days ago, I did Anapana and I got vibrations throughout the whole body, awareness of the whole body. My question is, I seem to be able to stay more equanimous that way.

SNG: In every way! Whatever experience you gain, you have to be equanimous. At times it happens that you feel the whole body, the totality of it. Then you won’t have to even move up or down, you feel the entire body, sensations in the whole body. You can stay like this for two, three or five minutes and then after that again start moving.

You can’t stay like this for very long time because then you will be missing certain parts. For two, three or five minutes you can have the totality of the body and still you are equanimous. Then you start moving and you are equanimous. With every experience, equanimous.

Q: I was going to ask you if I should just practice Anapana to get that experience, to get that totality?

SNG: No, Anapana should be practiced only whenever you find that your mind is getting agitated or the mind is getting very dull, very sluggish—not to get a particular type of experience. Never crave for an experience. Whatever experience you got last moment, you may not get now, you may not get for days together. If you start craving for it, then you are not doing Vipassana. Whatever experience comes on the way, you accept it, you remain equanimous. If it has gone, it has gone.

Anapana should be done only to sharpen the mind further.

Q: If I have a really gross sensation, then should I practice Anapana?

SNG: Yes. If the gross sensation is trying to overpower you and you can’t remain equanimous, then for some time you can work on Anapana—nothing wrong.

Q: And it’s okay to go from the pains in the leg back to Anapana and then go back to the leg?

SNG: Yes, yes, yes—do that!

Q: Yesterday when I was sitting ... I found I couldn’t concentrate on the sensations, on other sensations very well. So all I ended up doing was naming the parts of the body. And then you said something this evening that made me think maybe I should just concentrate on the pain.

SNG: For some time, do that, yes. Initially I said stay only for one minute. Now you can stay for two, three minutes and try to observe the pain, the area of the pain in detail—where the pain is more, where the pain is less, like that. And then move, and then again come.

Q: So I shouldn’t stay there ...

SNG: If you stay too long, then the other parts will go blind. So better move and come there and work on it for a few minutes, and then again move. Work on it for a few minutes and then move. That will be the best thing to do.

Q: Is it okay, because I can’t really feel or it doesn’t seem that I can feel the other parts of my body, just to name them?

SNG: No, only naming won’t help. Come back to Anapana. Naming will not help you in any way.

Q: Well, I would also go to that part.

SNG: Go to that part. But if you just go to that part and give a name, that won’t help. Go to that part and try to feel a sensation. If you don’t feel a sensation, then go to that part and feel the breath. You are with this part and with the breath, another part with the breath, and then you will start getting sensation also.

Q: What about making a child and giving birth—is that creating more sankhāras? Will that not make more attachment? But what will the world be without it?

SNG: Yes, yes, quite true. The attachment does not mean that you should not have love for your near and dear ones.

You see, people don’t understand the word “detachment” properly. What is meant is not indifference; you don’t start hating your near and dear ones. As a mother, you will have all responsibility toward your child; with all the love you will take care of your child, but there is no attachment, no clinging. You are doing your duty with all the love. Suppose somebody is sick and you are serving them. You have done your best and yet the person is not coming out of the sickness. You don’t start crying, you work in another way, you work in another way.

Q: That’s very difficult …

SNG: Yes, but that’s what you have to learn!


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