by S. N. Goenka
The following is adapted from the translation of a Hindi talk to old students by Goenkaji on 26 October 2003 at Jamunabai Narsi School, Mumbai on the occasion of the Hindu New Year. It was published in the December 2003 issue of Vipaśyana Patrikā.
You have all gathered here to take part in the New Year group sitting. Understand that it is the group sitting that is important and not the New Year. Every day, every moment is equally important. We have to give importance to every moment; we have to give importance to meditation. It is good that you have gathered in a group today. The Buddha has said, "Samaggānaṃ tapo sukho." There is great happiness in meditating together. After all, what is happiness? When suffering is removed, there is happiness. So we meditate to remove suffering.
What is the cause of suffering? Suffering is caused by your mental defilements. You spend the whole life seeking the cause of suffering outside and trying to get rid of this outside cause. By the practice of Vipassana, you realize that whatever the external cause, suffering arises within yourself. Why has suffering arisen? Because you have generated a mental defilement within. As soon as you generate a mental defilement, suffering arises and you strengthen the habit of generating defilements. Such situations keep arising repeatedly and you keep generating defilements and multiplying your misery. How can you free yourself from this misery?
It is not wrong to try to get rid of the apparent external cause of your suffering. But it is more important to get rid of the internal cause. The habit of generating defilements within because of one reason or another results in the habit of remaining miserable. You wish to be free from suffering, and instead, you have developed the habit of reacting with craving and clinging to pleasant sensations and with aversion to unpleasant sensations. This habit pattern continues day and night. Even when you are in deep sleep and a sensation arises in the body-if it is unpleasant, you react with aversion; if it is pleasant, you react with craving. This continues all the time for 24 hours.
You learn to observe these sensations with awareness-whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral-without generating any defilements. Enough is enough! You have been a slave to defilements for so many lives! And this slavery is continuing even now, in this life. You are very fortunate to have received Vipassana, the path of liberation, the way to free yourself from the habit of generating defilements. It would be foolish if you do not make proper use of it. Come out of this foolishness. If you understand Vipassana in its pristine purity, you won't make this mistake.
You yourselves have to fight the battle against these defilements; you have to defeat and eradicate them. You have to realize this without generating ego. Why should you generate ego? If your hands or your bodies become dirty, you immediately wash them. You do not generate ego that you have cleaned your hands and bodies. If they become dirty, it is your responsibility to clean them. Who else will clean them? Similarly, if the mind becomes defiled, it is your responsibility to clean it. There is no question of developing ego.
Every meditator should understand that he or she is wholly responsible for defiling the mind. No other external power or invisible entity has defiled your minds. Why would any invisible being defile the minds of people and make them miserable? We keep generating impurities in our minds out of ignorance. Understanding this, do not allow new impurities to arise and eradicate the old ones so that you come out of suffering, out of bondage and progress on the path of liberation. This is the law of nature.
In ancient India, this law was called ṛta, the essence of Dhamma. If you defile your mind, you are bound to become miserable. If you remove these defilements, you are bound to become happy. This law of nature is immutable; no one can change it. If you plant a seed of suffering, the fruit will also be of suffering. If you plant a seed of happiness, the fruit will be of happiness. So simple, and yet we forget it. Vipassana was lost in India because this simple law was forgotten.
There were many reasons why it got lost. One reason was the belief that someone would bless us and liberate us. You may spend your whole life deceiving yourself. Why would someone bless only you and not others? Such a being is called all-powerful and all-compassionate. Either the one who liberates does not have the power to liberate everyone or he does not have compassion for all. You delude yourselves and forget Dhamma when you believe that someone else will liberate you because you have sung his praises, flattered him, glorified him, and worshipped him. What kind of liberator is this who takes delight in listening to praise and flattery!
Understand that it is your responsibility to remove your own defilements. Someone may do you the favour of compassionately showing the way. When people start realizing that they have to liberate themselves by moulding their lives according to the laws of nature-or the laws of God Almighty-they start to walk on the path of Dhamma, the path of liberation. But when people start realizing this, the priests feel threatened that their influence will decline. If people feel that they can liberate themselves, there will be no need for priests. So the priests spread this propaganda: "You are too weak, too impure to liberate yourself. Come to us, we will perform this rite or ritual or recite the sacred texts, which will wash away all your sins."
It seems to be a very easy way compared to the strenuous effort of practising Vipassana and gaining mastery over the mind. "This effort is too much for us. These priests will do everything for us and we will be liberated. Someone will bless us." You should be careful not to fall into this deceitful trap. Why is the whole world suffering? So many people pray, yet why is their suffering not removed? You have stopped understanding, and as a result, you have stopped improving yourselves.
You may believe that the world has been created by God Almighty and that he has made all these laws. If so, and if you want to please him, you must follow these laws and he will be pleased. Instead, you break his laws but sing his praises! Just like you break the laws of the state and send a bribe to the government officer to get your work done. You have brought your God to the same level as that of the corrupt government officer.
Why was this technique lost in India? It was lost because it went into the hands of the priests. This happened in all sects and not just in any one sect. The tradition of the Buddha was no exception and the priests of this tradition also started doing the same thing: "Come, we will perform this ritual, we will give mettā to you, we will liberate you from all your sins."
Further, some of them said, "We don't ask you to do any ritual. We don't ask you for any offering. We will give you mettā for one hour and pull out your negativity." Why will anyone work if it is possible to get rid of all sins by sitting in front of a teacher and receiving mettā for one hour? Such teachers are enemies of Dhamma.
Dhamma is Dhamma only if it makes us self-reliant. So it is the duty of every Vipassana teacher to teach people to become self-reliant. "Attā hi attano nātho" You are your own master and no one else. "Attā hi attano gati" You make your own future, both wholesome and unwholesome and also the state of full liberation beyond all conditioned states. If you understand this properly, no teacher will be able to harm you in any way. Then if any teacher says, "Sit in front of me for one hour, I will give mettā and suck out all your sins," you will get up and walk away because you don't want this kind of mettā.
A student may sit in front of the teacher with folded hands and plead, "O teacher! Please wash away my sins." Today, such teachers may do it for the sake of the prestige and respect that they get from the students because they are sitting on the Dhamma seat. After one or two generations, such teachers will start asking for offerings. "We have removed all your defilements and you have not given us anything. Whatever you give will be of much merit, which will take you to heaven or to higher celestial planes." This practice will start.
So I am giving all of you this warning now. Whether I am here or not, do not allow Dhamma to get corrupted. Every meditator should learn to stand on his own feet. The duty of every teacher is to teach people to become self-dependent and to inspire them to become liberated. "You have defiled your mind, you will have to remove these defilements yourself. We are showing you the path that we have received. If you walk on this path, you will get rid of your defilements."
If this is followed, Dhamma will remain pure for centuries and lead to great benefit for all. But if there is priesthood-"I will liberate you or I will ask an invisible power to liberate you"-Dhamma will get corrupted just as it was corrupted in the past.
Therefore, those Vipassana teachers and students who are wise, must be alert. They must get rid of their ego and, with humility, they must preserve the Dhamma in its pristine purity for the benefit of more and more people. If everyone understands this and Dhamma spreads, it will lead to real happiness, real benefit. The path of liberation will be opened to all suffering humanity. Anyone who walks on the path will be benefited and the path will be preserved.
Otherwise, this path will gradually be lost if people develop the feeling: "Why should we exert ourselves if someone else is going to liberate us? Why should we go to a ten-day meditation course where we have to maintain silence and we don't get any dinner? We won't go. This person will give us mettā, so we are certain to get liberated." A few foolish people will do this in the future.
But those Vipassana meditators who are wise will not encourage such foolishness and instead will feel: "We have received such a priceless jewel! It has benefited us so much! May more and more people get the same benefit! There are so many suffering people in the world. May they get the right path! May they also find the way to come out of their suffering by their own efforts!" This feeling is very beneficial.
If Dhamma is to be re-established, it has to be established in its pristine purity. May this sentiment arise that Dhamma should be established in its pure form for a long time!
Let us help to establish pure Dhamma to the best of our ability. May it result in great happiness and harmony. May all beings be peaceful, be happy, be liberated!
Bhavatu sabba maṇgalaṃ!