It is my great good fortune that I was born and grew up in an extremely devout Indian family settled in Burma. The devotional books of the Gita Press, Gorakhpur, had a great influence on the whole family. My father was a devotee of Shiva while my mother was a devotee of Sri Krishna. In the first decade of my life, I used to daily chant either the Vishnu Sahastranama or the Gopal Sahastranama or the Shivamahimna Stotra or the Shivartandav Stotra or some chapters of the Gita. I used to enjoy it. Besides strengthening my devotion, another important benefit was that I learned the proper pronunciation of Sanskrit and also gained some knowledge of it.
In the second decade of my life, my good fortune increased when I came in contact with the Arya Samaj. The teachings jolted my mind. I began to understand the difference between true devotion and bind devotion, true faith and blind faith. Instead of blindly accepting everything that I heard or read, I developed the wisdom of examining it and testing whether it was logical and rational. I was indeed fortunate.
ln the third decade of my life, I got sufficient opportunity to study the Dharma literature of Sura, Tulasi, Meera, Kabir, Nanak, Dadu etc. I was greatly influenced by them. During these days, I also studied in detail the Gita and a few important Upanishadas. I was going through the entire spectrum of the spiritual literature of India. I was wonder struck. It was in those days that I made it the ideal of my life to become ‘Sthita Pragya’ — free from craving, fear, anger, and make my life filled with equanimity and total detachment, although it looked so difficult to achieve.
At the end of the third decade of my life, my good fortune reached its peak. As a result of an unbearably painful incurable disease, I came in contact with the pure teaching of the Buddha. In 1955, at the age of 3l years, sitting at the feet of the Burmese householder saint, Sayagyi U Ba Khin I learnt Vipassana, the ancient technique of India. I was freed from my physical ailment, but now this seemed very insignificant. The most notable attainment was that I found the medicine that could liberate me from the miseries of existence. I found the straight path that could free me from the endless cycle of birth and death.
Whatever I read and heard in childhood while immersing myself in devotion was “received” knowledge. Whatever I understood through my contact with the Arya Samaj and Gita, Upanishad, etc. was intellectual knowledge. But now, whatever I realized through my contact with Vipassana was experiential knowledge. The first and second kinds of knowledge were indirect knowledge but the knowledge that I gained now was direct knowledge, meaning paññā, experiential wisdom in the real sense. The first and second steps generated the desire for high spirituality, while this third step established me on the royal road for progress towards its perfection.
On one hand, my mind was filled with high spiritual ideals; on the other hand, achievement of worldly success beyond all expectations at a very young age filled my mind with tremendous ego. A mental conflict resulted. When the mind was immersed in devotion, it would become calm temporarily, but after some time it would again become agitated. Upon intellectual refection, the mind would become balanced for some time, but after a short while it would again become disturbed. By the practice of Vipassana, I acquired a beneficial technique that freed the mind from defilements at the depth. I began to thoroughly understand, on the basis of body sensations, the manner of the arising, multiplication, and accumulation of defilements, and at the same time, the means of their suppression, destruction, expulsion and eradication became clear. There was a complete transformation in my life through the application of the practical aspect of this pristine pure Dhamma of ancient India.
Because of some false beliefs, there are delusions about the Buddha and his teaching in the minds of many Indians. I was also a victim of such deluding misconceptions. Therefore, while taking part in the Vipassana course, there was some hesitation in my mind. But in the very first ten-day course I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was not the slightest blemish in whatever I learnt. I could not find any cause for opposition. What objection could anyone possibly have in living a life of morality, in concentrating the mind on the basis of experiential truth, in awakening of wisdom that eradicates defilements from the roots by the experiential analytical study of the truth of the interrelationship of the body and mind, and in filling the purified mind with mettā (loving kindness), compassion and goodwill? What objection could I have? Indeed I felt as if I have understood the true nature of the ancient pure Dhamma (Dharma) of India. I received the essence of Dhamma. After tasting the flavor of this spiritual technique giving results here and now, there was also the sorrowful surprise in my mind about why the spiritual nation of India had lost this beneficial technique.
When the depths of truth were experienced by the study of this remarkable technique, a desire arose in my mind to study the mother-tongue of Lord Buddha which was the ancient language of the people of North India, the language that preserved and protected the teaching of the Buddha and therefore was called Pāli. I did not have any knowledge of Pāli. But I gradually started to understand it because of my knowledge of Sanskrit and Hindi. I began to savor the nectar of the Buddha’s words in his own language. While reading, my mind was often filled with joy and rapture. The depth of the technique of Vipassana became clearer and clearer. The practical application of Vipassana and the related theoretical knowledge started strengthening each other. My good fortune was boundless.
*** *** ***
My revered teacher had immeasurable goodwill for India. His heart used to be constantly filled with boundless gratitude towards this nation. He used to say repeatedly that we have received this invaluable jewel from India. We have become blessed! Now we must repay this debt of India. Unfortunately this technique has been lost in India. If India obtains this technique, the anguish caused by discrimination among the people of high and low castes and disputes and quarrels among different religions will be pacified. The sacred Ganges of the universal eternal Dhamma will again flow in that great nation. The inhabitants of that country will be abundantly benefited.
He had total faith in the ancient prophecy that 2500 years after the Buddha, this lost spiritual technique of India would return to the land of its origin and India would accept it joyfully leading to infinite welfare of the people. From India this technique would once again spread to the whole world and benefit many. He used to say repeatedly that the clock of Vipassana had struck. We must become free of the debt towards India. He wished to repay this debt by coming to India himself and teaching the technique of Vipassana to the people here but he was unable to come because of certain reasons. In 1969, when it so happened that I had to come to India, he was overjoyed. Anointing me as a teacher, he entrusted me with the responsibility of returning the invaluable jewel of Vipassana to the people of India as his representative. I did not consider the understanding of this profound technique that I had been able to gain in his presence in fourteen years adequate enough for this great responsibility. Therefore there was hesitation in my mind. But finally upon his abundant encouragement, I accepted the responsibility of fulfilling his strong Dhamma wish.
I was a stranger to India. Other than the members of my family in India, I was acquainted only with a few renowned scholars of Hindi who had come to Burma to help in the spread of Hindi there. How could Vipassana courses be held in this vast country; who would take part in them: who would organize them? How could the necessary facilities be arranged? All these problems seemed insurmountable but I was astonished that the first Vipassana course was held within one month of my arrival in India. My mind was filled with wonder; my heart overflowed with happiness. After a long period of about 2000 years, its ancient technique had returned to India. With the success of the first course itself, the Ganges of Dhamma started flowing again in India. Proving the truth of the prophecy, in the past thirty years, people of different classes, different religions, and different traditions have accepted it and benefited from it. After irrigating the fertile soil of India with the nectar of Dhamma for ten years, Vipassana started flowing in foreign countries also.
Many of the intelligent people of India joyfully dedicated themselves to this technique. Just as, after receiving this invaluable jewel, the Dhamma desire to learn the teaching of the Buddha in his original words had arisen in my mind, it now arose in the minds of many meditators in India. Therefore the monumental work of publishing the extensive lost treasure of the ancient Pāli literature of India was started. For the people engrossed in the responsibilities of their lives, it is not easy to spare time for the systematic study of the Pāli language. Nevertheless, because Pāli is so close to Sanskrit and Hindi, a person with a good Pāli vocabulary will be able to understand it easily even without a sufficient knowledge of grammar. Thinking thus, the auspicious resolution arose in my mind to compose “Buddhasahassanāmā”, so that while reciting it, along with the knowledge of the innumerable Pāli synonyms of the Buddha, meditators will remember the qualities of the Buddha and develop gratitude towards him, resulting in rapture in the mind and thrill in the body, which will strengthen their practice of Vipassana meditation.
My creativity in composing verses in Hindi and Rajasthani arose and along with it arose the Dhamma inspiration to compose verses in Pāli. Even though my knowledge of Pāli grammar was not complete, I engaged myself in composing these verses. I started out with the aim of composing one thousand names of the Buddha for which about 200 verses would have been sufficient but there is no limit to the virtues of the Tathāgata. “Appamāṇo buddho”. Verses were being constantly composed by the heart overflowing with devotion and 1250 verses were composed. After this, an equal number of verses could have been further composed with the collection of words that remained. But keeping in mind my other multifarious responsibilities, I had to unwillingly stop my pen at this point. I have selected a few of the verses among them and compiled “Buddhasahassanāmāvalī” so that the auspicious beginning of its distribution may be made during the Buddhamahostav of November, 1998.
Those who are interested in the mother tongue of the Buddha and the language of the people of North India 2600 years ago will derive ample benefit from it. But I can also see a big danger for which it is necessary to be alert. In future the recitation of this sahassanāmāvalī should not become a lifeless, meaningless ritual. The false idea should not spread that by reciting it, the sins of innumerable past lives are automatically eradicated. If this happens, the practice of Vipassana that actually eradicates the past stock of saṇkhāras (mental conditionings) in a scientific manner will be lost and people will be trapped in this false belief. Just as many other spiritual traditions got corrupted over a period of time, let not Vipassana also become devalued. All meditators of the present and the future will have to be alert about this danger.
May the teaching of the Tathāgata always remind them of this danger. Let them continuously keep in mind the proper way to pay respects to the Buddhas:
“Imāya dhammānudhamma paṭipattiya Buddhaṃ pūjemi.”
—I walk on the path of Dhamma and thus pay my respects to the Buddha.” Walking on the path of Dhamma means the practice of applying sīla, samādhi and paññā in one’s life and only this is the real worship of the Buddha. This understanding will have to be constantly strengthened.
Upon being asked by someone, the Buddha explained in plain words about the right way to worship the Buddhas:
Āraddha viriye pahitatte, niccaṃ daḷha parakkame; samagge sāvake passa, etaṃ Buddhāna vandanaṃ.
—Look! How these disciples are gathered together and completely engrossed in meditation. They are continuously engaged in resolute effort for purification of mind. Truly, this is the proper way to worship the Buddhas.
When there was a shower of celestial flowers on the Buddha before his mahāparinibbāna, he repeated this truth in plain words:
“Na kho ānanda! Ettāvatā tathāgato sakkato vā hoti, garukato vā, mānito vā, pūjito vā, apacito vā.”
Ananda! The Tathāgata is not respected, honored, revered, worshipped in this way.
“Yo kho ānanda! Bhikkhu vā bhikkhuni vā upāsako vā upāsikā vā dhammānudhammappaṭipanno viharati sāmicippaṭipanno anudhammacāri, so tathāgataṃ sakkaroti garukaroti mānetri pūjeti apaciyati paramāya pūjāya.”
(But) Ānanda! If any monk or nun, or male or female lay devotee dwells established on the path of Dhamma, the path of truth, living according to the Dhamma for the attainment of the highest welfare, then the Tathāgata is respected, honored, revered and worshipped by it.
“Evaṃ hi vo Ānanda! Sikkhatabbanti.”
O’ Ānanda! You should learn this.
The Buddha is truly worshipped by practicing sīla, by developing samādhi, and by establishing equanimity and remaining aware and attentive through the awakening of paññā.
Let these words of the Buddha about proper worship echo in the minds of all Vipassana meditators and other readers. Let them keep proper understanding that they can gain inspiration by the recitation of these verses, while keeping the ideal of the Buddha in mind. Just as the Buddha became enlightened by liberation from all defilements and by perfection of all virtues, let them walk step by step on the Dhamma-path of sīla, samādhi, and paññā and remain engaged in the meritorious work of avoiding vices and accumulating virtues. This spiritual technique capable of totally eradicating all suffering from the human mind must, be kept free from all hollow rituals. Let everyone practice Dhamma in its pristine purity.
If this Dhamma volition is certainly maintained, it will lead to great happiness, great welfare.
Satya Narayan Goenka