Sayagyi U Ba Khin had a vision of Vipassana spreading from Myanmar back to India and from there, around the world. In 1969, his student S.N.Goenka began to fulfill this vision when, as an authorised teacher, he returned to the land of his forefathers. Over the next 10 years, Goenkaji tirelessly conducted over 160 Vipassana courses in India and three centres were established in Igatpuri, Hyderabad and Jaipur.
As he taught in both Hindi and English, the teaching became accessible to many western students. They began to request that he travel to conduct courses in their countries. Thus from 1979 onwards, the technique of Vipassana began to spread westwards around the globe as Goenkaji travelled to give courses in Europe, North America and Australia. Soon afterwards, he was welcomed enthusiastically for courses in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Japan. Inspired by his visits, students established the first western Vipassana centres in the early 1980s.
To help meet the increased demand for courses, Goenkaji appointed assistant teachers to conduct courses on his behalf from 1981. His continued efforts in India led to a dramatic growth in the number of Vipassana centres, the establishment of the Vipassana Research Institute, and courses in prisons, schools and other institutions.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, courses began in South-East and East Asia and the huge and enthusiastic response resulted in a great demand for courses and centres being developed in those countries. Thus Vipassana had circled the globe and when Goenkaji returned to Myanmar, people expressed joy at the spread of Dhamma around the world. Many new centres have now been established in Myanmar.
The first course in Latin America was held in 1994. With well over half a billion people, today Latin America is one of the most dynamic parts of the globe. In only a decade and a half, almost every one of the region’s countries has hosted courses, and the demand continues to grow.
Africa - another continent undergoing dramatic change - had its first course in 2001. Now, courses have been conducted in 11 African countries and there is a centre in South Africa.
“May Vipassana spread to every land around the world. May all come out of suffering and enjoy real happiness, real peace, real harmony”. These words of deepest metta come from Goenkaji when he hears about courses in so many new places and he sees the life-long wish of his teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin, being fulfilled.
Looking eastward, in the centuries after the Buddha, his teachings slowly spread throughout Asia. Following traditional trade routes, they spread east to Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, eventually reaching China, Korea and Japan in the north-east, Sri Lanka in the south and the Indonesian archipelago in the south-east.
However over the ensuing centuries, while the teachings penetrated deep into the local cultures, much of the specific techniques of meditation practice were lost. Thus while Buddhism as a religion evolved across Asia, the Buddha’s teaching of Vipassana – the liberating Dhamma practice – slowly receded. One area alone, Souvannabhumi (Myanmar) preserved Vipassana, the original meditation practice taught by the Buddha, for centuries.
Although Vipassana was lost in many areas, strong efforts were made to preserve the words of the Buddha for centuries. For this, the world is indebted to the Bhikkhu Sangha in Asia.
Today virtually all of East Asia, including Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the Philippines have Vipassana courses and Vipassana meditation centres. The translations of Goenkaji’s English and Hindi teaching material in more than 50 languages have brought the teachings within the reach of millions of Asians. Millions are watching Goenkaji’s discourses via satellite broadcasts.
The first course in S.E. Asia conducted by Goenkaji’s assistant teachers was in Thailand in 1987. Today across Asia there are 19 centres offering over 360 courses and serving 4,000 students annually. The spread of Vipassana practice in Asia has thus been spectacular.
Japan: Two centres, serving 1400 students annually. The first centre, est. 1989, is in Kyoto prefecture, and is set in a secluded valley surrounded by forested hills.
Thailand: Six centres, serving over 10,000 students annually, are operational in Prachinburi, near Pitsanulok, Khonkaen, Kanchanaburi, Bangkok and in Lampoon, Chieng Mai. The first centre, Dhamma Kamala, est. 1992, serves over 110 students and holds regular long courses.
Myanmar: There are 9 centres, providing courses for 8000 students annually. The centre in Yangon, est. 1993, accommodates 300 students. There are other large centres in Mandalay and Mogok. Prison courses are also held regularly.
Taiwan: Two centres serve 2000 students annually. The first centre, est. 1998, is in Central Taiwan and serves 80 students. The second in Liu Gyui is being developed as a long course centre.
People’s Republic of China: More than 100 ten-day courses annually with enrollment exceeding 6,000 students. Courses started in 1999. The first 30-day course was held in 2009.
Malaysia: The centre in Malaysia, est. 2007, serves both the Chinese and Tamil-speaking local communities, with over 1300 students annually. It has 102 single rooms with en-suite bathrooms.
Indonesia, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Mongolia: Each has one centre serving between 300 and 700 students annually. In addition, courses have been held in a women’s prison in Mongolia.
Non-centre courses are also held regularly in Singapore, South Korea, Philippines and Vietnam and centres are under development in some of these countries.
The practice of Vipassana has taken strong roots in Australia. Goenkaji first conducted courses in Australia in Sydney, New South Wales and Perth, Western Australia in 1980, for 195 students. By 1982, he had conducted three more courses, attended by an additional 452 students. Land near Sydney for the first centre was donated in 1981.
There are now seven Vipassana centres spread across every state in Australia: New South Wales – est. 1983. Located on 40 acres at the highest point of the Blue Mountains, it has well-established facilities and is landscaped with ponds, paths and gardens. The first 20 day course in Australia was held there in 1986 and pagoda cells were opened in 1990. The centre accommodates 120 students and holds annual 30-day and 45-day courses.
Queensland – est. 1989. Located in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, with comfortable facilities for 52 students amid sub-tropical gardens in 65 acres of bushland. Families of kangaroos are frequent visitors.
Tasmania – est. 1994, a small centre situated in a native forest near Hobart.
Victoria – est. 1995, located on the outskirts of Melbourne, on a hill rising above the Yarra River, surrounded by a forest. The 17 acre site has facilities for 60 students. Western Australia – est. 2005 on 80 acres in a quiet rural area south-east of Perth. Most buildings are of rammed earth construction.
South Australia – with land purchased in 2008, a new centre is under development in the Clare Valley north of Adelaide.
Northern New South Wales – with 135 acres of land purchased in 2009 in a secluded rainforest valley, the centre is under construction.
Thirty years after the first Vipassana course in Australia, over 30,000 people have taken a course and experienced for themselves the benefits of Vipassana. Although a tiny proportion of the population, it is an indication that Vipassana is beginning to become established in Australia. The sheer number of new students (over 3000 each year) taking courses, the establishment of regular long courses (20, 30 and 45 days), and the emergence of a strong old student community, together indicate the depth and strength of the roots of Vipassana in this land.
Dhamma in New Zealand
The New Zealand Vipassana Centre, Dhamma Medini, was purchased in February 1987. It is in a very quiet rural area within one hour of Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city. The land is over 100 acres and has large areas of forest, which makes it very conducive for meditation.
The original facilities were very rudimentary. In 1992, building permission was granted by the local Council. The kitchen/dining block was completed in 1995. A new meditation hall, able to seat over 100 students, was completed in 2002. There are 54 single rooms for meditators. The capacity is around 80 to 90 students.
Student numbers are growing rapidly, with about 900 students currently attending the ten day courses each year. May many people continue to benefit from the invaluable gem of Vipassana at the beautiful Dhamma Medini.
Courses have now been held in the Central and West Asian countries of UAE (5 courses per year), Bahrain, Oman, Iran, Lebanon, and Kyrgystan. Around 800 students per year attend. While only one African country (South Africa) has an established Vipassana centre, there are non-centre courses in many countries.
Vipassana in South Africa
The Vipassana Centre in South Africa - Dhamma Pataka – was established in 2005 on 7 hectares of land near Cape Town. It lies in a valley overlooking vineyards and farm lands with a magnificent mountain backdrop. The centre accommodates 55 students in 12 chalets, with meditation cells for 20 students.
Each year about eleven 10-day courses and two advanced courses are held in the Centre. Since 2005 around sixty 10-day courses have been held at the Centre and the first 20-day course was in 2009. Non-centre courses are also held in Johannesburg and the Eastern Cape.
The number of students on a course varies between 15 and 70. Their average age is around 30 years.
Translations in local languages of Kiswahili (Swahili), Afrikaans, Amharic (Ethiopia), Portuguese (Angola) are in use – besides English and Hindi. Children’s course instructions have been translated in Shona (Zimbabwe), Amharic (Ethiopia) and Xhosa (South Africa) language. Teachers from all over the world come to conduct courses and support the local teachers.
Vipassana in other African countries
Kenya - the first course was in 2001 with about 3 courses every year since then and a Satipatthana course was held in 2009. There is a group of old students who meet regularly in Nairobi.
Zimbabwe - courses were held in 2001 and 2003, two courses each year in 2005 and 2006 and one in 2007. Children’s courses were held in 2005 supported by South Africa.
Tanzania - had courses in 2001 and 2002, and then not until 2010 due to lack of resources.
Angola - had the first course in English/Portuguese in 2005 and another in 2009. Conditions are quite basic with no running water.
Ethiopia - started courses in 2008 in English/Amharic and more were held in 2009 and 2010. As in Tanzania and Angola, external funds are needed for the initial years.
Morocco - started courses in 2008. Swaziland - had a course in 2009 Ghana and Uganda – the first courses were in 2010.
Mauritius – in 2001 a course had to be cancelled as the teacher was ill. The first course was finally held on the island in 2009.
Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo - first courses scheduled 2011.
The African Heritage Course
Vipassana is slowly gaining ground in the continent of Africa. To stimulate this further, a special course (called the African Heritage Course) was conducted at the Global Pagoda in December 2009 for African students. The 43 participants of the course came from many African countries (including countries where no Vipassana course has been held so far). The course was conducted by a female African- American teacher. After the African Heritage Course 8 Africans attended the Gratitude Gathering at the Global Pagoda.
Goenkaji conducted his first courses outside India in France and England in 1979. Thereafter Europe benefited regularly from Goenkaji’s visits, during which he conducted courses and gave public talks, attracting thousands of people from many countries.
The recurring memory of Goenkaji’s visits is of him sitting on the Dhamma seat and smilingly explaining Dhamma to a questioner, with kindness, intelligence, humour and common sense. The quality that shines through all the memories of his visits to Europe is his indefatigable service to others.
Vipassana courses are held in 29 countries around Europe, from Kyrgystan in the far east to Ireland in the west, from the northern snowfields of Finland to the Turkish mountains in the south.
To date, thousands of courses have been held. The course instructions and other literature have been translated into most European languages. Annually, over 210 ten-day courses, and a number of 20-day, 30-day and 45-day courses are held in Europe.
Presently there are Vipassana meditation centres in eight European countries:
• UK – est. 1991 on 22 acres in Herefordshire in the west of England, with established facilities for 128 students, and with an adjoining long course centre.
• France – est. 1988 on 40 hectares in the countryside 165km south of Paris, accommodating 100 – 140 students.
• Germany – easily accessible from Berlin, Dresden and Frankfurt, serving 100 students.
• Italy - est. 2002 on 22 hectares in the northern Italian province of Florence.
• Switzerland - est. 1999 set on 5 acres at Mt Soleil, for 55 students.
• Spain - est. 1999 on 4 acres in the hills near Barcelona, with multi-lingual facilities serving 130 students.
• Belgium – est. 2000 on 11 acres in Dilson, close to the borders of Netherlands and Germany, offering multilingual courses for 85 students.
• Sweden – est. 2007 in central Sweden for 70 students, easily accessible from Norway, Denmark and Finland.
New centres are also being established in Russia and Israel.
A dedicated European long-course centre, with individual meditation cells, has been developed in the UK. A major Europe-wide collaborative project, the first phase of the long course centre, for 50 students, became operational in April 2010. Earlier collaborative ventures include the purchase of the first European Vipassana centre in 1988 in France and the joint acquisition of a Centre in Belgium by the Belgian, Dutch and German Trusts.
For many years, Vipassana courses were being held in the United States and Canada, but no course had been organised in any Latin American country. When asked about this, Goenkaji’s response was always “Let the time ripen”.
The first course organized in Latin America was in September 1991 in Panama. However, because of a mix-up by the local authorities, the police came and took the assistant teacher and the students to the local jail for questioning and the course ended on Day 7! Even though the course ended prematurely, it was an important course as a number of students from the course later completed a full ten-day course and are now helping with organizing courses in Panama. Also, after seeing the announcement of this course in the Vipassana Newsletter, students from other countries in Latin America became interested in organizing courses in their own countries.
Finally, in March 1994, the first full ten-day Vipassana course was held in Venezuela. In addition to the students from Venezuela, Vipassana students from a number of other Latin American countries came to sit and serve on this course. With the successful completion of this course it became obvious that the time had ripened for Dhamma to start spreading throughout Latin America. In October and November 1994, courses were given in Brazil and Argentina and again in Venezuela. The next year courses were conducted in Panama, Chile, and Mexico, as well as Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.
The first Vipassana course in Cuba was held in 1996, in Bolivia in 1997, in Colombia and Peru in 1998, in Ecuador in 1999, in Uruguay in 2001, in Puerto Rico and Paraguay in 2003, in the Dominican Republic in 2004, in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica in 2006 and in 2007, Guatemala became the nineteenth Latin American country to host a Vipassana course.
There are now permanent Vipassana centers with ongoing courses in the following countries:
• Mexico – Located on 10 acres in the central highlands near a lake and forests, the centre est. 2003, serves about 700 students per year.
• Brazil – Est. 2003, the centre is two hours from Rio de Janeiro and serves about 1000 students each year. The land is in a grassy canyon and is surrounded by pristine, protected rain forest.
• Venezuela – est 2006 and located 90 minutes from Carakas, the land is elevated with farms and forests nearby. It accommodates 50 students.
• New Vipassana centers are being developed in Argentina, Peru and Chile.
Many countries are now also having courses in more than one location. In this way, Dhamma is indeed spreading throughout Latin America with around 4000 students attending courses each year.
Goenkaji first came to North America in 1979 to conduct a Vipassana course in Montreal, Canada. Thereafter, Dhamma has grown steadily in both the U.S. and Canada, stimulated further by Goenkaji’s 4-month tour in 2002.
By 2008, eleven Vipassana centres had been established, offering about 200 courses and serving 10,000 students a year.
Courses in Correctional Institutions: The first Vipassana course in a jail in North America was conducted in 1997 in a low security correction facility in Seattle, Washington; followed by 20 more courses there, and one in San Fransciso Jail (in 2001). Two significant courses were held in 2002 at the W. E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Alabama, a maximum security prison noted for being a violent and brutal facility, with significant benefits.
Local administration there is now considering establishing a permanent Vipassana ward.
Two films ‘Changing from Inside’ and ‘The Dhamma Brothers’ document the significant changes achieved by Vipassana in the above prisons.
Research indicates that practice of Vipassana reduces incidents of indiscipline, aggression and other anti-social attitudes in the prison; and increases general psychological wellbeing.
Courses for Business Executives
In 2002, Goenkaji conducted the first course in North America for business executives and government officials. Since then, executive courses have been held at several centres in North America, leading to very positive results and the spread of Dhamma in the business community.
North America is a relatively new culture (compared to India and much of Asia). Spirituality here has been Christian-based, with low emphasis on meditation. However, this continent has proven to be a very fertile field for the spread of Dhamma. The sizes of the Vipassana courses at both centre and non-centre course locations have grown larger every year and the need for new centres continues to increase.
The North American Centers
• Massachusetts, Shelburne Falls (est. 1982) has a hall for 200 students and a meditation cell complex. It serves the most densely populated area of the USA.
• Central California – North Fork (est.1990). 109 acres in a forest area near the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The hall seats 120.
• Texas, Dallas (1990): Located half way between the east and west coasts. The centre has a two-story cell complex for 100 students.
• Pacific Northwest: (1991) 50 acres sitting in the shadow of the Cascade Mountains between Seattle and Portland
• Illinois, (2003) Rockford, near Chicago, caters to 50 students, many from the large expatriate Indian community
• Southern California, High Desert, Los Angeles: (2010). 154 acres, catering for 60 students
• Georgia, near Jessup (2008) – set on 40 acres of woodland, caters for 60 students
• Northern California near Kelseyville (2009) – 17 acres set in a mature forest
• Vancouver, Merritt (1997) on 56 acres in the mountains of western Canada, for 60 students
• Quebec (1999/2011): the original centre has now moved to a 600 acre site at Montebello, with facilities for 100 students
• Toronto (2003): on 140 acres of forest land in central Canada, accommodating 50-60 students