Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Last Journey of S.N. Goenka

The Radiant Journey of a Most Compassionate, Most Revered Dhamma Being Global Pagoda Dhamma Service

The following is text of article ' The Radiant Journey of Padma Bhushan Global Vipassana Acharya Shri Satya Narayan Goenka'

Vipassana Research Institute newsletter, English edition, October 18, 2013:

Original article in Hindi Vipassana Patrika

"The Most Venerable Teacher Shri Goenkaji passed away peacefully at the age of 90 at his residence in Mumbai on 29th September 2013 at 10:40 PM. He remained active, aware and peaceful till his last moment. Even on the last day of his life, his daily routine remained the same without any difficulty.

Many people came to meet Venerable Goenkaji during the month and interacted with him on the Dhamma. Apart from prominent students, Deputy Minister of Religion and Culture in Myanmar, Mr. U Soe Win, paid a visit to Goenkaji at his residence along with four Burmese Monks. A meeting of “Global Vipassana Foundation Trust” was held in the presence of Venerable Goenkaji. Mr. Surinder Kumar Singh (IPS), DG of Home Guards and also Dr. Sukhdeo Soni, a student of Vipassana from America came to meet Venerable Goenkaji.

He cleared many of his important writing works. He guided selection of 500 couplets each in Hindi and Rajasthani written in his diaries and notebooks. He made necessary corrections and instructed to append them in the future editions of the books on couplets.

From the last ten days, every day until the morning of 29th September, Sangha Dana was being organized by daughter-in-law Naina at the residence of Venerable Goenkaji where Mataji herself was giving dana to the Sangha. During these days, Venerable Goenkaji also met the monks on several occasions and gave his Metta to the student monks.

At breakfast time on 29th September, Venerable Goenkaji enquired from Shriprakash about the working of the Pagoda. In response, he replied that that day being Sunday, he would be going to the Pagoda and on return he would report everything.

On 29th September while taking lunch, Venerable Goenkaji mentioned to Ven. Mataji, Sons Shyambihari and Shriprakash, sitting nearby, “Today I have given leave to the Doctors.” At that time the statement did not sound solemn to any of them. But since morning itself, it seemed as if he had decided to leave the body on that day. Therefore, most of the time, he remained confined to himself. In the night when his corporeal body became free from all medication, the meaning of his above statement was perceived by all as a form of the early indication.

In the evening after taking tea, he went through the important headlines of the newspapers. Afterwards he meditated while sitting on the chair in the room. He came to the table for dinner after 9:00 PM. Usually, after dinner, Venerable Goenkaji would ask Sriprakash about the day’s news and discuss with him the issues pertaining to Vipassana and the Centers. But today he did not talk and went straight to his room.

He remained seated in the room for some time. Then he sought help to lie down on the bed. Immediately after lying down the process of leaving the body began to take place. The breathing became faster for some time. On seeing this, Venerable Mataji called the Son, Shriprakash, and Daughter-in-law, Naina. As soon as they reached, they summoned the Doctors. The Doctor, who was residing in the same building, called for the ambulance and also requested necessary preparation in the hospital. But before the family Doctor could arrive, the situation had become critical. He indicated that the ambulance services would be of no use then. By the time the ambulance comes, we will not be in a position to shift him there. And, indeed, in a short while, after the check up, he informed that the heart had stopped beating. But there was no sign of pain or stress on the face of Venerable Goenkaji. As he has instructed the people throughout his life to learn the art of living and dying, on those very same lines, he left his body like an ideal saintly lay person.

The atmosphere was filled with a serene calmness. Nobody was able to believe that he had left this world forever. No sound of crying or grief was uttered by anybody. Prior to this, whenever he was in great pain, often tears rolled down the face of Venerable Mataji. But now the state of mind of Mataji was so inspiringly equanimous and peaceful that it was hard to believe. By observing her, one could see the greatness of Dhamma and how it helps in difficult times.

When the news was given to the few, it spread in the city of Mumbai, and thereafter the news spread like fire in the whole world. From that instant in the night, the telephone bells started ringing and the people started pouring. Many of the family members were in foreign countries. It was natural that they would take more than 24 hours’ time to reach here. Therefore, a decision was taken that his body would be kept at the residence itself in a glass case with auto-freezer and the funeral rites would be completed by afternoon on 1st October. Throughout the day people kept pouring (in thousands) to express their condolence and giving way to others.

At 10:00 PM in the night itself, about five hundred people were standing on the road in a queue outside the building. Some of those who came from far away distances stayed in a tent for the whole night. The rest were requested to come in the morning. Again in the morning from 7:00 AM onwards on 1st October, people started thronging the place. There were long queues of visitors till 10:15 AM. At 10:15 AM, his corporeal body was brought down and people formed a queue and paid their respects till 11:30 AM.

The Government of Maharashtra declared to bid farewell to Venerable Goenkaji with full State honors.Accordingly, an armed police squad in a special turnout was sent. The corporeal body of Venerable Goenkaji was wrapped in a National Flag. As the band played, the squad paid tribute by raising their rifles in unison and firing shots. The police squad accompanied the funeral procession of Venerable Goenkaji up to the cremation ground and after the funeral rites were over once again fired shorts in tribute to the departed. The government had made extensive police arrangements. Some voluntary organizations helped in clearing the 5-6 km long path leading to the cremation ground. The procession was led by some monks while people in thousands followed the procession peacefully in queues to pay their last respects up to the Electric Funeral Ground near Oshivara, Jogeshwari (West). The National Flag brought for paying State Honor was handed over by the Police Squad to the family members to keep alive the memories of Venerable Goenkaji forever.

The Urn containing his Relics reached “Global Vipassana Pagoda” in the evening on 1st October. At the moment when the vehicle stopped at the main gate, the rains started pouring. It was as if the Parjanyadev (the Rain God) and other Samyak dev (Righteous deities) were waiting in eagerness to welcome him in advance.

On 2nd October, a meeting of acquaintances and relatives was organized at Jalaram Hall, Juhu Scheme in the evening from 4 to 7:00 PM. Here also people in hundreds paid their last respects. It was published in the newspapers on 2nd October that on 6th October, the students would pay homage through the group sitting in the main meditation hall of the Pagoda.

On 6th October people came from far off places to participate in this. As usual Venerable Mataji sat in the centre of the hall and the Urn containing the Relics was placed nearby in front of a photograph of Venerable Goenkaji. About five thousand students along with thousands of meditators paid their respects. Thereafter the Relics were carried to Myanmar.

Venerable Goenkaji desired that his remains should be carried to the land of his birth, Myanmar and there consigned in the waters of Irrawaddy River. Therefore, the five Sons of Venerable Goenkaji Mr. Banwarilal, Mr. Murarilal, Mr. Shyambihari, Mr. Shriprakash, Mr. Jaiprakash and three Grandsons along with some other family members set off to Myanmar on 6th October carrying the Relics. The eldest Son Mr. Girdhalalji could not go to Myanmar owing to his ill health. However, he was present in all the programmes held in Mumbai. The flight from Mumbai to Bangkok took off at about 01:30 am on 7th October towards Myanmar. The next flight to Yangon (Myanmar) was to take off from the Bangkok airport after a gap of two and a half hours’ time.

The number of Vipassana students in Thailand is quite large as there are nine Vipassana Centers. They booked two rooms in the lounge itself with the help of the Government and the Airport authorities and made arrangements for paying homage. About 20 people walked up to the door of the airplane with the permission of the officers and gave a warm welcome to the people carrying the Relics.They wanted to take VISA, but the Officers gave them permission to reach the Lounge outside the Airport after keeping passport in their custody. The Urn containing the Relics was placed on the podium with a large photograph of Venerable Goenkaji and decorated with white lotus flowers. In spite of the incessant rains pouring throughout the night, hundreds of students assembled there. For one hour, every one of them, as per his or her turn, paid homage to Shri Goenkaji and expressed gratitude. An exceptional thing happened when the airplane touched the land: the rains which had poured incessantly throughout the night had stopped, thereby providing relief to the people.

A grand welcome was given to the arrival of the Relics at Yangon Airport in the morning of 7th October. The Urn containing the Relics was carried to the Dhamma- Joti (the first Vipassana Centre) in a special vehicle. There are twenty Vipassana Centers in Myanmar along with a great number of meditators. Everyone had been eagerly waiting for the Relics. The Urn was placed on the already decorated podium and the students paid their respects in a queue.

In the night on 7th October, tremors of an earthquake (rector 3.1) were felt at 02:27 AM. This was considered as an indication of his final welcome by nature in the Birth Place of Venerable Goenkaji. In June 1969 when Venerable Goenkaji arrived in India from Burma, at that moment also tremors of light intensity were felt in India.

In the morning at 9:00 AM on 8th October, Sanghadana was performed at the Goenka-Residence in Myanmar and 90 monks were given donations. Thereafter at 11:00 AM, the Asthi-Kalash (the Urn containing the ashes) was carried from Dhamma-Joti to Botataung Jetti. There, the Sons and Grandsons of Venerable Goenkaji reached the middle of the Yangon River (Irrawaddy) on a special motor-boat and consigned some part of the Relics. Coincidentally, 56 prisoners were released at the same time by the Burmese Government. The Ashti-Kalash was brought back and placed at the Dhamma-joti.

On the same day in the evening, a meeting was organized at the Ball-room of Hotel Royal Park from 3:00 to 5:00 PM where the relatives, acquaintances and Vipassana meditators living in Myanmar paid their homage and expressed their gratitude.

On 9th October the Ashti-Kalash was carried from Dhamma-Joti. The Relics were taken to Myitkyina on a plane from Yangon. After getting down from the plane, a part of the ashes was consigned at the Irrawaddy River in Myitkyina (the starting point of the River). As per the routine, the same flight was to return after half an hour period of stay. The people accompanying the Ashthi- Kalash were required to return to Mandalay on the same day. However, there was no other flight available. So, the same airplane waited for them for about two and half hours (instead of returning after half an hour). Thus they could return to Mandalay the same day, and the Ashti- Kalash was placed at the Vipassana Center, Dhamma Mandala so that the people could pay their respects.

In the evening, the reputed Monk of Myanmar, Venerable U Nyanissara (Thidagu Sayadaw). chalked out the next day’s program and explained it to everyone. The Chief Minister of Mandalay, the Minister of Religion and Culture in the Burmese Government, and the Police Commissioner of Mandalay reached there the same evening. They checked the whole program and approved it. They instructed their officers to work as per the wishes of Venerable Bhanteji.

A Programme of Sanghadana (Donation to the Sangha) was held in the morning of 10th October at 9:00 AM. Venerable U Nyanissara ji gave a long discourse in Burmese language about Rev. Goenkaji after the initial chanting. (It will be published in future after its translation is completed.) Then food was served to the visitors assembled in large numbers. Thereafter, prior to the start of the journey, Venerable U Nyanissara ji instructed all the Monks to recite the following Pali verse continuously from the beginning of the journey to the end, the meaning of which is also given below:

Anicca vata sankhara, uppada vaya dhammino;
uppajjitva nirujjhanti, tesam upasamo sukho.
– Dighanikayo 2.221, Mahaparinibbanasuttam

Truly all conditioned things are impermanent. All the conditioned, things, individuals which arise are impermanent. Arising and passing away is their inherent nature (dhamma), their inherent characteristic. When this phenomena of constant arising and passing away is extinguished completely by the practice of the Vipassana meditation – the cycle of repeated arising stops, this is known as the ultimate happiness, the ultimate bliss of Nibbana.
In this way, with the royal paraphernalia and honor the procession began in the late afternoon. The Asthi- Kalash was placed on a special vehicle prepared in the shape of golden colored swan. This was followed by the vehicles of the Goenka family. Thereafter, followed the Monks and Nuns and the Vipassana Teachers. Then the Media and at the end were the vehicles of all other people. At the time of the program finalization, the number of vehicles present was only 69, but when the journey commenced, there were 300 vehicles.

The procession took around 1.5 to 2 hours to reach the banks of Ayeyarwady River at the Panmadee Jetti. Five specially decorated large motor-boats were arranged at the bank. The family members along with the Asthi-Kalash and the Vipassana Teachers boarded the first boat, Monks boarded the second, Nuns the third, the media people occupied the fourth, and the students and others boarded the fifth boat. The fleet of boats went to the middle of the River to consign the ashes. At the time of the immersion, darkness began to set in. The Government had banned entry of other boats and ships in that area from 12:00 Noon to 7:00 PM.

The fleet of boats circling the water made a round shape and all in consonance floated one thousand lamps with lighted candles in the River. This magnificent sight became more majestic when these lamps enwrapped in colored covers began to float over the waves while moving and dispersing all over the River. It looked as if the deities of the higher abodes were swinging with happiness. Various types of fireworks were displayed creating an extraordinary sight in the water, over the and in the sky.

At the conclusion, Venerable U Nyanissaraji said that neither such a magnificent welcome was ever organized for anyone nor is there any chance of bidding such a farewell to anyone in the times to come. Venerable U Nyanissaraji also said that the flow of Dhamma which was carried by U Goenka from the banks of Irrawaddy to India in 1969 has come back in 2013 as the Asthi- Kalash to get merged with the River. However, the work of spreading the dhamma all around the world will continue. Everyone stayed in Mandalay in the night.

On the morning of 11th October, the members of the Goenka family returned to Rangoon from Mandalay in an airplane and on the same day boarded a flight via Bangkok in the evening and reached their residence in Mumbai at about 2:00 AM in the night. The Monks were invited on the morning of 12th October and Sanghadana (donation to the Sangha) was performed. Entire family members and relatives were present on this occasion. Everyone was extremely happy to join in the Sanghadana ceremony. Sanghadana was also organized on the 13th. Thus, farewell was given to the lay saint who showed the world the way to experience the pure dhamma through Vipassana meditation.

Venerable Goenkaji may have gone away from us as far as his physical body is concerned, but his body of Dhamma, his voice, his heritage filled with wisdom will forever remain with us. Now it is our duty to make this invaluable technique part of our life and help more and more people to gain benefit from it. By living the life of Dhamma, mutual cordiality will prevail and we will become helpful in the welfare of others also. When we all come together to achieve the aim of our beloved Venerable Goenkaji, of spreading the Dhamma, only then will it be a true tribute to him. This will lead to our own true welfare and the Dhamma will truly benefit us.

Bhavatu Sabba Mangalam!

May all beings be happy!"

(To read about a Sangha Dana that took place in California one year following Sayagyi U Goenka's passing, see here).

1 comment:

  1. During my 10 day course at Igatpuri, I was most lucky to have his Darshan, listen to his discourse and have his blessings.