S. N. Goenka, the Teacher of Vipassana Meditation and founder of over seventy-five Vipassana centres around the world, was invited to participate in the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland from 27 January to 1 February.
This is the highest level meeting of the global leaders in politics, business and media where they meet informally to discuss various issues facing the world. WEF Annual Meeting is often referred to as the summit of summits and this year's meeting had a special significance being the first such meeting in the new millennium. It was noteworthy that spirituality was added among the business affluence and the political influence of the world leaders in those fields.
Goenkaji spoke in the gathering in various sessions on "the future of religion", "death: exploring the taboo", "anger and how to deal with it" and "the meaning of true happiness".
The future of religion
In the world today that is largely dominated by economic concerns, what is the future of religion? This was the theme on the panel discussion on the morning of January 27. Because of his success in taking Vipassana to people from all the religious and racial backgrounds Goenkaji was requested to describe how the practice of a tradition transcends dogma and cultural elements.
Richard Block (President, World Union for Progressive Judaism, Israel); Prof. Tu We Ming (Harvard University, USA); Kassis Nabeel (Minister and Coordinator General of Bethlehem 2000 project) and Prof. Keith Ward (Prof. Of Divinity, University of Oxford, U.K) were on the panel with him.
In this session he emphasized that the inner core of every religion is morality, love and compassion. The outer shell of religion is rites, rituals, dogmas and philosophical beliefs. One should not condemn these but one should be careful not to confuse these with the essence of religion.
Goenkaji explained how the teaching of the Buddha is non-sectarian, universal, practical and result-oriented. The teaching of Sila, that is morality is common to all the religions and acceptable to all. The teaching of Samadhi, that is concentration of the mind, and of Panna, that is purification of mind, is also universal and acceptable to all. Undue attachment to one's own beliefs and intolerance of other cultures and beliefs causes strife. If the essence of the Teaching were given all the importance nobody would find anything objectionable in it. Goenkaji proposed the idea of a generic religion whereby the commonalties of the religions will be emphasized. In Vipassana people will find such a generic religion which will allow them to continue with their cultural traditions while teaching them to live a happy and harmonious life. This will bring an end to the violence and wars that go on in the name of religion. The audience were pleased with Goenkaji's exposition and listened attentively.
Death: exploring the tabu
On the 27th January, in the evening, Goenkaji participated in a session over "Death: exploring the taboo". Richard Block, President, World Union for Progressive Judaism, Israel; Prof. Kathleen M. Foley, Dept. of Neurology, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, USA and Prof. Keith Ward, Prof. Of Divinity, University of Oxford, U.K were on the panel.
Speaking about death, Goenkaji said that death is a taboo because of fear about death. He explained how a Vipassana meditator eradicates fear by exploring the reality within and dies fearlessly. He said that there were numerous examples of Vipassana meditators who die in a fully conscious and peaceful state of mind. When one experiences anicca within, the attachment to the physical and mental structure starts decreasing and so does the fear of death.
Anger and how to deal with it
"What Should You Do When You Are Angry" was the topic of the evening session on the next day, followed by a discussion.
Points of Discussion were: In our time-compressed and competitive world there seem to be more and more opportunities than ever to get upset when things don't go our way. Anger can ruin relationships, professional careers and health. What should be done to eradicate anger.
Goenkaji explained, "The law of nature is such that one who generates anger is its first victim. One is bound to become miserable as one generates anger. It is quite obvious that anger arises when something undesirable has happened, when someone has created an obstacle in the fulfilment of one's desires. Even to the most powerful person in the world, undesirable things keep on happening and he or she is helpless to prevent it. Even when one knows that anger is bad and wants to get rid of it, anger continues to overpower from time to time. To solve this problem, one has to seek a deeper reason for the anger within oneself. Simply diverting one's mind to some other activity is only a temporary solution. One must go to the root of the problem. One must learn to observe anger." He then explained how the simple technique of Vipassana, which involves equanimous observation of sensations with the understanding of their impermanent nature, helps one to come out of anger.
The meaning of happiness
On the last day Goenkaji talked about the „Meaning of Happiness". Every individual or nation must strive for material growth and scientific advances but material prosperity can lead to true happiness only if there is a base of spirituality. He said that "Secular Spirituality" helps one to progress in the worldly affairs and still helps one realise at the experiential level that material comforts, worldly pleasures, fame and power are fragile and ephemeral and how they alone can not give lasting happiness. He explained how Vipassana is a practical way to get true happiness that is beyond superficial pleasures. The audience listened with rapt attention and later asked many questions about Vipassana.