-By Brindley Ratwatte
In tracing the growth of Vipassana meditation in the last two centuries, one has to take into reckoning the decline of the Dhamma due to the on-going rule of the British. In the past as we see it, the growth of Samatha meditation where concentration is mainly stressed, and Jhanic attainments were popular, and Vipassana or Insight meditation was not understood and practiced as today. This was mainly due to the divisive effects of foreign rule and the influence of alien religions.
The history of Insight meditation cannot be traced without recalling the contribution of the Venerable Sumapithipala, senior monk of the Kanduboda Vipassana centers and the Venerable Nanarama Thera of Mithirigala. The latter venerable thera undertook a course of training in the Myanmar system of Vipassana Insight meditation under the guidance of Venerable Jayana, a senior pupil of Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw. On Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw’s visit here in 1958 he was recognized as a Kammattana accarya and he taught this method to many pupil theras and upasakas. This, however, was of a restrictive nature.
At the invitation of a committed old student who had taken his first course with Shri Goenkaji at Bodh Gaya in 1974 and subsequently followed a number of ten-day courses; from 1980-1990, approximately every two years, Goenkaji held several courses when he visited Sri Lanka. Several hundreds of students participated in these courses, learning the technique of Vipassana meditation as taught by Goenkaji in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin of Myanmar.
In 1991 - Dhamma Kuta (Summit of Dhamma) - a Vipassana meditation center where instruction is given in this same tradition, was inaugurated. In 1994 on the completion of the construction of the meditation hall, Goenkaji held an inaugural course in which several hundreds of students participated. Vipassana meditation is now available to all with no barriers of race, creed, gender or belief. Dhamma Kuta has now developed and is spreading the Dhamma. One or two courses are held every month. These courses are of a duration of three or ten days. Courses which go in-depth, linking the technique to the Satipatthana Sutta and special courses varying in duration from ten to twenty days, which involve more serious and solitary practice are conducted. Courses in Sinhala (local language) have now commenced. All courses are residential for the entire period and free of charge.
In Sri Lanka school children who are Buddhists, learn the Dhamma in school and in Dhamma schools in temples. Buddhism has been introduced into the school curriculum, and it is a subject for the basic qualifying General Certificate of Education, ordinary level examination. At University level there are degree courses in Pāli, Sanskrit and Buddhist philosophy. As a corollary to this understanding of the theoretical aspects of the Dhamma, recently there has been a growing interest in the practice of meditation and its teaching.
Today we find a large number of meditation centers in this country. In many of them students are allowed to practice on their own, without comprehensive and appropriate guidance. Often the practice leads to the concentration methods of Samatha.
At Dhamma Kuta, in totally residential courses, students practice seriously with a strict discipline in the tradition of Vipassana meditation as taught by Sayagyi U Ba Khin and Goenkaji.
This systematic and structured course of practice has helped thousands of students in understanding the Dhamma, and its true purpose -- that of eradicating the defilements in the mind. The results are rewarding in the peace and harmony this process of self - purification generates. We find a large number of students who have benefited, keep repeating the courses and training, thus getting a better understanding, The impact of following and repeating this practice with deeper understanding is profound. Many students addicted to drugs, alcohol, compulsive smoking or leading very stressful lives, come out of these harmful tendencies. Often there is a positive change in their lives, bringing in a new dimension of peace, a lessening of stress and mental strain.
It is indeed rewarding to see the change in the quality of their living, the peace and happiness this Dhamma practice generates. Some students have begun to understand the urgency of working towards their own liberation, and they work more meaningfully to this end. Some have changed their jobs and vocations or given them up to find more space and time for a more contemplative and peaceful way of life. Some have progressed much on the Path of Dhamma. Such people are, indeed, a source of inspiration to all.
Vipassana meditation teaches one to observe the constant flow of energy vibration throughout the body. This is a reality which takes place every minute of the twenty- four hours of the day; the important factor is to train the mind to observe this reality - the arising and breaking up of this flow. We have to observe this factor, this reality within the framework of this mind-body phenomenon, and cultivate equanimity. This process takes place automatically - there is no "I" involved. One’s equanimity - non reaction - can be taken as a measurement of one’s progress in the practice. Hundreds of students come gradually to an understanding of this, and happiness can be seen in them. It is a long process of self-purification, but a substantial beginning has been made.
There are instances where some, having practiced methods of concentration - Samata - achieve Jhana experience - a level of deep concentration, with progressive development to a higher level of absorption - the second Jhana. This is an experience of great calmness and peace. If to this Jhanic experience there is added the awareness of change, flux, of Vipassana insight, progress is rapid thereafter. This is the culmination of practice not for the many, but a few. But at all levels there is the peace and harmony which the smallest quantum of mental purification brings.
After taking a number of basic ten-day courses of Vipassana, the progressive training in 30 or 45-day courses, brings the mind to states of great stillness, calm and purity. One is then able to advance step by step, weakening the bondage of perception - Sañña, and growing equanimity will enable one to experience the highest reality - if one has the will and strength to persist in the practice.
With the Dhamma practice at Dhamma Kuta we have been receiving innumerable letters from students from all walks of life, nationalities, ages and creeds, expressing a deep sense of gratitude for the guidance given to them. It is satisfying to know their lives are happier and they have benefited and wish to practice more deeply.
More and more people are beginning to understand that it is not just theoretical knowledge or faith in the Dhamma, but actual practice - of seeing the truth of Dhamma - change, sorrow and insubstantiality - through Vipassana, which is the way to end all suffering. This technique teaches them to understand and identify this changing process of the mind-body phenomenon, and to experience how it works. It is a very gradual understanding and process of mental purification. But once clearly comprehended, then one begins the process of detaching oneself from that which is conducive to unhappiness.
And so one begins - to walk the path to one’s own liberation. In this country the average Buddhist has a tremendous store of saddha (faith) in the Dhamma of the Enlightened One, the Buddha. So our foundation is quite strong. It is the discipline and the practice that has to be inculcated, without which one cannot proceed further in meditation.
May all beings be happy.