I am on the plane in my way to Mumbai for Goenkaji’s ‘Great Gratitude Gathering’ on January 17th.
All those who had taken a ten day Vipassana meditation course between 1969 -1979 in what Goenkaji called the ‘gypsy camps’ before there was an established meditation centre, have been invited to the Global Pagoda in Mumbai so that Goekaji can thank us and expres his gratitude!
I feel full of gratitude to be able to attend and a bit like a lost daughter returning home.
And as I sit here on the plane, I am remembering my very first course, a double course during Dec/January 70-71.
We had arrived in Delhi in December of 1970 having driven overland across to India from Europe in a VW van. My husband was going through some sort of a mental crisis and my father had suggested we attend the World Conference of Scientific Yoga taking place in Delhi where we might meet someone who could advise us. So we attended the conference and nearby, J. Krishnamurti was also giving talks and so we attended those as well and hung around with other youthful western ‘seekers’. One of them, Bob Lane, told us that a bunch of them were all going off to Bodh gaya where there was ‘ A far out Burmese millionaire cat teaching a technique of meditation called Vipassana which enables you to do what Krishnamurti talks about.’
‘What’s that.’? Someone asked
‘Well, you know, Choiceless Awareness of course.’ Replied Bob.
The Burmese Vihara in Bodh Gaya wasn’t that big but it somehow managed to stretch itself and accommodated some 95of us. The women slept along the closed veranda in a long line of mattress on the floor and strung between each of them was a string s on which we hung whatever we could sheets, sari, sarong as a makeshift partition to create a sort of privacy. The men slept on the roof. Outside there was a garden, trees to sit around, a kitchen and rudimentary toilets and bathing facilities.
In the meditation room Goenkaji would teach on a slightly raised podium on which there were two cushions. Goenkaji sat on one and the other remained empty. And we all speculated about the empty cushion. We knew at the time that Goenkaji’s wife was still in Burma and that with the military junta having taken over, there had been some delays and difficulties in her coming to join him. Finally in one of our informal evening chats someone popped the question and asked if the cushion was or her. Goenkaji laughed heartily, his whole body shaking with laughing,
‘No, no no! That is for my teacher. You see, I am not the teacher. My teacher asked me to come, so I am here, but he is the teacher. I am not the teacher, I am just a businessman and he laughed some more. And indeed, during the breaks, he would sit in the ante –room with his secretary, Yadev, and conduct his business.
But very soon that was all to change irrevocably. One night during the second course, on the 19th jan I think it was, there was a terrible thunderstorm. In the veranda we shut the windows and remained mostly dry but the roof was flooded and all them men had to come down and sleep in the meditation room. The atmosphere was very charged and I seem to remember that something even caught fire. The next day came the news that Sayaji U Ba Khin, Goenkaji’s teacher had passed away in the night. Everyone now speculated about the storm, that the heavens broke when great men passed and certainly it felt momentous. Everything had changed. No longer would Goenkaji be able to deny being the teacher. The mantle had fallen on him, and we all knew it. That evening he talked of his teacher, and of the mission that he had entrusted on him to bring the teachings of the Buddha back to India after the prophesied 2,500 years, And he looked around at us all in the room and told us that many of us would in time become teachers and that the dharma as taught by the Buddha would spread across the world. And indeed it has.
Today, January 14th, is supposed to be a very auspicious day: Makar Sankranti, celebrated all over India in different ways. When Ranjan, the cab driver from South India came to take me to the airport he wished me a happy Pongal, and I told him in the Punjab we celebrated the day Lohri and that we lit bonfires on which we threw sugar cane and then sucked the hot juice. Everywhere it is the end of the old and the beginning of the new. A time of change and renewal.
I feel full of gratitude, that I am on my way to the gathering and also I am deeply grateful, that after that first meditation course, I wrote to my mother and father and thanked them – for everything; their love, integrity, for being who they were.
Gratitude is a very great thing.
May all beings be peaceful and Happy.