Chain of Teachers
Insight in the Lineage of Vipassana Meditation Teachers
as taught by S.N. Goenka, in the tradition of U Ba Khin.
After the time of the Buddha (c. 5th to 4th century BCE) for about 500 years people in India practiced his teachings in their pure form and experienced its goal; they became fully liberated or reached one of the stages on the way to full liberation. Later, however, forces opposed to the Dhamma gained strength and sought to undermine its purity. Many bhikkhus were killed; many others left India. Almost all the monasteries were destroyed, and the few remaining ones could not maintain the purity of the teaching. The contamination spread eastward to Burma (Myanmar), reaching the capital of Pagan.
In southern Myanmar, news reached the arahant bhikkhu Dhammadassi of what had happened in the north of the country. He decided to go himself to Pagan; he met King Anawrahta and explained to him the pure teaching of the Buddha. Seeing with new eyes, the king put an end to the degraded practices and re-established the purity of the teachings (Tipiṭaka) and the practice thereof (Vipassana). This was approximately a thousand years ago.
At an earlier time, in the reign of India’s Emperor Asoka (c.268 to 232 BCE), Dhamma envoys had carried the pure words of the Buddha and the practice of the technique of Vipassana to different countries. One of these was Suvaṇṇabhūmi, now southern Myanmar. There, the custom started of memorizing the entire teachings, or a section of it to maintain the actual words of the Buddha. At the same time people continued to practice what the Buddha had taught by maintaining the Vipassana technique in its pristine purity.
Envoys went to Sri Lanka as well. In that country the entire Tipiṭaka was first written down to ensure its preservation, and for many generations the pure Vipassana technique was also maintained.
The benefit of these actions could be seen in more recent times when scholars from different countries attended the councils convened in Myanmar, to once again verify the text of the Tipiṭaka. In the 19th century, they caused the text to be inscribed on stone tablets; in the 20th century, they published the text in book form.
From Dhammadassi onward the pure technique of Vipassana was preserved in northern Myanmar, although among only a few.
(The above was translated and adapted from Goenkaji’s article in the March 2010 issue of the Hindi Vipassana Patrika.)
We are very grateful to all those teachers who during centuries maintained a deep practice of Vipassana, and dedicatedly trained their pupils to make sure the technique didn’t get lost and was conveyed in its purity from generation to generation. The first teacher in the lineage who we have documentation on is the Venerable Ledi Sayadaw, who preceded Saya Thetgyi, Sayagyi U Ba Khin and, our late teacher S.N. Goenka.
|Saya||teacher (m), senior in rank or age|
|Sayadaw||royal/respected teacher (used to reference the senior monk or abbot of a monastery)|
|gyi||(as a suffix, to show respect) = great (Sayagyi = great teacher)|