How Dhamma Giri got its name

By | 5/17/2024

In mid March 1974, a Canadian meditator named Geo Poland moved, with Goenkaji's approval, into an old stone bungalow on the newly purchased hilltop property that was to become the first Vipassana meditation centre in India. A few weeks later, Graham Gambie, an Australian, arrived. The building that they chose to live in had for years been deserted and used by local herders as a stable. It required a thorough cleaning.

Geo occupied two rooms at one end, and Graham two at the other. The larger room between them they kept principally for meditation. At that time I was renting a room in Igatpuri town, but came to the centre almost daily. We passed our time meditating and doing minor repairs and maintenance. And since there was neither water, nor electricity, nor tools, even the simplest project took an inordinate amount of time.

As the hot season progressed and the centre's existence became more widely known, letters started arriving addressed to “Vipassana Centre, c/o Postmaster, Igatpuri.” There was no delivery; we had to go to the post office and collect them. Graham and I handled most of the correspondence, and when replying we began to feel the need for a more specific name and return address.

In those days the centre also had no telephone, so around the time that the monsoon started Graham decided to write to Goenkaji in Mumbai and ask him about a name. After a few days he found Guruji's reply among some other letters that he had brought from the post office. In the early evening when I arrived after work, he was waiting for me bubbling with excitement. Guruji had chosen the Hindi name Vipassana Vishwa Vidyapeeth—or, in English, Vipassana International Academy—Dhamma Giri. We happily considered how appropriate the name Hill of Dhamma was for this marvellous place.

We immediately informed the postmaster about the new name and began sending letters to notify everyone who we thought would want to know. Slowly, from July onward, the name Dhamma Giri became familiar in Igatpuri town as well, and the locals became curious about what was going to happen at this new meditation academy, what courses would be taught there.

12-6-74  c/o Postmaster, Igatpuri                             31-8-74  VIA, Dhamma Giri, Igatpuri

Besides the name, no actual address was ever needed other than “Igatpuri, District Nashik,” and by 1976 the mail was being delivered by a postal employee to the centre's new office at the gate. In those days no one had any idea that Dhamma Giri would become known worldwide as the principal centre of Vipassana meditation.

Editor’s Note: This post is the third in an ongoing series, A Dhamma Giri Diary, comprised of remembrances that together offer a first-hand account of the initial few years that followed the 1974 purchase of the barren hilltop that became the first Indian Vipassana center, Dhamma Giri, in Igatpuri, Maharashtra. Narayan Dasarwar, who was there from day one, reflects on his association with S.N. Goenka, the principal teacher, the development of the center, and some of the individuals who helped make it possible. The Pariyatti Journal is grateful to Narayan for sharing his personal account of life at Dhamma Giri.

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