The Vipassana Aranya project was conceived early this century to address a predictable need within the Vipassana community (which follows S.N. Goenkaji in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin): for a place to live the meditative life for those amongst us who have ordained as monks and nuns, or would like to. A place was also required by other sanyasis and serious students practicing Vipassana, to live the meditative life uninterruptedly for longer periods.
The aranya is physically one part of the three proposed projects which share a common location and boundaries. The other two projects are 1) a Vipassana Centre, and 2) a residential village where Vipassana meditator householders will be able to buy a residential property. The three projects together are to be located in approximately 35 acres of land which was purchased some time ago. It is approximately 40 kms from the centre of Jaipur. The site is wooded and is on the banks of a seasonal river bed; while much progress has been made in the building of the aranya, the other two projects are to follow.
For the exact location, go to ‘Vipassana Aranya’ on Google maps:
At the aranya, a Dhamma Hall of approx. 25’x35’ and a kitchen-dining-office complex are already in place. In addition, there are 2 small bungalows with 2 rooms in each, being used by resident and visiting meditators. 11 new rooms with attached toilets have recently been added. The Aranya is planned for finally accommodating 20 male residents. About 5 acres of land have been separately reserved for an aranya for women.
Where the aranya will differ from a Vipassana Centre is that here, reading and writing will be allowed. Noble silence will be in place at all times in the residential areas, but lifted in the office and library area where internet access will also be allowed. A dedicated covered location has been created for meeting visitors and making phone calls. Leaving and re-entering the premises will be self regulated, within reason. In short, it’s a sort of minimalistic monastery for meditators, ordained and otherwise. The aranya will be sustained on donations.
Guruji is on record giving his blessings and guidance for this project. Moreover, soon after parts of the land had been bought, Guruji’s then secretary made an overnight visit, circumambulating the land in the morning while describing it to Guruji over the phone in detail.
Guruji mentions the kerfuffle he had caused in Buddhist countries by teaching Vipassana in India, and even to the hoards arriving in India from these very countries, yet admitting that he had converted not a single person to Buddhism. He further writes that where religion was concerned, he was already happy with the one he was born into, and that he was fortunate that his teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin initiated him into Dhamma instead; this is exactly what the Buddha had done, as Guruji elaborates. This is also what the Buddha had prescribed as in the Kalama Sutta. Given the opportunity to address groups of monastics and laity in Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand, Guruji managed to calm them down regarding what he was teaching, and even win their accolades. (Vipassana Patrika Sangrah, volume 8, page 63)
The mission of the Aranya resonates strongly with Guruji’s view-point above: we want the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha, but without the ‘ism’. And we’d also like this Dhamma to be inclusive of the bhikkhu sangha, a work in progress that Guruji has left behind for his students!
The dawn of the 2nd Sasana in the mid 20th century, and the renaissance of the Dhamma, is effectively unfolding through the medium of the laity. This could perhaps be so as India is its geographical epicentre as predicted, but there have been no monks, or monasteries here so far !!! So we accost a situation where Vipassana is spreading fast in, and from, ‘the land of its origin’ and monks and nuns have no role to play in it yet, bereft of the very pinnacle of the Buddha’s teachings! This has at times been unfortunate, as they have obviously dedicated their lives for the Dhamma, rendered incomplete for those without the practice of Vipassana!
Is this how things are going to be from now on? Should we accept this status quo?
This is a daunting question, for the tradition of monkhood is presented to us in the Tipitaka as not just an incidental part of the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha. Most of his Suttas are addressed to ‘bhikkhus’, and one of the three divisions of the Tipitaka, the Vinaya, is dedicated to them; the suttas would also lead us to believe that the tradition of the bhikkhu sangha was established by the Buddha as the ideal living condition for optimal growth in the Dhamma, and as an inspirational example for lay people. Moreover, would the Dhamma have survived without the bhikkhus through the dark periods after the 1st Sasana to finally see the light of day in this 2nd Sasana? Evidence suggests that it would not have.
Perhaps the answer lies in the prediction, and it’s palpable fulfillment in progress, that the Dhamma, and not just ‘Vipassana’, will spread from India, the land of its origin. If the Buddha’s gift of Dhamma to humanity is incomplete without the institution of a Bhikkhu Sangha, it necessitates that at least one such sangha must arise here in India, and if so, keeping in line with the purity of the Dhamma now seen arising here, it must also be the ideal one! It is this ideal that the founders of the Aranya are pursuing.
This premise may also indicate why there has been no existing Bhikkhu Sangha here in India. Because, if an ideal one has to emerge, would it not be easier done starting on a fresh page? On the other hand, had there been monks and monasteries in place in India, would they have accepted, and consequently allowed Goenkaji’s mission to progress, being, as he is after all, a layman? We do not know.
However, another aspect of our mission comes from the viewpoint of the immense demographic metamorphosis that today’s India is undergoing: joint families are breaking up into nuclear units; an increasing number of intercast and interfaith marriages are taking place; the medium of education is changing from the vernacular to English; Indians are travelling far and wide, being exposed to both the West and to the East. Besides, the fortunate ones who have access to the pure Dhamma are fast shedding the shackles of blind religious beliefs! All of the above are shaking the territory of the traditional family, or community, guru, a territory also being infringed upon rapidly by likes of film stars, sport stars, and corporate stars. Bringing back a resurgent Sangha here, now, is an attempt to replace their increasingly tenuous hold with something more wholesome. A bhikkhu sangha is needed here today and there is an ever increasing number of Vipassana meditators to support the cause, provided value can be seen in doing so. And value will be tangible if the Sangha is true to the Vinaya, and devoted to Pariyatti and Patipatti.
In following our objective we are led to believe that the atmosphere of a Vipassana centre, specially during the time of a long course, is relatively the best environment for the practice of a monk or a nun, allowing for pindapata, occasional visits to and from the laity, and time and space for other prescriptions specific for monks and nuns . As in Vipassana Centres, we are being careful not to allow any semblance of religiosity, or rituals, to enter the premises, whether they be of Indian provenance, or from our neighbouring countries. We also find this in consonance with the suttas, as, for example, in ‘what constitutes the true vandana of the Buddha’, described by him is the instance of Vakkali’s devotion to his physical appearance; a description which stands in contrast to the devotion showered on statues of gods and deities, and even that of the Buddha himself, in the present day. Such is the facility we are aiming to create here at the Aranya.