The Vipassana Aranya project was conceived early this century to address a predictable need within the Vipassana community following the teachings of Acharya S.N. Goenka: a place for monks (and later for nuns) and serious lay students to live the ‘monastic life’ of paṭipatti with pariyatti for extended periods of time. The ‘Aranya’, as it is commonly known, has been put together and supported by the combined efforts of meditators, ATs, and Teachers in our tradition.
Where the Aranya differs from a Vipassana Centre is that here there are no regular courses: residents are self-dependent. Reading and writing are allowed, and leaving and re-entering the premises is self-regulated, within reason. In short, it’s a sort of minimalistic monastery for meditators, ordained and otherwise.
In place on site are a Dhamma Hall of approx. 25’x35’, big enough to comfortably seat 50 people, and a kitchen-dining-office complex for seating 20 individuals. In addition, there are 2 small bungalows (with 2 rooms in each) and 11 large single rooms with attached toilets, liberally spaced from one another.
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.
The Aranya is physically one part of the three proposed projects which share a common location and boundary.
The other two projects are 1) a Vipassana Centre, and 2) a residential village where Vipassana meditators can buy a place to live in. These other two projects are yet to follow. All three projects together are located in approximately 35 acres of land, approximately 40 km from the center of Jaipur.
The aranya is sustained on donations.
The revival of the pure Dhamma in this ‘2nd Sasana’, from the mid 20th century, is unfolding largely through the medium of the laity, from ‘the land of its origin’, India. While the quintessence of Dhamma, Vipassana, is spreading fast across the world, monks and nuns, who have obviously dedicated their lives for Dhamma, have no major role to play in its spread yet.
In the suttas, the Buddha presents the institution of the Bhikkhu Sangha as an integral aspect of his teachings, and as the ideal living condition for optimal growth in Dhamma. If the Buddha’s gift of Dhamma to humanity is incomplete without the Bhikkhu Sangha, it necessitates that such a pure sangha must arise ‘in the land of its origin’. It is this ideal that the founders of the Aranya are pursuing. There is an ever-increasing number of Vipassana mediators who are ready to dedicate themselves to the monastic life; however, there is no appropriate place for monks in this tradition, the creation of which is a work in progress that Guruji has left behind for his students!
In following our objective we are guided by the understanding that the atmosphere of a Vipassana center is relatively the best environment for the life of a monk (or a nun), allowing for, in addition, practices specific for monks (and nuns) such as pindapata, patimokkha, etc. As in Vipassana Centres, we are being careful not to allow any semblance of religiosity, or rituals, to enter the premises, whether they are of Indian provenance or from our neighboring countries. The mission of the Aranya follows Goenkaji’s view-point of the Dhamma being universal, not belonging to any ism, not even Buddhism. And as Goenkaji chants every morning during a Vipassana course:
Imāya dhammānudhammapaṭipattiya buddhaṃ pūjemi.
I venerate the Buddha by practicing in accordance with the Dhamma
Goenkaji about the Aranya
Below are conversations between an AT (now a Teacher) and Goenkaji (recorded with Goenkaji’s permission) about what Goenkaji refers to as the ‘Vipassana Vihara’, and now known as the Aranya. The unedited versions are also available.
Translation from Hindi
AT: Guruji, I wanted to ask you one more thing – I heard that talks are on about finding a place for Pariyatti study classes to be conducted by Tandonji in Jaipur. Is this is our project? Do you think this should happen?
SNG: Yes, it is necessary because we also need a Pariyatti section. I am not happy with the fact that our teachers have not yet completely understood the theoretical aspects of the Dhamma. Tandonji can be a useful resource person in this situation due to his skilful methods of teaching and command over the language. Therefore, he will need a place to teach, whether in Jaipur or in Igatpuri.
AT: I’ve bought some land, if he would like to use…
AT: In Jaipur, at a distance of about 30-45minutes from the airport, in a good, wholesome environment..
SNG: How far is it from our centre?
AT: It is about 75-90 minutes away.
SNG: So, we will need to arrange transportation for him.
AT: He can stay there itself…
SNG: He will need to come back at some point.
AT: Yes, but the bus connectivity is good. There is a direct bus from Jaipur, a ticket will cost twenty rupees and will drop one off right at the place. In this way, it is better, more accessible than our centre. There is no bus connectivity to the centre. Ground water is also available at 25-30 ft, unlike at other places in Jaipur where it has reached a depth of 250 ft.
AT: Surrounding the land on 3 sides is forest area, so it’s a very nice land. I’ve purchased a portion already, and will purchase a bit more. The idea was a monastery or Tandon ji’s workshop, or both. I spoke to Dhananjay ji and he said that they go well together – if a monastery is to come, then it will also be teaching Pariyatti. Since all this has happened, I thought I would let you know and take your blessings for it!
SNG: Go ahead, go ahead. The chance for performing a wholesome deed (punya ka avsar) has arrived. Keep growing in Dhamma.
AT: Guruji, around four years ago, I bought a piece of land near Jaipur with the idea that a centre for the study of Pariyatti could be opened up, but, later came to know that such a centre was already planned for Mumbai. As a result, the land that I bought is lying vacant, so, I thought we could experiment by opening a centre for long term meditators, including monks, though not necessarily for monks. With your permission, we could start work on it. I could report to you regularly about it’s progress…
SNG: Yes, you can start it off for now. When the number of meditators increases, and you have a….. (person) who can manage, the number of rooms can slowly be increased. Then it will be a vihar… a Vipassana Vihar.
AT: Yes, then the serious meditators in our tradition who want to become monks will not be led astray.
AT: Then they will remain contained within the tradition and have an opportunity to grow.
SNG: Correct. Nothing wrong with that.