S. N. Goenka: Emissary of Insight (Lives of the Masters) by Daniel Stuart

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An eagerly anticipated biography of S. N. Goenka--one of the most influential meditation masters of the twentieth century.

In a life that saw him evolve from a staunchly religious Hindu to an ecumenical master of Buddhist insight meditation, Satyanārāyaṇ (S. N.) Goenka (1924-2013) became instrumental in popularizing lay mindfulness and insight meditation practice on a global scale. Goenka was in the second generation of an Indian family living in Burma. When he arrived in India in the 1960s, he felt the pull of karmic destiny to teach meditation and thereby repay the ancient debt that Burmese Buddhists owed to India. In the 1970s, as Goenka was becoming an integral part of the Indian Buddhist spiritual landscape, thousands of young people from the United States and Europe flocked to India to explore its spiritual possibilities. Out of this remarkable convergence was launched a global network of practitioners and meditation centers that would become Goenka's legacy.

Drawing heavily on Goenka's own autobiographical writings and Dharma talks, 
S. N. Goenka is the first comprehensive portrait of his life. Daniel Stuart incorporates a wide range of primary documents and newly translated material to offer readers an in-depth exploration of Goenka's life and teachings. Stuart further details the trials and tribulations Goenka faced in building a movement in India in the 1970s, developing a global network of meditation centers, and negotiating a range of relationships with students and religious leaders worldwide. This biography reflects on Goenka's role in the revival of Buddhism in postcolonial India and his emergence as one of the most influential meditation masters of the twentieth century.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Shambhala (November 17, 2020)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 352 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1611808189
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1611808186
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.1 pounds


“Daniel Stuart paints a nuanced portrait of the man he describes as his teacher. . . . Whereas many Western Buddhists may think of Goenka only as the ‘nonreligious’ teacher of Insight/Vipassana meditation, this intriguing biography and collection of his writings serves as a clear reminder that his life and teachings were firmly rooted in tradition—and were more complex than his Western audiences may have realized.”—Lion’s Roar

“A valuable contribution to English-language knowledge of this historical teacher and to public understandings of the global mindfulness movement.”—Buddhadharma

“Of immeasurable value both to scholars and non-scholars.”—Asian Review of Books

“For those interested in modern 
vipaśyanā meditation, this is essential reading. . . . A long-time student of Goenka’s, Stuart writes respectfully, fairly, and with nuance. It is clear that a huge amount of care went into the construction of this biography. This is an important work.”—Reading Religion

“Stuart’s thoughtful and nuanced biography enriches and complicates the received narrative of one of the architects of modern meditation. It provides a more complex view into Goenka’s various layered identities and situates him in his historical contexts. This is a valuable contribution to the conversations on modern Buddhism and meditative practices.”—David L. McMahan, author of 
The Making of Buddhist Modernism

“By taking the story S. N. Goenka tells in his own writings and considering it alongside the accounts of others, this book presents a number of different perspectives on key events in Goenka’s life. Stuart’s commentary highlights various details and tensions in Goenka’s story that shed light on his relationship with his teacher, U Ba Khin; his particular approach to insight meditation; and his eventual break with others in the U Ba Khin tradition. The whole adds up to a fascinating narrative that should be read by all who wish to gain a better understanding of the development of insight meditation in Europe and the U.S., as well as the emergence of modern secular mindfulness.”—Rupert Gethin, author of The Foundations of Buddhism and The Buddhist Path to Awakening

“An excellent study of U Goenka and his movement. Stuart manages to achieve the difficult balancing act of maintaining critical intellectual distance while showing a heartfelt appreciation of Goenkaji’s extraordinary life and work. It is a most timely book that sheds valuable light on the origins of the now widespread practice of Buddhist meditation in general and mindfulness meditation in particular.”Stephen Batchelor, author of The Art of Solitude and After Buddhism

About the Author

DANIEL M. STUART is a scholar of South Asian religions, literary cultures, and meditation traditions specializing in the texts and practices of the Buddhist tradition. He is interested in the interrelationships between Buddhist practice traditions, theories of mind, and scriptural production in premodern South Asia, modern India, and global settings. His work engages how contemplative practitioners historically interfaced with their textual, philosophical, and material environments, fashioning dynamic meditative approaches to changing historical contexts.