Religions of South Asia, Vol 11, No 2-3 (2017)

Insight Transformed: Coming to Terms with Mindfulness in South Asian and Global Frames

Daniel M. Stuart
Issued Date: 6 Sep 2018


This article fills in a gap in the historiography of modern insight and mindfulness meditation. By providing an account of the role of S. N. Goenka in the formation and dissemination of modern insight meditation (vipassanā), and his reframing of Burmese Buddhist meditation in a postcolonial South Asian context, I show how the roots of modern therapeutic forms of mindfulness emerge from magico-religious contexts that have been glossed over in a process of scientization. By presenting two parallel case studies from South Asia, in which insight meditation was appropriated and repurposed by Jain and Hindu communities under the pressure of distinct social, personal, and religious forces, I suggest that modern therapeutic mindfulness is just one instantiation of other similar processes. By understanding the variety of ways in which insight meditation has been encountered by and made available to prospective practitioners in multiple social and historical contexts, historians can better understand the complex of factors that gave rise to the modern category of 'mindfulness'.

Download Media

PDF (Price: £17.50 )

DOI: 10.1558/rosa.37022


Adcock, Cassie S. 2014. The Limits of Tolerance: Indian Secularism and the Politics of Religious Freedom. New York: Oxford University Press.

Anālayo, Bhikkhu. 2012. ‘Purification in Early Buddhist Discourse and Buddhist Ethics.’ Buddhist Studies (Bukkyō Kenkyū) XL (March): 67–97.

—2016. ‘A Brief Criticism of the “Two Paths to Liberation” Theory.’ Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies 11: 38–51.

—2017. Early Buddhist Meditation Studies. Barre, MA: Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.

Bhargava, Rajeev. 2010. ‘The “Secular Ideal” before Secularism: A Preliminary Sketch.’ In Cady and Hurd 2010: 159–80.

Bodhi, Bhikkhu. ‘The Transformations of Mindfulness.’ In Ronald E. Purser, David Forbes and Adam Burke (eds.), Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context, and Social Engagement (Mindfulness in Behavioral Health): 3–14. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Braun, Erik. 2013. The Birth of Insight: Meditation, Modern Buddhism, and the Burmese Monk Ledi Sayadaw. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bronkhorst, Johannes. 1986. The Two Traditions of Meditation in Ancient India. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner.

—1993. The Two Sources of Indian Asceticism. Bern and New York: Peter Lang.

Cady, Linell E., and Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (eds.). 2010. Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Coleman, John. 2000 [1971]. The Quiet Mind. Onalaska, Washington: Pariyatti Press.

Chatterjee, Partha. 1994. ‘Secularism and Toleration.’ Economic and Political Weekly 29 (28): 1768–77.

Chit Tin, Sayā U, (ed.). 1985. A Western Student’s Meditation Experience under the Guidance of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. Heddington, Calne: The Vipassana Research Group.

Davis, Jake H. 2004. Strong Roots: Liberation Teachings of Mindfulness in North America. Barre, MA: Dhamma Dana Publications.

Flügel, Peter. 2002. ‘Terapanth Svetambara Jain Tradition.’ In J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann (eds.), Religions of the World, a Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, Vol. 1 (A–C): 1266-67. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

—2012 [1995]. Askese und Devotion: Das rituelle System der Terāpanth Śvetāmbara Jains. Working Papers of the Centre of Jaina Studies, 1. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.

Garfinkel, Perry. 1995. ‘Meditation Goes Mainstream.’ Yoga Journal, for Health and Conscious Living 121 (April): 62–69.

Gethin, Rupert. 2001. The Buddhist Path to Awakening: A Study of the Bodhi-Pakkhiyā Dhammā. New York: E. J. Brill.

Goenka, S. N. 2007 [2002]. For the Benefit of Many: Talks and Answers to Questions from Vipassana Students, 1983–2000. Igatpuri: Vipassana Research Institute.

—2009. ‘86 Varṣ kī Āyu ke Cālīs Varṣ Pūre Hue.’ Vipaśyanā, Sādhakoṃ kā Māsik Prerṇā 39 (2): 1–3.

Gombrich, Richard. 1997. How Buddhism Began: The Conditioned Genesis of the Early Teachings. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Ltd.

Houtman, Gustaaf. 2014. ‘Vipassanā in Burma: Self-government and the Ledi Ānāpāna Tradition.’ In Halvor Eifring (ed.), Hindu, Buddhist and Daoist Meditation: 91-115. Oslo: Hermes Academic Publishing.

Hover, Robert Harry. 1966a. ‘A Bold Step.’ A letter from Robert Harry Hover to Sayāgyi U Ba Khin introducing Hover’s Human System Project, along with which he included the project proposal (3 March, 1966).

—1966b. ‘The Human System Project.’ Unedited rough draft of a project proposal on the scientific study of vipassanā meditation submitted to J. C. Celentano of North American Aviation, Inc. (1 March, 1966).

—1966c. ‘Canonical Human Action, An Unsolicited Proposal.’ An unsolicited proposal to the United Nations introducing Hover’s vision of meditation/human development—derived from the teachings of Sayāgyi U Ba Khin of the International Meditation Centre in Rangoon—into the public sphere (October, 1966).

—1977. Recordings of 14 unpublished talks from a two-week vipassanā meditation retreat at Lake Lopez in San Luis Obispo in the Spring of 1977.

Htay Hlaing, U. 2013. Theelon Sayadaw (1786–1861), a Great Meditation Master in Old Burma. Trans. Aggācāra Dhamma Distribution Group. Rangoon: Aggācāra Dhamma Distribution Group.

Huntington, C. W. Jr. 2015. ‘The Triumph of Narcissism: Theravāda Buddhist Meditation in the Marketplace.’ Journal of the American Academy of Religion 83 (3): 624–48.

Jain, Andrea R. 2011. ‘Modern Yoga in the Śvetāmbara Terāpanth.’ Jaina Studies, Newsletter of the Centre for Jaina Studies 6: 34–35.

—2014. Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture. New York: Oxford University Press.

Jordt, Ingrid. 2007. Burma’s Mass Lay Meditation Movement: Buddhism and the Cultural Construction of Power. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon. 2005 [1990]. Full Catastrophe Living. New York: Delta Trade Paperbacks.

—2011. ‘Some Reflections on the Origins of MBSR, Skillful Means, and the Trouble with Maps.’ Contemporary Buddhism 12 (4): 281–306.

King, Winston L. 1961. ‘An Experience in Buddhist Meditation.’ The Journal of Religion 41 (1): 51–61.

Kornfield, Jack. 2007 [1977]. Modern Buddhist Masters. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society.

Kothari, Smita. 2013. ‘Dāna and Dhyāna in Jaina Yoga: A Case Study of Prekṣādhyāna and the Terāpanth.’ Dissertation submitted to the Collaborative Program in South Asian Studies and Environmental Studies at the University of Toronto.

Latour, Bruno. 1993 [1991]. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lerner, Eric. 1977. Journey of Insight Meditation: A Personal Experience of the Buddha’s Way. New York: Schocken Books.

Lopez, Donald. 2008. Buddhism and Science: A Guidebook for the Perplexed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

—2012. The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Madan, T. N. 2010. ‘Indian Secularism: A Religion-Secular Ideal.’ In Cady and Hurd: 181-96.

Mahapragya, Acharya Shri. 2011. Techniques of Prekshadhyan. Ladnun: Jain Vishwa Bharati.

Melnikova, Nora. 2014. ‘The Modern School of Vipassana—a Buddhist Tradition?’ Brno, Czechia: Doctoral Dissertation submitted to the Department for the Study of Religions at Masaryk University.

Muninda Thera, U. 1981. Vipassanā-Insight Meditation. Ed. U Chit Tin, trans. U Han Htay and U Thein Han. Rangoon: Department of Religious Affairs.

Nandy, Ashis. 1990. ‘The Politics of Secularism and the Recovery of Religious Tolerance.’ In Veena Das (ed.), Mirrors of Violence: Communities, Riots and Survivors in South Asia: 69-93. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Pranke, Patrick. 2010. ‘On Saints and Wizards: Ideals of Human Perfection and Power in Contemporary Burmese Buddhism.’ Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 33 (1-2): 453-88.

Qvarnström, Olle, and Jason Birch. 2012. ‘Universalist and Missionary Jainism: Jain Yoga of the Terāpanthī Tradition.’ In David Gordon White (ed.), Yoga in Practice: 365–82. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Schmithausen, Lambert. 1976. ‘On the Problem of the Relation of Spiritual Practice and Philosophical Theory in Buddhism.’ In Germany: Federal Republic Cultural Department, German Scholars on India: Contributions to Indian Studies: 235–50. Mumbai: Nachiketa Publications.

—1981. ‘On Some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of “Liberating Insight” and “Enlightenment” in Early Buddhism.’ In Klaus Bruhn and Albrecht Wezler (eds.), Studien zum Jainismus und Buddhismus: Gedenkschrift für Ludwig Alsdorf: 199–250. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner.

Sharf, Robert H. 2015. ‘Is Mindfulness Buddhist? (and Why it Matters).’ Transcultural Psychiatry 52 (4): 470–84.

Stuart, Daniel M. 2013. Thinking about Cessation: The Pṛṣṭhapālasūtra of the Dīrghāgama in Context. Wiener Studien zur Tibetologie und Buddhismuskunde. Vienna: Arbeitskreis für Tibetische und Buddhistische Studien, University of Vienna.

—2015. A Less Traveled Path: Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra Chapter 2, Critically Edited with a Study on its Structure and Significance for the Development of Buddhist Meditation. Vienna and Beijing: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press—China Tibetology Publishing House.

Tandon, S. N. 1995. A Re-Appraisal of Patanjali’s Yoga-Sūtras, in the Light of the Buddha’s Teaching. Igatpuri: Vipassana Research Institute.

—2003. Pātaṃjala Yogasūtra (Buddhavāṇī ke pariprekṣya meṃ). Igatpurī: Vipaśyanā Viśodhan Vinyās.

Tulsī, Ācārya. 1998 [1970 (1960)]. Manonuśāsanam. Curū (Rājasthān): Ādarś Sāhitya Saṅgh.

van der Veer, Peter. 2006. ‘The Secularity of the State.’ In Masaaki Kimura and Akio Tanabe (eds.), The State in India, Past and Present: 257-69. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Vetter, Tilmann. 1988. The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Wynne, Alexander. 2007. The Origin of Buddhist Meditation. New York: Routledge.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Equinox Publishing Ltd - 415 The Workstation 15 Paternoster Row, Sheffield, S1 2BX United Kingdom
Telephone: +44 (0)114 221-0285 - Email:

Privacy Policy