History of Vipassana meditation in Ontario

Vipassana Meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka, was introduced in Canada in 1979 by students who had learned from him this non-sectarian technique of meditation in India during the 1970s. Goenkaji spent the first ten years, from 1969 to 1979, teaching hundreds of courses in India and oversaw the establishment of 3 meditation centres during that period. Despite invitations to teach in the West, Goenkaji felt it was important to have the Dhamma established in the land where it originated and taught Vipassana courses in all parts of India during that period.

The first teaching invitation he accepted outside of India in the summer of 1979 was in France and the second was in Canada where he taught a 10-day course in Montreal at a rented school site with 186 students in attendance. Two more 10-day courses followed in the Montreal area: one in 1980 to 122 students and the last course in 1982 to 134 students. These three 10-day courses resulted in Vipassana Meditation becoming firmly established in Canada. After the introduction of courses in Eastern Canada, dedicated meditators formed a national charitable organization called the Fondation Vipassana Foundation and began to offer Vipassana courses at rented sites throughout the country including the first 10-day course in Ontario in 1980.

The organization of the early courses by a handful of meditators was a huge undertaking. There were many factors that had to be considered during the initial planning stages, such as finding a suitable site to rent, arranging for an assistant teacher to be brought in for the course, ensuring there was an adequate number of attending students, and putting financing in place to cover initial deposits, and the ongoing expenses to support the running of each course.
In August 1997, a 56-acre property was purchased in British Columbia just above the Coldwater River near Merritt and after several years of construction in different phases, the centre opened in 2002. The Vipassana Meditation Centre of BC is owned and operated by the Fondation Vipassana Foundation.

In September 1999, 34 acres of land along with buildings suitable for a retreat centre were purchased on the side of a small mountain near Sutton, in southern Quebec. The Eastern Canada Vipassana Foundation was formed to run bilingual courses at the Quebec Vipassana Meditation Centre and to support courses at rented sites in various provinces in Eastern Canada. The centre was generously supported by meditators from Ontario.

The first 10-day Vipassana course in Ontario, led by a Vipassana teacher using audio instructions from Mr. Goenka, was held in 1980 at a rented site near Bracebridge in the Muskokas. Periodically throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, various rented facilities in southern Ontario were used to hold 10-day courses conducted by assistant teachers.

In the mid-nineties, a small group of students from southern Ontario formed a steering committee in order to meet the need and to support the delivery of several 10-day Vipassana courses a year in Ontario. Finally in 1997, a suitable site was found near Minden, in the Haliburton area, that was available on a regular basis to accommodate several annual courses. As the development of the practice of Vipassana grew in Ontario and even after the acquisition of a permanent bilingual centre in Quebec, it was realized that one centre, with long applicant waiting lists for courses, could not adequately serve all of Eastern Canada.

In 2001, the Ontario steering committee evolved into the legal structure now known as the Ontario Vipassana Foundation. The Foundation is a registered, non-profit, charitable organization whose sole purpose is to provide Vipassana courses to the public.

Since its inception, the Foundation was actively searching for a suitable site on which to establish a permanent Vipassana centre to serve Ontario. After Goenkaji’s successful tour of Ontario in the summer 2002, a beautiful rural property was found near the Barrie – Alliston – Cookstown area and the Foundation’s purchase offer was conditionally accepted by the vendors in the fall.

The first historic 10-day Vipassana course was held at the new centre from October 1 to 12, 2003 with the participation of only old students. Three more 10-day courses, open to the public, were held that year. The newly opened centre could accommodate 15 female meditators in the women’s residence and 12 men in two rooms in the dining hall, along with 4 female servers and 4 male servers.

Since the acquisition of this peaceful 141 acre wooded property in the spring of 2003, improvements have been continuing steadily due to strong support from the Vipassana community. Located in an agricultural area with gently rolling terrain in the heart of southern Ontario, the site is well suited for the eventual development of a large meditation centre.

The centre has been given the Pali name Dhamma Torana which means Auspicious Gateway of Dhamma (Buddha’s Teaching).

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[email protected]

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