Insight Transformed

Coming to Terms with Mindfulness in South Asian and Global Frames


  • Daniel M. Stuart University of South Carolina



Buddhism, S. N. Goenka, Hinduism, insight meditation, Jainism, mindfulness, postcolonial India, U Ba Khin, yoga, vipassanā


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 (vipassana), 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'.

Author Biography

Daniel M. Stuart, University of South Carolina

Daniel M. Stuart is an assistant professor of South Asian and Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of South Carolina at Columbia. He specializes in the study of South Asian languages and literatures, and in the history of contemplative traditions in premodern and modern South Asia.


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How to Cite

Stuart, D. M. (2018). Insight Transformed: Coming to Terms with Mindfulness in South Asian and Global Frames. Religions of South Asia, 11(2-3), 158–181.