A form of meditation is being successfully used to improve the behaviour and well-being of prison inmates, says a study. The technique, known as Vipassana Meditation, has been offered in several prisons in India, the US and New Zealand. And it has also been tried on an experimental basis in Lancaster prison in the UK. Dr Kishore Chandiramani, a lecturer in psychiatry based at the Queen Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital in Birmingham, quizzed prison staff on whether the technique had proved useful.
The prisoners themselves readily accepted the technique, said Dr Chandiramani, and the cost of running training courses was minimal. In addition to prisoners, several hundred police officers and prison staff voluntarily learned the technique for their personal development.
He found it helped improve inmates’ discipline and their willingness to co-operate with prison authorities. His work also showed that inmates who studied the technique were less prone to depression, feelings of hostility and helplessness and a sense of hopelessness. They were also less likely to smoke.
Message from the Teacher before start of their Vipassana course in Indian Jail, 1994
You have all assembled here to liberate yourselves, free yourselves from all bondages, all miseries. To be imprisoned in prison like this is a great agony. And to be liberated from prison is very fortunate. But besides the confinement within these four walls, there is a greater prison in which all of us suffer so much. This is the prison of our own negativities, our own mental defilements, which keep overpowering us.
We have become the slaves of our own anger, hatred, ill will, animosity; slaves of our defilements of craving, clinging, greed, passion, attachment, ego. Any defilement that arises in our minds overpowers us—makes us its prisoner so quickly! We start suffering immediately. This suffering is not limited to the area inside these prison walls. People inside this jail or outside this jail are all prisoners of their own habit patterns. They keep generating one negativity or the other, and they keep on suffering.
If we are relieved of these negativities, we start enjoying the true happiness of liberation. We start enjoying real peace, real harmony. When our minds are freed from impurities, the entire habit pattern of our life changes. A pure mind is naturally full of love and compassion, infinite love and compassion; full of joy, sympathetic joy; and full of equanimity, perfect equilibrium of mind. This is real happiness, real peace, real harmony.
The bondage of mental defilements is a universal bondage. And the happiness of liberation from these negativities is also universal. Whether one is a Hindu or Muslim, Jain or Buddhist, Christian or Jew, Sikh or Parsi—it makes no difference. Anyone who is imprisoned in the bondage of defilements is bound to suffer. And anyone who comes out of this bondage starts to enjoy peace and harmony.
The first day of the new year has brought you this wonderful Vipassana practice of ancient India, discovered by the Enlightened Ones. Vipassana is so scientific, result-oriented, non-sectarian. It opens for you the door to liberation, to inner peace and harmony.
May all of you who participate in this camp work diligently, patiently and persistently, to come out of the prison of impurities in the mind, from all your miseries. May Vipassana bring you full liberation from suffering. May you enjoy real peace, real harmony. May a new era start in your life.
What prisoners said after the course:
“Whatever seed one sows today, the future will bear the same kind of fruits. So I believe that no judge has the power to decide what will happen to me in the future despite all his authority, only my own good and bad doings will.” ~ 33 yr old murder convict Brij Kishore with life sentence
“I had lost my mental equilibrium and that was the peak of negativity and trauma for me. But after Buddha’s method of Vipassana came into my life in Tihar, I realised that I’m on a path of healing and self-discovery, which has shown to me the highest feelings of positivity too. All this is not a sudden change but comes from a process that continues as we practice more.” ~ Sanjeev Kumar 39yrs old
“No matter how much they wanted to provoke me or pick up a fight, I kept giving them mangal maitri (love) and slowly, we became friends,” ~ Mahavir is a murder convict facing life penalty
“I realised that that was the experience I was looking for all my life “in the outside world”. In that sense, I feel lucky to have made it because, otherwise, I wouldn’t have known this path at all. This is because earlier all spirituality seemed like a big fraud to me. I used to curse my fate earlier, but now I am healthy, happy and have even put on weight. I give lots of maitri (love) to my wife for leading me to this path, even though she is no more.” – “I owe it to her,” he said softly, his voice choked. ~ Chiranjeevi Singh, is still under trial and is spending his days in jail for allegedly causing death of his wife.
“I was anguished at the way my life had shaped. But now, I am not sad because I discovered Vipassana here. I was carrying deep sorrows like the pain of the loss of my mother that I couldn’t deal with even years after her death. But after coming to jail and participating in Vipassana, I got rid of that major depression, among other things. The moment I get out, which should be soon, I will teach my little grandchildren do the Vipassana course,” ~ 60-year-old Sumit Sen