This product is directly related to Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka. Learn More.
Vipassana, which means to see things as they
really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation.
More information about Vipassana as taught by S.N. Goenka is available
The tag Vipassana identifies products that are directly related to this
tradition and differentiates them from other Theravada resources
available on our site. While the main emphasis in Vipassana meditation
as taught by S.N. Goenka is on actual practice, this product may provide
inspiration and guidance to a Vipassana meditator.
We also carry titles from the Theravada tradition, as we feel that by exploring the wider world of the Theravada texts, which include the Buddha’s discourses, commentaries, and scholarly articles and treatises, meditators have an opportunity to deepen their understanding of the Dhamma and thereby enrich their meditation practice. This kind of intellectual exploration also helps a meditator to gain an understanding of the evolution and historical context of their meditation tradition. This understanding in turn deepens their practice and understanding of the Dhamma.x
Author: Jenny Phillips
Product Type: Softcover Book
Meditation Behind Bars
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"Letters from the Dhamma Brothers has won the PASS award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD) and it was a Finalist, for the Book of the Year Award from Foreword Magazine
When the first ten-day Vipassana meditation course came to a close at Alabama's Donaldson Prison in 2002, twenty men were faced with the possibility of a new chapter in their lives. Many have life sentences and most have been deeply acculturated to the life of violence and abuse that is all too common in prisons. In letters written during a four-year period after this course, 15 inmate-meditators offer direct and intimate access to their thoughts, struggles, dreams and triumphs after taking part in this intensive, voluntary program. Corrections officers, wardens, judges and others ask: "Can this program really reform such hardened inmates? Will the changes last?" These letters will help you decide for yourself if their transformations are real or not.
The Dhamma Brothers, a documentary film about the program at Donaldson, was released in April 2008 and shown at numerous theaters and film festivals in the United States. The film aired on many public television stations in the U.S. in 2010. You can hear Oprah Winfrey talk with author Jenny Phillips and two inmate-meditators, and read from this book on the web at Oprah.com, Soul Series.
Also available as a multimedia eBook for the iPad and as a Collector's Edition DVD .
It seems we don't know how to rehabilitate offenders other than try stiffer punishment. About 1 in 100 adults in the US is in jail or prison. New approaches are needed. Vipassana meditation courses may be one possibility. This book reflects that potential.
The book records the dramatic changes that prisoners experience as they attempt to purify their minds of such impurities as hatred, fear, greed, anger, etc., that have landed them in prison. This book makes it clear that the impurities they carry deep within cause suffering both to themselves and to those around them; and whatever relief they get using the meditation helps both them and others.
A documentary film of the meditation courses examined in this book, The Dhamma Brothers, has been released in select theaters across the US and shown on some public television stations. On Sunday, May 6, 2012 it was shown on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The film captures in action what this book reflects on paper.
The question remains: How effective is this program for the convicts over time? That's difficult to say since each individual must try to integrate his/her insights into an environment that may be dysfunctional. But there are indications of overall success.
Vipassana courses have been held in prisons outside the US since 1975, starting in India. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has recognized Vipassana meditation as a technique to reform criminals and has introduced it in all Central Jails, particularly Tihar Prison, New Delhi. A documentary film of a course for 1,000 inmates at Tihar Prison, "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana," won a top award at the 1998 San Francisco International Film Festival.
The time has come to consider that meditation has promise for rehabilitation of prisoners, and this book reflects that potential.
P.S. DVDs of Doing Time, Doing Vipassana and another Vipassana prison film set in a Seattle jail, Changing from Inside, are available at Pariyatti in both English and Spanish, as is the Collector's Edition DVD of The Dhamma Brothers.
She hangs with convicted thieves, murderers and rapists because she believes that a 10-day, 100-hour course in Vipassana meditation will lead them not only to manage stress and anger, but teach them that "experiencing and observing one's misery with constancy and equanimity, looking at it squarely with patience and fortitude - is the path to experiential understanding and the liberation from suffering ..."
Sounds far-fetched, I know. Seems to work, though. Vipassana, which means "seeing things as they actually are," is a Buddha-inspired system of meditation (the way of the Buddha is known as the Dhamma).
As she writes, "This technique involves the observation of ordinary, actual sensations throughout the body, moment by moment, and understanding their impermanent nature. ... Incrementally, one overcomes deeply conditioned habitual reactions and emerges with a profound inner freedom and equanimity."
In 1999, she learned that several hundred prisoners in the Donaldson prison had become aware of the Houses of Healing program, and were meditating regularly. She decided to visit and interview some of the men - the program, remarkably, had been initiated not by professionals like herself, but by a prisoner who had found a book about it in the prison library.
The interviews persuaded her that the introduction of a Vipassana meditation program, which she had learned of through a documentary film charting its success in Tihar Jail, India's largest prison, "could provide the structure and approach to further address personal suffering."
There was some negotiation with the prison administration, but in January, 2002, Donaldson Correctional Facility became the first state prison in North America to hold a Vipassana course (it had been used in county jails before - studies there showed a significant reduction in recidivism).
That is how she came to meet and know men such as Mr. Kennedy, Grady Bankhead (sentenced to life for his part in a murder), Michael Carpenter (homicide, life without parole), Wayne Finch (homicide), Edward Johnson (aiding and abetting a triple homicide) and about 10 others featured in her book.
The men, most of them African American, sat for hours in the prison gym, closing their eyes, following their breathing, listening to their bodies. They did it for 10 hours a day, under the guidance of three of her colleagues.
When they "graduated," the prison warden attended the ceremonies. He saw hardened criminals weep as they told their stories. He urged those who had taken the course to become agents of change in the prison. Ms. Phillips and her colleagues would soon start receiving letters - many of them published in her book - from the men who took the program, men whose view of themselves and their capacity for change had been radically transformed.
Letters from the Dhamma Brothers, from Pariyatti Press, gives us direct access to their thoughts, struggles, dreams, and triumphs, in their own words, through letters they sent to those who introduced the Vipassana course into the prison. With the second course in May, 2002, seventeen more inmates joined the voluntary and intentional fraternity of Dhamma brotherhood. This course was documented on video and is the subject of a film released in 2007, called The Dhamma Brothers.
Each man has his own story of finding the courage to keep sitting, of resisting the lure of falling in with the old habits and ways of prison life, of reconciling his past actions with the effects on himself, his family, friends and the victims of his crimes. And all together experience a bond that extends beyond the intensity of the ten-day course. The Dhamma brotherhood survives even when the Vipassana program itself is cancelled and some of the men find it too difficult to keep the practice going.
When the prison once again invites the Vipassana Prison Trust to conduct a three-day course for the old-student Dhamma brothers, in January, 2006, there is a joyful homecoming and a revival of Dhamma practice and enthusiasm.
The big question for all corrections officers, wardens, judges and other officials who have observed these Vipassana courses in prisons and jails is: Is it real? Will the changes seen in the beginning last? Can a meditation program like Vipassana really reform these hardened inmates? Scientific studies so far have shown promising results in the short run but how deep are the changes really?
Eight years and counting, these letters and the experiences of these inmates will give you the chance to decide for yourself whether it is real.
Teens in trouble or at risk would certainly find this book illuminating. So, too, would those trying to fathom how to lead a sane and peaceful life in a world that can be hard to comprehend. This book offers a chance to develop an understanding of how we can share a commonality with something as simple and as vital as a breath.