Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Long Post


Akanksha Kela

PIM 60

A Capstone Paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements

for a Master of International and Intercultural Management at

The School for International Training, Brattleboro, Vermont

May 19, 2003

Advisor: Professor James Breeden

The author hereby grants to the School for International Training the permission to reproduce either electronically or in print format this document in whole or in part to the students, alumni, staff, and faculty of the World Learning Community.

© Akanksha Kela, 2003. All rights reserved.


In the paper that follows, I have investigated how Vipassana meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka facilitates prison reform and the reintegration of prisoners into the society.

Vipassana, a meditation technique rediscovered by Gautama, the Buddha is a technique of self-realization through self- observation: an art of living which promotes conscious lifestyle changes, enhances concentration of mind and facilitates deeper psychological introspection to bring about lasting behavioral changes. It is being used in prisons in India, United States and other countries as a tool for reform, with the ultimate aim of reducing recidivism. In India, the police and jail administration also learn Vipassana to improve the prison environment.

The paper includes a literature review with applicable readings and results from previous studies carried out on police and prisoners. Interviews with 28 subjects consisting of police and jail staff, current inmates in the prison, released prisoners as well as community members is a part of the research too.

The results from the data analyzed shows that Vipassana plays an important role in reforming the prison environment and bringing inner change within prisoners. It brings a fundamental change in the police making them more morally responsible towards their duty. It gives the prisoners the strength of mind to self-correct themselves and reduces their feelings of hatred, revenge. Released prisoners benefit the most from this technique as they develop the ability to live a responsible and moral life in the society with the help of Vipassana


Crime is essentially a social problem which disrupts the harmony and peace of a society. Until now, the most common way of dealing with criminals has been to imprison them, i.e., confine them within the boundaries of a prison, subject them to harsh conditions, with the goal of instilling a fear of the prison so that once they are released, they do not dare to commit another criminal act which will bring them back to the prison.

But this philosophy that punishment and oppression is the best way of handling the prisoners has worked counter to the goals of imprisonment: that of reducing recidivism (relapse into criminal behavior). On the contrary, the criminals were repeatedly returning to the prison, many times having committed worse crimes than the ones before. Their exposure to a high density of hard-core offenders, separation from their family, alienation from the society added to their stress, fear and frustrations, making their mind more imbalanced than before. It was making worse and more ferocious criminals of them and hardening them so much that they were unable to adjust back into the society and lead a constructive life.

Realizing that this method of punishment was proving unsuccessful, various reform measures have been adopted to rehabilitate prisoners and equip them with the inner ability to transform themselves. Vipassana meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka is being used as a prison reform measure with the ultimate objective of reducing recidivism, and reintegration of prisoners back into the society once they are released.

‘Vipassana’ which means ‘insight’ or ‘to see things as they really are’ in Pali, is the essence of the Buddha’s teachings (Hart, 1987). It is a straightforward way to achieve peace of mind and to live a happy, useful life. It equips one with the inner strength to face the vicissitudes of life in a calm, balanced manner, and gain mastery over one’s mind. It is a practical experiential way of understanding the mind-matter phenomenon and purifying one’s mind of underlying negativities.

I have been familiar with the technique of Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka since my childhood. I belong to a family where my parents as well as other family members follow this meditation practice. It is the foundation of the principles by which they lead their life, and the philosophy by which they have brought up their children. It has been an integral aspect of my life since a young age. I participated in my first Vipassana meditation course when I was 21 years old, right after I returned from my first year of experience living in a foreign country and culture. Thereafter, I have sat through two more courses, and attended a few short courses.

SIT gave me the wonderful opportunity to explore this issue in greater detail through the Social Change class I took in the Spring I semester. Although theorization and intellectualization of Vipasanna is quite contrary to its fundamental aspect of being experiential and understanding it only through personal experience, it was my first attempt to relate it to an academic setting. As a part of the course, I chose to present Vipassana meditation as a tool for Social Change, and gave an account of the popularity and benefits it had brought to various aspects of the society viz., de-addiction, mental health, and also prison reform, with more and more prisons all over the world introducing it in their system.

The first Vipassana course in a prison took place in Jaipur, India, in 1975. However, it was only after almost 20 years that Vipassana established itself as a tool for social and prison reform in the 1990s. It was Kiran Bedi, the then Inspector General of Prisons of Tihar Jail, the highest security prison in the country and the largest in Asia, who introduced Vipassana as one of the reform techniques of Tihar jail. The tremendous impact and change that it brought about in the prisoners was the turning point and very soon more and more prisons began organizing these meditation courses for the prisoners. Today, the meditation practice is not just confined to India but its non-sectarian and universal application is being recognized in prison facilities in many other parts of the world, especially North America, where Vipassana has had the same positive effects on the prison inmates.

Vipassana meditation was also introduced as a training technique for the police personnel and jail staff by Kiran Bedi, who realized that the rehabilitation of the prisoners cannot take place by reforming prisoners alone, but that the people who deal with them i.e., the jail staff and police personnel, also needed to be reformed.


Previous studies carried out to assess the effect of Vipassana on prisoners, observations by prison staff, as well as the personal accounts of prisoners have all affirmed that Vipassana has a positive impact on the prisoners.

Drawing from my experience, information gathered, and literature reviewed, my main interest is to explore how Vipassana meditation has helped in prison reform. My research question is:

How does the practice of Vipassana meditation, as taught by S.N.Goenka facilitate prison reform and the reintegration of prisoners back into society?

Initially, at the time of drafting the proposal, my intention was to research the effect of Vipassana on the reintegration of prisoners back in the society. I intended to track released prisoners who had done Vipassana and then conduct my research on the information they provided. However, when I tried to find out contacts of released prisoners both in India and North America, I almost reached a dead-end. In North America, I faced a lot of legal restrictions due to which I could not get any information. In India, I learnt that the Vipassana Centers had not kept track of released meditators, and also the prisons did not know how to contact them. Many of the prisoners had left behind false addresses with the authorities. With the stigma attached to being a prisoner, the released inmates did not wish to be associated in any way with their prison life.

In my quest to collect information I spoke to a number of Vipassana meditation teachers, jail administrators and police personnel. Talking to them I learnt that reforming the prisoner is just one aspect of prison reform, and unless and until reform measures are employed on the entire gamut of people involved including police, jail staff, and prisoners, the society will produce more criminals and injustice will still prevail. In order to get a holistic view on how Vipassana affects all aspects of reforms: instilling right values in the police, reforming prisoners so that they do not repeat their crimes or become more hardened criminals due to the prison environment, as well as reintegration of prisoners in the society, I decided to talk to the entire chain of people including police personnel, jail administrators, inmates in the prison, released inmates as well as people in the community.

Therefore, in this study, by prison reform, I mean reforming not just prisoners, but also the prison system that increases the misery of the prisoners. I am specifically referring to reform of the prison environment created by the attitudes and behaviors of the police personnel as well as the jail staff that are in contact with the prisoners.

The sub questions I will explore are:

  • What is Vipassana Meditation?
  • What are the effects of Vipassana meditation on police personnel, jail staff and prisoners?
  • How does Vipassana Meditation bring about attitudinal and behavioral changes in jail and police personnel as well as prisoners?
  • Does the practice of Vipassana meditation help the criminals in their reintegration back into the society? If yes, in what way?


Initially, I had proposed to use literature review, a questionnaire and some interviews to conduct the research. I contacted the Vipassana meditation centers and also the prison authorities to locate my subjects. From them I learnt that many of the subjects were not educated, hence, will not be able to respond to a written questionnaire. Also, I had to reach out to them personally, as there was no guarantee that even if I sent out a questionnaire to them I would receive any responses. I realized that talking to them at a personal level would give better insight and add value to the data collection. Therefore I decided to conduct interviews instead of sending out a questionnaire. I have used Literature review and interviews as my main research methods.

I interviewed police and jail staff, current inmates in the prison, released prisoners as well as community members as part of my research. All the interviews and data were collected in India. With the help of the Vipassana meditation centers, I got information about the jail courses and contacted the jail authorities. I visited Tihar Jail in New Delhi, and the Nagpur jail where I interviewed both the prisoners and also the jail staff. The jail administration was very cooperative and made special arrangements so that I could visit the jail and meet the inmates. Initially, the prisoners were a bit apprehensive about the interviews, and did not wish to divulge much personal information. Even though they were assured that the interviews were just for research purpose and related specifically to Vipassana, they remained reserved. I had to reframe the questions in different ways to get information from them. The released prisoners, on the other hand were very happy to share their Vipassana experiences and spoke very openly. Even the police staff did not have any reservations or inhibitions about talking about Vipassana and their professional and personal lives.

In all, I spoke to 28 people: 7 police and jail personnel, 15 prisoners, 4 released prisoners and 2 community members who knew the released prisoners. All of them, except the 2 community members have participated in Vipassana courses taught under the guidance of S.N. Goenka. Although some questions addressed to each group were unique for that particular group, there was a general set of common questions. These included if and how Vipassana meditation has helped them, what, if anything, have they learnt from Vipassana, what changes, if any, has it brought about in themselves and the environment, how has the practice of Vipassana meditation helped their job or situation. The findings and analysis pertaining to each group have been presented separately in the Findings and Analysis section of the paper.

While analyzing the contents of the interviews, I tried to look for similar expressions, which I clustered together. Since they were practicing the same meditation practice and came from similar background (police, prison, etc.) I looked for similarities and differences in their responses. In many instances I have mentioned the exact phrases and words used by the interviewees to portray their exact feelings and to maintain the sanctity of the message they were conveying. I have also related these findings to the literature reviewed.


Through the literature review, I am exploring the exact nature of Vipassana meditation, how it is related to prison reform, and what have been the results of the previous studies on the effects of Vipassana on prisoners, police personnel and jail staff.

Hart, W., 1987. The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation, As Taught by S.N. Goenka.

Igatpuri: Vipassana Research Institute.

To explain the Vipassana Meditation practice in the section ‘What is Vipassana’ that follows, I have primarily referred to the book “The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka”, by William Hart. Since S.N. Goenka has not written a book himself, this book by Hart is considered to be the most accurate and comprehensive account of what is taught in a ten day Vipassana course. It is very popular and most well accepted by the English speaking audience as the best explanation of the meditation technique, its philosophy and purpose. Every chapter in the book is followed by answers to questions posed by students to S.N. Goenka regarding the technique and its relevance. The book includes short stories, and parables from the life of Buddha himself that exemplify the practicality of Vipassana meditation.

I have not referred to many other materials to explain Vipassana meditation technique because I found that there were no contradictions in any other sources that elaborated on this technique as taught by S.N. Goenka. In fact, all other sources also had references to Hart’s book to clearly explain Vipassana. The contents of the book have been elaborated in the section ‘What Vipassana is’.

Goenka, S.N. 1995. The Discourse Summaries. Igatpuri: Vipassana Research Institute

In a ten day Vipassana meditation course taught under the guidance of S.N. Goenka, a one and half hour discourse or lecture is given at the end of each day by S.N. Goenka. “The Discourse Summaries” is a condensed version of the eleven talks. These ‘Dhamma’ talks as they are referred to (Dhamma means the ‘law’ that Buddha discovered) put into perspective the meditation instructions that the meditators follow during the day and also clarify the finer points of the technique. During the ten days of the course, most of the time is spent in practicing the meditation technique as it is only by constant practice that the participants can benefit from Vipassana and free their mind of tensions and prejudices, and follow the path to liberation. Therefore these talks are very important as they provide a theoretical background to the practical implementation of the technique. The main purpose of these discourses, as S.N. Goenka explains, is to help meditators understand what to do and why, so that they can work in the guided way and achieve proper results. In short, these discourses are the essence of what Buddha discovered and taught and every lecture by S.N.Goenka provides a theoretical foundation to support the practical experiences of the meditators. This book provides inspiration and encouragement to the meditators and also presents an overview of the Vipassana technique to novices. However, it is not a do-it yourself guide to learn the mediation technique which must only be done in an organized ten day retreat. It may inspire readers to undertake a ten-day course themselves and learn the technique.

Bedi, Kiran. 1998. Its Always Possible: Transforming One of the Largest Prisons in the World. New Delhi: Sterling.

“Its Always Possible” by Kiran Bedi is the description of how one of the largest prisons in the world, Tihar jail, in New Delhi was transformed. The author, Kiran Bedi herself was the pioneer in bringing about the change when she was appointed the Inspector General of Tihar Prisons. The book is her personal account of the situation in the jail and the efforts taken to improve the environment. Bedi gives a first hand account of the ground realities in the prison as they existed initially: lack of facilities, indifference of the jail staff, rampant corruption at all levels. In her account of the appalling condition at Tihar, she describes how the environment was so horrible, the manner in which the police personnel and jail staff was continuing to exploit the inmates, how all the wrong dealings were still a part of the jail, with the more experienced criminals providing a training ground for the amateur ones. It was here, that Vipassana was introduced and has today established itself as an integral part of the jail reform program. She talks about how, despite introducing better facilities, efforts to ‘humanize’ the jail environment were unsuccessful until Vipassana meditation was introduced. It brought about a profound change in the attitude of the jail staff and also the inmates. Her experience at Tihar establishes that along with improving conditions of the external environment, a concerted effort in bringing about inner individual change is important to reform the prison environment.

Kumar, T. 1995. Freedom Behind Bars. New Delhi: Saurabh Publishers.

Tarsem Kumar was one of the Superintendents of Tihar Jail when Kiran Bedi was appointed the Inspector General of Tihar Jail. This book is a personal account of how Vipassana meditation was introduced and established at Tihar. Along with details of research carried out by the author to determine the impact of Vipassana on the behavior and conduct of inmates, it also includes case studies and testimonies by prisoners. Kumar also writes about his personal experiences and how Vipassana has impacted his life both professionally and personally.

Karuna Films. 1997. Video. “Doing Time, Doing Vipassana.” Karuna Films, Ltd.

This is an award winning documentary film made by two Israeli film makers on the inmates of Tihar Jail and tells the story of Vipassana in Tihar. It has interviews with Kiran Bedi who talks about her motivation and purpose behind introducing reforms, especially Vipassana at Tihar. Testimonies by both Indian as well as foreign inmates of Tihar are evidence that Vipassana plays a reformative role in the life of prisoners. Many prison authorities around the world have been inspired by this documentary and have introduced Vipassana for their inmates too.

Bedi, Kiran and Agarwal, Rakesh Kumar.2001. “Transforming Values through Vipassana for Principle-Centered Living: Evidence from Delhi Police Personnel.” Journal of Power and Ethics, v2 i2 p103. (April).

This paper by Bedi and Agarwal, illustrates how the civil services and society can benefit by developing universal values through the practice of Vipassana meditation. It considers transformational leadership and principle centered living as the basis by which the agents of state, especially the police should perform their duty. Feedback from police officers who have participated in Vipassana training has been analyzed and the results show that Vipassana helps develop a strong ethical and moral foundation.

5. What is Vipassana

For the purpose of the research conducted and this paper, Vipassana meditation specifically refers to the meditation technique taught by S.N.Goenka, in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin. It is a technique of self-realization through self- observation: an art of living which promotes conscious lifestyle changes, enhances concentration of mind and facilitates deeper psychological introspection to bring about lasting behavioral changes.

Vipassana was rediscovered by Gautama, the Buddha, about 2500 years ago in India. Although this technique became very popular and was practiced by many at the time of the Buddha, its purity got lost in India after the Buddha’s death. It was only in Myanmar (formerly called Burma) that Vipassana meditation was preserved in its true form and was passed on traditionally from teacher to student over the years. Sayagyi U Ba Khin was one of the last teachers from whom S.N. Goenka learnt this technique and brought it back to India. Today there are more than 90 Vipassana meditation centers all over the world.

‘What Buddhism is’, is a series of lectures given by Sayagyi U Ba Khin outlining the salient aspects of Vipassana, the Buddha’s teachings. ‘The Art of Living’ written by William Hart is considered the closest explanation of what the Buddha really discovered and taught: Vipassana meditation. Since I am referring specifically to Vipassana Meditation taught by S.N. Goenka in the tradition of U Ba Khin, I have mainly referred to these two books, along with other articles, brochures and videotapes to illustrate Vipassana.

Sayagyi U Ba Khin, in “What Buddhism Is” emphasizes that the teaching of the Buddha is a system of philosophy rooted in a code of morality, mental and physical (Khin, 1973). His teaching is also called ‘Dhamma’ which means ‘law’ as it is the ‘law of nature’ that the Buddha, through his own efforts and perseverance discovered through self-introspection (Hart, 1987, p.14). It is a law that is applicable to all, and it is for every person to experience and rediscover the law or reality for him/herself by the practice of Vipassana. For this reason, Hart clarifies that Vipassana is non-sectarian and is not ‘Buddhism’ as Buddha did not profess any religion or dogmatic beliefs.

The crux of the Buddha’s teachings lies in the Four Noble Truths. They refer to the Truths that ennoble a person who realizes them (Indasara, 1980, 1).

Khin explains the Four Noble Truths as:

(i) Dukkha Sacca : Truth of Suffering

(ii) Samudaya Sacca : Truth of Origin of Suffering

(iii) Nirodha Sacca : Truth of Extinction of Suffering

(iv) Magga Sacca : Truth of Path leading to the Extinction of Suffering.

The First Noble Truth is that life is a struggle and suffering (Dukkha in Pali). Dukkha or suffering not only refers to the suffering of sickness, old age, death etc., but it is also the suffering one experiences by developing attachments. As explained by Hart,

[At a very deep level suffering is the inordinate attachment that each one of us has developed towards this body and this mind, with its cognitions, perceptions, sensations and reactions. People cling strongly to their identity- their mental and physical being, when actually there are only evolving processes. This clinging to an unreal idea of oneself, to something that in fact is constantly changing, is suffering.](1987, 46).

The Second Noble Truth is that the origin of Dukkha is ‘tanha’ (Khin, 1973). Tanha literally means ‘thirst’ or the reaction of mind when it interacts with matter, with either craving or aversion; Craving or longing for what is not, which immediately results in aversion or dissatisfaction with what is (Hart, 1987, 38).

The Third Noble Truth states that the cause or the origin of suffering can be terminated, and the path to terminating it is the Fourth Noble Truth, the Path or practical steps one must follow which will lead to the extinction of suffering. This Path is the Noble Eight Fold Path that the Buddha taught. It is divided into three main stages:

  • Sila, or Precept: Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood
  • Samadhi, or Equanimity of Mind: Right Exertion, Right Attentiveness, Right Concentration
  • Panna, or Wisdom-Insight: Right Aspiration, Right Understanding (Khin, 1973,25)

It is this development of Wisdom or Insight (Vipassana) into one’s own nature that leads to the elimination of the origin of suffering. Vipassana meditation thus leads to ultimate truth realization. One experiences this truth within oneself, through self-introspection in order to finally attain ‘Nirvana’, the Truth of Freedom from Suffering. (Hart, 1987, 16).

The path, however, must be followed, and the teachings practiced continually and diligently, in order to benefit from these; mere intellectual understanding or having faith in the teachings will not free anyone from the suffering. (Hart, 1987, 17).

To learn the technique of Vipassana meditation, it is necessary to take a ten-day residential course under a qualified teacher. Hill of Dhamma (1996) the introductory videotape to Vipassana explains that for the duration of the course, meditators maintain complete silence, and live an introverted life. They remain within the boundaries of the Vipassana Center, have no contact with the outside world, and refrain from reading and writing.

Sayagyi S.N.Goenka explains the steps in Vipassana in these words (Sayagyi Goenka, 2000)-

[There are three steps to the training which is given in a Vipassana course. First, one must abstain from any action, physical or vocal, which disturbs the peace and harmony of others. One cannot work to liberate oneself from defilements in the mind while at the same time continuing to perform deeds of body and speech, which only multiply those defilements. Therefore a code of morality is essential first step of practice [Sila]. One undertakes not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to speak lies, and not to use intoxicants. By abstaining from such actions, one allows the mind to quite down.

The next step is to develop some mastery over this wild mind [Samadhi, also called Anapana meditation]; by training it to remain fixed on a single object, the breath. One tries to keep one’s attention on the respiration for as long as possible. This is not a breathing exercise; one does not regulate the breath. Instead one observes the natural respiration as it is, as it comes in, as it goes out. In this way one further calms the mind, so that it is no longer overpowered by the violent negativities. At the same time, one is concentrating the mind, making it sharp and penetrating, capable of the work of insight.

These two steps of living a moral life and controlling the mind are very necessary and beneficial in themselves. But they will lead to self-repression unless one takes the third step: purifying the mind of defilements, by developing insight into one’s own nature [Panna]. This, really, is Vipassana: experiencing one’s own reality, through the systematic and dispassionate observation of the ever-changing mind-matter phenomenon manifesting itself as sensations within oneself. This is the culmination of the teaching of the Buddha: self-purification through self-observation.]

This practice has a corrective influence on deep-rooted habits. Whatever arises in the

mind, be it anger, fear, insecurity, passion or sadness, is associated with certain internal body sensations. One begins to realize how the mind reacts with craving and aversion to bodily sensations on a conscious as well as sub conscious level. Through objective observation, one starts gaining deeper insight into one’s own nature and stops reacting blindly. Observing these sensations in a detached/impersonal manner helps the individual handle these emotions in a calm and balanced manner. With continued practice of Vipassana, the mind becomes free of defilements and gets purified.

Complete silence is observed for the first nine days. On the tenth day, students resume speaking, making the transition back to an extroverted way of life. The course concludes on the morning of the eleventh day.

Anyone can learn this technique free of charge, as all expenses of the courses are met with the donations from people who have already completed a course, and having experienced the benefits of Vipassana, wish to give others the opportunity to also benefit.

Vipassana enables one to experience peace and harmony: it purifies the mind, freeing it from suffering and the deep-seated causes of suffering. The practice leads step-by-step to the highest spiritual goal of full liberation from all mental defilements.

6. Vipassana and Prison Reform

6.1 Vipassana and Prisoners

Crime, like any act of the body, is a manifestation of thoughts in the mind. It is when the mind is full of negativity, and loses its balance, an unwholesome, or wrong act is performed. Criminals portray a higher degree of hostility, frustration and helplessness, which perhaps lead to criminal behavior. There are many studies that indicate that the harsh prison environment and the attitude of the prison staff towards the inmates increase their instability and have negative psychological effects on them. Prisoners exhibit a higher degree of anxiety, aggression, guilt, hostility and neuroticism which adds to their stress in the prison (Osofsky, 1996). Therefore, prison reform measures should be able to reduce these feelings in the prisoners so that they become more balanced, better human beings.

It was with this purpose of dealing with the emotional and psychological problems of prison inmates that Dr. Kiran Bedi, the then Inspector General of Tihar Jail introduced Vipassana in Prisons. Her strong conviction in ‘offender rehabilitation’, rather than punishment, spearheaded many fundamental and systemic changes in Tihar. Improving living conditions of the inmates, providing better facilities, dealing with corruption, ensuring improved medical services were all a part of the reform measures. To ensure that the inmates used their time in the prison usefully and productively, various educational and vocational programs became an integral part of the prison, which helped in building community as well as developing their personality in a positive manner.

However, none of these efforts could deal with the deep mental problems and emotional baggage the prisoners carried with them. Unable to address these psychological issues and ‘to get the inmates rid themselves of corrosive emotions’, Dr. Bedi decided to try Vipassana, which had been suggested by one of her subordinates as a solution (Bedi, 1998, 297). She first sent some of the angriest members of her staff to attend a ten-day course, and noticing the remarkable peaceful change that it brought in them on their return, became convinced to introduce this technique in the prison.

The first Vipassana course was held in Prison No. 2, which housed the long-term convicted inmates. The positive effect it had on the inmates was evident by their testimonies.

“Before undergoing this Vipassana meditation course, I was polluting my mind with feelings of taking revenge...but now, after the course, all my negative feelings have disappeared. I shall not take revenge on anyone.”- Om Prakash Bairwa (Bedi, 1998, 302).

A course for 1000 inmates was conducted by S.N. Goenka in April 1994 following the phenomenal success of this course. This led to the establishment of a permanent center within Tihar for regular practice of Vipassana. “Doing Time, Doing Vipassana”, an award winning video made by two Israeli filmmakers documents the initiation of Vipassana in prison reform. David, a Canadian inmate of the prison, quotes in the film:

“This is history in the making you know…this is the first chance where Vipassana is being used in a prison system to possibly reform people…this could reform the whole prison system on the entire planet…”

His words are ringing true, as Vipassana has now spread to all prisons in India, and to New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, the U.K. and the United States.

6.2. Vipassana in the Unites States and Other Countries

In the United States, incarceration has always been a debatable issue, with both advocates of rehabilitation as well as those who support punishment receiving criticism. In a culture where introspective meditation techniques are still considered ‘Eastern’ and not a part of the mainstream thinking, it is noteworthy that Vipassana is being acknowledged as a tool for rehabilitation. By putting the responsibility of reform on the prisoners and equipping them with the tool to effectuate inner change, Vipassana has been successful in providing an alternative to external methods of prison reform. Although just a handful of prisons in the US have introduced Vipassana, its success and positive results are paving a path for it to help more and more prisoners in the future.

The first Vipassana course in the US was held at the North Rehabilitation Facility (NRF) of the King County Jail System in Seattle, Washington in 1997. Lucia Meijer, the NRF administrator, has been instrumental in introducing it in North American prisons. After doing a course herself, she overcame the many administrative, security, and facilities hurdles to arrange the first Vipassana course. A documentary titled “Changing from Inside” shows how the course has improved the discipline, relations between the staff and inmates and also their relationship with their families. Through experience the course organizers learnt that having pre-course orientations played an important role in preparing the inmates and reducing drop out rates. Since participation in a course is voluntary, the prisoners were given an opportunity to talk to the Vipassana teachers, other prisoners who have been Vipassana meditators (if any), and also see videos relates to Vipassana in prisons as mentioned before. Hindering factors like illiteracy, learning disabilities, doubts regarding cultural and religious identification, could all be overcome by these orientations (http://www.prison.dhamma.org/ussummary.htm).

From 1997 to August 2002, until the NRF closed down due to lack of funds, more than 20 courses were organized at NRF with a total of 130 men and 60 women having attended at least one course. In 2002 a Vipassana recidivism study was carried out by the NRF Programs Director Dave Murphy. The study indicates that only 2 out of 4 Vipassana prisoners returned to jail as compared to 3 out of 4 non-Vipassana prisoners. When Mr. S.N. Goenka visited the NRF in 2002, many of the inmates expressed their gratitude and shared their experiences.

“Every day I see changes in myself in how I relate to people, in my own peace of mind, in how I handle situations.”

“I have not been in one bit of trouble since I’ve been out (of prison). I’ve followed the path of right speech, right action, right thought. I’ve taken care of business and made the practice of Vipassana my dhamma.”

A research funded by The National Institute of Health, to determine the effect of Vipassana on curbing drug and alcohol addiction and reducing recidivism is being conducted by the University of Washington. It will be completed in 2003.

Apart from NRF, the W.E. Donaldson Correctional Facility in Alabama, a maximum-security state prison, and San Francisco Jail no.3 in San Bruno California, have also arranged for Vipassana to be taught to their inmates. As of April 2003, prisons in New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, Spain, and also Mexico have had Vipassana courses with positive results.

6.3 The Effect of Vipassana on Prison Inmates

An informal survey carried out by Tarsem Kumar, the jail superintendent of Tihar, among the meditators as well as their colleagues indicated that Vipassana had been very beneficial for them. They had better relations with their fellow inmates and jail staff, were more focused on the present than their past, showed significant improvement in controlling their negative emotions like anger, hatred, revenge etc. A higher degree of positive emotions like kindness, compassion, tolerance, peacefulness could be seen (Dangwal, 2001, 244).

Chandiramani, Verma and Dhar were the first to assess the impact of Vipassana on the mental health of the prison inmates in Tihar by using standardized psychological tests. They carried out two separate studies in January and April 1994 on the following psychological parameters:

(i) Impact on psychiatric illness

(ii) Impact on some positive aspects of mental health, i.e., hopefulness and sense of well-being.

(iii) Impact on hostility and feelings of helplessness

(iv) Impact on anomie (sense of alienation from mainstream life) and attitude to law

(v) Impact on personality functioning and psychopathy.

The findings affirmed that Vipassana does lead to significant reduction in anxiety and depression. The researchers in fact emphasized that there were many advantages to using Vipassana in prisons to deal with the inmates’ psychiatric problems as the existing facilities were not enough to handle the magnitude of psychiatric issues, Vipassana is a good alternate to conventional non-drug psychiatric treatment, it is very cost-effective and well accepted by the prisoners, and can provide support even after the inmates are released through the various Vipassana centers located everywhere.

There was a significant improvement in most of the parameters studied. However some of them, like the feeling of hopefulness, and the decrease in hostility, could not be sustained in all cases as observed in the follow-up phase. This pointed to a need to correct the hindering factors which were present in the prison system. Efforts were made to ensure continuity of practice and more support from the prison staff towards the prisoners.

Also, the research was unable to distinguish between the meditators who practiced regularly and the ones who did not, which may further dilute the results.

Another study was carried out by Khurana and Dhar of Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in 1999 assessing the effect of Vipassana on Quality of Life, subjective well-being and criminal propensity among inmates of Tihar jail. As explained by the researchers, subjective well-being is a “mental state which helps a person to maintain equilibrium, anchored by hope and optimism, even in adversity.” Criminal propensity refers to the underlying characteristics of aggression, impulsiveness, self-control or conditionality which determines the probability of committing criminal acts. The subjects were unable to comprehend the Quality of Life questionnaire, so this was withdrawn and the study was carried out only on the remaining two aspects. A series of 5 studies using both before-and-after as well as control group experimental designs was conducted on a total of 262 inmates.

The study concluded that the level of criminal propensity came down and the subjective well-being went up after practicing Vipassana. Although there was a significant statistical difference between the scores on criminal propensity of the male inmates of Vipassana group and those of the control group, indicating that Vipassana reduces criminal attributes, this was not true for the female inmates. The female meditators scored higher then the control group on criminal propensity but showed increase in positive emotions such as hopefulness, self-control, conformity, compassion, and mental peace after doing Vipassana. The reason for this contradiction could be that even though the female inmates were familiar with the practice of Vipassana, they were not regularly practicing it. If there is no continuity of the practice, then it is probable that the desired effects are not seen in the meditators.

On studying a select group of inmates who had done several Vipassana courses, a higher degree of positive changes in their personality and attitude towards life was noted, establishing that sustained and regular practice of Vipassana brings about deeper and more permanent positive changes.

6.4 Vipassana and Police and Jail Staff

Vipassana as a technique for prison reform is not just restricted to the prisoners, but also all the supporting personnel who are in contact with the prisoners and who play a significant role in their reform. This includes the police as well as the prison staff who come in contact with the prisoners on a day-to-day basis. Regular Vipassana courses are also organized for the police personnel with an aim to sensitize them towards the prisoners, so that they can develop a more humane and supportive attitude towards the inmates, and create an environment conducive to their reform.

Vipassana meditation was first introduced by Kiran Bedi for Delhi police personnel in January 1999. Positive feedback from the course resulted in subsequent courses being organized and now there is a Vipassana meditation center in the premises of the Police Training College in Delhi. Twenty-four courses have been held between January 1999 and June 2002, with more than 3,500 police staff having benefited from them (Arya, 2002).

The Indian police system has a very hierarchical organizational structure. Senior officers demonstrate authoritarian attitudes towards their subordinates and use coercion and threats to boss over them. (Singh-Sengupta, 1999:2000, p.46). In dealing with the public, the police use autocratic measures, and misuse the power of their ‘uniform’, thus gaining a negative image among the public. The public does not view the police as just, and does not trust them to uphold the law. Along with this poor image, the police have the stressful job of dealing with increasing problems of terrorism, crime, etc. A study carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) pointed to depression, alcoholism, substance abuse, dysthimia, anxiety as common problems observed in the police. Long working hours, tense relationships among police staff, lack of time with family, conflicting orders from superiors were some of the reasons for job dissatisfaction. Although the police were trained on the theoretical aspects of the law, they lacked the understanding of how to apply the law as a part of their job. Vipassana was introduced by Dr. Kiran Bedi with the hope to instill the values that a police officer needs to carry out his/her responsibilities (Agrawal, R.K. and Bedi, K., April 2001).

A study conducted by Kiran Bedi and Rakesh Agarwal illustrates that Vipassana helped the police develop a more compassionate and friendly attitude towards prisoners, and made them more honest and conscientious in their duties (Agrawal, R.K. and Bedi, K., April 2001).

Another study carried out by Dhar and Khurana along with Bedi tested the impact of Vipassana meditation on the aspects of subjective well being, job anxiety, and locus of control of police personnel. Psychological tests were administered on 1021 police personnel over a period of one year and the statistical data generated was analyzed subsequently. The study concluded that subjects’, level of job anxiety decreased considerably. The subjective well being of the respondents also increased considerably. The locus of control factor, however, did not change as expected and the results showed that Vipassana meditation had a negligible role to play in the dimensions of locus of control (Bedi, K., Dhar, P.L. & Khurana, A. 2001).


As mentioned earlier, I interviewed 28 persons, which included police and jail staff, current prisoners, released prisoners and also community members. To a large extent the interviews were structured, where I asked each person a set of questions and either recorded the interviews or took notes. Being face-to-face interviews, many additional questions and conversations took place so that the interviewee could elaborate, clarify and relate information appropriately. Most of the questions relating to Vipassana were common to everyone, while some additional questions needed to be asked to each group pertaining to their particular situation.

The common questions that I asked were:

  1. Name : (optional)
  2. Age :
  3. Gender :
  4. Designation :
  5. How many Vipassana Meditation courses have you done?
  6. How often do you practice Vipassana?
  7. Can you describe your experience of V.M.? What have you learnt from VM?
  8. What changes has it brought about in you?
  9. Can you describe any incidents where Vipassana has helped you?

10. Do you think Vipassana should be used as a reform measure in prisons?

The first 4 questions were put to get factual information about the interviewees. The 5th and 6th questions were asked to understand their background as it relates to Vipassana. Since Vipassana is purely based on experience, it was important to know whether what they felt was more intellectually understood or by experience. Questions 7, 8, and 9 were questions pertaining to Vipassana, their experience, what they learnt and the changes they felt within themselves. Many of the interviewees’ responses to these questions overlapped, or rather they had the same response. For example, when I asked the question ‘What have you learnt from Vipassana?’ some respondents also spoke about how it changed them. Yet, I did not eliminate any of the questions, as I observed that putting forth questions in different ways helped elicit more information from them. Therefore, in elaborating the findings and analysis, I have combined the three questions together. Informally, questions regarding practice of other meditation techniques, effect on environment, fellow colleagues were also asked. Responses to these have been included in questions 7, 8, and 9.

The additional questions addressed to the prisoners in jail are (Appendix A):

· Educational background

· How long have you been in prison

· Has Vipassana Meditation helped you in jail? How?

· Does VM help you in your personal relationships? In dealing with other people? Your fellow inmates, jail staff, your own family? How?

· Would you recommend others to do VM? How can it be supported in prisons?

Questions to the released prisoners (Appendix B):

· Have you been to jail?

· How much time did you spend in prison?

· Has Vipassana helped you once you left prison? In what way?

Questions to community members (Appendix C):

· What are your observations of the effects of Vipassana, if any, on the released prisoners?

· Do you think Vipassana has helped them reintegrate better in the society?

Questions to police and jail staff (Appendix D):

· What challenges, if any, do you face in your job?

· Has Vipassana helped you in your job? If yes, How?

· Have you seen any effect of VM in prisoners? Please describe.

The questionnaires have been included in the Appendices section of this paper.

7.1 Vipassana and Prison Inmates

I interviewed 8 prisoners from Tihar Jail, Delhi; all male convicts as well as under trials and 7 women prisoners in the Nagpur prison. All those interviewed in Tihar had attended Vipassana courses more than once and were also practicing the technique regularly. However, only two prisoners in Nagpur were practicing Vipassana, exposure to which they had received about a year earlier. The response of those who had practiced the technique was strikingly different from those who had not, and literature has repeatedly shown that this meditation technique plays a role only when regularly practiced. Hence the following discussion takes into account only those who have made Vipassana a part of their daily lives.

Has Vipassana Meditation helped you in jail?

Most of the respondents said that Vipassana had helped them to remain in balance and in control of their anger and irritability. Some of the inmates confessed that being in prison, they felt very anxious about their future, what will happen to them, what they will do once they are released. They felt that they were able to manage these feelings of helplessness to a large extent due to Vipassana, as it taught them to concentrate more on the present, and also instilled more positivity in their thinking.

“Earlier, I used to get very anxious to know what will happen to me, and if things did not go according to expectations, I would feel very depressed, now I do not get depressed and take it more calmly.”

Feelings of revenge, hatred and ill-will that they harbored have subsided, and now many admitted to having compassion and good feelings for others too. One of the interviewees mentioned that Vipassana has increased his confidence, made him more alert and active, and he feels there is a 100% increase in his efficiency. For him there is no room for negativity anymore. Many felt that Vipassana helped them have better relationships with other colleagues. With Vipassana, they were able to develop strength of mind and keep away from bad habits and bad company of drug peddlers etc.

“I have become stronger, and keep away from people who engage in dirty dealings, who take drugs, now I am not afraid of them.”

Some have adopted Vipassana as a way of life, and hope to adopt it completely after they are released from jail. The ones who had seriously practiced Vipassana and understood its merits were hopeful to benefit from it after they leave the prison environment too. Many wished to go back to their families, friends and community and encourage them to attend Vipassana courses too.

7.2 Vipassana and Released Prisoners

Due to practical problems in contacting released prisoners, I was able to talk only to 4 released prisoners. Three of them had been addicts and came from a substance abuse background. All had spent some time in jail for some crime.

One of the released criminal that I spoke to had spent 5 years in jail having been accused in a murder case. He did his first Vipassana course while in prison. Although initially it was a difficult experience as he experienced a lot of physical pain, he says that as the pain began leaving his body, he felt lighter and more peaceful in his heart. He went on to serve another course in the jail, and after his release from prison in April 2002, attended another Vipassana course. With Vipassana, he says that his feelings of ill will and revenge against his opponents have gone away, and now he has only benevolent feelings for them. In fact he admits approaching them after his release and asking for forgiveness. Vipassana has made him realize the true nature of his mind, and he says that it eradicates the negative feelings and fills the mind with compassion, love and goodwill towards others. Having been so strongly affected by Vipassana, even his community members noticed a lot of difference in him, and a few on his advice attended a Vipassana course. He has been able to guide and request his village members to give up smoking, drinking drawing from his experience of Vipassana.

I visited Navjyoti, a de-addiction center in New Delhi that runs residential programs for addicts mainly from a criminal background, hoping to get contacts of released prisoners. I interviewed 3 people with a criminal background who had undergone the de-addiction program at Navjyoti and even done Vipassana courses. I also got the opportunity to interview and talk to the staff members including the senior doctor and social worker who had been associated with the institution for more that 15 years to learn about their observations about effects of Vipassana on the recovered addicts.

All the 3 Vipassana meditators from Navjyoti had done Vipassana after being released from jail. They believed that Vipassana had helped them leave their addiction. One of them, who had been a hardened criminal having spent 10 years in jail at one time, and then repeated shorter stays, had a totally transformed personality. About his transformation, he said “the difference between me now and then is like night and day”. Vipassana has had a very powerful effect on him, and he had done 3 courses within 2 years. Talking about his personality before he did Vipassana, he says

I was such a person that I would never listen to anyone, would do exactly as I would please, and had a lot of anger, was very egoistic, did not have cordial relations with family, or anyone.”

But having done Vipassana he says his personality has undergone a transformation. It has helped him get balance of mind; get more control over his mind. There is no longer hypocrisy in him, and on the contrary he has become more empathetic about others’ thoughts and feelings. His relationships with his family, have improved considerably, and now he feels he is able to live his life like a responsible person and tend to his duties. The greatest benefit that he derived from Vipassana is

That my entire body feels very light, I get extra energy inside myself, I get more active, no tension, I get very balanced. I get a deep insight into my own nature. I don’t let myself wander, if a person is able to control his mind, then he has won the entire universe, and Vipassana teaches you this.

Even the staff at Navjyoti is surprised by the changes they see in him. One staff member, who has worked with him says that he did not expect him to improve or reform to this extent. After Vipassana he has seen a more determined change in him to correct himself and work on himself.

“(He) was a hardcore criminal a strong addict. We had no hope that he would become alright because he had a very long background of theft and pick pocketing. But today he is a changed person. Although there is still scope for him to improve as at times he gets tempted to do wrong, but we notice that he realizes and says ‘no’. This I feel is the effect of Vipassana. This change has come only after Vipassana.”

In each of the addicts, Vipassana has not only brought about a behavioral change, but it has also helped them keep away from drugs. One of the addicts admits to have tried various methods since a few years to give up his habits. But after Vipassana, his resolve has become stronger, and he has been able to stay clean. All of them feel that Vipassana is very important because it gives them an insight into their own nature. This is one of the greatest benefits they have experienced. They feel that it is very important for them to understand their own nature so that they can get better control over themselves.

It has given them the ability to introspect and realize that they themselves were attached to the craving for drugs or alcohol and cannot blame others or the environment for their situation. Beginning to realize their mistakes, they are now more positive in their outlook.

7.3 Observations by Community Members

The two community members that I spoke to regarding their observation of the effect of Vipassana on the Navjyoti members felt that Vipassana has had many positive effects on the people. One of them, who is a social worker and has been connected with the organization since 1988, had a lot to say about his observations. He felt that Vipassana made people more calm and satisfied. He sees not only mental changes in the person but also physical ones. He says that the ones who practice Vipassana regularly and seriously had eyes that sparkled, they were very clear and clean. This is a very good sign for addicts, as it gives the indication that Vipassana is having a positive effect on the body.

As for the mind, the staff member has seen a lot of positive changes. He feels that Vipassana meditators are more introspective, have a more positive attitude, and Vipassana helps in their emotional growth. The fact that Vipassana technique requires a person to understand his own nature in seclusion is a very beneficial aspect, as only then is able to face himself and think about and experience his own behaviors, actions and take steps to correct them.

The other community member, a doctor judges that the relapse rate of addicts is far less if they have practiced Vipassana, although he was unable to provide any statistics. He did mention that for addicts, it is only when they attend 2 or 3 courses that you sense the change, because they do not generally take the first course very seriously.

It has helped many give up their addictions totally, including cigarettes which is what a long term addict finally gets hooked to and finds very difficult to leave. He observed that an addict’s decision making powers improve considerably after having practiced Vipassana. Talking about particular incidents, he mentioned that one of the recovering addicts in their institution had a tendency to get quite violent. After attending a couple of Vipassana courses, he became very calm and composed, and all his violent behavior ceased.

7.4 Police and Jail Personnel

I spoke extensively to 7 police and jail personnel, 3 women and 4 men regarding the effects of Vipassana. Their responses are included in Appendix E. Two of them (one male and one female were from Nagpur, and the remaining were interviewed at Delhi). All of them were between 30 and 55 years of age. One interviewee had undertaken just one course, 2 had done 2 courses, 1 had done 3, another 4, and 2 had done 5 Vipassana courses. All of them practice Vipassana regularly, once or twice a day for one hour each. One of the personnel is a Commissioner, 2 are Sub Inspectors, 3 Assistant Sub Inspectors and 1 was a Head Constable. Although I knew everyone by their name, I was requested not to include names in my report. Since I have already elaborated on the factual questions above, I will present the findings and analysis of the remaining questions in the sections to follow. These relate to the main subject of the research.

What challenges, if any do you face in your job?

This question was asked to understand the personal challenges a police officer faced in his job and is closely related to the question ‘Has Vipassana helped you in your job? If yes, How?’ Only by knowing the difficulties, could one confirm whether the practice of Vipassana has helped overcome them or not.

All the participants agreed that the job of a police officer was full of challenges. Many respondents mentioned that the police work under a lot of ‘pressure’ and ‘tension’. Four of the police personnel specifically mentioned ‘fear of superior’ as one of the challenges of their job. The Indian police system being hierarchical, one felt a lot of fear of ‘superiors’ to maintain one’s job. Elaborating on the ‘fear’ aspect, the interviewees said that the police do not work because of a sense of duty but more because of fear of reprimand or losing their job. One of them mentioned that just as the society is ‘corrupt’ so is the police force. Many police persons engage in illegal work, give false testimonies, due to pressure by their superiors. Accepting bribes and extortion were also mentioned. Greed and personal gain were also said to be reasons for the police acting unethically and wrongly. One of them said that a police officer does not want crime to be wiped out because in a crime-infested area he can have more personal income through bribes and extortion. Another went to the extent of admitting that a police officer is even worse than a criminal, because it is quite possible that a criminal has reasons to commit a crime that are circumstantial, and he ends up paying for his wrong deeds by spending time in jail. A policeman, on the other hand, though meant to protect the law is the first to break it; not once but repeatedly by giving in to his weaknesses of greed and power.

For some, the ‘image of the police’ was also a challenge. One of them, who was working with the prisoners, said that one of the major challenges was the ‘hatred displayed by the prisoners’ because “I have power and control over them”. Also, another challenge that was mentioned was dealing with different kinds of people in the field. For a couple others, managing their time successfully, balancing work and family, was another issue.

To sum up, the challenges faced by police officers included fear, ‘pressure of superiors’, corruption, greed, hatred by the prisoners, going against the law and committing illegal tasks.

Can you describe your experience of V.M.? What have you learnt from VM?

What changes has it brought about in you?

Has it helped you in your job? If yes, How?

These questions are related to the main subject of study. As mentioned earlier, most interviewees just gave a single account of their experiences of Vipassana, which included what they learnt, how it changed them. Therefore, I am presenting the findings of these 3 questions together.

Although all the interviewees had different ways of saying it, in essence each one of them considered Vipassana to be a great experience. Some mentioned phrases like ‘it has changed my life’, ‘a life-changing experience’, to describe what they felt about Vipassana. Many felt ‘fortunate’ and ‘grateful’ to have learnt the technique. To some it had become ‘an integral part’ of their life. One interviewee borrowed a quote in English to share his thoughts about Vipassana: “We cannot change the whole system, neither can we change a single person but we can change ourselves with better determination. And actually this is what Vipassana is: it teaches strong determination to change ourselves.”

Each one of them felt that it had brought about considerable changes in themselves. Almost all said that it had reduced their anger. Some of their comments:

“Even if I am disturbed by somebody and I raise my voice against the person, it is only on the superficial level that I portray anger, Deep inside me, as I realize doing Vipassana, I do not generate any anger.”

“Now if anyone even tries to get me angry, I don’t generate anger”.

“It has helped observe my anger and control it too.”

Another way in which Vipassana has helped them is by making them more alert. They admit that now with the practice of Vipassana, they are aware of their own actions and thus can self-correct themselves. As one police person said,

“Earlier I could not control my feelings even though I used to practice another meditation. But after Vipassana, there is always the alertness in the mind and the fact that everything is impermanent… we must maintain the equilibrium of our mind.”

Vipassana has been helpful in bringing about behavioral changes in the meditators. It has helped them tremendously in their jobs. Two of the interviewees said that Vipassana helps them be better organized, and has made them more efficient in their work. Now the police who have done Vipassana are more conscious of their duties, and have given up their lazy attitude. Instead, now they try to do their best in whatever assignment they get.

From an ethical and moral perspective, Vipassana seems to have brought about an immense change. As one person said ‘Vipassana has made me tension-free and now I cannot take advantage of another person to satisfy my greed.’ I spoke extensively to one of the interviewees who was in charge of the training program for the police personnel. Being a Vipassana meditator too, he commented on the changes and advantages he felt Vipassana brought to the police system. According to him, although the police had the knowledge and skills to impart to the police in their training, they lacked the tool to instill the right values that police personnel should have. The ethical foundation necessary to make them conscious of their duty to preserve the law and work sincerely in this service to society oriented field was missing. He felt that Vipassana was the tool that they had been searching for, because it has helped shape the required personality of the police personnel. In his words,

“When it comes to preserving law and order and providing justice, only an unbiased person can take the right decision, something that Vipassana helps develop.”

“Physically, Vipassana relieves a lot of the tensions and gets rid of the ailments that come in the way of performing duties.”

“I can definitely say that if ever an audit is conducted ‘the departmental punishments of those who have done Vipassana will be far less than ones who have not done it, because Vipassana purifies the mind and instills the correct values in the individual.”

One person admitted that Vipassana played a pivotal role in relieving the physical and mental stress related tensions of work. And as a result, he was able to give up his habit of consuming alcohol to ease the tension.

Many of the people I spoke to felt that Vipassana had brought about positive changes in the environment too. A number of them commented that it helped a great deal in inter-personal relationships. Now, people who have done Vipassana are able to work together with better cooperation, better coordination, and more dependability. Another person felt that if someone had done Vipassana, misunderstandings were eased and sorted out much faster, as Vipassana makes one more aware of oneself as well as one’s surroundings. A Vipassana meditator is able to minimize any negative feelings towards others, and create an amicable environment.

A couple of interviewees also said that now having done Vipassana, they feel like not only doing good for themselves, but also for others. Thus it increases the benevolent feelings in others, and one hopes to carry the goodwill and spread it to others also.

Have you seen any effects of VM in prisoners? Please describe.

Do you think Vipassana should be used as a reform measure in prisons?

Not all the participants were able to comment on the first half of this question. Although some had worked with criminals, they had not interacted with prisoners in a prison environment. However, the ones who were familiar with prisoners had seen positive changes in them. I got the most thorough information regarding the effect on prisoners from the jailer who was one of the persons I had spoken to. Talking about the positive changes it had brought about to the prison environment, she said that the feelings of ‘hatred’ which the prisoners earlier harbored towards her have decreased considerably. The problems of discipline, non cooperation are no longer as grave as earlier. She particularly spoke about the difference that Vipassana can bring about in the prisoners taking the example of one of the inmates. When the inmate had joined the prison, she had a terrible anger, and would not talk cordially to anyone. In frustration, many a time she would also physically harm her own children. But after doing just one Vipassana course, she sobered down considerably, has become very calm and cordial, and it is difficult to believe she is the same person. On asking whether any negative effects of Vipassana have been observed in the inmates, the jailer responded that there are times when one does not see any changes in the inmates for various reasons (not understood the technique, did not practice seriously), but she has never observed any negative effects of Vipassana.

7.5 How Does Vipassana Meditation Bring About Changes?

Analyzing the contents of the interviews, it is clear that Vipassana meditation has brought about certain changes in the attitudes and behaviors of the people who practice the technique regularly. Regardless of whether s/he is a police person, jail staff, prisoner or any other person in the society, there is a similarity in the experiences and the pattern of changes that people have observed within themselves and also their environment. From the data generated, the effects of Vipassana have been:

  • Vipassana has decreased the negative feelings and emotions like anger, ill-will, hatred, anxiety, hopelessness, greed, revenge etc.
  • It has increased the efficiency of people and made them more active and alert
  • It has instilled moral principles in people: makes them more ethical, responsible, duty-conscious
  • It has generated positive feelings in people: compassion, good will, unbiased attitudes

How exactly does Vipassana help in bringing about theses changes? As a person sharpens his mind by practicing ‘Anapana’ (being attentive towards the natural flow of breath) he learns to be aware of the present moment, the current reality. This awareness towards the natural flow of breath passing through the nostrils enhances the concentration of mind which is a natural pre-requisite for practicing Vipassana. Doing Vipassana, he gains insight into the mind-matter phenomenon through direct experience and observation into himself.

He learns that every time a defilement or negativity (a craving or aversion) arises in his mind, two things start happening at the physical level. One is that the breath loses its normal rhythm, and respiration becomes abnormal. And another, at a subtler level, a biochemical reaction takes place, resulting in a sensation that gets manifested in the body. Every defilement will give rise to some sensation in the body like pain, numbness, itching, tingling, feeling of cold, warm or any other sensation. And in fact, all reactions to various situations in life are in reality the reactions of the subconscious mind to these bodily sensations. Therefore, every time any unwanted situation arises in life, one reacts to these bodily sensations with either craving or aversion, and starts generating negativity and loses the balance of mind, resulting in a wrong action.

By diverting one’s attention away from the sensation, one is only suppressing the negativity, which will continue to multiply and gather strength and sooner or later will overpower the mind. If he gives it free license to express itself, it will result in a harmful vocal or physical action. But if one merely observes it, the sensation loses its strength and passes away, and so also the negativity associated with it. It loses the ability to overpower the mind (Goenka, 1995, p.48-49).

For example, if one becomes angry, the feeling of anger appears on the body as a physical sensation. If he observes this sensation, he may develop either craving (to the pleasant one) or aversion (to the unpleasant one). The more craving or aversion he generates, the stronger the sensation will be, and so also the physical reaction to it. But with the training of Vipassana, if he observes the sensation with neither liking nor disliking, but with equanimity, it has no chance to develop into craving or aversion, into a powerful emotion that he cannot control. He will experience himself that the sensation that had arisen has passed away and along with it the defilement (anger in this case) connected with it too. The mind remains balanced and peaceful, and one is capable of taking positive action that is helpful to oneself and others.

A person who practices the meditation technique regularly gains a heightened sense of awareness of respiration and sensation, both of which are physical manifestations of the defilements. Therefore, if for example, he is having a conversation with someone, and he gets agitated or angry, he will be able to experience and realize at that very moment that he is angry. Thus by being aware of the present reality, by objectively observing the sensations in his body with equanimity and the understanding of impermanence, he will see that his anger has melted away, and the mind is calm and peaceful.


My research question has been to find out how Vipassana meditation facilitates prison reform, and if and how it helps in the reintegration of prisoners back in the society.

The Literature Review as well as interviews with police personnel, jail staff, prisoners, released prisoners and also community members clearly shows that Vipassana meditation is a useful tool for prison reform.

For the prisoners, Vipassana reduces the feelings of hatred, greed, anger, revenge. It gives them more hope, peace of mind, and strength of mind to keep themselves away from more criminal dealings in the prison environment. This research confirms the findings of all previous scientific research carried out to assess the impact of Vipassana meditation on prisoners. In fact, although in one study, the findings indicated that the feeling of hopefulness did not sustain during the follow-up period, I found that most meditators I spoke to were more hopeful about their future.

The effect of Vipassana on released criminals is very positive. Vipassana helps prisoners to integrate back into the society. It instills in them a feeling of responsibility, and resolve to not repeat their criminal behavior. They are able to reform themselves and give up their earlier criminal habits. It has helped them find a direction in their life, renew relationships, give up their wrong habits of substance abuse. Also looking at the results of Vipassana on prisoners, who will likely be released and re-enter the society, it can be said that Vipassana will also help them reform and their probability to relapse into criminal behavior becomes less.

By bringing about a fundamental change in the attitude, behavior and thinking of the police, Vipassana meditation grounds them in a code of morality, whereby they become mentally strong to overcome the challenges of their job, the difficulties that do not let them expend their duty in an ethical manner. With the help of Vipassana, at the outset itself the police portrays better judgment, behaves in a more ethical and unbiased manner, and do not think of wrongly incarcerating innocent people and convicting them out of fear or ulterior motives to serve their self interest. In this way, they are able to prevent innocent people from adopting criminal behavior and tendencies, a natural consequence of being subject to the harsh prison environment. It makes the police and jailers have a kinder, more compassionate outlook towards the prisoners, and hence, the negative effects on the prisoners perpetuated by the prison environment can be controlled and minimized with the help of Vipassana meditation.

Although the field research in this study pertains to data collected only in India, I am certain that it has universal application. Informal as well as formal studies being carried out in the US and other places point towards similar outcomes of Vipassana in prisons and correctional facilities.

There are a number of issues that can be explored further. One most important one would be to carry out a more extensive, in-depth study of released prisoners. The Vipassana meditation centers and prison authorities should maintain contact information and conduct follow up studies on the effect of Vipassana on released inmates. Also, random follow-up studies should be carried out on police personnel, not just after completion of a Vipassana course. If the study is carried out on randomly selected personnel who have undergone Vipassana courses, it will present a realistic assessment of how many participants continue the practice of Vipassana and use it in their life.

To conclude, the testimonies of the subjects as well as the transformed personalities of the released inmates are evidence that Vipassana meditation facilitates prison reform by bringing about positive changes at an individual level. And it is only when the individual changes the society can change and reform.



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Between Crime and Personality”. Indian Journal of Criminology 22(1) 29-35

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  1. Name : (optional)
  2. Age :
  3. Gender :
  4. Educational background
  5. How much time have you been in prison
  6. How many Vipassana Meditation courses have you done?
  7. How often do you practice Vipassana?
  8. Can you describe your experience of V.M.? What have you learnt from VM?
  9. What changes has it brought about in you?
  10. Has Vipassana Meditation helped you in jail? How?
  11. Can you describe any incidents where Vipassana has helped you?
  12. Does VM help you in your personal relationships? In dealing with other people? Your fellow inmates, jail staff, your own family? How?
  13. Do you think Vipassana should be used as a reform measure in prisons?
  14. Would you recommend others to do Vipassana Meditation?



  1. Name : (optional)
  2. Age :
  3. Gender :
  4. Educational background
  5. How much time did you spend in prison?
  6. How many Vipassana Meditation courses have you done?
  7. How often do you practice Vipassana?
  8. Can you describe your experience of V.M.? What have you learnt from VM?
  9. What changes has it brought about in you?
  10. Has Vipassana Meditation helped you once you left prison? In what way?
  11. Can you describe any incidents where Vipassana has helped you?
  12. Does VM help you in your personal relationships? In dealing with other people? Your family? How?
  13. Do you think Vipassana should be used as a reform measure in prisons?
  14. Would you recommend others to do Vipassana Meditation?



  1. Name : (optional)
  2. Age :
  3. Gender :
  4. Designation :
  5. Have you undertaken any Vipassana courses?
  6. What are your observations of the effects of Vipassana, if any on the released prisoners?
  7. Do you think Vipassana has helped them reintegrate better in the society?



  1. Name : (optional)
  2. Age :
  3. Gender :
  4. Designation :
  5. How many Vipassana Meditation courses have you done?
  6. How often do you practice Vipassana?
  7. What challenges, if any do you face in your job?
  8. Can you describe your experience of V.M.? What have you learnt from VM?
  9. What changes has it brought about in you?
  10. Has Vipassana helped you in your job? If yes, How?
  11. Can you describe any incidents where Vipassana has helped you?
  12. Have you seen any effects of VM in prisoners? Please describe.
  13. Do you think Vipassana should be used as a reform measure in prisons?




2. Mid 30’s

3. Female

4. Jailer

5. 5 courses

6. Practice regularly (twice daily)

7. There are a lot of challenges and difficulties in my job. Being a person in uniform, dealing with prisoners is a tension-filled job. Most of the prisoners have a negative attitude towards the police; they have hatred for me as I have power and control over them.

8. V has been a very good experience for me. It has given me insight into my own nature, which I was totally unaware of earlier.

9,10. It has given me the maximum benefit in my job. The greatest benefit it has had for me is that had I not done vipassana, I would not have been able to stick to my job, be at the designation I am today. It is only due to the practice of Vipassana that I have been able to stick to my job. Out here there are all criminal minded people, yes, there are some very nice people too, but the challenges of dealing with the prisoners on a day-to day level is something only that I can feel. But despite all the hardships I face, I still have good feelings for them, this is the greatest benefit. As I said earlier, a person in uniform is looked upon with contempt and hate by the prisoners. But fortunately, I no longer have the same contempt towards them. I understand that they are also human, and knowingly, unknowingly they have made a mistake. So I don’t have so much anger towards them, but feel that they should be reformed, If you ask anyone who has not done Vipassana, they will say that these people (prisoners) can never change or improve.

11. I have seen a lot of positive effects of vipassana on the prisoners. I will talk about one particular prisoner here. She has two children. Earlier, she had so much anger in her that she would never talk to me politely, she would physically harm her kids. But right after she finished her first course, there was a lot of calmness in her, and she has sobered down a lot. It is difficult to think that she is the same person.

There have been changes in others also. Earlier they would portray hatred towards me too, but now that is not the case. Also amongst themselves they would fight more, but now that has also reduced. Even if there have not been much improvement, there has not been any negative effect of Vipassana on the prisoners. Many of the inmates are from rural areas, illiterate and uneducated, therefore, they do not understand the main teachings of vipassana, because of which there is no change or effect in them. For the ones who have understood, they have only good experiences to narrate.

12. If the prisoners can do vipassana seriously, it will be of tremendous help to them. Because, if in this environment they can develop the patience, and learn to have control over their anger, then once they are out, I doubt they would repeat their crime. Also, once they practise Vipassana, they realize their shortcomings, and their mistake, so it is doubtful they would make another mistake.

1.Name :

2.Age : mid 30’s

3.Gender : male

4. Designation : Assistant Sub Inspector

5. 4 courses .

6. Practises regularly (twice a day)

7.In the police system in India, there is a lot of fear, one works because he is fearful, not because of a sense of duty. He will only do enough to get his work done, so that he does not get reprimanded. Secondly, as corruption is a part of society, and the police also being in the society, there are many very corrupt police officers. Surprisingly, a police officer because of his own personal gains likes to be in an area that has crime, as only then he can have more personal income through bribes and extortion. For his own gain, he does not want crimes to end.

A police officer is worse off than even a prisoner, because many a times a prisoner is wrongly framed, or even if he has committed a crime, there have many times been circumstances which have been responsible for the crime. However the police officer without being a criminal behaves worse off than a criminal. He works under a lot of pressure and fear, many a times gives wrong testimonies, has a lot of ego and pride in him, takes advantage of his position. The 10-20 years that he has spent being in the police makes him do many illegal deeds. A prisoner may have genuine reasons for committing a crime, but a police officer who is there to protect the law, actually does actions that go against it, on the contrary. A criminal may commit one crime and get sentenced for it, but a police officer commits many crimes, goes against the law much more than a criminal may.

8,9,10. It has increased my job efficiency, earlier I had a laid back and lazy attitude towards my job, any work would take long to complete, but now that has changed drastically. I have become more conscious of my duties also. Now I am writing police history which entails doing a lot of research, work, etc., which I would not have done earlier. But now I get motivated to do it myself. Even as a trainer, now I feel more morally responsible for my job. Earlier, I would perform my duty well only if my supervisor was there to observe, but now whether anyone is there to see me or not, I perform my task with the same responsibility. From Vipassana, the sense of duty has become stronger, and I get a special pleasure out of performing my tasks to the best of my ability.

My relationships with my colleagues have also improved considerably.

Earlier when people did not know the benefits of vipassana, they were at times coerced into attending the course, but now it is purely voluntary and there is always a waiting list. It has brought about positive changes in the environment. The police have noticed the positive benefits of V on their colleagues, which has motivated them to attend the courses.

The way V helps police is that it helps them develop a more balanced mind so that they can face the difficult situations they undergo with more confidence and balance. Earlier they would just be blaming the environment or external forces for their dissatisfaction, but now they realize that they are responsible for it themselves, it is all within them.

11, 12. For the prisoners, vipassana is very helpful, coz while they are in the prison they harbor thought of taking revenge either from the police who has caught them, or the witnesses who have testified against them. But on doing Vipassana these feelings will subside, and he will also not go back to the world of crimes again.

1. Satyavan

2. Age: 40’s


4. ASI

5. 5

6. Practices regularly

7. Before being a police officer, one is a person, who has been conditioned by the negativities of the society. Although the police teach him to be a good officer, the police officer bows down to his own weaknesses to gain more material wealth, pride

As a police officer, one has the tendency to overlook the punctuality of duty, and engage more in frivolous time-pass. Since one is engaging in time pass, there is always the fear of the superior who may pull you up at any time and check you.

8.Vipassana has changed my entire life-stream, I feel fortunate to have been exposed to it during my training period where I did 2 courses consecutively. The bigger plunge into Vipassana came when I was serving the largest course and was in charge of serving the teacher. I was totally drawn to the practice of vipassana, and now I feel that even if I want to give it up, I will never be able to do it. Now I am totally motivated towards Vipassana, like they say in English: “We cannot change the whole system, neither can we change a single person but we can change ourselves with better determination.” And actually this is what is Vipassana: it teaches strong determination, esp. in the police force it teaches discipline with better determination. Vipassana helps one become a better leader.

My personal life has been turbulent, and I have received negative attitudes from family members. But now after having done vipassana, I don’t generate anger any more. Whether it is any student, or my relation, even if they talk to me with anger, I don’t create any sensations of anger towards them. This is how Vipassana has benefited me. It has become so integral in my life, that even if I am disturbed by somebody and I raise my voice against the person, it is only on the superficial level that I portray anger, Deep inside me, as I realize doing Vipassana, I do not generate any anger. My mind is still at peace; it does not get agitated, even if I am compelled to in certain circumstances show anger.

Even my wife and family members have noticed the changes in me and have sat courses.

11.There are a number of released prisoners who have adopted vipassana completely. In the course at the Training center here, a previous prisoner was serving the course. He has dedicated his life to vipassana. It is difficult to believe that he was ever a criminal. There is another criminal who was charged for murder. He has done Vipassna courses in tihar jail, and now he is no longer the same person. It is as if his previous personality of being a hardened criminal has died and another new birth has taken place.

12.Vipassana is very important for everybody. Only the one who does vipassana seriously, practices it daily will be able to benefit from it and gain the merits. Only when it is reflected in one’s life and actions can it benefit. Otherwise it is just like any other course.




4. Head Constable

5. 3

6.practise regularly

7.One of the main difficulties of being in the police is that one works under a lot of pressure of one’s superiors. After Vipassana the minds becomes free and does not get dominated or bullied by anyone. One has to work legally and even illegally when under pressure. Many a times one is ordered to go into the field and arrest someone, who may not be a criminal. But one bows under pressure and does it because his job is at stake. But after vipassana this fear of losing the job is no longer there. One feels, what harm can anyone do to me, I have not done anything wrong. Because I have followed the path of ‘Dhamma’ and maintained the ‘silas’. So whatever comes next I will face it. But for this moment I will not do wrong. This is the greatest learning.

8.My experience of doing V is that I am free of mind- no tensions any longer. Neither any kind of attachment or greed. I will not take advantage of another person to satisfy my greed or self-interest. If I have to do anything I have to do with my own determination and motivation, not under pressure from anyone. Most of the times, I have the thought of doing good for others. I’m always ready to do good for others. With Vipassana one learns to be detached.

9,10.There has been a tremendous change in my behavior from Vipassana, earlier I used to get agitated and angry and every small incident, but after having practiced vipassana regularly. Now if anyone even tries to get me angry, I don’t generate anger. My expectations from others have also reduced. Even in my colleagues, I have noticed marked changes. Due to vipassana, their authoritarian attitudes, anger has decreased.

Vipassana is not only important for police officers but also for the common man.


2. 50’s


4. Commissioner

5. 2

6. Practices regularly

7.After v, the outlook towards thinking as well as work changed considerably. It is my experience that the police training provides knowledge as well as skills to work as a police officer but lacked in shaping the personality and values that a police person should have. With V, the mind gets purified and the person develops an unbiased and fearless personality, which is important as a policeperson. It helps in teambuilding. It is very useful for the social kind of duties that the police does. And it is my personal experience that whenever I have worked with anyone who has done V, whether my colleague, superior or junior, there has been good co-operation, and understanding between us. There is the trust that whatever work has been assigned will be dome with sincerity, hard work, and even if things don’t go as desired, I will get a truthful and real report.

8,9.Even in myself, there has been a change that even my colleagues point out. They wonder if this is the same person. Due to police tensions, and mental tension, I had a habit of consuming alcohol to relax myself, but now with Vipassana, this habit is no longer there. Now I do not generate much craving or aversion to my work, look at it as my duty.

10.It is very useful for the police force, coz the police works with such parts of the society that is itself very miserable and unhappy due to circumstances. Therefore when it comes to preserving law and order and providing justice, only an unbiased person can take the right decision, something that V helps develop. If a person gets biased, or becomes greedy for personal benefits, then he/she will not be able to act fairly.

As far as training the police force is concerned, we have always been trying to answer the question ‘what kind of a person, should a police officer be? What values should he portray?’ we were not able to look for a way to instill such values, but with vipassana, its possible. So even if a person has gone wrong, he can be corrected and brought back to the correct path. Even physically, v relieves a lot of the tensions and gets rid of the ailments that come in the way of performing duties. I can definitely say that if ever an audit is conducted ‘the departmental punishments of those who have done V will be far less than ones who have not done it, coz V purifies the mind and instill the correct values in the individual.

Generally a police person does wrong due to fear or greed. These sentiments lead him to committing wrong tasks. But with V, it helps eradicate fear and greed and gives inner strength to the individual to do his duty impartially and sincerely.

Before this, I was a lock-up in charge at the jail and my observations show that the police in the jail, work not under humanitarian grounds for the criminals but more to extort money and are greedy. They were not loyal to the police dept, more to the criminals who would bribe them. For want of money. It is important that they portray a humane outlook towards the criminals and do not demand money even for doing things that are their rights. For e.g. if the lawyer or family person would come to meet the criminal, the police will demand money from the criminal to allow the meeting, which is wrong. With Vipassana the police can self check themselves and realize that they are doing something unethical.

To make the right decision when dealing with public is imp. The police have a big responsibility of enduring law and order; provide justice, and only when their own values and ethics are clear, can they help the society. One cannot make another honest and sincere, only one can realize and change oneself. V helps in doing that. With V, one does not view work as a burden, but more as an opportunity to provide service to the people.


2. 30’s

3. Female

4. Asst. sub inspector

5. 2

6. As regularly as I can (once a day or sometimes twice)

7.Being a woman, the job has a lot of challenges, as one has to balance work and family. Also the work is a challenge, as one has to deal with different kind of people in different circumstances. One has greater responsibilities being a lady, have to satisfy everyone, give them support.

8., 9,10. Vipassana helps to do your duty to the best possible ability. One gets determined to put in the best efforts. One is very aware of every second. And it gives me greater control over myself.

I have gotten to learn a lot. Earlier, my mind used to wander a lot; I could not take any decisions. I used to be very agitated. Now I have been able to control myself and think internally. Now I am much better planned, and one of the best things that have happened is that it has improved relations with my colleagues, we have better understanding. Earlier I would get negative feelings towards others very easily. But now I realize it instantly, am aware of myself, and realize that it is wrong, and I can remove it.

What V makes us realize is that whatever feelings we generate within ourselves, we share it with others if they come in contact with us. Whatever vibrations we generate, if positive, will do good to others, and if negative will affect others too. If we are agitated within ourselves, then how can we do good to others, whatever we give others, we get back.

Every person should do Vipassana. Esp. police, even though short of time, With v, we not only improve ourselves, but wherever we work, whichever locality, person we come in contact with, we have the opportunity to do some good to them too. It has a lot of good effect on our children too. Now we can control our anger towards our children.

One incident I would like to relate is as I mentioned, I was not decisive. There was a certain decision I wanted to take regarding my family, as my children were not with me. I wanted to have them with me, but did not know if it was right or not. So when I go the opportunity to Vip, I did a lot of self-observation, tried to remain as equanimous as possible, and in this state, I realized that the decision of getting my children with me is the correct one. With V I also got the strength to stand against the odds and assert myself. It has increased my confidence.


2. 30’s

3. Female

4. Sub inspector

5. 1 (I practice another meditation technique that I feel is like Vipassana. Too.)

6. Practice daily

Challenges, public dealings are very challenges. You get all kinds of exposure to people, victims as well as complainants. We have to take the right decision how to behave and pose in front of people,

What I have learnt from V is that a person who practices v can take decisions with a calm and balanced mind, as the practice teaches you to have a balanced mind. Much more than people who do not practice V. Earlier I could not control my feelings even though I used to practice another meditation. But after v, there is always the alertness in the mind and the fact that everything is impermanent and will pass away, even happiness as well as sadness. Things will never be status quo for long, and all the challenges will come and also pass us by, we must maintain the equilibrium of our mind. If we get too affected by our emotions then we will the same ‘sanskaras’ and if we are balanced then, our actions will be pure.

With V we have learnt not just to react with every emotion that arises, but rather to act at the appropriate time. It has helped observe my anger and control it too.

It has improved interpersonal relationships. If I have had any misunderstanding with another person, now having done V, that misunderstanding gets sorted out sooner.





3. 7th

4. 10yrs in jail, after repeatedly

Murder case

Did v after jail, 3 courses and also served one course

Practice regularly morning and evening

In jail, I became worse that what I was, my criminal tendencies increased, and I committed bigger crimes

4 yrs since I got out.

With vipassana, I have learnt about myself, I have learnt to control myself to a large extent. Today, I can stop myself from doing wrong. This is the greatest benefit I have


I have gained the insight that while doing meditation I learn that all the pain and wrong that I do to the society, all the negativities inside me .how much of it is filled inside me. I feel the same pain within me that I have given to society. I was totally unaware of it earlier. But now I have also learnt the way to overcome these negativities.

Also thru vipassana, I have got the ability to control my mind now. All the cravings to go wrong, negative thoughts, that I have, now I can at least identify them, and control them before they become actions. I feel very good on doing the course.

All the others who have done it have been helped tremendously by it. I always encourage people to sit for a course. Since I am a counselor now, I always take out time to talk about V at the end of my sessions.

As far as my behavior is concerned, after doing vipassana there is a lot of change like night and day. I was such a person that I would never listen to anyone, would do exactly as I would please, and had a lot of anger, was very egoistic, did not have cordial relations with family, or anyone.

Now after vipassana, I have changed so much that now I like to help others from my heart, it comes to me very instinctively. I talk to people with genuine feelings, now there is no superficiality or hypocrisy in me. Earlier I always wanted others to do as I wish, listen to me. Today, I have changed and become more empathetic. I always wanted a lot of recognition and wanted to be famous, not for good deeds but wrong ones. But today, my parents are happy, so is my wife, and I am expending all my responsibilities to the best of my ability.

In jail, if vipassana is introduced it will benefit a lot, because, one becomes more hardened there, gets trained in becoming a professional criminal. If vipassana spreads, people will start thinking positively, and it will help in reform.

Out of the 100 people who have done vipassana, I feel that 10 have a change in them, coz this is something only a person can benefit from if he wishes it himself, cannot be forced on him. E

The greatest benefit I get from doing vipassana is that my entire body feels very light, I get extra energy inside myself, I get more active, no tension, and I get very balanced. I get a deep insight into my own nature. I don’t let myself wander, if a person is able to control his mind, then he has won the entire universe, and vipassana teaches you this.

I have had such a terrible past; I was considered a real social stigma in the society and brought a lot of pain to my family for my wrongdoings. My family suffered a lot due to me. Today, I give happiness to the society and my family. Now I can feel the negativities getting removed from inside me. I always remember that I was an addict and had such a bad character; I don not want to forget because I do not want to repeat my mistakes. I do not repent, as that time is already past, and what is important is the present.

It is only because of vipassana that I am free from addiction today. We can only change ourselves, not others. An addict tries to change other people. He is only pointing fingers at others, not realizing 3 are pointed to himself. But with vipassana, when he starts correcting his own mistakes, then he stops blaming others, look at your mistakes, not others’.



Done 2 courses


Do once a day

Spent six months 3 times of times in jail.

I was initially an alcoholic, and then a drug addict.

In vipassana, u have to be aware of all the sensations in your body, it was very difficult, felt a lot of pain,

I have become more responsible and aware of my duties, I help my family. I wish to do good to my family and others too.

Vipassana has changed my thinking and behavior. I was very abusive, had used to fight, and had a lot of anger. This b rings s balance in other people. And today I encourage my family members to do vipassana.

I had no respect in the society, but today I can

Vipassana has benefited me, it has changed my thinking. The best I liked was that it is not connected to any religion, and whatever they have explained about religion has resonated with me: that religion is not something to believe but to experience.

The fact that it is the science of mind-matter interaction is very true, and its important we learn about our own nature, and know ourselves first. I did not practice very seriously, but towards the end, I realized that I made a mistake and should have taken it seriously.

I have been an addict for 18 yrs, alcohol and drugs. Since 3 yrs I have been trying to get out of my addiction, went to different place, but would always went back to it. Now I don’t want to get back to it again today.

I got into drugs because of my family environment. My father was very autocratic, and was very fearful; I began stammering, and became an introvert. Would try to solve my problems myself. I did not get any guidance regarding my future, so I got into bad company. Now I have left it totally,

Vipassana has benefited me a lot, unless I do not experience my own nature, and change from inside, I will always be miserable.


2. Left prison 9 months ago

3. Was in prison for 5 yrs

4. Did I course in jail, served a course, and did 1 course after leaving did in Nov 2001

5. Was framed in a murder case,

6. Had to live with much different kind of people in the jail. Prison is like a hellhole, can make even a sane person go mad.

7. Did not know anything about vipassana, when I did the course, initially I faced a lot of hardships, felt a lot of pain in my body, afterwards when the pain started leaving my body, I started feeling lighter, and felt a lot of peace of mind.

8. Vipassana gave me a lot of peace of mind, feelings of anger started melting away, earlier felt a lot of revenge, but with vipassana there was such a difference, that I developed good feelings even for my opponents, its useless to generate ill will, will only harm myself, negative thoughts became lesser, I became calmer, I used to practice very seriously.

9. There was a lot of change inside me. After I left the jail, I approached my opponents, who earlier I did not even wish to see, and asked them to forgive me. Today I have good relations with them. Now I do not have bad feelings for them, even if they have treated me wrongly. Vipassana is very good; it relieves the body of its ailments too, and makes one feel more peaceful. It also develops compassion, love in people. There was change also in others in the jail, they became very peaceful and their negative thought decreased.

10. Today v is helping me in every sphere of my life, I precise regularly. With vipassana, the negativities of my mind have eradicated, and my love for others has increased. And I was able to develop cordial relations with everyone. I have also motivated others to attend courses; they have also changed after vipassana.

I used to drink alcohol, but now after vipassana, I do not get any craving for it.

People in the community have also noticed the change in me, and have taken my advice to give up alcohol

With vipassana, automatically I feel like doing good to others, never get ill thoughts towards others.

In jail, vipassana will help people improve and change for the better and the ill feelings hey harbor will reduce.

Expectations have also reduced, given me a lot of peace. I do not want much of these wordly things. Now I do not fall ill, with vipassana, I have also been cured of arthritis. Observing myself inside, many of my pains have reduced.



Interview I

Masters in Social WOrk

Navjyoti- been since 1988

After vipassana I have noticed attitude of calm and quiet behaviors. After living a systematic life, there is a very sober expression and attitude in the personality. Many of our patients who attend vipassana courses, we can see a distinct difference in their eyes, very quiet, clean and sparkling eyes, which is unlike that of a seasoned addict. It is a very positive response on the body. It is affecting the body.

There is a lot of positive difference in their attitude and actions also. One gets balanced. One can see a lot of satisfaction on their faces, contentment. In our program, we organize a disorganized personality, teach addicts to socialize again, whereas in Vipassana, whatever I understand, the disorganized mind gets organized, and get the mind in a normal, calm and quiet state.

What I have observed with Vipassana is that it checks one’s negative thinking to quite an extent. Although we also work with behavioral problems of the addicts, vipassana has a longer lasting effect on the people. I have observed that the way of thinking becomes quite positive. It makes their introspection quite strong. The diet system of vipassana I think is very good, a full stomach cannot do good introspection, only when on less full stomach one gets a little insecure feeling, that s/he is able to introspect. This introspection helps in their self-development. He is able to think about himself in a way he has not done before. It makes them realize a lot. It adds to their emotional growth.

It is very good for the internal growth. A good dose for emotional growth. Automatically this upliftment starts. With addicts, the problem is that they are emotionally dead. In a state of addiction, they are not concerned about family or any problems.

Therefore for them to come out of their addiction, balance of mind, emotional growth, and introspection is all very important. With vipassana, the good thing is that a person has to live in isolation. Therefore for a while he can think about external things, but after a while there is no more input or new experiences to contemplate on, as one is all alone. Then the addict is compelled to think about himself, what actions he has done, what his behavior is like etc, something that he has never done before.

We teach how to survive and behave in group in our deaddiction program. In vipassana you seclude a person and then work on him. This is very important as he gets a chance to face himself and this propels his development.

Many a times when I see certain particular problems in the addicts, I myself recommend them to a vipassana course. I feel that vipassana helps them and is important for them.

Interview II

Doctor and adminstrator at Navjyoti- since 1987

Addicts have their own problems and come from different backgrounds, so all are not able to go thru a vipassana course; many leave it in between too. If they

Although I don’t have statistics, my observation is that once an addict has done vipassana, his relapse to addiction becomes very minimal. The overall relapse rate goes down. After vipassana, many staff members have given up bidi and cigarette who were very heavy users earlier. All of them are from criminal background. Jaypal has left everything after vipassana, he is 26 yrs, went to prison too.

U can see a lot of change practically in a person who has done vipassana. They become patient, and calm. After 2 or 3 vipassana course u can see a marked difference in their personality maybe not after the 1st one.

Their decision-making powers improve. They start viewing situations in a very normal way, look at pros and cons, and all aspects. Coz we leave responsibility on them, and vipassana helps them a lot. Recovering counselors

Gulshan was a hardcore criminal a strong addict. We had no hope that he would become all right coz he had a very long background of theft and pick pocketing. But today he is a changed person. Although there is still scope for him to improve, as at times he gets tempted to do wrong, but we notice that he realizes and says ‘no’. This I feel is the effect of vipassana. This change has come only after vipassana.

Marking difference: we had a person who had tendencies to get very physical and there were many violent incidents, then he did a couple of vipassana courses, and now he is very cool and composed. The one’s who do vipassana seriously, who really wish to change, and it works on them. Their 10 days pays back for them. It assists them in reviving relations, getting back to normalcy after years of addictive behavior. Vipassana plays a big role.



  1. Name:
  2. Age: 20
  3. Gender: m
  4. Education: 8th
  5. Years in prison: 2
  6. Crime committed: 363
  7. No. Of Vipassana courses: 2
  8. Do you practice V.M. regularly? How often:
  9. Can you describe your experience of V.M.?

It has reduced tension, anger, and also my physical ailments

  1. What have you learnt from VM?

I learnt not to tell lies, it has made me tension free lessened my anger and irritability, and made me more disciplined.

  1. Do you think V has brought about any change in you? How?

Yes, it has brought about a lot of change in me. Earlier, I would be very restless, worry about what would happen, feel very lonely, cry a lot when I was alone, but now I am more happier, less irritable, and more balanced.

  1. What aspects of VM have helped you?

The practice of vipassana makes you see internally, all your own cravings and attachments, and you learn to maintain goodwill, and peace to yourself and others. I feel very grateful to have learnt this technique. Maybe I have been sent to jail so that I can learn this

Would you recommend others to do VM? How can it be supported in prisons?

After I leave will encourage family members to do vipassana

  1. Age: 36
  2. Gender: male
  3. Education: electrical engineer
  4. Years in prison: 4 and half
  5. Crime committed: 306, abatement to suicide
  6. What activities, programs have you attended in the prison?

Have been computer teacher here

  1. No. Of Vipassana courses: 9 courses, 7-10 day, 1 8 day and 1-20 day
  2. Do you practice V.M. regularly? Y How often: twice a day
  3. Has Vipassana Meditation helped you in jail? How?

I have learnt to control my anger, behave more politely. It has increased my efficiency a lot, I feel a 100% increase in my abilities. I have more confidence, and can undertake any challenges it has made me more peaceful

With every course, I have had some new experience and new learning; I have delved more deeply inside myself, and learnt to be calm. Now my concentration of mind has also increased.

I have come out of all my tensions, I am not agitated anymore. Many people asked me how come I’ve become so polite and calm. It was not my personality earlier. I am not accumulating ‘sankharas’ do not keep any ill feelings inside me. I don’t have any enmity with anyone anymore. I only listen to what is necessary, do not engage in small talk, and ignore what other people say, I have to take my own decisions and be responsible for myself.

  1. Does VM help you in your personal relationships? In dealing with other people? Your fellow inmates, jail staff, your own family? How?

Yes, now I have better relations with others, more cordial.

Would you recommend others to do VM? How can it be supported in prisons?

I would like to propagate vipassana, will encourage other people to do this course, when I return to my hometown will encourage my family members to do this course. I write about it to my parents.

  1. Name:
  2. Age: 33
  3. Gender: m
  4. Education 12:
  5. Years in prison: 3 1/2
  6. Crime committed: u/t murder

  1. No. Of Vipassana courses: 4
  2. Do you practice V.M. regularly? Y How often: twice

Earlier I used to get very angry and agitated, now not so much

I have learnt and manage to remain ‘balanced’. In most situation. Earlier, I used to get very anxious to know what will happen to me, what verdict will they have for me, and if things did not go acc to expectations, I would feel very depressed, now I do not get depressed and take it more calmly. It is easier for me to accept the things.

How the society will accept me, I will know only when I am out of prison,

Would you recommend others to do VM? How can it be supported in prisons?

Yes, I would want to advise my family and friends to do vipassana, only if there is an environment for me to do vipassana, and others understand it, will it help me, so its important that they also do, also for them its good

  1. Name:
  2. Age: 25
  3. Gender: m
  4. Education 12:
  5. Years in prison: 5 yrs
  6. Crime committed: murder
  7. No. Of Vipassana courses: 1

  1. V.M. regularly? N How often:
  2. Has Vipassana Meditation helped you in jail? How?

When I did the first course, my anger subsided, and then I used to practice regularly, now I don’t and my anger has increased again

  1. Do you think V has brought about any change in you? How?

Earlier I used to get angry at every instance, I would wan tot kill anyone, now I don’t have such intense feelings.

Would you recommend others to do VM? How can it be supported in prisons?

I wish I had not killed anyone, I did not then know how to control myself, I don’t want to hurt anyone now, I hope I will get back to normal life, and live with my family with respect.

  1. Name:
  2. Age: 25
  3. Gender: m
  4. Education 10th:
  5. Years in prison: 3 yrs
  6. Crime committed:
  7. No. Of Vipassana courses: 3
  8. Do you practice V.M. regularly? Y How often:
  9. Has Vipassana Meditation helped you in jail? How?

I had a lot of tension earlier, what will happen to me, what will I do outside the jail, how will things shape up, now I do not have any tension, I feel that I will be fine everywhere

  1. What have you learnt from VM?

I have learnt not to lie, not to harbor negative thoughts as they harm oneself

  1. Do you think V has brought about any change in you? How?

I used to get very angry, now my anger has subsided, my b.p. is also down, and I have less anger

  1. Does VM help you in your personal relationships? In dealing with other people? Your fellow inmates, jail staff, your own family? How?

Doing vipassana, I have become stronger, and keep away from people who engage in dirty dealings, who take drugs, now I am not afraid of them.

Would you recommend others to do VM? How can it be supported in prisons?

Yes. It is very useful

  1. Name:
  2. Age: 54
  3. Gender: m
  4. Education: graduate
  5. Years in prison: 6 months
  6. Crime committed: 304-b
  7. No. Of Vipassana courses: 2
  8. Do you practice V.M. regularly? Y How often:
  9. Can you describe your experience of V.M.?

What I have learnt form vipassana is that it is very practical, one can experience what the dharma is. Just listening to sermons and discourses is not helpful, all religions say that one should not commit bad deeds, however, this is a practical path to learn to control your mind and remove negativities from your mind.

It has brought about a lot of changes in me. I used to be very agitated and worried about what would happen, now I am calmer. I have just been here 6 months, and initially I thought I may go mad in this environment, but nopw with Vipassana, I have learnt not to get affected by the environment. I now realize that these people are very miserable inside, and that’s why show their frustrations.

Would you recommend others to do VM? How can it be supported in prisons?


  1. Name:
  2. Age: 44
  3. Gender: m
  4. Education: grad
  5. Years in prison: 4 and half
  6. Crime committed: murder
  7. No. Of Vipassana courses: 13
  8. Do you practice V.M. regularly? How often:
  9. Can you describe your experience of V.M.?

Until I did v, I did not know myself, what was inside me, having done vipassana, life has changed for me, it is a total change in my thinking, the way of looking at life, I am more hopeful about my future, would like to leave and get more immersed in the vipassana stream, it has become a way of life with me, a lifestyle. Gives me a lot of peace of mind and hope, I hope to do good for others and become a better person. I was a businessman, but now I do not want to do wrong things, I want to live a clean and simple life.

  1. Name:
  2. Age: 28
  3. Gender: m
  4. Education: 10th
  5. Years in prison: 3
  6. Crime committed: murder
  7. No. Of Vipassana courses: 2
  8. Do you practice V.M. regularly? Y How often:
  9. Can you describe your experience of V.M.?

It has given me a lot of peace of mind, relieved tensions, and kept me away from fights and bad company. I am happy with myself, as I have a chance to remove the negative feelings inside me. It has helped me keep my calm in these surroundings and to live peacefully with others here.


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