*The Buddha did not teach 'Buddhism' * Why no fees charged for Vipassana *Application for Vipassana courses *Beneficial power of Metta *Anapana for children
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Freedom from within Prisons

Principal Vipassana Teacher Sayagyi U Goenka, on the first Vipassana course held within a prison:

In the early years after I came from Burma to teach Vipassana in India, Mahatma Gandhi's daughter-in-law arranged a course at Sevagram Ashram (in Maharashtra state, western India). About 15 of Gandhiji's colleagues participated. They were very pleased with the course. After it was over, they took me to meet Vinobha Bhave, a saintly person of India, who lived nearby.

Vinobha Bhave was quite enthusiastic about Vipassana and said that if it was beneficial and result-oriented, it must spread in the country. But he added: "I won't accept this Vipassana unless it gives good results to two segments of the society: hardened criminals and school children." I replied: "I am certain it will be helpful. I am a newcomer to the country; I have brought this valuable jewel of Vipassana from outside. Now, let us make use of it for the country. Please make the arrangements."

He arranged a course for teenagers. As with the many course for children since then, it was sucessful and he was very happy. Then he arranged for a course to be held in the Gaya Jail (in Bihar, eastern India). But the day before the course started, the jail officials said that I would have to stay outside the prison. I said: "This is not possible. Vipassana is a deep operation of the mind, and I am like the surgeon. I must be there 24 hours a day. Something might happen, and I am responsible. I must stay inside." They insisted: "According to the prison rules, you cannot stay inside." I pleaded with them: "Then give me a prison sentence of ten days!" But they wouldn't agree. Vinobha wanted to make some other arrangements, but before he was able to do so, he passed away.

Fortunately, a few years later, the Home Secretary of Rajasthan, Ram Singh, participated in a Vipassana course in Jaipur. Having benefited much , he was very keen that the country also benefit. He said: "Vipassana must be tried with criminals." He also heard about the wish of Vinobha Bhave. He organized the first courses in prisons, which were held in the Jaipur Central Jail. The rules were amended to permit me to stay inside the prison for the full ten days.

So this is how Vipassana entered the prison system, to benefit society in serving some of its most suffering sections of people.
The first course of Vipassana in an Indian prison was at the Jaipur Central Jail in October, 1975. Mr. Ram Singh, a Vipassana teacher, organized that course. He was then the Home Secretary (a very senior administrative post) in the the government of Rajasthan (a state in northern India). 

Mr. Ram Singh on that first course in a prison, in Central Jail, Jaipur:

After the issue of the Vipassana teacher staying within the prison was resolved, another big problem came just before the course was to start. At that time leg irons and handcuffs were used for hardened criminals. Four such prisoners were brought shackled into the meditation hall, locked in these fetters. Mr. Goenka was walking nearby and when he saw this, he was amazed. He asked me what was going on. I told him that these were very hardened criminals. He exclaimed: "How can people in chains be put before me to meditate? This cannot happen. Remove the chains!"

But the Inspector General of Prisons (IG) said that this could not be allowed; the security in the jail was his responsibility; he could not remove the leg irons or the handcuffs. However, Mr Goenka was firm. He said he could not teach Dhamma with people sitting before him in chains. He was giving Dhamma; he had come to remove their chains. The IG told him he could remove the chains from within, but not the outside chains! Mr. Goenka insisted that those who were meditating must not be in chains. This was a big dilemma, a big problem!

The IG was a very experienced officer. He asked me not to force him to relax security requirements for those prisoners. He said any one of them might try to be a hero (as some of them were already undergoing sentences for murder), and strangle Mr. Goenka or me to death in the snap of a finger. We discussed the problem and finally came to an agreement to remove the chains and fetters. An armed guard would be posted at a strategic point to shoot any prisoner who started to advance menacingly. I told the IG to ensure that no panic shooting took place.

The chains and locks were removed. Mr. Goenka was pleased. The course started. I sat at the front. The IG stayed out of the hall but remained close by. My eyes were fixed on that armed guard, my heart throbbing and deep anxiety within! But with every passing moment came more relief. As Mr. Goenka began the course, the loving-compassion of metta was flowing profusely. The red-hot eyes of the criminals who were the cause of so much turmoil changed and their faces beamed. Tears streamed down their cheeks. Tears also rolled down my face; it was a rare moment filled with joy after such high tension.
Message from the Principal Teacher for students before start of their Vipassana course in Tihar Jail, January, 1994

You have all assembled here to liberate yourselves, free yourselves from all bondages, all miseries. To be imprisoned in prison like this is a great agony. And to be liberated from prison is very fortunate. But besides the confinement within these four walls, there is a greater prison in which all of us suffer so much. This is the prison of our own negativities, our own mental defilements, which keep overpowering us.

We have become the slaves of our own anger, hatred, ill will, animosity; slaves of our defilements of craving, clinging, greed, passion, attachment, ego. Any defilement that arises in our minds overpowers us—makes us its prisoner so quickly! We start suffering immediately. This suffering is not limited to the area inside these prison walls. People inside this jail or outside this jail are all prisoners of their own habit patterns. They keep generating one negativity or the other, and they keep on suffering.

If we are relieved of these negativities, we start enjoying the true happiness of liberation. We start enjoying real peace, real harmony. When our minds are freed from impurities, the entire habit pattern of our life changes. A pure mind is naturally full of love and compassion, infinite love and compassion; full of joy, sympathetic joy; and full of equanimity, perfect equilibrium of mind. This is real happiness, real peace, real harmony.

The bondage of mental defilements is a universal bondage. And the happiness of liberation from these negativities is also universal. Whether one is a Hindu or Muslim, Jain or Buddhist, Christian or Jew, Sikh or Parsi—it makes no difference. Anyone who is imprisoned in the bondage of defilements is bound to suffer. And anyone who comes out of this bondage starts to enjoy peace and harmony.

The first day of the new year has brought you this wonderful Vipassana practice of ancient India, discovered by the Enlightened Ones. Vipassana is so scientific, result-oriented, non-sectarian. It opens for you the door to liberation, to inner peace and harmony.

May all of you who participate in this camp work diligently, patiently and persistently, to come out of the prison of impurities in the mind, from all your miseries. May Vipassana bring you full liberation from suffering. May you enjoy real peace, real harmony. May a new era start in your life.