[Video clip: On the fourth day of the course, Vipassana is taught. Students learn how to observe objectively all the sensations in their bodies, whatever they may be, without reacting to them. They watch emotions come and go; they watch pain come and go, they watch pleasure come and go. And they realize, not intellectually, but through their own experience that nothing is permanent. Hatred, passion, greed, are not abstract anymore. By watching the physical sensations accompanying these emotions, and by understanding their impermanent nature, one can actually start changing the habit of blind reaction. Between the two poles of expression and suppression, lies a third option: mere observation.]
The film was successful, it showed on many television stations, but then, it landed in the hands of Dr. Ron Cavanaugh, and he was working with Donaldson Prison.
[Ron Cavanaugh: When you introduce Vipassana, then you’re talking about this meditation technique that starts where cognitive behavioral therapies leave off. ]
In Donaldson, which is a high security prison, most of the inmates will never go out. Most are either on death row, or life without parole, or lifers.
[Video Clip: These prisoners live inside a dangerous social world. Overcrowding, deprivation, and hopelessness drive men towards extreme aggression and despair. In this environment, self reflection and change are difficult, if not impossible. In January 2002, the prison undertook a radical experiment. It allowed a 10-day meditation retreat based on ancient Buddhist teachings to be held inside this modern day maximum security prison.
Man: The gymnasium had been transformed from a place where people yelled and hollered; there had been a lot of fights in there, there had been people who were assaulted in that area and it had been transformed into an area where you took off your shoes, and walked to a mat to sit to meditate. ]
These people are locked in for life from a very young age. Some of them were so angry for years. The first time that they had some relief was when they were taught how to sit down these 10 hours a day, for 10 days, and observe the sensations coming up with their anger that usually caused an immediate reaction. There was a 20% reduction in disciplinary action. And so they decided in Donaldson to bring Vipassana in, periodically, at least four times a year, so that many more prisoners will be able to go through this program.
[The Dhamma Brothers: I’ve always been angry. I’ve always been angry. I took anger management, stress management, but anger management is showing me how to conceal the anger, and stress teaches you basically about the same. When I went to Vipassana, I sat on a cushion for 10 days. That showed me how to… let it come up and deal with it. Don’t let anyone suppress it. I’ve got to deal with it. I’ve done that. Everyone makes a mistake. I made a mistake. And everyone can change. I can stay out of the change. It feels good.]
So if it wasn’t for Vipassana, I wouldn’t be able to stand here and talk to you, because I was a very shy child and adult, painfully shy, stressfully shy, that I never dared talking in front of people; and I used to get sick with high fever every time I needed to go to school and face the students who were my friends. I just couldn’t do it. It’s not that it’s not stressful nowadays, but I’m coping. So I just wanted to let you know about this opportunity to bring a change to yourselves. Thank you.