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April 28, 2010 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana is a powerful 52-minute documentary (1 2 3 4 5) in which Goenka's form of meditation is once again introduced in India's largest prison.

Props to the amazing Kiran Bedi for making this happen. And here is a working link to Vipassana in U.S. prisons from the bottom of the intro article.
posted by gman (21 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
ah, previously.
posted by gman at 7:04 PM on April 28, 2010


Goddam 10-day vipassana retreat was simultaneously the hardest and best thing I ever did in my life.

Are there any third-party studies of its efficacy in reducing recidivism?
posted by Wataki at 7:05 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


cool!
posted by puny human at 7:19 PM on April 28, 2010


The Dhamma Brothers described the same thing in U.S. prisons. It's airing on a PBS station near you sometime tonight.
posted by shii at 7:28 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


On Kiran Bedi's site there is a link to a documentary about her entitled Yes Madam, Sir.
posted by gman at 8:17 PM on April 28, 2010


Wataki: my lab has done some work in this area:
http://www.prison.dhamma.org/amjarticle.pdf
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16938074
posted by oceansize at 8:53 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank you, Oceansize, I metta you long time.
posted by Wataki at 8:56 PM on April 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I tried the ten day retreat too. I can say unequivocally that it was just a pain in the ass and I got next to no benefit from it. I went home and meditated for the duration for ten hours a day by myself instead, and got a whole lot more out of it.

Vipassana isn't for everyone. I was by no means a novice at that point, but I think it's pretty clear that there are much better forms of meditation to introduce beginners to the practice with. And I've spoken with others with extensive backgrounds with various styles of meditation who agree with me. It's hard for me to figure out why exactly it is that Vipassana is the style that seems to get the most traction with academic types. Maybe because it's such a rigid form? Because people think that meditation has to be frustrating?

Forgive my seeming bitterness on the issue but this is really a personal gripe of mine. I hope advocates of Vipassana don't take my comments too personally. If it works for you, great. Honestly I was hoping there was just one countervailing opinion here I could favorite, but there wasn't, so here you have mine. Peace.
posted by viborg at 11:48 PM on April 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Are there any third-party studies of its efficacy in reducing recidivism?

Umm no...its a social control system for prisoners. If prisoners are sitting quietly, they won't be raping or murdering each other.

Believe it or not...someone can do this for years...AND commit crimes again!
posted by hal_c_on at 12:51 AM on April 29, 2010


Wataki: my lab has done some work in this area

For research design and ethical reasons, a randomized clinical trial (with a no treatment control group) was not possible, so the study used a quasi-experimental design in which Vipassana meditation course completers were compared as a group to all NRF residents who did not take the course, but who completed the same pre-course and post-course assessments.

So there's less recidivism in prisoners who volunteer for meditation vs. those who don't volunteer to meditate.

Yeah...I can design a prison study that shows that those who volunteer to be kept away from the other prisoners for 10 hours a day while reading Ann Coulter are less likely to be put back in prison.

But that doesn't prove a damn thing. It just shows that there are people who are willing to try something new and radical to better themselves in prison...and that carries over to when they are released.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:05 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you for this: I had not heard of Kiran Bedi before. She sounds like a really remarkable woman.
posted by lucien_reeve at 3:31 AM on April 29, 2010


The ability and desire to sit quietly and patiently without external stimulation is something many people (and especially, perhaps, many people in prison) could benefit from. If wrapping it in exotic jargon and a respectable-sounding history helps to promote it, then fine.
posted by pracowity at 4:32 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


They come for the extravagant thali, but stay for the enlightenment.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:55 AM on April 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


If wrapping it in exotic jargon and a respectable-sounding history helps to promote it, then fine.

Of course, Buddhism is hardly exotic to India, where it was born around 2,500 years ago, and has been continuously practiced ever since.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:59 AM on April 29, 2010


Because people think that meditation has to be frustrating?

Not reacting to the frustration, the boredom, the cravings, the aversions, etc. is one of the toughest things anyone could ever attempt. And really, the initial inability for most to do so, just causes more frustration. I found it incredibly interesting to learn how little control I have over my my own mind. It just jumped around, and yeah, it bothered the hell out of me for the first while. As the days went on, the amount of time I could stay focused on my breathing got longer and longer. I began to stop reacting to my lack of focus, and instead redirected my energy to the task at hand.

I know Vipassana is not for everyone, but at least it is available to everyone. I can't imagine there are very many non-commercial/no charge (by donation if you can afford it) meditation courses which are open to all religions and classes. Fuck, how cool is it that in Burma, you'll have the poorest of the poor meditating/sharing a room with the very government official they were so fearful of only days before?

I will say, the first few days are difficult as hell. I was constantly thinking 'what the fuck have I signed up for? why am I putting myself through this?', and yeah, as with many people, my issues totally manifested in physical ailment, but fuck, I learned more about myself in that short span of time than I ever have.
posted by gman at 5:00 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course, Buddhism is hardly exotic to India

No, but I was thinking more about the "Vipassana in U.S. prisons" and "my lab has done some work in this area" stuff.
posted by pracowity at 5:14 AM on April 29, 2010


It's hard for me to figure out why exactly it is that Vipassana is the style that seems to get the most traction with academic types.

Why style(s) do you recommend?
posted by callmejay at 6:07 AM on April 29, 2010


I got a lot out of (mostly) silent retreats where we meditated for no more than an hour or so at a time, for five to ten days. This alternated with group exercises, lectures, work time, time off, etc.

I realize that having to sit with your own mind quietly for more extended periods of time, as in Zen and Vipassana, has something to offer some people, but I'm not sure the physical difficulty of this task is necessary for intense spiritual growth.

Just my personal view. I think all types of meditation help all types of people, imprisoned physically or mentally or emotionally.
posted by kozad at 8:46 AM on April 29, 2010


Vipassana isn't for everyone. I was by no means a novice at that point, but I think it's pretty clear that there are much better forms of meditation to introduce beginners to the practice with. And I've spoken with others with extensive backgrounds with various styles of meditation who agree with me. It's hard for me to figure out why exactly it is that Vipassana is the style that seems to get the most traction with academic types. Maybe because it's such a rigid form? Because people think that meditation has to be frustrating?

Goenka's style can be pretty grueling for beginners, but it's not the only way vipassana is taught. There are other groups who teach retreats which are more flexible and less demanding on beginners.
posted by homunculus at 9:04 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks for your perspective, gman. I can see your point, but I'm more of an adherent of the notion that "you can't use your mind to heal your mind." The most benefit I've ever gotten through practice is by settling into my body and letting mental and emotional knots resolve themselves naturally. I guess for some people the Vipassana technique may be an effective way of getting into their bodies, but I didn't find it so. I think that it's generally more effective to naturally occupy your mind with some object of focus, so that it comes down into a deeper state without struggle. I prefer to use a mantra, while some people use counting, or a visual image. My experience with Vipassana was that there was a strong emphasis on complete passivity, with any attempt to engage or focus the mind being frowned upon, other the act of merely "watching" the mental processes unfold.

Why style(s) do you recommend?

My personal style is probably best described as a combination of zazen, kundalini, and qigong. As I mentioned I like to use a mantra to focus and relax my mind, meanwhile maintaining a focus on my breathing and the interplay of sensations or 'energy' in my body. Sorry if it sounds a bit Shirley MacLaine, but I'm just describing what works best for me, and I have had some truly incredible experiences using this form.

If you're asking for a recommendation for a group to seek out in your area, my experience is that there is so much variability from group to group that whatever style they choose to affiliate with may have very little to do with their actual structure (or lack of) in practice. Do a little research, beware of the warning signs of culty tendencies, and otherwise just give them a shot. You only have to go once, and if it's too weird, just bail out. I will say that my most uncomfortable experience was with a kundalini group but I've also found a lot to gain from styles that were at least nominally kundalini. If you're in the SF Bay Area, the San Francisco Zen Center may be known for its checkered history but I find that they offer a relatively neutral and pleasant setting and encourage a straightforward approach to the practice that would probably be a good introduction for a noob. Nothing personal.
posted by viborg at 10:08 AM on April 29, 2010


homonculus: thanks for mentioning that. I did a ten-day with IMS (dharma.org), and it was a fantastic experience. I know almost nothing about SR Goenka's retreats, but it's a little frustrating that everyone seems to tie "vipassana" to his school.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:46 AM on April 29, 2010


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