Prison meditation courses expand in Burma

Prisoners in Myanmar jails, sometimes accompanied by warders and other prison staff, are studying meditation and Buddhist doctrine as more courses on Dhamma are being offered to inmates.

The first course, in 2008, took place at Insein prison and attracted 50 prisoners and was followed by a second course for younger prisoners.

In 2009, meditation courses were held for the first time at Tharyarwady prison in Bago Division. Four more have been conducted at Tharyarwady since then, while three courses have been held at Mandalay prison.

The instructors are provided by the Dhamma Joti Centre, on behalf of S N Goenka, a leading teacher of Vipassana (insight) meditation. The Vipassana method was preserved in Myanmar by the great teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin (1899-1971), long after it had been lost in India where it originated.

A meditation centre, the Dhamma Hita Thukha Vipassana Centre, has been set up at Insein prison, a Dhamma Joti Centre spokesperson said.

“Seventeen courses have already been conducted at the Dhamma Hita Thukha Vipassana Centre – 11 for males, four for females and two for youths. More than 1000 inmates have attended so far. The centre also offered a one-day Arnarparna course for children,” the spokesperson said.

Later this year, the Dhamma Hita Thukha Vipassana Centre plans to begin offering a course in Satipatthana – unremitting application of mindfulness – meditation.

“When there are enough students for a Satipatthana course, we will run it. The course is more intense than the regular ones. Students must already take a 10-day course three times and one-time Dhamma servicing,” the Dhamma Joti spokesperson told The Myanmar Times.

Jail wardens and staff from the Insein, Tharyarwady and Mandalay prisons also take part in the meditation courses organised by Dhamma Joti.

Goenka Gyi says jails are actually meant to bring people out of their misery, out of their mistakes. For this, Vipassana meditation is a wonderful tool for prisoners.

“I am glad that this has started working and this will certainly be a great example for the world, how prisons should be maintained, and how inmates are improved, so that when they come out, they will become an asset to society and not a liability. Vipassana will certainly help,” Goenka Gyi said.

Prisons Department director general U Zaw Winn said he believes prisoners – who take the course voluntarily – can use the meditation teachings to help find insight and peace.

U Thein Aung, who conducted the first course in Insein prison, said Dhamma represents universal truth, and is of concern to everyone, whatever their background. Just as the men are in prison for committing criminal offences, so others are imprisoned by desire, prejudice and delusion, he said.

People commit crimes when they cannot see beyond anger, hatred, desire and ill will, and are defeated by them. They react to this defeat by hurting or even killing others, he said.

“It is of vital importance to be mindful of thoughts, speech and action that can lead to good results as well as bad. People commit crimes when they cannot control their feelings or react without thinking,” said U Thein Aung.

According to the Dhamma Joti centre, 84 former Dhamma students have now been released and are resuming their lives in society, spreading Dhamma teaching among friends.

[via Myanmar Times]

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