I usually only review books, but I was so inspired by The Dhamma Brothers, that I wanted to share it. It is a compelling documentary that follows a group of prisoners at a maximum-security Alabama penitentiary as they embark on a transformative odyssey – immersing themselves in a grueling, 10-day Vipassana meditative retreat. It was based on a model of treatment used in an Indian prison.
Despite opposition from prison chaplains, the first Vipassana retreat occurs, led by two brave teachers who have never been locked up (at least not in the walls of a prison) before. Following an introduction, the group of prisoners are guided in 9 days of Noble Silence, then a final day of discussion on how they tapped into the truth within their minds. And as they worked through the tragedies that had put them in life imprisonment, they were actually espousing love, compassion and truth. Brutal murderers were now speaking like the Dalai Lama!
We’re taken into the stories of several murderers, who for the first time in their lives, sit in silence and feel the sensations in their bodies, experience “mindful awareness” and learn how not to react uncontrollably. As one inmate expressed, “I’ve been taught to train my body, but never before did I know I could train my mind.”
Even after the success of the program in 2002, Christian groups forced the prison to stop this “Buddhist practice.” But the men continued meditating on their own, even in secret, at night when the cell blocks were finally quiet. Guards continued to notice a profound change in the prisoners who had been in the program.
In 2006, the program was allowed to begin again, and has been introduced in a second Alabama prison as well. One inmate summed up the benefits of the Vipassana meditation, saying, “It gives me freedom.” Those of us on the outside of prison walls are also locked up in our own ways. This gift of meditation is open to us all. I’m glad the movie ended early last night, so I was able to spend an hour in meditation myself.
Definitely recommended… available on Netflix streaming.