Vipassana Meditation in Prisons of Rajasthan

The first course of Vipassana in an Indian prison was conducted by Mr. S.N. Goenka at the Jaipur Central Jail in October, 1975, as was arranged by Mr. Ram Singh, who was at that time the Home Secretary of the State of Rajasthan (similar to a Governer of a state in America). The following are comments of Mr. Ram Singh about that first course.

Another big problem came when the course was just about to start. At that time leg irons and handcuffs were used for hardened criminals. Four such prisoners were brought 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, and 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 the 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, 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 his loving-kindness 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.