The technique of Vipassana is a path leading to freedom from all suffering; it eradicates the craving, aversion and ignorance which are responsible for all our miseries. Those who practice it remove, little by little, the root causes of their suffering and steadily emerge from the darkness of former tensions to lead happy, healthy, productive lives. There are many examples bearing testimony to this fact.
Several experiments have been conducted at prisons in India. In 1975, S.N. Goenka conducted a historic course for 120 inmates at the Central Jail in Jaipur, the first such experiment in Indian penal history. This course was followed in 1976 by a course for senior police officers at the Government Police Academy in Jaipur. In 1977, a second course was held at the Jaipur Central Jail. These courses were the subject of several sociological studies conducted by the University of Rajasthan. In 1990 another course was organized in Jaipur Central Jail in which forty life-term convicts and ten jail officials participated with very positive results.
In 1991, a course for life-sentence prisoners was held at the Sabaramati Central Jail, Ahmedabad, and was the subject of a research project by the Department of Education, Gujarat Vidyapeeth.
The Rajasthan and Gujarat studies and indicated definite positive changes of attitude and behaviour in the participants, and demonstrate that Vipassana is a positive reform measure enabling criminals to become wholesome members of society.
In 1995, a massive course was organised for 1000 prisoners in Tihar jail with far-reaching effects. Vipassana was adopted as a prison reform technique in the largest jails of India. A detailed report of the scientific studies carried out to assess the impact of Vipassana meditation on the prisoner's mental health proves that Vipassana is capable of transforming criminals into better human beings.
The civil service career of S.N. Goenka’s meditation teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin, is an example of the transformative effect of Vipassana on government administration. Sayagyi was the head of several government departments. He succeeded in instilling a heightened sense of duty, discipline and morality in the officials working under him by teaching them Vipassana meditation. As a result, efficiency dramatically increased, and corruption was eliminated. Similarly, in the Home Department of the Government of Rajasthan, after several key officials attended Vipassana courses, decision-making and the disposal of cases were accelerated, and staff relations improved.
These experiments underscore the point that societal change must start with the individual. Social change cannot be brought about by mere sermons; discipline and virtuous conduct cannot be instilled in students simply through textbook lectures. Criminals will not become good citizens out of fear of punishment; neither can caste and sectarian discord be eliminated by punitive measures. History is replete with the failures of such attempts.
The individual is the key: he or she must be treated with love and compassion; he must be trained to improve himself—not by exhortations to follow moral precepts, but by being instilled with the authentic desire to change. He must be taught to explore himself, to initiate a process which can bring about transformation and lead to purification of mind. This is the only change which will be enduring.
Vipassana has the capacity to transform the human mind and character. It is an opportunity awaiting all who sincerely wish to make the effort.