This unique programme conducted by Vishva Niketan is truly special. It takes Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne’s vision for the peace centre – “spiritual awakening” to a much higher place.
The MIND is responsible for all virtue and evil. At dawn, a group of men dressed in white silently walk into Vishva Niketan premises. One could notice certain numbers marked on their clothes and their faces heavy with emotion-regret, fear, confusion, hatred and sorrow so vividly expressed. At one moment in time an ‘evil mind’ had led these men to deprive a fellow human being of his life, steal the innocence of a woman’s virtue, possess dangerous drugs or rob others of their possessions. Thus, convicted for murder, rape, robbery or drug dealing, these inmates of the Welikada Prison are all out on a journey to transform themselves. They are yearning to be forgiven, to be accepted and most of all to break free from their own minds full of countless negative emotions.
Vishva Niketan offers these people a unique opportunity to explore their inner selves and take charge of their own transformation through a meditation retreat. As they walk out of Vishva Niketan back to their prison cells after three days of this exercise, their eyes glitter with hope and promise and the determination to move on, to march forward towards righteousness.
The venue for the programme has now shifted from Vishva Niketan to the prison premises across the country in order to increase inmate participation. As a result, efforts are constantly being made to transform the prison, which is normally not considered as a place of cheer, but a place of repulsion, into a place similar to an ashram. These meditation programmes have positively impacted the lives of the inmates at many levels. Those who have been distressed, feeling dejected and unable to sleep have confessed that they became more stable both physically as well as psychologically. Some have admitted that they were able to get rid of skin diseases and constant headaches. Also, those who did not respect personal or environmental cleanliness began paying attention to personal hygiene as well as keeping the surroundings clean.
Most importantly, the programme helped change the usually prevalent attitude of the prison officers that inmates could never be rehabilitated but only be punished. The officers were grateful for the realisation they got through the programme of the necessity to treat the inmates as persons deserving compassion, love and care which also made the administration easy.
Prisoners who are regular meditation practitioners have changed drastically and some of them have even written to their enemies asking for forgiveness for their actions. With the calming experience of meditation and acquiring a balanced mind, those who have been nurturing hatred and aggression towards those responsible for putting them behind bars, look at their past with equanimity and welcome the future with a mind strengthened by spirituality.
Following are a few thoughts of the inmates who experienced the bliss of a wonderful retreat at Vishva Niketan:
“I committed murder. My mind was not at rest. Feelings of remorse and disgust filled my mind. I had no idea about any form of meditation. But within just three days of meditation at Vishva Niketan, I understood what life is. I shall practice meditation within the prison and when I am released I shall walk into society with the determination to lead a righteous life.”
“As I entered Vishva Niketan I was at one with nature and the surrounding atmosphere, the sunshine, the greenery were a mind- cleanser prior to meditation. In fact, I felt the atmosphere itself was teaching me a lesson.”
“The joy I received through meditation practice is beyond words. I vow not to commit any crime in future.”
“I am now in prison because my village had no personality moulding mechanisms like the meditation programmes that I underwent at Vishva Niketan. When I get back to my village I shall continue practicing meditation and make sure that I do not enter prison again.”
“I was under enormous mental agony before I entered this place. I just can’t believe the way I can take charge of my mind now. For me to have this experience I’ve got to be truly so lucky. I was planning to take revenge from some people when I am released. But those thoughts have now vanished. I will continue my meditation in the prison and also when I am released. I will do my best to teach others through my experience and help them refrain from all evil.”
“I am going to teach my fellow inmates how to ease their minds and be happy through meditation.”
“I learnt how to be ‘free’ behind bars.”