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:
Child Victims of Abuse
Psychological baggage comprising extreme distress, depression, mood swings, hopelessness, withdrawal, rage, self-harm or suicidal thoughts hamper their participation in daily tasks, education and often result in behavioural issues. They struggle to cope with their own emotions and also to cope with peers and caregivers. Therefore, they need a helping hand to heal and recover from the traumas that they have undergone and also to make the challenging journey from childhood to adulthood which is full of trials, traps and uncertainties.
The psycho-social healing programmes are designed to create a lasting healing impact on children. Art therapy, meditation, mindfulness and metta centred activities are used as basic channels to facilitate this healing process. Art and creativity are used as modes of expressing inner feelings, tensions and dilemmas. At the end of each activity that involves self-expression, they are made aware of meditative, mindfulness-based, nature-based and metta-based healing techniques that can be used in responding to similar stressful or disturbing situations. They gradually learn to find self-love, self-compassion, self-worth and also to foster trust and forge friendships. They carry a special message, a new perspective on life, world and relationships at the end of each programme.