Doing Time Doing Vipassana

17 Feb


“We’re all prisoners undergoing a life sentence…imprisoned by our own minds…”

These words narrated in the documentary have a particular universal resonance as it echoes the lives of the inmates of Tihar Jail, one of the most notorious jails in India. In 1993, Kiran Bedi was appointed as the new Inspector General of Indian prisons and in the process of reforming the harsh conditions of Tihar Jail, she learned of the wonders of Vipassana meditation and was determined to implement it.


Kiran Bedi is determined to implement Vipassana meditation in one of India’s most notorious prisons, Tihar Jail.

However, this was not the first time Vipassana meditation was tried within the prison environment. In the mid-1970s, two 10-day Vipassana courses were given for jail officers and inmates of a jail in Jaipur, India. It was met with great success but no further courses were given for the next 20 years until Kiran Bedi’s time. She realized the potential and requested additional courses be conducted in the largest prison in India, Tihar Jail outside of New Delhi and the results were totally successful. Based on this success, another course was conducted in April 1994 by Goenkaji and a number of his assistant teachers for over one thousand inmates of Tihar prison with astonishing results.

At the end of 1994 to 1995, the filmmakers Eilona Ariel and Ayelet Menahemi traveled to both Tihar and to the Baroda Jail of Gujarat, at which Vipassana courses had also been conducted. At those jails, they filmed extensive interviews with jail officials including Kiran Bedi, and inmates from many different countries who had participated in these courses. The result of the series of interviews was an extremely powerful documentary film entitled Doing Time, Doing Vipassana. The film describes the way in which Vipassana had been successfully implemented within the Indian prison system and the result was just dramatic improvement to the behavior and attitude of both inmates and jailers alike. The most poignant moment of the film was how hardened criminals wept on the shoulders of their jailers because of the remorse they felt after Vipassana meditation.


The most poignant moment of the film was how hardened criminals wept on the shoulders of their jailers because of the remorse they felt after Vipassana meditation. 

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana had been broadcasted all over the world, from USA to Poland and had been the winner of many awards including the Golden Spire Award in 1998 San Francisco International Film Festival. The festival’s management wrote the following about the jury’s decision in giving the award to this film:-

“The jury was moved by this insightful and poignant exposition on Vipassana. The teaching of this meditation as a transformation device has many implications for people everywhere, providing the cultural, social and political institutions can embrace and support its liberating possibility.”

This is one of the most influential documentaries ever made because it proves of the power of Buddhist meditation in subduing and controlling an unruly mind.

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