The man had committed murder many times and was now incarcerated in Tihar Prison outside of New Delhi. Yet as we watched him tell his story in the documentary Doing Time, Doing Vipassana, his face was peaceful and his eyes were calm.
He explained that although he’d committed many murders, he’d never felt any remorse about the lives he had taken, or even a connection between himself and his deeds. Then a new warden at Tihar introduced a voluntary program of Vipassana meditation. At first only a few prisoners participated, coming in large part to relieve the monotony.
But something started to change in these men; and others, noticing the difference, began to join in their daily meditation sessions. From a few participants, the numbers soon swelled to a few thousand, and the atmosphere of the prison began to change. The meditators began to wear fresh clothes, clean their environment, and improve the whole prison grounds. They began to serve each other, caring for those in need and helping the elderly and ill.
But more importantly, their consciousness began to change. The man in the film explained that after meditating for some months, he began to realize for the first time in his life the enormity of the sins he had committed. He prayed to God to be forgiven, and eventually was allowed to contact the family of one of his victims to beg for their forgiveness.
The victim’s family came to Tihar to meet their son’s murderer, and not only forgave him, but also continued to visit. After a period of time, they even legally adopted him as their son. Group practice of meditation is now being offered in prisons around the world.
I recently read about a new meditation program in some middle schools in the slums of San Francisco, California. These schools were notorious for their low attendance, low student academic performance, and so much violence that police cars were parked outside daily.
A new principal introduced a fifteen-minute Transcendental Meditation session at the beginning and end of each day. Within a few months, student attendance was up 98%, grades had improved dramatically, and violence was almost nonexistent.
At a time when each day brings some new act of violence that claims yet more innocent lives, these stories offer great hope for the future. They provide an answer to the question: How is it possible to achieve world peace?
As in the case of the meditating prisoners and students, human consciousness must first change on an individual level before broader social changes can take place. The Dalai Lama said, “If we taught every eight-year-old to meditate, we would end war in one generation.” Laws can’t control violence, governments can’t prevent it, nor wars stop it, because violence starts in the consciousness of the individual lost in ignorance.
Paramhansa Yogananda taught that peace must be found in the private heart through divine contact before it can be expressed in society at large. He wrote: “Toward realization of the world’s highest ideal — peace through brotherhood — may yoga, the science of personal contact with the Divine, spread in time to all men in all lands.”
Let us join together in this wave of social transformation, and through our practice of meditation create a spirit of global unity that can lead to lasting peace.
In divine friendship,