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Letters from the Dhamma Brothers: Meditation Behind Bars

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ISBN-13: 978-1928706311
ISBN-10: 1928706312
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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—Vipissana is an ancient nondenominational meditation technique that was revived by Gotama the Buddha 2600 years ago. These letters are a testament to the power that this practice has had on the lives of a handful of men in a high-security prison in Alabama. Many of them are serving life sentences, and all of them have struggled to find peace with themselves. The course has worked wonders for prisoners in India, where it was developed. For 10 days, the men meditated with three teachers, isolated from the rest of the prison population. They began by focusing on their own breath as a way of breaking down the barrier between mind and body. Out of the silence of meditation came an awareness that was transformative for these troubled men and that has lasted for years, even in the midst of the anguish of daily prison life. Teens in trouble or at risk would certainly find this book illuminating. So, too, would those trying to fathom how to lead a sane and peaceful life in a world that can be hard to comprehend. This book offers a chance to develop an understanding of how we can share a commonality with something as simple and as vital as a breath.—Will Marston, Berkeley Public Library, CA
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"[An] extraordinarily telling and inspiring book, its contents a witness to the human connection achieved. . . . Jenny Phillips manages to enable the far off, the imprisoned, to become the reader's informants and teachers."  —Robert Coles, from the book's foreword

"An absolutely compelling story of an astonishing treatment program with prison inmates that, against all odds, actually worked. . . . Should reshape the ideas of all of us, policy makers and citizens alike."  —Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author, No Ordinary Time

"The stories ring with the truth and power of their experiences and offers hope for renewal and rehabilitation within a dismal punishment-oriented correctional system.  —Sister Helen Prejean, author, Dead Man Walking

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pariyatti Publishing (September 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1928706312
  • ISBN-13: 978-1928706311
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Reader on August 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
Congressman John Lewis: "This book makes it plain that no human being should be considered beyond the reach of redemption." That quote is from the cover of the book.

It seems we don't know how to rehabilitate offenders other than try stiffer punishment. About 1 in 100 adults in the US is in jail or prison. New approaches are needed. Intense (Vipassana) meditation retreats may be one possibility. This book reflects that potential.

The book records the dramatic changes that prisoners experience as they attempt to purify their minds of such impurities as hatred, fear, greed, anger, etc., that have landed them in prison. This book makes it clear that the impurities they carry deep within cause suffering both to themselves and to those around them; and whatever relief they get using the meditation helps both them and others.

Recently, a documentary film of the meditation courses examined in this book, The Dhamma Brothers, has been released in select theaters across the US. The film captures in action what this book reflects on paper.

The question remains: How effective is this program for the convicts over time? That's difficult to say since each individual must try to integrate his/her insights into an environment that may be dysfunctional. But there are indications of overall success.

Vipassana courses have been held in prisons outside the US since 1975, starting in India. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has recognized Vipassana meditation as a technique to reform criminals and has introduced it in all Central Jails, particularly Tihar Prison, New Delhi.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ralph RAU on November 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
"Let him who is without guilt cast the first stone". These were Jesus's words to the crowd that gathered to stone the woman caught committing adultery.

It is easy to condemn others and throw away the key. If you tell a good person that he is evil and remind him about it every day (by locking him up like a wild beast) he or she will become evil.

Mindfulness meditation provides every human the opportunity to still the mental noise and get in touch with the deepest state of pure inner bliss.

All of us have sinned to greater or lesser degree. Crime (like wars) begins in the heart of man and it is only in the heart of man that the path to peace can be found.

The experience of Donaldson's prisoners demonstrates that Mindfulenss meditation is the ultimate secular path to peace at the personal level; the 'sine qua non' to peace in society and the world at large.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kick-Azz-Angel on February 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is absolutely wonderful. Read it in a day. Couldn't put it down. I had seen the documentary "Dhamma Brothers" on TV a couple of months back, I have recorded it and I watch it often. In the meantime I also bought the DVD. It's so great to read the letters of these tough guys, who at long last found themselves by doing Vipassana. I know what they talk about, because
I've started with Vipassana 2 years ago, and went twice for a 10 day course.
I will go on doing it 1x/year. I reccommend Vipassana to everyone. It truly is the greatest gift you can give to yourself. It's a "home-coming". Stepping out of the thinking mind and our ego-thoughts and dropping into peace, love and oneness.
Certainly NOT only life-changing for prisoners. Even we, outside of prison, are somehow prisoners.
And yeah, I still fall into the trap of ignorance and misperceptions and not seeing things as they are. But as Goenkaji says:
It certainly is alonglife journey, to free ourselves totally, step by step by step...

Vipassana is a great way to free the mind and to make peace with ourselves.

Not only reccommending this book but also the documentaries:
"Dhamma Brothers" and 2 other documentaries about Vipassana "Doing Time, Doing Vipassana" and "Changing from the inside".
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ken on February 8, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
How do the most hardened among us change? By sitting meditation. In this fast paced, digital world where continuous partial attention, or the epidemic of ADHD, rules, Vipassana (Insight) meditation offers another way.

Meditation is a great way, to calm, to center, to learn authenticity.
This form of meditation is non-sectarian. Those who teach it do not require or desire any kind of conversion to a faith. All are welcome to come and learn.

This is a technique of positive, personal, change, if these people in prison can do it, we can too.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Pie Dumas on March 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
I met Jenny Phillips a couple of years ago soon after her award-winning Dhamma Brothers film's release and a year prior to the release of this book. I was struck by her awareness, her inspiring wit and dogged determination to complete both projects. That's the kind of determination and belief required to accomplish the remarkable feats Jenny's work has inspired. To get anything done in corrections is daunting enough, to have a meditation course installed at a maximum facility in the deep south... And thriving is mind-boggling.
My hat flies in the air celebrating Jenny's breathtaking work.
You don't have to take my word... do yourself a favor and check out Jenny's website: dhammabrothers to watch/listen to Oprah interview Jenny and O.B. & Grady, 2 of the Dhamma Brothers at Donaldson Prison. This will serve as a wonderful entree before reading Letters from the Dhamma Brothers.
The book is a life-changing testimony with heartfelt sharing, gaining a glimpse of what these men are up against daily and you have the option to decide if the "changes" will last and if the transformation is real or not!
I was personally touched by reading the letters and stories because I have received letters from some of the Dhamma Brothers also.
It's a beautifully crafted book, true to the men's voices and spirits, Jenny has captured the essence of Vipassana and more than that, the beauty and power of love and compassion, forgiveness and hope.
Please read this book and watch the DVD.
Thank you.
Pie Dumas
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