(Translated from the original in Hindi)
Nasik Jail, Nasik Road, India February 16, 1996
My dear chief guest, prison officials and my dear prisoners:
A life of bondage is full of sorrow. There is no greater suffering than bondage and no greater happiness than freedom. I can very well understand how much sorrow there is in your hearts. I myself have stayed for twenty days in one jail and ten days in another jail with prisoners like you, listening to their problems and their sufferings. And having shown them a way out to get out of their suffering, I felt immense pleasure. These prisoners are away from their families, even if they get to meet them once in a while, they cannot stay together for long. However bad conditions may be at home, it is still a home. You cannot get the same feeling here, same freedom here. To stay amidst these walls itself is suffering.
But there is another suffering greater than this. These thoughts which keep arising in the mind, of the family, about one's father, wife, children, brothers, sisters, these thoughts bring worry about them, about oneself. Such thoughts, that when the time comes and we will be free, but then at the same time there is this worry whether society will accept us or not. How to join society again, worry about the future.
Then one more thought comes to the mind: "Oh I did this wrong action in my life for which I got punished," so one repents and these thoughts keep coming in the mind and it brings suffering. Another thought comes to the mind that, "I would have never landed in this place had it not been for that fellow who testified against me, or cheated me, or that particular officer who got after me and caught me." Then anger arises in the mind against such persons; one wants to take revenge and then one becomes upset, tense. One cannot get such thoughts in the mind and still feel peaceful. Whether one worries about oneself, about the family or about the future, one becomes upset and tense. As and when anger arises in the mind, the person becomes unhappy and tense. You cannot generate anger and ill will towards others and hope to feel peaceful yourself.
So what should one do? There may or may not be freedom from these four walls someday, but this other jail of the mind where one keeps generating defilements like anger, animosity, ill will and becomes miserable, there is a way out of this jail. We are all prisoners of this mental jail where the mind has formed a pattern of behaviour and keeps generating defilements and making us miserable. We were already miserable being away from our families, now we are increasing this misery by defiling our mind day and night. How to get out of this suffering?
In our country there have been many saints, many enlightened persons, liberated persons, (and) this is what they searched for. "Oh, man is such a miserable creature, how to come out of this suffering?" They learnt to observe themselves: "What is happening inside me this moment?" The moment one learns to observe oneself, he begins to come out of his suffering. The moment anger arises or revengeful thoughts arise in the mind, if you can learn to look within yourself at that moment, you will see yourself burning, your heartbeat has increased, there is so much misery, so much tension. This is something we never did so far. Every time we generate anger, we are rolling in thoughts of some person: what he did to me, how to take revenge on him. We never learnt to look at what was happening to us. A great person of our land learnt to do this. Every time we defile our mind and we learn to look within, we see that there is a fire within. If a man keeps his hand on a fire, even by mistake, his hand burns and he pulls it back. He may repeat the mistake and again he will pull his hand back. Thus he learns not to keep his hand on the fire. He learns by experience that fire will burn so one should not touch it. Similarly when one learns to see within, he learns by experience that every time he generates anger he begins to burn within, every time he generates any defilement, he becomes miserable. Thus he understands the law of nature.
Like there is a law of the government. If you break this particular law, then this is the punishment. That is the law made by the government to keep order in the country. One cannot say how long it will take for the punishment in the case of this law. We may do this particular crime and the case may go on in the courts for years before the judgement is given and the punishment is carried out. But in the law of nature there is no delay. As soon as one breaks this law, he is punished immediately.
As soon as we generate any defilement in the mind then immediately we are punished and we feel miserable. The same law of nature also rewards us immediately when we stop generating defilements. The moment we stop defiling our mind, clean the mind of its impurities, we feel very happy, very peaceful. Who does not want peace? But how to find peace and happiness? Not by asking or wishing for it. Everybody asks for peace from God, but who can give it? One does not even get food by asking for it. One has to work for it. To find peace and happiness within, one has to work for it. That is what our saints and enlightened persons did. They looked within themselves and as soon as any defilement came up, they removed it. Thus they became free from all suffering.
But how did they do this? Anybody can understand that he should not generate anger. If he does so then he only becomes miserable; nothing happens to the person against whom the anger is generated. He only ends up punishing himself. He may understand this very well, but what to do? One keeps repeating the same thing. Just like an alcoholic understands fully that alcohol is bad for him, but the addiction is so strong that he cannot stop drinking. Or like a gambler who knows that by gambling he will ruin himself and his family, yet he cannot stop gambling. Or the immoral person understands very well that it is wrong, but he still cannot stop himself.
All these actions of the body and speech one understands very well that it is wrong. Especially in India where one keeps hearing sermons—don't do this, don't do that, this is wrong, you should not do any action of the body or speech which will hurt somebody else. One understands this very well, whether he is a Hindu or Muslim or Jain or Christian. It is the same for all religions but still we keep doing it. Why? Because our mind is not in our control. We are not the master of our mind. The mind is our master, we dance to its tunes. If we cannot master our own minds, then how can we hope to improve it? This is what the enlightened persons of our country taught, how to become master of our mind.
There are many ways to control the mind. So this person gave such a technique which anybody could use. Whether he is a Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Jain makes no difference, this technique is acceptable to all. To observe your own breath, as it comes in, as it goes out that is all. Just observe. Breath is common for all. It is not Hindu breath or Muslim breath or Jain breath. You have to just observe. It comes in, it goes out; you are observing. Then the mind wanders, you have to bring it back to the breath, you keep observing. As you continue to do so, the mind begins comes in control slowly.
After that the work of knowing oneself begins. So said a great saint of this country: "The man who knows himself, he is free from all the sufferings of this world. Know thyself." But how? By listening to discourses of the saints or by reading books? No, only by experience one can realize. This "I", "mine" which we keep saying. Who is this "I": this body or this mind? What is this "I"? Find out by experience. Thus the man who begins to know himself knows everything. He who does not know himself is totally ignorant.
A great Muslim saint from Punjab—oh, how can you call a saint a Hindu or a Muslim. One who has purified his mind is a saint. Hindu or Muslim label is immaterial—so this great saint said: "One who knows himself, knows the Lord, and has complete knowledge. One who does not know himself, he lives in ignorance."
So know thyself. What happens when you begin to know thyself? This body which we call as "I", you begin to understand it, understand it by experience and not just by hearing or reading about it. Only by experience you can understand the words of the saint, the law of nature, what is this law and how to follow it.
What is this law of nature? Defile your mind and you will be punished. Do not defile your mind and you will be rewarded. This government law, you may be able to escape it. But from this law (of nature) there is no escape. Inside and outside this jail, this law is the same. Even if you get out of this jail of four walls you will still be in this mental jail of your defilements where you react all the time. That has become our nature and we are slaves of the mind.
So this way you are prisoners of two jails, so double suffering. This jail of four walls, you may or may not be able to get out from, but there is a way out of this mental jail. Come learn this technique of becoming free from your defilements. Arrangements are being made here to conduct such courses, so all of you can come to learn this technique. Then despite being inside the jail, you can find peace and happiness. How? Because you will stop defiling your mind and when you can learn to do that, the mind becomes pure and a pure mind knows only compassion, love for all beings. Even if someone has harmed you in the past, you will feel compassion for him: "Poor man, even if he has harmed me, why should I feel anger toward him. I will only harm myself that way, like placing my hand on fire. Let me save myself from this fire. Why should I burn myself?" Which man would want to hurt himself and become miserable? None. This is the way to save oneself, by knowing oneself. Know thyself. The law of nature works the same way outside and inside. The outside world one can see and understand with his intelligence, but inside, we can only understand it by our experience. If we can understand it by experience, then there will be no doubts, no false ideas or imagination. This great saint said: "I have seen and understood the truth within myself."
So until you understand this truth by experience there will be only ignorance, only imagination. You don't get sleep in the night, you become tense and miserable; no peace. "Oh, that man, he gave false testimony against me, he cheated me, that is why I landed up here and am unhappy." Once you learn to see within yourself, you will see that the cause of your misery is your own anger, your own aversions, ill will. The incident may have taken place long back, but what are you doing now? Defiling your mind again and again and becoming unhappy. When you being to understand this fact, you have lifted the veil of ignorance and then observing the truth as it is, you will learn to come out of your misery.
This is what the sages taught: learn the truth about yourself. The great saint of India said: "Know thyself, know the truth." This great saint gave a new word to India. Before him, the words dukhiyara, meaning someone full of misery, and sukhiyara, meaning someone who is happy, these words were being used. This saint coined a new term sachiyara, meaning one who is with the truth always.
Observe the truth as it is, no imagination. So we start with this truth about our breath: it is coming in, or it is going out. This saint said: "One who works with the truth at every step, he reaches that ultimate truth. He understands the truth about himself and when he does that he becomes free from all suffering."
Whenever you come for a 10-day course, you observe your breath for two, three days and then you realize that something is happening around your nose. Something is changing. You get various sensations: cold, heat, pulsating, tickling, throbbing. You begin to observe this. As you keep observing this, after about four, five days you realize that this is happening all over the body. Something is changing all over the body every moment. You have found the way to observe the truth about yourself.
Now you will see, as and when anger arises in the mind, immediately there is a burning sensation in some part of the body. As soon as the anger goes away, the burning stops; there is peace. Thus you begin to experience and understand the law of nature. This is the law: whenever I defile my mind, I get punishment immediately; nature shows no mercy. Nature does not see whether the man is a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or whether he is a brahman or any other caste, or whether he is Indian, or Russian or American. Let him be anyone—defile the mind and the punishment is immediate. Similarly, purify the mind and the reward is immediate. You feel peace, you feel happy. Everybody wants to be happy, isn't that so?
This wonderful technique of our country, it got lost for 2000 years, for various reasons. But it remained in the neighbouring country of Burma where it was carefully preserved like a jewel for 2000 years. It has now come back to India in its pure form. This is a universal technique. Dhamma is universal. Dhamma is law of nature. Just as nature of fire is to burn. That is universal. You cannot have Hindu fire or Muslim fire or Christian fire or Buddhist fire. Fire is fire and its nature is to burn. If it does not burn then it is something else, not fire. Similarly the law of nature says if there are defilements in the mind, they will burn. This is same for everyone, whether he is a Hindu or Muslim or Jain or Christian or any religion, caste. Anyone who defiles his mind will become unhappy and at that very moment. Similarly anyone who purifies his mind will get peace and at that very moment. This is the discovery of the sages and saints of this country: to go within oneself and find out the truth about oneself. The simple truth that if we defile our minds, we become unhappy and if we remove the defilement, we become happy.
Instead of understanding this simple truth, we have ended up confusing ourselves and misleading others in the name of Dhamma. The simple law of nature which says that the nature of a mind full of defilement is to make us miserable and the nature of a pure mind is to bring peace. But if one wants only to listen to discourses about this, then one has only understood it in a superficial manner. But when one experiences it, then it is the correct understanding and then one begins to come out of this behaviour pattern and thus out of his suffering. The rule is the same for all persons irrespective of his religion or caste. The law of nature is impartial and unbiased.
Come learn this technique and get liberated. So many people have been benefited. Not only those outside but also those who are in jails. Those who have double jails, one of four walls and one jail of these defilements. They have learnt Vipassana and they keep practising and now they are becoming free from the jail of defilements. They accept this jail of four walls with a smile: "I must have done some crime in this life or maybe some other for which I have to undergo this suffering. Let me undergo this trial with a smile. Why should I get tense and suffer?" They have changed the behaviour pattern of the mind. Now they do not generate any anger or ill will. So they find that they can sleep peacefully in the night. They are happy. So many people have come out of their misery through this technique.
In Burma, the country where I was born and raised, there was a man in one of their jails, a man who had committed 17 murders, burnt down so many villages and all sorts of crimes. He learnt this technique from some saint and was practising it. He became a changed person. So the government decided to free him before his term expired. Now he is teaching others this technique. He has become a saint. He goes around the country teaching others.
Similarly, during the lifetime of the Buddha, there was a man called Angulimala. You might have heard his story. He took a foolish vow that he would kill 1000 persons. Now how to keep count of the people killed. So he would cut off their finger and string it on a garland around his neck. He killed 999 persons and was waiting to kill the 1000th, but he could not find anyone. He was living in the jungle and no one would go that way out of fear. So he was hunting for his last victim.
The Buddha came to hear of him and was filled with compassion for him: "Poor man, how miserable he must be. Not only is he hurting others but also himself." The Buddha goes to see him and Angulimala tries to kill him. But how can you kill a saint? He listens to the words of the Buddha and his mind becomes peaceful. This man who killed 999 innocent persons who may have not harmed him in any way, this man, he started practising this technique and became fully liberated from his misery.
If he could do this, so can all of you. None of you have killed 999 persons. So come, liberate yourself. Like this man from Burma who killed 17 people and burnt so many villages. He too became a saint. How did he become a saint? Not by the grace of this person or that person. He became a saint through his own efforts. And what kind of effort? By external efforts you may earn your daily bread, but this effort is within yourself. If you do this internal effort then you can find real peace, real happiness. One who has managed to remove all his mental defilements, there is no one happier than him. He remains peaceful in all situations.
But it is not such a simple matter to remove these defilements. You have to work hard and diligently. First you have to learn to control your mind. Then slowly you have to learn to see within: "See, this defilement is arising in my mind and look this is the sensation on my body, an unpleasant sensation and then I become tense and unhappy. The moment the defilement goes away, the sensation goes away and also the tension and there is peace in my mind." You yourself have to learn to observe this and experience this and only then you can come out of this misery. Nobody else can do it for you. Someone can, at the most, show you the way: "Look this is the path on which I walked and became free, but you have to walk yourself."
Do not think that because you are within these four walls, you are miserable. Just as you are prisoners here, so are the people outside these walls. They are prisoners of their own defilements and are miserable. And whenever you come out of this jail, you will still find yourself a prisoner of that jail, you will still be miserable. Now this is the way to come out of that jail, so you should take advantage of this path. Because of some crime committed in some lifetime, you landed up in this jail and its suffering. But also understand this, in some lifetime you must have done some great meritorious act, because of which, this government, these officials are now making arrangements for you to learn this technique, so that you can come out of all your miseries. Otherwise this would have never happened.
Look at the person outside who has the time. He can only talk: "Oh this place in Igatpuri, it is very good. Whoever goes there is full of praise. They say they have found peace, they have got rid of this addiction or that addiction. This man has become a changed person." He only talks, but he can never go for the course. Some problem or the other always comes up when he wants to go. He is not in jail but still he cannot go for the course. So in that sense you people are very fortunate that you are in this jail. You can comfortably go for the course. Do so and you will find that in ten days your world has changed.
After that we will make such arrangements here so that you can meditate everyday in the morning and evening. When you meditate, you will find real peace here itself. Those of you who do not get sleep in the night will find that you can sleep peacefully. You might have been having fights among yourself: "I am a Hindu and you are a Muslim or Christian," etc., etc. Now your thinking will change. This person does not defile his mind so he is a good man. No more Hindu, Muslim, etc. The habit pattern of the mind will change and when this happens you will begin to come out of your suffering.
All those of you who have come to this Dhamma gathering, just by listening there is no use. You may hear great praise about some sweet, it is so tasty, it is so delicious. But until you eat it yourself, you cannot know the taste. Only then you can say: "Yes, this sweet is very good." Similarly just hearing about Vipassana: "Oh it is so good, it can liberate you," etc. No use unless you start practising yourself. Practise it and then you will realize that this ancient technique of this country can bring you real peace, real happiness. You were a prisoner of your own mind, now you are becoming free from this jail.
You can enjoy the pleasure of liberation even while being inside this jail. All of you who have come for this Dhamma gathering, may you all find the way out of your suffering. May you all find real peace, real happiness. May you all be happy.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Every man is his own god, his own master. But you have to win this mastery over yourself and become a god and then everything will happen as per your wish. But if you are not your own master, instead you are a slave of the mind, then you will blame others for your actions. You will think: "God did like this or like that, that is why I am in jail." Oh no. You did something wrong, that is why you are here. Then you should change your behaviour. So if there is a God then he will only be pleased with you. He will be happy with you.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: If really you were not involved in any murder, but still you have been imprisoned, then to prove yourself innocent, you need to keep your mind calm, only then you can convince. If you keep getting upset and getting angry with someone, then you will be in state of confusion. Then how can you convince others of your innocence. When you do this course then your mind will calm down and then you can tackle the problem better and try to convince others of your innocence. Even otherwise, if it is so that your are innocent and yet you are being punished now, it may be due to some crime committed in some other lifetime. You are experiencing the fruits of your past actions. Learn to accept these fruits with a smile: "I will not defile my mind now. I will change my life this way." Then only you will be happy and find peace.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Oh no, nothing will happen like that, who told you this? Don't believe such things. Dhamma will still be around.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes, of course you can. This government has been very kind enough to make the arrangement for the course in the jail. Everybody wants to change the criminal with the help of sticks, but how can you do that? Nobody will change that way. Fortunately this government has realized that and is now trying to change you with Vipassana. That is very good. Make best use of this opportunity.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: This is the way to understand oneself. Look within yourself: "What is happening within me at this moment? What is my mind doing? Some defilement is arising in my mind and I am becoming tense or it is going away and I am feeling peaceful?" Thus you will learn about yourself.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: I have already explained that just by listening to discourses, it is not beneficial. You heard my talk now, has it bought you any peace? Maybe so, for a few moments, it felt good. There were thoughts of Dhamma in the mind for some time and it felt good. But inside that, tension was still there. We just diverted our minds for sometime, but inside it was still the same. This technique will help you to change from within. Vipassana will answer all your questions.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: We are slaves of our minds, this is true. But we should be masters of our mind. This is the technique to achieve this. As you learn to do this for ten days and then practise daily morning and evening, you will become the master of your mind. This is in your hands, not somebody else’s.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: There is some little benefit from this. When a person is extremely upset and does not know what to do, it helps to keep the mind occupied with such activity but this helps only at the surface of the mind—about 5%. But the remaining 95% of the mind does not get diverted. This part of the mind is always with the body sensations and reacting with craving and aversion, thus making you tense. You have to cure that part of the mind. Vipassana does that.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: This is very unfortunate, but what to do? This suffering that you are going through, waiting for the last seven years for your case to begin. One does not know whether one is a criminal or not, yet one has to suffer a jail sentence. Now this situation, one can undergo with a smile or by lamenting. This technique of Vipassana teaches you to go through it with a smile. Then you will see the situation change by itself. One has to rectify oneself first before trying to change outside things.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Which means something was missing. It is one thing to keep the mind occupied in some activity and quite another thing to go deep within the mind and remove its defilements by the roots. Once this is done, peace comes by itself.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Who makes our fate? We ourselves by our actions and past deeds. If we do good deeds, then our fate will be good; if our deeds are bad, so will our fate be. Become master of your mind and make your own fate.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: This technique can help you. You will understand, that deep inside there is a root cause of your misery. This desire at the deep level of your mind makes you miserable. The desire at the surface level of the mind can be fulfilled somehow, but this deep inside there is a constant desire which keeps you agitated and this technique will help you come out of it.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: We have to live our lives with a smile and when the time of death comes we have to accept is with a smile. This is the art of living. Then if there is a God he will be very happy with us: "Look, I gave this man life; he leads a good life with a smile. I gave him death; he accepted that also with a smile." If we learn to live, then we also learn to die. This technique teaches us the art of living and the art of dying. A Vipassana meditator will never die in an unconscious state, he will never die in a state of tension and misery. He will always die smiling. Thus you learn to live peacefully and die peacefully. This is the greatest art one can learn in this life.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: That is what this technique is all about. You will totally change, I guarantee it. But you will have to work for it. You cannot hope to change just by getting the blessings of some guru. You have to work yourself.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: I can understand your problem very well. This technique will help you remove such suffering. Now when we suffer, we tend to ascribe it to external reasons: "He did like this or like that, that is why I am miserable." When you learn to look within, you will realize: "I have defiled my mind and that is why I am unhappy." Remove the defilement and see, the misery goes away.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: That is the mistake you are making, giving rise to disgust in the mind. Sometimes it so happens that we cannot convince a person using soft language. Then in that case we may have to use harsh words to do our duty. We may have to take harsh action, but we need not have harsh thoughts in our mind to do this. Before you use any harsh words, look within yourself: "Is there love and compassion within me for this fellow? Poor man, he does not understand soft words, so for his own benefit I have to use harsh words." If you are having feelings of love and compassion within you, then you are performing your duty in the correct manner. This is why we have both prisoners and jail officials doing courses together. Both are suffering from the same problems, so both can find the solution.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: The individual has to change first, only then the society can change. First you try to change yourself, forget about others. Even if one man changes for the better, there is that one flicker [sugg: glimmer] of light in a world of darkness. This flicker [sugg: glimmer] will slowly grow and soon you will have light everywhere. All corruption will get removed. So first the individual has to change. That is what this technique does.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: That is why you should learn this technique, and learn how to control your mind and purify it, only then you will find peace.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: There is only one will of the Almighty. That if you defile your mind, then you should be punished; if you purify your mind then you should be rewarded with peace. Such a simple fact. Learn this and you will be on the path to progress.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Let people call you by any name. I told you the about this man in Burma who committed 17 murders. He too was called a murderer. But he changed himself and now no one calls him that. He has become a saint, people bow to him. You also become a saint and people will bow to you. That is in your hands, to become a saint. Purify your mind and you become a saint
Mr. S. N. Goenka: That is the whole problem. No one wants to generate anger, but what to do, it happens. This technique will help you come out of that habit. This habit of generating anger, it is like a jail. You can come out of this jail.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: You think good of others, that is very nice. But that is only at the surface level of the mind. What about the rest of the mind? That is full of defilement. There is craving and aversion in this mind which is making you miserable. So if you try to improve things at the surface level, it does not work for long. Until the roots are cured you cannot find real peace.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Within oneself.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: When you keep observing your breath, you may feel it has stopped for a moment. This happens when the mind becomes peaceful and concentrated.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: Yes, definitely they will become empty someday. About 20 years ago, I had gone to Switzerland and was on a tourist bus. The bus stopped in front of a large building and the guide started explaining: "This is a large building which can accommodate about 500 people. But there have been no residents here for the last 10 years." What was that building? It was the local jail. Someday this will happen in India also. When Vipassana arises in this country, all these jails will become empty.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: May all of you also get the company of good persons and find peace. There is nectar filled in the immortal words of our gurus. Let us taste that nectar. All this time you have only heard of it. When you start working within yourself, only then you will taste the nectar: "Oh, this what our Guru Nanak said. Now I understand him." When this happens you will be on the path of progress.
Mr. S. N. Goenka: It will be very happy. If everyone becomes a saint, what can be better than that? A saint is always welcome inside or outside. That is all? May all be happy. May all get the opportunity to do a course and find peace. May all be happy.