Last night my wife and I watched on of the most moving documentaries we have seen in a long time. It’s called The Dhamma Brothers, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Brief Synopsis (from website)
An overcrowded, violent maximum-security prison, the end of the line in Alabama’s prison system, is dramatically changed by the influence of an ancient meditation program. Behind high security towers and a double row of barbed wire and electrical fence live over 1,500 prisoners, many of whom will never again know life in the outside world. But for some of these men, a spark is ignited when it becomes the first maximum-security prison in North America to hold an extended Vipassana retreat, an emotionally and physically demanding program of silent meditation lasting ten days and requiring 100 hours of meditation.
The Dhamma Brothers tells a dramatic tale of human potential and transformation as it closely follows and documents the stories of the prison inmates at Donaldson Correctional Facility as they enter into this arduous and intensive program. This film has the power to dismantle stereotypes about men behind prison bars.
This wonderful video, which begins with an interview with my heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, includes the full documentary. Both the interview with Thay, and the documentary, are so inspiring and so well-worth one’s time!
The website for the documentary is here:
This film touched me in many ways, and seemed to me to be a wonderful living portrayal of the Four Noble Truths:
First, the film looks unflinchingly into the suffering of the inmates, the suffering their actions have caused others, and the hell realms they have created for themselves and others. (You may well find tears welling up in your eyes as the stories of individual inmates are told.)
Second, it shows the causes for that suffering, in the inmates upbringing, their culture, their poverty and ignorance, and in the individual choices they made as human creations of these causes and conditions. It also shows the dehumanizing effects of prisons and how they foster violence and endless cycles of suffering.
Third, it shows how this suffering could be brought to an end by calming meditation and by the insights one can gain through quieting the mind and looking deeply into its nature.
Fourth, it showed that even in the hell of a prison, there is a path to bring about liberation of the mind, through moral precepts, through mindfulness, through meditation, and through insight into the nature and causes of suffering, the impermanence of the things we cling to, and the illusion of an unchanging, permanent self stuck in suffering.
In terms of my own practice, the film helped me realize even more powerfully what a tremendous gift the dhamma is and how very precious my freedom to mediate daily is. It also showed me the value of a supportive community, of a sangha, for the support for those trying to free their hearts and minds.
I mentioned this latter, because one of the most difficult things to watch in the film is how the prison vipassana program is initially shut down by Christian religious forces in Alabama who felt threatened by the success of the program. And one of the most inspiring things is how the “dhamma brothers” find ways to continue the meditative practice and preserve the dhamma community in the face of this opposition.
Again, I can’t recommend this movie enough. I got it through my NetFlix account, but you can also get it through Blockbuster Videos. I guarantee it will be one of the best films you watch this year or any year. As it did for me, may it inspire you to greater effort and consistency in your own meditation practice and to supporting ways to help end the cycle of suffering in our prison systems.