There are so many wonderful aspects of this technique, but one that still concerns me is whether it can protect people in a hostile environment. There are certain communities where vulnerability causes you to become a target. Travelers learn to act confidently and blend in as not to draw attention to themselves. People who, “Aren’t from around here” can very quickly become the target of a violent or non-violent crime. So while Vipassana is a great tool in a safe learning environment, how does it hold up under duress?
There are many stories of how the Buddha navigated hostile situations by maintaining the equanimity of his mind. In my work with troubled youth, I’ve observed how kids with agitated minds that want to instigate a confrontation with me can be derailed by my calm and loving response. They realize that I’m not the source of their anger or misery and usually try to redirect their frustration towards someone else, but sometimes they deescalate. In this way I can see how someone with the depth of the Buddha could protect himself from becoming a victim.
Jesus wasn’t so lucky. The people of his time were afraid of his impact so they tortured and murdered him. Jesus was trying to teach people to love without attachment and triggered a hostile response. Should this be a concern for a new Vipassana meditator?
When I was first starting to practice I felt very vulnerable and open so I sought out safe environments and isolated myself. One of the first tasks a teacher has in a classroom to facilitate learning is to create an environment where students feel safe making mistakes and asking questions. So what about people who don’t have access to safe environments?
This is one of the reasons prison courses spark interest in me. A prison is not a safe environment. People are continuously jockeying for position in the social hierarchy. This leads to verbal and physical attacks around the clock. Individuals seek out groups for protection and change their behaviors to be part of that group. This is the foundation of gangs in inner cities. So what happens when one of these inmates or gang members tries to develop a Vipassana practice? I’ve seen Dhamma Brothers and I’ve read some of their letters, but this is a tiny sample size. I want to hear more stories of personal experiences.
I have observed examples of violent individuals bypassing someone they respect. For example, someone vandalizing houses in a neighborhood may skip a church out of respect. A scared patient may yell at every nurse that enters their room but quiet down when a doctor enters. I wonder where meditators fall in the hierarchy of a hostile environment. Do meditators rise to the top of the hierarchy because people respect the compassionate way they go about life or do they fall to the bottom and become a target for someone else to climb the social ladder? This is an important question in discussions of social change. Hopefully meditation will help me discover an answer.