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Episode 154 :: Jenny Phillips :: The Dhamma Brothers


Jenny Phillips

Jenny Phillips speaks with us today about her film, The Dhamma Brothers, about teaching vipassana to inmates in a maximum security prison in Alabama.

There are all kinds of reasons we find not to meditate. It can be hard work, for one thing, and sometimes we wriggle away mentally from the effort. And yet that effort is worth the time and commitment to actually do the practice. And those gains can be tremendous, if we’ve never before considered taking on meditation and doing it exclusively for a ten day retreat.

Consider that situation, in one of the most restrictive settings known, prison. Oddly, as we’ll see, the structured nature of prison life can make it well suited to the austere and regimented process of a vipassana retreat.

Jenny Phillips is a cultural anthropologist, writer, and psychiatric nurse. For over fifteen years, Phillips has provided services in the mental health department of a large medical center in Concord, MA. Her specialties include crisis intervention, family therapy, behavioral medicine, and hypnotherapy. Over the past ten years, she has worked with men in both state and county prisons, teaching courses on emotional literacy skills. In 2008, Phillips released The Dhamma Brothers into movie theatres. While working on the film, she received more than 200 letters from the Alabama prisoners documenting their lives in prison and their quest for inner peace. These collected letters were published in 2008 by Pariyatti Press as Letters From the Dhamma Brothers.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice organic East India Blend tea.




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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The track used in this episode is “Night Temple” from his CD, Traditional and Modern Pieces: Shakuhachi.

No Comments

  1. Candol on February 2, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    Hi Jenny

    Well done on the film. I’ve seen it and was moved by it too. Of course i believe there should be a lot more meditation in prisons.

    I’ve done two vipassana retreats, the most recent one last october. But i’ve got a question about exercise. You said something about how excercise is discouraged because it dissipates energy, thereby reducing the effects of the retreat – or something like that.

    Of course i’ve experienced the malaise that arises from not being able to do much exercise in the program but then found a way to do some exercise because i actually felt being so inactive was unhealthy and just wrong. The reasons given to us where that it would be distracting to other participants and i accept that so apart from walking, i did exercise in my room. It wasn’t clear to me that letting this state of feeling physically unwell through lack of exercise could be good for the meditation. But even so i am doubtful that it would be good for me. So could you please explain how it works and how it could be good for me.

    I just would like to understand more about how not doing physical exercise would actually improve ones experience. As i write this i can start to see some possible reasoning but i’m not convinced.

    Here’s my reasoning. Tell me if this is accurate and correct me of its wrong.

    Not exercising generates feelings of physical discomfort and unwellness in the participant. This then is an opportunity for the person to practice equanimity since it will undoubtedly bring up feelings of aversion towards the retreat organisation. So in trying not to allow that aversion to develop, remaining non-reactive, one develops strength. (I’m leaving out the jargon of sankharas and such because i dont’ actually accept some of what Goenka says in his theoretical model, though on the whole i do accept that trying to remain equanimous whilst feeling discomfort or difficult feelings, is beneficial.

    I accept sankharas as negative mental habit patterns and that not reacting in the usual way, reduces the power of those negative mental habit patterns.

    But isnt’ there enough to deal with during the course of a sitting with regard to physical discomfort of sitting for long hours and efforts of body scanning.

    Is the restriction against exercise meant to throw up something else, something of a deeper emotional quality? If so, like what? I can only see it would make me angry and feel physically worse. And i would probably struggle to actually stay put and could even see myself leaving in a very pissed off state of mind – this is what some people consider being traumatised by the retreat.

    The exercise that i tended to do was walking – which i did a lot of on my first retreat because it had a nice path. The second retreat didn’t have such a great walking track so i did prostrations and headstands in my room. Yes lol tibetan buddhist prostrations, even though i did not do them for any religious reasons whatsoever, just for exercise because they could be done easily in a confined space and get the blood really flowing and the heart pumping.


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