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Prison Dharma


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Imagine trying to generate even the slightest bodhicitta -- the intention to become fully enlightened in order to benefit all sentient beings most effectively -- in a prison environment. It's similar to generating compassion in hell! Although we are all prisoners of our negative karma, negative emotions, and disturbing attitudes, we still have this precious human life. Nothing can ever take away our Buddha potential. Ven. Chodron and the prisoners with whom she corresponds offer practitioners insights into how they can benefit themselves and others in even the most difficult situations.

 


 

Excerpts:

We have to look at our mind. What is our motivation? What are our emotions? What are our thoughts? What is going on inside of us? Our mind is what generates a motivation. When the mind has a motivation, then the mouth moves and the body moves. Deliberately cultivating a good motivation is an essential part of Buddhist practice.

 


 

Our motivations and our intentions are what leaves karmic seeds on our mindstream. It’s not what other people think about us; not what they say about us; not whether we’re praised or blamed. What is going on in our own heart and mind is what determines the type of karmic seeds we’re depositing on our mindstream.

 


 

When the reporter said, “How come you’re not angry?” His Holiness leaned back and said, “What good does it do to be angry? If I were angry, it doesn’t free any of the Tibetan people. It doesn’t stop the harm that is going on. It would just keep me from sleeping. My anger would keep me from enjoying food; it would make me bitter. What positive result could anger bring me?”This reporter looked at His Holiness with her jaw agape, totally blown away.

 


 

Compassion and patience may not be the way the world looks at things, but it’s nice not to look at things the way most people do, especially if their way causes more suffering.

 


 

That person was in pain, that person didn’t actually have the intention of hurting me. Although it might have seemed at that moment that he did want to hurt me, actually what was happening was he was overwhelmed by his own suffering and under the control of his mental afflictions. What he did didn’t really have much to do with me. What he did was an expression of his own pain and confusion. If he weren’t overwhelmed by these emotions, he would not have acted in that way.

 


 

 

Mind Training DVD Series for Prison Libraries


Venerable Abbess Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron and residents at Sravasti Abbey frequently correspond with inmates in prisons around the country. While not originally intending on starting a Prison Dharma Program, Venerable Chodron and the community have learned how deeply the Buddha’s precious teachings can change the way we think even in the worst of situations:

“Imagine trying to generate even the slightest bodhicitta -- the intention to become fully enlightened in order to benefit all sentient beings most effectively -- in a prison environment. It's similar to generating compassion in hell! Although we are all prisoners of our negative karma, negative emotions, and disturbing attitudes, we still have this precious human life. Nothing can ever take away our Buddha potential.”

In an effort to better serve our dharma brothers and sisters in prisons (including the 50-70 inmates that participate in our Retreat From Afar each year), Sravasti Abbey proposed and was recently given a grant by the Spokane Rotary Club to purchase equipment that would allow us to expand this work by creating a DVD teaching series for distribution in prison Chapel libraries.

In the past, prisons have allowed us to send books (about 200/year) and audio teachings on cassettes as well as a quarterly newsletter. Increasingly, prison chaplains and libraries allow inmates to study by using DVDs. Video allows students to receive the full communication of an oral teaching—voice, inflection, facial expression, and gestures.

The ten disc-DVD series of teachings by Venerable Thubten Chodron will be on the classical Tibetan Buddhist text, “Mind Training Like Rays of the Sun,” which addresses how to transform adversity into spiritual growth and how to develop a loving and compassionate heart. For prison inmates, these teachings offer hope and a way to make their lives meaningful.

Through the Buddha’s teachings, we can see that our lives are more than our past actions . By listening, contemplating, and applying these teachings, we think, “I can do something good, something that benefits others, and that makes my life meaningful.”

12/30/2008

 

 

 

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