One of the volunteers who helps our Buddhist group commented that it must be really hard to do Vajrasattva retreat here in prison. I asked him why, and he said because of all the distractions. I then said, “Aren’t there even more distractions out there? Plus you must have a job so that you can live day to day and that takes up lots of time.”
I believe there are many more distractions “out there” than in here, but even here, you can find them if you wish and keep yourself from the path. One Buddhist here has been distracted for the last couple of months by playing poker. Since he is my neighbor, I mentioned this to him, because he had been serious about practice. He shared that there were some outside issues he was dealing with and this was his way of coping. I suggested he use his spiritual practice.
It is interesting to hear people’s perceptions of what goes on here, even those of the volunteers, and to give them a better idea of what it’s like. Practicing in prison can be a wonderful opportunity to put what you learn into practice. Unlike “out there,” here we cannot really get away from others, even if we want to. Finding time alone can be difficult, especially if one’s cellie (roommate) isn’t compassionate (I’m lucky in the regard and have a great cellie). I am blessed to be able to practice here.
My retreat practice goes well and I really enjoy doing it. I do short morning session before work, then come back and do a full hour session. I do another session about 6:00 p.m. when my cellie is at the gym and then finish up with a short one around 10:00 p.m. It has been so mentally cleansing. Thank you.
The practice is like a mental parrot on my shoulders, pecking at my mind when it is necessary, reminding me to stay in the moment and to share loving-kindness with everyone.
To have a daily practice like Vajrasattva in addition to my regular daily practice is just wonderful. And everything together has really helped this month. My attorneys just filed a motion to do with my case and it was the top story and front-page news in the city. The media have been having a field day.
Advice to a young retreatant
You are indeed very lucky to have such a wonderful opportunity to practice at the Abbey with Venerable Thubten Chodron. Count yourself among many who wish to do this (including myself), but are not able to for various reasons. This is an occasion of great joy and learning, from a source of great knowledge and compassion.
You have probably heard older people say, “Boy, when I was your age, I wish I had had such an opportunity to …” Well, now you’re hearing it again. I would have loved it if, when I was younger, I had had the chance to learn like yourself.
Don’t waste the time you now have. Reading your letter, it is obvious to me that you are doing well in your practice. Yes, mixed feelings and thoughts will arise, but this is to be expected, isn’t it? it’s not so easy to change the mind when one has many years of doing things or thinking in a certain way. Just think how hard it can be for some of us old farts!
Please don’t get frustrated. Nothing worth having is ever that easy, but it is worth it. In my humble opinion, the path is just as important as the destination. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a person perfected without trials.”
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.