This is the blog feed for open communication between volunteers and those interested in the project. Thanks to everyone participating. May flowers spring up from your every footstep.
Thanks to everyone who attended the meeting at Murray City Library. It was wonderful to meet and talk with all of you.
Introduction: Bow, self, (shaking hands is not acceptable)
Program consists of: 6 teachers with practitioners, every week, but 4th, 4 , various traditions, robes, for Zen & Tibetan One Dharma,
Next week: Josh
What to expect during the 1 hour 45 minutes
Meeting others interested in meditation. Calming the body and the mind, learning how to meditate, hearing the Buddha’s teachings. Suggestions for meditation walking/sitting, between sessions, dedicated space, objects and Vipassana routine.
Suggested they memorize this: “Breathing in I calm my body and my mind, breathing out, I smile.
May I be balanced.
May I be at peace.”
Why are we here?: Buddha life story, teachings & oral history
Buddhism today: What it is, and what it is not., Buddha means to be aware/awake, to the extent we learn to respond, not react
Not religion in western tradition
Buddhism, is self exploration of ethics, wisdom and concentration to find our true nature.
Embodied mind, thought is the forerunner of all, our inner landscape need cultiation to be aware and awake.
Opening circle introductions
Becky and David
1.Name & where from? They did not say where they were from, so may not be allowed.
2. Inmate Experience with meditation or Buddhism or your spiritual path?
3. if no experience your interest or why did you sign up? There was mention of help to control anger.
Inmates had many questions, some had books they were reading, most had some meditation experience, but wanted details of how to sit. William talked about his efforts to establish a prison Sangha for the benefit of others. He also plans to make a bibliography of prison library books. There is a deep interest in meditation and Buddhist teachings.
I used their comments and questions to guide the meditation.
What is Meditation? – 4 Foundations
Posture Body Breath
Scan for tension
Meditation techniques included counting and noting
At this point there was no time to proceed, to the 4 Noble Truths as we had planned in January.
What the Buddha Taught: Dharma
4 Noble Truths
Comments? Discussion Takeaway Closing words
Suggestions for discussion in opening circle, for continuity:
· In what ways were you able to use last week’s meditation guidance?
· What were the hindrances you experienced?
· Was there any time to be together as a Sangha?
Four out of 3 people have trouble with fractions.
Hello dear friends,
Ben and I just returned from the prison. We had somewhere around 15 participants. We arrived around 5:15 and explored the chapel and did a 10 minute sit before the guys arrived.They had us hold our practice in the main chapel up on the platform where the pulpit is instead of using one of the chapel rooms. The men were very enthusiastic about joining us and practicing. And my first impressions were being surprised at the feeling of welcoming and safety/comfort in the Chapel. The officers and volunteers for other programs were all very warm and inviting.
During 'check in' many of the inmates expressed gratitude and a sense of peace. Some explained that they were working with anxiety or anger.
We read a short description from the website of Eyes of Compassion Sangha (TNH Denver) about sitting meditation, and sat for about 25 minutes. There was very little noise during the sit. I was very impressed by the stillness of the Sangha.
We did a circular walking meditation inside the circle of chairs. This proved to be difficult because it was a tighter space and we had to pay very close attention to one another to keep the circle moving in order.
We covered the 4 noble truths by reading an excerpt from Lama Surya Das's 'Awakening the Buddha Within' an excerpt from Thanissaro Bikkhu's 4 Noble Truths Study Guide, and all took turns reading from a Dharma talk on the 4 Noble Truths by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Then we opened the group for discussion. There was a minute of silence before anyone spoke up. We listened deeply to each other share our personal experiences in relation to the readings. Some of the things that came up were establishing communication and questioning our assumptions in order to maintain harmony with our loved ones. Also there was a request to hold some time for question and answer after the discussion. One of our friends asked about bowing and expressed a feeling of unfamiliarity and aversion. (we bow before beginning and after finishing speaking during discussions in our tradition) We intimated that bowing is a show of reverence and it is to recognize that the person we are talking to has the potential for awakening and living an enlightened life and that with Dharma discussion it signifies that we are speaking and listening to the speaker with the intention of practicing mindfulness, and compassion, and that speaking and listening is a practice just as much as our sitting meditation is. Then the question asked was "how do we bring that spirit out there, where bowing may not be appropriate" (motioning to the rest of the prison) The response was to listen with all of our attention and to offer a smile will express our reverence for people and bring the practice into daily interaction. Many of the guys were eager to share what they had learned before as well.
Upon leaving Ben and I both felt elated. It was truly a wonderful opportunity to share our practice. And we are looking forward to our next opportunity to volunteer and hearing about your experiences until then.
Thank you all
Will and I made our first visit to Utah State Prison on Saturday, as planned.
We were both struck by the relative ease of entering the facility. We passed two checkpoints on our way into Wasatch Unit where we were required to scan our IDs, but there were no searches, metal detectors or verbal checks whatsoever. We carried in notes, books and our zens without challenge.
Volunteers and privileged inmates had already moved chapel pews back and arranged folding chairs in an oval at the front by the time we arrived at about 530p. The oval proved a good arrangement.
About 20 inmates filed in right at 6p. Before introductions, we sat in open meditation for about 10 minutes.
Following intros, we explained a little about Urgyen Samten Ling and Vajrayana, then did a quick around-the-circle assessment of each person's reasons for being present. My sense is, we have a core of perhaps five experienced practitioners, ten who are eager beginners and the rest are drawn mostly by curiosity. One inmate told us up front he was heavily medicated and barely processing. Another got up and left part way through.
We delivered a personal message of encouragement and observations on meditating in a prison setting from our Lama Thupten Dorje Gyaltsen Rinpoche.
We reviewed meditation basics: 7-point posture of Vairocana and a few techniques for stilling the mind. This gave way to three successive rounds of (1) brief guidance, (2) five to 10-minute meditation sessions, and (3) listening to feedback from each inmate around the circle, followed by more guidance and meditation.
(The chapel has an digital keyboard we used to signal the end of each meditation session. Its sound is not very soothing and I hope to bring a singing bowl next time.)
We also discussed (in overview): The Four Noble Truths-- focused on the nature of suffering/unsatisfactoriness. We touched on the Four Immeasurables. Will gave a talk about the Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to the Dharma: preciousness of human birth, death and impermanence, karma, and attachment to samsara.
Inmates' questions took us to a more nuanced view of karma more centered on cause and effect rather than the more colloquial ``what goes around, comes around.''
We offered readings from Being Nobody, Going Nowhere (Ayya Khema) and Being Peace (Thich Nhat Hanh).
Discussion and open Q-and-A were both extremely helpful. At several points we found the more experienced inmates carried the discussion, producing excellent insights.
We left them with very basic guidance on breath-supported samantha and a suggestion they pursue it as a daily practice this week and report their findings next Saturday.
Our session ended a little after 745p.
Thank you and best wishes, Tony
I just wanted to drop a quick note about the last session. Gloria, Jennifer and I facilitated at the prison this last Saturday and had a very beautiful experience with the inmates.
There were about 20 people in our circle, plus the 3 facilitators. I framed the evening by letting them know a little bit about the Two Arrows Zen Center and the Zen tradition in general.
As a facilitator team, we focused on Presence; being alive and awake right now, whether in formal meditation or not. Throughout the session, we held a rhythm of guided meditations, about 10 minutes each, followed by group presencing (where the invitation is to speak from an awareness of what is present).
For curriculum, we explored the meaning of dukkha and tanha, the first two of the Noble Truths. The participants felt very engaged throughout, were participating actively (in both speech and silence) and thanked us generously for our time and support.
I'm deeply grateful to be a part of this team and to have this opportunity to share the dharma in this way. Love to you all.
Dear Dharma Friends,
We have a beautiful opportunity to share the Dharma with the inmates and I am grateful to join with you in this blessing.
At 6:00 pm the circle was formed with about 20 inmates, David, Becky and I. We began with calming, body, breath and mind and gained stillness before we spoke. Each inmate spoke with care about meditation in their lives. This allowed them to offer helpful suggestions to each other about coping, with noise for example. Their comments came from their meditation experience since we began to see them each Saturday. Their effort is heartfelt and they continue to question the practice both practically and mentally. Being with difficult emotions was expressed numerous times and how calming can be generated to stillness and meditation. We discussed the Buddha’s way of working with distracting thoughts and difficult emotions.
I left two Handouts. Mindfulness of Breathing and Leigh Brasington’s 5 Suggestions for Beginning and Ending a meditation sitting.
We brought tingsha bells to ring. One inmate said he was happy to hear the sound.
It was satisfying to see familiar faces and to continue the dialogue from the first visit.
Always metta, Shirley
I've read all the above comments and I'm encouraged by your shared thoughts of your experiences and thoughtful contributions.
Becky and I attended our meeting on February the 14th. Since I am not formally a teacher and only a practitioner, I brought with me materials introducing our teacher, Khetrul Lodro Thaye Rinpoche's, to the inmates. I also explained his approaches for conducting formal practice, the seven key points of posture while meditating, proper treatment of buddhist texts/prayers, and a quick guide for western practitioners of dharma.
Because we consider each opportunity for practice as a opportunity for the beneficial generation of merit, Khentrul Rinpoche advises the practice approach of the excellent beginning, the excellent middle and the excellent ending as a preferable format for those wishing to engage in Buddhist path. I explained and provided guidelines for this and we conducted our meeting using this principle. With this in mind, Becky and I left practice materials and texts in Tibetan and English so that the inmates could choose to use these for their practice.
It is my impression that these inmates are hungry for this type of interaction and particularly instruction on meditation. It's clear that the instructions need not be complicated to have great meaning in their lives. Moreover, directing the practice to benefit those with the least experience has great value by not discouraging beginner practitioners who might choose to attend.
In the future, we'll likely discuss the four noble truths as the group has chosen, but this initial discussion of meditation was well received. As Pema Chodren has discussed, we need to start with where we are:
"Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody's eyes because you feel you haven't got anything to lose--you're just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We'd be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn't have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”
― Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living
As I explained to the inmates, I'm humbled, and indeed grateful, by this opportunity to join the inmates for practice. It is a wonderful and beneficial gift we are all offering. Thank you all.
Thanks to all that attended our second project meeting on Saturday, February 21st. The following is the meeting's agenda and our discussion on the various topics. Best to all as we continue our teachings at the Utah State Prison.
Meeting Agenda, 21 February 2015, Murray Library: 12:30pm to 2:00pm
b. All Sanghas have instructed at the prison once.
II. Scheduling for second quarter, 2015
a. Volunteer training to resume March 14th & 18th, April 11th & 15th, and May 9th & 13th. Always the 2nd Sat. & following Wed. of every month. Please get new recruits.
b. Discuss there may be changes needed to teaching schedule sent out, we may add Sombat and David from the Layton Buddhist temple. Email to come.
c. We have been asked to expand in the Oquirrh Cell Block. They have existing Buddhist practitioners and others interested in participating. Can we help them? Are you up for going more during the year? I will be meeting with other Sanghas to join us. We can meet 6pm to 8pm any night of the week (M-Sat.) in Oquirrh. Saturday 6pm – 8pm seems to work for everyone.
d. We may be moving to room one from the chapel. We have had interruptions and Bob would like to alleviate any interruptions. I will email everyone when I know more.
III. Funding for Prison Project
a. Running into snags with what we can bring into the prison. (no metal or glass objects allowed, plastic & wood beads only, Buddha statue a problem, picture not a problem, cushions should be okay, all must be okayed before we buy.) I am sending a proposal to the Chaplain who is forwarding it to the proper prison committee for approval.
b. I have contacted various foundations for funding our project’s purchase of objects and have received a no due to our project group not having a 501 (c) (3) designation. I will try other avenues such as crowd sourcing and contacting vendors directly.
c. Inmates have an interest in donating to us too.
a. Thanks for blog posts, great job. Keep up the good work. Website URL: http://utprisonbuddhistproject.weebly.com/
V. Teaching Curriculum Discussion
a. What is next? Walking Meditation? Teachers discussed to continue as we have been. Focusing on each tradition’s practice and meditation. No walking meditation for now.
b. Brainstorm with all teachers and volunteers for other’s input.
VI. Closing Comments
a. Next meeting either April or May. Will check schedule and email group.
Hey guys, sorry for the delay on posting
Ben and I went to the prison for our second visit last Saturday. They had us hold Sangha in chapel room one, where to collection of books is. The space didn't feel so open and airy, but did seem to contain the energy of our practice a little more. It certainly reduced distractions. Some of the volunteers for other groups expressed some regret that they didn't get to eves drop and join us in our meditation, but expressed the hopes that our practice was better for it.
We had a few less inmates than our first time maybe 12 or 13. About half were familiar faces and the other half new. Those who were returning talked about their practice since our last visit, and sounded to be making some real diligent efforts as well as getting more comfortable with the practice. It was such a joy to see.
Some of the newer guys had been practicing meditation through other spiritual traditions, which we of course encouraged and expressed a hope that our practice could support what ever tradition they were rooted in. Some others said they had come to a point where they knew they were in need of a spiritual path but weren't sure which one, but that Buddhism seemed like a good choice, and so they were making an investigation. Three or four or so inmates let us know that they would have to leave half way through our group because of other obligations and made apologies in case it would be disrupting when they left. We said they were always welcome to come for as long as they could attend.
We opened with 15 minutes of a guided Metta practice and rested in that space, following the breath for another 15 minutes. After the practice most members of the Sangha were clearly more relaxed in their face, posture, and voices. It was beautiful to see.
We read the first two chapters from The Miracle of Mindfulness which was part of the chapel library collection. Each member of the Sangha read a page or so.
Then we discussed how the reading applied to our daily lives and to our formal meditation practice. One Sangha brother asked Ben and I "in a given day, how much time would you say you guys are being actively mindful" the response was "it varies a lot!, some times hours, sometimes we are lucky to have really been mindful for a few minutes out of the day" There was a bit of warm chuckling about how poorly we practice sometimes.
One member of the Sangha talked about his piano playing and how he has to be very mindful and concentrated when learning a new song, but after time can play it without giving much attention to it and how often he only knows that he brushed his teeth this morning because of the minty taste left over, his mind was not present while he brushed.
Everyone seemed to embrace the idea that when we are fully present we are fully alive.
In general there appeared to be a wonderful mixture of curiosity and earnestness in the Sangha.
As usual we received gracious "thank you"s and smiles after bowing to one another and leaving- filing out of the room.
Upon walking out of the prison we felt very grateful to have had another opportunity to be there, and also to be able to leave.
In a Thay-esque gatha I thought, walking out of the Utah State Prison, I know I am walking out of the Utah State Prison. What a miracle.
Once again thanks to all of you for sharing this wonderful opportunity with us!
Love and Blessings,
Oh, also some of the inmates wanted to talk about walking meditation and meditative movement such as qigong etc. They mentioned that come May or so we will have access to the chapel yard outdoors and they would really like to utilize that.
I think it would be really nice and seems to correlate with about how long we wanted to wait to start incorporating walking into our practices.
If any of you are interested, we practice the 10 mindful movements in our sangha, you can check out the video here:
This post is out of order, sorry to delay.
Will and I were unable to travel to the prison for our appointed time on March 7. Will was unable to find his credentials for prison access, while I was unexpected called into a night shift at work. Our attempts to find someone to go in our stead did not work out, alas.
Becky and I thought it would be helpful to post instructions on what do to, in case you have to cancel a prison visit.
According to Becky:
"On Saturdays, volunteers need to contact the prison the officer on duty at: 801-576-7031. Otherwise they should just contact me (Becky) or any other person from the email list of volunteers (that was previously sent out) to make a trade for the day they will be missing/can’t attend.
"Please note: the volunteer needs to keep calling the officer until they reach him. There is no voice mail. The officer will then inform the inmates the class has been cancelled and they will not be moved into the chapel."
Hi all, it's Josh,
On the 14th I was able to go facilitate the prison Sangha. This was the first time that I went on my own instead of with Ben, so that was a new experience.
We had the usual number, about 16, a few faces missing and a few new ones. This time I noticed that the atmosphere was missing the reverence and quiet that I have enjoyed in previous visits, there was a lot of casual conversation until we began our practice.
We practiced the 'body scan' meditation of being mindful of our body starting at the crown of the head, relaxing and breathing for several breathes and working our was down to the toes. Then we read chapters 3 and 4 from The Miracle of Mindfulness. These chapters focused on the importance of having a regular day of mindfulness once a week and what that might look like and some aspects of mindfulness.
After the reading several Sangha members were very excited to share their experiences with meditation and talk about other related practices such as yoga.
One Sangha member mentioned that he had been reading up on Taoism and Qi and noted that some practitioners of Chan buddhism also talk about Qi as part of the practice and wanted to know what I had to offer on the topic. I explained that several of my teachers incorporate Qigong, Taiji and other related practices, but that my knowledge and experience was very limited, but intimated that mindfulness in the body might be helpful.
Some other Sangha members related that they had studied Kung Fu and there was an element of Qi involved in that philosophy as well. I was tempted to interrupt and redirect the conversation when talk about Kung Fu masters using Qi to paralyze people arose, thinking to myself "we are not here for the sake of paralyzing people, but for the good of people", but I refrained from interjecting with my judgments and just listened.
After there was some space where no one was sharing again I bowed in and asked what everyone thought of the day of mindfulness and the idea of doing chores, meals, etc. slowly and mindfully for the whole day instead of rushing through them. I wanted to know if they could identify specific activities/days that practicing that way would be possible and which ones that would be difficult due to time constraints or other barriers. A couple Sangha members seemed to ponder the question.
Some Sangha members asked about sitting with a chaotic mind, so I responded that I found it best not to fight with the chaos or negativity or suppress or try to get rid of it, but just to practice watching and breathing with it, just being aware, and not to push ourselves beyond our limit. And that I had been reminded of that on a recent retreat. I also shared how early in my practice of being mindful of my thoughts, feelings etc. on a meditative level was very difficult at first because of how much negativity I witnessed, but that over time I have grown to enjoy the practice more and find more peace and stability. I also repeated what I had heard a teacher once say that I remember being very encouraging- paraphrasing: if we didn't have any garbage in there we wouldn't need to meditate in the first place.
Thank you all once again for coming together to support this practice and sharing this opportunity with me,
Love and Blessings,
Hello project members and website guests,
David J. and I were scheduled to teach at the prison on the 21st, but were requested to cancel per Chaplain Bob Feland due to a musical recital that was scheduled for the same evening. Bob explained it would be extremely noisy and there would be more musical attendees than usual in the chapel. We reluctantly gave our okay and asked Bob to reassure the inmates we would resume teaching as scheduled, April 4th.
Tony Semerad kindly donated Tingsha Bells for all of us to use at the prison. The bells have been approved for use and will be kept in the file cabinet drawer, marked “Buddhist religious studies”, in the Wasatch cell block’s chapel office. Please keep them in their box and in the drawer after each use.
Thanks to all of the dedicated prison project volunteers. I get wonderful feedback from Chaplain Feland and Lt. Pei about the differences all of you make in the inmates lives. They are so appreciative.
The new schedule for the second quarter is posted on the website. Please check your teaching days and arrange for trades if you are unable to attend. Also, look for important emails coming shortly to your personal inbox about scheduling and prison procedures.
Metta to you all,
On April 4th David and I met with the inmates in the smaller room, a close circle of about 15. The inmates are happy to relate their meditation experiences and share daily opportunities to practice mindfulness. The meditation of 30 minutes was deep and connected bringing a sense of calm to their silent exit.
If you are able to change dates my 16 May date, I would love to hear from you asap.
Always metta, Shirley
PLEASE CONTACT ME IF YOU ARE ABLE TO EXCHANGE MY 16 MAY VISIT WITH YOURS DURING THIS SECOND QUARTER. THANKS, SHIRLEY
Hi, I went with Shirley April 4 and Shirley provided a wonderful guided meditation. Shirley discussed the Brahmaviharas and the inmates provided their insights and experiences with incorporating these into their lives when dealing with situations that arose in the prison. We had a lively discussion about the issue of vegetarianism in Buddhism, which led to deliberating about general food production practices and our personal responsibility in the world. While we each go to the prison once every 5-6 weeks, we are starting to become more familiar with some of the inmates who come regularly, and I find their descriptions of their lives at the prison really giving us a window into their world and important role that their Buddhist practice plays in helping them through their trials and tribulations. It's been an amazing experience, which I'm grateful that we are there and are learning so much from them to develop our own Buddhist practice.
I am writing about last week the 11th. Ben and I arrived a little early as usual and sat in the room for about 15 minutes before inmates began to arrive. There was a smaller group this time, closer to 12 who joined us. We had a couple new guys again. They were really enthusiastic about joining the group.
We did a guided metta practice, the intention was to make that go for 15 minutes and then sit with our breath for 15, but the time went so quickly that the metta practice had gone on for 25 minutes when I checked the clock. So we had 5 min. of staying with the breath. Almost all members of the Sangha reported that the 30 minutes seemed to go by very quickly. Some said that it was the shorted 30 minutes they had ever experienced. I felt that this was a good sign that they were fully engaged in the practice and in the present moment much of the time.
Some inmates related some ideas that they had picked up on from other traditions concerning seeing the sacred in all beings come on very strongly during the practice. One talked about the image of Vishnu dwelling in the hearts of every person. Another related about a Wiccan practitioner who said that they saw the divine in all of them. Both seemed to express that the practice brought on a feeling or experience of that sentiment, as opposed to thoughts about it.
One inmate expressed his remorse for having killed a mouse in the garden during the week and wanted to avoid even killing bugs.
Another inmate asked if studying mixed martial arts and fighting for sport in the ring was contrary to the practice. I related that if it was done in mutual agreement and for sport and with respect that it might be a good way to practice self discipline and mindfulness, and a place to channel his agression; that he would have to keep watch over his intention when studying fighting. I also related that maybe at some point he might find himself deciding to leave behind even that in interest of a more peaceful way of life, but that we shouldn't expect ourselves to be perfect Buddha's in the mean time so long as we are keeping our ethical/compassionate ideals alive and active. I cited a Zen story about a wrestler who came to a Zen master to ask for advice on meeting his opponent that I had read in Zen Flesh Zen Bones.
We read another chapter from The Miracle of Mindfulness. The discussion revolved around the contemplation on the aging, death and decay of our body, as well as interdependence.
One inmate asked us to define interdependence. The response was that it is not a philosophy to define, but a practice. That we should look to see where our being relies on seemingly separate beings. We used the example of a cloud becoming rain, the rain becoming a river, the river becoming drinking water, the drinking water becoming our tea, our tea becoming our body, and our tears, our sweat, etc. becoming a cloud again. It was related that when we practice like this again and again we can let go of a view that we are separate and in conflict with the world around us and how much less we suffer and cause suffering because of this way of relating. We have a new way of experiencing, not just a theory or doctrine. I also related that this might only happen for a moment and then we are back to our habitual ways(as is my experience), but we can keep practicing in order to come back to that space more and more.
Another inmate talked about how he is hoping his practice can help him to transcend his difficulties and frustrations. I related that that is good, and also that in my own experience I have had the habit of getting caught up in 'transcending' and forget to just be a person. He seemed to know what I was talking about, and mentioned that leading to spiritual pride, which made it very clear that in fact he knew just what experience I was talking about. There was a good feeling of being able to relate to one another about the obstacles on the path.
A note: in contrast to my last visit the format and direction of the group was much more order this time.
Will and I met with a group of six inmates on Saturday. A seventh arrived about an hour in. No explanation was given as to why relatively few joined us and I am very curious to know if there were external factors keeping inmates away.
Having the smaller group allowed us to focus more on the inmates' individual needs to some extent. After an opening meditation and greetings, we settled into a discussion driven mostly by their questions and observations.
Much of the time focused on meditation and the ways the inmates were applying insights to particular daily life situations. Our talk also yielded some interesting practical information I thought I would share.
All seven prisoners said they had routines that allowed them to regularly practice in their cells, usually in the mornings or evenings. Most said they were practicing three, four or more times a week, in sessions lasting around 20-30 mins or longer in some cases. A few mentioned having non-supportive cellmates but the rest either said they were in single cells or had cellmates who were not bothered.
Several said that cell block noise was distracting to their meditation at times and we tried to work through some of that, in terms of coping and letting go of elements of ones surroundings while sitting. (Guitar music from the group outside the door actually helped in this regard.)
Two inmates also relayed in detail how their Buddhist practice was helping them diffuse anger and avoid upsetting and potentially violent confrontations that just a short while ago, they said, were common in their daily prison life.
In this regard, we spent the rest of our time sharing several readings from the writings of the 8th-century Indian Buddhist monk Shantideva, and discussed at length some of the ideas in his book, The Way of the Boddhisattva. (I will be donating copies to the prison library.)
Footnote: As we were walking out, one of the other veteran volunteers told us that both the guards and volunteers had noticed a substantial change among the inmates attending our classes. He said they were more calm, coping better and that in general, their behavior and sense of well-being had improved since we began our visits. He urged us to keep going.
All the best, Tony
the 3rd attempt, guess I am writing too much. Bullets for brevity.
* began at 6:10 pm about 13 inmates set up chairs while officer finished Criminal Minds on TV.
*there is a new device at the door for inmates to insert their ID when entering. Some inmates are protesting by not attending services.
* Dharma teaching The Removal of Distracting Thoughts Vitakkasanthan Sutta
* Each inmate reflected on distracting thoughts in prison life
* every inmate stated that prison and the dharma teachings offered had enabled them to change there views and to become happy and feel gratitude and compassion. study the dharma, feel gratitude and compassion.
* closed with breath meditation and metta blessing
Always metta, to all involved in this offering, Shirley
I just typed my comments and they disappeared, the blog does not accept some spellings in Pali. So for a 2nd time.
Becky and I arrived early and set the chairs up in Room 1 while the officer watched Criminal Minds. About 10 after 6 we welcomed about 13 inmates. There were a few new faces but most were regulars. There is a new check-in for the inmates. They must insert their ID cards in a new device at the entrance to the chapel. Some inmates, in protest, have decided not to attend. the services.
The Dharma teaching was
I'm going to take a stab at a belated post from when Tom, Gloria, and I went to facilitate/practice on May 2nd. There were a group of about 7 guys who came. They shared about what brought them to practice and checked in on the health of a sangha member who had recently had surgery. Tom lead the group in a guided meditation and facilitated a processing of what they noticed in the practice. He then led a kinhin walking meditation and after everyone shared about their experience with it. Explored how to incorporate meditative practice into everyday living and activity. He finished with a fun listening practice called "listen as if the Dali Lama was speaking" in which everyone shared any final thoughts and also slowed down to deeply receive the message from each sangha member. With love, jen
Just a quick summary of Becky’s and my visit to meditate with the inmates. There were seven inmates in attendance that evening. It was another inspiring and very humble evening.
As before, we adhered to the practice format of the excellent beginning, the excellent middle and the excellent ending. With the excellent beginning we set our intention by making aspirations for our practice. We joined each other saying the seven-line prayer in Tibetan. This was a sweet way to practice our Tibetan and reflect on why we were there to practice (aspirations). We then quickly reviewed the seven key points of posture and discussed any issues related to meditation. A small group of us moved to a cross-legged position on the floor.
We then moved on to the excellent middle, the practice. I began by reading to our group a concise list of the four immeasurables: That is,
May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes,
May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes,
May all sentient beings never be separated from joy without suffering,
May all sentient beings be in equanimity, free of bias, attachment and anger.
We then proceeded directly to a quiet session of shamatha meditation. Upon conclusion of shamatha, we had a brief discussion of mantra and the accumulation of mantra. I then explained that we would be saying the mantra, Om Mani Padme Hung. We all joined by saying this six-syllable mantra for one round on our malas and then proceeded to meditate. It was worthy to note some discomfort and shifting of our group’s posture during the mantra recitation. I would be interested to hear what some of you might have to say about this.
Upon finishing our meditation, we ending our practice by dedicating the merit to all sentient beings, the excellent ending. One inmate noted that our timing was perfect. We ended our prayers of dedication just at the moment we could hear the loud speaker indicating inmate “movement”.
I want to add that my observation is that the sessions of meditation we engage in together are very well received. There is always a notable sense of humble presence that the inmates bring to the practice. What a gift and example of humility and impermanence this is for us all. Thanks again for all you contribute!
Saturday May 30, one of the monks from the Layton Buddhist Temple, Ajahn Sombat, and I went to the Prison to teach. There were 4 inmates who came to the group; all were familiar faces. I started by welcoming everyone and saying that Ajahn Sombat would be presenting a Dhamma talk and we’d do some chanting. We went around the group and each person spoke about their practice. Aj. Sombat explained about the three characteristics, dukkha, anicca and anatta – dissatisfaction/suffering, impermanence and non-self. Given that the group spoke about their difficulties with their practice in terms of depression, anger, etc., Aj. Sombat focused on non-self in terms of the 5 aggregates (name and form), and specifically saṅkhāra – mental formations. He asked each inmate what specific issues they were having in their meditation practice and then spoke about the differences between concentration meditation and insight meditation. He suggested how they might go about recognizing their negative thoughts, feelings and emotions that arise during their meditation or throughout the day when interacting with other inmates, and try to just recognize these mental states without reacting to them. One of the inmates in particular expressed how other inmates and family visitors have noticed how differently he conducts himself with lessened anger and reactivity to situations. During the group, there was also a bit of humor interspersed, which is always a good way to take the edge of some of the more difficult moments.
In all, we had a good group, with each inmate contributing richly to the conversation. Perhaps the most profound contribution was when one of the inmates related the story of Angulimala: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angulimala, the serial killer who changed his ways and attained enlightenment. I thought it was good that he mentioned it, since this story provides the inmates (and all of us) with a good example of how the Buddha’s teachings can help dramatically change even the most hardened of individuals committing egregious acts. I think we are seeing that the inmates who are returning each week are really dedicated to their Buddhist practice and are striving to overcome their obstacles with not an insignificant amount of success.
At the end of the group we chanted the metta/lovingkindness meditation from the Daily chanting book that Wat Dhammagunaram donated to the Prison (it’s in the Buddhist group drawer in the office if anyone wants to look at it – come up to the Wat to get a copy!).
I think the group had another profound experience in which we all benefited greatly from coming together to share and practice the Dhamma.
We had a very sweet meeting at the prison this last weekend. It took place amidst a quiet drizzle that gave way to a splendid show of lightning and thunder later in the evening.
There were approximately 11 inmates this evening with a mix of new participants and regulars. Becky and I were also joined by David Lipschitz from the Layton Buddhist Temple. Thanks David for joining us! We began our session with the excellent beginning and a recitation of the Seven-Line-Prayer to set our intention.
I began by discussing my teacher, Khentrul Lodro Thaye and his recent return from a year-long retreat. This subject elicited many questions from our inmate brothers about retreats and the conditions surrounding them. We also had a short discussion of impermanence.
We then proceeded to our practice. We began a short session of shamatha where we used one aspect of choice of the Four Immensurables as an object of our focus. We discussed the meanings and experiences of these thoughts, during meditation, upon ending our first meditation period.
As we became aware of the increasing stormy weather outside, we proceeded to an accumulation of the Om Mani Padme Hung mantra. The mantra became the start of our next meditation period. Upon ending this period (all too soon), we prepared to dedicate our merit of this evening practice.
Several of us became aware of the rolling thunder now evident within the small room we occupied. It was a sweet addition to our prayers of dedication. Just before we finished, the room went dark except for a single emergency light illuminating our room. I continued with the dedication despite the increasing noise beyond the closed door. Within minutes, the door opened and someone made a call for the inmates to leave. I proceeded to quickly finish so the inmates could exit. They did not hesitate to thank us despite the requisite haste to return. They were all so grateful!
Becky, David and I waited for several officers and other volunteers to join us to exit the prison via the front entrance through partially-lit halls. It was a meaningful, splendid practice. What a gift this path has provided us all, just like the spring rains that grace our lives.
Our prison visit on Saturday, June 20th, went very well.
Roughly 10 inmates attended, showing up about 15-20 minutes after the usual just-past-6 p.m. start time. We didn't get an explanation for their tardiness but it wasn't a big deal.
We opened with a 15-minute meditation session. Several inmates said they appreciated beginning that way.
We proceeded to an inmate-led discussion, mostly a Q&A centered on meditation techniques. We also touched on aspects of karma and developing bodhichitta through regular practice.
We then experienced an auspicious coincidence.
I had brought handouts and a prepared lesson for a prior prison visit that I ended up not using because we ran out of time. It focused on a Pema Chödrön reading and guidance on tonglen, the meditation technique devoted to exchanging self and others through breathing and visualization.
Then on Saturday, inmate William Lawson happened to mention tonglen and its great meaning to him. I was fortunate that I still had the materials and teaching with me and ready-- and produced it as though by magic. So, we read Chödrön's essay aloud, discussed it for a bit and then practiced tonglen.
The practice seemed well-received by the group and we asked them to incorporating tonglen in their practice over the next few weeks and report on their progress.
The visits to the prison were amazing as usual. We read chapters 4 & 5 out of The Miracle of Mindfulness, backtracking a bit for 3 new attendee's to the Sangha. Our discussion focused on the 5 aggregates, interdependence and anapanasati. We tried to keep the conversation focused on our practice but swayed into theory a bit. Several members reported that they have been practicing metta a lot and directing some metta to Ben, who, I am sorry to inform you has been diagnosed with MS and has missed out on a couple Prison Sangha's for treatment. He intends on continuing to participate at the prison though. I would like to express my gratitude for the opportunity to practice with the Sangha at the prison and for all of you who are sharing it with me.
Love and Blessings,
I visited the Prison by myself for the first time. Our meeting included 9 inmates, mostly regulars. We spent much of the time chatting about our experiences with Buddhism, and I spoke a bit about the 3 characteristics of dukkha, anicca and anatta – dissatisfaction/suffering, impermanence and non-self., and related these to the five aggregates. What I think is really cool is that inmates who have studied Buddhism for some time interject with their stories of the Buddha and teachings, as well as their personal experiences. We got in only 10 minutes of meditation, so next time I'll make sure we start it earlier.
I encouraged each inmate to try develop and deepen their Buddhist practice by taking on one concept and seeing how they could identify and internalize it. I used the example of impermanence and explained that if we really understood impermanence, it could help us in so many ways and open up so many other Buddhist concepts; this is the idea of the 84000 paths to enlightenment.
I was informed that some of the inmates are being moved to another place, which sounded like they have their parole dates and this is the transition to a less confined block. They will move pretty soon, and said they were sorry they were not going to be in the group anymore. They also said I must extend their deep gratitude to all the Sanghas for coming to the Prison to teach Buddhism.
I also got thinking about the inmates themselves and their trials and tribulations, both in their personal lives as well as the social climate. As we are all witnessing, their social environment facilitates anger, hatred, and resentment towards others, and depression, fear and anxiety within themselves. I think it would be helpful to the inmates if we could specifically address how they might work through these negative emotions and feelings to withstand their difficult circumstances in the face of opposing forces. Also, they said that it is only when they come to the group on Saturday that they get to see each other and practice together. They told me that many of the inmates at the Prison dont have any visitors at all, which they said is very hard on them. It is completely understandable how such a functional dysfunctional system could perpetuate the issues that got them there in the first place. This might have been articulated before, but I was given the opportunity to listen to what they have to say and thought it helpful for all of us for all our practice. As everyone has reiterated, I feel I have greatly benefited in going to the Prison to share the Buddha's teachings with the inmates.
Please forgive my lateness. This has been a very busy time for my family and me. This report is for the 8th of August.
Our evening began as usual with some of the familiar faces and others with whom I have never interacted. I began by handing out to the group of approximately 11 inmates the Katog Choling Prayers Before and After Practice. Kehntrul Lodro Thaye Rinpoche had asked that these be distributed to the inmates for our use during our practice. Generously, these were donated by the sangha and are now located in the chapel file drawer to be used during practice.
Because we were using these prayers, the question of the intent of practice arose. As we who practice all know, setting the intention at the beginning of any practice is essential to successful and fruitful practice. By placing the four immeasurables at the root of our practice, we expand this boundless intention to include all sentient beings.
I mentioned that of the three levels of human experience, that is, body, speech, and mind, most of our life is experienced through mind. Hence, as the Buddha has taught, taming the mind is essential. So by having the wish to tame the mind and by placing all sentient beings as the object of practice, our practice is governed by this noble and virtuous conduct.
Rinpoche has used the example of seeds being sown in the earth. By sowing tomatoes, one expects and hopes to get tomatoes and not weeds. Likewise, by sowing the seeds of virtue by establishing our intent from the beginning, we endeavor to sow the seeds of noble virtue.
We discussed these concepts and had two sweet meditative sessions. Several inmates commented on how these practices are beginning to shape their lives and how practice affects their outlook. One inmate used the metaphor of “waking up”. Another described how his quality of meditation enabled him to shift his annoyance with external distraction. By focusing on his breathe and his feet on the earth and the presence of his body in the moment, he was able to move beyond his disturbing emotions.
This amazing progress is all thanks to you and our work here at the prison. I’m grateful for all of you who help to sow these seeds of virtue where is it so necessary. We are all providing “the beneficial causes and conditions” with generous hearts and words. Thanks for being here, present with your remarkable intent!
Hey guys, I'm writing about the last Saturday the 29th. We had only a few Sangha members show up due to a combination of things. For one there was a recital happening that a few of the guys were performing in. Also unfortunately due to some moves in housing some lost their clearance to come to the chapel. Hopefully they will get back to us.
We sat in the genealogy room to the left of the pulpit to practice. We discussed our regular sitting practices, the 5 precepts, and where we find inspiration to fuel our practice. One practitioner expressed that he felt he had reached a sort of plateau in his sitting and was hoping to come to another stage of progress. Two other guys discussed the value and relationship of working in the gardens to practice.
It was a very pleasant time sitting and discussing the Dharma.
This week’s (12 September) meditation session with our group was again a very rich experience. I attended the session without Becky this time. There were nine inmates who joined us. We began with a very short meditation to bring us all present with our purpose and intent to practice.
This first meditation was followed by a discussion of the seven key points of posture. There were two new faces and the review of posture was well received by those who already have heard these instructions.
We began our formal practice by setting our intention and making aspiration prayers. We then proceeded with a longer session of meditation. Following this, we discussed the inmate’s experience of meditation and whether any had questions regarding their own practice. This conversation progressed to a very pithy discussion of impermanence.
We briefly discussed the nature of mind and what mind really is. One inmate described the degree to which his mind drifted from one topic to another during meditation. Another inmate described the “work” that meditation requires in order to remain focused and present. I explained that focus is one of the key elements we seek to develop. We are, in essence, training our minds to be more pliable and usable. I described the quality of mind which Rinpoche describes as neither too loose nor too tight.
Our final meditation session was preceded by a recitation of mantra. The feedback from our group was positive following this session. Smiles were abundant as we finished up by dedicating the merit from our practice.
Thanks once again for all the collective work we are doing.
The Prison Sangha last week went well. We had about 10 guys join us. One was a first timer for the Sangha another guy had attended some of your services, but not one with Ben and I before.
This was Ben's first time volunteering since his hospitalization. The Sangha members were all happy about his return. We read out of The Miracle of Mindfulness as usual and discussed practicing to cultivate equanimity. Each shared personal experience with practice on the cushion and in daily living. It was a very fruitful discussion and many encouraged each other's practice. The discussion time fell silent about 10 minutes before movement and everyone wanted to do some more meditating with the remainder of time. As usual a lot of gratitude was exchanged between inmates and volunteers.
Thanks for everyone coming together to make this possible.
Tons of Metta,
Shirley led the teaching on Saturday Oct. 10th with David L. and Becky there for support. We practiced sitting as well as walking meditation. There were only a total of seven of us so it was easy to coordinate walking in room one. We discussed both with the inmates and noted how walking meditation can be accomplished daily in the prison and one's cell. Shirley also led an object meditation on beautiful fall leaves that she brought with her. She asked the inmates to focus only on the leaves. After, we discussed the experience each person had with the meditation. Shirley announced this would be her last teaching at the prison and was sad to be leaving but must lighten her schedule due to her age. David and I are saddened to be losing such a great meditation teacher, and will continue on in her absence. Please read Shirley's message below:
It is with deep gratitude that I complete my visits to the prison and participation in the Utah Buddhist Prison program. Becky has been a wonderful companion each time that I have gone. David too, gave his support to my visits. Bringing the Dharma to the prison has been a long time coming, so I leave with faith and confidence in your continuing with the inmates as they make their way back to the wisdom of their hearts.
The Unitarian Church has adopted our sangha and that includes quite a lot of good folks interested in mindfulness and the Dharma. Joyfully, I continue.
Always metta, Shirley
Hi, I went to the Prison November 14 and only 5 inmates showed up for the first hour and then about 6 showed up after the second movement. They said something was going on so they were not allowed to move until later. For most of the time until about 20 minutes before the end (during which we meditated), we engaged in a discussion about our Buddhist practice and each individual spoke a bit about their own practice and the various activities they engaged in. Interestingly, some are attending an Indian/Hindu group, which they feel provides them with some similar approaches to the Buddhist group. I shared some of my own experiences and I like to discuss impermanence, so I dwelt a bit on that. Interestingly, the Paris bombing had just occurred, and several of the inmates expressed that they were angry about the event, and that there should be a strong response, maybe even retaliation. We chatted about this in terms of how important it is to try not to perpetuate negative Kharma, It was an interesting take from the inmates given their own situation in terms of being incarcerated. There is always something interesting and illuminating to come out of our visit to the Prison.
I look forward to going back in the New Year. Best wishes to you all for 2016!
The date last week, June 4th, was upon me quickly (as this summer has been busy and filled with life’s transitions) and many of my fellow sangha members were unavailable to attend. So, I arrived by myself at the Wasatch Chapel about 5:40 pm.
The officer who sits at the desk in the chapel informed me that the inmates are no longer called for movement until 6:15. Many, in fact, did not arrive until 6:30 as was noted by Tony last time. The first ten minutes of conversations were filled with remarks how difficult this change has been for the inmates. None including the officer could say whether this change would be permanent.
All of the faces were regulars that have been coming to practice this last year. In an effort to change this dynamic I began our session with a conversation on Boddhichitta. As those of us know who have studied this topic, the concept of the “awakened heart” is an expansive topic. It not only makes us aware of other’s suffering, but also allows us to soften to our own suffering by shifting the focus away from self-clinging. The inmates and I also discussed the concept of mind and how it differs from this thing we call our physical brain. Where is mind and what is it?
This discussion became a prelude to the practice of Tong Len. Near the top of the hour, we all participated in a guided practice of Tong Len (giving and receiving practice). During Tong Len, the inmates were incredibly distracted. Some taking pens out and clicking them, others were fidgeting, still others literally jumped up to use the rest room. Three actually left and did not return. Khentrul Rinpoche, in his last trip to visit here, had asked me and the Katog Jana Ling group at the prison to continue focusing on meditation with the inmates. In addition, he asked if we could gradually introduce the concept of Boddhichitta to our prison practitioners. I was amazed to find others, like Tony, to have already been discussing the topic.
Given the nature of distraction and comments following our practice, this is a difficult topic for our prison population. It is one thing to discuss compassion as some concept that sits “out there” to be practiced by serious practitioners. It is quite another thing to see from direct experience as our prison sangha moves closer to this notion of the transformative power of generosity and compassion.
As the Buddhist saint Atisha explained in his commentary on the Lojong slogans, we need to “drive all blame into one.” It is so convenient to complain and blame others, or this or that for our distraction and obstacles to practice. In the end, we are responsible for the quality and nature of our practice.
It would be easy to view this session with the inmates as less than positive. Still, there is so much positive intention from you all and I remain inspired. With that heart-felt intention, I’m excited to see where this next level of practice brings our collective sangha.