About a year ago I committed to a local program that brings Buddhist meditation and teachings into the large State Prison that is located in my community. It is the largest Prison in the State of Washington and like all such facilities has a huge infrastructure with many rules and conditions. After going to about 100 of these groups in the past year and a half, I had come up with an idea that it was good to come from the principle that I picked from a Dharma talk by Reverend Master Daizui, that there are many kinds of pickles on store shelves, but irregardless of their differences in brand or type, they all have one main thing in common, they taste like pickles, and Buddhist teachings are the same. So, I took this approach in looking at how to present a vast array of the basics and variations that are present in Buddhist teachings across the vast swath of cultures it has landed and developed in.
I decided to stick to core teachings of The Buddha; The Four Noble Truths; The Eightfold Path; the truth of Dukha, Anicca and Anatta (i.e. Suffering, Change and no abiding Self); and exploring some aspects that are rarely mentioned in a lot of American/Western Buddhist settings because many are lay oriented and guided, and tend to reach out to psychological language and proclivities when confronting the teachings regarding Karma, Rebirth. As well, the fact that Buddhism is profoundly experiential in practice (Meditation), and that requires effort and practice or training. It’s not a belief system.
My personal experience regarding ‘change’ was enhanced by the simple facts of prison life, whoever comes to any of these meetings at the Prison and their various interest, commitment and intention levels, no group ever has the same people or numbers of them from week to week It depends a lot on what is actually happening in the Prison, or to the individual prisoner as regards their current state of incarceration. That can vary from obstacles like a general or specific Unit lock-down when prisoners can’t move out of their immediate Cells, Units or Areas, or have been transferred, or gotten a job, which are highly coveted and often superscede more ‘leisure’ activities like religious programs.
So, it dawned on me recently that I was in the Prison for three groups that for various reasons were rather intense .The time spent in the midst of all that swirling Karma of confined/confiner usually requires a day after to allow ‘things’ to settle down within myself, and I was creating conflict within myself by having too much of a plan.
So, I’ve decided to just go with a one word topic each day for all the groups and bring small bit of Buddhist writing as a resource that prisoners can take with them to help as a reference point to what the general topic was. For instance, if the topic is “Anger”, there is sure to be good participation in discussion and various ways to present some useful tools to use with the on-going engagement of the actuality of anger arising, and its eventual passing. There are many verses and Sutras and useful teachings in written form that reference engaging with one’s feelings in much the same way we learn to engage with our ‘thinking’ processes. In daily anywhere and certainly in this setting, the subject of anger naturally leads to feelings, their arising and their passing, and how feelings point to our own Karma. How does one constructively engage with the simultaneous reality of the feeling of anger and its ephemeral non-substantial nature when we don’t act on it.
I’m learning, that one Big Subject suddenly has me at the door to another Big Subject, and the difficulty of not going too far from the given topic into the allure of another, is difficult for me, since that actually addresses one of the core aspects of my own personal training, my own opining and talkativeness. So, this truly is a combined learning experience.Life is short. And, it is long.
Like all things of actual value I seem to learn them slowly, by myself, with the risk of making mistakes, sometimes serially, and in no particular order.
I know. And, it is possible. Oh, well.
May I know what is good to know
May I say what is good to say
May I know what is good to do
May I do what is good to do.
If I err
May I know what is good to know
A spiral circles openly…