...Buddhism for Urban America
Urban Dharma Newsletter...
January 14, 2003
Deathrow Inmate Finds Transformation Through Buddhism ...By
2. Inside Story ...by Sarvananda
3. Book Review: We're All Doing Time ...by
4. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week: ANGULIMALA
...the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy
Deathrow Inmate Finds Transformation Through Buddhism ...By
Ark. -- William Frank Parker, a double murderer with a nasty
habit of slugging corrections officers, was doing time in solitary
confinement one day when he asked a prison guard, somewhat impolitely,
for a Bible to read.
guard, his sense of humor stimulated by Parker's insolence,
opened the cell door, tossed in a copy of a Buddhist tract known
as the Dhammapada, and slammed the door shut. Parker, with little
else to do, began to read.
years later, Parker is the only practicing Buddhist in the Arkansas
prison system. And as his appointment with a lethal injection
approaches, he has become a cause celebre among Buddhists worldwide.
Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama himself joined the hundreds
of clemency-seeking correspondents who have written Gov. Jim
Guy Tucker on Parker's behalf.
row conversions are common, but Parker's seems to be different.
His Buddhism, he says, concerns neither salvation nor repentance.
It is less a religion than "a transformational psychology"
that guides practitioners toward inner peace, a rather scarce
commodity on death row.
Buddha said the greatest of all footprints is that of the elephant,
and the greatest meditation is that on death," Parker said
in an interview at the Maximum Security Unit here, the site
of Arkansas's death row. "I needed to come to grips with
death. I was having trouble with it. Buddhism teaches that it's
the big lie, the big delusion.
I know," he said, pointing to his chest, "that this
vehicle will die. But what's in it moves on."
the 41-year-old Parker has forbidden his lawyer, Jeffrey M.
Rosenzweig of Little Rock, to file additional appeals of his
convictions for killing his former wife's parents and wounding
his former wife and a police officer in 1984. While he would
not object to a commutation of his sentence to life without
parole, he says he has no interest in delays of an inevitable
has psychologically steeled himself to be executed and has reached
a peace of some sort about it and is not sure he wants to disturb
that," Rosenzweig said.
a last-minute unrequested reprieve bought him some time, Parker's
execution had been scheduled for Wednesday. On Friday, Tucker
delayed the execution until July 11 so the U.S. Supreme Court
would have time to judge the constitutionality of a new federal
law that limits appeals by condemned prisoners.
of the clemency pleas written to Tucker, whether from Buddhist
priests in Sri Lanka or Zen masters in Honolulu, cite Parker's
rededication of his life to Buddhism. His conversion has been
so convincing that many inmates and guards call him by the Buddhist
name he assumed several years ago, Si-Fu, which means "master"
or "teacher." When he approaches, some bow, their
hands clasped in front of their faces.
night, he waits for the rantings of the condemned to fade and
then rises at 3 a.m. to meditate in silence for 40 minutes.
His cell has become a temple, complete with a brass statuette
of the Buddha and, when the warden allows, burning candles and
incense. During crackdowns on such possessions, he makes do.
"I can make candles," Parker said. "I can make
has read dozens of books on Buddhist wisdom and laces his conversations
with references to Zen masters, the Bible and Carl Jung. He
has learned to fashion intricate origami flowers and birdcages
from paper supplied by his mother. He has shaved his head in
devotion and wears a ritualistic black apron, called a rakusu,
over his prison whites. During a recent interview, he wrapped
brown prayer beads around his hands while silver cuffs shackled
has the most impressive understanding of Buddhism of any inmate
I've ever met," said Kobutsu Shindo (also known as Kevin
C. Malone), a Buddhist priest who ministers to inmates at the
Sing Sing Correctional Institute in New York and who is leading
the campaign to spare Parker. "And he has as deep an understanding
as many Western Buddhist teachers. The man belongs in a monastery,
not on death row."
Parker's mother, Janie N. Parker of Bastrop, Texas, who has
had reasons for skepticism about her son over the years, said
she was convinced of the depth of his conversion. "I thought
it might be a fake at first because so many of them get jailhouse
religion," Mrs. Parker said. "But the longer I talked
to him, the more I realized he was into it."
said the religion seized him when he read Buddha's teachings
that impure thoughts led to trouble. "I said, This is me
here," he recalled. "I knew that in my own crimes,
my own history, I had acted with an impure heart."
education has not always been easy. When a prison chaplain refused
his orders of Buddhist books, Parker threatened to throw him
over a second-floor railing. "I know it was anti-Buddhist
to say that," Parker said, adding, "Now I don't have
Nov. 5, 1984, Parker, high on liquor and cocaine and desperately
unhappy about his recent divorce, killed his former in-laws
at their house in Rogers, Ark., and later abducted his former
wife. For reasons he says he cannot now fathom, he took her
to a police station where he shot her and wounded a policeman
three times before being disarmed. His lawyer's efforts to appeal
the convictions, mostly on the ground of double jeopardy, have
a state clemency board hearing earlier this month, a prosecutor
said that Parker once joked that he had turned the Warrens into
"worm food." His former wife, Pamela Warren Bratcher,
told board members, "Frankie Parker has been given 111/2
more years than he gave my parents." The board voted 5
to 0 to advise the governor not to commute Parker's sentence.
said that he was remorseful, but that he had not written Ms.
Bratcher because any apology would be inadequate. "What
are you going to do?" he asked. "Say, 'Sorry I killed
your Mom and Dad?' "
he also mocks Ms. Bratcher's devotion to his demise. "My
death is her life," he said, "and when I die, she's
going to be lost."
Saturday, Kobutsu Shindo visited Parker and performed a jukai
ceremony, a high-level initiation into Buddhism during which
Parker received a new name, Ju San, or "mountain of everlasting
life." An abbot's inscription on a certificate encouraged
him to "depart with dignity like a mountain, trusting that
his life is everlasting."
said he would do so.
friends on death row used to say, 'If you think those Buddhists
are going to get you off death row, forget it. Those Buddhists
love death,' " he said. "I don't want to die. But
I'm ready. In fact, I'm sort of looking forward to the journey.
I've studied it for so long."
1996 The New York Times Company
Inside Story ...by Sarvananda
makes a prisoner? Sarvananda, a prison Buddhist chaplain, has
an inside view of life in jail; and he reflects that we are
all prisoners of our mental states
a week for the past seven years I have visited Norwich Prison
in eastern England, in my capacity as a Buddhist chaplain. Recently
I have been wondering why I am drawn to this work. Apart from
the desire to spread the Dharma and the fact that my teacher
Sangharakshita has encouraged his disciples to undertake such
work, a certain fascination has drawn me to prison visiting
– a fascination with prison life itself and with the people
was brought up in an affluent, suburban district of Glasgow,
Scotland. Criminal acts seemed rare. Graffiti was hardly seen
and, if it did briefly blossom, it was gone by the next morning.
No, the forces of darkness lived over the river. Just across
the muddy waters of the River Cart lay the Castlemilk housing
estate. In the summer, when the river was low, our suburban
stronghold was often invaded by the Castlemilk youth. They stole
from shops, and chased people with ‘blades’. On
my way back from a shopping expedition I was once mugged by
some of these dreaded ‘Cassies’. I still remember
the grinning, handsome face and bright eyes of their ringleader.
I staggered home in tears without my mother’s groceries
and with fear and anger in my heart. Yet ‘the Cassies’
also fascinated me.
have always had the middle-class boy’s curiosity about
those who live on the other side of the tracks. It has determined
my tastes in literature, and even my choice of friends. This
fascination has extended to my prison visiting and ties in with
my other incarnation as someone who attempts to write plays.
I visit the prison, I have to rein in my curiosity. I am there
to communicate the Dharma, the Buddhist teachings, and to be,
to the best of my ability, a spiritual friend to the men I meet.
Although I have access to the prisoners’ files I never
read them. Nor do I ask them why they are in prison. I let them
offer that information – or not. There is a danger that
my own curiosity can be a distraction from my primary purpose.
Still, I am curious ...
usually feel tense as I ring the little bell and wait by the
enormous double doors of the prison. This is not because I feel
apprehensive about visiting the prisoners who have asked to
see me. In seven years visiting the prison, I have never been
threatened or felt intimidated by a prisoner (which was certainly
a fear when I started). The men I meet have asked to see me
and always treat me with friendliness and respect. The tension
has more to do with the difficulties I have experienced in getting
to see prisoners, or finding a room in which to meditate, or
establishing my credentials.
are you doing?’ barked an officer one day, as I wandered
aimlessly down a corridor searching for a prisoner who had no
doubt been transferred to another prison.
the Buddhist chaplain.’
don’t look like the Buddhist chaplain.’
am,’ I assured him. ‘I’m the Buddhist chaplain.’
I showed him my card with the little photograph of me that makes
me look like the prison’s longest-term resident. But the
card did undeniably say ‘Buddhist chaplain’.
sir.’ His voice changed. ‘Probably best not to wear
a maroon sweatshirt [regulation prison gear] when you come here.
Gave me a nasty shock seeing a prisoner with keys.’
are you?’ is a question I often get asked as I enter the
prison, a question often accompanied by the unselfconscious
stare of an inmate. It’s the kind of stare you don’t
usually get on ‘the out’.
a member of the Western Buddhist Order, I don’t wear robes,
so I’m not immediately recognisable as a chaplain, and
I sometimes envy the Christian chaplain his immediately recognisable
dog collar, his chapel, and the weight of his western tradition.
I am a curiosity for officers and prisoners. And I’ve
had some interesting conversations about Buddhism with landing
officers while waiting to see a prisoner.
first thing that hits me when I enter a prison wing is the noise
– shouting, slamming doors and blaring radios. The atmosphere
at first seems casual. After all, these are just men getting
on with their daily routine. But I always detect an underlying
frustration. These men have been locked up against their will,
deprived of their freedom and their ability to make choices
is hugely limited.
is often, too, an atmosphere of jokey comradeship, something
even mildly homoerotic. As I walked up a stairwell recently
I noticed one inmate kissing another through a wire mesh.‘
What are you two up to?’ demanded a scandalised third
love each other, man.’
been in here too long, mate.’
meet the men I have come to see in various locations. It is
sometimes difficult to find an appropriate room and I have been
sequestered in a small treatment room with a bewildered inmate
and two angry budgies, irritated by the invasion of their personal
space. Sometimes I meet with a prisoner in one of the Christian
chapels. It seems strange meditating under the Stations of the
Cross, but these rooms have a spaciousness and tranquillity
that I like. I often use one of the multi-faith rooms, which
have few artefacts or images and are sterile and drab because
they have been designed to give no offence to any religion.
Here I set up my Buddha figure, light some incense, perhaps
put on a tape of Tibetan chanting, and try to create a pleasant
atmosphere. The men I meet, suffering under the routines and
rituals of prison life, respond positively to the ritual and
artefacts of Buddhism. Incense is particularly popular. Perhaps
burning incense marks them off as being Buddhists – as
well as disguising the pervasive smells of cooking, detergent
I see the prisoners in their cells, which vary in size and quality.
‘M’ wing houses prisoners of an enhanced category.
They have pleasant, spacious cells with a shower. Other cells
are small, shared spaces with a bunk bed. There are also small,
single cells with a toilet. These are particularly smelly, cramped
and unpleasant. Whatever their size or quality, prisoners spend
a substantial amount of their prison lives banged up in these
prisoners choose to decorate their cells in different ways.
Some are neat with a little shrine on a table and Buddhist images
displayed on the walls. In others naked women are plastered
everywhere and it is a relief to shut one’s eyes to meditate.
about the only curves you see in prison,’ one of the more
philosophically minded inmates reminded me, by way of apology.
No curves. From their striped blue shirts, to the wire mesh,
to the bars on the windows ... The masculine, ordered geometry
of prison life wearies the eye. Prison is an ugly, ugly environment.
the ugliest part of this ugly environment is ‘A’
wing, the old Victorian part of the prison. There seems a particularly
tense atmosphere on this wing. Generations of men have tramped
these landings, called to one another from these balconies,
have spent years of their lives locked in these cells ... The
geography of the wing makes the whole place a well of sound.
Noise is what I would find most difficult to endure in here.
It is what the more sensitive inmates complain about. It’s
difficult to meditate with blaring radios, yelling and slamming
doors being amplified, flung up and around the four landings
on the wing ...
often wonder how I would cope in prison. The men I meet (usually
one-to-one, but sometimes in groups) range from lifers convicted
of violent crimes to young men convicted of selling drugs. Many
of those I meet are there for drug-related crimes. Occasionally
I meet someone from a similar background to myself but usually
the environment from which they have emerged has been difficult,
harsh and often violent. A lot of them have been in institutions
of one kind or another all their lives.
I have a general chat, talk about basic Buddhism and we meditate
together. Some have found in Buddhism an alternative to conventional
religion, a spiritual path without God. Some have a good, consistent
meditation practice. Others find meditation difficult and prefer
just to talk. Many are struggling with addiction and it is no
coincidence that, at the moment, the majority of guys I see
are on a special wing that helps them to deal with their addictive
behaviour. These men understand immediately the Buddhist attitude
to craving and that a successful Buddhist practice could, literally,
make the difference between life and death.
I talk with the prisoners I always try to follow Khemadhammo’s
advice – to stay with the Dharma. Ven. Ajahn Khemadhammo,
an English Theravadin monk, started Angulimala, the UK’s
Buddhist prison chaplaincy organisation to which I belong, in
1985. Its 45 or so chaplains attend regular meetings, which
provide mutual support and encouragement.
ADDICTS UNDERSTAND IMMEDIATELY THE BUDDHIST ATTITUDE TO CRAVING
AND THAT A SUCCESSFUL PRACTICE COULD, LITERALLY, MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH
try to follow Khemadammo’s advice: not to psychologise,
nor sort out the prisoners’ problems for them, nor take
sides, nor get into the cloudy areas of the rights and wrongs
of their specific case. I try to come back again and again to
the basics of Buddhism – the importance of creating the
right conditions in establishing an effective practice; the
need to take responsibility for one’s mental states; the
law of karma as expressed by the Buddha in the Dhammapada:
we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present
thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation
of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with an impure mind, suffering
follows him as the wheel of the cart follows the beast that
draws the cart.’
we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present
thoughts build our life of tomorrow: our life is the creation
of our mind. If a man speaks or acts with a pure mind, joy follows
him as his shadow.’
returning to these truths I also remind myself of the basics
of the Dharma that I so easily forget. And those prisoners who
have some genuine grasp of these basics move on most effectively.
It is easy to underestimate the struggle many of them have.
I visited one man who seemed to be getting on well. He was usually
calm and bright and had a seemingly effective meditation practice.
After he was released I happened to spot him in the city. His
face was haggard and bruised and he was having a fierce argument
with some of the drunks and drug addicts who frequent that part
just occasionally, particularly if I am busy, I find myself
envying aspects of their lives. In many ways their lives seem
simpler than mine. They do, of course, have a lot of free time.
They seem less subject to the tyranny of choice. ‘The
amount I could get written, the amount I could study, the amount
I could meditate if I lived in here!’ I occasionally reflect.
of the men I meet say that being in prison has been beneficial,
in that previously they never had the time or the space to consider
their lives. And I often suggest that they try and see their
time in prison as a semi-retreat. I stress that they may never
again have the spare time seriously to meditate and reflect.
my attraction to their life is superficial. There are 500 other
good reasons why I would not want to be a prisoner. These men
have been deprived of their freedom and, in the process, I sense
that they have lost something else. This is difficult to put
into words, but it is something to do with the blue striped
shirts and the maroon sweat shirts, the fact that their letters
are opened before they read them, that they’re called
by their second name, and are subject to a sometimes baffling
bureaucracy. If I’m late for a prisoner or can’t
manage to see him, it doesn’t seem so important to me
as it would if I was inconveniencing someone on the outside.
It’s a subtle, semi-conscious feeling, which I fight against,
that these men are second-class citizens, that broken promises
affect them less, that they live on the other side of the river.
Prison life can deprive them of dignity.
am writing this article on a solitary retreat. On the face of
it I have the freedom to go where I want, do what I want and
think what I want. But I have been aware, while meditating here,
how much my ability to think or act freely is limited by deep-rooted
negative habits. I am imprisoned by these habits, and here is
another fascination in my work: the prison provides me with
a metaphor. It reminds me that my world is similar in many respects,
that the dividing river is not really a divide and that, like
the men I meet in Norwich prison, I am subject to the imprisoning
mental states of greed, hatred and delusion. The difference
between a free person and one without freedom is not bars or
doors, but the extent to which they can take responsibility
for their mental states.
the end, however, my world is not one of bars and wire and slamming
doors. Every time I walk out of the prison I experience a sense
of relief. Choice can be a tyrant, but prison visiting helps
me to make wiser choices, to make the most of my physical freedom.
Hopefully, in communicating the Dharma to those men I meet,
I can help them, too, to choose wisely.
We're All Doing Time ...by Bo Lozoff
David Reid from Taipei, Taiwan... This book is incredibly
inspiring. Bo Lozoff goes into one of the toughest environments
there is--prison--and by teaching about meditation and yoga
and spiritual truths completely transforms the lives of many
importantly he doesn't preach or pretend to know all the answers.
He draws from the teachings of Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism
to teach spirituality that is relevant to everybody. In the
section of letters to and from prisoners he shows a lot of wisdom
in his answers.
don't have to be in prison to benefit from the teachings in
this book. It is straight forward and practical spirituality
Reviewer: monica from Blairstown, New Jersey United States...
This is it! This is the book that started my conscious spiritual
journey some 11 years ago. This is the book I learned to meditate
from. I have read literaly hundreds of books on spirituality
and this is one of the best. Bo and his wife Sita are exceptional
human beings. You can't go wrong with this book. Namaste
Reviewer: Jobson from U ess uvA .... and I mean that.
This is no cheesy, ego-fondling "self-help" book.
Whether you have been incarcerated or not, you're sure to benefit
somewhat from this book. After an illuminating introduction,
Bo begins with a chapter called 'The Big View', which in itself
is one of the most direct, honest yet simple introductions to
starting a more spiritual & disciplined life I've ever had
the pleasure to encounter. Then, we have a chapter (Getting
free) which outlines loads of spiritual practices, each one
quite good. There's stuff from Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and
Islamic contemplative traditions. Each instruction is easy to
understand, and makes you want to do it. Along with that there's
stuff on Hatha yoga, prayer, Karma yoga (helping people as a
spiritual practice), and even how to eat spiritually. Just those
2 chapters as a book would have been awesome, but to top it
all off, the following half of the book is letters from convicts
to Bo himself. This may not seem so spectacular, but it is.
It's very inspiring. As an added bonus, the whole book is peppered
with funny cartoons, pictures, quotes and Bo's funny comments.
Everything he writes just sings honesty & compassion. Plus,
it's only 8 bucks! Think of all the crap books you buy for 20
Reviewer: Susannah Indigo from Colorado... Reading the
correspondence from prisoners working to pursue meditation and
yoga in their search for peace just knocked me out. We think
in our ordinary (free) lives that we struggle with our spiritual
paths, and in theory it might be the same work, but the inspiration
from these stories puts a whole new perspective on the seeking.
An excellent, touching, sincere and fascinating book.
ANGULIMALA ...the Buddhist
Prison Chaplaincy Organisation
Right Honourable, the Lord Avebury
Venerable Ajahn Khemadhammo
To make available facilities for the teaching and practice of
Buddhism in Her Majesty's Prisons.
To recruit and advise a team of Buddhist visiting chaplains
to be available as soon as there is a call for their services;
To act in an advisory capacity, and to liaise with the Home
Office chaplaincy officials and with individual chaplains within
Her Majesty's Prisons;
To provide an aftercare and advisory service for prisoners after
INTRODUCTION ...by Venerable Khemadhammo Maha Thera
Buddhist scriptures relate that one day, after his meal, the
Buddha went out from the monastery where he was staying and
walked towards a great forest, seeing him going in that direction
various people working in their fields called out to him to
warn him that in that forest dwelt the dreaded Angulimala.
Little is known for certain about Angulimala but the usual account
of his life has him the son of a well-to-do family and at one
time a brilliant student at the university of Taxila, then the
Oxbridge of India. At Taxila, other students were jealous
of him and succeeded in poisoning their teacher’s mind
against him with the result that the teacher asked of him what
he must have believed would be an impossible honorarium, a thousand,
right hand, human, little fingers. Unbelievably, instead
of giving up and slinking off home without graduating, the young
man set out to collect the fingers and pay the honorarium.
Presumably, he quickly discovered that people were reluctant
to willingly give up their little fingers and so he was forced
to resort to violence and killing in order to obtain them.
Then he found he had nowhere to store these fingers. He
tried hanging them on a tree but the birds stole them so his
solution was to string them about his neck. From this
gruesome and growing garland of bloody fingers came his name.
Angulimala means ‘finger garland’. This was
the man then who peering out from his lair spotted the Buddha
coming towards him and who that day had about his neck nine
hundred and ninety-nine human, right hand, little fingers.
This powerful and athletic serial killer who had already successfully
resisted several attempts to apprehend him grabbed his weapons
and dashed out to murder the Buddha and complete his score.
He expected quickly to overtake him and finish the job but then
a very strange thing happened for Angulimala, despite his formidable
strength and speed couldn’t catch up with the Buddha even
though the Buddha calmly carried on walking, serene and unhurried.
Eventually, exhausted, angry, frustrated and soaked with sweat,
Angulimala screamed at the Buddha to stop. Then the Buddha
turned and speaking quietly and directly told Angulimala that
he, the Buddha, had already stopped. He had stopped killing
and harming and now it was time for him, Angulimala, to do likewise.
Angulimala was so struck by these words that there and then
he stopped, he threw away his weapons and followed the Buddha
back to the monastery where he became a monk. Later, the
King, ignorant of what had happened, came by leading his troops
out to arrest Angulimala. Being a very pious monarch,
he called in to pay his respects to the Buddha and to inform
him of what he was up to. The Buddha asked the King what
his reaction would be were he to discover that amongst this
assemblage of monks sat Angulimala. To the King it was
utterly unbelievable that such a foul and evil person could
now be a Buddhist monk and seated amongst such exalted company
but were it the case, he answered, he would certainly pay his
respects and make offerings. At that moment the Buddha
stretched forth his right hand and pointing him out announced
that there sat Angulimala. When he’d recovered from
the shock, the King did pay his respects and then declared how
incredible it was that, “Where we with force and weapons
have failed, you with neither force nor weapons have prevailed!”
After a period of some trial to himself, Angulimala did eventually
succeed in purging his mind of all greed, hatred and delusion
and realised for himself the Buddhist goal of Enlightenment.
pursuit of that same ideal, in 1971 I abandoned my career as
an actor and went out to Thailand to further a consuming interest
in Buddhism and deepen my practice of meditation. I was
then twenty-seven years old. I had the good fortune to
be accepted by the Venerable Ajahn Chah, one of the greatest
Buddhist masters that Thailand has produced and I spent my years
in Thailand up in the north-east, close to the Lao and Cambodian
borders, at forest hermitages and monasteries under Ajahn Chah’s
guidance. In 1977, Ajahn Chah was invited to London and
I accompanied him. It was supposed to be a stay of just
two months to see what possibilities there might be but within
a week or two Ajahn Chah had decided that while he would have
to return to Thailand as planned, I would be staying on.
This was at the old Hampstead Buddhist Vihara on Haverstock
Hill and this was the address that the Prison Service then had
as its Buddhist contact. It wasn’t long before letters
came from Pentonville and Parkhurst prisons asking for someone
to visit as a Buddhist Visiting Minister and coincidentally
the chaplain at Holloway also rang up for someone to visit a
newly arrived Buddhist prisoner there. On the weekend
when the Queen was celebrating her Silver Jubilee, Ajahn Chah
and I were seated together on a train and I asked him what he
thought about my responding to those requests. He answered
with one word, “Go!” And I’ve been going
to prisons ever since.
the people I began to see at the first prisons I visited were
moved on to other establishments and I dutifully followed.
Fairly rapidly I began to collect appointments as the Visiting
Buddhist Minister to an increasing number of gaols and more
and more of my time came to be spent sitting or standing on
trains and walking and hitching from prison to prison.
From 1979, I was based on the Isle of Wight but in 1984, I accepted
an invitation to move up to Warwickshire. That move enabled
me to team up with Yann Lovelock in Birmingham who had by this
time been drawn into the prison work and with the aim of making
Buddhism available in the prisons we were able to push forward
the idea of providing a properly organised Buddhist prison chaplaincy.
story of Angulimala teaches us that the possibility of Enlightenment
may be awakened in the most extreme of circumstances, that people
can and do change and that people are best influenced by persuasion
and above all, example. ANGULIMALA, the Buddhist Prison
Chaplaincy Organisation was founded on Magha Puja Day in February
1985. The festival of Magha Puja celebrates an occasion
when the Buddha explained his teaching in its simplest and most
universal form as, “Give up what is unwholesome and wrong,
cultivate what is skilful and good and purify your mind - this
is the Teaching of all the Buddhas.” It reminds
us that behind the exoticism and intellectualisation, the need
for practical application lies at the core of everything the
consultation with the Prison Service Chaplaincy, ANGULIMALA
was recognised in March l985 as the official representative
of Buddhism in all matters concerning the Prison Service in
England and Wales. ANGULIMALA has since been referred
to as the Buddhist Nominating Authority and is now officially
the Religious Consultative Service to the Prison Service for
the Buddhist faith and the Prison Service contributes to its
costs. I am a member of the Prison Service Advisory Group
on Religion in Prisons. Since June of 1999, when I led
a workshop in Edinburgh we have been active in Scotland.
There are also thoughts of a branch in the West Indies, we have
contacts in America, Russia and Nepal and I have visited prisons
does not favour any form or school of Buddhism over another
and has the backing of most major Buddhist organisations in
the UK. Membership is open to anyone in sympathy with
its aims, whether they wish to play an active part or not.
In early 2000 we had some forty chaplains working in ninety-three
of the penal establishments in England and Wales. A committee
that meets quarterly and which helps with the wider organisation
oversees our several activities. Currently Lord Avebury
is the Patron, Rev. Saido Kennaway of Throssel Hole Buddhist
Abbey co-ordinates the appointment of Buddhist Visiting Ministers,
Sue Wood is the Secretary, Rob Yellowhammer is the Treasurer,
Rev. Lewyn Blake co-ordinates ANGULIMALA SCOTLAND and I am the
organise quarterly workshops and all appointed chaplains - we
prefer to call them chaplains - are expected to attend at least
one workshop a year. At these, following devotions and
meditation at 10 a.m., the day is broken up into three sections
that follow in whatever order is convenient. The Buddhist
section focuses on some aspect of the Buddha’s Teaching
and Practice with a particular regard to how it might be applied
or taught in a gaol. In the specifically prison section,
with the aid of a guest speaker, someone working in the Prison
Service or in some way connected with it, the aim is to broaden
our team’s knowledge of how the prisons are run.
Guest speakers have included a prison officer, a member of a
Board of Visitors, a trainer from Newbold Revel, the Governor
of Whitemoor, the Head of Prisoner Administration Group at Prison
Service Headquarters, Graham Clark, former Governor of Wandsworth
and Stephen Shaw, the Prisons Ombudsman. During the Report-In
section, all the chaplains present have a chance to summarise
their recent prison activities and of course, this is also an
opportunity to ask questions or discuss anything arising from
is present in Britain a wide diversity of Buddhist schools and
practices, and were it necessary to provide ministers representing
all of these it would be a nightmare for us and for the Prison
Service. Fortunately, this diversity is represented within
ANGULIMALA’S membership and amongst its chaplains and
there is broad agreement that what should be offered is a basic
Buddhism with provision when necessary for whatever school or
form of practice that might be required.
I decided to respond to those original requests back in 1977,
I had to consider what I had to offer people locked up in prison.
I, after all, had never been incarcerated, I had never been
in a prison, I didn’t know where they were and I wasn’t
even sure I had ever seen one. When I sat down to think
about it I realised that I had also spent quite a lot of my
time shut away in small spaces and I too had had to face myself
in that solitude. There were differences of course.
I had made that forest monastic seclusion my choice and as I
sat and faced myself I had had at my disposal an armoury of
meditation techniques as well as the guidance, the example,
the wisdom and the support of those who taught me. I had
also been purposefully seeking to understand my life.
There were differences but there were similarities. I
too had been uncomfortable and it was my sense of unease that
had led me to look beyond the then narrow confines that restricted
me for answers. Yes, I realised, I did understand something
about imprisonment. And after all, aren’t we all
imprisoned by our greed and aversion, by our ignorance, and
our prejudices and attachments. And it was my belief then,
as it is now, that while I have yet to pass through the gate
that is Liberation, Buddhist techniques equip me with the means
to do so. Thinking along these lines, I decided that I
did have something to offer those in prison.
have always disliked the way that some individuals try to thrust
their ideas and beliefs on other people and therefore I am only
comfortable speaking about Buddhism and what I do when I’m
asked about it. This is the Buddhist attitude. We
feel a responsibility to make Buddhist Teachings and Practice
available and to respond when required but no more. Should
any over-zealous Buddhists start trying to convert and bend
people to their way of thinking then the more orthodox followers
of the Buddha become uncomfortable and critical. To people
who accuse me of embracing Buddhist social action, I explain
that what I do in the prisons is more or less what I do in the
monastery. The difference is that while normally people
can come to the temple, for prisoners we have to take the temple
don’t approve of prisons. Buddhists believe that
all determined actions have their results and it hardly requires
anyone to sit in judgement on another and impose penalties.
But the reality is that prisons do exist, society does demand
something from those who offend against its interests and many
thousands of human beings now and in the future will spend chunks
of their lives in them. To me it is shameful that that
time should be wasted. So, in prison, as anywhere else,
in order to alleviate suffering and offer people the hope of
a better and happier future, we seek to make the Teachings and
Practice of Buddhism available.
YOU CAN HELP
By joining ANGULIMALA.
By donating time, money or Buddhist literature - any or all
By acting as a pen-friend.
By helping produce educational literature.
By being a prison visitor.
By becoming a visiting Buddhist chaplain.
By offering help with aftercare.
By discussing our work and ways you can help us in your respective
Buddhist groups and centres (we will provide speakers or a tape
if these are required).
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