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Former inmates of Ferndale Minimum Security Institution in Canada, Segen Speer-Senner and Gareth Robinson (Miki & Robbie,) have created a peaceful garden and shrine in the prison grounds, beside a small stream and just across from the American Indian spiritual grounds. Deer, bears and small mammals visit the area – and occasionally chew the vegetation. Statues of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, Avalokiteshvara in the aspect of Kwan-Yin Bodhisattva and Maitreya Buddha have been placed in the shrine. The project has been generously supported by prison administration.
One prisoner, who is now back out in the community, built the platform and used it after working hours to do many hours of Vajrasattva recitations. Buddhist and non-Buddhist inmates helped Miki and Robbie to erect a shelter and translucent roof on the platform. Bright paint makes the belvedere clearly visible from a distance, and prayer flags abound.
Reg Dyck, a devout Mennonite at the Ferndale Horticultural Department, who supervised the men’s gardening, gave advice and generously donated trees, perennials, flowers and labor. A footpath of about eighty-eight paces allows one to circumambulate the holy statues and the gardens.
Eighteen months ago, Miki and Robbie, who are serving life sentences, were transferred to nearby Mission Institution, but Miki, who was able to email Mandala thanks to the kindness of prison chaplain Reverend David Price, says that, “The shrine is in good hands, and being carefully maintained. Our precious Ani-la Ann [Ven. Ann McNeil, director of Kachoe Zung Juk Ling Abbey in British Columbia, who regularly visits both prisons,] reports that kind non-Buddhist inmates at Ferndale have taken over the upkeep when we left. Buddhist inmates who transferred from here have kept it in good order, planted more flowers, and repainted the gazebo.” …
Mandala welcomes reader letters, comments and suggestions. Please feel free to email the editor or write us at FPMT Mandala, 1632 SE 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97214, USA.
September 22, 2013
Dear Mandala editor,
In Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s Mandala October-December 2013 article [“The Freedom of Not Being Born as an Animal”], he writes that animals are stupid and dumb, foolish and “overwhelmed by stupidity and dullness.” And ignorant as well.
I understand being born as an animal entails tremendous suffering because as Lama Zopa also notes animals are helpless and cannot truly make decisions for themselves. However, I think that Henry Beston, author of The Outermost House, has the more correct concept of animals, which I have included in this email. Beston writes, “We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.”
I am saddened by reading the words written in the article by Lama Zopa Rinpoche and in over 10 years of studying the lam-rim, Dharma writings, and books, I can honestly say this is the very first time I did not feel what I was reading was true, at least not in my heart.
Thank you for reading this,
Lisa Herdan Mallinson
The teaching referred to in this letter is excerpted from The Perfect Human Rebirth: Freedom and Richness on the Path to Enlightenment, the latest book in the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive’s FPMT Lineage Series.
September 26, 2013
Hello, my name is Norith-chin. I have been in prison for 22 years in California and I am a Buddhist. I am just writing to you to let you know that I received Mandala October-December 2013.
I appreciated and [send] thank yous to you and to all the staff members of FPMT. I really like your Mandala. I also thank LPP [Liberation Prison Project volunteers] that I have been writing to for so many years.
Thank you for your kind heart.
May the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha live forever.
We never know how our words and actions will ripple out into the world. But if we hold a strong motivation to be of benefit, we might help or inspire someone. Mandala recently received a letter from Colin, a prisoner in California, who was profoundly touched by “I Will Be Paralyzed and Happy,” a piece written by Bob Brintz, a man paralyzed by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Bob’s ability to keep a happy mind demonstrates the amazing potential we all have to change our way of thinking.
My name is Colin and I am a Buddhist inmate, currently serving time at the Chuckawalla Valley State Prison in Blythe, California. Recently, I found your latest issue of Mandala magazine [July-September 2013] sitting on a bookshelf in our facility chapel. Inside, I found the article by Bob Brintz titled “I Will Be Paralyzed and Happy.” I found so much power, depth and hope in this man’s words. I felt that I needed to write you right away and share my thoughts.
Bob’s situation sounds so painful and scary. And yet, he sounds so full of love and peace. This man is truly a Noble Warrior and he inspires me to change my old ways and strive harder to be a more virtuous and compassionate person. His words have softened my heart and opened my mind to a greater degree.
Praise be to Bob for generously giving all of us gifts of insight, hope and inspiration.
Colin found this story due to a collaboration between Mandala and the Liberation Prison Project that sends nearly 500 copies of the magazine to prisoners around the world.
In January Choden Rinpoche, one of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s gurus, visited two Australian prisons: Long Bay Correctional Centre in Sydney on January 7 and Karnet Prison Farm just outside Perth in Western Australia on January 30.
On a whim, the nurse at Karnet had phoned Rinpoche and asked if he would visit the prison, said Liberation Prison Project (LPP) teacher in Western Australia, Ven. Drolma, who visits Karnet once a month.
“I didn’t think it would work because he was booked to the hilt in Perth,” she said. “So I was shocked when he said he would come.”
At Karnet Rinpoche was accompanied by LPP Australia’s chaplain coordinator Ven. Aileen Barry, administrative assistant Margaret White, and Ven. Drolma. In Sydney, the resident teacher of the FPMT center Vajrayana Institute, Geshe Samten, and translator Ven. Yeshe joined Ven. Aileen and Margaret at the prison.
“As soon as he came in the whole wing just stopped and went dead quiet,” said Les Akers at Long Bay. “The aura he gave out was so strong but humble at the same time.” …
Student and assistant warden in the California prison system Bill Wilson shares on FPMT retreat center Vajrapani Institute’s V-Voice Blog the story of how a mentor profoundly changed his life, an experience that coincidentally brought him to the Dharma:
“I believed I was a good man, and tried to help others as best I could, but as I watched Dave interact with inmates I realized I was only partly fulfilling my duties as a law enforcement official and a member of my community. He wasn’t just professional and courteous, he tried to make a positive imprint on every inmate (and staff member) he had contact with. It didn’t matter the crime they committed, the color of their skin, their gang affiliation or their intellect, he reached out with loving kindness, compassion and empathy to men who were commonly marginalized. Yes, we fed and clothed them, and at times tried to provide them with inspiration, but until I watched Dave in action, I didn’t know we usually ignored the most crucial truth: that the inmates continued to be human beings.
“… My journey with Dave and our men opened another door, perhaps the most important … I met volunteer Jon Landaw, who introduced me to Ven. Tenzin Chogkyi. As we talked about our men, I mentioned that I was amazed by the incredible changes I had witnessed and how I hoped to be able to make similar changes in my own life. The next thing I knew I was at the Vajrapani Institute experiencing my first formal meditation training ‘Mindfulness and Reality: Introduction to Meditation’ …”
Bill’s complete story, plus other interesting news articles and announcements from Vajrapani Institute, including video and photos from Big Love 2013 with Tenzin Ösel Hita, is available online.
Located in the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Northern California, Vajrapani Institute offers meditation retreat cabins, Tibetan Buddhist group courses and retreats, and facility rentals for spiritual groups of all traditions.
If you like what you read on Mandala, consider becoming a Friend of FPMT, which supports our work. Friends of FPMT at the Basic level and higher receive the print magazine Mandala, delivered quarterly to their homes.
FPMT Around the World
In coordination with the Liberation Prison Project (LPP), Mandala magazine is mailed to about 500 prisoners every issue. For the January-March 2013 issue, 533 LPP students in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, Thailand and the United States have been sent a print copy. Without access to computers and the internet, prisoners rely on the mail to receive Dharma instruction and to keep up-to-date with the activities of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the FPMT. From LPP student letters, we know that each issue of Mandala is closely read and shared.
We are able to send Mandala magazine to prisoners due to the support of the Liberation Prison Project, Merit Box grants and contributions to our Mandala Magazine for Prisoners Fund and the more than 70 Friends of FPMT who donate their print subscriptions to prisoners. We deeply appreciate the generosity of all who have offered donations to these different funds and projects.
If you would like to help ensure the future funding of Mandala magazine for prisoners, please consider making a donation to the Mandala Magazine for Prisoner Fund today. These funds go directly toward covering the costs of printing and shipping magazines to LPP students. To learn more about how you can help prisoners receive Mandala – including how to donate your Friends of FPMT print subscription – and to read about the history of Mandala‘s 16 years of offering support to prisoners, please visit our “Supporting Prisoners” page.
December 200 – February 2001
Prison visitor Aryadaka is a member of the Western Buddhist Order, founded in England over 30 years ago by Sangharakshita, an Englishman who spent 16 years as a Buddhist monk in the East. Some Order members are full-time meditators living a monastic life; others either live with their families and have ordinary jobs, work full-time in a ‘right livelihood’ business, or are supported to work at their local center. The Order has about 800 members in 20 countries.
I have wanted to work with prison inmates since I was incarcerated in Scandinavia for two years in 1974. That’s when I began my practice. Prison is an incredibly fertile ground for the Dharma to take root. Since I was able to start working with prisoners, I have met all sorts of people – from murderers to people in for what they call non-violent crimes. Usually I don’t get to know the nature of their crimes, except for those in the sexual offenders’ unit and even then I don’t know nor do I ask the nature of the offense. I do know that most inmates have committed their crimes while on drugs or alcohol…
I have been receiving Mandala as a gift through my teachers and Dharma friends at the Liberation Prison Project. I want to say that each issue is a joy to read and study, and I thank everyone who contributes to Mandala in any way. My practice has grown through the precious jewel that is Mandala.
– Patrick Sluyter, Martin Correctional Institution, Florida
Donations to the Mandala Magazine for Prisoners Fund enable Liberation Prison Project students to read Mandala.
The History of Mandala and Prisoners
In 1996, a young Mexican-American ex-gangster serving three life sentences at a California maximum-security prison wrote a letter to Mandala magazine. He had read Introduction to Tantra (Wisdom Publications), a book by Lama Yeshe, and was moved by Lama’s talk about compassion. He wrote to Mandala, part of FPMT International Office, wanting to learn more.
“I’m writing in hope to be able to receive the Foundation’s journal on a regular basis,” he said. “If possible, I would like to personally get involved in the Buddhist way of life.”
Ven. Robina Courtin, at that time editor of Mandala, responded to the young man’s request and sent him some books and copies of Mandala. From this letter the Liberation Prison Project (LPP) was born, and since 1996, LPP has helped thousands of prisoners around the world study Buddha’s teachings and develop a sincere practice of Buddhism.
Over the years, LPP has offered hundreds of free subscriptions of Mandala to prisoners. In 2009, a kind benefactor offered 500 subscriptions for three years. From 2010 to 2012, LPP and Mandala have been able to offer free subscriptions due to an International Merit Box grant. However, these funds no longer cover all of our LPP subscriptions and many more devoted prisoners would like to receive Mandala in order to stay connected to the FPMT organization and its authentic teachings, qualified teachers and international news.
More on Dharma in Prisons from the Mandala Archive:
From Mandala November-December 1997
The November-December 1997 issue of Mandala features stories from several prisoners (some on the United State’s death row) and how they integrated Buddhist teachings into their lives. Their insights reveal as much about life outside of prison as inside.
From Mandala September-November 2003
In this interview, Liberation Prison Project founder Ven. Robina Courtin gives some clear definitions of fundamental Buddhist concepts and discusses some intersections between Buddhist thought and prison work.
From Mandala July-Septmber 2011
Read the story of the Mandala Magazine for Prisoners Fund logo.
From Mandala July-Septmber 2012
Lama Zopa Rinpoche writes to Liberation Prison Project student P513, congratulating him on successful intensive practice.
From Mandala October-December 2012
An overview of Liberation Prison Project activities run by FPMT centers in Italy, Mexico and New Zealand as well as an essay by LPP student Mario Easevoli.
In April of 2011, Mandala received the sad news that Liberation Prison Project student, Robert Page, had taken his own life (obituary page 52 of July-Sept 2011). Robert was a talented musician and artist who studied with Liberation Prison Project during a ten year prison sentence and after his release five years ago. While incarcerated, Robert created this beautiful image of a double dorje and offered it to Liberation Prison Project. The image was used, as well as other prisoner art, for a series of journals and notebooks produced by Liberation Prison Project to raise funds for the project.
TAKING CARE OF OTHERS
By Molly Fitzgerald
“… and whenever I speak to people, I do so with the feelings that I am a member of their own family. Although we may be meeting for the first time, I accept everyone as a friend. In truth, we already know one another, profoundly, as human beings who share the same basic goals: We all seek happiness and do not want suffering.” – His Holiness the Dalai Lama
My name is Molly Fitzgerald and I focus on applying the above principle not only in my personal life, but also in my professional life. I work in what many people would consider to be one of the most difficult environments to be employed in: a large inner city probation department where my clients consist of sex offenders, thieves, drug and alcohol addicts, the mentally ill, and violent offenders. These are people that if you saw them walking down the street towards you, you just might want to consider crossing to the other side.
Most would consider the work that I do very challenging, yet applying such principles helps me survive and thrive in this setting and gives my work meaning.
Not only do I apply the principles of kindness, respect, and tolerance (part of the 16 Guidelines for Life), as I engage with probationers, I have also created a method of teaching these principles to my clients in a way that results in them reporting a big difference in their lives.
This all came about in November of 2009, when my job description drastically changed, and I found myself with a caseload of 140 probationers. It was at that initial transition when I first encountered Larry, who was a man that struggled with drug addiction, anger and a failing marriage. Sensing how lost he was in his life, I spontaneously asked if he had some time to spare because I wanted to share with him a few things that I had picked up along life’s journey. Larry agreed. He later stated, as his probation was coming to a close, “My life will never be the same. It is better than I could have ever imagined it to be.”
THE SPONTANEOUS TEACHING
Note: Throughout the description of my process, I use parentheses to connect Buddhist terminology and concepts with the terminology and concepts I would actually share with probationers in non-religious work environment.
Though this teaching came spontaneously with Larry, I’ve learned that not everyone is ready to listen (as is seen in the metaphor of the four cups) and I’ve learned to ascertain who is ready and who isn’t. When I feel it’s appropriate, an individual session with a probationer starts off with a clean sheet of paper on the desk between us, and I start with a seemingly simple and straightforward question: “What is the nature of your mind?” The majority of people look back at me as if I were asking them a trick question, and expecting that, I gently lead them to a seemingly simple answer: The mind’s nature is to think … 24/7, and this is true for all people no matter who they are or where they come from. I immediately follow this up with an explanation of the three types of thoughts and emotions (positive, negative, neutral), the three bodily sensations (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral), the three levels of consciousness (conscious, preconscious, subconscious) and how we spend our entire lives unconsciously (ignorantly) seeking to satisfy these mental and emotional states and body sensations (desires, grasping, attachment) with little-to-no awareness of their interdependence and consequences.
After some discussion of how all this interplays (dependent co-arising or interdependence), I question them about where they think that they spend the majority of their time in their minds: “Is it the past, the present or the future?” This is a section that I explain in depth and repeatedly return to on the paper throughout our discussion. Actually, for many, this is usually an “ah-ha moment” because up until now, they have never given it any real thought.
Next, I lead into how they are feeling in the present moment: anger, anxiety, etc. Then we look at their habitual ways (unconscious motivated behavior) for handling stress, anxiety, anger, boredom, depression, etc. (afflictive emotions), and what is it they are trying to accomplish when they steal, use drugs or pornography, or whatever their habits are. This is followed by discussing how in the present they experience being triggered, or in the words of Lama Yeshe, “the buzz of irritation,” and what triggers actually are (unconscious, compulsive, unresolved, afflictive emotions based on causes and conditions) and how they are tied to the strong and unacknowledged ego (self-cherishing), the true enemy of us all. Once again, another “ah-ha moment” is experienced due to the realization that it’s their own self-cherishing thoughts (mainly unconscious) that have controlled them and not only caused suffering for themselves, but for others as well. This is, for many, a pivotal moment which leads to being willing to at least consider taking responsibility for their own thoughts, words and actions, and their consequences.
Generally, at this point, I flip the paper over and ask if they have ever heard of the four powers (regret, remorse, remedy and restraint). I haven’t met anyone yet who has, but it is still a great question to ask each and every time. It is then when I talk about remedy and hand out the 16 Guidelines as a perfect way to apply a remedy in their lives. Together we explore how they could choose one or more of the guidelines each day and then look at how to apply it. Many times the remedial process begins as they leave my office, for example, they might allow others to get onto the elevator before they do or they open the door for others.
Let’s say that they choose kindness as a remedy for the day. They start their day with awareness of their motivation for kindness, and they plan acts of kindness for the day, allowing for spontaneous opportunities to occur throughout the day. After each act of kindness, they dedicate it to make up for the wrongs that they have done (if they can stay aware) or they do so at the end of the day when they do their day’s review (Virtuous acts are the key ingredients to happiness: motivation, action and dedication). Everyone so far greatly appreciates this opportunity to make amends, and because of this response, I frequently suggest that they also dedicate it to all the people they have harmed, especially to their victims (people with whom they have a negative relationship), to the people they love (people with whom they have a positive relationship) and also to all of those people who have committed similar crimes (people with whom they have a neutral relationship), but are not fortunate enough to have found this wonderful method (the whole process is a form of tonglen).
On many occasions I have received a call by the end of that day from a probationer informing me what a joyful day they experienced after leaving my office. They tell me that they eagerly sought out ways to do good deeds for others and that the 16 Guidelines really do work. For example, Rod, a probationer once told me, “I really like opening doors for people now. Before I use to try to get ahead of them and not look back. Now, everyone goes before me.”
At this point, I recap what they’ve just learned, and then add another method to harness their mind’s awareness. I suggest that the next time that they are triggered and/or think of what we’ve talked about, to ask themselves these three questions:
1.) Where am I now? (Is your mind in past, present or future?) and if triggered, take a couple of breaths.
2.) What about my thoughts and emotions? Are they positive, negative or neutral?
3.) So, how’s that working for me?
These three questions allow for them to immediately become aware of where their mind is, its emotional state, and to sort out whether or not that is leading to the causes of happiness. The probationers appreciate having a method that is easy to apply under any circumstance that they find themselves in, and when asked if they think that there is any wisdom in using these three questions, the response is a unanimous “yes” each and every time. I often hear that at one time they thought that they were crazy, and that there was no hope for them. But with this method, they can slow things down and give themselves another chance to choose either happiness or more misery.
I also have them look at consequences, for example, that drug use can lead to a criminal record. No one wants this for themselves, but here they sit in front of me, exactly where they claim they don’t want to be. So, I have them think about cause and effect, and that leads us to exploring the consequences for everything we think, say and do. When they learn that 95 percent of what they think, say and do is based on the previous day, and day before, and the day before that, etc., they begin to understand, and tentatively start taking responsibility for where they are and for how they got there. So, if they want to predict the future, they have to own and become aware of, in the present moment, what they are thinking about, saying and doing, because they are learning that they are creating their own world.
The probationers particularly delight in my own personal stories of struggle. They love to hear the stories of my husband asking me, when he notices an afflictive emotion ruling me, “So, what’s the buzz, Mols baby?” Or, “So, where are you now?” They let out a chuckle when I tell them that when I get caught in that all-too-familiar and seductive negative emotion, and my husband points it out it out to me, well, that I don’t always respond very well. I inform them that I too apply the three questions when triggered or when just musing throughout the day, and that I find the four powers very useful, and that I especially enjoy applying the 16 Guidelines in coming up with a remedy. That is how I create virtuous acts which lead me and others to happiness, and isn’t that what we all want after all?
There really is so much more that I could add, but I think that this gives you an idea of how Buddhism can be applied in a line of work such as mine without ever mentioning the word Buddhism. I tell my probationers that I want them to learn how to become aware and mindful of their mind and how it works, otherwise it works them. I tell them that their mind is like a powerful horse and if they don’t find and pick up the reins of the horse to control and guide it, well, the horse will go anywhere it wants, do anything it wants with no consideration for its rider.
Molly Fitzgerald has worked extensively in the criminal justice system in Ohio, USA, researching and publishing on issues surrounding child sexual abuse, sex offenders, drug abuse, literacy and skills development in the criminal justice system, and negative emotions. Molly also has had a lifelong interest in the fine arts, particularly painting.
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When you meet miserable conditions, it is extremely important to use skillful means. In other words, there is a meditation to mix with whatever suffering you experience. When you apply the teachings in this way, all sufferings are mixed with virtue. All experiences of suffering become virtue.
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