inmate

A Time for Healing

By Paul Dewey As a full-time practicing alcoholic, I put hundreds of thousands of highway miles behind me with little or no regard for who or what was in front of me. Despite four drunk driving arrests, I continued to endanger every living creature on or adjacent to the roadway.

Twenty years of drunk driving ended abruptly on May 21, 1988 when I crashed into a compact car, taking one life and nearly ending three others. I offer no excuses—I am 100% responsible and 100% remorseful. At that time, I made a solemn vow that I would never again intentionally or recklessly be the cause of another person's pain, anguish, or death. Since then, I have tried to become more compassionate each day. I have not used intoxicants in any form since the tragedy, and intoxicants will not be part of my future. It takes all my focus and energy just to try and stay on the path.

Whatever being in prison may deprive me of, it gives me one thing that is very rare and difficult for most people to come by in the modern world: time. I have time for introspection—for looking deeply— to search out the many causes that helped make me who I am. I have time to read, and time to develop compassion and mindfulness as best as I can.

Paul Dewey is an inmate in lone, California, who joins us in mindfulness practice with the help of books by Thay.

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Prison Moment, Wonderful Moment

By Sister Chan Khong Dear David, I wish to be your friend because I know that you are a good person caught in a difficult situation. When we are in a bad situation, we tend to believe that we are the only one who is unfortunate. In fact, everyone has difficulties . Only we may never hear about them. Please remember that being caught in a bad situation is normal. Everyone has to face this. The question is, how can we cope with our difficult situation in beauty and peace? When caught in a bad situation, I too was as unhappy as you are. But I have learned how to be unhappy for only several minutes or a few hours. During that time, I use the art of mindful living to be resurrected and to look deeper in order to see many positive things. Then I discover that, thanks to a bad situation, I have many good opportunities.

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There is a bodhisattva, an enlightened person, named Ksitigarbha, who goes to living beings in the worst situations and tries his best to cheer them up, to give them inspiration to live, to smile, and to help them get out of their bad situations. Ksitigarbha vows that, "If there is still one living being caught in a hellish situation, I will stay there with him or her until he or she is set free." I am sure that Ksitigarbha is there with you, like a gentle guard who listens carefully to what you say and kindly helps you in your time of need. Ksitigarbha could be a prisoner himself, but not like other prisoners. While the others live without responsibility, without care, the prisoner Ksitigarbha is the one who lives mindfully, beautifullypeaceful and loving with everyone in the jail. Ksitigarbha could be a social worker—one who really loves, cares, and works overtime out of love, not for salary. Ksitigarbha could be a lawyer, devoted to his client's cause, really wishing to help, to relieve the suffering of the victims, not for money, but for being helpful and relieving suffering. Ksitigarbha could be yourself when you are peaceful, light, serene, and full of love and care for those around you.

All situations, even desperate ones, change. If we know how to handle our moments in prison with mindfulness, with a very deep look, with the loving heart and the compassionate eyes of Ksitigarbha, we will treasure every moment. People suffer because they do not know that everything changes. The weather is sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy, sometimes foggy, sometimes snowy. We must learn the art of enjoying the sunshine when it is sunny, the rain when it is rainy, the fog when it is foggy. We must learn the art of mindfully enjoying our time. When we play tennis, we play with 100% of our being; when we are with our beloved ones, we enjoy our beloved ones 100%; when we are in jail, we enjoy our time in jail 100%. You must know that this time in jail is an invaluable time for learning if you can be mindful, and look deeply at everything that is happening.

In the past, Thay had an American student who was a devoted peace activist. One day, Thay gave him a tangerine. He ate the tangerine, but his mind was involved with many projects. While eating, he told Thay about them. Suddenly Thay said, "Jim, eat your tangerine!" Jim realized he was not eating his tangerine, but only his projects. He bowed to Thay and then ate slowly, mindfully, enjoying the fragrance and taste of the fruit. My dear David, please live mindfully every moment of your life in jail. Eat and enjoy what you are eating. Don't let your mind carry you away to sorrow, frustration, and anger.

When you go home, you will enjoy deeply the presence of your beloved mother, father, and sisters, and enjoy every moment being with them. And you will enjoy your own liberty. Many people only regret the absence of their beloved ones when they pass away or are forced to live far away. Often, we live with our beloved ones, but we are carried away by our career, fame, money, and interests. We never have time to really be with him or her, to look into her eyes, her feelings, joys, and pains. We rarely have time to enjoy their wonderful presence.

Later, Jim was imprisoned for burning his draft card. Thay sent him a short note, exactly as he did for you recently, "Jim, your tangerine is still there. I hope you can enjoy your tangerine properly." After being released, Jim flew to France to thank Thay. He told us, "Thanks to your words, which woke me up, I lived my days in jail deeply. I was no longer frustrated, angered at everything like in the past." So, dear David, being released today is good, but being released next month is also good, and if they release you next year, it is fine too. Being in jail every day you have a chance to sit still, to look deeply into your feelings, your past experiences, and the roots of your past experiences that led you to this place, so that you can see your future clearly. You can also see and help many people around you. When you are released, you will know how to enjoy the presence of your wonderful family, and your liberty. Then you will certainly be able to go to a retreat with Thay to learn the art of mindful living. But for now, please enjoy your tangerine.

Dharma teacher Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness, has been Thick Nhat Hanh 's colleague since 1959. She wrote this letter to a prisoner in California.

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Being Present in Prison

By Mark French I just finished reading Chan Khong's book, Learning True Love. It is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. As a combat veteran of Vietnam in 1968, I was particularly touched by her book. I felt a certain connection to past experiences after reading about the struggles of Chan Khong, Thich Nhat Hanh, and others, and how they overcame obstacles to bring help to the Vietnamese people.

I just recently became involved in a meditation group here in prison. Our meditation began with only three to five inmates, as well as a staff sponsor. In the last month, two new people joined our group. We meet every Friday and sit in meditation for 20 minutes, then our staff sponsor leads us in a discussion. We just finished reading and discussing Zen Keys, and now we are reading a book called Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. I have a lot more time to do here in prison and I now face each day with a much better outlook, thanks to the meditation and mindfulness I have allowed into my life.

My dad was a Baptist minister and I was the typical rebellious "preacher's kid." Isn't it ironic that while most would think I had the ideal religious environment to grow up in, I am now 45 and in prison, and finally I have some spiritual peace and wholeness in my life? I try to sit twice a day, for 20 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening. I live and work on the prison dairy farm, so there is plenty of opportunity for mindful working. As far as I am concerned, the only way to do prison time is simply by being in the moment.

I have been in contact with Open Way Sangha in Missoula, and they have expressed an interest in coming to the prison periodically to help us out with establishing a meditation group. The prison chaplain is not the most cooperative person when it comes to something like this. Nevertheless, since our building at the Religious Activities Center is intended for all religious activities, I have hopes that the administration will allow the people from Open Way to come in and help us out. I have also written to the Engaged Zen Foundation that has successfully started Zen meditation groups at other prisons, and perhaps they will have some helpful information.

It amazes me how people in the Buddhist community seem to care so much, unconditionally, for those of us who are incarcerated. I also belong to a veteran's group here at the prison. Our group has some funds to spend on worthwhile service projects, and I suggested we send a small donation each month to help the children of Vietnam. I will share the information I have about Sr. Chan Khong's work in Vietnam. Other Vietnam war veterans are also planning to send a small donation each month. Perhaps someone reading this might feel that if someone in prison can afford to donate $10 a month, then just about anyone can.

At times it makes me think how much I wish I could get out of here and really get involved in a Buddhist Sangha. I recently read about a Vietnam vet who suffered greatly from PTSD. His search for answers and treatment took him to France, and of course, Plum Village. There, his treatment program was to live in the Vietnamese village and overcome his fears. It was a tremendous account of changing his life. I often wish I could do the same thing. But when those thoughts of freedom come up, I just get into my breathing: "Breathing in, I calm myself. Breathing out, I think about my personal mission, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sr. Chan Khong, and how lucky I am to be here this moment, to be able to share Buddhism with others, and how meditation can make 'doing time' so much easier."

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Mark French is an inmate in Deer Lodge Correctional Facility, Montana.

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Prison Bells

By Sam Dubois I have a single cell—a semi-quiet, smoke-free, private environment with a window onto a grassy area often serving as a dining room for many birds. I am also working in the kitchen half-time as an assistant in the diet department, so I am able to eat well. There is still no tofu or other soy products, but there is rice, raw vegetables, fruit, oatmeal, and a few dried spices. I am very fortunate.

I work rinsing off the metal serving trays (around 600 trays twice a day). This is a challenge. I enjoy washing them, just as I enjoy chopping vegetables, but the trays are noisy. The racks I put the trays into send them through the washer hold eight wonderful clean trays. Loud, very loud, but I clean each one of them for you and so many others that I love, as I try to contemplate the eight rightful steps along our path.

I have read about individuals who overcame distractions by meditating in caves with demons, or by a creek with a brass band playing nearby. I think I may have found an ideal place for sitting meditation just outside of the practice room of a Salvation Army Youth beginner's band. I have some concern that I may not be able to practice later without engaging someone to bang on a strip of sheet metal while I'm sitting, but I know there are many different kinds of bells.

Sam Dubois is an inmate in prison in North Carolina.

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Solitary Practice in "The Hole"

By Mark French Recently I was taken away to solitary confinement for investigation purposes. "The Hole" is supposed to be the most restrictive prison environment—one man, one bare cell, and only personal hygiene, writing, and religious materials allowed. There is no exercise yard, gym, library, or going to meals—just 24 hours in a cell with meals brought in.

My first day was quite miserable. All I did was run through memories of the past to try and figure out what went wrong or tremble from fears of what the future might bring. But on the second day, I received a Community of Mindful Living envelope containing a beautiful brochure and a letter from Therese about the various programs. As I was reading the section about mindfulness retreats, I realized what a golden opportunity I had. I was touched by the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "This is not a retreat. It is a treat." I decided then that I would treat myself to my own personal solitary mindfulness retreat.

I began to enjoy each moment in the next Days of Mindfulness. I'm no artist, but the Buddha I drew was beautiful to me. My cell became my meditation hall with my pencil sketch of the Buddha and pictures of Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong from the brochure. Each remaining day began with a light breakfast and a lying down meditation as I remembered from Wherever You Go, There You Are. After a mid-morning snack, I had two 20-minute sitting periods followed by 30-minute walking meditations in my six-by-ten-foot meditation hall. After dinner at 4:00,1 had two more sitting and walking periods.

Each day I had two exercise periods and two Dharma study periods consisting of mindfully reading the CML brochure and Therese's letter. I ate my meals silently, mindfully. By the end of my 18-day solitary retreat, I was thankful for having had the opportunity to practice, to be alone with each moment. I now view this experience not as a punishment, but as an opportunity to learn first-hand what life in a monastery might be like. It was, indeed, a treat. I can't say I haven't agonized over the backward steps I've taken, nor have I avoided thinking about what the future holds. But I am fortunate to have a renewed outlook on mindfulness and living in the moment.

Mark French is an inmate in Deer Lodge Correctional Facility, Montana.

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Letters to the Mindfulness Bell

On my drive home from the Open Way Sangha retreat at Loon Lake, Montana, I stopped in Deer Lodge to stretch and rest from the no-speed-limit limit in Montana. I pulled up nearby the prison and found myself thinking about the people inside, what sort of misdirection, difficult childhood, etc. brought them to such a place, what their lives must be like inside, perhaps their only freedom being the freedom that mindfulness can bring. I thought of Thay's poem, "Call Me By My True Names." It was lovely to return home and find the Spring issue of The Mindfulness Bell. I was especially touched by Mark French's essay written from inside that very place, Deer Lodge Correctional Facility. (Ed. note: see p. 14, issue number 16; p. 10 this issue.) I also loved reading Lee Swenson's and Richard Gilman's essays about the Vietnam War Veterans Writing Group. Every time I read these kind of stories I am brought to tears. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend the last two veterans retreats at Omega with the help of scholarships. These men and women and their stories helped me rediscover my own. I know those moments Lee Swenson speaks of, when it seems impossible to breathe. I smiled then when I read Thay's Dharma discussion and thought how I have looked longingly at the top of another mountain, this three-year community of writers on war. Thay helps me to sit still and happy right where I am. Thank you for this issue of The Mindfulness Bell. Susan Austin Tetonia, Idaho

The new Mindfulness Bell arrived today. It is beautiful! This issue seems different in ways I can't quite pinpoint. It feels like a fragrant, ripe tangerine, each section promising a sweet taste of the universe. Many thanks for all you do to make it available to us. Leslie Rawls Charlotte, North Carolina

I was given the book Peace Is Every Step by a guest speaker who attended the Ashram class that is taught here in the facility where I am presently incarcerated. It is the first book I have read by Thich Nhat Hanh and I was deeply moved by the step-by-step teachings in this wonderful book. Over the last six months I have become aware of the need to obtain inner peace. I have read many books by many authors, but none of them has moved me as much as Thich Nhat Hanh. Peace Is Every Step has given me a much clearer view of what life really is and what true peace is all about. Mark Rice #95A4228 Elmira, New York

In response to a recent request for feedback about The Mindfulness Bell, I offer these thoughts. As an inspirational journal focusing on the positive aspects of practice in various settings and situations, the Bell serves the Sangha well. As a journal that takes a hard look at important issues, I would say the Bell leans towards the benign, and often sugarcoats the reality of practitioners' lives and their daily struggles with Buddhist practices and their applications.

I would love to see the Bell document how Buddhist practice has the power to transform lives and awaken people to new realities and not simply make their lives better in a psychological sense. I must admit, I sometimes wonder if anybody in the Sangha is having traditional spiritual experiences in meditation, "awakenings," experiences of emptiness (sunyata), which have been the experience and hard-won fruits of Buddhists for thousands of years, especially in the Zen lineages. Not to negate the importance of daily life experiences, but also to give weight to the truly transformative experience of waking up! As a practicing psychotherapist, I note that many of the benefits that members glean from mindfulness practice seem to fall within the same realm as the benefits of good psychotherapy. This is not to fault either system, but to yearn that Buddhist practice can take one "beyond" the personal and interpersonal, and yet be able to enrich both.

I would also appreciate longer and more in-depth articles, as opposed to the short and often "lite" articles that fill up much of the Bell. I can't imagine that in a young and growing community there aren't issues that need to be fully examined in the light of awareness and compassion, matters that plague all communities and organizations: money, power relationships, special interest groups, hierarchy, and decision making. How are things decided, who makes decisions, and under what authority? In the vacuum of openness and clarity, other less noble motivations can dominate. Those of us involved in Buddhist communities over the past 30 years can attest to this unfortunate reality.

When I was a young Zen student and met Thay over 20 years ago, he emphatically emphasized that for Buddhism to become truly American, it must be nourished by new energies, new models of practice, and not simply replicate foreign models (which are often in disrepute in their own cultures). Thay's message was a powerful fresh wind that blew away the restrictive concepts dominating my Buddhist practice. His message is as relevant today with a community numbering in the thousands as it was when he was living almost as a layman in a small apartment outside of Paris.

I am using this letter to formulate the unformulated within me, and in no manner intend any negativism towards the wonderful manifestation of Dharma that The Mindfulness Bell represents. For me, to live the Fourteen Precepts means to be able to speak and listen honestly and constructively, in a spirit of compassion and love, so that we can all benefit from the warmth and wisdom of the Sangha. Fred Eppsteiner Naples, Florida

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Open Eyes

By Sam Dubois

Please do not ask me to shut my eyes
until you have demonstrated what a lotus is
and how I may be able to be it;
until you can show me how to understand
that along with the terrible, even unspeakable,
I carry along some kind of potential.
I do not mean to take advantage of you--
believe there is no viable alternative.
I know about being "saved" only to continue to hurt;
nothing exists beyond suffering and pain
and what little I can take
before someone takes again from me.

--Sam Dubois

Pour years ago, I started sitting, reading, and reaching out through Buddhist practice for a basis to begin understanding who I am and how I had come to deserve to be where I am. Two years ago, I received the first kind letter and some beautiful books from Therese Fitzgerald. A year later, she honored me with a humbling, joyful personal interview while she was in North Carolina. Therese spent some time with our chaplain and started the wheels rolling towards having two hours each month set aside for meditation in our prison chapel. Bob Repoley of the Charlotte, North Carolina Sangha, led our first Sangha-behind-bars in Harnett Correctional Institution. Joined by eight nervous fellow inmates, I sat on two hymnals for a cushion, trying to be still with my monkey brain climbing, shoving, swinging, and jumping over my extensive internal obstacle course. Not exactly a textbook meditation group, but an important one.

I would like to share some thoughts about practice in this setting from my own experiences. First, any generalization is suspect, but an awareness of who is in our prison population may be helpful. Most of us, through a combination of causes, have developed lies on which we base our thinking and through which we process any situation we encounter. We may manipulate and rationalize our behavior to allow ourselves to be unmindful. I believe most inmates would like to confront their errors in thinking. I also accept that some are operating from apparently sociopathic or even psychopathic reasoning. They may be incapable of empathy or compassion, and unprepared to be aware of the suffering they cause others and themselves.

There are no valid excuses or reasons for inappropriate behavior. There are only wrong choices, which come from a lack of values, morals, or precepts. More than anything else, the men, women, and youth in U.S. prisons need the firm, compassionate Mindfulness Trainings. Please understand that many will not be ready for the message, and a few may even be hostile. Yet some will, perhaps without being able to communicate it, find a degree of mindfulness and set in motion immeasurable actions that will constructively affect those they come into contact with, and prevent the suffering of those who would have been caught in the cycle of mindlessness.

It is also important to know that many inmates have been incarcerated since their early teens and know nothing about life except their experienced negatives. Most inmates have seen and/or caused too many things they do not want to think about, much less confront in unsupported stillness. One brief case history illustrates this point. It is a true story, and the worst is probably untold: A boy is born to a crack mother, with extensive prenatal abuse. His earliest experience is not being responded to when crying in hunger or need to be changed. He grows up without physical, social, moral, or sexual boundaries, knowing nothing except being violated and violating. Carries a gun to school in fourth grade to prevent assault on his person. Runs a line of prostitutes younger than he by the time he is 15. Snitched on by a disgruntled coke client. After four years in detention, four months on the street was enough time to earn 20 years in prison for assault, larceny, and possession. He is a streetwise young man, familiar with murder, betrayal, and distrust, afraid to walk down any quiet forest trail.

And finally , please realize that "prisoner" is another word for person, neighbor, friend, daughter, son, sister, and brother. We are not ignorant or irreversibly fixated in immaturity. We are very misinformed because of the absence of a constant, imitable experience. We are not unwilling nor incapable. But we have learned to expect social injustice, rejection, and failure.

I thank you for listening, and wish I could express myself more clearly. Every day I am angry, lonely, sad, and afraid. I know that the highest gift is the awareness that we do not have to fear. And I know this beautiful gift cannot be given or received from someone merely saying, "Do not be afraid"-it must come with risk and patience, wrapped in honest and persistent demonstration . .

Sam DuBois is a peer counselor in the S.O.A.R. (Sex Offenders Accountability and Responsibility) program at the Harnett Correctional Institute in North Carolina. He invites readers to share thoughts and questions with him at P.O. Box 1569, Lillington, NC 27546.

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Pipe-Down Dharma

By Jarvis Masters When I awoke that early morning in my cell to begin my daily meditation practice, I tried to envision myself as a peace activist in the rough neighborhood of my life in prison. The night before, the cell adjacent to mine was filled with the raging screams and yells of a new inmate. I had dreamed of hearing loud mumbling voices in my deep sleep, but refused to awaken, to lose that very comfortable place that made sleeping on a hard concrete prison bunk easy.

Now, in the light of dawn appearing from the window opposite' my cell across the tier, I quietly placed my folded blankets on the cold floor of my cell. The loud voice of my new neighbor began to scream again. "I kill you ... I kill you all you damn son of bitches if y'all don't let me out of here!" He went on yelling like that to no one. I could see in my mind his hands taking hold of his cell bars and shaking and rattling them, like a storm, so loud I was certain this thunder of human rage could be heard throughout the housing unit. The noise caused me to wonder if I could be just as determined to sit with my meditation practice as I must have been to sleep through all of this since the time my neighbor had been moved into his cell. I remembered when my teacher, Chagdud Rinpoche, had sent me a transcription of one of his Dharma talks where he mentioned a particular kind of joy in meditating at airports while waiting for the many flights on his schedule. I wished I could remember why he liked this! I decided the solution could be found in Rinpoche's saying that there was no time to lose to invoke the practice of Dharma. I smiled to myself, wanting to try this kind of meditation. I had always been able to meditate within ear range of lots of noise, but never anything as loud and as close as the steel bars which vibrated like a jumbo jet breaking through the skies.

I was only minutes into my practice when my new neighbor called over to me. "Hey, dude in cell number 15," he shouted. "Save me half of that damn cigarette."

Huh? I thought, my mantra interrupted. What cigarette? I haven't smoked in years, I thought, at the same time trying to get my mind back to meditating. I smiled, imagining my teacher being asked such a question while he was sitting at the airport. No, no one would dare! I chuckled silently to myself. Then I began to smell the fumes of someone smoking in one of the cells not far from me. The smoking of my fellow inmates brought a certain morning scent to the air to which I had become so accustomed that on my best days, I would simply accept it as my prison-brand of incense. With each lit cigarette, the air shaped itself into a smoky altar to meditate around.

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When I felt the wall between my new neighbor and myself move almost like in an earthquake, I was tempted to half jokingly ask him to knock off the banging and to invite him to sit in meditation with me instead. But this would have only made me a target for his rage and possibly would have so insulted him that his mission in life would become to make our adjacent living situation pure misery for both of us. And I didn't want this.

"Hey dude in cell number 15," my neighbor shouted again, this time pounding on the wall between us. "Let me have a few tokes of that cigarette man, I know you smokin' over there. I know you hear me, man!"

"Hey, hey!" I responded loudly, finally having enough and by now being totally convinced that I was no Rinpoche. "Man! You don't need to shout and go on beating the wall like a damn fool!" I stood up and stepped to my cell bars.

"Man, whatever your name is: that is not me smoking. I don't smoke. I haven't been smoking in years. And even if I did smoke, check: the way you are going about shouting and beating on that poor wall all this morning which has been trying to mind its own business, just like me, man-I wouldn't give you jackshit, ok?"

"Ah, man." My neighbor tried to calm his voice, "They call me Bosshog. And all I want is a mothert'uckin' smoke, you know?"

"Well, I'm Jarvis," I replied, "and all I want is my freedom. Believe me, Bosshog, this is not to say that I want it more than you want a cigarette right about now, because I know what cigarettes can make you feel. But by beating on the wall like you have, you're taking what little freedom I have away from me, and that ain't right, you know?"

"Okay, well, do you think you can find me a cigarette?" my neighbor pleaded, '''cause I swear to God, man, I've been needing a cigarette all morning, like poor folk in hell need ice water!"

I laughed. I liked the way Bosshog seemed to think only poor people needed ice water in hell. As for a cigarette, I always keep extra things in my cell for people like Bosshog. I would collect old magazines and novels and purchase inexpensive soap, toothpaste, and smoking tobacco for new inmates, who may have none of these things. I had vowed to do this seventeen years ago when I had arrived at San Quentin and had to use kitchen butter from my breakfast tray to treat my badly chapped dry skin, because I had no funds to purchase lotion from the prison commissary.

"Yeah, I think I can find you a bit of tobacco and some rolling papers," I told him. I sensed from my many years of having neighbors of all sorts that he was just one of so many youngsters over-flooding the prison system for smoking crack or for violating their parole.

"I'll find you a bit of tobacco," I repeated, "but only if you stay cool and don't go screaming and rattling your cell bars and beating the walls, disturbing the peace on the tier again. Is that a deal?"

Long seconds passed. Bosshog was taking his word seriously. This made him a rare breed, since few new prisoners would take even as much as a whole second before saying anything for a free cigarette. "Yeah, man," he finally answered, "you drive a hard bargain, but you got a deal! I'll keep it all on cool, my word, man."

"Okay, give me a minute." I walked to the back of my cell, rummaging in the box underneath my bunk where I keep the can of tobacco. I was surprised to find more than half of the can left. I had no intention of giving it all to Boss. There was a likelihood that other newcomers would be needing some too. Also, the long seconds Boss had taken before deciding to come to terms with our agreement probably meant that it would be a struggle for him to keep his end of the bargain. Rationing out the tobacco would keep him at bay.

I took a pinch of tobacco and looked around my cell for some paper. A long time ago, a friend had photocopied and sent me Thich Nhat Hanh's book Being Peace. Some time afterwards, I received the actual book, so I no longer needed the photocopied pages. I reckoned it wouldn't hurt to wrap the tobacco into one of them, and who knows, I thought wistfully, ol' Thich Nhat Hanh might appeal to the Bosshog-one single page at a time. "Hey Boss," I asked, "do you have a fishline over there!"

"I just found this one under the bunk. Your last neighbor must have left it." He quickly threw the fishline in front of my cell. I retrieved it then tied on the rolled-up piece of paper with the tobacco inside and watched him pull it in.

"Man, right-on! Righteous!" he exclaimed happily. "I really appreciate all this smoke!"

"No problem. Perhaps I can send you more in a day or so, you know?"

"Oh, this is cool, real cool!" said Bosshog.

The bright sun shining through the window on the wall said that there wasn't much left of the morning to sit in meditation, but it also ushered in a quiet feeling of having spent time as a simple kind of engaged peace activist. For days that turned into months, I continued sending Boss his daily supply of tobacco. And gradually, in his own way, he came to adore Thich Nhat Hanh through the writings that he received along with his tobacco. It was like adopting a Sangha brother who was still a bit off his rocker. He would try his very best, but drew the line at formal sitting meditation. "My word," he would say, "to wake up in the early morning hours to go on some ol' meditation trip with you. No way!"

When Bosshog was finally released from San Quentin some 18 months later, he stood in front of my cell before leaving, and he and I smiled at each other, trying not to say good-bye. Almost in the same breath, we repeated what had become his favorite mantra whenever he felt he was about to blow his top: "Man, man ... if we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace."

Jarvis Masters is a death row inmate housed in San Quentin's Adjustment Center, a maximum-security housing unit for both death row and other high-security inmates. He is currently working on a collection of essays on his practice, due to be published early next year.

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May All Children Live as Children

By Michele Benzamin-Masuda

It was another weekly visit to Central Juvenile Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Russell was showing us the Special Lock Down Unit. He opened a door and I walked into one of the solitary confinement rooms. A solid door with a peephole closed behind me. A camera sat behind a protective screen above the door. In the back of the room was a tightly-screened, ban'ed window. I stood for a moment, barely able to breathe. A sadness came over me that the staff member picked up on. "It is prison," he said. In silence I wondered how I, let alone a child, would feel locked in this room. We moved on to the monitor room, where screens showed two similar rooms occupied by small bodies wrapped up completely in sheets. They lay motionless the whole time we were there.

This unit holds the long-term residents kids too violent or suicidal to be with others, Young, at-risk meditators in East Los Angeles older, high-risk offenders awaiting sentencing, and those under the Witness Protection Program. As the tour ended, Mr. Russell expressed hope that we could start a meditation project in the unit. Many members of our Ordinary Dharma Sangha now teach meditation at Central Juvenile Hall through our "Jizo Project." With other Buddhist organizations, such as International Buddhist Meditation Center and Zen Center of LA, we work with the older high-risk offenders incarcerated for violent Climes, the girls' unit, the younger boys' unit, and occasionally, the special unit devoted to youth with misdemeanor offenses.

We have a special relationship with Harvier Stauring, the Catholic Lay Chaplain in the prison. Harvier supports our work and offers his church space to our Days of Mindfulness, peace programs, and lectures. The church is in an enclosed area in the middle of the prison-a peaceful setting for mindfulness practice. We share common goals of helping the kids be in this place, giving them choices for not returning, and especially, coping with their home life.

I am deeply moved every time I visit this facility. I have worked with a wide range of kids here, but my choice and circumstances have put me in the younger boys' unit. Mr. Russell refers to this unit as the test for all programs. "These kids need meditation the most!" he says.

The youngest boy I've worked with was eight years old- a very hyperactive, talkative, tiny boy with wide eyes and furrowed brow. He needed of a lot of attention and was afraid to close his eyes during the meditation. The boy seemed so stressed for his age. I stayed with him and tried various techniques to teach him to relax. He eventually calmed down. I later learned that the day before my visit, this boy was put in solitary confinement because of the overflow in his unit, and attempted to take his life. His short life has included gangs, malnutrition, drugs, and stealing.

The general rule is not to ask the kids about their crimes. I don't need to know how they got here. When I look at them, I see children wanting desperately to be children, to be guided, make mistakes, to grow and learn, and most of all, be happy. What grounds me is to see the young boy in all of them, to talk to the part of them that desires to be a kid, do kid things, and hold kid dreams. Most of them worry about court, their families, and when they'll get out.

They all need a good night's sleep, so I teach them relaxation and lying-down meditation. We also talk about anger. They get pepper-sprayed a lot in this unit because of their inability to control themselves. I teach them to stop and breathe deeply, count to ten, and see that to act out anger and get pepper-sprayed is not worth it.

A lot of the kids are in for drug use. I show them a way to get naturally high through breath, yoga, and chanting. Many miss their families, so I teach them how to visit their loved ones through a guided lovingkindness meditation they can do later on their own. Many kids are Christian, so I refer to it as a form of prayer. We discuss the Five Mindfulness Trainings, especially right speech. There are many benefits to speaking kindly or practicing silence and listening. Much of the fighting with each other and the trouble with staff comes from unskillful speech.

A visit from someone who cares can be the thread that saves a young person's life. Understanding this is what keeps me fresh and feeling undefeated by the system. Often I get only one opportunity to work with these boys, on occasion three or four times. Then, they are gone. Juvenile Halls are where kids wait for a sentence or placement. They do not serve time here, though some older ones are here a long time, sometimes years.

When I asked these young boys what are the benefits of meditation, they offered these gems. It helps you relax, focus, open your mind, pray, see your loved ones, go home, get a good night's sleep, deal with anger and sadness. And one beauty of an 11-year-old boy looked at me quite seriously and said, "It helps you get in touch with your feminine side."

I am now setting up Meditation and Peace Education programs with some local community-based organizations for probation kids and kids-at-risk during the critical afterschool hours. Our youth play an integral part in the future of this planet. It is our responsibility to give them the tools to live peaceably.

Michele Benzamin-Masuda, True Treasure, is a resident meditation teacher and co-founder of Manzanita Village Retreat Center. She holds a fourth-degree blackbelt in Aikido and a third-degree in laido sword.

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Letters

A Deep Bow to Barbara Casey A deep bow of gratitude to Barbara Casey. I’ve so admired the work you’ve done as managing editor for the past five years, giving the Mindfulness Bell a new look, the color of the cover, more photographs and artwork, blending them beautifully with text, and creating visually appealing layout in general. You’ve brought us so much wisdom from Thây and the fourfold Sangha in issue after issue. The issue on the 20th anniversary of Plum Village was a special treat for me as were the recent ones that shared Thây’s return to Vietnam.You have transmitted a jewel of a journal to Janelle to continue the work of our ancestral editors. Thank you so much for your gift to the paths of so many of us around the world.

Richard Brady Washington, D.C., USA

I loved working with Barbara. The Bell now has more color, more space, and more submissions from our monastic brothers and sisters. It is a lovely testimony to our practice as a sangha and I’m grateful for her good work and good-heartedness that have been a part of the Mindfulness Bell.

Peggy Rowe Escondido, California, USA

Just recently, I resurrected my copies of the Mindfulness Bell—from the first issue to the most recent. As with our own practices, an incredible transformation has unfolded over the years. A simple one-color journal with a few articles has blossomed into a wide diversity of articles, colorful covers, and beautiful illustrations. It is with much gratitude that I take this time to honor the editorial prowess of Barbara Casey. Her efforts were a beautiful reflection of her Dharma name “True Spiritual Communication.” During the past five years, under her care and nurture, the changes to the Mindfulness Bell have been monumental, and readership has increased.

Barbara, on behalf of the Board of Advisors and the Sangha community, thank you for making a difference in the lives of so many who savor the Dharma and the work of Thây. The seeds that you have watered have created a garden that will continue to blossom in the care of our new editor. We bow to you.

Jerry Braza Salem, Oregon, USA

Barbara, How do we adequately thank you for all the work you have done for the Mindfulness Bell over the years? You literally transformed the MB into a beautiful manifestation of the Dharma. It is a living and breathing testimony to your hard work and dedication. You had the skills and patience to work with the four-fold Sangha, the contributors, the advertisers, the printer, the mailing house, the designer, and the subscribers and make it come together wonderfully issue after issue.Your love, peace, calm, and persistence turned mere paper into a great instrument for practice, for sangha building, and for supporting the wonderful work of our teacher. It was a pleasure working with you and a joy to be able to offer my support. But, we won’t let you go... you are a valuable resource and we all look forward to working with you in an advisory capacity.

David Percival Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

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Love That Bell

Greetings to you with peace! A kind brother from the Deer Park Monastery sent me a copy of the Autumn 2004 issue, which I absolutely loved! All the articles and poetry were very good, but as an African-American, I found “Our Racism is a Crying Baby (Interview)” and “Being Born a Person of Color” especially good. But I also liked “Roots” by Emily Whittle and “An Open Letter from a Southern White Girl” by Trish Thompson. In truth, the magazine was excellent from cover to cover and Thich Nhat Hanh is a delight to read and learn from. I’ve read a couple of his books and they were very good.

The article “The Culture of Violence in Boys and Men” really hit home with me. I got into drugs and gangs at an early age. Anger really drove me, especially due to being hit by a speeding car at the age of five, which left me with a permanent facial disfigurement on the left side of my face and neck. For years, my anger and inner hurt, I projected onto many people I didn’t even know, not just rival gang members. My acts of violence and aggression have done much harm even to myself. Regret and remorse are a noose around my neck that chokes me almost daily. I’m going to turn 38 this July 8, and I get out of prison in two years. I’ll be a free man at 40. Am I scared? Yes! I’ll have spent over twenty years in correctional facilities and the outside is more like an illusion to me.

These years in prison I’ve endeavored to educate myself. I got my GED, and I read voraciously. Recently, I’ve begun to study Buddhism, and I like what I’m learning. Like Thich Nhat Hanh I write poetry... In fact, poetry has kept me from “throwing in the towel,” though I’ve been very close at times.

I really like what you all are doing at the Mindfulness Bell. I wish you peace and prosperity.

Malachi Ephraim Arizona State Prison Florence, Arizona, USA

I got the Summer issue of the Mindfulness Bell this morning and realized I had never written to congratulate you and thank you for the beautiful job you did on the Winter issue. And now I have to do the same for the Summer one too. Both issues are very fine.

Steve Black Statesboro, Georgia, USA

As a reader of the Mindfulness Bell for a few years, I’d like to thank you for all the nourishment & inspiration coming to me & my practice through each issue. The current Winter issue had me in tears of being moved deeply several times.

Susanne Olbrich Findhorn, Morayshire, UK

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Corrections

The cover photo in the Summer 2006 issue was miscaptioned; it is indeed, as many astute observers pointed out, the courtyard at Son Ha Temple, at Plum Village in France.

In the article about the Bridge of Peace Award, we incorrectly identified Claude Anshin Thomas as a lay priest. He is a Soto Zen priest.

Several articles in recent issues did not receive proper credit. The following pieces came from Spoken Like a True Buddha, an unpublished compilation of stories about mindfulness practice in everyday life, edited by Carolyn Cleveland Schena and Sharron Mendel:

Winter 2005-2006: “Mindfulness in a Virginia Supermax Prison” by Bill Menza, “Responding with Respect” by Brian N. Baird

Summer 2006: “Mindfulness in a State Psychiatric Hospital” by Bruce Hilsberg, “Inner Therapy” by Ryan Niemiec, and “Joyful Purpose of the Heart” by Annie Mahon

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Letters

Reader Feedback

What joy to receive in my mailbox today the new Mindfulness Bell! The cover is gorgeous, with a glimpse of the stained-glass window that is shown on the back cover. It makes me very happy to stay in touch with the international sangha in this way.

Marie-Anne Tattevin Vannes, France [translated from the French]

After long delay (the mailroom often offers wonderful opportunities to practice understanding and love) I finally received the Summer [2006] issue of the Mindfulness Bell two days ago (24 August). I was overjoyed to see my drawing in it. Thank you very much! I also appreciate so much your work in getting the magazine out. Each issue is a tremendous source of inspiration and joy for me. Most importantly it gives me a sense of connection to other practitioners. Knowing that other people have similar aspirations and difficulties as I do gives me strength; hearing their methods of practice to realize these aspirations and transform the difficulties gives me direction. Strength and direction help me to be peace, and to share that with those around me.

Breathing and smiling,

Jacob Bowley
United States Disciplinary Barracks
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

Words from the Sanghas

The Mindfulness Bell is a place like Plum Village where we meet the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, a place to deepen and to share our practice. In the spirit of enhancing the flow of practice among people in every sangha, we’d like to raise awareness of the Mindfulness Bell and strengthen the connection between the magazine and sanghas. Between October and December 15, 2006, gifts made it possible to offer a one-year subscription to one person in each sangha who agrees to serve as a liaison between the sangha and the Bell. The liaison person would introduce the Mindfulness Bell at sangha gatherings, days of mindfulness, and retreats, and encourage people to subscribe and to submit articles.

As of December 2006, we have connected with sixty-one sanghas in eight countries. While the gift subscription offer ended in December, there may be sanghas that do not yet have a liaison with the Mindfulness Bell; if you’d like to be the liaison person in your sangha, please contact Susan Hadler at WONDC@aol.com.

Here are a few of the e-mail responses to our outreach to the sanghas.

We received your e-mail at Plum Blossom Sangha in Austin, Texas. I would like to volunteer to raise awareness of the Mindfulness Bell. I have a subscription, and benefit deeply from each issue. I read and reread them.

Carlene South
Austin, Texas

Thanks for the really generous offer. I’m the facilitator for the Putney School sangha and would be delighted to share the Mindfulness Bell with students, faculty and other community members. Maybe we could even get some of the teens to consider writing a piece for the MB!

Jon Schottland
Putney, Vermont

Although my partner and I are quite familiar with the Mindfulness Bell (subscribed to it many years ago) other members of our sangha are not, and I am sure they will be glad to see it. I did a retreat for activist artists in Ojai with Thây back in 1989, went to Plum Village in 1990, took the precepts in Malibu in 1992, and have been part of three sanghas (one in Venice, California, one in western Massachusetts, and now one on Vashon Island). These teachings have been crucial to my growth and strength through several moves, serious illnesses, motherhood, and my practices as an activist, artist, and educator.

Beverly Naidus
Burton, Washington

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We would like to receive the one-year subscription of the Mindfulness Bell. It’s a great opportunity for us to learn more. We send a weekly newsletter to about two hundred people giving Buddhist information and Thich Nhat Hanh’s texts. There’s also a blog where we post Thây’s texts for discussion. We have also a small Sangha where we meditate and study Thây’s texts.

I think this gift will help us to do this job better. Thank you.

Leonardo Dobbin
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

I facilitate mindfulness meditation in Thây’s tradition at Church for the Fellowship of all Peoples and would be more than glad, honored, and ennobled to be liaison for the Bell. I contributed some words to it once, a few years back — since I live a life of voluntary simplicity and can’t really contribute much money.

Thank you for giving me an opportunity to help spread the good news. Please keep up the good work.

Gary Gach
San Francisco, California

I am a member of Organic Garden Sangha and I would like to be the sangha liaison to the Mindfulness Bell. Today I was the Bell Master for our sangha meeting and reviewed the latest issue of the Mindfullness Bell, which led to some great discussions. This will be a great opportunity for me and I am looking forward to it.

On another note, I have to ask you why the Mindfulness Bell is allowing their message to be sent via Yahoo Groups [via the Order of Interbeing’s OI-Discussion group]. Yahoo isn’t a mindful corporation. They offer the service for free, then sell and use the information that they gather on everyone that joins or doesn’t. Just look at their terms and agreements. One of Yahoo’s biggest clients is the pornography industry.

I have been trying to get the message out that the mindfulness community should have a sanction committee that would approve websites and services offered on the Internet, so the public knows who is really representing the teachings of Thây or looking to cash in on it. The Internet is full of wolves in sheep’s clothing. The OI’s Yahoo Groups are helping to spread good messages but at what cost.

The Mindfulness Bell should run their own groups and Yahoo and Google would pay them to have access to their members.

Larry Lubow
Lomita, California

Editor’s reply: The Mindfulness Bell does not have a Yahoo Group, nor do we have the means to start one on our own. We occasionally use the OI-Discussion and OI-Announce Yahoo Groups to communicate with sangha members; we’d be happy to use another method but that’s up to the OI members who run the groups. That said, we have been using Yahoo Mail at the Mindfulness Bell and we are in the process of changing that. Thanks for the nudge!

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On Karma

By Barbara Casey

For over six years Barbara corresponded with a prison inmate named Claude. He had been convicted of aggravated assault, which means that he did someone serious harm. In a letter to her, Claude asked Barbara for insight about karma, and she asked some dharma teachers to respond as well.

Barbara, there is something that I’ve been wanting to ask you concerning Buddhist teachings and I find this to be a good time to do so. I just hope that you’ll not think my question somewhat ignorant.

According to karma, as I understand it, if a person is unruly during his lifetime he’ll suffer as a result in some future life. It is my understanding that if someone causes a horrible death to another human being, he’ll also experience a similar death sometime in his future. My question is, if this is true, and I’m not sure that it is, if this person who committed the horrible crime is to experience something of the same, how is it to come about? In other words, and I use myself as an example, let us say that I committed the horrible deed and am supposed to experience the same. Is the person who causes me to experience the same type of death held responsible for doing so?

— Claude

Dear Claude,

It really touched me when I read your question about karma. First of all, I have to say that I don’t think there is such a thing as an ignorant question – I think that ignorance only happens when someone has a question but doesn’t ask.

I don’t think that karma works simplistically; that is, if you do something, the same thing comes back to you in the same form. I think it is more a matter of energy and intention and resources. For instance, if your training from childhood is to use violence when conflict arises, then it is logical that what will happen in your life is violence. So what we have to do is to train our minds first of all, and from our thoughts come our speech and our actions. Thây has said that choosing to live peacefully is a radical act. We have to re-train ourselves almost completely, letting go of self-protective mechanisms that are genetically bred in us. It’s a big job! Every time we take a breath or a step in mindfulness, we are changing. Every time we choose to let go instead of react in anger or ill will or revenge, we are changing that pattern. So we don’t just do it for ourselves, we do it for all of humanity.

I remember hearing of a Vietnam veteran who was overtaken by guilt because he killed five children during the war, killed them in a horrible way, because the Viet Cong of that village had killed his buddies. Thây told him: you killed five children, yes, that is very bad. However, you can choose to live the rest of your life in guilt about that, or you can choose to help children for the rest of your life. Now that former soldier has helped thousands of children throughout the world.

I know when I do something I regret, there is a strong determination in me not to do it again, and that energy helps me to move toward the good. A very small example is one time I was at a retreat, and I was so tired of standing in line that instead of waiting to wash my dishes after a meal, I just left them on the table. I felt really bad about it, and from that shame grew determination. I spent the rest of the retreat picking up dirty dishes that other people had left around; they were everywhere!

The definition of karma is action. Karma is not just past action, it is present action, happening right now. You create your future in this moment, and you can even change your past through determined intention for the good right now. It is always possible to heal. Thây has said that you can send a good thought out like an arrow and it catches the bad thought of the past and transforms it.

There is also the story of Angulimala. Briefly, he was a terrible fellow living in the Buddha’s time, killing for sport and wearing a necklace of thumbs to display his killing abilities. One day the Buddha was walking on alms round when Angulimala came up behind him and demanded that he stop. The Buddha kept walking. He demanded again, and the Buddha replied, “Angulimala, I have already stopped, it is you who must stop.” The Buddha went on to explain the Dharma to Angulimala, who gave up his killing and became a monk. I think this story is for all of us who regret things we have done, giving us hope that it is always possible to stop our harmful behavior and to heal and transform.

So that is a little of my experience and understanding. I also asked some dharma teacher friends to respond to your question, and here are their responses.

From Mitchell Ratner

In his commentary on the Diamond Sutra, Thây notes that in the Ekottara Agama the Buddha lists four things that can neither be conceived nor explained, one of which is the notions of karma and consequence. So it certainly wasn’t an ignorant question!

During the Feet of the Buddha retreat [2004], Thây said some wonderful things about karma. We are always producing it through our speech, thought, and deeds. In the present moment we can always transform the karma that comes to us.

My notes from the June 20 question and answer session include the following exchange. Thây’s full answer was wonderful; I will give you a summary in my own words.

Question: How do we deal with regrets at the end of our lives?

We all make mistakes, especially when we are young. With mindfulness we can recognize the unskillful things we have said and done. The ground of the action was our mind. Now in the present moment we can do something to neutralize the bad karma. Developing the willingness to act, to continue, in a beautiful way can be done every day.

Suppose you said something not nice to your mother, and now your mother is dead, but the wound is still there. You must recognize the wound in you. Say, “Sorry mother, I am determined not to do it again.” Your mother inside you will hear that. [Claude, this is something you can do every day, to the person you wounded.]

The past is still there, disguised as the present moment. The moment you are determined not to do it again in the future, the wound is healed. A new life is in front of you.

While past actions did create karma, present actions create karma as well. It is possible to transform the ‘bad karma’ through our present actions. What is important to understand, I believe, is:

  1. what you did,

  2. why you did it,

  3. what were the consequences for others and yourself, and

  4. how to develop an inner determination not to cause that type of harm

From Jerry Braza

In my personal experience working with inmates within the Oregon State Prison system, your question regarding karma is a common one. I have had many inmates reflect deeply on the possible impact of karma in the suffering surrounding incarceration. In my own reflection on this topic, I have gleaned some insights from several Buddhist teachers, including our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has experience with the prison population.

One of the more prominent teachers working with inmates is Bo Lozoff, the creator of both the Prison-Ashram Project and the Human Kindness Foundation. His foundations offer numerous books and resources at no charge to inmates. The beauty of Bo’s writings is that he makes complex principles more “user-friendly” for those in the prison system.

In his book We’re All Doing Time Bo shares: “One of the main rules we need to appreciate is called the Law of Karma. In the Bible, the way it is put is ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’. The way it’s said in prison is ‘what comes around goes around’. “Every thought, word, and deed is a seed which we plant in the world. All our lives, we harvest the fruits of those seeds. If we plant desire, greed, fear, anger, and doubt, then that’s what will fill our lives. Plant love, courage, understanding, good humor, and that’s what we get back. This isn’t negotiable; it’s a law of energy, just like gravity.”

Vipassana teacher Jack Kornfield in his book A Path with Heart shares: “The heart is a garden, and along with each action there is an intention that is planted like a seed. We can use a sharp knife to cut someone, and if our intention is to do harm, we will be a murderer. We can perform an almost identical action, but if we are a surgeon, the intention is to heal and save a life. The action is the same, yet depending on its purpose or intention, it can be either a terrible act or a compassionate act.”

The Buddhist teachings regarding karma are encapsulated in Thây’s teachings, and in understanding karma it may be helpful to review the concept of consciousness. According to Buddhist psychology, we all have a mind consciousness and a store consciousness. Our store consciousness includes everything that we have experienced during our life, metaphorically stored in the form of seeds (it also contains the seeds from the lives of our ancestors). Positive and negative seeds are planted through the thoughts and actions of our past. Our mind consciousness contains the present activity of the mind. Our mind and store consciousness are like gardens where we have activated, planted, and watered the seeds of our feelings and experiences.

The practice of mindfulness helps us look deeply to know which seeds to water and how to transform the negative seeds that arise in the mind consciousness. Our practice reminds us that every moment offers us an opportunity to be aware of how our thoughts, feeling, perceptions, and mental formations are constantly affecting our actions and subsequent karma.

We all have accumulated negative seeds in our consciousness. For example, if a person has been emotionally abused in the past, the seeds of anger, sadness, and grief may be buried in their consciousness. When these seeds are activated intentionally (in meditation) or unintentionally in daily interactions, we have the opportunity to transform this suffering through various gathas such as “breathing in I am aware of my anger, breathing out I embrace my anger.” Mindfulness and concentration make it easier to transform the negative seeds so they are not passed on through further actions that can contribute to negative karma.

Thây’s concept of “interbeing” helps us to understand the significance that each one of us has on the lives of others. Aware that we are connected to all beings including animals, plants, and minerals, it seems clear that every action has the potential of affecting the lives of many others. If our thoughts are negative, these seeds are watered and most likely behaviors and actions will follow and karma continues.

Finally, in a public talk in Vietnam last year, I recall Thây offered a beautiful way to personalize and realize the impact of karma in our life. To paraphrase, “Every one of our actions is like putting our signature on everything we do.” This makes every day, every moment, every thought, feeling, perception, and mental formation significant. This is so easily forgotten in the busyness of life. Our practice offers us a powerful means to live our lives in ways that have the potential to break the karmic cycle.

The Path of Transformation

So Claude, these are some insights on karma.

I hope this helps. Claude, over the past six years (has it been that long?) what I have seen in you is a sincere, good, and dedicated individual – dedicated to transforming yourself and to helping others. This is excellent karma! I know that if I let my anger take over, I feel really bad afterwards and sometimes I feel like I have done damage I cannot heal, but then I take faith in the Dharma, and I know that this is a long path we’re on, this path of transformation. We are graced with some small insight, which leads us in the right direction, and that is all we need. We don’t need to judge where we are, we just take the next step in mindfulness, the next breath in freedom, and we’re already there.

Barbara Casey, True Spiritual Communication, is the former editor of the Mindfulness Bell.

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Letters

Thank you so much for sending me the Winter/Spring 2007 issue of the Bell, which had my poem “No Windows” inside. I’m in a very difficult state because my mother passed away from cancer on March 3rd. I was devastated and in shock. My mother recently had major surgery to remove the cancer from her spine, and we all thought that she was doing fine. Well, that was not the case. The cancer came back and spread very rapidly.

I am utterly devastated! The pain of her passing was so intense that I’m surprised to still be here. She was my biggest supporter and a solid friend. She was silent whenever I did bad things, but was quick to applaud my good actions. And most of all, my mother was so patient. She had uncanny patience and suffered the wounds of life in calm silence.

That evening [after I got the sad news] I received in the mail a postcard from Editor Janelle Combelic in which she encouraged me to keep writing. Well, that little postcard really meant a lot to me because I really felt like dying, just giving up.

My mother’s passing from cancer has awakened me spiritually. I can see life, its depth and meaning, so clearly now. Life is sacred, all life, and know that I’ll never harm another person or living thing ever again. This world is so deceptive and most of us take so much for granted: our families, our bodies and intellect, the air and vegetation — all existence! Hearing that my beautiful mother had died caused me to be “convicted” in the court of life. I saw how selfish I’ve been all these years. How inconsiderate and insensitive to the sanctity of others. I grieved on my prison bunk and saw how special it is to be a human being and the responsibility it entails. Yes, we should smile and laugh, but life is not a meaningless game. It is dear, to be cherished.

The most difficult thing for me to deal with is all the pain and worry I caused my mother. I silently blamed her for when I was hit by a car when I was five years old, which left me with a permanent facial disfigurement. I never verbally told her that I did, but mothers just know, and I think that what happened to me also weighed heavily upon her heart. I would give anything in the world right now to be able to put my arms around her and to tell her: “Mom, what happened to me was not your fault, and I was so wrong to lay the blame at your feet. I love you so much, Mom!”

I hope that she is free from all suffering and pain. And I believe that she is!

I am so grateful to the Mindfulness Bell, and yes I’ll continue to write and send my poetry. I read every word and I love the pictures! Thank you!

I send you peace and love.

Malachi Ephraim Arizona State Prison Florence, Arizona, U.S.A.

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I was wandering my way through the river of life that is the world wide web on a journey of serenity when I found the uniqueness and personal liberation that is your site and magazine. I enjoyed your creative and supportive environment. Your pages are a gateway to the self that allow the viewer to experience your genuine heart and indelible presence.

There is an honesty and truth that radiates throughout your pages. I found everything interesting and appealing and I celebrate your journey. I enjoy absorbing the environments I explore and after exploring yours I am enriched by its imagination and creation. I wish you the healing power of mindfulness and a realm of infinite possibilities where your spirit can roam freely.

Micheal Teal Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

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Words from the Sanghas

“Generosity is contagious,” writes Susan Hadler in response to Leonardo’s message, below. The sangha liaison project that she helped initiate last fall continues to grow and bear surprising fruit. If your sangha doesn’t have someone serving as liaison to the Mindfulness Bell, please contact Susan at wondc@aol.com. Here are a couple messages she received recently.

I’d like to thank you again. I’m doing what I promised. I’m talking about the magazine, sending texts  translated into Portuguese to 200 people every week and encouraging them to subscribe to the magazine. It was a precious gift and I decide I’ll do the same. I’ll choose some people of our Sangha and give them a one-year subscription to help them the way you did to me. The magazine it is a refuge to me where I can be in touch with all Thay’s students worldwide. It gives me strength to deepen my practice.

Leonardo Dobbin (True Peace of the Heart) Verdadeira Paz do Coracao Brazil

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Just to let you know that Singing Bird Sangha is alive and well in Tucson, AZ. We are currently taking time each week to focus on the study of sangha and, as part of that, to include the articles from the Mindfulness Bell. On Sunday, March 11th, we will spend our entire study time inviting individuals to relate to the larger group something from an issue that has caught their attention. Following that I am hoping to encourage our members to contribute photos, poems,or articles about practice and about how sangha particularly has shaped their lives. With this in mind it would help if I could include upcoming submission dates.

Barbara Rose Gaynor Resourceful Calm of the Heart Tucson, Arizona, U.S.A.

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Editor’s reply: We read submissions all the time and try to get back to writers quickly.  Deadlines for our three issues per year are July 1, November 1, and March 1. We’re especially looking for submissions to the Heart to Heart section — 500 words on the Third Mindfulness Training (July 1) or the Fourth (November 1). We also need essays and photos from the Vietnam trip — or anything else that moves you and deepens your practice. Send to editor@ mindfulnessbell.org. Thanks for writing!

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We love to receive your letters! We enjoy compliments and we benefit from constructive suggestions. Please e-mail editor@ mindfulnessbell.org or write to Mindfulness Bell, c/o David Percival, 745 Cagua S.E., Albuquerque NM 87108, U.S.A.

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Confined in Anger, Freed in Love

By Jacob Bowley I was confined in the summer of 1999, twenty years old and more a prisoner of my own deep inner fears than the walls around me. Wrapped up in the great speed of the world, I had been able — with the help of drugs and alcohol — to maintain in my mind an impressive illusion of control. Here in prison the reins were clearly not in my hands; I knew no way to keep up my speed. Forced to stop, or at least slow down, I had to face the bitter truth: my will did not rule the world. This disappointment was too much for me to contend with day after day so I closed my eyes in anger. I would rage against the whole world until it consented to the perpetual gratification of my senses.

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By the beginning of 2001 the institution was not pleased with my method of seeking fulfillment. They expressed this sentiment by giving me an extended stay in segregation. I knew the stay would be for only five or six months, so I saw no reason to change and quickly got into more trouble. At this point they told me I would stay in the hole for three years. My party stopped. This was no game. I could feel the anger oozing out of me, reverberating in my little cell and gaining strength. We looked at each other, my anger and me, and I knew it would destroy me.

While in the depth of this personal hell I came across a few pages about Buddhism. Strangely, in spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t find any ground on which to cut Buddhism down. What I read seemed to be simple common sense.

Truth Cuts to the Heart

I read that life contains suffering. I found this to be an insultingly obvious statement, and yet there it was, in black ink; I had no way to deny it. This was not metaphysical speculation or theological proofs, here was something which cut right to my heart. I could clearly experience this in my own life and see it in the lives of those around me.

I read that suffering has a cause. That cause is not the outside world but is within; it is ignorance and clinging. Not the outside world? This had my full attention. I was putting so much energy into the delusion that with enough effort I could bend the world to my will — could it be possible to just change myself? The prospect of putting this burden down gave me, for the first time, the courage to acknowledge how large the burden was.

I read that the burden could be put down: if the causes of suffering are not, the suffering is not.

Finally I read that there is a path leading out of suffering. I needed to learn more about this path.

That summer and fall I immersed myself in new and exciting Eastern philosophy, ideals of compassion, and graded paths to enlightenment. Amazed by the deep and lucid wisdom I found in these teachings I nurtured a whole-hearted intention to realize their virtue. Slowly I began to experience the strength, healing, and freedom found in kindness and love.

Gradual changes were noticed by the institution and they responded by allowing me to return to the general population early. It was November 2001, and despite the excitement of moving out of segregation I was scared. I knew that the true test of my resolve to change would come when I returned to my friends. I came out of the box strong in intention, but weak in appreciation of the importance of practice. I held on to my new ideas but did not continue to meditate or study. Compared with the solitude of the past year, all the new ways to spend time provided a rich and stimulating life.

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The sponsor of our Narcotics Anonymous group, Tyrone, says “You can’t think your way into right action, but you can act your way into right thinking.” The opposite is also true. I was acting my wholesome thinking and intentions into the back of my mind. My way of living systematically hardened my heart, but I didn’t notice the gradual loss of my freedom until I got into a fight over being called a name. How bitter it was to find myself bound once again in anger and rage! The anguish of this prison cut deeper now that I knew a small taste of peace.

Taking Refuge in the Practice

I turned for refuge to the practice, this time not in the isolation of the hole but right in the midst of my crazy world. I faced my habit of trying to maintain a certain image in front of my peers; I faced the deep fears at the root of this habit, and I chose instead to heal. The progress was slow and cautious, but there was peace in every step.

I met a wonderful spiritual friend early in 2004. Matthew Tenney is a living Dharma talk and he shared an infectious happiness with all of us here. He didn’t spend a lot of time engaging in the intellectual speculation and analysis regarding the practice that I wrapped myself in; rather, he introduced me to Thay’s teaching and to the true miracle of mindfulness in daily life. I had read about the importance of cultivating this obscure quality of mindfulness, and I was trying. But until now the methods appeared vague and overwhelming. Thay offered very concrete and simple ways that allowed practice to become a reality of my life.

One day, not long after meeting Matthew, I shared with him a yearning that had been percolating in my heart: I would like to be a monk after I was released. He asked “Why wait? Why not live that ideal right here, right now?” The aspiration to do just that has been the center of my life ever since, a center from which peace, stability, and freedom increase every day.

Witnessing the impact these qualities have on the emotional tone of this environment, and on the hearts of people who live here, gives me the strength to continue. It seems a long time ago that someone said of me, “Man, you can feel the hate radiate off that guy.” Today it is a quiet comfort for my heart to know that I no longer radiate pain and suffering to others, and that there is freedom in love.

Jacob Bowley received the Five Mindfulness Trainings, along with Matthew, long-distance from Brother Phap Bi on January 12, 2006, “a kindness,” writes Jacob, “ which brought tears to my eyes.”

Jacob is incarcerated in the United States Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; this essay was written for the Mindfulness Bell and submitted by his father, Freeman Bowley.

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