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Prison Dharma


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Imagine trying to generate even the slightest bodhicitta -- the intention to become fully enlightened in order to benefit all sentient beings most effectively -- in a prison environment. It's similar to generating compassion in hell! Although we are all prisoners of our negative karma, negative emotions, and disturbing attitudes, we still have this precious human life. Nothing can ever take away our Buddha potential. Ven. Chodron and the prisoners with whom she corresponds offer practitioners insights into how they can benefit themselves and others in even the most difficult situations.

 


 

Excerpts:

A lot of beginning to like myself had to do with looking inside and seeing who I really was and accepting myself.

 


 

I've always seemed to have two really different sides: one of compassion and love and another of anger, cynicism, pride, ignorance, lying, and possessiveness. What person I was depended on whom I was around.

 


 

 

Changing

By Bill Suesz©


For a great part of my life I didn't like myself. It really hurt to be honest with myself, but through a lot of practice and effort, I'm no longer that same person. Hopefully not liking myself is a feeling I will never have again. It led to a lot of negative feelings and choices in which I used to hurt others and myself. I used to rationalize and justify my criminal behavior. Being in prison reinforced my poor outlook on myself. It clouded my perception. I didn't want to be negative or angry, but with a negative self-view, it was hard to be positive.

It was a real slap in the face to discover that others liked and respected me more than I did myself. Purification practice and the taking and giving practice have helped me and were the foundation for changing that aspect of myself. I also did a lot of meditation to look inside and see what others were seeing that I didn't see, didn't want to see or couldn't see -- both positive and negative qualities.

A lot of beginning to like myself had to do with looking inside and seeing who I really was and accepting myself. Slowly I started to see that the negative attributes aren't inherently negative, so to say. They just are. We place positive or negative judgments on things we either like or dislike. Once I accepted my thoughts and attitudes as part of myself, I didn't see myself as a bad person. Though I still have a lot of work to do on my anger and pride, I have gained more understanding of myself and along with that, more patience and compassion for others. Part of it has to do with seeing that some of the people around me actually have more suffering than I do.

Previously I blamed external circumstances -- such as the deaths of my father, grandparents, and son -- for my problems, but it was my inability to deal with those circumstances productively or in a healthy manner that caused the real problem. Coming to prison has been a positive experience though I don't want to stay here longer than I have to. Meditation has helped me the most to change.

I eased into meditation. I've always seemed to have two really different sides: one of compassion and love and another of anger, cynicism, pride, ignorance, lying, and possessiveness. What person I was depended on whom I was around. The purification practice was a good start for me. Once I started to look inside, I saw the depth of my negativity. With each in-breath I visualize taking the positive attributes of Tara into myself and as I breathe out I focus on one of the negative attributes I want to free myself from and think that I exhale it. Anger and pride are the most prevalent. Having a deity such as Tara or a spiritual mentor to focus on really helps, especially when purifying my mind.

After some time of reflecting on myself, I start to focus on others, specifically doing the taking and giving meditation. Visualizing taking others' negativity and troubles and then breathing out positive qualities and events to all sentient beings has really helped strengthen my loving and compassionate side. It has also built up my patience and tolerance towards others as in prison I don't meet many people I want to be around for a prolonged amount of time. Now I'm feeling better about myself and thus better about others.

 

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