We are currently going into 5- 6 different prisons in the Michigan Department of Corrections system to teach the Buddhadharma and lead meditation practice for Buddhist inmates. We recently conducted an all day retreat for level II inmates at Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights.
In addition, have donated dozens of malas (meditation beads) and given over 50 new Dharma books to inmates in various facilities just in the last few months.
Sokuzan Bob Brown is a member of the Chaplaincy Advisory Council of the MDOC in Lansing, MI. He also trains volunteers to go into facilities to conduct services for inmates. Please email to email@example.com for more information about volunteering, inside and outside of Michigan’s prisons.
If you wish to help us with gas and other expenses for our prison work, please go to the “Donate” tab of our website.
SokukoJI Buddhist Community is a tax deductible 501(c)(3) not for profit organization incrrporated in the state of Michigan.
What follows is a conversation with Michigan Prison Inmates and Sokuzan Bob Brown, based on notes taken by Unyo Priscilla Brown and edited by Sokuzan Bob Brown for this site:
“Talk based on The Four Reminders”
Sunday, November 27, 2011 – Parnall Correctional Facility, Jackson, MI
Sokuzan: The first reminder says that we are free and well-favored. You have a mind not loaded with beliefs, ideas and opinions so you are open to other views and ways of seeing. The Buddha said to work out your salvation with diligence. Hold your body still. Let thoughts do what they do. Don’t tailgate them or add on. Allow things to come and go.
We are always wanting things to be better. Just observe. It takes a long time to unlearn the grabbing and pushing. Practice with exertion. Just don’t fight. Relax. Get yourself to the cushion often and sit there. Then the opening of that clenched fist.
“What if I don’t get anything?” you may ask. There is no reference point. Having a reference point is, “I want this. I don’t want that.” The idea is to not cling to that. When you’re bunking with eight other guys, you’re constantly fighting off that comment. Meditation is the exercise of doing nothing. Then it bleeds over into everyday life. Don’t push anything down. Just be fundamentally who you are. You don’t have to get rid of anything.
Buddhist Inmate: What is the motivation for this?
Sokuzan: To end suffering, save all beings, and allow people to be who they are. Just come back to square one and be genuine.
Buddhist Inmate: What do I do with emotions that just show up?
Sokuzan: The idea is not to have a big agenda. The main culprit: belief in a separate self. It’s a preconception. But you don’t know you have it until it begins to drop. You may see a person whom you think is grouchy because of the look on his face. Then you learn that he is ill.
Buddhist Inmate: What supplies the continuity?
Sokuzan: It’s the five skandhas. Form, feeling, perception, memory and consciousness which provides continuity. It’s lots of space. When we stop identifying with a self, there is more space, i.e., wisdom, compassion. When things start to look “freaky,” stay there. Then look back to see what “freaky” looks like. The third reminder—“abandon harmful deeds to ourselves and others”—we need to devote time to practice.
Buddhist Inmate: Is there ever too much time? Can one spend too much time practicing?
Sokuzan: Describe your technique.
Buddhist Inmate: I’m a Taoist. Circulating light.
Sokuzan: The meditation instruction I give is to just stabilize. If boredom shows up, that is good. It means you have given up on entertainment.
Buddhist Inmate: What if someone asks about Buddhism?
Sokuzan: Never offer teachings about Buddhism but do answer their questions. You respect their intelligence. If you go on after that, their preconceptions rise. Remember to offer respect no matter what. Be a minimalist.
Buddhist Inmate: I’m reading “The Myth of Freedom.” There are lots of “jealous god” realms here in prison.
Buddhist Inmate: Are we on the right track? Is this being “well-favored” like the first reminder says?
Sokuzan: You are a pioneer, an explorer. Yes, from my point of view, we are on the right track.
Buddhist Inmate: Life is like “Jeopardy” with lots of answers. It’s just finding the right questions.
Sokuzan: We need to remind ourselves how precious life is. We don’t know how we got here. The fourth reminder is suffering. There is the pain of pain, like a toothache. Then there is the pain of alternation; even when you are enjoying something, you know it can’t last and are looking for what’s next. And then there is the pain of the composite; like the coffee we drink may be harvested by slave labor. Or like the pain seen by a Bodhisattva whose individual self is so transparent he or she sees and hears the pain of all beings.
When we look for the self, we see all suffering. If we cut desire and craving too soon and are too anxious to control and be rid of something, we won’t cut the root. Just wait, observe and see what is really there. This is true cutting.