Teaching Buddhism Inside Prison – Part III: Truthfulness

7.28.2016

Mr. B captured my attention from the first class. Rather than set ‘rules of conduct’ or ‘guidelines’ for the classroom, I utilized the Buddha’s recommended precepts for lay people, which include not harming another living being, not taking what is not rightfully given, not creating harm through sexuality, the practice of Right Speech, and not using intoxicants. The practice of Right Speech involves asking yourself before speaking, ‘is this kind? Is it true? It is necessary?’ Furthermore, it’s suggested to abstain from harsh speech, idle chatter, slander, and false speech. Read more…

Teaching Buddhism Inside Prison – Part II: Wisdom

7.14.2016

I shared three articles in the month of July about my work teaching Buddhism inside prisons in New York. You can read Part I here, and then go on to read Part II below…

The Wisdom of Buddhism

“If everyone followed the Dharma, our crime rates would decrease. Most crimes would become extinct; feelings of greed, hatred, anger, and envy would be recognized, embraced, and allowed to pass before acting on them. Our streets could become safe again, allowing our children to be safe while out playing or at school. Domestic violence would be unheard of, keeping families together and happy. Overall, compassion would grow and destroy the violence that plagues our society and threatens humankind’s tranquility.” Thus writes my Buddhist student at the prison, seeing the transformative potential of these practicing Buddhism. Read more…

Home for the Holidays: Doing the Right Thing

If a coconut falls to the ground the moment that the crow lands on the palm tree, did the crow cause the coconut to fall, or was the coconut going to fall anyway, and the crow just happened to land at that moment? This is the question the sage Vasistha poses to Lord Rama in the Yoga Vasistha, a text in yoga philosophy and mythology, which points to the practice of Right Action. This outlook is posed throughout yogic scriptures, such as in the Bhagavad Gita: we are entitled to our actions, but not to the fruits of our actions.  We show up with as much kindness or honesty in our actions as we can, and accept that our actions may be perceived in any number of ways. What matters is that we continue to apply our actions-thoughts, words, deeds- so that we can influence more coconuts to fall. This practice also evacuates the ego-that we act in a kind, patient, compassionate way because it is the right thing to do, not because it reaps any rewards or because anything specific will happen from it.

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Stress and the End of Stress

The Four Noble Truths

The Four Noble Truths are the bedrock of Buddhism, what everything else builds upon and refers back to. They are simple yet profound.

In the Nibbedhika Sutta it’s laid out, ‘Stress should be known. The cause by which stress comes into play should be known. The diversity in stress should be known. The result of stress should be known. The cessation of stress should be known. The path of practice for the cessation of stress should be known.’ Or, as James Baldwin says, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

I think this is interesting, and challenging, as it’s not my natural inclination, necessarily, to move toward stress, my instinct is simply to end it. One piece of knowledge that I have gained from yoga, however, is that our issues live in our tissues, so even if I just put an end to a specific stress or stressor in my life, the imprint of that dukkha lives on in my heart and body. So then what the Buddha prescribes is a holistic program to free ourselves from dukkha-over and over again. This work doesn’t end, as a yoga student reminded me this week:  it’s not about getting enlightened once and for all, it’s about coming back to the moment again and again.

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