|Winter 1995-Journal of The Engaged Zen Foundation-Volume 1, Number 2
by William "Red" Graham
Scott is a civilian volunteer who regularly comes into the Sing Sing prison Dharma Song Zendo once a week and sometimes twice a week. I am a prisoner engaged in programs and activities that are geared towards personal enrichment. He's white and I'm black. It was our mutual karma that brought us together in conflict, neither of us seemed to have had much of a choice.
From the Editor
by Kobutsu Malone
The response to our first issue has been altogether positive. We have received many letters of encouragement from inmates and those on the outside. There has been an outpouring of generosity that will enable us to continue to provide Gateway Journal in its original format, at least through the first year. Thank you all for your support. We have entered the names of 45 subscribers to our mailing list, and added about 50 individuals to our inmate mailing list.
The work and preparation of subsequent issues may not be able to be accomplished within a three-month time-frame. We will endeavor to publish on a timely basis, but you should be aware that this is a volunteer effort, and also not our primary work . . . which is facilitating the Sing Sing Zendo.
Many people have written and commented on Zen Karmics TM, which has received a resounding "thumbs-up," - particularly from the incarcerated community. The editorial staff of Tricycle Magazine has selected the premier episode of Zen Karmics TM for reprint in the winter issue, published in November. We are grateful for such wide exposure and look forward to supplying this feature to their audience in the future.
Jukai at Sing Sing Prison
by E-Kun Liz Potter
On December 10th, 1995, two inmates at Sing Sing prison made formal commitments to the Buddha dharma. Mr. Eddie Artis took refuge and Mr. Henry Mathews became the first inmate in the Sing Sing Dharma Song program to request jukai after completing 2 years of training. Jukai is a ceremony in which practitioners formally become zen Buddhists.
The manner in which Henry carried himself that day clearly indicated to us that he was already a Buddhist. The Jukai ceremony gave us a chance to fully appreciate who Henry is, - something that can inspire us in our own spiritual practice.
I want to try to tell you how Henry appeared and behaved on that day, as it was the most important and powerful aspect of the event for me.
Have you ever seen someone who is just totally "on?" Someone who is just totally clear, present/dynamic yet totally calm? Not an instant of uncertainty. No hesitation. It is rare to see a person like that. It stops you in your tracks. It catches your breath. It kind of pierces right through your heart. That is what Henry was like that day.
Those of us who know Henry knew exactly where this all came from: all those hours Henry had devoted to spiritual practice these past two years, the painful hours of sitting with aging knees screaming in agony.
Experiencing Henry's jukai ceremony was like glimpsing the transformation brought about through dedicated zen practice. Henry and Rev. Kobutsu sat facing each other in the center of the zendo. Smoke from our finest incense rose from a burner between them. The zendo was filled with Dharma Song Zendo sangha and friends. Some of us kept our eyes lowered as we do in zazen, just listening, perfectly still. We held our palms together in gassho position in support of Henry as he vowed to follow the ten precepts.
The vows of jukai that Henry took seem impossible to me now as I write this. How can someone not lie? How can someone not judge others? But at that moment, in the ceremony, it seemed perfectly possible. It was certain, in fact. It was clear that there is a part of all of us that does not lie, does not get angry, be violent or be jealous. It was the reflection of this facet that shone clearly as the ceremony took place. It was this facet of Henry that had been uncovered, refined and polished to a shining luster through zazen.
When a student receives jukai, he receives a new name, a Buddhist name. It is a name for the gem that has begun to emerge from the surface mental debris. Buddhists say it is a name for one's "true self." Kobutsu gave Henry the name Tozan. It is the name of a Chinese zen master who lived in the 9th century; it means, literally, "Cave Mountain." Yes, there is still Henry, but Tozan is emerging through the long silent sits in the zendo.
Some students from a film school came to the jukai ceremony to film the event. Young, clean-cut, guys came to record a quiet event held by a few of the older convicts in the basement of an old chapel building in an even older prison. Why? I don't know why. Maybe they came to learn. Maybe they instinctively knew, in this cruddy old prison, men like Henry have something to offer the world, something to teach. Maybe they knew that that day something pretty important was going down inside that overheated basement.
So Tozan is that mountain, rough, covered with the boulders, scrub and broken shale of all his psychological hangups . . . yet within it all his "true self," the shining jewel brought to light through his dedication to his zazen.
Here are the meanings of some terms which may be unfamiliar to the reader.
Dharma Song Zendo
art © 1995 by G. Duncan Eagleson
I've been keeping a dharma class going here the best I know how, mostly sitting, a few words from different books, such as
Well, it's now one day after I started this letter. I went to work-out this morning. After the work-out I was told that my friend Douglas had died in his sleep! I used to work with him in the yard, he was a very good artist - he also started the Children's Toys for Christmas Program, where inmates volunteer their time for making wooden toys for Christmas. Anyway, he was a compassionate person. They locked-up the floor he was on, so I couldn't get to see him. I found out later that they handcuffed the body until it gets to the morgue. I just pray he's at peace and gains a good rebirth. I did
I don't mean to make this such a long and tedious letter, but I'm kinda lost! My main practice is sitting.
It's hard to get any teachers to come out to Lompoc! I've written several, about retreats or Shambhala Training. I'd also like to take Refuge.
We used to have about 10 people in the dharma class - now there are two Thais and two Nepalese Sherpas and me. Anyway, Kobutsu, I would really appreciate any insight you might be able to give, and I would be very grateful to be put on your mailing list for your publication!
Thank you for your letter. I'm glad you like the
I am sorry to hear of the death of your friend Douglas. Please send me a brief biography, his name and date/place of death. We are going to run an Obituary section for those who die in prison, and for special friends. It is particularly important to honor those who aspire to practice compassion, and who die while imprisoned.
The point you raise concerning the question of what type of Buddhism to practice is timely, and a not uncommon dilemma faced by incarcerated people. Being imprisoned prompts many people to pursue spiritual practice, for many reasons.
Never before in history have individuals faced such a choice among major divergent schools. Traditionally people have been limited by their national, regional, social or familial ties to the various schools of Buddhism. Here in the twenty first century with massive international communications, virtually all traditional schools are available to us.
It might help here to examine the "spiritual materialism" aspect of the notion that we actually have the luxury of making a choice in the matter. As long as we are busy "making a choice," we are not really practicing, in fact we are sitting on the sidelines busy making "decisions." You have hit the nail on the head: "My main practice is sitting." This is really all we can do. There may not be a choice in terms of a particular "school" of Buddhism in incarceration, with the absence of lineage teachers. Certainly we can read about various schools of Buddhism and be grateful for any wisdom that may be imparted, but the crux of the matter lies in the practice, the
I can appreciate your feeling of being drawn toward zen in view of the style of practice available to you, yet if a Cambodian monk showed up and began teaching in your facility, you would wind up practicing Cambodian Buddhism - and why not?
Are there any teachers or practice centers in the Lompoc area that would be willing to sponsor and staff a prison program? . . . Well, folks, are there?
Hello! My name is Steve, and I am currently on my fifth year of a twelve-year bid in Colorado D.O.C.
I have been studying Buddhism, and zen in particular, for about nine months now, and although it is relatively new to me, it seems to make so much sense and offers me a kind of peace I never knew existed. In the beginning my studies were limited to books from inter-library loan, but now many new doors are opening with the help of a newly-acquired friend whom I now write to.
While more and more knowledge is coming my way, I am still very thirsty to learn and eager to practice. The part of the first issue that immediately grabbed my attention was the information about entering a monastic training-period upon release. I have often thought that this might be something I need in my life.
I offer myself and my assistance to you in any way it may be needed.
Thanks for your offer of assistance. If studying zen makes sense and offers peace, then by all means become a scholar. But if you are determined to live zen, then you must discover for yourself that zen doesn't make any sense whatsoever, and zen training can hardly be called peaceful! The idea of entering a monastic community is admirable and quite understandable, nevertheless there is a great deal of preparation involved. The average guy-on-the-street placed in a zen monastery wouldn't last a week. Monasticism is tough. I suggest that you concentrate on one thing right now, and that is developing a personal practice routine. It is rough, working alone, but what else can you do? All I can do here is offer advice. I suggest the following: give up watching TV (it rots the brain), begin an in-cell practice routine consisting of 30 minutes of sitting twice a day, every day. The instructions for sitting are simple: see the first issue of
Recite the Ten Precepts, follow them. Be generous, you can afford it! Be patient, things take time. Be diligent, work hard, don't give up. Do good and avoid evil. Oh, and drop us a line from time to time!
by Kobutsu Malone
When Dogen Gigen Zenji (1200-1253) returned after years in China, he was asked, "What did you learn?"