Letters from Inside

Featured in Mountain Record 29.4, Summer 2011


The National Buddhist Prison Sangha (NBPS) is comprised of formal MRO students and the incarcerated men and women that they visit, correspond with, and assist in creating and leading Zen practice groups.
Originally formed in response to the request of several New York State prison inmates, the program began in 1984 following a legal suit that established Buddhism as a formally recognized religion within the New York State Department of Corrections.
Following are letters from inmates reflecting on and seeking advice about their practice.

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Sensei,

I have been practicing Zen for about 1 1/2 years now and it has opened up my heart and soul to a lot of good and beautiful experiences with myself and others. Yet there are still a lot of questions I have, and many things I would like to know about Zen.

Here in this place they have no library and I don’t have any contact with anyone who can send me any books on Zen.

I constantly meditate now. I started with 10 minutes and eventually I graduated. Now I can go for countless hours without being worried about time.

Some people find it hard to meditate amidst the noise. I find it motivating. Life is distractful itself, and you have to learn how to seclude yourself among the many obstacles.

I was wondering if you could please send me a copy of the Level 2 Training Manual, which includes material on liturgy in the Zen tradition and more copies of the Mountain Record journals.

Practicing has made me better. I used to be involved in a gang, and in this place I was really known and feared. Still some fear me out of the things I did in my past. I also had problems with those who didn’t agree when I backed down from that lifestyle. Thanks to my dedication and determination to Zen these same individuals came up to me and asked for my help. These same individuals who wanted to kill me and harm me are now the same ones asking for my help.

There is a great need in jail. And I want to help. I want to prepare myself, spiritually, mentally and professionally so that I can be that vessel that leads a lof of these guys to enlightenment.

What can I say? I need material to work with, not only for me but so that through my knowledge and experience many more can reap the benefits also. Thank you. God bless

Gassho,
O.P.