buddhist correspondence course

Volume 5, Issue 4 October-December 2009 To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas. Dhammapada, 183

Articles Building a Buddha-Box, James Davie Bodhicitta, Janet Lawsuit Resumes Concerning Buddhist Prisoners, James Newby My Nature and Yours, James Halbirt Poetry Silent Screaming, Cliff Marvin Nowell Dragon, James W. Bettis Grow, James W. Bettis Eradication Day, Cliff Marvin Nowell Love Letters, Cliff Kathleen Wyatt What Is, "Is," Travis L. Adams Art Zen Art, Travis L. Adams Letters Ronald Couch, Jr. James L. Halbirt G. A. Norrell

Building a Buddha-Box
James Davie (Brent, AL)


wrote this in hopes that those who can relate to tools and toolboxes will be able to imagine a mental toolbox filled with tools to help them with their mind and relations with others. Have you ever needed to repair something but just didn’t have the right tools? Or used the wrong tools or the right tools in the wrong way and ended up with an even bigger problem than you started with? Me, too! Plenty of times. Knowing how to use tools properly takes wisdom, knowledge, and hands-on experience. Knowing where to find them takes organization. That’s why the toolbox was invented. A carpenter, mechanic, electrician, auto body repairman, and so on all use some common tools. They also have specialized tools for their trade. The specialized tools I’m referring to are for the repair and maintenance of the mind. The Buddha’s teachings have given us many tools to work with. So many that I had to have a larger toolbox to keep them in. Just like an electrician needs to understand ohms, watts, and volts, we need to understand how attachment and desire arise and where emotions come from. Just as my physical toolbox is a large three sectional unit, so is my Buddha toolbox. The tools in my box are based on the Noble Eightfold Path. The top section is my wisdom box (panakkandha). It holds tools for right views and right intentions. My moral box (silakkahandha) is in the middle section. It contains tools for right speech, right action, and right livelihood. My concentration box (samadhikkandha) is on the bottom. It holds all my heavy duty tools of right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation. You can organize your box as you see fit. This is just my personal reference. As sentient beings we all have the same basic problem. It’s called ignorance. We need to understand the nature of our dissatisfied mind. Just as we would check the oil and radiator fluid in our car, we should make regular checkups to investigate the health of our minds. This is not just philosophy, we need to know how the mind functions. We all have the potential for infinite development. Be mindful of your tools. If you think you are lacking tools in any area, ask your guru or teacher for help and study Buddhist books. The wisdom knowledge you continued on p. 3

page 1

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

Janet Get up with Bodhicitta. Eat with Bodhicitta. Go to work with Bodhicitta. Sleep with Bodhicitta. Study with Bodhicitta. Experience problems with Bodhicitta. Die with Bodhicitta.

The BCCN is distributed at no charge to those taking the Buddhist Correspondence Course. This is your newsletter–by you, about you, and for you. You are the major contributors, so send us your questions, problems, solutions you've found to difficulties in practice, thoughts you have on practice, artwork, poetry, etc. Due to limited space, some editing may be necessary. We also welcome your comments on the newsletter and suggestions for ways we might improve it to serve you better. Please mail all correspondence to: Buddhist Correspondence Course c/o Rev. Richard Baksa 2020 Route 301 Carmel, NY 10512


his quote from Lama Zopa denotes how bodhicitta, the union of compassion and wisdom, or the awakened heart/mind, should be all-encompassing and pervasive in our lives, not an ornamental philosophy to espouse and take down from the shelf now and then, but an integral part of our thoughts and actions. With our thoughts and actions based on bodhicitta, we can become bodhisattvas. Lama Zopa puts the importance of bodhicitta so simply and put it within the reach of everyone: Our lives are so busy; we are preoccupied by many family and other obligations. When your life is so busy, there is no other refuge than your good heart. Your good heart is the most important thing in which to take refuge. Even though you might want to do long practices, sitting meditation, many prayers or retreat, your life is usually so busy that you don't have time. You have too many other obligations; you can't do everything that you'd like. If this is the case, your only refuge is your good heart, your compassion, the thought of benefiting others, bodhicitta. If you take refuge in that, if you can practice that, no matter how busy you are—even if you cannot do many hours' sitting meditation, prayers, preliminary practices and so forth—you will have no regrets over lost opportunities, now or in the future. In this life and in all future lives, you will go from happiness to happiness to enlightenment. As I write this essay, I never want to forget that the study of Bodhicitta is very important because its purpose is to teach us how to have bodhicitta. When all is said and done, though, it is the actual practice of bodhicitta (“the Wish-Fulfilling Jewel”) that is ultimately the most important thing. Bodhicitta is made up of the word bodhi signifying “awakened” and citta meaning (according to your source) “mind,” or “consciousness, “ or “spirit.” The words “essence,” “core,” “foundation,” or “crux” are just some of the words that I thought about to use when speaking of Bodhicitta but the word “heart” is the most appropriate. Bodhicitta is the heart of Mahayana Buddhism; it is the most apt word because bodhicitta is all about “the good heart.” Everything we study and do is for this end—the development of bodhicitta and enlightenment, enlightenment for the benefit of sentient beings. Developing our minds, meditating, reading, and studying all lead to this end. If someone were to ask, “Tell me what Buddhism is all about in just a few sentences,” I would refer to the Four Noble Truths and Bodhicitta in my answer. At the very least, we should consider the immediate benefit of continued on p. 8 Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

Let us know if we may use your full name or just initials.

To receive copies of any of the resources listed below, please write to Rev. Richard Baksa at the address above. • A listing by state of Buddhist groups that may be able to send volunteers to your prison to conduct Buddhist activities. • The "Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000." This guarantees equal access for all religions to prison facilities for the purpose of religious meetings. • “What is the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act?” This explains the Act and how it is to be applied.

page 2

Buddha-Box, cont'd from p. 1 gain will be the actual tools you store in your toolbox. Here is a brief example of some of the tools we can have in our Buddha box. Our right view drawer (samma ditthi) can consist of the tools of the Four Noble Truths, and the right views of the five aggregates of clinging and suffering. Another right view to have is of the Noble Eightfold Path as it is truly a way to end dukkha, and the right view of the cause and effect of karma. The right intention drawer (samma sankappo) can have tools for understanding the intentions of renunciation, good will, and harmlessness, plus knowing what our aim and purpose is in everything we think and do. In the right speech drawer (samma vaca) we should have tools for understanding the reasons for abstaining from idle chatter, false, slanderous, and harsh speech. Wrong speech can create enemies and start wars. Right speech can give wisdom, heal, and create peace. When used properly, speech is silver and silence is golden. The right action drawer (samma kammanta) can consist of tools for abstaining from taking life, from taking what has not been given to us, and from sexual misconduct. There are counterpart tools for each of these. For example, abstaining from taking what has not been given to us has a counterpart tool of honesty, being content with what we have and the virtuous tools of generosity. In our right livelihood drawer (samma ajivo) is where we can keep tools for righteous ways of making a living. The drawer of right effort (samma vayamo) are for tools of mental determination. These are attempts to page 3

stir up the energy in our minds to strive for what is right. Our right mindfulness drawer (samma sati) should have some tools for contemplating the body, feelings, state of mind, and phenomena. The right meditation drawer (samma samadhi) should be filled with concentration tools. These onepointedness meditation tools can consist of tools for establishing a meditation practice, meditations on the mind, analytical meditations, visualization meditations, prayers and other devotional practices. All of our tools should be chosen with wisdom knowledge and used with lovingkindness and compassion. Better than a toolbox filled with a thousand worthless tools is one tool that brings peace and happiness to all. Gassho.

More specifically, the Court of Appeals said that when an outside volunteer is not available to oversee “regular” meetings, prison officials must provide supervision similar to that enjoyed by Muslim prisoners. Additionally, the Court found that the prison policy requiring malas to be black plastic, and forbidding inmates to carry or wear them, was not shown by the state to be the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. The case was remanded back to the District Court for further proceedings. This case was filed May 8, 2005, addressing Buddhist inmates’ rights at the Roach Unit in Childress, Texas. Consequently, the outcome of this suit has the potential to confer benefits upon not only Texas Buddhist inmates, but prisoners anywhere that federal constitutional and statutory rights are protected. Buddhist prisoners should be sure their prison record shows their faith to be Buddhism. Prison officials regularly argue that they have less than 1% of the inmate population recorded as Buddhist, and thus should not be required to make special accommodations for them. Details on the developments of this case will be provided to the BCCN as they occur. (Copies of the Court’s opinion are available.) For the sake of Dharma, practice.

Lawsuit Resumes Concerning Buddhist Prisoners
Rob L. Newby (Teague, TX)


he 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated the judgment of the U. S. District Court in Amarillo, Texas, that had dismissed the Buddhist inmate lawsuit as “frivolous” and for “failure to state a claim”. In a 13-page opinion issued April 30th of this year, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Buddhist inmates on four of five points finding that a reasonable finder of fact could determine that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice imposes an impermissible substantial burden on Buddhist prisoners’ religious exercise and fails to provide reasonable alternatives in violation of the RLUIPA [Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000] and the 1st and 14th amendments the Constitution.

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

Silent Screaming
Cliff Marvin Nowell (Beaumont, TX) An ensemble of emotions Rage throughout a young mind, Warped by incestuous acts, Illegally and insidiously obtained, By coaxing or intimidation. Neglected of parental passion, Craving encouragement and approval, Inviting acceptance of immorality. Sadly taught sexual transgressions, Are physical equations of love. Invitations of lustful congresses Are readily extended, bringing Future harm, invisible dangers. Psychogenic states go unnoticed, Sexual improprieties deemed normal. Gender lines drawn, then crossed, As physical aggressions prosper. Denial of sexual access, Shock, stun, flabbergast, angers, Introducing series of self-rejections, Accompanied by imagined verbal slurs, Destroying a fragile confidence. Imagined looks of contempt, Degrade thoughts of self-esteem, Igniting anti-social behaviors. Confusion, fear: clearly in view. Needs, wants: out of reach. Desperate yearning invades wrecked psyches, While early learning reverts/diverge, Upon unsuspecting youthful victims, Needful of tender loving acceptance, Silently screaming for rescue Will they ever be heard? Seeing steel bars day in day out Metal fence wherever you go Being told what to do Getting up at a certain time Sleeping on hard beds Lights on, lights off at certain times Some call prison We call it a chance to grow Grow James W. Bettis (Clarinda, IA) Looking out the widow At the bright blue sky Thinking of the dragon That was hard to suppress Til I met special friends Who had patience Who gave me a chance Who taught me To tame the Dragon. Dragon James W. Bettis (Clarinda, IA)

page 4

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

Eradication Day
Cliff Marvin Nowell (Beaumont, TX) He inherited the best Of an amazing childhood – A time full of joy! And toys made of wood. He became a greatly Admired athlete of lore: Like the boy next door – With trophies and ribbons galore. He had earned the life One full of glowing health And a business that provided His family with great wealth. He surely had the touch – Rewards arriving every day. Then one day when he was going home … An accident happened on the way. It was not his fault … That the blood was tainted – Not knowing, the orderly drew it From a risky person who knew it. Sure it’s sad I admit Thought not all lives end this way – But his family I had to tell: AIDS eradicated him today.

Zen Art
Travis L. Adams (Mujin), (Sarasota, FL)

page 5

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

Love Letters

Kathleen Wyatt (Willimantic, CT) Once upon a time Under the guise of fairy tale lies Girls and women believed … Believed in happily ever after Believed good would always win When that reality became a delusion They carved love letters into their skin You always told her Home is where the heart is Home sweet home When Grandpa comes to visit He gets her alone Kisses like Prince Charming Smells like mothballs Tastes like sin Now Daddy’s little Princess Carves love letters into her skin Teens in formal wear Vote for King and Queen At the stroke of midnight She pleads, Don’t make a scene DJ spins Rhiana’s Umbrella Song The prince punches Cinderella For ignoring him all night long He roars, Only whores wear glass slippers I’m sorry, the maiden whispers Again and again, the prince hits her I must learn to treat him better I’m so stupid, he’s so clever His proclamation I must remember I belong to him now and forever As an affirmation to this surrender The prince watches with a grin Cinderella carves love letters into her skin Sleeping Beauty’s nodding Chimera runs through her veins The Queen slams back gin and tonics Ignoring the signs, afraid of blame Puss-filled purple pockmarks Poison pricks like a pin Beauty sleeves are long and bloodied From carving love letters into her skin

I’m out of here, said L’il Red My grandmother’s ill She can’t leave her bed Then she pulled on her hoody And asked a friend could she Be her shift cover To check on grandmother She cut through the park To arrive before dark Teen wolves in a pack Planned their attack Leading Red like a lamb to the slaughter Sliced up and bruised Red was violated and used What a cruel lesson this world taught her She left a note on her bed And this is what it said This pain I wear is a skin I can’t shed I’m sorry but I’m better off dead Your loving granddaughter, L’il Red Then she cocked a gun to her head Shooting her brain full of lead With all innocence robbed Her friend at the job Filled with guilt as she sobbed An old hymn about God, about salvation, about sin While carving love letters into her skin Rapunzel’s prison tower Mirrors prisons of today Good women who are broken Are forgotten, hidden away It’s the perfect fortress The good townspeople say To keep those women silent Teach them to obey In the village chapel They sing rejoice and pray But do they love thy neighbor Even whey they stray Because it’s girls and women who seem to pay Those born of this earth Are cursed right from birth Because men decide their worth Now this is not a bedtime story Or a tale from Brothers Grimm It’s the testimony of our sisters Who carve love letters into their skin Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

page 6

My Nature and Yours

James Halbirt (San Luis Obispo, CA)


Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind Toward Dharma
(Ngondro or Preliminary Teachings) The Four Thoughts clearly describe how reality works. Contemplating them helps integrate their deep wisdom into our awareness, transforming mind and heart, bringing greater insight, wisdom, lovingkindness, and compassion. Actively contemplate the importance, merit, and relevance of this wisdom to your life and to the lives of others. Contemplate the importance and opportunity of having a precious human birth. We are fortunate to be born as human beings and to encounter the Dharma. Allow this to inspire within you the compassionate wish that all beings find liberation from spiritually impoverished circumstances. Contemplating impermanence and mortality is an essential aspect of Dharma practice. It helps us realize the preciousness of life, choose to embrace what is of value, and wisely spend our valuable time and energy. It inspires us to make a determined effort to practice the Dharma, cultivate virtue, and serve the welfare of all living beings. Karma and its results are certain and unfailing. By understanding karma, purifying our delusion and negativity, and engaging in virtuous behavior, we change our life experience and move swiftly toward liberation. Closely examine your life, your thoughts, feelings, speech, and actions. These are a precise indication of your future experience. We must understand and embrace the truth of our stress and suffering and the disadvantages of the worldly life. Attachment to this samsaric life can distract us from practicing the Dharma. For the welfare and benefit of all living beings, we should make a firm commitment to renounce samsara, a firm commitment to study and practice the Dharma until we attain joyous enlightenment. --adapted from Naljor Prison Dharma Service

have always been fond of nature, its outlook and its simplicity. Nature is at my beck and call. We live in it, we are a part of it, and it lives within us. It is the order, the disposition, and the essence of all entities. The stuff of the universe is what we are made of. Have you ever looked at a beautiful stone and wondered about it? What does it represent? Where has it been? Is it alive? It is my understanding that stones have rudimentary life. One might think, “This guy is crazy.” However, think about it this way: these stones put our lives into perspective. As we sit, our lives appear to unfold at a pace in between the lives of a long-lived stone. A stone is a natural object, obviously made without motive. Thus it portrays the qualities of a buddha, like the one sitting on an altar. It indicates stillness, calmness, centeredness, patience, tolerance, even magnanimity, compassion, and wisdom. The stones we can hold, just sitting, remind us of our true nature, before we stir our minds in thought. Yet all the while, they remain natural objects, offending no one and encouraging no one in particular in belief or thought. These stones have taken many twists and turns in life, just like our flow of life. Even a Buddha statue you might honor and respect is alive. It represents truth, compassion, kindness, and love, to name just a few aspects. Think also of animals: they are self-contained. Like the rocks, they just are. They don't look for anything outside of just this. Each comes equipped as it is. It does not try to be anything that it is not. It's ready and willing to sleep, to breed, to find food and shelter to survive. That is serenity. They just are what they are. They don't get outside themselves like we do. They don't manifest fantasy worlds. They don't have time to be anything but real. They don't look outside themselves. They live entirely in the moment. When a lion kills a deer, the world rolls on; all is placid and serene. Animals, like rocks, are artless, without guile or deceit. They don't try to manipulate our impressions of them or cover up the truth about themselves. A very young person, for example a baby, shows no sign of feeling separate from the world. Just noticing such qualities is enough to give us grownups a momentary sense of lightness and freedom. Thinking on this, why can't we live with such peace and serenity ourselves? We tend to look "out there" to make ourselves whole, hunting for something as if it were prey. We can't seem to stay in our own reality. We are never satisfied. The reality we create traps us. Like animals and rocks, the world is always here. There is nothing "out there" we need to acquire. True reality is forever at hand. Moment to moment of radiant pure being. Even our earth is alive, just like the rocks. It is always contracting and expanding, just like the breaths we take moment to moment. Even on the earth resides birth and death. The rocks, the earth and everything we see is alive or being born or dying. We know from physics that the rocks you can hold in your hand are reconstructed (that is, reborn) moment to moment in a blur of rapidly moving molecules and atoms, each exchanging electrons and energy with other molecules and atoms at enormous speeds. The whole picture can be reduced to energy and continued on p. 8 page 7

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

My Nature, cont'd from p. 7 movement. If these rocks did not have rudimentary life, they would fall into space. The molecules and atoms keep this rock contained. However, like us, they change. Typically, even as we die, all things die. We return to the earth and birth begins again, maybe in a different form. Energy cannot be destroyed. All living beings are energy. Whatever exists is energy manifesting. The earth is much like ourselves: it belches, it breathes, and in its movement it gets rid of inner trash from its inner energy. It changes just like we do, but it lives on in birth and death, moment to moment. Whatever dies, it takes and renews. Like ourselves, we do not take care of our earth. I think the earth gets mad at times, just like we do. After all, aren't we destroying our environment, just like we do to other people? Maybe it is collective karma. It is amazing that we cannot learn from nature. We know from physics, for example, that our hand is reborn moment to moment as a blur of rapidly moving molecules and atoms, each exchanging electrons and energy with other molecules and atoms at enormous speed. As a result, in no two instances is there the same hand, the same animal, the same rock. The whole picture is reduced to energy and movement, just like the movement on our earth. As we are physically, it is also necessary for us to change mentally. We will do that eventually given enough time, but time is limited, we only have NOW. Early Buddhists, I'm told, did not have the benefit of modern physics, yet nevertheless recognized total impermanence. Nothing abides for a moment. In each instance, we find a different picture, a changed universe. Why are we physically and mentally this way? Because this is the only way it can be

experienced. It's a mental experience. Mind is the Course. The reason why we practice is to tame our egos, to find a common ground of reality to understand human life, a way to conduct our affairs that doesn't lead to suffering for ourselves and others. To practice well is to find our center, and to abide in awareness of the moment is to bring us awake to see there is nothing out there to be found. In meditation, there is nothing to be found out there that would cure our minds. What is lies within. Our innate wisdom is found by seeing the reality of what is. We have all we need. There is nowhere to hide or run. We are special and when we live in a grateful world, the world will be grateful as well. And so it is... Bodhicitta, cont'd from p. 2 bodhicitta—that it reduces all our fears and worries. The long-term benefit is that it totally eliminates them because it is the main antidote to the self-centered mind. Shantideva said, “I invite every living being to this festival giving both immediate and lasting joy.” In addition, bodhicitta is a practice that can be done by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike because there is absolutely no conflict with any religion’s prevailing belief system, nor any conflict due to East-West differences in culture. I remember one time, in particular, when I think I understood bodhicitta and the emptiness that is its foundation. I was in the surgical waiting room while my daughter was undergoing surgery for breast cancer. I remember feeling a unity with all who had experienced the same suffering; there was a sense of deep connection, a sense that we were all in the same family. While I waited, I wrote in my journal:

I have become extra sensitive to all around us, seeing suffering not from a generalized global perspective, but up close and personal, knowing all who suffer are really connected. As they say in Zen “it’s just the skin bag” that separates us. What made me think I was so different from anyone else who suffers, who desires not to suffer, who wants happiness and peace?...I have had to re-learn some very elementary and basic things (I say “re-learn” because I think I once knew them): namely, that yesterday belongs to yesterday, that yesterday’s bitterness can poison today, that sickness and death are a part of life, that I cannot hold on to anyone or anything, and finally that I am responsible and accountable for all time for my actions. Yes, I know they sound hauntingly familiar. In fact, I claim them as my daily practice— the Five Remembrances [see. p. 9, Ed.], but I now really have experiential knowledge of them; they are not just beautiful sentences from the Buddha that I keep framed on my desk. And so, I would say that something has happened to my heart. I feel as though the great big hand of the universe has taken my puny heart in hand and kneaded it to a suppleness, a vulnerable porousness, a softness that takes on, receives and blends with all suffering in this world, not from any phony intellectual gleaning, but an understanding from where suffering can only be truly understood— in the softness of the human heart. That day, I felt all barriers dissolve. There was no “I” no “others.” We were all the same in our human joys, frailties and suffering. I believe that I went beyond just an intellectual understanding of emptiness that day, emptiness which is part and parcel of bodhicitta. I know we should not attach to feelings but I will never forget the feeling of complete ease that day.

page 8

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

"There are these five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. Which five? "'I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.' This is the first fact that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained. "'I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.' ... "'I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.' ... "'I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.' ... "'I am the owner of my actions,1 heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.' ... "These are the five facts that one should reflect on often, whether one is a woman or a man, lay or ordained." (from the Upajjhatthana Sutta: Subjects for Contemplation, trans. by Thanissaro Bhikkhu)

The Five Remembrances help us make friends with our fears of growing old, getting sick, being abandoned, and dying. They are also a bell of mindfulness that can help us appreciate deeply the wonders of life that are available here and now. But in the Heart Sutra, Avalokiteshvara teaches that there is no birth and no death. Why would the Buddha tell us that we are of the nature to die if there is no birth and no death? Because in the Five Remembrances, the Buddha is using the tool of relative truth. He is well aware that in terms of absolute truth, there is no birth and death. (from Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh)
1) I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old. 2) I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape having ill health. 3) I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death. 4) All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them. 5) My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

fold along the dotted lines to make a convenient, business-card

Please feel free to tear out this sheet along the solid lines and

page 9

size. May these teachings inspire and benefit your practice!

The Four Noble Truths

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

What Is, "Is"
Travis L. Adams (Bradenton, FL) Great sages of time, speak of the Indus Valley Tell of the Himalayans, the two great rivers of time Let be known, what is not written For there is no Dharma, sutras, nor teachers Emptiness, can you see Buddha is the mind, mind is the Buddha There’s only the practice Look, you shall not find, hear and you will see Emptiness and impermanence The wheel turns, the key Avidya, see the moon Escape Jaramarana, the grasp of “Yama” O great earth, reveal the great sages of time The secrets of the north, flow in the two great rivers How deep, how shallow, for there is no duality Emptiness is emptiness / form is form What is, - “is” and the wheel turns Great sages of time reveal to me Speak the truth of the mid-way Concentration / focus Do not come upon me Buddha! For I will beat you with my spoon “Quite!” Whisper into my mind great sages Speak to me the wisdom of time Indus Valley, ancestors of time Can you see The Mountains walk, rivers flow, ride the white cloud great ancestors of time Beyond the bush, hear the ox, no rope is needed Indus Valley, sit with me Let it be known, nothing is written.

page 10

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

Gassho, BCCN Sangha. My name is Ronald Couch, Jr. I’m serving a 1,072 month federal sentence (approximately 89.4 years) and since March of 1999 have been doing time at F C. I in Beckley in West Virginia. This is my intro of sorts, to the readers, writers, and Dharma practitioners of the BCCN community. I have been silently appreciating all your efforts for a couple of years now – and I gotta say that it wasn’t until I read the article by Travis L. Adams, in Raiford, Florida (BCCN, Volume 4, Issue 3, page 4) stressing a “Shut up and practice!” approach that I felt dharmically obligated to commit myself to join what I understand of his stance. Allow me to begin with a joke my father shared with me from Reader’s Digest: Every ten years, the monks in the monastery are allowed to break their vow of silence to speak two words. Ten years go by and it’s one monk’s first chance. He thinks for a second before saying, “Food bad.” Ten years later, he says, “Bed hard.” Another decade, it’s the big day; he gives the head monk a long stare, and says, “I quit!” The head monk quickly responds, “I’m not surprised. You’ve been complaining ever since you got here.” Ha! Now that’s funny – very characteristic of Buddhist behavior. So here we have this one monk who spent thirty years in a meditation-conducive atmosphere and only arrived at that the food was bad, his bed was hard, and that he didn’t want to be in this place that slapped him in the face daily with situations of dukkha. Had he invested a fraction of that time meditating on “MU!” or some other dharmic expedient, then perhaps he would’ve directly experienced that his true nature and his discriminating mind are, indeed, dipage 11

visions of his own device. The Buddha provided that all phenomena are born of the mind. But don’t just take his word on blind faith. Quite the contrary, the Buddha left the world with a last address: “Be a lamp unto yourselves.” Meaning: Realize for yourself that the only true teachers are the universe and yourself. Therefore, “Shut up and practice!” and share in the experience of Mr. Adams earning Bodhidharma’s Bones. Fortunately, Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki even said that sometimes you have to say something. And so it was with the Buddha when he delivered the Deer Park sermon some two and half millennia ago. So I rhetorically ask you again: What was the monk doing at the monastery? Oh yeah, that’s right, he was supposed to be there applying the Buddha’ antidote to his “Bad food – “Bed hard” – “I quit!” mind. Mr. Adams, you said, “Practice is knowledge, knowledge is wisdom, wisdom is the understanding of ignorance.” With a little leeway, I’d like to modify it to: “Practice is knowledge applied, knowledge applied skillfully is wisdom, wisdom is the disabuser of ignorance.” The “practice” is meditation—single-pointed concentration on whatever expedient is conducive with your temperament, to the gateway and beyond of absorption. The “knowledge”—in context—is the Dharma (i.e., the second of the triple treasures); “applied” means “practice.” Oh, look. We’ve come full circle. The result is wisdom. And just as wisdom is realized in degrees, ignorance is disabused in degrees. Only that which we have unnecessarily created stands between ourselves and enlightenment. Thus, buck up to this path of

self-reliance. Stop trying to make sense of the elements of prison. Make sense of what’s trying to make sense! Instead of me leaving you with Mr. Adams’, “Shut up and practice!”, I end this comment with the actions of silence and a bow—signifying wisdom beyond words, and compassion, respectively. Thus may we obtain the Marrow of Bodhidharma. Ronald Couch, Jr. Beaver, WV

This is in response to the many excellent writers, and my brothers and sisters who peruse the BCCN. I would also like to specifically address Jeremy Jones and mentor Florence. I thoroughly enjoy your sharing and all the thoughtful articles written by prisoners and mentors, those who embrace humanity and who are getting their compassionate life in order. In response to Jeremy Jones (Tenshin Hyo Sek) of Greencastle, Indiana. It seems we are homeboys of sorts, in that I lived in East Chicago, Indiana years ago. ln my younger and wayward days, I frequented many haunts and nighttime joints, around Gary, Indiana, Hammond, Whiting, and Calumet City, the sin city of the 50s and 60s. Included would be many of the nightclubs of downtown Chicago. I used to work in the steel mills in the Harbor area, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, and Inland Steel. I don’t think they are there now. In my younger days, I was a boxer, a street fighter, who enjoyed getting my kicks into some bully. I’ve since overcome that aggression as worthless energy and not conducive to humanized living and the practice that we serve.

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

In any event, you got it right Jeremy, “never give up.” Our days are always brighter when we start anew and atone. There is no failure in Buddhism. There is no everlasting hell, and as you know, we create our hells, right here. It is good to see that as a “nobody” you have lots to offer your brothers in prison. We both might be a “nobody”, but all life is precious, and we’re all brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers to each other. Our DNA is connection. Our births are connecting the maze of humanity. I assume you have taken the precepts as your away-from-home names indicates. In Gassho, brother. As for Florence, the mentor. I would like to respond that my detective friend, a neighbor in my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri, saved my life in one incident of madness. I felt I was abused and certainly was as a young person, and at 16 I was beaten up by police officers at the booking desk, who used clubs on me. It had an influence upon my attitudes at that time and in the future, and the fight was on. They would have killed me out here in California. This detective, my friend, talked me down from an incident of “madness” that was about to occur. I was a very strong and combative person at that time, and it was like a swat team incident, or something similar, but they had no swat teams in those days in that area. I was wounded from another incident and was a victim, but when they pulled me over, I didn’t take it as help. To make a long story short, my friend talked me down and I went to the hospital for help. He was one friend that I listened to. He was not only a cop, he was a friend and he treated me as a friend. There are good people in all phases of life, and we need people like you, Florence, who recognize that those who suffer need help, not abuse or untold aggression. They need empathy, compassion, and assistance in their troubles. We need more people like page 12

you in our California prison system and on our parole boards, people who have a greater understanding of human behavior. Even in prison, I help mentor a couple of COs, one who is presently involved in a nasty divorce. I assist him with my experience of my tragedy of what not to do. Another officer and I communicate about the Buddhist Dharma. He is a good listener and he thinks I should be released from prison. Again, we need people like you who have a compassionate heart and have right understanding. I enjoyed your article. Your brother in the Dharma. May both your precious lives be filled with peace and happiness. In gassho. James L. Halbirt San Luis Obispo, CA

This is in response to Darwin Brown, in Kingsley, MI, who wrote the article, “Everything is New and Impermanent” (BCCN, Vol. 4, Issue 3, p. 3). Your reflection upon present moment was refreshing. Reminds me of the classic Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. Gassho. Ronald Couch, Jr. Beaver, WV

INVITING YOUR CONTRIBUTION Your BCCN needs your contributions! How can you contribute? Are you an artist? Perhaps you can offer a drawing or sketch that is inspired by your practice. Are you a poet? A short verse of a few lines or a longer poem can be a beautiful way to share your insights with other students. Do you have a story to share? Perhaps you could write a personal essay about how your practice has affected your life. Are you a fiction writer? Fiction can be a wonderful vehicle for offering wisdom. Feeling less secure about your abilities? Consider a letter to respond to another student or to ask a question to which others can reply. If you need help framing your thoughts or need support to bolster your confidence, your BCC mentor will be happy to help you. As always, your comments and suggestions for ways that we can improve the BCCN are welcomed! Revs. Adrienne & Richard Baksa

This is in response to those who ask about the problems of doing meditation in prison In regard to the problem of finding quiet times and places to practice their meditation, may I suggest jogging and/or running. Not only is it a component of a clean, healthy lifestyle, but it is also a great way to focus on breathing and quiet the mind. As with traditional forms of meditation, running takes practice. One must start out slowly and build up their endurance. After you “get your wind up” and work through the initial bouts with shin splints, the breathing practices of running meditation get easier - instinct kicks in. After a few weeks of practice, you’ll find your pace, and with it comes peace. G. A. Norrell Carlisle, IN

Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful