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Volume 5, Issue 2 April-June 2009 To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas. Dhammapada, 183
INSIDE THIS ISSUE...
Articles Ripening of Karma, Ariya Bantu Buddha's Message, Charles Carter Awaken, Esca WC Elwood Question for the Sangha, Eisai Hakuin My Past Cannot Defeat Me, James Halbirt What is Our Life About?, Josh Lyle Poetry Sanctuary, Julio C. Collazo A Suffering Transformation, James Davie Come What May, Erik Fite My Path to Liberation, James L. Halbirt Prison Life, Upsaka Lhamo Samadhana Haiku, Upsaka William Hoagland Letters Travis L. Adams James Bettis Michael Collier Scott Hernandez Guy Richard
The Buddha's Message
Charles Carter (Cottonport, LA) I’m presently reading and understanding the message. The Buddha formulated his teaching in a way that directly addresses the critical problem at the heart of human existence, “the problem of suffering.” All religions say, follow our path and you will find peace. The world right now is hurting for a solution to the problems facing humanity. The mindset of the world for sure needs to change. The Buddha says, “By oneself is evil done, by oneself is one defiled. By oneself is evil left undone, by oneself is one purified. Purity and defilement depend on oneself, no one can purify another.” (Dhammapada, V 165) We are prisoners, so to speak, the way the world “society” labels us. We are in a very good position to see the world just as it is: it’s corrupt, falling apart. We have a chance to get in touch with ourselves and develop the way of thinking that a normal human being is supposed to have The world scene isn’t normal, it’s abnormal. When people don’t know how the mind works, problems surface. “Man has dominated man to his own injury.” What normal human normal could find fault with the heart of Buddhism, the sabba papassa akaranam: refrain from all wrongdoing, do not commit any wrongdoing, either through body, speech, or mind. Wrongdoing arises in bodily, verbal, and mental actions. The source of all ood, evil, and harm lies with actions, speech, and thoughts. When we know the truth of suffering, we throw out suffering. When we know the cause of suffering, then we don’t create those causes, but instead practice to bring suffering to its cessation. The practice leading to the cessation of suffering is to see that “this is not a self, this is not me or mine.” Seeing in this way enables suffering to cease. That’s getting close to nibbana. Buddha helps you understand yourself better. The literature I’ve read so far is very helpful to me, and what attracted me to want to read more was the Buddha saying: “If I were to give you a fruit and tell you it’s delicious, you should take note of my words, but don’t believe me offhand, because you haven’t tasted it yet.” I’m enjoying the literature and I advise anyone who wants to know why we as humans suffer to listen to what the teachings say. The world right now for sure needs some kind of direction. We in prison need direction. My final word: the teachings work.
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
Suffering Spares No One
Hung Le Suffering spares no one, it hits people outside the cell and inside the cell. Those outside the cell are at most only marginally, slightly better off. Why are you so sure about this, you might ask. Our Lord Buddha said so: "If it's form, it's fake; if there's a self, there's suffering." Okay, that's not exactly His word, I just added some flavor to make it easier for my dull brain to absorb. Bottom line is, keep moving forward, for you never know if it's the dude in the cell or his own coach in the entoring program, who will reach Nibbana first. It's all up to you and your own individual diligent effort. Nothing else.
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
Upsaka William Hoagland (Daytona Beach, FL) The pearl from the deep Shining, lustrous to behold, A gift from the sea. The sun-dragon roared, It’s dying act of the day, And was quickly gone. Rocks in the garden, Sand raked into lines and whorls, Quiet, subtle beauty. Sakura, she sang, As she strummed her samisen, And the blossoms fell. Cherry blossoms fall, Drifting slowly to the ground, Softly, quietly. The leaf, broken free, Soared swiftly, high on the wind, Lost in the forest. Brilliant falling stars Streak across the midnight sky, Bringing good fortune. The great tree stands tall, A lone sentinel in green. Over the forest. The lake’s calm surface Mirrors the heavens above, The lone bird, winging. The face of Buddha Looks down upon the sangha With infinite calm. Curving roofs and spire, The majestic pagoda Rises to the sky. Prayers offered at dawn Often bring blessings all day To those of pure heart. The seed in the earth Raises its head up to breathe A flower is born. Buddhist bells ringing Reverent monks sit, chanting The name of Buddha.
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.
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
The Ripening of Karma
Ariya Bantu (Kincheloe, MI)
BUDDHISM IN INDIA Buddhism emerged first in Bihar, India. Following the death of the Buddha in approximately 483 BCE, Buddhism rose and spread in large part through the support of Buddhist rulers. Chief among these was the emperor Ashoka (304-232 BCE), whose conversion was sparked by grief over the deaths arising from his conqueroring the Kalinga people. Ashoka built many monuments that helped established Buddhism and propagate the teachings of the Buddha. He also sent envoys who spread the seeds of Buddhism to many far-off lands, including present-day Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. By the 13th century CE, Buddhism was extinguished in India. Many causes and conditions converged to spell its decline. The religion had relied heavily on royal patronage, and as non-Buddhist rulers ascended, Buddhism weakened. At the same time, Hinduism was undergoing changes that made it more appealing. The incursion of Muslims into India is generally recognized as the final blow to Indian Buddhism. In their attempts to establish Islam, the new rulers destroyed many Hindu and Buddhist sites. This had a much more devastating effect on Buddhism than on Hinduism. In the last century, however, Buddhism has reestablished roots in India. Its revival began in 1891, with the efforts of the Sri Lankan Buddhist leader Anagarika Dharmapala. In 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama established his home in India following his escape from Tibet. Also in the 1950s, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar founded a movement that resulted in the conversion of hundreds of thousands of Dalits ("untouchables") that has continued to the present day.
lthough I never watched the movie, a fellow prisoner told me that in the movie “The Bucket List,“ actor Morgan Freeman told actor Jack Nicholson there are two questions the Egyptian gods would ask after death upon resurrection: (1) Have you found joy in your life? and (2) Have you brought joy into other people’s lives? Obviously I’m paraphrasing, but Morgan Freeman went on to say that Buddhists believe in reincarnation and you come back to life either better or worse depending on how you lived your life. In response, Jack Nicholson, in his sarcasm, asked what a snail had to do to come back better – leave a perfect trail of slime? Because the concepts of rebirth and karma are extremely profound and complex, I will simply explain how a snail receives or can receive the merit to take a fortunate rebirth in one of the upper realms, hopefully, the human realm. All rebirths are dictated by one’s karma, and the realm in which one’s consciousness is propelled is likewise determined by one’s karma. Karma is created by our actions whether those actions be physical, mental, or verbal, and falls in the category of negative/unwholesome and positive/wholesome. Karma is like seeds planted in our subconscious minds: when the conditions are ripe, our karmic seeds sprout, growing to fruition. Our actions leave these imprints deep within our storehouse consciousness, inevitably later resulting in our future experimental picture. Karma is impressionable, like the film of a camera. When a picture is taken, the image is imprinted subtly in the film and remains there until the conditions are ripe for that film to project a picture that will coincide with and bring back an exact reflection of the original image, impressed upon the film. Karma is the same way. Karmic seeds do not necessarily ripen in this lifetime or the next lifetime, but can ripen over many, many lifetimes, depending on the conditions. Just like the impressions left on the film will only manifest when the time and conditions are ripe, i.e., when someone takes it to the film store for developing. You may not have the film developed during your lifetime, and your children may not in turn have it developed, but it may actually be your great-grandchildren, curious to know what impressionable imprint seeds are found in the film, who decide to finally have it developed. Once developed, a precise, accurate picture will depict the exact actions that were captured by camera so many years ago. Karma is no different. This being the case, although one may have created the negative karma to have been reborn in the animal realm, or as a snail, one may have also created positive karma in previous lives by generating great merit by performing virtuous acts during those lives, but the conditions for those karmic seeds simply have not ripened yet in order for the film to reflect those acts. However, once one’s karma to live as a snail or any animal burns out, then this necessarily means the conditions are ripe for other karmic seeds to sprout, and these seeds could be the seeds of our own virtuous acts, positive karma, and may merit a fortunate rebirth in one of the three upper realms, hopefully, the precious human realm. The snail is literally enslaved by his previous actions, a slave to karma. Karma, and karma only, can liberate the snail from existing as a snail. But a good question remains: What if the subconscious imprints, the seeds planted in the storehouse consciousness, contain no positive karma, but instead continued on p. 5 page 3
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
Question for the Sangha
Eisai Hakuin (Sarasota, FL) This question comes in by way of a poem written by one of the female ancestors by the name of Ryonen Genso, a Japanese woman who lived in the 17th century. Her name is chanted in the Japanese temples/zendos. It’s part of the liturgy. When looking at this poem honestly, ask yourself, “Who am I?”, the great question of life and death. It took me close to seven months really spending time with its meaning in many different ways to come to a realization. But I have no one to really bounce it around with. Please treat it as a koan, because it is. It’s a genjo koan, and it lies within a koan itself. It is a koan within a koan, but understand that there’s no understanding when working through a koan. Many different perspectives arise from the mind, carrying you through the great barrier gate to final realization of meaning through a direct experience. It’s the only way. A koan is meant to help us move beyond the words and ideas that describe reality and to experience that reality itself directly, intimately. The answer to a koan isn’t a piece of information or a new way of seeing. It is one’s own intimate and direct experience of the universe and its infinite being. It’s a state of consciousness. Do you understand? If you don’t, you’re already there. One of the greatest sayings in the Blue Cliff Record came from Bodhidharma when he said to Emperor Wu, “I don’t understand.” Here is Ryonen Genso's poem: I’m sixty-six years old. It is autumn. I have lived a long life. Moonlight shines strongly on my face. We don’t need to discus the koans. Just listen to the wind in the cedars outside. page 4
My question to the sangha: How does this relate to our practice and to our inner spiritual calling? Who are you and why do we practice? Now the door is off the hinge, the mind is free. Boundless are the Gates of Zen. The shosan is before you, there’s no place to hide.
marize, they are mostly all sob stories. I am not going to go into detail, but it seems to me that very few actually understand and/or apply what they are supposed to be learning. For example, location has absolutely nothing to do with your path. Simply put, we all do the best we can. On a more personal note, I am a student of the Theravada tradition and my primary focus is on those teachings. However, I am also studying Tibetan Buddhism to develop a broader understanding of all teachings, which in this case would include the wheel of life or wheel of death, depending on your perspective. I guess what I see an abundance of is prisoners who haven’t been able to rise above mere survival. There’s a lot of frustration and self pity coming from prisoners who feel there is no meaning or purpose in their lives. One of the basic, fundamental things we learn as Buddhists is inner reflection and awakening within, and always being aware of the ego. All of us that act within these walls are and have been conditioned by the ego. In a nutshell, the ego loves to complain and feel resentful not only about other people but also about situations. So let’s all try to work on our indifference and mindfulness while focusing on positive aspects. Misery loves company. I will close with a quote of wisdom which has greatly assisted me in my journey toward emptiness. It is from the Vajra Prajna Paramita Sutra [more commonly known as the Diamond Sutra, Ed.]: Upon realization, I do not reproach myself for the past; I know that in the future I can rectify mistakes. Aware that I am not too far down the muddled path I have now awakened to today’s rights and yesterday’s wrongs.
Esca WC Elwood (Corcoran, CA) This is the first time I have ever sat down and placed my opinion on paper regarding our newsletter. Before I start, be forewarned that those who didn’t leave their feelings at the gate probably shouldn’t read any further. Anyway, I have never heard or read so much crying, sniveling, and complaining in all my years of incarceration. I read all those different letters submitted to our teacher, and to sum-
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
Karma, cont'd from p. 3 all negative karma. Will one remain a snail forever, only taking perpetual rebirths as a snail? The answer to this is no. Although one will, under these circumstances, perhaps perpetually take rebirths in the lower three realms, all the negative karma do not necessitate rebirth as a snail or in the realms of hell beings, hungry ghosts, or animals. Yet another question still remains: How does one living in the lower realms of animals, hell beings, or hungry ghosts, who has no positive karma which will permit the rebirth in one of the three upper realms, ever escape the lower realms? Are they trapped forever? Likewise, the answer is no! In Buddhism, there are those Noble Ones, called Buddhas, Arhats, and Bodhisattvas. The one thing these mahabeings have in common is they all have realized the wisdom of sunyata, and thus have attained liberation, are free from suffering, from samsara, and are no longer forced to take a rebirth conditioned by karma. They have achieved complete liberation from cyclic existence. However, differentiation exists between those Noble Ones. Budddhas are fully enlightened, attaining Buddhahood, having moved all obscurations. An Arhat, although liberated from samsara, enlightened, and no longer subject to karma, is nonetheless not a Buddha, for Arhats are not fully/perfectly enlightened. They still have subtle mental obstacles that have not been completely removed, left behind due to subtle habits and predispositions from past karma. Bodhisattvas, like Arhats and Buddhas, are enlightened, free from the force of karma. Instead of abiding in the state of nirvana, they choose instead to remain in cyclic existence in order to work for the enlightenment and liberation of all sentient beings trapped in the cycle of suffering in the page 5
six realms of existence. Due to this grace on behalf of the mahabodhisattvas, beings trapped in unfortunate births of suffering may gain the necessary merit to take a more fortunate rebirth. The mahabodhisattvas, having gone beyond the ignorance of karma, can take rebirths through their own free will, i.e., they can direct their rebirths specifically, and frequently do so where needed, in any realm of existence. They stay in this cycle for the sole purpose of helping suffering sentient beings free themselves from suffer-
called ancestors upon death, and the ancestors were believed to have gone on to live in another realm of existence and/or in living things. The Zulus, for example, refused to kill or cause harm to certain snakes because they believed the soul of their ancestors lived in those snakes. The Sukuma black Africans, who are the largest ethnic group in Africa, also believed the departed dead were ancestors who were reborn and lived in other realms of existence. The Sukuma family remembered their ancestors through special prayers and offerings. The Sukumas believed their ancestral family members that lived in other realms were in the position to watch over their descendants. The Mahasiddhas of India, who had their own spirituality/religion, now called Siddha Yoga, are well known, accepted, and actually part and parcel with Buddhism. The Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, which originated in the third century C. E., was greatly influenced by the eighty-four Mahasiddhas, two of whom were specifically responsible for the transmission of the important teachings of the Vajrayana (those two mahasiddhas were Virupa and Naropa). Siddhas believe there exists a World of Ancestors. The Siddhas teach, like the black African spirituals, that offerings be made to the ancestors. Regarding this, I quote Baba, Swami Muktenanda, Siddha Yoga Master transmitter of the lineage: “There can be no doubt that the various ritual offerings of water and foodstuffs that we make to our ancestors actually reach them in a subtle form. It is true that they eat what we give them, that they accept our offerings and give their blessings to their descendants, so we should please them by giving them offerings. O Siddha students, you should not have the slightest doubt about this. Continued on p. 6
ing. Thus, the first of the four Great Bodhisattva Vows is, “Sentient beings are innumerable, I vow to save them all.” For example, the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha (The Bodhisattva of the Treasure-chamber of the Earth) is well known as the “hell-frequenter.” Many may not believe this is possible, a mere Buddhist trip, but this is far from the truth. Many religions stand for this proposition in some form or other. In ancient Africa, far before Christianity and Islam invaded the original black African people, those black African people had their own spirituality, a spirituality that’s similar in nature to the teachings of the Buddha and the concept of rebirth. In these black African local religions, they, too, believed in rebirth. The black Africans that lived south of the Sahara believed everything in nature contained a spirit and believed the spirits could live in animals. They worshiped, prayed, and offered gifts to the spirits to gain favor and obtain particular benefits from them. They honored and worshiped their ancestors. Departed blacks were
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
Karma, cont'd from p. 5
head trip. As the Great Zen Buddhist Venerable Dr. Thich Thien An once The subtle form of the offering wrote: “The mind that has been reaches the world of the ancestors disciplined through practice of through the mantras we repeat. The meditation becomes transformed into same Chit Sahakti carries it from here a reservoir of power. Through to there by means of the mantras. Let concentration the mind may acquire me give an example from life today. many paranormal powers, such as Suppose you have a friend in Amerclairvoyance, clairaudience, thought ica, and let’s supprojection, and the pose America is very like.” Ven. Dr. Thich A Suffering Transformation far from here. He can Thien An taught it James Davie (Brent, AL) tell you on the telewas through thought phone that he has waves that the mind Please help me Buddha – I’m hurting real bad sent you many dolcould communicate My mind isn’t right – and I’m feeling real sad lars through his bank with minds even I’ve been crying for hours – my happiness is gone and that you can get across great distances The light has turned to darkness – and everything is wrong the money here. You I need to feel better – I can stand no more of space. An example will certainly get the I need some help – as I fall to the floor the Venerable gave money. This is only a Eventually I realize – as time passes by was in the relations material transaction I dust myself off – and wipe the tears from my eyes between mother and I search through the books – that were sent to me carried out through child. When the child I read about suffering – and why it’s happening to me physical sound over meets some injury far The Four Noble Truths – is what I eventually find a telephone – this is from home, the I read all about it – and absorb it in my mind something you all mother may not know, There’s imprisonment, poverty – injustice and crime know. So why should but she will feel a Famine, racism – and suffering of all kinds you doubt that the certain uneasiness in I want to feel better – so I need to take action subtle forms of the ofher heart. And realize it’s my attitude – that determines my satisfaction ferings are carried to I get comfortable and relaxed – with a positive motivation So this is how the the world of ancestI get myself ready – for a suffering meditation snail could gain a ors through manSuffering I find - can be from negative karma fortunate rebirth from tras?” In Siddha Another reason to believe – in the teachings of Dharma the animal realm, by Yoga, it is essentially I think of sufferings – and how they’ve made me feel bad virtue and grace of its As I reflect on my life – and the problems I’ve had virtuous to make offerancestors who live in I’ve learned it’s my attitude – that will get my mind right ings to the ancestors. It’s how I deal with my problems – from morning to night another realm, and Also in Islam, at least Things start looking better – as the brightness comes back transmit merit unto the to my knowledge I give thanks to the Buddha – my life is back on track animal or snail to amongst the Shiite I’ll work on my karma – prostrate and pray benefit its well-being. So I can benefit others – each and every day Muslims, there is the In the tradition of Me, my‘self,’ and ‘I’, understanding the trinity, belief in the practice Buddhism, these great Realizing ’I’ deceive my‘self.’ And that ‘I’ is not me! of communicating beings are called with the spirits of the Bodhisattvas, and will dead. Those beings direct a rebirth to eral information about their relatives who are separated from the physical your specific realm, out of compassion and friends. flesh body upon death, and who for your suffering, knowing well you have attained a certain level of spiritufailed to generate the necessary Hence, these views also make for the ality, can travel to distant regions virtuous karma to free yourself, so they proposition that the Great through subtle realms to communicate manifest in your form, in order to save Bodhisattvas can manifest themselves with other beings. By simply concenfrom that ocean of suffering. through a rebirth directed by sheer trating their minds at a specific time will to a realm of animals, or snails, to in the human realm, two people can help liberate them from such suffering. communicate over long distances This is not a Buddhist superstitious through thoughts and transmit mental images. According to Islamic Shiite Muslim Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari, those living in the intermediate realm can establish contact with the material world and its inhabitants by virtue of their inner capacities developed by deeds performed while still in the world of humans and can acquire genpage 6 Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
Julio C. Collazo (Crawfordvlle, FL) It began by my passage on the angelic chariot Triumphant horns blaring with city dwellers shouting in glee Admittance from the Gatekeepers who honor the peace I once stole with my name on role – I’m accepted ... “Welcome to your Holy Sanctuary.” Saintly visions aren’t optical, and legendary sentries cower over my stead Peace is my mission and to hell with all the visions With my lazy mind and blurry eyes the road towards enlightenment seems dead. It is here where patience is a virtue although humility is used for a crutched thrill The labor is much for godly salvation And monks in starvation desire, again refuge in their native land
Cloisters of Brothers stand unified by economic status (if nothing else). Feasting on memories, I work for penance drinking it in silence. Artists abound, the writers are sound For this we cry – to which some die and musicians play their merry tunes Freedom is but a breath away Some still rebel, others seek hell At the dawn of day I reflect on the status quo while hope arrives with every new moon. Lying still, I doze to songs from the Obedience is the rule as I search within sparrows in the trees While on my throne. I know I’ve found – To sleep once more is a chore the world between worlds – Playing the role for me is a bore. the Dragons of Krynn. So I enter my Sanctuary ... Repentance for me is an obstacle
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size. May these teachings inspire and benefit your practice!
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
My Past Cannot Defeat Me
James Halbirt (San Luis Obispo, CA)
ing, the fear of rejection, the fear of being abandoned, and the fear of being embarrassed or outdone by my partner became evident in many instances. The fear of losing what I considered mine was always with me. The loss of love was my great anxiety that allowed my self-esteem to be compromised. The fear of such abandonment was sheer torture. My mind was dissociated from reality by my own ignorance and delusion. My self esteem lacked the discipline to compromise or to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses that were necessary for appropriate change. In other words, I was as I knew how to be, although this is not an appropriate excuse for my behavior. If I had known how to do better, I am sure I would have found a different way. Apparently, at that time, I didn't allow it to be within my reach. Additionally, I was not able to take the risk of exchanging a known for an unknown. It was beyond my grasp. I did not allow myself the ability to face adversity adequately. I lacked the test of resiliency, and the ability to cope,
n spite of my past behavior, I am a human being who today is sorry and regretful for my past tragic behavior. The past is over; I do not let it fester in my mind. Moreover, I am not a stranger in a terrifying universe. I am not an anomalous disease crawling on the face of an insignificant speck in the vast emptiness of space. I am not a nameless insect waiting to be crushed by an impersonal boot. I am not a miserable offender cowering under the glare of an angry deity. I am a man, a human being who has made mistakes in his life, some of which were tragic and senseless to a sane mind. It was evident in my past that fear disabled and crippled my relationships. It sapped my energy and interfered with major progress and wholesome endeavors in my life. Those fears I did not understand. I was driven by fear and anger instead of drawn by hope. This fear often controlled me and dictated my responses. The fear of trust-
to stand back up, to recover from misfortune. I allowed myself to fall from responsibility. My errors of omission and commission were mine alone. Instead, I gave up on my need to live effectively and my need to live sanely. My integrity eroded to the extent that violence seemed like a painful teacher. I fell to the depths of an overwhelming anxiety disorder coupled with sleep deprivation and alcohol. It became too much for a troubled mind. The more I tried to control, the more control I lost, and in the end, I was not able to control the lower nature of panic. However, today I have made many changes in my life. I am no longer lost in the abyss of a troubling mind. My self esteem is enhanced by seeing the bigger picture, no longer lost in the ego of self and other. I learned how to be true to the real self, to no longer wear the mask of evil karma. In learning how to be more patient and tolerant of others, I face myself and the obstacles and persevere patiently in Continued on p. 9
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
Past, cont'd from p. 8 the moment-to-moment of being. Those defects and splits of personality are no longer evident in my makeup. They do not exist. No attitudes of evil are within me. No fantasies of recourse, revenge, or harm to another are in my true nature. As a Buddhist practitioner, I have the courage to be vulnerable and the necessary strength to be weak with others. Further, I have no desire to manipulate or control others. Being vulnerable, as fallible human beings are with one another, simply means that hurts are inevitable in life. We all suffer. I am able to handle my hurts to enrich my joys. I vow to never give up my true self, control, or discipline in matters of living as a human in the moment-to-moment of pure being. I am fortunate that I suffer less than a great many people. I am grateful to live in a grateful world. I have a great deal of empathy and compassion for all victims of my violence and their families. I have cried for them many times. My heart is heavy for their welfare. May they have blissful rebirth and fortunate karma in their new lives. I wish it so ... All victims deserve my tiny drops of humanity. Those round wet balls of fluid tumble from my eyes, creep down my cheeks, and splash on the floor of my heart. They were there that day. I regret that I was the way I was, but I am fortunate to move beyond. I will accept my karma, endure it, and hopefully overcome it. I have forgiven and I have been forgiven. It touched me deeply, and I can understand fully what love is. My tears are always present in times of reflection. They should be; that is their job. Tears are the miniature messengers on call 24 hours a day to substitute for crippling words. They drip, drop, and pour from the corner of my soul, carrying page 9
with them the deepest emotions I possess. They cleanse me and nurture me. They often tumble down my face with announcements that range from the most blissful joy to the darkest despair for those who suffer. The Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha give me comfort and direction. They free me from the demons and misery brought to me and others. I vow that I will never be a contrivance of evil intent. It has no place in my heart and soul. I will face my fate as it may be, but I will do so with benevolence and presence of a pure mind. “All evil karma ever committed by me since of old, on account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance, born of my body, speech and thoughts, now I atone for it all.” In the moment-to-moment of pure being, I am connected to all that existing nature. When words are most empty, my tears are most apt. And so it is ...
Report on the Buddhist Correspondence Course
You might be interested to know how many others are taking this Course and where they are from. As of this newsletter, there is a total of 449 students from 39 states and one foreign country: 303 are taking the Correspondence Course, 146 are taking the Self-Study. Of the Correspondence Course, 267 are male, 36 are female. And of the SelfStudy, 134 are male, and 12 are female. And of the students taking the Course, 14 have been fully released (to continue the Course at home, Home Study) and one is in a halfway house. The states with the most number of students are Texas with 79 students in 46 prisons,California with 66 students in 27 prisons,Florida with 44 students in 29 prisons, Indiana with 21 students in 7 prisons, and Michigan with 19 students in 12 prisons.
Come What May Erik Fite (Draper, UT) Directions change Signs go unnoticed We can’t always merge At the very last moment. Exits are taken Stop signs approach One way off ramp Can’t use reverse. Compasses consulted Blinkers are triggered N, E, S, W Which way, go figure. Go forth, go forward Horse power all gallop Gas gauge leans left How many miles per gallon again? Residential terrain Metamorphoses to rural Asphalt turns to dirt Winds back to suburbia. Pit stop after pit stop Passenger after passenger Vision impaired, collision repair Make sure you fasten up.
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
Prison Life Upsaka Lhamo Samadhana (Daytona Beach, FL)
I live in a warehouse Of hot, sweaty human beings, Packed in side by side by side, Upper, lower, upper, lower, We are the wards of the state Jammed together in misery, Breathing dank, dirty air. Oh, it’s a big business for certain Eighty thousand in many, many prisons And fifty thousand more in jails Generating a billion dollars a year For the state’s largest industry. They keep us as long as they can, Making money from our misery. The food is absolutely the cheapest That contract money can buy With loads of rice, dried potatoes, Noodles, cabbage, and beans, beans, beans. We get low-quality fruit, for health’s sake, Truckloads of rejected oranges, with Skin too tough and hard to peel. Our clothes are the cheapest of cheap Made inexpertly by slave-labor prisoners, As are our underwear, bunks, and lockers. They give us Chinese cloth slippers, ruining our feet This goes on, boringly, day after day, Week after week, year after year, With guards who harass and demean, But ignore us when we need something. No packages from home, no birthday presents, Nothing to break the grinding monotony Of being locked away from the real world. In the evening, we read, listen to the radio, Or be baby-sat by the video noise-box. Most of us read, as an escape from reality, Or study whatever we can find to learn. There are canteens with over-priced junk food For those who are fortunate enough To receive money from a caring family. Most of the lights go off at eleven, All eighty-four back on at 5:45 am. March down the street, single file For a skimpy breakfast, not at all filling. During the day, pick up butts, sweep, and mop Mow the grass, wash the laundry, sweat. All day and night, it’s count, count, count. Made abroad by other slave-labor prisoners. The mattresses upon which we sleep Are made from old rags, stuffed into a plastic bag.
What is Our Life About?
Josh Lyle (Florence, AZ) Our wish, our goal, our desire for a genuine life, is to see the truth of who we really are - that the nature of our being is connectedness and love, not the illusion of a separate self to which our suffering clings.It is from this awareness that life can flow! And what is our life about? To learn to reside in whatever the present moment presents. To learn to attend to all those things that block the flow of an page 10
open life, and to see them as the very way to awakening—all the building blocks, the labels, the holding back, the protections, all the fears, all that separates us from just letting life be. And what is our life about? To turn away from seeking comfort and from trying to avoid pain. To be eager to just be. No longer so willing to be caught in the relentless monkey mind. Life is about awakening to the true self—no one special to be, nowhere to go. We are so much more than just this
body, just this personal drama. As we cling to our suffering, we forsake the gratitude of living from who we really are. And when the veil of separation rises, life simply unfolds. No longer caught in self-centeredness, we can give ourselves to others unconditionally. Death is close! Don’t hold back! Appreciate this life! Gassho!
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
My Path to Liberation
James L. Halbirt (San Luis Obispo, CA) Each morning while the earth revolves The light from darkness soon evolves. My shadow lies from east to west And moves until I stop to rest. Although this shadow does not last. What kind of shadow do I cast On those who cross my path each day Desiring help along the way? Will taking refuge in the Life of Dharma? Rest in the Sangha a place safe and warm from the storm. Will what I share be straight and true To help others, safely, make it through? Will those in darkness see the light Meditating I choose to do it right? Will the things I do and words I say Direct them to the only Way? When others fall on shifting sand, Will I be there to lend a hand? To lift them onto solid ground Where wisdom and safety can be found? The Buddha shed his light on me; From the mind of ignorance and shame, he set me free. The shadow cast upon my enlightened soul Hs cleansed and made me fully whole. Now in the shadow of my death I’ll be gravely concerned about the loss Of the Ego that crossed my path each day, As someone in my shadow stands, You’ll cross my path in the Sangha of helping hands Because the shadow cast by me can be found In the true-self image of us all.
Thoughts on Karma
The Buddhist tradition, however, is more interested in the internal dimensions of action. Here the more important questions include: “What effect on our own well-being are our decisions having?” and “How are we being changed by our actions?” What we do, from this point of view, is far less important than how we do it. Karma is primarily concerned with how we shape ourselves, and how we are shaped by ourselves, through action. Andrew Olendzki If we hope to change our karma, it means we have to stop making those things happen that cloud mind and body and color our every action. It doesn't mean doing good deeds. It means knowing who you are and that you are not your karma, whatever it may be at this moment. It means aligning yourself with the way things actually are. It means seeing clearly. Jon Kabat-Zinn Buddhists...saw that karma acts in feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. This constant opening for present input into the causal process makes free will possible. This freedom is symbolized in the imagery the Buddhists used to explain the process: flowing water. Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow is gentle enough to be diverted in almost any direction. Thanissaro Bhikkhu Every action has a result. Every time you're willing to acknowledge your thoughts and come back to the freshness of the present moment, you're sowing seeds of wakefulness for your own future. You're cultivating innate fundamental wakefulness by aspiring to let go of the habitual way you proceed and doing something different. You're the only one who can do this. Life is precious and it's brief and you can use it well. Pema Chodron I treasure the time I have left, more for me to practise. I want to generate energy of love, compassion and understanding so I can continue beautifully. I would like you to do the same. Use your time wisely. Every moment produce beautiful thoughts, loving, kindness, forgiveness. Say beautiful things, inspire, forgive, act physically to protect and help. We know we are capable of producing beautiful karma for good continuations and the happiness of other people. Thich Nhat Hanh
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
Scott Hernandez (Boise, Idaho)
Hello, my friends in the Dharma. I am 20 years old, doing a 4 1/2 to 8 year sentence in Idaho Maximum Security Institute. I am quite new to the study and practice of Buddha but here recently I came across a quote by Yin Guang. I have read it over and over again and never cease to be amazed how simply put an almost perfect way of living can be said. I strongly believe most people in prison do not live by any of these ways. I believe if we could live as this quote states, prisons would not be seen as a hard place to live and get along in. Here in my prison, things are progressively getting worse. Now we are almost to a point where the prison is going to be a complete lockdown, or in other words, a super max. The thing that bugs me the most is everyone complains on how much the c/o's are trying to mess with us, but these people are the same ones who don’t want to change the ways and help the problem. No, they continue to smuggle their drugs, to harm other people and themselves. Anyway, I hope this quote can help you as much as it helped me. Please pass it around as I have been doing. Don’t complain about a problem and then not help if you can. Don’t you agree? Thank you very much for listening to me. The Great Teachings of the Great Master Yin Guang: Whether one is a layperson or has left the home life, one should respect elders and be harmonious to those surrounding him. One should endure what others cannot, and practice what others cannot achieve. One should take others’ difficulties unto oneself and help them succeed in their under-
takings. While sitting quietly, one should often reflect upon one’s own faults, and when chatting with friends, one should not discuss the rights and wrongs of others. In every action one makes, whether dressing or eating, from dawn to dusk, one should not cease to recite the Buddha’s name. Aside from Buddha recitation, whether reciting quietly or silently, one should not give rise to other improper thoughts. If wandering thoughts appear, one should immediately dismiss them, and constantly maintain a humble and respectful heart. Even if one has upheld true cultivation, one should still feel one’s practice is shallow and never boast. One should mind one’s own business and not the business of others. Only look after the good examples of others, instead of bad ones. One should see oneself as mundane and everyone else as Bodhisattvas. If we can cultivate according to these teachings, one is sure to reach the western pure land of ultimate bliss. Homage to Amitabha! Amitabha! Thanks again for everyone’s time.
themselves in our situation. Although I am in a two-man cell, I still deal with all the noise and distractions you described. I hate to say it, but moving to a two-man cell is no guarantee of a more conducive environment.The only time I can expect to sit in formal meditation without too much distraction is late at night when everyone is asleep. It took some time and effort, but I’ve been able to condition myself to staying up and meditating during the late night hours. I do not know the details of your situation, but if it is possible for you to be awake when everyone else is asleep, I would recommend meditating then. On the other hand, if you have tried everything you can think of and still find that it’s just impossible to meditate in your current environment, then you may find approaching the problem from a different perspective to be the best course of action. Sometimes we may need to pause and take a breath, then step back and have a look at the bigger picture. Try to keep in mind that if we cling too tight to our ideas about how our meditation practice should be, we will suffer when things don’t go according to our desires. Patient endurance is the key, my friend. Did I ever learn that the hard way! What I’m beginning to understand is that even during those times when we cannot sit in formal meditation, we can, me must, still practice the Path. The Buddha taught that we should cultivate mindfulness when in four postures—sitting, sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. In other words we should be mindful or meditating all the time! Of course, we are not likely to go into deep states of meditative absorption while standing in line at the chow hall. We’re talking about a different level of mindfulness and concentration here! continued on p. 11
In an earlier issue of the BCCN, Steve wrote about the problems he was having doing meditation in a prison environment. Here are more responses for Steve: Guy Richard (Chipley, FL) Greetings, Steve. I found it very easy to relate to the difficulties you described while trying to meditate in a prison environment. Although I am a beginner myself, I’d like to take this opportunity and share my thoughts and experiences with you on this topic. I offer this with the hope that it may be of benefit to you in some way, and to anyone else who finds
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
What I’m talking about is cultivating mindful awareness of all our actions, speech, and thoughts through the course of a typical day, every day. This is every bit as important as anything we may experience while sitting in formal meditation, because without this mindfulness we will not develop our morality. And without morality as the base, the foundation of our practice, these is little chance we will get the results we want when we do find an opportunity to set and develop the more refined states of mind. So I believe that how we deal with the challenges we face every day in prison is our practice. What we experience tomorrow will be the result of our actions performed through body, speech, and mind today. Being in prison presents us with constant difficulties and challenges unique to this environment. These same challenges are also unique and valuable opportunities for our growth and spiritual progress, but we must keep our wits about us, or in other words, as Buddhists, we must constantly cultivate mindfulness. If we cannot sit and meditate, we can still watch the breath, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. And we can watch our minds, staying on top of our thoughts and emotions, investigating to find out why we react this way or why we said that, etc. When we do this, then when the time comes where we can sit and meditate, it will go that much more smoothly. To the degree we cultivated mindfulness, we sill have that foundation to work from, to build on. So try not to let it get to you if you can’t sit right now. If you work out a time for formal sitting meditation, that’s great. If not, that’s okay, too. As practicing Buddhists, every situation is “grist for the mill.” Every minute of every day is an opportunity to develop insight about ourselves. The Buddha didn’t say, “Make a refuge of page 13
your meditation cushion.” He said “Make a refuge of yourself.” I’ve gone through a lot of pain and struggle, a lot of very hard times before I began to understand these things, take them to heart, and put them to practice. And I certainly have not reached any form of mastery, to be sure! They say that the way to liberation is as easy or difficult as you make it. Well, that may be true. But I would be a liar and a fool if I said it’s easy for me. If you’re saying “All of this is easier said than done,” I agree. But I can say that it is getting less difficult for me. I’m finally beginning to glimpse the first light of results now that I’m learning how to stop resisting and fighting against my situation, and myself. So, to anyone reading this who may be suffering with difficulties in their practice I say, please don’t give up. Work with whatever situation life presents you. Now, in this present moment. I hope this has been of some help as that is my only intention. May we all swiftly progress in our practice. May all beings quickly come to know true peace in their hearts. If anything I have written is not in keeping with the True Dharma, I sincerely apologize. These are only my own views and experiences. Fellow BCC member, and Dharma friend, Guy. The last issue of the BCCN carried news of the death of mentor Rev. Robert Saunders.
Michael Collier (Iowa Park, TX) Robert was a beautiful and wonderful friend and I shall miss him always. I am not ashamed to tell you that I’ve cried a great deal this evening and that my heart aches with Rob’s passing. Though I am glad his suffering has ended, I will miss his wisdom and caring heart. His insight is especially a prize to me, and the time he took to point out my mistakes meant a great deal to me. I loved him dearly as a friend and fellow. I wish mere words could convey a single moment of feeling so I could share with you the joy and gratitude as well as the sadness the grace of Rob’s friendship and mentoring and his loss have given me. For all that we discuss in our lessons concerning the fleeting and illusory nature of emotions and bonds, I would not trade one moment of Nirvana for all that Rob was. I wish to continue with my studies and when I am able, I will take my vows. This is my faith and I take refuge in the Buddha’s teachings. The months ahead will be a trial. My mother’s health is failing and another uncle is dying. I am needed at home very badly. Yet I am needed here even more and perhaps in that lies my true purpose. My heart has broken to so many pieces I did not think it could break any more. Only just recently a man here shared with me how he had been raped and sold. I spoke the Dharma to him with tears in my eyes. I will not forsake these men when I go home. Your work, Rob’s work, the work of others like you it isn’t for nothing. I have made many mistakes, but the one I will not make again is to shirk my duty to my fellow man. Love each other, my friends. Our time is short, and there is much to be done in this dark age. Love and light, Michael.
James Bettis (Clarinda, IA)
I'm so sorry to hear about Rev. Robert Saunders. He was a very smart and intelligent man. And he is going to be missed by many, as you know already. I will pray for a wonderful rebirth for him. You are all in my prayers. Thank you.
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
Dhamma Without Rebirth?
by Bhikkhu Bodhi In line with the present-day stress on the need for religious teachings to be personally relevant and directly verifiable, in certain Dhamma circles the time-honored Buddhist doctrine of rebirth has come up for severe re-examination. Although only a few contemporary Buddhist thinkers still go so far as to suggest that this doctrine be scrapped as "unscientific," another opinion has been gaining ground to the effect that whether or not rebirth itself be a fact, the doctrine of rebirth has no essential bearings on the practice of Dhamma and thence no claim to an assured place in the Buddhist teachings. The Dhamma, it is said, is concerned solely with the here and now, with helping us to resolve our personal hangups through increased self-awareness and inner honesty. All the rest of Buddhism we can now let go as the religious trappings of an ancient culture utterly inappropriate for the Dhamma of our technological age. If we suspend our own predilections for the moment and instead go directly to our sources, we come upon the indisputable fact that the Buddha himself taught rebirth and taught it as a basic tenet of his teaching. Viewed in their totality, the Buddha's discourses show us that far from being a mere concession to the outlook prevalent in his time or an Asiatic cultural contrivance, the doctrine of rebirth has tremendous implications for the entire course of Dhamma practice, affecting both the aim with which the practice is taken up and the motivation with which it is followed through to completion.
nerable to sorrow, grief and fear, but that we tie ourselves through our egoistic clinging to a constantly self-regenerating pattern of birth, aging, sickness and death within which we undergo the more specific forms of mental affliction. He has also shown that the primary danger in the defilements is their causal role in sustaining the round of rebirths. As long as they remain unabandoned in the deep strata of the mind, they drag us through the round of becoming in which we shed a flood of tears "greater than the waters of the ocean." When these points are carefully considered, we then see that the practice of Dhamma does not aim at providing us with a comfortable reconciliation with our present personalities and our situation in the world, but at initiating a f Admittedly, for most of us the primary motivation for entering upon the path of Dhamma has been a gnawing sense of dissatisfaction with the routine course of our unenlightened lives rather than a keen perception of the dangers in the round of rebirths. However, if we are going to follow the Dhamma through to its end and tap its full potential for conferring peace and higher wisdom, it is necessary for the motivation of our practice to mature beyond that which originally induced us to enter the path. Our underlying motivation must grow towards those essential truths disclosed to us by the Buddha and, encompassing those truths, must use them to nourish its own capacity to lead us towards the realization of the goal.
Our motivation acquires the requisite maturity by the cultivation of right view, the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, which as explained by the Buddha includes an understandThe aim of the Buddhist path is liberation from suffering, and ing of the principles of kamma and rebirth as fundamental to the structure of our existence. Though contemplating the the Buddha makes it abundantly clear that the suffering from which liberation is needed is the suffering of bondage to sam- moment is the key to the development of insight meditation, it would be an erroneous extreme to hold that the practice of sara, the round of repeated birth and death. To be sure, the Dhamma consists wholly in maintaining mindfulness of the Dhamma does have an aspect which is directly visible and present. The Buddhist path stresses the role of wisdom as the personally verifiable. By direct inspection of our own experiinstrument of deliverance, and wisdom must comprise not ence we can see that sorrow, tension, fear and grief always only a penetration of the moment in its vertical depths, but a arise from our greed, aversion and ignorance, and thus can comprehension of the past and future horizons within which be eliminated with the removal of those defilements. The importance of this directly visible side of Dhamma practice can- our present existence unfolds. To take full cognizance of the not be underestimated, as it serves to confirm our confidence principle of rebirth will give us that panoramic perspective from which we can survey our lives in their broader context in the liberating efficacy of the Buddhist path. However, to and total network of relationships. This will spur us on in our downplay the doctrine of rebirth and explain the entire imown pursuit of the path and will reveal the profound significport of the Dhamma as the amelioration of mental suffering ance of the goal towards which our practice points, the end through enhanced self-awareness is to deprive the Dhamma of the cycle of rebirths as mind's final liberation from sufferof those wider perspectives from which it derives its full ing. breadth and profundity. By doing so one seriously risks reducing it in the end to little more than a sophisticated ancient system of humanistic psychotherapy.
Buddhist Publication Society Newsletter cover essay #6 (Spring 1987) Copyright © 1987 Buddhist Publication Society For free distribution only
The Buddha himself has clearly indicated that the root problem of human existence is not simply the fact that we are vulpage 14
Buddhist Correspondence Course Newsletter
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