By Gary, Path of Freedom Volunteer
I arrived at the prison and was alone– the only volunteer this warm July Sunday morning. No volunteers, no visitors, just a quiet and empty waiting room for me to pace around for a few minutes and finally settle down onto one of their many wooden benches made by some inmates past. After twenty minutes, I was “processed” by a corrections officer. I received a security stamp on my wrist, and then I took off my shoes, emptied my pockets, and removed my belt. I passed through a metal detector, opened my mouth and raised and lowered my tongue, showed the souls of my feet, and turned over my pants waistline to the C/O’s commands. She was pleasant, and we wished each other a good day as I moved forward into the security trap. Today, after passing through the dungeon-like trap and into the prison walls proper, I relaxed and, at the same time, enjoyed the anticipation of practicing and studying with my Buddhist friends. I also noticed many black-eyed susans today and the bright display of other familiar and lovely flowers that line the pathway to the next prison building.
This is the last class in the “battle room,” a basement room lined with many lockers containing materials of almost all of the various other groups/classes at the prison. We requested the move many months ago, and at long last, it will occur tomorrow. The chapel, with its amplified gospel music, although pleasant, in the end, proved to be too distracting for our practice. There were nine of us today, and we all seemed relaxed and happy to be there.
We did the morning Buddhist chants and meditated for twenty minutes. We are now studying the Mahayana Buddhist lojong slogans, and today’s slogan of study and contemplation is “Always Maintain Only a Joyful Mind.” We had a good discussion which included the following: A joyful mind is a relaxed, open, and non-resentful mind. It appreciates what one’s self and others have accomplished and relaxes into the delight of having done the hard work one has laid down as the foundation for this joyful flourishing. We discussed the difference between temporary happiness based on trying to satisfy ourselves through the desire to acquire external things such as cars, good food, big houses, etc and deeper and lasting independence (from desiring things) and interdependence (heart/mind connection between all of us).
After honing and contrasting these two different outlooks, we all came to recognize better what a Joyful Mind is. We also discussed how much more difficult it is to be joyful towards our enemies and those who have harmed us or others in their way toward their own temporary “happiness.” We concluded that these people are confused and suffering more than it may first appear to us. We agreed that we should have compassion for their suffering and share our unconditional Joyful Mind with them as a method for them to recognize their suffering and transform it into Joyful Mind.
We sat for five minutes and did the dedication of merit chants, dedicating any benefit we may have gained from our discussion to all other beings. We ended the class joking around, laughing, and enjoying each other immeasurably!