The Journal of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship has undergone a name and format change. Now known as Turning Wheel, this well-designed magazine edited by Susan Moon does an excellent job exploring the twofold purpose of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship: to raise peace, environmental, feminist, and social justice concerns among Western Buddhists; and to bring a Buddhist perspective to those same movements. Recent issues have focused on healing, community, indigenous people, and gays in Buddhist communities. The Winter 1992 issue contains an especially moving section on “Meditating Behind Bars.” Fleet Maull, an inmate in Springfield Prison, writes of “Prison Monasticism” that “It is not uncommon to encounter prison chaplains who regard Buddhism as some kind of foreign or even dangerous cult.” Nevertheless, Fleet and many others have somehow managed to pursue their own individual practices, organize prison sanghas, and even, like Fleet, take monastic vows. “The noise and lack of privacy are the greatest obstacles to doing formal meditation practice in prison,” he writes. “From 7 A.M. to 11 P.M., the prison’s overcrowded living areas are in an almost constant uproar….To practice during these hours, I used to clean out one of the sanitation closets where the mops, brooms, and trash barrels are kept… During the summer the trash closet meditation cell was like a sauna. I would sit with sweat pouring down my face, into my eyes, everywhere. Looking back, I am amazed that I stuck with it.”
Another prisoner, Jarvis Masters, who is on death row in San Quentin, received an empowerment from the Tibetan teacher Chagdud Rinpoche through the thick glass separating visitors and prisoners. “After eight years of incarceration, I felt a real fear of calling myself a Buddhist and of being seen by my fellow prisoners in a lotus position,” Masters writes. “I was especially afraid of being seen receiving an empowerment.” After the empowerment, however: “As I waited for my escort to take me back to my housing unit, an inmate called over to me and asked if I was a practicing Buddhist. I paused. Just as I began to answer, a prison guard came in and stood between the inmate and me to listen in. ‘Sure I am,’ I said to the prisoner. ‘Aren’t we all, in some way or another? Life,’ I said, as I looked at the guard, ‘life, I think, may just put a piece of Buddha in us all.’ The guard turned to me with a surprisingly nice smile, and then walked off. I was amazed! I turned to the window where Rinpoche’s chair still was, and felt a powerful sense that he was still there. I bowed three times to the empty chair.”
In 1989, Fleet Maull and some “outside” sangha friends founded the Prison Dharma Network, which puts prisoners in touch with qualified meditation instructors from various Buddhist traditions which emphasize sitting meditation. The Prison Dharma Network can be reached at: P.O. Box 912, Astor Station, Boston, MA 02123-0912.
SEEDS OF PEACE
Another journal which reflects the increasing interest in a socially active “engaged Buddhism” is Seeds of Peace, published in Bangkok by the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB). It reflects the ongoing struggles in what the editors call “some of the lesser known areas of the world.” There are frontline reports on the civil war in Burma, political repression in Thailand, and human rights violations in the Chittagong Hill tracts in Bangladesh and environmental devastation in Nepal, as well as women’s concerns. The May/August issue also includes extensive reports on the fourth INEB Conference at the end of which Ms. Supaporn Pongpruk became the Executive Secretary: “It was recognized that the appointment of such an energetic and qualified woman is a progressive step for the INEB and an appropriate way to end the fourth annual conference which was marked with much gender controversy.”
The same issue reports as well on a seminar on Buddhism and Conflict Resolution, which brought together Cambodians from various warring factions on the eve of a tenuous peace plan. “The principles of attachment and conflict, detachment and resolution were introduced, based on the theory that by reducing attachments, one reduces the cause of conflicts. This discussion was accompanied by meditation exercises to help reduce attachment… At the end most of the participants agreed that the best part of the seminar was just enabling them to get to know each other, to ‘break down those walls.’ The informal exchanges were what it was all about… ”
Another journal that has also undergone a change is The Vajradhatu Sun. The bi-monthly newspaper, which has moved from Boulder, Colorado to Halifax, Nova Scotia is now called the Shambhala Sun, and has shed its newspaper format for a rather new wavey large magazine format. Edited by Melvin McLeod, theShambhala Sun will continue to serve the interests of the nationwide Vajradhatu membership while expanding its range of material to include the many traditions of contemplative practice. In the May/June issue poets Andrew Schelling and Anne Waldman team-interviewed Zen poet and abbot Philip Whalen, who gives his “worst-case scenario… that Buddhism in the United States will simply become co-opted like everything else. Fifty or a hundred years from now Buddhism will just be what you do on Sunday. It’s getting more and more watered down.” In the meantime, he says, the thing to do is to sit: “as long as people are continuing this practice it’ll have some effect—if not on you at least on the landscape!”
Buddhism Now, published in England, contains a heartfelt tribute to John Snelling by Stephen Batchelor. Snelling, who died of leukemia this year, was one-time editor of the venerable Buddhist Society’s journal,The Middle Way, and author of a number of books, including The Buddhist Handbook and The Elements of Buddhism. “John was particularly concerned with the tendency he observed for fresh and vital spiritual movements to ossify into rigid structures,” writes Batchelor. “He was at heart a liberal, perhaps even an anarchist, who despaired at times of how human beings tied themselves into knots of self-imposed suffering despite their otherwise good-hearted attempts to organize their lives around spiritual values.”
Batchelor quotes Snelling’s last article to be published before his death, “Do We Need A Buddhist Church.” “The answer, in brief, was ‘no.’ He concluded: ‘I do not have a blueprint for how Buddhism could be without infrastructures and professionals. I do believe, however, that the energy presently locked up in those, once freed, could work in marvelous creative ways. We could, I believe, see Buddhism doing what it is surely meant to do: help people to come of age, able to stand on their own feet as fully mature beings. No longer would they clutch at external props and sources of direction but would instead be more self-reliant, confident in their own sources of wisdom—the Buddha within. There could then be real Sangha, the friendly association of spiritual equals, mther than the divisions, dependency, and exploitation that we are beginning to see more and more.” As a lively non-sectarian quarterly, Buddhism Now provided a fitting context for this tribute. It is published four times a year by the Buddhist Publishing Group in Devon.
This article is available to subscribers only. Subscribe now for immediate access to the magazine plus video teachings, films, e-books, and more.Subscribe Now
Already a subscriber? Log in.