Free your mind.
It's not every teacher whose class attendance depends on whether there's a lockdown under way. But the Venerable Ajahn David Chutiko, a Buddhist monk, has accustomed himself to the vicissitudes of prison life in three years of teaching meditation at the Federal Medical Center Devens. The prison at the former military base 40 miles outside Boston houses inmates with mental or physical illnesses.
Prison meditation classes were pioneered in India and are being offered in several US prisons. Prison officials in Seattle and in India have praised the classes for helping some inmates to leash their anger, according to articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and San Francisco Chronicle.
It doesn't work for every prisoner, says Chutiko; while his every-other-week sessions draw a core group of 14, they have been attended by as many as 50, meaning that not everyone comes back for more. Insight from meditation is serendipitous, he says. "Even at Harvard University, they don't have an Insight 101 course."
Raised as a Catholic in Medford, Chutiko, 70, was exposed to Buddhism while stationed in Asia by the Air Force.
Later he met a Thai Buddhist leader who inspired him to make a retreat in Thailand, setting a trajectory that led to his ordination as a monk. Now he's vice abbot of Wat Buddhabhavana, a temple in Westford. Excerpts from a recent interview follow.
Q. Did you approach the prison or did they ask you to offer this?
A. [The Massachusetts Buddhist Association] asked me if I would be interested in doing work in the prison. It's the best part of my ministry. They're my best students. Meditation requires a bit of trauma in one's life, in order to bring people to it.
Q. Because people who have not experienced trauma are not in search of peace?
A. Exactly. And they get into the mind-set, "Tomorrow will be better." But they never do anything to make it better. The only way we can make tomorrow better is to make today better.
Full story here.