Monday, June 5, 2006

Zen and William "Red" Graham

Sometimes it's best to step back from "the big picture" so that we don't miss the trees for the forest. Surely, with race riots ready to rumble in many US prisons, alleged civil rights violations at the detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, amd the lingering fallout of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, there is more to be concerned about with regard to prisoner treatment than a lone inmate at a facility in New York. But then, how many people does it take to matter when it comes to civil rights?

As will likely be springing forth on Buddhism-related blogs (dubbed by some collectively as "the Blangha"), the Buddhist Channel, a news site covering Buddhism-related news worldwide, has just released the story of a prisoner named William Graham and his ongoing Zen practice with Ven Kobutsu Malone. Malone happens to be the author of a booklet about Zen practice in prison. Which brings us to why this is being reported at all (the virtue of Buddhist prison outreach notwithstanding)--officials at the prison have banned "Red" from reading it because it "{D}epicts/describes procedures to be implemented solely by Administration."

I'm astonished that the prison authorities have objected to basic Buddhist teachings such as the 'Heart Sutra', and other fundamental Buddhist principles such as 'The Three Marks of Existence', 'The Four Noble Truths' and 'The Ten Precepts' contained within the 74 pages saying that these are 'procedures to be implemented' by a functionary of the state.

--Ven Kobutsu Malone

As far as anyone knows this is an isolated incident, but it is strange. It isn't naked pyramids or wateboarding, but if the story is happening as it is being reported it is a sign of poor judgement on the part of the prison officials involved. I don't think it's appropriate to soap box off of this, or make more of it than it is, linking it to some larger ill or as an excuse to rant about discrimination or religious intolerance or the like. But must we not begin to save sentient beings one act at a time? Sometimes one person at a time? One book? We should remember to have patience and compassion towards all involved--Ven Kobutsu Malone, William Graham, and the prison officials. If you would like to write in support of "Red", a snail mail address to the officials and to Graham himself is provided in the original story by the Buddhist Channel (linked above). There is also contact info for the prioner's lawyer in a separate letter if you have suggestions on how to help.

Speaking of prison dharma, I have always been an admirer of any and all who reach out to inmates. If any of you have experience in this area please feel free to share. It will be appreciated.


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