September 19, 2015. Myoko Sensei talks about the injustice and inhumanity of life sentences and brutal incarceration. She spoke of Judy Clark in Bedford Hills, and of the many people at Sing-Sing Prison.
The Resting Dragon
A talk by Roshi Enkyo O’Hara
June 14, 2015
In the oldest Buddhist teachings we have what is called is the Eightfold Path: the path of freedom, the eight points in the life of the Dharma that are said to lead us to accomplishing the Buddha Way. These are Right Views, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. And Ive always felt that the eighth point, Right Concentration or samadhi, is the one that holds all the others together.
Of course, some of us who think of ourselves as rebels don’t like the word “Right.” It comes from samma in the Pali, which can also be translated as wise, skillful, or wholesome. So we can say wise concentration, skillful concentration, wholesome concentration.When we practice concentration, samadhi, we focus our energies. Taking a breath, you can feel the focus in your belly. It’s the habit of concentration, this wholesome samadhi, that holds you; it’s a together-making thing; it pulls all of you back to your complete true self.
Dogen, the 13th Century Zen master, says:
When you sit in the meditation posture, you realize samadhi in body and mind, and give rise to an awesome virtue that people respect. Like the sun illuminating and refreshing the world, this sitting removes obscurities from the mind and lightens the body so that exhaustion is set aside. Enlightenment becomes as natural as a dragon curled up at rest. A demon is frightened even by a picture of someone sitting in the meditation posture; how much more so by a living person who realizes the way sitting motionless and at ease.
I love the imagery here: the awesome virtue, the sun illuminating; suddenly what was obscure is clear! Even demons—our little demons—pull away when they see us sitting in this wonderful, illuminating quality of concentration and focus.
Samadhi is right here in your breath, in your body, now. It’s not a theoretical or abstract thing. Don’t make it so. Make it your own.
Dogen is saying that this practice gives rise to an “awesome virtue” that people respect. Consider that: your awesome virtue. Perhaps you don’t see it or notice that it arises when you sit. And you may not realize that you offer it to others as you walk out the door.
And, as Dogen says, “sitting removes obscurities from the mind and lightens the body so that exhaustion is set aside.”
“Obscurities from the mind” means seeing only one side: putting all my own history and my own conditioning onto “the other” and getting burned out. What he’s saying is that concentration gives us the strength to come back again with a fresh mind to look at what is happening in front of us in our world. The practice of samadhi, the practice of dropping away our opinions and our views and sitting in that wide open space—can give us wisdom to act in a more compassionate way.
February 7, 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of the Village Zendo’s program at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. On the 7th, the Sing Sing group will hold an all-day meditation retreat, and practitioners at the Village Zendo will be sitting in the Zendo in New York. Ryotan Sensei leads the program. He wrote the following reminiscence to mark the event:
In the Fall of 2004, the Village Zendo received a request from inmates at Sing Sing Correctional Facility for a teacher to come in and lead their Zen group. The group had disbanded in 2000 when they had lost their previous teacher, a priest sent out by Dai Bosatsu monastery in Livingston Manor, New York.
When we arrived at the facility, we discovered a zendo that had been frozen in time. Cushions, mats, musical instruments, and sutra books had been locked away in cabinets and had not been touched or moved for the past five years. When we walked in that day in February 2005, all we had to do was to lay down the mats, set up the altar, dust off the kesu, and strike the gong to begin the first period.
We sat in a room with a view of the Hudson River. Each week the floor was swept and mopped. The altar was a school desk with a couple of books piled up on it. We lay an altar cloth over the books and set a statue of Shakyamuni on top of them. The Catholics lent us a candle with a cross inscribed in its plastic covering. The flowers were artificial flowers that had been crafted by an inmate while waiting on death row.
A few months later Roshi arrived and we had an “Eye-Opening” ceremony at the new temple. We called it “Dharma Lotus Temple”, combining the names of the two prison temples where our members had previously practiced: “Dharma Song”, which was the old Sing Sing sangha of the ’90s, and “Fire Lotus”, the temple at Greenhaven Correctional Facility sponsored by Zen Mountain Monastery.
It is now 10 years since we walked into Sing Sing and unlocked the cabinets. Only one of the original sangha members remains but new aspirants have come and joined their spirit to the flowing stream of practice. Our Village Zendo volunteers have also changed over the years, each leaving their trace in that empty room looking out on the Hudson River.
When I think of their sincere practice and the aspiring men of Dharma Lotus Temple I get a catch in my throat. I pray that our practice may continue to flow with the Hudson that lies beyond these walls.
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We welcome people of different cultures, colors, abilities, ages, identifications, and beliefs who can practice within the guidelines for meditation and harmonious practice that we have laid out for the Village Zendo. We appreciate and explore our differences in order to build understanding, harmony, and openness for the whole community.
In Zen, the uniquely intimate nature of student-teacher face-to-face meetings can give rise to questions about confidentiality. We treat these meetings with a reasonable assumption of privacy, not a strict code of secrecy. A core aspect of our practice is spiritual direction. While there is a right to a reasonable sense of confidentiality regarding what is said in these meetings, Dharma teachers consult with one another and hold confidentialities among themselves rather than alone.
Students are also expected to hold private interview interactions in confidence unless they wish to lodge a complaint. It goes without saying that any perceived slight should be discussed with the teacher in question first. Idle talk about interview is inappropriate and harmful to everyone’s practice.
Whenever a teacher and a student are relating to each other in different capacities or contexts, a dual relationship is created. For example, a teacher who is a psychotherapist may be asked by a student to become a client/patient. Or a student who is an attorney may be asked by a teacher to provide legal services. These and other such situations give rise to a dual relationship. ¨We recognize that not all dual relationships are inherently unethical. We are, however, mindful of the complexities and risks in these circumstances, and we recommend caution in such relationships. Should they occur, they should be monitored with extreme professionalism.
Village Zendo teachers acknowledge their shared and individual responsibility to hold the clarity and integrity of the teacher-student relationship. We will seek the counsel of the other teachers as needed.
The Village Zendo is committed to providing an environment of equality and respect for all those who come to practice. We seek to maintain a container where all can feel safe to participate fully and authentically in a variety of ways.
Recognizing and valuing the importance of diversity, no individuals or forms of practice are privileged or given special status. This is especially true in regard to those who are ordained, for whom the dangers and pitfalls of power projection can run high. Any seniority is based solely on the maturity of spiritual practice. In fact, the majority of senior practitioners at the Village Zendo are not ordained.
All members of the Village Zendo, especially teachers and senior students, are encouraged to observe a high standard of ethical conduct. We expect them to pay close attention to personal boundaries especially in the areas of sex and money, and to avoid other forms of control over others. We also seek to maintain as much transparency as possible in regard to the structure, operations, finances, and decision-making of the organization.
If anyone experiences or perceives a violation or abuse of power, we strongly encourage him or her to speak up. This is vitally important not only to the individual involved but to the whole community. The procedures for addressing such abuse are those in place for conflict resolution.
Conflict is prone to occur in all communities, including spiritual ones. When conflict arises, we attempt to address it skillfully, rather than to avoid or deny it. We seek to respond to conflict in a way that promotes greater individual and collective self-awareness.
Our procedures for resolving conflict involve the following steps: 1) examination of one’s own role in the situation; 2) when appropriate, direct efforts at communication and reconciliation between the parties involved; 3) when Step #2 is inappropriate or inadequate, recourse to a Village Zendo teacher to seek advice; 4) when Step #3 is inadequate, recourse to the Village Zendo Omsbudsperson who may intervene or facilitate resolution; 5) when Step #4 is inadequate, recourse to the Village Zendo Executive Committee and the Omsbudsperson (with any Executive Committee member recusing herself or himself if involved in the conflict); 6) when Step #5 is inadequate or the case involves formal legal matters, recourse to the Village Zendo Board.
Photo: Nan Goldin
Please join us in supporting Judy Clark’s appeal for clemency.
After serving 30 years in prison, Judy Clark deserves freedom and the opportunity to rejoin society. Behind bars, Judy entered the belly of the whale, as she put it, and through the difficult work of deep atonement and self reflection she found herself; she is no longer the same person who committed the crime all those years ago. Instead, Judy has become a model of wise and compassionate action in the world.
We believe her release will not only benefit Judy herself but society as a whole. Her release will also exemplify the values of rehabilitation, transformation, and forgiveness, characteristics of a just, wise, and compassionate world. In March 2012, after the release of a NY Sunday Times Magazine article written by Tom Robbins, the Village Zendo held an event to raise awareness on her behalf at Judson Memorial Church with over 145 attendees. More than 100 clemency letters were written and we raised about $1000 for her legal fund. Many letters from various sources were generated at that time as well. There was much energy and hope for clemency in the year immediately following the article, which sadly has not occurred. No response yet from the Governor’s office. So we are now in a quieter period of waiting and continuing to plant seeds and generate awareness in whatever ways we can. Recently Judy’s lawyer Sara Bennett published Spirit on the Inside, a book of portraits, photos and stories of just some of the many women Judy affected during her incarceration.
Much of the unfairness of the criminal justice system depends upon those on the outside simply forgetting about and giving up on those incarcerated. It is so important to not let that happen. Go to her website at judithclark.org for much more information, including her writing, and links to the NY Sunday Times article by Tom Robbins and a Guardian article by Eve Ensler. Spirit on the Inside is available digitally or in print.
We encourage everyone to write a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to grant clemency to Judy. If you’ve already done so, it is still critically important to continue spreading the word getting others to write. Unjust sentencing is one of this country’s darkest shames. Judy Clark is one of thousands presently lost in the system. We have provided three model letters for those who would prefer to use one of those. Please send a copy of your letter to Governor Cuomo to Judy’s lawyer at email@example.com.