Friday, April 23, 2010

The Liberation Prison Project

"The word "kadampa" refers to those who are able to see the Buddha's teachings as personal advice that applies immediately to their own lives. "
-Kadampa Center website

Today's virtual visit takes us, for the first time in this blog, to southeastern U.S.A., to the Kadampa Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Kadampa Center for the Practice of Tibetan Buddhism in the Gelugpa Tradition was founded in 1992 by Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche who is also the Spiritual Director of FPMT (Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition). The center is part of the global network of FPMT centers that perpetuate a spiritual community of practitioners as well as publications and community projects.

One project at the Center that immediately caught my attention was the Liberation Prison Project
. An affiliate project of FPMT, the Liberation Prison Project has, since 1996, been supporting the practice of Buddhism by prisoners worldwide. Volunteer teachers offer guidance and tools to prisoners and visiting teachers go into the prisons to offer teachings and meditation.

Prisoners typically learn of the project by way of another prisoner who has become engaged with the Buddhist teachings. The Liberation Prison Project often initiates outreach after a prisoner sends a letter seeking material and support.

“Our aim isn’t to make people Buddhists; it’s to help them develop their human potential,”
-LPP's Founder, Ven. Robina Courtin

The efforts of bringing Buddhist teachings to prisoners is one I find tremendous. As with many other posts and "virtual visits," what was intended today to be a look at a dharma center in North Carolina led to knowledge of an international organization and effort to bring the dharma to those who seek it, but do not have the resources nor freedoms to simply go to a local dharma center. As can be intuited from some of my other posts here, I am interested in Buddhism on many levels, but an area that particularly draws me is practice and awareness that leads to a major transformation in lives.

In reading the bios of the volunteer teacher's on the LPP website, it's immediately clear how that transformative nature of exchanging Buddhist teachings relates to both the teachers and the prisoners experiences. Andre Smith's (a North Carolina based LPP teacher) story is directly reflective of this. You can read it here. In essence, the idea of any individual who has lost someone dear to them to a violent crime to then turn their energy and efforts towards bringing teachings of compassion and self understanding to prisoners is tremendous. Many prisoners are stigmatized due to their own record of crime, but while in prison many do have the capacity to transform their thinking and their lives. It may be difficult, and at times even inappropriate, to view prisoners as victims, but in a sense it is a victimization of the self. The potential of suffering that human's are capable of creating for themselves and others can reach disastrous proportions.

Efforts such as the Liberation Prison Projects bring the teachings of the dharma to a very particular place of need, even more so as prisoners are themselves seeking it out.

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