Sokuzan Robert Brown, a Soto Zen priest in the lineage of the late Kobun Chino Otogawa, spends an hour a week at one of five prisons within the Michigan Department of Corrections, offering classes on meditation to prisoners. According to the SokukoJi Prison Project, “This year we have donated dozens of malas (meditation beads) and given over fifty new Dharma books to inmates in various facilities just in the last six months.” Brown was recently interviewed by Christina Shockley of Michigan Radio and was asked why he got started with prison work.
“I can’t help it,” he replied.
He elaborated: “…I started by helping myself. I was suffering and had a lot of difficulty, anger, frustration, depression—you name it. In my very early years I was in the Marine Corps (where I first started studying Buddhism) and [I] met my teacher about twelve years later, in my early thirties.
I began sitting meditation and it started to help me see what anger actually was. Rather than continually trying to push it away or ignore it, or explain it or justify it, instead meditation helps us (as it is practiced in the Buddhist tradition, in most cases) to see exactly what is the root [of] this; and, usually, as the Buddha taught, the root of suffering, or confusion, or delusion, is desire. Or, put in simple words, ‘Wanting things to be different than they are.'”
Click here to learn more about the SokukoJi Prison Project. You can contribute to help Brown and his organization continue their important work.