Is Meditation Enough?

Are the goals of the prison dharma movement misguided? Kobutsu Malone spent eight years running a Zen practice group in Sing Sing Prison, widely regarded as the most dangerous maximum security prison in New York State.

Kobutsu Malone

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Like a bird, he resides on limitless air
And flies an invisible course.
He wishes for nothing.
His food is knowledge.
He lives upon emptiness.
He has broken free.

—The Buddha, Diamond Sutra

For a decade, I held tightly to the idea that serious in-depth Zen practice in prison was not only possible but also important—even necessary. But eight years in Sing Sing Prison, and correspondence with thousands of prisoners across the country, has gradually convinced me that the work of prison dharma groups is seriously flawed because of the often misguided and limited aims of prison dharma volunteers. It was a hard lesson. Buddhism is concerned with the emancipation of all beings, not just Buddhist ones. Is this the present function of prison dharma programs?

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