The Real Thing

“Once [the prisoners] see that they can look at [the limitations and pain of their life] as an object, and study it, instead of being frustrated because they can’t do something about it, a kind of a switch goes off and they are suddenly liberated within prison.”    

  – Seido Lee deBarros, Volunteer Buddhist Chaplain, San Quentin State Prison

A recent radio show for KALW radio in San Francisco by Judy Silber really captures the heart of the San Quentin Buddhadharma Sangha, and the heart of Zen practice and spiritual transformation.  The interviews capture the men in their own words, offering their own inspiring and difficult stories of real practice, in the real grime of inner and outer prisons.

It’s only about 10 minutes long – you won’t regret listening to it.  If these men can find their Way where they are, surely we can find ours where we are – East or West, priest or lay, happy or sad, rich or poor.

Zen at San Quentin – KALW 9/29/2010




2 thoughts on “The Real Thing

  1. Interesting program. The first thing i thought of is that 90 persent of the “worlds” non-prisoners experience is gone for the prisoner. They have very little choice in what choices they can make. They are told what to do most of the time by authorities. They can not leave the facility they are incarcerated in. So the question of free will or the illusion of free will is a very large dynamic that faces a person in the free world, as opposed to prisoners. It is my opinion that the free world offers an never ending supply of ego stimulation. Pleasure, success, travel, shopping, dating, and entertainment are just a few of the ego builders that a free society offers. While in prison all of these choices are extremely limited if not excluded from a persons choice. So it is much easier to accomplish egolessness in prison than in the free world. I know this sounds a bit crazy, but consider the inner roof noise that free choice causes. When one goes to still the mind in the free world they have a lot more to contend with, than those who have very limited choices.
    I think that is why the holy story of the Buddha includes him living an ascetic life for a time. To limit his choices, even the choice of eating food. Of course he gave that up, seeing the self-mortification was an extreme and found a middle way to live.
    So being in prison or not, doesn’t give one any advantage or disadvantage. If you know that the ego is what is ruling your life and choices, learn to stop it and find a middle way to live out your brief stay on this planet. 🙂

  2. An amazing journey. Brilliant brother. Thank you so much.

    What is amazing about this, to me, is not finding egolessness within prison walls, but having the courage to confront one’s karma in an environment absolutely adverse to that activity. There is a behavior expected of prisoners by other prisoners and by CDCR… Consistent agression and conflict abound so far as I can tell…

    To uncover one’s own karmic life in the midst of that, in a peaceful manner is worthy and beautiful… Especially considering the quantity of karmic layering these men have built up and are now sorting through…

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