Teaching Buddhism in prisons?

I haven’t seen this movie yet, but it looks very interesting. It also brings up the question of teaching mindfulness vs Buddhism in prisons.

My inclination would be to use a strategy of least resistance: Use simple, ordinary words to teach simple practices such as breath practice and “just sitting”, refer to some of the effects found in research to gain support from the prison authorities, and leave any hint of religiosity, Buddhism or technical or traditional jargon at the door.

It may seem a more reasonable approach at the surface, and in most cases, it may be more appropriate. After all, the benefits of mindfulness does not require Buddhism as a religion, or any mentioning of tradition.

But there is also something appealing in the boldness of going into a prison in the deep south as an open and unapologetic Buddhist – if that’s what you are. It may be a poor strategy in many cases, shutting the door before you can get through, and if you do get through the door, it may put many off who otherwise would have been interested. In some ways, it shows poor judgment and perhaps an attachment to beliefs that prevents wiser, more effective, and so more kind strategies.

And yet, if you get through the door with such a strategy, the added religiosity and tradition may certainly benefit some of the people there. And it may also shift people’s perception of Buddhism among some of the inmates and the prison staff and administrators.

As always, it depends on how it is done, and the fit between the strategy and the situation.



My inclination would be to teach plain, simple mindfulness – for instance breath practice and “just sitting” – using simple, ordinary, everyday words. And possibly refer to some of the effects found by research to gain support from the prison authorities.

Why create potential problems by bringing in Buddhism or technical/traditional jargon when it is not necessary, and is only likely to create unneeded culture clash.

I would leave any mentioning of Buddhism and any technical/traditional jargon at the door. especially since I have never been tempted to see myself as a “Buddhist” and prefer using simple ordinary language to traditional terms anyway.

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