About the Author
Scott Whitney is a writer and magazine editor who lives in Honolulu. Before moving to Hawaii, he studied at the San Francisco Zen Center. Before that, he spent five years of his early adulthood in a Catholic monastery. He has been a student of Robert Aitken Roshi since 1981. Aitken Roshi gave him the Buddhist refuge name Kobai, which means "Old Plum."
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Holding Back Disaster He who puts an end to former crimes
By taking up the way of peace,
Illuminates the world
Like the moon freed from a veil of clouds.
Angulimala Sutta Without much foresight, let alone wisdom, the United States has spent the last two decades imprisoning about two million of its adult citizens. We now lock up more of our population than does Russia, and more than any modern industrial democracy. Despite the fact that U.S. crime rates have been decreasing since 1993, politicians play to the fears of the voters and strut in public to prove how tough they are on crime. New, more punitive sentencing laws have become popular with legislators and prosecutors and have resulted in an unprecedented increase in prison building. This boom in pork-barrel prison projects has taken up some of the slack created by the defense-spending cuts that followed the end of the cold war. Another warthe war on drugshas led to the imprisonment of more than a million men and women, cutting them off from the treatment they need and the chance to change. Instead, we have given them a chance to deteriorate and to become less human. Yet throughout this archipelago of razor-wired penal institutions, some inmates are making efforts to reform their behavior, values, thoughts, speech, and emotions. Many have begun looking to Buddhism as a way of making sense of their daily lives and as a way of coming to terms with the life-and-death issues of human life. Outside prison walls, American Buddhism is finding its own way within the religious and intellectual landscape of modern North America. Inmates have joined with others to explore alternatives to an unsatisfactory or nonexistent childhood experience with organized religion. American Buddhists have started responding to the inquiries and needs of prisoners who want to learn what Buddhism has to offer. This book is written for these two audiences: inmates who want to start a Buddhist practice and Buddhists outside of prison who want to help them do so. Some chapters of this book, such as chapter 2, are intended especially for inmates; others, like chapter 6, are specifically for Buddhist prison volunteers. I am writing for those who feel they are imprisoned as well as for those who think they are free. People in prisons are, of course, not physically free, but many have discovered their own liberation through meditation, the cultivation of compassion, and the practice of the Buddhist precepts. Prison guards think of themselves as free, because they live outside the perimeters of the prison walls and fencesyet many security workers are just as imprisoned as the inmates, trapped in a workplace of boredom, mistrust, and lurking violence. We who live outside sometimes feel unfree because we are imprisoned by our habits, fears, and impulses.