The annual visit by Triple Gem Prison Ministries Spiritual Director, Bhante Wimala, and his student Sivali, director of the program and Dhamma teacher, took them on tours of several prisons this year as part of an on going program to share Dhamma and spiritual teachings with men who are incarcerated.
This year’s tour covered 1800 miles, from South Woods State Prison in New Jersey to three state prisons across Pennsylvania. One of the highlights of the tour was the Buddhist initiation ceremony of six inmates. Following a year of study and meditation, these men requested to be formally accepted as practicing Buddhists. In a special ceremony arranged by the prison, they took Refuge and Precepts. This is the third public ceremony of this kind conducted by Bhante Wimala inside the US State Prison system. It is the first time so many men requested Refuge and the Five Lay Precepts, indicating an increased level of interest and desire for spiritual awakening inside the prisons.
Catholic Prison Chaplain, Fr. Joseph Whalen made all the arrangements necessary to enable the ceremony to be held in the prison chapel. The six men wore white cloths, candles and flowers were also made available for the ceremony. Fr. Whalen made special arrangements to allow for photographs to be taken which is normally prohibited. The men spent months practicing Refuge and Precepts in Pali. During the initiation ceremony, Bhante presented the men with a certificate of initiation, several Dhamma books and items needed for a Buddhist shrine. Following the ceremony, Bhante gave an inspiring Dhamma talk to the men and all those in attendance.
As Bhante was leaving the prison, an unexpected and emotional meeting took place with two of the mothers who had come to see their sons take part in the ceremony. Although the prison did not allow family members inside the compound to view the ceremony, they were joyful to know that their sons had chosen a path of peace and compassion. It is a painful experience to know your children or loved ones are locked up in prison and Bhante was able to speak with with love and compassion to the family members in a meeting following the ceremony.
Over the next several days, Bhante and Sivali visited SCI-Huntingdon and SCI-Houtzdale conducting Buddhist services, meditation classes and Dhamma talks. Bhante shared the Buddha’s spiritual messages of compassion, wisdom and enlightenment with inmates who are seeking a genuine path to reconciliation, forgiveness and healing.
The tour is an inspiring journey inside those prison walls where men hunger for Dhamma and seek genuine inner peace and enlightenment.
This work is made possible by the support of generous benefactors and the help of much needed volunteers. We are most grateful to all of you who have generously given financial support; and to our volunteers who have given so much of their time and energy.