Dogs and Dharma: Prison Ministry Produces Children’s Book Teaching Buddhist Lessons
By Tracy Simmons
Years before Albert Ramos finished his children’s book about an energetic pup who learns that dog toys don’t bring true happiness, he started by writing a letter.
In 2010, Ramos, five years after being sentenced to life for murder at Nash Correctional Institution in North Carolina, sent his message to the Venerable Thubten Chodron, founder and abbess of Sravasti Abbey in the east of Washington State.
Ramos had come to know the community through the Abbey’s prison dharma program, which reaches around 1,000 prisoners across the United States. The monks of the abbey correspond with the prisoners and send them a quarterly bulletin as well as books on Buddhism. Chodron and others at the Abbey are also visiting prisons when they can and hosting a virtual “retreat from afar” for around 200 inmates over the winter.
Over time, Ramos began practicing Buddhism, meditating daily and keeping a gratitude journal. He now aims to help other convicts as a field minister through the North Carolina Field Minister Program. Field ministers work with chaplains to help people in the prison system with religious concerns, substance abuse, childhood trauma, and mental health issues.
“He really took the dharma to heart,” Chodron said. “One of the things about Buddhism that the incarcerated guys really listen to is when they hear about compassion and the nature of Buddha, and they can develop compassion for others, and they have the potential to become a fully enlightened Buddha,” she said. .
” Fri. Chodron and Sravasti Abbey helped transform my depressed and angry mind into one that was inclusive, empathetic, compassionate and joyful,” Ramos said in a written exchange. “It’s amazing the degree of mental transformation a person can experience when helped by others in a healthy direction.”
Ramos’ book, ‘Gavin Discovers the Secret to Happiness’, was published by the Abbey in August. Ramos is already working on a second book, about a dog father who goes to the pound for committing a crime. Ramos said he would tackle the feelings children have when a parent is incarcerated.
Chodron, a California native who became a nun in 1977, studied Tibetan Buddhism in India and Nepal under the Dalai Lama and other prominent teachers and served as an ambassador for Buddhism in the West for decades. She has authored or co-authored more than two dozen dharma books.
She said she had no intention of doing prison work. “But in 1997,” she says, “someone wrote to me and said he wanted a Buddhist book, so I sent him a book and we started corresponding.”
This prisoner then sent Chodron’s coordinates to other prisoners, and she came to see the job as central to her mission. “When you take the bodhisattva vow, the larger vow is to become a Buddha for the benefit of sentient beings. A big part of your practice is to cultivate love and compassion and cherish others,” he said. she said When she founded Sravasti Abbey in 2003, she integrated her prison ministry into the life of the abbey.
In 2019, Chodron co-wrote Unlocking Your Potential: How To Get Out of Your Own Way, with Calvin Malone, a Washington State inmate (now released) who had written two books about his experience as a Buddhist in jail.
Two years ago, Ramos, eager to share some of the Buddhist lessons he learned with children, started writing a short story about Gavin the dog.
He said he wants kids to learn to be content with what they already have, especially their friendships.
“Children and adults sometimes forget the blessings around us,” Ramos said. “We live in a materialistic culture, which sometimes puts us in a state of coma, which numbs us to true happiness. Happiness is already inside of us, we just have to recognize what is really important to us.
He sent a version of his children’s story to Chodron in the hope that it would be published in the “Dharma Dispatch” newsletter. Chodron thought it might be something more.
“I read it and thought it was so adorable,” she said.
So she sent it back to Ramos for some touch-ups and hired an illustrator and book designer.
Chodron said his hopes of helping to publish the book were two-fold: to help children understand that caring for others is more important than material possessions, and to help adults and children be more compassionate. to those in prison.
“Incarcerated people are human beings, they have talents, they can contribute to society and we must do more to support them,” she said. “We shouldn’t just think of people for the worst thing they’ve done in their lives. Would you like to be known for the worst thing you’ve done in your life? »
- Finding the Courage to Speak, Even in the Face of Alienation – January 17, 2022
- Dogs and Dharma: Prison Ministry Produces Children’s Book Teaching Buddhist Lessons – January 5, 2022
- Lessons from Buddha on how to see the good in others, including my father – December 20, 2021
- Do you care about religious reporting in Spokane? Consider a donation – November 15, 2021
- Study shows churches finding ‘new normals’ during pandemic – November 10, 2021
- He has a history of anti-Semitic tweets — and now a GOP endorsement for the school board – October 29, 2021
- Turn 40 and learn to be patient in love – October 18, 2021
- Telling my worship story is how I found spiritual healing – September 30, 2021
- 85 years old, Greek Fest continues to bring communities together – September 22, 2021
- The bicycle as a spiritual exercise – September 20, 2021
Show all posts