Reflections on Intentions and the Angulimala Sutta

These reflections might be useful from time to time during your work in the prison or for people considering prison dharma work:

1. Please set aside some time during your meditation practice to reflect on these three questions:

Why do you want to do this work?  What do you expect or what do you think you’ll get out of it?  What are your intentions for doing this work?

If you have never done this kind of reflection in meditation, here is how you should do it:

– Start as you would with your regular meditation practice, allowing the mind to settle and become calm, inviting an open, receptive quality (allow 15 or so minutes to settle – whatever is necessary for the mind to be receptive and still).

– Take one of these questions and state it to yourself silently – as if dropping a pebble into a still pool.  Notice what comes up in response or in resonance with the question – in particular, notice the body sensations and any thoughts or emotions that come up, but do not ruminate on or think about the question.  Rather than formulating an answer or cogitating on an answer, the idea is to see what bubbles up in response – to allow what’s deep inside to come to the surface.  There should be a quality of listening… receiving what comes up.  Let whatever comes up to be acknowledged and seen (no matter what your opinion of that response may be).  There is no “right” or “wrong” answer – just notice what arises – sensations, feelings, emotions, thoughts, reactivity, etc.  Try not to get caught in discursive thinking about what comes up – just keep noting.  If you have time in your meditation session, let the mind settle and calm again, then drop another question (or the same question) into the stillness.  Notice what arises this time.  Journal or write down your responses after your meditation session is over.

You might do this a few times or more before we meet – taking your time with the questions and the reflection.   Maybe spend a few days for each question – or working with all three questions. (don’t do it every day – allow some space and time between your periods of reflection.)  See what happens, see what comes up.  If you notice that you’re creating a story or coming up with a rote answer, see if you can go beneath that story – really see what comes up in your heart, rather than from what the mind thinks “about” the question.

2. Please read the Angulimala Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 86) and become familiar with it, as it is an important text for prison work.  

In reading the sutta, please take your time. Maybe read just a little each day.  Allow yourself time to reflect on what is being said and notice the questions that come up in your mind. They can help you look more deeply into the meaning of the sutta. It is often helpful to read more than one translation of a sutta to get a clearer sense of its meaning. You may also want to read it more than once.  Be creative in how you read the sutta – perhaps imagine you are one of the characters or that you’re present at the event being described.

Here are links to two different translations:

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Bhikkhu Bodhi and Bhikkhu Nanamoli

and here is a longer version of the Angulimala story by Hellmuth Hecker, and a verse attributed to Angulimala from the Theragatha.

Enjoy your inquiry, reflections, and readings!