The Venerable Master said, "The most
important thing in life is to take refuge with the Triple
Jewel." For most people, the refuge ceremony is serious and
solemn. However, how would you feel if you were to take
refuge with the Triple Jewel behind bars?
Actually, there is a silver lining in every cloud. The
Venerable Master had also said, "To take refuge with the
Triple Jewel is to head to rebirth with your eyes wide
open." People come to this world confused and rush to
another reincarnation in confusion. They don't know where
they came from before birth and where they will go after
death. The cycle of birth and death never ends for them. To
take refuge with the Triple Jewel is to find a rest stop
that allows for pause and gradual discernment of the way out
of birth and death. Therefore Confucius sighed, "One dies
without regrets in the eve' if one has understood the Way in
Last year in the prisons of Hualien, Taiwan, 86 inmates took
refuge with the Sangha founded by the Venerable Master Hsuan
Hua and began to investigate the Buddhadharma. The
coalescing of the causes and conditions for this occasion is
most extraordinary. On April 7th of this year, Bhikshunis
Heng Yun, Heng Ruey, Heng Bing, and Heng Liang from the
Dharma Realm Buddhist Association's branch monastery in
Hualien, Amitabha SagelyMonastery, paid a special visit to
these incarcerated disciples who took refuge. These
disciples of the generation whose Dharma names begin with
"Chin" (to draw near) learned to recite the Buddha's name
and meditate, and heard Dharma. They also received
instructions to abide by the five precepts: to avoid
killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and taking
During Heng Yun Shi's talk, she pointed out that these
disciples have an opportunity to recite the Buddha's name
because they have had considerable affinities with the
Buddha in past lives. Most people in jail are depressed
frequently because of their once-in-a-lifetime mistake.
However, reciting the Buddha's name focuses one's mind. The
Dharma Master also related the story of a female passenger
who escaped a train crash unscathed because she had been
reciting the Buddha's name during a mishap between two
oncoming trains at Miaoli, Taiwan. Accordingly, the merit
and virtue of reciting the Buddha's name is incredible. It
is the light at the end of the tunnel of misery that
absolves all difficulties.
Two Vietnamese Dharma Masters who are also sisters, Heng
Bing Shi and Heng Liang Shi, shared their personal
experiences in Vietnam and reminded the disciples to
appreciate and cherish their blessings. They regard being
born in Taiwan as a blessing in and of itself.
Some disciples asked about how to quit drugs. They said that
although they know that drugs are toxic for them, they still
cannot quit their addiction. How do they free themselves
from these addictions? The Dharma Masters responded that the
body is composed of the four elements of earth, water, fire,
and wind. The human body is similar to a chemical factory.
If you use quality material, quality products are
manufactured. If you use inferior material, inferior
products are manufactured. One should contemplate and be
more aware of one's mind. To not be enslaved by the senses
is the way to a bright future.
Some disciples were interested in meditation but did not
know how to begin. The Dharma Masters taught them to collect
and focus the energy of their eyes, nose, and mind within,
concentrating on their lower abdomen specifically. The
Dharma Masters also taught them to sit in full lotus
position and encouraged everyone to meditate often, to
constantly reflect inwardly, and to develop concentration.
After all, among animals, only human beings are capable of
The former director Zhao Guoliang and current director Lee
Mengdong of the Hualien Detention Center both verified the
positive effect of Buddhism on prisoners. The center has set
up a Buddha hall where prisoners can cultivate and
practice. The directors thanked the visiting Dharma masters,
not only for the recitation of sutras and Buddha's name, and
the meditation that purified the psyche and uncovered the
detainees' wisdom, but for lessening the feel of violence in
the penal complex.
A typical of those undergoing death sentence, two recent
prisoners on death row were very peaceful before execution,
reciting the Buddha's name, repenting, and admonishing
others to not be greedy and cunning. Most criminals facing
execution are too weak to stand, sometimes even requiring
help to carry them into the car; while some are so emotional
that they bang against the wall. These two who received
death sentences had been imprisoned for about four years.
They recited the Earth Store Sutra every day and could
recite the three thick rolls from memory. This also serves
as proof of their unshakable faith and sincere repentance.
"Repentance eliminates crime that floods the heavens."
Confucius's student, Yanhui, never repeated a mistake in his
life. Another student, Zilu, was happy to hear about his
faults. These historical figures illustrate how people
inevitably err; however, if people are willing to reform and
repent sincerely, they are nonetheless just and righteous
gentlemen. They deserve the respect of others. Confucius's
other student, Gongye Chang, had been incarcerated before.
Instead of being contemptuous toward him, Confucius had his
daughter wed Gongye Chang. Confucius thought that Gongye
Chang did not deserve his sentence.
The Venerable Master had told us, "I will shoulder your
offenses prior to your taking refuge. However, once you
take refuge, you will have to follow the precepts and never
violate them." The Earth Store Sutra says, "Living beings
should not look lightly upon slight, small evils,
considering them not to be offenses; for after death
retribution is undergone in the most exact detail. Fathers
and sons have the closest relationship, but their roads
diverge and each goes his own way. Even if they should meet,
neither would consent to undergo suffering in the other's
place." Offenses that even our blood relatives are unwilling
to shoulder are picked up by the Venerable Master. The
Venerable Master said that he was going to save anyone who
has the root of goodness, even one as small as a lock of
curls. He will wait until everyone becomes a Buddha before
he becomes a Buddha. How can we disciples repay this
compassionate teacher of ours?