The wise man will not look for the faults of others,
or for what they have done or left undone.
Rather he will look at his own misdeeds.

Dhammapada verse : 50

Many years ago, whilst living on the Isle of Man, I was invited to present a Dhamma Talk at the local prison. I had become quite well known as a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, and then as now, always eager to serve the Dhamma, so I was happy to agree.

The prison population was small, perhaps eighty men, and everyone was there to here me speak. I realised later that it was only because it was a new distraction from the usual games of ping pong, cards and television watching in the evening recreation hours before lock down.

However, from this first talk, a small group began to meditate with me and listen to Buddhist teachings as I would visit each Monday evening for two hours. I became the first (and only) ‘Buddhist prison chaplain,’ on the Isle of Man, and this I did for eight years until I left to teach in India.

The authorities at the prison were perhaps bemused by my presence, but were always kind, generous and respectful. On the few occasions that I brought my own teacher with me (Sayadaw Rewata Dhamma) they were helpful to the extreme.

During their time behind bars the group would meditate every day and there would be occasions when I would visit by special request. Many took refuge and found comfort in their new identity of being a Buddhist.

I am confident that they benefited from this Dhamma contact and each of the prisoners said the same thing to me before their sentence had ended and they were released :

‘When I am free from here I will come to your Buddhist group every week to continue my practice.’

This was always nice to hear, but in reality, not one prisoner ever came.

When I first discovered the power and beauty of Dhamma I wanted to share it with everyone so that they would experience what I was experiencing. Through enthusiasm and naivety I wanted to save the world.

Fortunately I became aware of life’s teachings very quicky and realised that when people want Dhamma they will come to it.

As the Tao te Ching implies, ‘timing is everything.’*

When we try, even with the best intentions, to force something upon another we naturally meet only resistance.

This understanding was a great Dhamma gift for me and shaped my life as a teacher. To offer Dhamma to all equally, without any desire to receive something in return. To speak only when asked and never to confuse the religion of Buddhism with Dhamma.

During their time in prison these men (and occasionally women), could hear Dhamma, they could practice each day as life offered this opportunity, and feel connected to a larger global group called ‘Buddhist.’ Even if they forgot their Dhamma practice after their sentence was served, nothing is lost or forgotten.

We can’t un-know that which we know and even if we put it aside it’s presence in our life can be felt in different moments.

Dhamma is not religion. It is not a club.

Dhamma is the truth, the reality of this being that we call self. Whether we practice or not is our responsibility and no-one can save us except ourselves.

So, we live without the intention to influence or pursuade others that we are right and they should follow our way. The best we can do is to share the beauty of our heart unconditionally with the world and leave the rest to them.

Without wisdom, in one way or another, we are all in prison.

May all beings be happy.

*Tao te Ching. Verse 8.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Kewley is the former Buddhist monk, Paññadipa, and now an internationally acclaimed Master of Dhamma, presenting courses and meditation retreats throughout the world.
As a disciple of the late Sayadaw Rewata Dhamma, he teaches solely on the instruction of his own Master, to share the Dhamma in the spirit of the Buddha, so that all beings might benefit.

Full biography of Michael Kewley can be found at: www.puredhamma.org