Sunday, March 07, 2010

At the Forest Hermitage

Saturday, at the Forest Hermitage to celebrate the silver jubilee of Angulimala, the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, of which I have the honour to be Patron. There was a good attendance by Buddhist chaplains from all over the country. and we had a stimulating discussion led by the Ven. Ajahn Khemadhammo (Chao Khun Bhavanaviteht) OBE, the Spiritual Director of Angulimala, see The chaplains discussed their work, including some of the problems that arise. When they visit a prison by arrangement, for instance, the Buddhist prisoners may not have been assembled in the multi-faith room or chapel.

A very high proportion of the prisoners declaring themselves to be Buddhist have converted while serving their sentences, but there are also inmates from south and southeast Asia, and from China, where the predominant faith is Buddhism but traditional practice varies. The Vietnamese quite often have little or no English. Our chaplains have to be flexible, to accommodate the needs of these communities, as well as those of the native English, who may be at an early stage in understanding the basics of Buddhism.

I found the discussion very informative, and at the end of the day I was given a lift back to London by one of the chaplains, who visits two London prisons. We had a useful conversation about the problems he has in dealing with large groups from different traditions.

The dedication and commitment of the Angulimala chaplains is impressive. The Prison Service is threatening to put chaplaincy services out to tender, but if they expect to get a better or cheaper service from some other organisation they are very much in error.

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