An outreach program of the Myoken-ji Houston Sangha

"A singing bird in a cage attracts free birds, and the sight of these free birds will make the caged bird want to be free. Likewise, the chanting of Odaimoku will bring out the buddha-nature within us. The Buddha-nature of Bonten and Taishaku is summoned by our chanting and this will protect the chanter. The Buddha-nature of Buddhas and bodhisattvas will be pleased to be summoned. For attaining Buddhahood quickly, one must lay down the banner of arrogance, cast away the club of prejudice, and chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo."

Nichiren Shonin


In order to participate in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Volunteer Program, one must undergo mandatory training and background checks. This process can take a few months to complete, but once completed, one may visit any prison in the system as a volunteer in a number of various capacities. Retraining is required every two years; however, changes are always occurring and one must stay on top of new regulations and circumstances.

For several years, three of our sangha members were involved in a rotation of sharing the Dharma with a prison sangha at the Walls Unit of Huntsville Prison, a maximum security prison in Huntsville, TX. Rev. Faulconer, head priest of our sangha at the time, would often join us on these visits when he was in town. These same members also supported the women's federal prison camp in Bryan, TX. Unfortunately, another volunteer in the rotation was caught breaking prison rules and as a result, the Buddhist sangha at Huntsville has been shut down. The Houston sangha is also no longer able to support the Bryan sangha at this time.

In 2004, we were contacted by a inmate from the Wallace Pack Unit in Navasota, TX, seeking a teacher for the growing number of Buddhist practitioners at the unit. Then Shami Myokei Caine-Barrett, Christie Carrington, and Mary Aycock began to serve the men in Navasota, TX with monthly meetings, creating the first Nichiren Shu sangha behind bars. Ryuoh Faulconer, Shonin, would also visit this sangha when he came to town. Within one year, five members had taken refuge and received a small honzon (object of veneration) to continue and develop their Buddhist practice. Over the years, other sangha members have undergone the training to become volunteers and regularly participate in activities at the unit.

The purpose of this sangha is to provide a foundation for individuals seeking to change their lives. We also provide support for understanding the cause of their circumstances and developing a means of taking responsibility for their actions and their lives. Through sharing the teachings of the Lotus Sutra and the writings of Nichiren Shonin, we endeavor to enable the realization within these individuals that they are of value and can create meaningful and productive lives.

It has been quite difficult to establish a practice behind bars. Often, especially in Texas, volunteers have been hampered by the lack of knowledge about Buddhism on the part of the chaplaincy staff at the prisons. We have been very fortunate at Navasota because the chaplain has been very supportive and accommodating of our needs to conduct services. Because of his support, we were able to hold the first all day practice retreat behind bars in the State of Texas. The men were able to participate in intensive chanting practice, repentence service, shakyo and shabutsu and shodaigyo. We have held several retreats so far and have been able to bring in vegetarian meals, allowing us to approximate the monastery experience.

Since mid-2008, Myokei Shonin has been conducting service on a weekly basis, supported by other sangha members. We often use study of the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Shonin's writings to support discussion and problem solving. We also use various DVDs of Buddhist films and topics to spark additional discussion relevant to the inmates' practice.

Update: In February, 2011, one of our long-time sangha members was released from TDCJ and enjoyed an Italian meal with the Houston sangha.

If you are interested in supporting the prison sangha by contributing books and/or supplies, please contact Myokei Shonin.

The Houston Chronicle article on the Navasota sangha can be found here.


Prison Dharma Links