Tzu Chi USA is celebrating compassion in action by presenting stories about Socially Engaged Buddhism in the United States and beyond. Helping those in need is vital in today’s unbalanced and turbulent world. We can all play a part in spreading and practicing the wisdom of altruistic service. Join our film screening event and let’s inspire each other!
Sometimes, bad decisions can have tragic repercussions. For A-Peng, a young man recently arriving in the United States from China and not speaking a word of English, a poor choice of friends led to a lengthy prison sentence. Unable to cope with this shocking turn of events, he aims to end his life. And yet, a fateful intervention puts Judy, a volunteer from Tzu Chi USA in his path. This dramatic film presents the true story of a friendship that spans twenty years and continues, revealing how Buddhist wisdom can lead to inner transformation, bringing peace and solace to even the most troubled heart.
They say walk a mile in someone’s shoes before trying to offer help. When it comes to helping prisoners, Fleet Maull certainly has. Early on his Buddhist path, he lived a double life through drug trafficking that led to a conviction and 14 years in prison. His fall from grace and discovery of the great suffering in prison sparked intense meditation practice and a drive to serve others. He founded a nonprofit support network from his cell, offering Buddhist prison ministry, something rare at the time. Nearly 20 years since his release, through what is now the Prison Mindfulness Institute, Fleet continually strives to relieve the suffering of those housed or working within the correctional system. As both inmates and correctional staff share after a class, his personal transformation brings an authenticity that awakens trust, so embracing the mindfulness tools he teaches becomes increasingly possible.
Suffering is a daily fact of life for those living behind bars, yet the external conditions of incarceration aren’t the only source of frustration, as internal issues equally lead to pain. Anna Cox, a psychotherapist, knew this well when she founded the non-profit Compassion Works for All. Based in Little Rock, it’s the only Buddhist prison outreach organization in Arkansas, striving to offer “freedom from real and imagined prisons through compassion.” Anna’s vision inspired many to join the mission, and even after she retired, they continue to carry the torch, their compassionate service reaching deeply into the state’s correctional system.
Recently released inmates often find themselves alone, with less than $10 in hand and no job prospects to sustain their lives. The onslaught of challenges they face trying to reintegrate into society is daunting, and close to half end up back in prison within five years. In St. Louis, Missouri, thanks to a far-seeing non-profit, ex-offenders are getting a second chance. Led by Rev. Karlene Kalen McAllister, an ordained Buddhist priest and former chaplain with the Missouri Department of Corrections, its compassionate charity and comprehensive outreach through Laughing Bear Bakery is turning lives around, giving birth to self-esteem and a renewed place in the world for people yearning to start over.
For Justin von Bujdoss, places of intense suffering are where we can find liberation. As a Buddhist teacher, volunteer, and chaplain, he has chosen to bring relief through meditation and a non-judgmental compassionate presence to sites where we confront violence, death, fear, sadness, and grief. Currently Staff Chaplain at Rikers Island, he serves the spiritual needs of correctional officers. Follow as he travels between the prison, where tension is constant; home, where his family awaits; and his Dharma classes, when he often takes students to practice in cemeteries, a longstanding Buddhist tradition that allows difficult emotions to be provoked.
Each student of the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy program has a calling to relieve suffering. Join the graduation ceremony of the latest group and see how deeply everyone takes this mission to heart. Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D., the Zen priest, teacher, and scholar who heads this visionary program at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is equally passionate about their path. Bear witness to the emergence of Bodhisattvas – trained to be of altruistic and compassionate service while leading to systemic transformation through their wisdom and presence – leaving for horizons where they’ll shine the light of loving-kindness in their chosen fields of work.