zmm prison program

The Zen Mountain Monastery Prison Program began in 1984 with the request of a NY State prison inmate to start a practice group within the prison. This resulted in a court battle that reached the NY State Supreme Court and resulted in the formation of the first Zen practice group in the NY State Correctional Facilities.

Since that time, Zen Mountain Monastery has been actively involved in working with Buddhist inmates both within New York State and across the U.S. Activities include weekly visits to several prisons by senior ZMM monastic and lay students who lead prison sanghas in meditation, liturgy, and dharma talks.

Periodic intensive meditation retreats are also led by volunteers. Receiving of the precepts, weddings, Dharma Combat, face-to-face teaching and memorial services now take place on a routine basis within the Buddhist prison sanghas.

As a result Zen Mountain Monastery was asked to function as an advisor on Buddhist activities for the New York State Corrections system as part of a religious advisory group that reports to the commissioner of prisons.

The Monastery has thus also been active in helping to establish Buddhist practice groups at several other state facilities. In addition, many more inmates across the country are supported in their Zen practice on an ongoing basis through correspondence, as well as by donated dharma books and audio tapes.

Beginning with a scattered handful of inmates writing letters to the Monastery asking for guidance in their practice, this correspondence program has grown tremendously over the years. In response to this growth, ZMM has initiated the National Buddhist Prison Sangha (NBPS), a nationwide network of Buddhist volunteers who make themselves available to interested inmates in their area.

Depending on their experience with practice, as well as their time and personal resources, these volunteers may provide support through correspondence, visits, the creation and leading of practice groups, and more. The Monastery provides orientation and guidance when necessary.

Anyone interested in further information or donating materials for the prison program, or becoming active in the NBPS, may contact the Training Office at Zen Mountain Monastery.

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold Sensei is the coordinator of prison practice activities and the Director of the NBPS.

He can be reached by e-mail at or by calling US (845) 688-2228.

2003 Zen Mountain Monastery

Those based in countries other than the U.S. please contact your local correctional facility and ask if volunteers are needed in any area.

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