Monday, November 2, 2015

Justin von Bujdoss and Jessica Pimentel: Working for the Incarcerated

With the aim of bringing peace of mind to incarcerated persons, Buddhist teacher Justin von Bujdoss and Orange is the New Black actress Jessica Pimentel talk about their efforts.

Name:  Justin von Bujdoss
Your job: I'm chaplain and Director of Rangjung Prison Dharma Project, a facet of a Tibetan Buddhist dharma center that I founded and teach at in Brooklyn, New York Tsurphu Goshir Dharma Center.

What social causes are most important to you?  Prison justice, undoing racism, classism, sexism, food poverty, local food. I started the Rangjung Prison Dharma Project as its unpaid Director where I lead a group of volunteers that teach meditation at Rikers Island Correctional Facility.  We try to provide meaning and support for a really wide group of people who are incarcerated for a wide variety of reasons.

Why do you have a passion for this, is there a personal tie?
Well, I totally have a personal tie to this organization by the very nature of having founded it.  I think it's in response, for me at least, as a way of trying to bring the benefits of Buddhist meditation practice to populations that you don't always see in the western Buddhist world.  Our world is largely white, fairly well-educated, has access to disposable income and food and shelter; it's a place of privilege. When I look around me in New York City I see everyone suffering in their unique way, including myself, and yet some groups in the city definitely have a much harder time because of the way our laws and culture and history has presented circumstances.  It's more than not fair, it needs to be changed.  My way of helping to be part of some kind of change is through the Rangjung Prison Dharma Project.  We visit a number of facilities at Rikers Island Correctional Facility and lead meditation sessions and provide contemplative support- basically direct, personal, honest conversation about what's going on in this moment in relation to the way that meditation makes people feel different.  We visit incarcerated women, adolescents, men and even a group of corrections officers.  In this way we bear witness to the struggles of those that we serve and try to hold the space for them and provide meditation instruction and guidance so that they can experience a sense of personal dignity and empowerment in light of their stories, their hardships and their pain. 

Is there a particular way you would want to encourage readers to be involved?
If you want to support us you can donate on our ourwebsite.  Or if you live in the NYC area you can join us as a volunteer and get involved that way.  Feel free to contact us at: info at If you can't do that and live far away and this really speaks to you, start your own group.  We have more incarcerated people in the US than any other country, there's a lot of room to be a positive presence.

How would you define social responsibility?
Being totally open to the present moment and looking my habits and assumptions.  Right now I think that real social responsibility has to come from an authentic place otherwise it's not real.  We have to be ourselves and do whatever feels right from that point of orientation.

Do you have any tattoos? 
I have a faded purple tattoo of the symbol of mercury on my right forearm- it's kind of symbolizes the balance between opposites.  I got it in college about 20 years ago.  Even though its faded I guess the concept isn't.  Life is hard AND it's totally rewarding when you live it in a way where you are connected to others.  I can't separate good and bad when I'm at Rikers, we all function in some kind of balance.  

Jessica Pimentel - Actress and Musician

What charity do you support – and how?

I am writing this in support of the Ranjung Prison Dharma Project.

Why do you have a passion for this one in particular, is there a personal tie?

Although I have not worked with RPDP directly, my work as an actress on the show “Orange is the New Black” has given me a new perspective on our prison system and how it affects people long term.  I have met many prisoners from all walks of life who have been incarcerated for many reasons. Some are mentally ill and unstable, some violent, some did what they did to survive and the list goes on and on. One thing that most have in common is a hopelessness and uneasiness in their prison environments. They are under a lot of stress, fear, and fatigue causing many to fall into depression or violence.

I began studying meditation as a young child, but began going deeper as a teen and studying with the monks at Rashi Gempil Ling Busddhist Temple headed by former abbot of Sera Mey monastery, Sermey Khensur Lobsang Tharchin. Through his guidance and regular meditation classes at the Three Jewels in NYC led by Ven Thupten Phunstok, I found a multitude of benefits from meditation.

Is there a particular way you would want to encourage readers to be involved?
I truly believe that meditation can be a great antidote to many problems in society. It is a useful tool for combating stress, anger and depression. It also helps with concentration and problem solving, and transforming the mind to a more peaceful frequency -- increasing the sense of global community, equanimity and compassion. Our prisons are overcrowded. If there is any way we can relieve the tension inside the prisons and give people the tools that can help them stay out of prison, it is our social responsibility to do so.

How would you define social responsibility?

We are all connected. Our fates as a planet are all intertwined.
At its most basic, social responsibility is 'to do unto others' if we must learn how to understand each other and our basic human needs.

Tattoos and artist?
I have one and only one tattoo  of an eternal knot (one of the eight auspicious symbols in Buddhism) I got it even before I knew what it meant. It's by the artist Matthew Payne -- it ties in to what I just said of social responsibility. WE are all connected. We need to develop the wisdom to see that. All beings have potential to do great things for society and we must treat each other as preciously as that.

No comments: