Cuong Lu, Buddhist teacher, scholar, and writer, was born in Nha Trang, Vietnam, in 1968. He majored in East Asian studies at the University of Leiden, and in 1993 was ordained a monk at Plum Village in France under the guidance of Thich Nhat Hanh. In 2000, he was recognized as a teacher in the Lieu Quan line of the Linji School of Zen Buddhism. In 2015, he received a master’s degree in Buddhist Spiritual Care at Vrije University in Amsterdam. Lu is the founder of Mind-Only School, in Gouda, the Netherlands, where he teaches Buddhist philosophy and psychology, specializing in Yogachara Buddhism combined with the Madhyamaka (Middle Way) School of Nagarjuna.
This is a book of 52 vignettes—stories and teachings about Cuong Lu’s six years as a prison chaplain. Lu shares insights into the prisoner’s mindset, something with implications for us all, whether or not we are in a conventional jail. As a prison chaplain, Cuong discovered that when the men inside allowed themselves to feel their pain—including remorse from committing crimes—knowing and feeling the truth became a source of strength for them. And when the inmates felt listened to, understood, and not judged, it transformed their sense of who they are, and as a result, changed their attitudes and their behavior.
This book is not just about the prisoners. It’s about all of us. We’re each caught in distorted and limiting ideas of ourselves. We don’t believe freedom and happiness are attainable. But when we come to believe in ourselves, we discover the freedom and happiness already within.
“In The Buddha in Jail, Cuong Lu demonstrates how to be in a helping relationship without getting caught in roles. As a prison chaplain, he did not attach to the idea of being a helper, or even of ‘helping.’ He sat quietly, deeply present with each inmate, and saw each of them as a soul, not just their personality or their troubled past. By dwelling in love with each person, accepting them without judgment, one by one they transformed, and their recidivism was close to zero. I congratulate Cuong Lu for the depth of his prison ministry and this beautiful book.” —Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now and Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying
“Read these stories carefully, a few at a time, and apply them to our encounters with those who have acted badly, those we don’t particularly like, and ourselves, for all these dialogues are taking place within each of us all the time.” —Roshi Joan Halifax
“To free ourselves, we have to unlock the doors from within. Chaplains like Cuong Lu play an essential role in freeing those in prison from their inner demons, offering guidance, support, and loving kindness, teaching stillness and self-reflection, learning to connect with their fierce and loving hearts. I highly recommend The Buddha in Jail, a good read and a great resource for understanding prisoners and for finding the keys to the prisons in our own minds. —Spring Washam, author of A Fierce Heart: Finding Strength, Courage, and Wisdom in Any Moment