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Lions Roar : January 2018
in Brooklyn in 2012 is no longer operating, and he hasn’t felt motivated to join someone else’s. “I’d never practiced at a dharma center until I opened one,” he says. He travels to teach, visiting dharma groups in upstate New York, Philadelphia, and Boston. He also returns to India about once a year to see his teacher, Gyaltsab Rinpoche, in Sikkim. That dance he’s done all of his spiritual life—negotiating the line between the sacred and the profane, practice and “real life,” India and America—might ultimately be what defines his unique ability to help a place in crisis like Rikers. He refuses to reduce his teachings for the officers to simple secular mindful- ness, even as he strives to find his own, nontraditional ways of expressing the dharma to Rikers staff. “I’m interested in helping people become a little bit liber- ated,” he says. “That’s the fun part. There’s energy in taking things out of traditional language and putting it into how corrections officers relate.” His original teacher, Ani Zangmo, died 12 years ago, but he finds her teachings coming to him more than ever at Rikers, more than 7,500 miles west of where he first studied with her. When he first met her at age twenty, he told her he wanted to learn every little detail about the Buddhist tradition, to mas- ter it, and get a degree in it. “She saw immediately that that was bullshit,” he says. “That was the worst thing I could do for myself. She was practicing in a male-dominated Himalayan tradition, and she knew the world doesn’t revolve under those rules. So now I’m turning into my spiritual mother.” Nowhere is that more evident than when von Bujdoss is leading his meditation session with officers. “Inhale what you need right now,” he tells them in his instantly calming voice. “If it’s rest and relaxation, let it be that. If it’s peace, let it be that.” Muffled yells drift into the room from the hallway. The officers remain quiet, upright in their chairs, eyes closed—except for the one guy in back who’s casually lounging across a chair or two. Another plane flies overhead, but no one flinches. One officer leaves about halfway through the ten-minute meditation, but still, no one flinches. Afterwards, one of the officers shares a thought: “I feel peaceful.” In a place like Rikers Island, can you ask for any- thing more? ♦ PHOTOBYA.JESSEJIRYUDAVIS Rikers Island staff complain of exhaustion, anxiety, impatience, lack of trust, and not wanting to be at work. “If you’re irritated and pissed off,” von Bujdoss tells them, “you can come back to a feeling of centeredness and it can help your decision making.” LION’S ROAR | JANUARY 2018 39