The International Bodhisattva Sangha (IBS) Prison Program was founded in 1995 by Venerable Master Hueiguang. Before renouncing his life as a layman, Venerable Hueiguang was a student at the University of California in San Diego and was teaching classes on Buddhism at a local temple. His classes focused on how to apply the Dharma in western culture.
In 1994, he did an on-air interview with one of his students who was a disc jockey at a local radio station. They discussed how to handle relationships and personal problems from a Buddhist perspective. An inmate at the Calipatria State Prison in California who was listening to the radio program was inspired to write a heartfelt letter to the temple expressing his desire to learn more about Buddhism and meditation. In the letter he requested Master Hueiguang to visit the prison and perhaps teach the inmates about Buddhism and meditation.
Since he was a student at a Buddhist college and a recently ordained monk, Venerable Hueiguang was unable to accommodate the request and meet with the inmates at that time. Despite his conflicting schedule and responsibilities, he was determined to fulfill the humble request of the inmate. He asked his devotees, Danny and Shirley Tam, to fulfill the request as well as teach and spread the Dharma. That simple act initiated the IBS Prison Program which has continued for 12 years at Calipatria State Prison.
Venerable Hueiguang’s first disciple, Venerable Xian Zhong (aka Tsering Motup) came to the U.S. to join the IBS program in January of 2008. Under the guidance of Venerable Xian Zhong, the IBS Prison Program has extended to many prisons in California, Washington State and Oregon. IBS has established 48 sanghas and also created 105 Buddhist libraries within 32 prisons in California, 14 in Washington State, 5 in Arizona and 1 in Oregon State. Additionally, Venerable Xian Zhong and the IBS team have coordinated several multi-day meditation retreats in different California prisons. These meditation retreats were unique due to them being the first of their kind to be approved by a warden in the state of California. Since joining the prison program, IBS has been given the opportunity to visit 32 California prisons on a regular basis. Opening their heart to those who have lost their way, IBS continues to support individuals who are incarcerated to help them realize their true nature. With the belief that everyone deserves a second chance, many incarcerated individuals can benefit from Buddha’s teachings. The IBS dream is to one day offer Dharma and meditation teachings to all state prisons in the United States.