This is a translation of an article written by Mankichi Nakamura, former head minister of Fukube Branch Church, for Tenri Jiho newspaper’s column entitled “The Ofudesaki, My Companion along the Way.”
What do you think this path is about? It is to cleanse the heart of everyone in the world.
It has been 25 years since I started working with young offenders.
Shortly after I became a prison chaplain, I met a young man whom I will call K. As the leader of a motorcycle gang, K committed a criminal offense and was, consequently, sent to Morioka Juvenile Prison. After attending a talk that I gave in the prison one day, he requested a monthly personal consultation with me.
For the first time in his life, he reflected consciously upon himself as I explained the “eight dusts” of the mind and tried to guide him in sweeping the dusts away and purifying the mind.
Working with K soon made me realize that there was no quick or simple solution. Yet after many hours of discussions and many twists and turns, I finally began to feel that he was becoming more open and accepting.
During a baseball game shortly before he was to be released, however, he lost his temper with a fellow team member who was calling him names. K ended up knocking him down, apparently reasoning that it would be better to face an extension of his prison sentence than to be humiliated and leave it at that.
Disappointed and dejected, I could not help wondering what I had been doing all this time. In retrospect, however, that incident marked the real beginning of my work as a prison chaplain.
Suppose you put some muddy water into a glass. If you leave the glass undisturbed long enough, the mud will eventually settle on the bottom, and the water will become clear. If you give it a jolt, however, the water will revert to being muddy again.
I realized that, if I was to help remove the mud from the minds of the young people I was working with, I first had to make my own mind like clear water. Rather than expecting them to purify their minds, it was important for me to be thorough in purifying my own mind. Serving as a prison chaplain meant actually engaging in salvation work, and it was not appropriate to see my task as merely giving lectures and talks. To do whatever I could to help the prisoners purify their minds, therefore, I decided to make a point of performing a prayer service each time before going to meet with them.
To me, working with young offenders has come to mean working with my own mind to sweep away my dusts.