Pretty Pictures on the Prison Walls

When I was younger, I would never have understood the two quotes below by Buddhist monk Tenzin Palmo. The idea of life as anything other than ever-expanding freedom would have been completely alien to me.

But now I get it.


Most people feel cozy enough in samsara. They do not really have the genuine aspiration to go beyond samsara; they just want samsara to be a little bit better. It is quite interesting that “samsara” became the name of a perfume. And it is like that. It seduces us into thinking that it is okay: samsara is not so bad; it smells nice! The underlying motivation to go beyond samsara is very rare, even for people who go to Dharma centers. There are many people who learn to meditate and so forth, but with the underlying motive that they hope to make themselves feel better. And if it ends up making them feel worse, instead of realizing that this may be a good sign, they think there is something wrong with Dharma. We are always looking to make ourselves comfortable in the prison house. We might think that if we get the cell wall painted a pretty shade of pale green, and put in a few pictures, it won’t be a prison any more.

Everything which we see and everyone we relate to, we relate to from this tight box of our very limited judgements, prejudices, ideas, conceptions. It’s like we’re in a very small prison cell, dungeon really. And so we begin to start a new kind of direction in our lives … but the important thing is not to end up going from one prison cell into another prison cell. Even if the new prison cell has nice decoration on the wall and burns incense. It’s still a prison cell. And always the question is how to go beyond the prison, how to get out, how to be liberated.


  1. The curious thing to me is that I have no desire to go beyond samsara myself. I had expected that, by this time in my life, I would very much desire to. But all that I have is a very mild curiosity about what is beyond. I wonder sometimes if it is not the anti-depressants I take?


    • For me, it’s not that I’m depressed or don’t enjoy my life. It’s more like watching a favorite movie for the tenth time- it just isn’t the same when you’ve seen it all before.


      • I can see how that would be motivational.


%d bloggers like this: