When people commit crimes, they are taken to the court and judged accordingly. Even if they escape the long arm of the law, they will be haunted by their conscience. They may find themselves in the “jail of the mind” for life.
If we all took a moment for introspection, can any of us honestly say we have never done anything we regret? If we do something wrong and confine ourselves in the jail of our mind, it means we still have a conscience, and are ashamed of ourselves. But we are better off than those who feel no shame. Even though there may not suffer in the jail in their mind, they cannot escape the Law of Cause and Effect and karmic retribution.
Those who break the law are imprisoned and lose their freedom. But if they learn to reflect on their mistakes and repent, they can still find spiritual liberation. In truth, prisoners in jail forfeit freedom for time to contemplate and repent. The physical jail can open the door of their mind and ignite the light of their spirit. Conversely, there are people who are free to traverse towns and cities, but whose minds are bound by fame and fortune, profit and loss, as well as the troubles and problems that originate form themselves, from others, and their own delusions.
There are different kinds of jails in the world, and offenders are committed according to their crimes. There are juvenile halls, halfway houses for minor offenders, maximum security prisons for hardened criminals, and death row blocks for murderers. In Buddhism, however, there are eighteen hells according to the sutras. There are eight cold hells, eight hot hells, the solitude hell, and the hell on the fringe. Actually these hells all represent the jails in our mind. For instance, there are the “jails” of desire, anger, hatred, attachments, guilt, and remorse. In addition, there are jails of fear, hopelessness, sorrow, and vexation.
These many hells come from the “self,” born of the five aggregates. The “self” is a prison, just as the burning of the five components of existence is also a prison. That is why a Buddhist sutra states, “The Three Realms have no peace. They are like a prison. Those who have no achieved liberation are shackled to the realms, never to enjoy a moment of ease.”
So, how do we free ourselves from the prison of the mind? Faith, compassion, wisdom, and morality are all keys that can unlock the door of our mind. These keys can bring us to the heavenly realm of joy, lead us to the ground of peace, guide us to the pure land of brightness, and direct us to the world of perfection.