Appreciating the Dharma

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Excerpts from letters to Venerable Thubten Chodron and retreat participant Kathleen (Zopa) Herron from an inmate practicing while in prison.

Letter to Venerable Thubten Chodron

Silver medallion with the words 'Thank you' engraved on it.

I’m blessed to be allowed to participate in retreat even on a small level. (Photo by Beth)

I also have received letters from Kathleen. She is an inspiration. She seems so positive. Her first letter came at the perfect time, just as I was starting to feel unsure about things. She said that she was grateful for my efforts to practice, but I am the one who is grateful to her, to the people at the Dharma centers who help me, to all of the other retreatants, and especially to you. I’m blessed to be allowed to even participate in the retreat on a small level. I feel like I’m riding on your tailcoats.

The transcripts of the question-and-answer sessions that Jack sent have been very helpful. They give me insight as to what others are thinking, feeling, and struggling with as they do the Vajrasattva practice. One thing that hit home was when one of the retreatants talked about having a violent dream and wondered what actions in a past life could have created the karma to have such dreams. It made me realize how different my present life has been from normal people. I already knew that the way I’d lived my life was unacceptable and that the majority of people live by a set of rules that I chose largely to ignore. But in relation to the karma aspect, it gave me something to think about. My life has been full of violence—physical, emotional and mental. If the people at the retreat knew of half of the things I have done, they would be terrified. It is kind of a double-edged sword for me. I feel that if these people who are good are having to struggle with their practice, I don’t stand a chance. On the other hand, I feel so humbled and am truly appreciative of the fact that somehow the conditions were in place and I was able to meet the Dharma and to have you to teach and guide me.

Letter to Kathleen Herron

I like the transcripts of the question-and-answer sessions very much. Not only am I learning more about this practice, but also I have the thoughts, feelings, and situations of all of you there to compare to my own. It seems that I often think, “I am the only person in the world with this problem” or “I feel like this but I should feel like that.” It is encouraging to me to hear how other people are doing and to learn about their experiences.

In one of the question-and-answer sessions Venerable talked about “pity parties.” Feeling sorry for myself has been a big deal for me for most of my life. The issues with my step-dad contributed to that. I was treated “less than” at home and carried that attitude with me into the world. On the other hand, at times I have caught myself thinking that I am better than the other guys here. Ironically, it was because of the Dharma. At times I thought myself better than the rest because they are “lost.” As if I knew the answers to save the world and they were too ignorant to listen to me! Thankfully empathy saves me from having this attitude for very long. I know how it is for them, and I feel their pain because it is my pain also. By some past actions that I can’t fathom, the situation was right for me to meet the Dharma. As they say, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

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