Reflection on life
Reflection on life
Daniel is a young man who received a life sentence because he drove the get-away car for some friends robbing a store. During the robbery, one of the men shot and killed someone. California law is such that to receive a life sentence, one need not be the person performing the murder, one just need to be involved with the situation.
Daniel contacted Venerable Chodron in 2019, seeking to learn about karma. She responded and the correspondence began. Daniel is an avid learner with many questions. He requested books to read, which we sent him and he sent more questions. He wasn’t satisfied with introductory books, and when he learned there were different philosophical tenet systems, he immediately asked for books about them. Understanding that knowing Tibetan language would be useful in his Dharma studies, he asked for materials to learn Tibetan.
Venerable Chodron has watched his development with amazement. Daniel not only wants to learn Buddhism, he wants to practice it as well, all while sitting in a prison cell. The following is a letter he wrote to her in August 2023.
Joyful greetings to you, and everyone at the Abbey. I don’t lose the hope of being able to visit you all one day. I am currently in the process of trying to get re-sentenced and get my life sentence commuted since new laws have been enacted that may apply to aiders and abettors of a crime in a favorable way. Whatever the future holds for me I shall accept it and continue to purify my heart and mind on this side of the fence or the other.
I transferred to another prison on June 23, but did not receive my personal property until weeks later. Aside from having to adapt to a new environment again, I have really taken the teachings to heart daily. I am trying to build the habit of waking up before dawn to not only make the most out of my day by meditating and reading, but also to simply be in tune with my awareness. As far back as I can remember, maybe at about four or five, I recall being conscious of existing. And I think about the causes that brought this about. While before, it felt as if my existence just came to be somehow, I used to think, “Why am I here? I didn’t ask to be here, yet here I am.” Now, I realize, there must have been virtuous causes which led to my present rebirth, yet, I still have to deal with the difficulties a samsaric mind and body bring.
There are times when I am slowly waking from a nap and I think, “Wake up, for one day sooner or later this life will end.” To seize this precious opportunity for all its worth is the best endeavor. From one point of view, prison is one of the worst places to be when one is separated from their loved ones. To spend one’s final days amongst strangers rather than amongst family can be a very plausible reality when there is no out-date in sight. I find therefore, that the only solution to this predicament is to genuinely consider anyone I come across daily as friends or family. And that way, when my last day on this earth should arrive, I’ll leave surrounded by loved ones, no matter who they are.
I admit, regret does haunt my consciousness, and nothing no one does or says will alleviate the pain in my heart until I find a way to live with the harm I’ve done. Though it can be burdensome to be plagued by such accounts after death, now I’d give my life to save another’s if I had to. My sole purpose in life, or rather what’s left of it, is to make amends and work for the happiness of those who seek it. Whatever preparations we have made in this life will determine the direction our journey will take when it is over.
My learning of Tibetan is going slow, but something is better than nothing. I am listening to your guided meditations, reading The Easy Path and I recently received Approaching the Buddhist Path by His Holiness and you along with the study guide questions. How many answers to questions should I send you at one time?
Take care Chodron.
With well wishes,
Many incarcerated people from all over the United States correspond with Venerable Thubten Chodron and monastics from Sravasti Abbey. They offer great insights into how they are applying the Dharma and striving to be of benefit to themselves and others in even the most difficult of situations.