Letter from Death Row
In the early 90s, not long after The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying was published, a young man called Greg from the United States, wrote to Rinpoche from his prison cell, where he was preparing to be executed. He wrote: “I am not writing this for any benefit to myself, other than the possibility that if what I have to say will help just one person find the path as I have, then my past suffering will have been of some benefit to someone other than myself.
“I have been a truly miserable example of a human being; all through this lifetime I have only cared for one person and that person is myself. I’ve used people with no concern for their feelings; I’ve stolen just for the thrill of stealing; I’ve developed relationships with many women to satisfy my lusts and then thrown them away with no more of a thought than I’d give a piece of garbage—and I treated them as such.
“My ego was so inflated and fragile that with the slightest of slights I had to hurt others. I enjoyed it, but I was a coward. I would hurt the weak and the innocent. I always took the easy way out with everything I did, and if there was any possibility I would fail I would not even attempt it. I only loved myself—but then I didn’t really even care about myself deep down.
“Because of my inflated ego, my pride, my self-importance, and my pent-up anger, I am now an inmate incarcerated on death row awaiting execution. When I arrived here I even blamed others for the actions that put me here. A year after I arrived, I was put in an isolation cell for an infraction of the rules. Two days after being put in this cell I met and became friends with a man in another cell in the isolation unit. You are not allowed anything to read in this unit other than law and religious material. At that time I wasn’t in a very religious mood, but this new friend offered me the opportunity to read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
“I knew absolutely nothing about Buddhist teaching, other than it was an eastern religion, but I was kind of curious. I started to read the book with no preconceived ideas or prejudices. I expected nothing from that book, it was just something to read. Little did I know then that the book would be the greatest gift I would ever receive. As I read the book, the door to my heart was opened, filling my inner being with compassion and the wisdom to see the truth in the Buddhist teachings.
“Although I am only an infant in my knowledge of the Buddhist teachings, I’ve taken my first step on the path. I tell you that this first step onto the path is the most important step any of us can ever take. My thoughts, emotions, and attitudes have completely turned around. I am still ruled by them but now I see the ignorance in them. I’ve realised so much about myself since learning of the teachings. I truly believe that everything I’ve done in my lifetime led me to that isolation cell for only one reason, and that reason was to find the Buddhist teachings waiting for me in that cell.
“I’ve realised the love I’ve denied myself—to express to others, and the love I’ve denied—the love that others have offered. I realised that when I allowed myself to be hurt and had to hurt others, I was only hurting myself again with this attitude. Buddhism for me is the key that unlocks and opens the door to my inner being and allows me a glimpse of a person I’d long ago forgotten had existed.
“The one thing I’ve found about Buddhism that’s different from other religions is that it actually teaches you while the other religions only tell you just as parents tell their child, not teaching them. Other religions tell you to look outward to find happiness in some thing, whereas Buddhism teaches that the only way to find anything is to look inward because all the answers are there, waiting to be found.
“Look within your own hearts, my brothers and sisters, Thank you.”
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