The conversation with my Death Row Buddhist group last night was about tuning into our own Buddhanature, and was an organic arising from our beginning , where we take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha in the broadest terms.
One of the guys, a young man just beginning to adjust to his life after one year on Death Row, said that when he prays to Buddha, he often gets an answer back. “And you know what?” he asked with a big grin on his face. “The answer is always something that I’ve known and felt inside myself all my life.”
This revelation prompted another much older and well-studied man to answer excitedly “Yes, that is exactly it! How could it not be that we are a one with God, Christ, Mohammed, Moses or our own Buddhanature? Our culture conditions us to think that all this is outside of us, looking down on us even, but it just cannot be so! When we fully humble our ego and join with that sense of self that has always been there, that is truly the ground of our being!”
The youngster was beaming. “I know it is real because I didn’t read it in a book. I actually don’t really even like to read because the words are often too complicated for me to understand anyways. These answers to my prayers come from my heart, I feel it there, and that is where I know it!”
I nodded my head and joined in, telling him that I do the same thing, and that often, when I look inward, all the answers are there, it just takes some teasing out.
The older man, with great repose and calm, stated very clearly:
“When we pray, we are praying into the mirror, the Mirror of Ourselves. Our deepest truth. Not someone else, or something else, or some God looking down on us. We are praying into the Mirror of Ourselves. “
Once again, I felt like I had to pinch myself, listening to such wisdom from these men who are, in most people’s eyes, “the very worst of society, so bad they deserve to die at the hand of our decision. ”
Though the acts that led them to Death Row were clearly heinous and left their communities fractured, who they are today, after being shuttered as far away from the public as is possible, are still, human beings. Their own search into their own souls for answers and truths have bounded over religious language, bounded over what scholars and great teachers say, bounded over the rhetoric and swagger of the many contemporary gurus and spiritual teachers, and nested, rested and roosted in their hearts, in the privacy of their locked away, tossed away, up against the sharp knife edge of impermanence on a daily basis, existence.
I was witnessing the tenacity of the soul in reclaiming it’s Home in the Divine, regardless of the path that led to this open gate. The dance of duality with non-duality, Returning to the Source, Shiva and Shakti, the Journey up the Stem of the Lotus. I bowed my head with a prayer of thanks for this moment and felt the hot tears of a felt truth welling up. Though I don’t know the extent of their victims, I also prayed that this Returning to the Source, God, Buddhanature, whatever, would somehow be true or at least be in service of their victims.
The known territory of my awe of the breadth and realm of human experience expanded in an instant.
As I left them that night to be escorted out of the chapel to their cells by their tier guards, the older man turned to me and said “Please continue to tell people about our journey of spirit. I hope, I guess, I want to believe, that the people on the outside would really value hearing from us. That they really would be hungry to hear how we view our relationship with Spirit, the Divine, given our situation here….”
Praying into the Mirror…
Even if we don’t want to hear
from these men who are
cast away to the entrails of
Death by Decision,
can we at least stand up
and hear the calling of our own
damaged and unhealed places?
Praying into the Mirror…
The Mirror of Ourselves.