Texas inmates wrote the study guide, and His Holiness wrote the book.
Ethics does not have to depend upon a religious belief. Rather, ethics, the common humanity and compassion, envelop all formal religions as well as all thinkers. In Beyond Religion (Houghton Mifflin 2011), the Dalai Lama defines ethics within our shared, large world, and then educates readers into the heart by helping to train the mind. None of this is easy: it is, indeed, hard work but essential work.
Those of involved with the criminal justice system can learn from this slim book and apply its tenants to our own understanding and our work.
How do we deal with destructive emotions?
How do we identify key inner values without vague lecturing?
Does compassion actually exist, and in what form for those imprisoned?
Is ‘justice’ a part of ethics? A part of compassion?
The book is simple to read and tough to understand, because we readers have to fight our natural tendency toward cynicism and our whole baggage of experiences that have painted the world in different colors from what the Dalai Lama envisions. How very, very essential to our work, though, right?
One caveat: be sure to get the “Ethics for a Whole World” study guide. The 48-page pamphlet is remarkable for offering a paragraph summary of each subchapter, a list of questions for individual study or, even better, group discussion, and even suggested essay questions for those leaders who can turn the book into a correspondence course. Its Appendix A provides a Natural Awareness Meditation that summarizes many of the Mindfulness books you can find. Appendix B, my favorite, introduces Meditation with a Benefactor. “Enlightened masters for thousands of years in all the great spiritual traditions have understood the importance and power of love.” The Benefactor may be someone you/your inmates may admire who is in your life, or someone who used to be (grandparent, etc.); this person who has loved you and wishes you well is your benefactor sitting in front of you, looking and smiling at you. From that imagined perception, the Guide invites your Benefactor to send you a wish of love; invites you to be open to that message; invites you to make a similar wish for yourself; and then asks you to make that wish for others.
Appendix C provides suggestions for study groups, and Appendix D gives guidelines for working with correspondents.
Between the words and best wishes of the Dalai Lama and this helpful guide, I suspect prisoner advocates and inmates will discover their own very best selves. I wish you well, readers.