tmbt: death lessons
A friend and community member I’ve known for years died this week. Her name is Denise. She was a devoted Buddhist practitioner and teacher, super-humanly generous and cheerful, and made each person she was ever with feel like the most important person in the world. Though I did not know her well, I call her a friend because she seemed to be the perfect person at the moments when I least expected a smiling face. She has been the same to me this week in her death.
As is done commonly in Buddhism, meditation and recitation practices are performed with and for the dying and departed so that they may find not only deep peace in the dying process, but also that their consciousness will hold the confidence needed to navigate the realm of death, one that is often marked by extreme confusion. We practice with and for the dying and recently parted as a way of giving them as much ease and light in the dark tunnels after death as possible. Because we believe that the consciousness has continuity and is there living on elsewhere, and will subsequently be reborn somewhere, we send especially good wishes to the person so that they may find themselves in a realm with as little suffering as possible and should they be reborn on this earth, than to be reborn as a human so that they may again help the world and continue to increase the awareness of their consciousness. Mostly, this simply involves sending a lot of love and light to the person.
I had the very joyful good fortune of practicing in Denise’s home the day before she died, and again, this time in the room with her body, after she died. This may seem strange to non-Buddhists, but it was one of the most joyful and beautiful experiences I have had of meditation practice. You see, Denise was such a joy and gave so very much of herself to the world that the end of her life really was about celebrating all she was. What’s more is that Denise was such a devoted practitioner of Buddha Dharma that she prepared very well for her death with many special practices to help guide the self after leaving the body, and she had powerful meditators and teachers around her to help guide her from long before her cancer diagnosis, surely, but right up until the end, too. Many of us will not be so fortunate and much more often than I like to consider, death comes without warning without the personal care taken that Denise was given the opportunity to take, along with those around her. So, really I felt such joy and gratitude for her and from her for this opportunity, that today at the celebration of her life, what we call a Sukhavati, I just couldn’t stop smiling.
What is also so beautiful is that we all, the community of friends, family, and Buddhist practitioners around Denise, got to experience the powerful reminder that death does in fact come to us all. Again, most of us will have no warning. So Denise said again and again to contemplate your own death. She was certainly one of the best to say it. And so this week in particular, we have.
Knowing that I could die any moment and really thinking about that loosens the grip of my petty concerns, frees up space in my heart for the ones I may hold negativity towards, and gives rise to greater love and gratitude for all the wonderful, truly truly wonderful gifts I have been and continue to be given in this life. When I contemplate my own impermanence, I also see the impermanence of others and I cherish them more. I also recognize the longing we all have to connect. Everything had more value.
The lessons of Denise’s death are many, and the well of gifts very deep. For me, the biggest gift is a heart more open to the beauty of this world and the people I meet in it. May every being be free from suffering. May they have happiness. May we all have love as abundant as hers.
~ by HeatherArtLife on September 7, 2008.