anicca (impermanence)

Appreciation and impermanence (Day 73)

100 Days of Lovingkindness

Jack Kornfield, in his lovely Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, says “The trouble is, you think you have time.” He doesn’t say what we don’t have time for, but presumably he means that we put off important things because we assume that we can do them later. The trouble is, there may not be any “later.”

Recognizing that our time here is short can help us appreciate life more. I opened my book, Living as a River, by discussing how an awareness of impermanence can enhance our appreciation of our loved ones. When married people were asked to reflect on the death of their (still living) spouse, they found that they could more easily overlook their partner’s flaws — those socks on the bedroom floor seemed less significant — and found it easier to appreciate their good qualities. You might think that reflecting on death would be a downer, but in fact an awareness of impermanence enhances appreciation.

This applies to everything in life, including our lives themselves. One of the things the Buddha encouraged us to do was to reflect on our own impermanence, and how old age, sickness, and death are inevitable. And in the light of that we reflect that we’re responsible for our own lives and our own actions. He was saying, in essence, life is short, make good use of it. When people hear this they sometimes think it means “life is short, have as much fun as possible.” But that’s a rather alienated view, I think. If you really take on board how short life is, you’re forced to recognize what’s truly most valuable in your life. And for most of us that’s experiencing and giving as much love as possible, and doing things that are meaningful. “Fun” comes pretty far down the list, if it’s there at all.

Being aware that each breath you take is impermanent makes it seem more significant and worthy of attention. Notice your breathing, aware that each breath comes only once. Each breath is unique.

In fact, as you pay attention to your breathing, notice how each moment is unique. That moment and that moment and that moment — each one is there so fleetingly. Each one is precious. This may sound like a platitude until you “get” it. Then it’s a simple and profound truth: each moment is precious.

But let’s think again about those around us, about those close to us, about those we’re connected to with ties of blood or love, about those who barely register as feeling beings, about those we don’t like or can’t stand to be around. You’re going to die. They’re all going to die.

Life is unpredictable. You have no idea if you’ll ever see them again, or if they’ll ever see you again. The people you see today — this may be the last time you see them. And maybe you should behave as if this was indeed the last time you were going to see them. What last words would you like them to remember you having said to them, should you die tomorrow? What last words would you like to remember having said, should they die tomorrow?

Look at those people, as if you’re never going to see them again. Let yourself feel vulnerable and tender. And let yourself feel affection for them. Let yourself appreciate their basic goodness. Let your judgements and your tendency to focus on the negative fall away, and recognize that you’re surrounded by good people who are struggling to be happy. Let yourself love.

The trouble is, you think you’ll have time to love later, and you might not, so behave as if you don’t have time to waste, and let yourself love — now.

PS. You can see all our 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.

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Compassion and impermanence (Day 48)

As I wrote in my book, Living as a River:

Relating to someone as a “self”—on the basis of how we see them right now—is like seeing a video reduced to a single frame, or seeing a ball hurtling through the air in a freeze-frame photograph. It’s life-denying. It’s a static way of seeing things. In taking a snapshot of a thing we lose its sense of trajectory, the sense that it’s headed somewhere. We’re disconnected from the reality of change and process. But imagine if we could consistently see a person not as a thing but as a process—if we could, at least in our imagination—see that person evolving towards wisdom and compassion. How might that change both them and us? That’s the challenge for us all.

I’d like to suggest an experiment to you, and I’d be delighted if you’d write a few words below about your experience of trying this. The experiment will only take two or three minutes of your time.

  • I’d like you to call to mind someone you have a conflict with. Perhaps they have an annoying habit, or have done something to hurt you. Imagine that this person is in front of you.
  • Call to mind the thing that bothers you about this person. Feel the annoyance that’s connected with that thing.
  • Now, imagine, to the left of the person you’re thinking of, a much younger version of them. Perhaps at about 10 months old, when they were a baby, able to sit up, perhaps, but not yet able to walk or talk. And realize that these are both the same person.
  • Then, on the right side of the person you’re calling to mind, see a much older version of them — perhaps in their nineties. Really old. And realize that all three forms are the same person.
  • Now, call to mind that same thing that annoyed you about this person.

So, what happened for you?

I’ve recently been asking people to try this, and almost everyone has said that they experience sadness. They move from irritation or resentment, to sadness. Very quickly. Often people mention a sense of love or compassion as well, mingled with the sadness.

100 Days of LovingkindnessI think this is a very positive thing. It’s much healthier and less destructive, on the whole, to experience sadness than it is to experience hatred.

Why might we feel sad?

For me, it’s a number of things. I feel sad that I’ve taken one thing about a person’s life that I don’t like, and related to them on the basis of that, ignoring the rest of their being. I feel sad because life is too short to waste on petty ill will. And perhaps I’m a little sad at reminding myself of the brevity of life, and the inevitability of death.

But there’s a sense of sadness, too, that’s almost esthetic. Seen as just one part of an entire life, this irritating flaw makes the whole more beautiful, like the craquelure on an old painting, the creases on an old, faded photograph, or the peeling paint and sagging timbers of an old New England barn.

The sadness is, for me at least, mingled with love and compassion. It’s freeing myself from the prison of the moment, and seeing the person not as a static thing, but as an ever-changing continuum that allows that to happen. When a person is seen as a fixed point in time and space, there is much to dislike. When a person is seen as an ever-evolving process, there is much to love.

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Reflections on Samsara

circular star trails

If we believe that we are not responsible for our mental suffering then we are implying we are helpless.

If we believe everything is permanent then we are implying there is no room for change.

If we believe in a fixed self then we are implying we can not transform ourselves.

If we cling on to these thoughts and think they are facts we will continue to be swamped by the ocean of samsara.

If we can begin to see that our mental suffering arises out of our strong habitual behaviours we will begin to transform ourselves.

Ask yourself:

  • What thoughts that arise do I believe in?
  • What would I do if I could just witness my thoughts arising and ceasing?
  • What is permanent in my life?

Our thoughts are an illusion, a game of mis-interpretations, assumptions, and judgements. Our thinking is the dis-ease of resentments, jealousies, dissatisfaction. They keep us trapped in the ocean of Samsara.

Begin to free yourself.

For example when the thought I hate myself arises. Say to it with loving kindness where is the self to hate? Free yourself from the mental bonds of suffering.

Twenty three years ago I walked into a Buddhist Centre with ‘I hate myself’ ranting around my head as if it were some sacred mantra. With the practice of loving kindness it restored me to sanity, helping me to cultivate a calm and sober mind. The undermining voice began to cease, and I would hear I love myself. However I resigned myself to the fact that sometimes the voice of ‘I hate myself’ would arise and, I would just match it with ‘I love myself’. But somewhere I was still believing in this thought.

Then one day the voice arose, ‘I hate myself’. And I spoke to it loud and clear, telling it: ‘There is no self to hate. There is no self to identify with.’ Finally I was beginning to let go of this thought, and the undermining voice becomes quieter, and quieter every day I continue to practice loving kindness and remember there is no self to identify with.

Knowing that there is no self to identify with, gives those of us with addictions hope and the opportunity to transform. It is the freedom and liberation all humans need if we are to grow, change and develop.

When we see this clearly we can begin to heal the addicted mind. The mind that is addicted to thoughts.

  • How can we abstain from our thinking?

When we do we begin to cultivate sobriety of thoughts. Thoughts that just arise and cease calmly, with out a tinge of ill will, craving, doubt, anxiety or inertia.

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Mindfulness means keeping things simple

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Most of us have no end of things to keep up with and sort out. In fact, life sometimes feels bitty, complicated and confusing, and we don’t know how to manage all the demands. Past a certain point we experience stress, feeling that we’ve lost the initiative. Here are some tips on finding an alternative with the help of mindfulness

1.     Come back to present moment experience

Mindfulness means coming back to our experience in this moment, starting with simple, observable sensations. That means letting go, for now, of thoughts about the past and the future that can easily feel confusing. Instead, we ask, what’s happening right now in my body, my thoughts and my feelings? What’s happening around me? Usually, that leaves us feeling clearer and more whole, even if what we experience is uncomfortable.

2.     Find your key

It helps to have a personal key that will help us settle our awareness in the present moment. For many people becoming aware of the body offers a way to do this, noticing the contact of our feet with floor and the support of the chair. For others, the key is becoming aware of the breathing and perhaps taking a slightly deeper breath. It’s good to experiment to find what works for you, and meditation is an excellent opportunity to do that.

3.     Reduce input

We’re getting better and better at increasing the input we receive from the media, social networking, entertainment and the general busyness of our lives. However, psychologists have learned that human attention is a limited resource, so if we want to attend fully to one thing, we may have to let go of others. This goes against the grain of our culture, which sometimes seems to be devoted to distraction!

4.     Leave gaps

Notice the tendency to fill the gaps in the day with some kind of stimulation. Gaps are important. That’s when we can settle down and absorb what’s happening. And it’s interesting to see what we notice in those gaps about our feelings and the world around us. A period of meditation is a kind of a gap in which we give ourselves time and space to simply experience; and the Breathing Space, which we teach on mindfulness courses, is a way of doing this throughout the day.

5.     Pay attention to transitions

Leaving gaps between activities is one way of making a steady transition between the things we do: finishing one thing properly, and then starting the next thing with full awareness. This is important in starting and finishing meditation, and it’s throughout the rest of the day as well. Making conscious transitions helps you feel to stay fresh and have a greater sense of satisfaction.

6.     Manage multi-tasking

Multi-tasking can be stimulating and energizing (for a while) and for many of us juggling social media with other activities has become a part of how we live. But research shows that multi-tasking actually reduces our effectiveness and productivity. So far as we can, it’s probably helpful to reduce the amount of multi-tasking we do. In practice, though, we often have to respond to multiple demands, and mindfulness practice may mean exploring how we can maintain our sense of balance and wholeness while we are multi-tasking.

7.     Remember that things change

The feeling that life is complicated is connected to an underlying truth: everything changes. People, our bodies, situations, our thoughts and our feelings are all changing all the time, whether we want them to or not. Coming back to our present moment experience lets us acknowledge change and let go of our unconscious resistance to it. Conversely, change and impermanence also apply to seemingly intractable difficulties: they, too, will pass.

8.     Let understanding emerge

Sometimes complexity isn’t an illusion: it’s just the way things are. We can’t always simplify the situation we are in, but we can find clarity by coming back to the present moment and what is clear right now. Sometimes, all we know is that things are baffling and difficult; but at least we can know that. Then, a deeper understanding may slowly emerge.

 

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Life is short. Be kind.

A lot of people I know have experienced loss recently. Loss is particularly hard when your last words to the deceased person were spoken in anger.

I don’t know whether you’ll get married. I don’t know whether you’ll have children or grandchildren. I don’t know if you’ll be kind. But I know you’ll die. Because that’s something we all do. Death is something we often don’t want to think about, even though it’s inescapable and a simple fact of life.

Hence,in the Buddhist teachings, we find reflections such as this:

Those who have come to be,
those who will be:
All will go,
leaving the body behind.
The skillful person,
realizing the loss of all,
should live the holy life
ardently.

And this:

There are those who do not realize that one day we all must die. But those who do realize this settle their quarrels.

We don’t want to think about death, so we have to make a conscious effort to do so.

This may, for all we know, be my last post on this blog. You, for all I know, may have already passed away before my finger hits the “publish” button. For all I know, this post has been written by a corpse, for a corpse.

Life is short. Be kind.

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“Fully Alive: A Retreat with Pema Chodron On Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change”

Fully Alive: A Retreat with Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron was the first North American born woman to become an ordained Bhikkhuni. She teaches in the Shambhala tradition begun by her mentor and teacher Chogyam Trungpa. Meg Wheatley, who assists her teaching on this retreat, has a Ph.D. from Harvard and has long been interested in system dynamics. She is a prolific author and has traveled to every continent to learn and teach about how human systems function properly or fail. Both women have sound instruction to offer concerning how to navigate beautifully in life — this life that can only be impermanent.

The focus of the retreat is a modern-day Hopi prophecy. Ani Pema indicated that the prophecy was requested from Hopi elders. The prophecy describes the way that all beings should expect to live for the future. My heart and mind opened to receive it, as it was read, first by Ani Pema and then by Meg Wheatly.

Here is a river, flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid;
willing to cling to the shore.
They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know, that the river has its’ destination.’
The elders say, ‘Let go of the shore.
Push our way into the middle and keep our heads above water.’
They also say, ‘See who is there with you and celebrate.
At this time in history, the time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves.
Banish the word struggle from your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration;
for we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Ms. Wheatley tell us that old ways of thinking are simply outdated. Culturally, we tend to hold rigid ideas about how we should or should not react to stimuli. She discusses the differences in how we think of things. She suggests that our thinking should be be like flowing water. Our expectations often remain fixed and rigid in culturally accepted patterns, what she calls ‘rock logic’. We as humans should learn to let our patterns of thinking flow, change and adapt to circumstance. That, to her, is how we stay in the middle of the stream.

Title: Fully Alive: A Retreat with Pema Chodron.
Author: Pema Chödrön and Meg Wheatley.
Publisher: Shambhala
Format: DVD or Audio CD
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk (4 CD set only), and Amazon.com as a 2 DVD set or as a 4 CD set.

The first thing one notices when Ani Pema speaks is the quiet joy with which she relates her message. While listening to her teaching, which I welcomed as dry soil welcomes a kind rain. My meta mind, my observer/narrator, was simply absorbing that calm joy at being where she was. Her desire to be of benefit to the world is inspiring.

It was a challenge to take in all of this teaching. The weekend was broken up into separate lessons, every one of them at once simple and complex. Once I had seen the entire recording I realized that every teaching was about the same thing from a fresh perspective. The ways to approach this prophecy are many. There are so many paths one can take to live beautifully. All who witness this will have something to take away from it depending on the experience of the practitioner. On a cautionary note, I feel some of these concepts might be overwhelming for beginners.

The most difficult lesson for me in this retreat was the charnel grounds teaching. I have read about Tibetan burial practices. The idea of meditating in the charnel ground; the place where the human remains are and where there may be ghosts and scavengers, is potentially terrifying. The viewer is asked to mentally view themselves in the most fearful place they can imagine. It is not an easy lesson. Living beautifully requires us to stay aware and open in the most challenging situations. It teaches that we must be peaceful warriors, ready to accept the suffering of the world and change it if we can, in any way we can.

The notion of remaining open and non-reactive to the things that trigger the most fear in us … well let me just say that I did well to be aware of my reaction. My first response was to wonder, Haven’t I just spent six years learning to create compassionate distance to those reactions? I believe that If I had heard this when I had just entered the beginning stages of practice, my fear response might have hindered me.

The layers of redundancy between the sessions also convey the many approaches there are to take from the core of this compelling study into our daily lives. It took me a week to watch this five hours of the retreat. I would watch an hour and simply absorb. I meditated on every section of the lesson. It simply took time and compassionate focus.

This teaching suggests that we must be open to the suffering of the world, and remain particularly aware of how difficult it can be. With the love and compassion we have learned, we are charged to do what we can to ease the suffering of the world. We must be ‘warriors’. By definition a warrior is not a reactionary. A warrior is calm, even-minded and able to love all beings while still being aware of suffering. That is the strength of the warrior.

So many teachings are about the damage done to the eternal self by continuously reacting, and getting hooked, to use Meg Wheatly’s terminology. When we fuel the embers of those alarming events or situations that trigger us it is easy to let old habits take over. We react with fear, craving or isolation. We let the ember of suffering in what ever form it presents itself, turn into conflagration by feeding it through our old patterns of response.

All of our old patterns were where we were, once; we, I, you, started somewhere. Hopefully, we can learn to love everything about what led us to now. At every point on any path that we may be, we can choose to love all beings. There seem to be only a few ways to get to that place and they all involve being fearless. They all seem to require that we learn ourselves very well. Then, when we are self-strong and loving, we must gather together as a single monolithic “us” and celebrate. We can beautifully accept, without reacting, that everything changes.

There comes a time where we must trust in our practice. We must walk or swim into the middle of the river and be available to the rest of the needy suffering world. We may share as much as we will, to let all beings know that this alternative path is available and potentially so pleasant. Once we own our suffering we can let it move through us as if we are not even here.

More than anything else, we must learn to understand that open acceptance and genial love is the thoughtful response. This is the skillful way to respond. The more we patiently and beautifully practice living always in the now, the more we encounter every moment with the understanding that it is unique and new. Compassion is the authentic response.

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Six ways of reflecting on impermanence

hand holding an hourglass

In the Google Plus Community that I’ve set up for people who have a connection with my work (my classes, my CDs, MP3s, books, Wildmind, etc.) we discuss our practice. [Update: That community has now been replaced by a private version for supporters of Wildmind’s Meditation Initiative.] It’s turned out to be a very supportive and inspiring community. My own practice has benefited a lot, and as I put it this morning in a post there, “We’re all each other’s teachers.”

Someone in the community said they’d been reflecting on impermanence, and that led me to write a few words about the various ways that I reflect about impermanence in meditation. Here’s what I wrote:

I reflect on impermanence at different degrees of resolution. Here they are, roughly in order:

  1. On the macro level we’re all going to die. I think about that sometimes, in order that I’ll live my life meaningfully.
  2. We’re all changing and growing. When I reflect on this it’s easier to forgive others, and to feel compassion for them. This was one of the themes of my TEDx talk.
  3. My body is constantly changing. In the Six Element practice I realize that what I take to be a separate and permanent object is in fact a constant flow of matter and energy.
  4. Experiences come and go. I reflect on this both when life is pleasant and when it’s unpleasant, so that I cling less to the pleasant and don’t fret about the unpleasant. This too shall pass.
  5. I notice that every breath has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Each in-breath has a beginning, an middle, and an end. And so does each out-breath. Observing this helps me to more fully appreciate each breath, and to stay focused on the present moment.
  6. At the most refined level of resolution, the micro level, each moment is different. Each moment of every in-breath and every out-breath is a new moment. Our experience is a sequence of moments, each one tantalizingly brief and ungraspable. And this applies not only to the breathing, but to every experience that is arising in the body or mind. My entire sense of self can dissolve away into something like mist. The body becomes transparent, light. Even the mind that notices this change is itself changing in every moment. It expands and contracts, it flows, it dims and brightens, it coheres and disintegrates.

All of these levels of resolution are valuable experiences of impermanence for us to cultivate. And they’re all interrelated. I’ve found, though, that even a lot of experienced practitioners tend to focus more on the macro level and not to pay so much attention (or even don’t pay attention at all) to the micro level. And yet it’s at that level that, for me, at least, insight arose. I suspect that’s the case for many people — perhaps for everyone. And this micro level is not that hard to appreciate. It’s not as if impermanence is a secret — it’s there all the time, and we just need to train ourselves to stop ignoring it.

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Grasping the snake of impermanence by the wrong end

Man holding California Kingsnake.The other day I posted a news article about various ideas for replacing the ancient Buddhist statues of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. One of our Facebook commenters had the following to say:

I am so grateful for the Taliban destroying these statues, what an amazing lesson in the impermanent nature of reality. The people who did this are our greatest teachers, firstly for helping us to practice patience with our negative feelings of anger and secondly to show us how attached we can become to impermanent objects.

There’s certainly a traditional teaching in Buddhism of having gratitude toward our enemies for giving us an opportunity to practice patience. This is most famously found in the teachings of Shantideva, the 8th-century Indian Buddhist scholar, whose best-known work is the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life (Bodhicaryāvatāra).

In the chapter on patience, for example, Shantideva says:

“Since my adversary assists me in my Bodhisattva way of life, I should long for him like a treasure discovered in the house and acquired without effort.”

The Dalai Lama’s teaching is heavily influenced by Shantideva, and so you’ll hear him saying very similar things. For example in “How to be Compassionate,” (page 22) he says,

“Since enemies are the greatest teachers of altruism, instead of generating hatred for them, we must view them with gratitude.”

That part of our commentator’s statement is uncontroversial (although I don’t believe that the Buddha himself said anything about being grateful to our enemies and I don’t know whether he would have agreed with it). It’s the bit about being “grateful for the Taliban destroying these statues” that troubles me.

There’s a big difference between being grateful for having an enemy (as an opportunity to practice patience) and being grateful to your enemies for having caused destruction. To be grateful to your enemies for causing destruction is a form of rejoicing in unskillfulness. We shouldn’t be glad that the Taliban destroyed these statues. They were rare, and beautiful, and irreplaceable.

Of course we shouldn’t unduly mourn, either. It’s natural to feel a sense of loss and hurt when something we value has been destroyed, but it poisons our lives — and the world generally — when we mourn or get angry. The Buddha describes the ideal attitude thus:

With the destruction of what is subject to destruction, he does not sorrow, grieve, or lament, does not beat his breast or become distraught. This is called a well-instructed disciple of the noble ones who has pulled out the poisoned arrow of sorrow pierced with which the uninstructed run-of-the-mill person torments himself. Sorrowless, arrowless, the disciple of the noble ones is totally Awakened right within himself.

In The Water Snake sutta the Buddha said that grasping the Dharma wrongly was like grabbing a snake by the wrong end. And “Their wrong grasp of those teachings will lead to their long-term harm & suffering.”

Being grateful when people have caused destruction is grasping a snake by the wrong end. It’s going to come back and bite you. Right now, for example, an entire city of Buddhist ruins in Afghanistan, Mes Aynak, is about to be destroyed by a Chinese consortium intent on mining for copper. Should we be grateful? I don’t think so. We should do what little we can, including signing this petition, to stop this destruction from happening, and we should have compassion for those who act unskillfully, but we should neither be distraught nor glad.

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“Stone, Sea and Sand: Poems and Reflections on the Buddha’s Teaching on Impermanence” by Satyadevi

sudarshanaloka stupa

Between November 2010 and February 2011, New Zealand, a country of 4 million people, suffered two of the biggest disasters in its history.

The Chilean mining disaster had many of us riveted to our TV screens as miner after miner was brought to safety, having been trapped underground for 69 days. This was not to be the case in New Zealand. After an explosion at the Pike River Mine in New Zealand’s South Island, anxious families, buoyed by the Chilean experience, waited for long days and nights for a breakthrough that might bring their men home. None of the 29 miners and contractors survived.

Only three months later, Christchurch, New Zealand’s third largest city, was decimated by its second major earthquake in a year. This event killed 185 and maimed many more, both physically and mentally. Currently many of the historical buildings are being demolished and hundreds of city residents are in no-man’s-land awaiting the bureaucratic Earthquake Commission’s decision as to whether their homes are viable or not. They have been through a freezing winter with major cracks in walls with only tarpaulins to keep the wind out, a bit like Haiti, with snow. Homicide, domestic violence, substance abuse and suicides have risen indicating many inhabitants continue to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

The desire to make sense of these tragedies led Satyadevi to compile and publish some of her poetry, donating half the proceeds to the Christchurch Earthquake Red Cross Appeal, with the remainder going towards improving facilities at the beautiful 250 acre valley that is home to Sudarshanaloka Retreat Centre. The photo on the cover features Dhardo Rimpoche’s stupa at the facility.

Satyadevi’s volume combines threads of the raw energy of New Zealand with her Buddhist reflections on impermanence. Receptivity to the underlying drumbeat of this nation’s painful seismic birth and her awareness that it is all but a splash on the tabula rasa of becoming, imbues her poetry with poignancy, beauty and acceptance.

Satyadevi’s own personal grief, like that of Kisagotami, found universalization and acceptance which she has expressed movingly in waiata (Maori lament)

In ancient India, a young mother called Kisagotami had just lost her young son and was mad with grief. She could not accept that her beloved first born was dead. With the dead child in her arms, she ran from house to house asking for medicine for her little son. At every door she begged: “Please give me some medicine for my child,” but the people replied that medicine would not help any more, the child was dead. Kisagotami refused to accept this, despite the coldness and stiffness of his little body. One kind person suggested she go and find the Buddha who was staying in the Jeta Grove in Anathapindika’s monastery.

She burst into the middle of a discourse being given by the Buddha to a large gathering. Totally despairing and in tears, with the corpse of the child in her arms, she begged the Buddha, “Master, give me medicine for my son.” The Awakened One interrupted his teaching and replied kindly that he knew of a medicine. Amazed, she asked what this could be.

“Mustard seeds,” the Enlightened One replied, astounding everyone present.

The Buddha replied that she need only bring a very small quantity from any house where no one had died. Joyfully Kisagotami ran back to the town. At the first house, she asked whether any mustard seeds were available. “Certainly,” was the reply. But then she remembered to ask the second question, whether anyone had died in this house. “But of course,” the woman told her, and crestfallen, she withdrew. She went from door to door but was unable to find any house where no one had died. The dead are more numerous than the living, she was gravely informed.

Towards evening she finally realized that, as she had suffered, so many others had suffered. Her heart opened in compassion to the reality of universal suffering through death. In this way, the Buddha was able to heal her obsession and bring her to acceptance of reality. Kisagotami no longer refused to believe that her child was dead, but understood that death is the destiny of all beings, sooner or later.

She then became a disciple of the Buddha and found peace.

Satyadevi dedicated her poem “Kisagotami” to the families of the Pike River Miners. She writes:

In time Kisagotami’s heart found full release and the end of grief –
when she perceived that all things worldly must decline
when their conditions cease.

The poetry is not only an expression of the mystery of death but a way in which we can come to terms with it, or if we cannot make sense of it, to use it to become better human beings.

In this crowded world of the sound byte, it is increasingly rare to find material born of deep reflection and solitude. Such a volume of work sings songs of fresh possibilities in a fragmented, troubled era.

Stone, Sea, and Sand is available from Lotus Realm.

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I love you and one day I will die

Angel statue against a dramatic sky

I love you and one day I will die. I can not escape it. Death comes to everyone, including me.

Death is unavoidable; it will come to all of us, today, tomorrow, next month, next year.
Death is unavoidable; even I will die. Even you will die. Everyone we know will die.

Death is unavoidable, you and I may die before our parents. You and I may die before our children. You and I may die before our friends. You and I may die before our loved ones. You and I may die after our loved ones.

Death is unavoidable; this is the only thing we can guarantee in life. During this next year someone we know will die, or we will know of someone who knows someone who has died. In five years some of us may have even died. As soon as we are born we are old enough to die.

Death is not a tragedy. How we respond to death can be a tragedy. Denial of death is a tragedy. Blame is a tragedy. Saying it’s not fare is a tragedy. Death will come – all we can hope for is that we have a happy death.
Death is unavoidable, why not die well. One can hope for a non violent death, one can hope for a death from the failing body, from sickness or old age.

The longer we live, the more we will see die. In 20 years more of us would have died, and in 60 years most of us would have died.

Never be to overjoyed when someone arrives. Never be to saddened when someone leaves. This can be a mini rehearsal for learning to mourn who we lose.

Always hold lightly in your heart that this may be the last time you see the person you are with now.

If you can live like this only loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and peace will flow from your heart.

Death is unavoidable and it will come to all of us.

What does the gap between birth and death mean to you?

How are you living your life?

We may die a sudden death without saying goodbye to our loved ones, family, friends – what is it that we need to tell them so we have no regret if this happens?

How are you preparing for your death?

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