Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A gracious lady came to us


A gracious lady came to us
and favored us by receiving
kindly our care of her
at the end of all her days.
She was a lady made graceful
beyond what we had known
by the welcome she gave to death,
her guest, whom she made unfearful

by her fearlessness, having no further
use for herself as we had known her.

–Wendell Berry


Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Mahayana instructions for transferring consciousness at death



The five strengths; the way you behave matters. 


 Power of the Virtuous Seeds


These same five powers we have been discussing, (though in a different order), will also help us achieve bodhichitta at the time of death. 

The first of the five powers is the power of virtuous seeds. When we know we are going to die, the first thing we do is to give up all our possessions. We should rid ourselves of any attachment or clinging we have to our worldly things and give them with a happy mind to whomever they can most help, thinking: "May these be used by this person." We should do this without any attachment, thinking: "Because I was attached to many different things, the disturbing emotions of passion, attachment, ignorance, and so on, have arisen. Now I need to be rid of all these things, and so I give them without any attachment at all for whatever purpose they can best be used."

Power of Aspiration


Second is the strength of aspiration. The particular aspiration here is: "In this life and in all following lives, may I not succumb to the tendency of treasuring myself as more important than others. May self-cherishing diminish. May I promote again and again loving-kindness and compassion." We can make this aspiration right now, but it is especially important to make when the signs of death begin to appear. We know that there isn't much time left so our sincerity increases and deepens. It is especially important to make that aspiration at this time.

Here we think: "Whatever virtue I have of body, speech and mind, may I, who have practiced mind training in this lifetime, not be separated from it in the intermediate state or in the next lifetime. May I continue to practice bodhichitta and may I not forget the teachings. In the next life may I meet with the teacher who taught me these precious things."

We pray to the lama and the Three Jewels to grant their blessings so that all of this may come about.

Power of Remorse


Third is the power of remorse. The time of death is not an easy one, because we experience a great deal of physical discomfort and pain as well as mental anguish and unhappiness. Rather than feeling despair, we should identify the main cause of our suffering as ego-clinging and make up our mind that at this point: "I will try my best not to create the causes of the negative emotions and karma created out of self-cherishing. I will really try my best to diminish ego clinging from now on into all following lives." 

Understanding that we should not commit what causes suffering again in the future is the strength of remorse.

At the time of death we think: "Now I am at the time of death and am experiencing suffering. The cause is attachment to myself as being precious. In reality, there is no ultimate self; the mind is not solid and real and, therefore, there is nothing that actually dies. The suffering I am now experiencing comes from clinging to the idea of myself as precious. It is this that I must destroy."

Power of Goodwill


The fourth power, goodwill, is the most important at the time of death. Whether we are in the bardo or whether we are already in the next life, what is always of greatest benefit is loving-kindness and compassion--treasuring others more than ourselves. This attitude always brings benefit. Understanding this, we should make up our mind very firmly and sincerely: "At all times and in all places I will place special energy in bringing forth the qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, and the vow of a bodhisattva." If we have already trained ourselves in thinking like this now, then it will come back at the time of death, in the bardo state, and in future lives as well. But especially at the time of death, whatever comes to mind is much more acute and we really mean it at that time. Sincerity is much deeper at the time of death, so at that time we should especially take the vow of always placing special emphasis on loving-kindness and compassion.

At this time we pray: "May my bodhichitta increase at the time of experiencing the pain of passing away. May it also increase during the intermediate state between lifetimes, and may I experience it during the next lifetime. May I never be separated from this precious twofold bodhichitta."

The twofold bodhichitta comprises relative and ultimate bodhichitta. It is crucial to have a strong determination to engender bodhichitta at this time.

Power of Familiarization


The fifth power of growing familiar must be practiced while we are alive. We make ourselves more and more habituated to reducing self-cherishing and increasing loving- kindness and compassion. Some practitioners die while in sitting meditation. If we cannot do that, we can die in the reclining position. The Buddha died in the position called "the reclining lion," where we place the right shoulder on the ground, one hand to the cheek, lying comfortably on our side. As we die, we gently let our attention remain in loving- kindness and compassion, making the strong wish to be of benefit to all living beings, (relative bodhichitta) or to understand that all phenomena are just mind, like dreams, like magical illusions, like a mirage (ultimate bodhichitta). Passing away like this has tremendous benefit, not only at that particular time but also for future lives. This is the outcome of the fifth power of familiarization.

The second half of this instruction is, "the way you behave matters." It is very important how we actually pass away. Jamgon Kongtrul wrote in his commentary, "There are many instructions for practitioners on how to die, but this particular one, which utilizes the fivefold strength at the time of death is most wonderful." He praised it as being of special importance for practitioners to acquaint themselves with this way of passing.
At the time of death, we use the power of familiarization or habituation by thinking: "I have practiced bodhichitta and will not forget it, no matter what suffering I am currently experiencing. I will continue to practice bodhichitta during the suffering I am experiencing now, during the intermediate state, and in the next lifetime, I will not forget it."

It is very important that we make a great effort to practice bodhichitta now because when we are in the midst of sickness and suffering it is not easy to follow through. We have to rely on the force of familiarity to maintain our resolve during trying circumstances.

To be more specific: there are some methods we can physically invoke to help the practice. It is said that the very best thing we can do is sit in the sevenfold posture of Vairocana. If that is not possible, we should lie down on our right side with our right hand on our right cheek, blocking the right nostril. This is because the winds of karma go through the right subtle channel and right nostril. The wisdom air moves through the left subtle channel, which is why the left nostril is kept open. With the air moving through that nostril, we meditate on sending and taking as much as we are able. These are the oral instructions of the Kadampa masters.

–Thrangu Rinpoche

Root text translation © 2004 Michele Martin





Tuesday, October 15, 2013

the cost of hope


Monday, October 14, 2013

dive for dreams


dive for dreams
or a slogan may topple you
(trees are their roots
and wind is wind)
trust your heart
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward)
honour the past
but welcome the future
(and dance your death
away at the wedding)
never mind a world
with its villains or heroes
(for good likes girls
and tomorrow and the earth)
in spite of everything
which breathes and moves, since Doom
(with white longest hands
neating each crease)
will smooth entirely our minds
-before leaving my room
i turn, and (stooping
through the morning) kiss
this pillow, dear
where our heads lived and were.

silently if, out of not knowable

silently if, out of not knowable
night's utmost nothing,wanders a little guess
(only which is this world)more my life does
not leap than with the mystery your smile
sings or if(spiralling as luminous
they climb oblivion)voices who are dreams,
less into heaven certainly earth swims
than each my deeper death becomes your kiss
losing through you what seemed myself,i find
selves unimaginably mine;beyond
sorrow's own joys and hoping's very fears
yours is the light by which my spirit's born:
yours is the darkness of my soul's return
-you are my sun,my moon,and all my stars

–E. E. Cummings


Saturday, October 12, 2013

For the Anniversary of My Death


Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

–W. S. Merwin


via buffleheadcabin
image via datura


Friday, October 11, 2013

The Poet with His Face in His Hands


You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn’t need anymore of that sound.

So if you’re going to do it and can’t
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can’t
hold it in, at least go by yourself across

the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets

like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you

want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched

by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.

–Mary Oliver


Thursday, October 10, 2013

given (excerpt)




As timely as a river
God's timeless life passes
Into this world. It passes
Through bodies, giving life,
And past them, giving death.

The secret fish leaps up
Into the light and is
Again darkened. The sun
Comes from the dark, it lights
The always passing river,
Shines on the great-branched tree,
And goes. Longing and dark,
We are completely filled
With breath of love, in us
Forever incomplete.

–Wendell Berry


Sunday, October 6, 2013

dear doctor

An emergency room doctor at New York Presbyterian Hospital has touched the hearts of millions after a personal letter he wrote about the death of a patient went viral on the Internet.
The letter was first published on Reddit by the son of the deceased woman, who reportedly died of breast cancer in December 2012. In the letter, the doctor explains that this is the first such note he has written in 20 years of ER work.

The letter has already been viewed by more than 2 million users on Reddit, with thousands leaving comments. The doctor's letter:

Dear Mr. (removed),
I am the Emergency Medicine physician who treated your wife Mrs (removed) last Sunday in the Emergency Department at (hospital). I learned only yesterday about her passing away and wanted to write to you to express my sadness. In my twenty years as a doctor in the Emergency Room, I have never written to a patient or a family member, as our encounters are typically hurried and do not always allow for more personal interaction.
However, in your case, I felt a special connection to your wife (removed), who was so engaging and cheerful in spite of her illness and trouble breathing. I was also touched by the fact that you seemed to be a very loving couple. You were highly supportive of her, asking the right questions with calm, care and concern. From my experience as a physician, I find that the love and support of a spouse or a family member is the most soothing gift, bringing peace and serenity to those critically ill.
I am sorry for your loss and I hope you can find comfort in the memory of your wife’s great spirit and of your loving bond. My heartfelt condolences go out to you and your family.
(removed), MD

The 24-year-old man who posted the letter said in an email interview with the Huffington Post that the outpouring of support from Reddit users has helped him cope with the passing of his mother.

"If my mother were alive to see this, she would want readers to reflect on the power of showing compassion toward a total stranger," he said in the interview.
"The support I got from Reddit was amazing—doctors, nurses and other Redditors who have lost their mothers to cancer were all shocked and amazed that the doctor took the time to write such a heartfelt, meaningful letter.”