Death is arising in my world.
Yesterday, I had the good fortune of having my Buddhist teacher, the nun Kelsang Chokyi, come up to Maine and lead an afternoon workshop. The title was 'Death & Dying: A Buddhist View'. It's not a topic that we get to talk about a lot. It's whispered about and hidden in distant funeral homes.
We are afraid of talking about death, and yet what an irony that death is one of the only definite things in our life. It's going to happen. But will we be prepared when it comes?
The workshop was magical.
The venue, a former church and now a non‐profit arts space, already holds a sacred energy. Sunshine turned into rainbows as it poured though the stained glass windows and fell on the warm wooden floor. A group of six women sat and listened to the teachings, and revealed their own experiences with death, lying in hospital beds, being with family members for their final moments, living with a terminal illness.
Chokyi began her teachings on powa, a profound Buddhist practice where we can actually transfer our own, or other's consciousness at the time of death - to a pure world. At one point, she gave us all a piece of paper on it, and we were told to open it and imagine that it was real. We then meditated on what it told us.
My piece had written on it "in one hour you will die." I closed my eyes and sunk deep into my heart and contemplated the meaning of this. And it came to me that I would do, would be to sit and pray and meditate and generate a calm and peaceful state. I realized that I have been given so much from my practice. A deep refuge, a knowledge that patient acceptance is key. A lack of fear, and the tools with which to embrace the unknown.
But when the workshop ended, and I was waiting in the venue for my lift, I thought to myself - I will meditate. I will do what I had decided half an hour ago - but I found that I couldn't. I was too distracted. The suggestion of death had once again disappeared - and I didn't want to think about it. As Buddhists, we are meant to think everyday - "today I may die." Because that is coming from a place of wisdom. We may, we may not, but the point is that we could. But how deeply do we believe this? How quickly can the surface junk distract us once more?
My lift finally appeared and I came home through a snowstorm, to find that Maca, the wonderful ancient Boxer‐Lab who lives in our house, was dying. She is 16, which is already old for a dog, and she has been getting worse in the past few weeks. Her body is starting to give up on her.
I sat with her and stroked her head, and a deep reverence filled my heart. I gave her owner, our housemate, a picture of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, and suggested she keep it close to Maca. Today, I will go upstairs and whisper some mantras into her ear to lay positive imprints on her mindstream. I will also do pujas and pray for her.
There is so much we can do for those who are dying. It is not something to be feared, but something to be embraced and loved. We can give so much peace to these beings around us. We have such power and potential for vast compassion. The great irony is that death can actually be a tremendously beautiful force in our life. We just need the courage need the courage to look it in the eye.