Sunday, 18 June 2017

Like the Rays of the Setting Sun

Our lives are running out like the rays of the setting sun,
Death is closing in like the lengthening shadows of evening.
Now what is left of this life will vanish as fast as the last rays of light.
There is no time to waste...

from Patrul Rinpoche's 
Heart Treasure of the Enlightened Ones

Recently, my nephew; the eldest son of my older sister, passed away.
No one had seen it coming. No one was prepared or forewarned.
It was shocking. He was only thirty-seven years old.

If we ever need to be reminded of our mortality, the untimely passing of someone close to us and young in years is perhaps the most poignant.

It raises all manner of questions and stirs the inner flame of fear and uncertainty, even if on a deep and unrecognised level, of what is awaiting us all.

Death is such a mystery, it is such a profound 'unknown.'
To move through life as though death will somehow never touch us is to float in the vast uncertainty in a tiny bubble of illusion.

Every breath that we draw is bringing us that much closer to the 'great leveller.'

Nickolas was the only other Buddhist in my family. He found enormous comfort in the teachings of the Buddha and most particularly in the teachings on compassion.

He never missed an opportunity to reach out and embrace those he loved and let them know it. His compassion had not yet matured into the 'great compassion' of the enlightened ones but he was on his way.

His mother, Jana was distraught in a manner that is unbearable to witness and in the manner of all mothers who lose a child seemingly before their time.

Naturally, she wanted his funeral to be just as he would want it to be. After all, this would be the last thing that she could do for him in this world. At the time of his passing, Nickolas had been living in a different town from his mother. As the body was kept for autopsy Jana made the journey there only once it was released and taken to the funeral home.

If she could have, she would have taken it to the Buddhist centre but the wishes of other family members had to be respected and so a compromise was reached. Nickolas's mother is not a Buddhist and knows very little of its ways and teachings and yet in her sincere desire and need to express her love for her eldest son she tapped into an intuitive spring in her being and let it flow.

Without knowing why she insisted that his body should be placed facing the west, even though it was against the norms of the funeral home. Yet by facing the body towards the west, in the direction of the setting sun, she was honouring a Buddhist tradition of deep and ancient origin.

Prior to releasing his body, the directors of the funeral home warned her to be prepared. They told her that her son would not appear as she was used to seeing him and that she and another family member who was with her, may find it very distressing. Jana immediately requested them to clothe him in the Buddhist robes in which he had taken his Bodhisattva vows and she explained how they should be draped.

Then, a small miracle happened. The disfigured, anguished and contorted features of the young man suddenly gave way to a peaceful and beatific countenance. The funeral home staff were confounded and deeply moved by this inexplicable and yet undeniable shift.

With all his special things around him in the small room set aside for him at the funeral home, it quickly took on the atmosphere of a simple shrine. Lamps were lit and a calm and peaceful atmosphere began to saturate the place.

Why is it important for each and every one of us to acknowledge our mortality?
Precisely because our lives are running out like the rays of the setting sun...

We do not know the hour or the place and yet there in the distance, faintly echoing on the evening breezes, the owl is calling our name.
That hollow and resounding echo reminds of how fragile and
fleeting is our time upon this earth.

We must value it deeply and try to never waste a single moment in pettiness and dissipation. Our lives are a gift in which we are given the chance to recognise who and what we really are.

Many think that this is something only a very rare few are capable of perceiving but this is far from true. All of us are inextricably linked to our divine inmost nature and through the blessing of life, we can begin to realise this innate inner treasure.

Each of us in our own and unique way must discover who and what we really are by whatever means that can aid us upon our way.
Right here, right now. Before there are regrets and before it is too late.