Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Accepting the Death of a Loved One

There was a woman named Kisagotami. She came from a poor family, but married a wealthy man. This man saw the love and kindness in her heart, so despite his family's rejection of her, he married her. It was only when she bore a son that his family began to treat her with any kindness.

But one day, this son died when he was just a small child. Kisagotami was overwhelmed with grief and despair, so she carried the boy's body and went from house to house, asking anyone she could find for medicine to bring her boy back to life. People laughed at her. "He is dead!" they would say. Others took pity, but no one could help. But she kept on asking and asking.

Finally, a wise man saw the depth of despair in her eyes and said, "Go and see the Buddha. He has the medicine you need." So Kisagotami took her boy and ran to the Buddha and begged, "Please give me a medicine to bring my boy back to life!" The Buddha looked at her and said, "Go into town and find a few mustard seeds, I will bring your boy back to life." Kisagotami was overjoyed. "Mustard seeds! They will be easy to find. Every home has mustard seeds!" Then the Buddha said, "But the seeds must come from a home which has not known death."

So Kisagotami went to the first house she could find and, still carrying the body of her child, asked for the seeds to cure her son. The woman at the door gladly offered the seeds, but when the time came for Kisagotami to ask if there had been any deaths in the house, the woman replied sadly, "Oh yes. There have been many, many deaths." So Kisagotami went to the second house. But this home was also not free from the death of loved ones. So she went to the third house and the fourth house, and many others, and listened to the stories of sons and daughters who had died, husbands, wives, parents and grandparents who had died. Not one house did not know death.

After hearing all of these stories and sharing her own grief, she came to realize the commonality of death; that it is part of the life process. Although she was still filled with great sorrow for her son, she could now accept his death and laid the boy's body to rest. Kisagotami would come become a disciple of the Buddha, and she went on to share her experience of losing a child in the form of powerful poetry.

Suppose it so happened that a child dies before the parent. It is not something we want to see, but if such a thing did happen, how does one go beyond this grief?

When we talk about going beyond something, it does not mean forgetting about it. One cannot forget the loss of a child. One cannot say, "It is okay; it is natural." When somebody very precious to you is gone, you cannot forget. But the fact of life is, that which slips beyond the realm of what you call "life" right now, once it crosses the boundary, is not yours anymore. What has happened is a reality. It is not with any insensitivity that I say this, but it is time to accept it the way it is.


The process of acceptance is just this: the logical mind flows in a linear fashion, always in a straight line, but life happens like a river. How does a river happen? A river always happens between two banks. Suppose someone stands on the right bank and says, "I don't like the left bank, it should disappear." If the left bank disappears, the river will disappear, and the right bank will also disappear. If the right bank has to be there, the left bank also has to be there. One wants light without darkness, but could there be light without darkness? Could there be man without woman? Could there be life without death? Would we even have a perspective as to what life is if there was no death? Life is what it is only because death is.

So it is time to look at what we can do with the life that is here. There are so many sons, daughters and grandchildren who have nobody to care for them; there is enough opportunity to express your love and care for them in a million different ways. So if you have a need to find expression for your love and care, please do so. If you don't, your grief will remain bottled all your life.

For one son that you have lost, take up 10 as your own and see that you find full expression to your love and parenthood. You will find that your son becomes a foundation to make your life much more beautiful; you could make your life like that. You have to take that step. Otherwise, you will simply go on with something that you cannot change.

The essence of human life is to strive to change all that can be changed and gracefully accept that which cannot be changed. Coming to terms with the mortal nature of who we are is the most basic requirement for a sensible life.

Living Well, Dying Well

It is only when you confront the mortal nature of your existence that the longing to know the basic nature of life arises in a human being -- when it dawns upon you, in an experiential manner, that you are here with an expiry date. This longing and, in turn, this seeking is avoided only due to belief systems or ready-made answers to existential questions. Otherwise, the very nature of human intelligence is such that it would want to query and know, "What is beyond this body? What is it that makes this life tick? Where does it come from and where will it go?" Every human being invariably has the longing to know, but most quench themselves with culturally relevant and existing explanations in a given society.

So a spiritual process is a conscious and experiential way to search and know the nature of one's life. It is common knowledge that the more you know something, the better you are at handling it. Take the very phone or computer that you use -- the more you know it, the better you can use it.

The science of yoga is a technical expression to one's longing to know; it is also a means to handle life at its best. But yoga is not just about life. When we talk about living well, we are actually also talking about dying well. It is very important that you die well. Dying gracefully, dying joyfully, is very important. It is the final thing that you get to do in your life, so shouldn't you do it gracefully and wonderfully? But most people are doing it horribly.

People come to me not only to learn how to live gracefully, but also how to die gracefully. Right now, you can say you are living or you can say you are dying. The process of dying is actually on -- one day it will be complete. It is just that there is so much negativity attached to the word "death." But death is very much a part of life. One who does not know how to die, one who is not willing to die, cannot live.

If you are afraid of death, you will only avoid life. You cannot avoid death. And it is not that beyond a certain age you should look at it; every day of your life you need to be aware that you are mortal. There are certain meditations that are conducted where everything that you consider as "myself" will become nothing; it is as if you die. Again, when you open your eyes, it is all there. If these methods are practiced consciously, when the time to die actually comes, it will no longer be a big issue.

The process that you refer to as life is something that can be constantly improved upon. It is a project that will never be over; that is the beauty of it. Not everybody is living with the same quality. Whether in doing simple physical things or in how people are keeping themselves, in everything, not everybody is living at the same level of understanding and gracefulness.

Even if you live here for a thousand years and do everything that you wish to do, still something more, something better could be done. This is the way of life. But death is perfect and absolute when it happens; death does not need anybody's assistance. You do not have to think about it, you do not have to reflect upon it. But mortality -- the limited nature of life -- is something that needs to be reflected upon. You are just like a miracle happening; you drop from somewhere, and one day you are gone. Busy in between. You are like a bubble: when the bubble is on, it is so real; one prick -- gone.

If you look at this life right now, it is inhalation and exhalation -- if the next inhalation does not happen, that is it. That is how fragile this life is. People always think death is something that happens to somebody else; it is not so, it will happen to you and me.

If you remind yourself every day that you will also die, you will naturally move towards knowing higher dimensions of perception. If you are aware of the mortal nature of your life, is there time to get angry with somebody? Is there time to quarrel with somebody? Is there time to do anything stupid in life? Once you come to terms with death and you are conscious that you will die, you will want to make every moment of your life as beautiful as possible. Only people who believe they are immortal can fight, and fight to the death. Those who are constantly aware of the mortal and fragile nature of existence do not want to miss a single moment; they will naturally be aware. They cannot take anything for granted; they will live very purposefully. This is a simple way of becoming aware.