Death: The one thing probably no one talks about on Vesak. Why?

Death: The one thing probably no one talks about on Vesak. Why?

Death: The one thing probably no one talks about on Vesak. Why?

Editor’s note: 

What do people celebrate on Vesak Day — the Buddha’s birth and enlightenment? Little is talked about his death. Does ‘death’ have to be seen as taboo when celebrating his birthday? 

TLDR: Reflecting and contemplating death can place our daily life experiences into perspective. It can give us a greater sense of purpose and makes us better, not bitter. It also prepares me for peace and acceptance when I arrive at my last breath. 

Choi! Choi![1] my friend exclaimed while flailing her hands at me as if shooing a bunch of mosquitoes away. Her response is a common expression we hear when we breach death, a taboo subject. So what if I’ve brought up death in our conversation?

I recall several elderly relatives avoided attending funerals of their kin as they genuinely believe they bring bad luck – and death – closer to us!

Many find death a sensitive topic and prefer to veil it from their perception when possible, hoping that somehow postpones its eventuality. The avoidance of this topic may stoke an undercurrent of anxiety and fear. Some would rather “be positive” and “look on the bright side of life” than dwell on the sombre thought of life-ending. 

“When it comes, it’ll come,” we say. Death seems acceptable now because underlying that thought, a sense of invincibility churns on: that energy, health and life are with us. That death is “something that will surely come, but probably not just yet”. 

The certainty of living on, of course, may not be the case. 

Fragility in the face of pandemics

The Covid-19 pandemic shed light on the fragility of human health. We hear of sickness and death taking place in our vicinity (friends or family), ringing the risk (and fears) of death in our hearts and minds. 

Times like these remind us that ageing, sickness and death are always around the corner. We can train ourselves to be acutely aware of their imminence, despite accompanying unpleasant emotions. 

How can we overcome the anxiety and fear associated with death? According to American psychologist  George Kelly, we can alter our aversion to death by building familiarity with it. It is about intentionally – more importantly, peacefully – exposing ourselves to this uncomfortable subject with daily, time-bound reflections and actions. 

Those who stick with this practice are likened by the Buddha to thoroughbred horses: easily trained and spurred into action with urgency. 

A more fulfilling life

The Buddha has long ‘left us’ after his pari-nibbana; have we ‘left’ his teachings behind? There are several benefits that we can derive from his experience of ‘passing away’:

1.  Acceptance is easier when death comes to us or those close to us.

When I was in Ubon Ratchathani, Northeastern Thailand, for a short stint, I witnessed a rural Thai funeral ritual that baffled me.

A young child was lifted into the coffin, and following tradition retrieved an object from the deceased’s head with their mouth!  

Thais I saw were acquainted with death from a very young age, unflinching in their face-to-face interactions with a dead body. However, I observed that some ethnic Chinese would turn their backs toward the coffin as it is being lifted onto a hearse. Alas, this aversion to death!

Unsurprisingly, Thais I have met in these villages tend to be more spiritually inclined. They have a more positive outlook and go about their days with few complaints.

 When speaking to the elderly womenfolk, they talk about pain in their legs with such a light-hearted demeanour: “It’s part of life, isn’t it?” 

“It’s part of ageing”, they laughed. 

Some of us would have been fraught with annoyance, and scour the land for the best physicians to remove their pain. Like Kisa Gotami who pleaded with the Buddha to remove the suffering that came from her son’s death, she ultimately realised the futility of her quest lay in her misunderstanding of the true nature of the human condition. 

Whatever arises, passes away. 

Thus, by acquainting ourselves with the nature of life and death, we are mentally prepared when it happens to us or those close to us. A calm and collected acknowledgement of the situation settles our hearts, allaying panic, shock and despair. “Indeed, death has arrived”, we will reflect, just as we have been reflecting everyday.

2.  We focus on things that really matter.

Contemplating death helps us focus on the essentials. We are not as easily swept away by our fleeting youth (doing foolish things because we are young), health (sleeping late), or life (thinking that “next year I will…”). 

Indulgences can take the form of an intoxicant. We can lose clarity of what matters in life, by pursuing fast cars, fashion bags, eating late oily suppers, and planning 10 years ahead as if life is certain.

So what did Buddha propose we do?

Spend our youth, energy and time on (1) accumulating wealth, and (2) living in accordance to Dhamma.   

Accumulating wealth

As a means of surviving the mundane world, building wealth can be broken down into several parts including (1) being diligent in our education to acquire necessary skills, (2) further education to apply critical thinking, collaborating with others and other such soft skills, and (3) building our careers to earn a living.  

We can avoid squandering away our wealth by avoiding constant drunkenness, refraining from roaming the streets at unseemly hours that expose us to theft, habitual partying, compulsive gambling, foolish companions and laziness

Living the virtuous life

My spiritual practice revolves around the cultivation of skillful habits of the body, speech and mind. I have found that splurging my youth on chasing illusory sensuality tends to be unfulfilling. I would rather spend my energetic days, building my resolve and strength to overcome challenges and build positive habits.

Considering how precious rebirth as a human is (the probability of being born as a human being is extremely small in Buddhist cosmology), I seize every moment as an opportunity to grow wholesomeness and skillfulness.

3. We don’t take things for granted

If today were my last day, what would I say to my family and friends? Take every opportunity to express gratitude and appreciation. Resolve conflicts. 

Ask for forgiveness as soon as you can. Avoid saying or doing anything to others that we would later regret.  

Having no regrets or remorse is one of the greatest treasures that we can acquire. As the Buddha described, “one without regret need not wish ‘may I have joy, may joy arise in me’. It is natural that joy arises in one without regret”.

A deep quiet sense of joy that is solid and unperturbed by the vicissitudes of life.

At the end of a busy day, I dedicate time to settle my mind and pay my respects to the important figures guiding my life:

Buddhaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to the Buddha.

Dhammaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to the Dhamma.

Sanghaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to the Sangha.

Achariyanaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to my teachers.

Mata-pitunaṃ vandami

My deepest reverence to my parents, both in this life and in the past.

As I  bow low to these important figures in our lives, I reflect on the day that I have spent. If I have spent the day usefully, filling it with goodness, I can go to sleep with a deep sense of ease.  

Vesak, Death, and beyond

Every year when we celebrate our birthday, an anniversary or an important event like Wesak Day, we have the opportunity to reflect on his passing.

We can ponder “As death approaches us day by day, why do we not water the seeds of spiritual growth in our hearts?” This phrase helps to stir urgency for me to focus on what is crucial and discard what is not.

By bringing death closer to us, may we all live a more purposeful and meaningful life.

[1] A Cantonese expression to ward off bad fortune, a coarser resemblance of the expression “touch wood”.


Wise Steps:

  • Find a mantra to anchor you in the present (it need not be death related but something that clears procrastination.)
  • When I witness the death/funeral of strangers, I can remind myself of the spiritual urgency of living a life with purpose.
“I waited for a 3-month period to get tested.”: How the Dhamma saved me as I went through the darkness of sexual assault and suicide ideation.

“I waited for a 3-month period to get tested.”: How the Dhamma saved me as I went through the darkness of sexual assault and suicide ideation.

TW: This article contains content about sexual assault and suicide ideation.

TLDR: Taking refuge in the triple gem can guide us to safety. To be at peace at whatever hardships life may throw at us. While sharing metta to ourselves might be the hardest, it is necessary for us to heal and grow over our wounds.

Poem of contemplation: 

Knowing I’m not perfect

Whatever that can be suffered, I have endured.

Life oh life

Have you had enough?

Are you satisfied?

Don’t you find yourself annoying?

Always testing my tolerance

Why is it so tough?

I have never asked for happiness 

Neither do I expect a miracle

I just hope some nights

I’m able to have some peace and contentment 

And some hope to go through the next day

I’ve never cried because of my self-pity

neither do I expect a happy ending

I don’t even cry to make myself feel better

Guilts are redundant

It won’t change into happy endings

I’m not a greedy person

I’ve never asked for more than I needed

I have already surrendered to pain or sorrows

I will not reciprocate the phenomenon that life promises

I’ve always disdained the result

only ask for the consequences

Ending myself won’t get me anywhere either

I will not feel sad for what I never once had

I just ask for one night where

I can be more hopeful

And be left alone

Where Dhamma is by my side

Drowning

If I wanted to drown myself in the sea, I would, but ever since I took refuge in the triple gems, after all these struggles and all the silence through these years, I simply don’t want to do that anymore. 

It’s hard to breathe even when I’m not drowning, but I have enough of it now, I want to live, I want to breathe harder and I want to do something meaningful in this life and I will walk away from the sea to climb up the mountain. Any darkness, any uncertainty however fluid and however dangerous, the triple gems will lead me and take me in hand.

The beginning of physical & mental pain 

Something is not right. 

I woke up with pains in my butt, anally. I remember last night, I was invited to a house party and with a few drinks, I was feeling dizzy. Something was in my drink, but it was too late. I’m so lost, confused and can’t wrap my head around what had happened. 

I got dressed immediately, saw a few men asleep on the floor but I ignored them, and rushed for the door. That was 7 years ago, I never told anyone what had happened until recently. 

I put on a brave front, pretending nothing happened but in my heart, I blamed myself. 

I felt ashamed and responsible for not taking better care of myself. 

There are so many possible scenarios I could think of why this shouldn’t have happened to me if I… 

I could have also exposed the ones who did this to me, I swear with my character, I would have made them pay for it, but time wasn’t on my side, I have to catch a flight the next day. 

As I’m a foreigner travelling, I figure how complicated legally I will have to get involved. I anticipate the overwhelming emotions I’ve to undertake, that scares me and I’m a coward I know but I felt like I wasn’t ready to confront them. 

I was also distraught and feeling disgusted, I wanted to leave that godforsaken country as soon as possible. 

The questions that flood my head

Why me? Why? I have asked myself many times. I have enough of asking, and what happened has happened. 

I’ve stopped asking questions that don’t come with any answers. There is only one thing I’m sure of, knowing what I should do next and how I respond to this adversary. 

I need to get a blood test. It takes time for the body to make antibodies after it is exposed to HIV, and different people make antibodies at different rates. 

The window period for antibody tests is between 3 weeks and 3 months. Up to 95% of people will have antibodies after 6 weeks, and 99% of people will have antibodies after 3 months. 

I waited for a 3-month period to get tested. That probably is the darkest time of my life. That anxiety that keeps building up is killing me. Like a prisoner in the dark cell, trapped within the 4 walls. 

Trying to scream but no sounds can come out. 

When I closed my eyes, I saw the ugliness and bad things that had happened. My pain and sufferings, who can I relate to? All this is just a battle I’m fighting inside myself. Regardless of winning or losing, it all seems ridiculous. 

The test

The day had arrived. Here I was at the clinic waiting nervously, a volunteer working in the Anonymous HIV Test Clinic had taken my blood for testing. 

I know it is not over yet, emotionally I’m still haunted by what those bastards had done to me, but I also know it could get much worse. 

Everyone said being positive is a good thing, but for me, being positive is the worst thing that could ever happen to me. 

It’s like you got hit by the bus and a motorcycle ran over after. I went into a room and this kind gentleman was trying to break the news to me. My nightmare becomes real, the blood test result was out. 

I’m HIV positive. 

I’ve prepared for this to happen, yet I still can’t believe it when it happens, but there is a voice in me that says keep it together. 

Even in my darkest moments, when I felt the most challenged, I often found a glimpse of light that can warm my heart from the Buddha’s teaching

Facing my ugly pain & suffering head-on is the fundamental Buddhist way that has always kept me going. I must find a way to cope with it. 

The Healing Begins

Regardless of how I have suffered, the happiest thing I have ever come across is the teachings of the Buddha. 

Silly me, coping doesn’t resolve my pain; it merely distracts me from it. The first step to healing my pain is to stop coping with it and start being with it. It hurts, but it needs to be acknowledged. 

The more I run away, the further I get from acknowledging my pain and misery. This is the Buddha’s first noble truth: acknowledging the suffering. Why haven’t I learnt it, especially since I know it by heart? How can I heal the sorrow that I haven’t identified? Similarly, the Buddha taught me that through acknowledging one’s suffering, they open the door to alleviating it.

By three things the wise person may be known. What three? He sees a shortcoming as it is. When he sees it, he tries to correct it. And when another acknowledges a shortcoming, the wise one forgives it as he should. ~ Anguttara Nikaya I – 103

Forgiveness, that is what I need. Once I’ve acknowledged my pain, I need to generate more loving-kindness for myself so I can forgive myself. 

It is not possible to have sunshine without the rain, smiles with no tears. By the laws of the universe, there is an inevitable polarity we must all experience.  

How can I possibly forgive myself if I don’t forgive others first?

I stop focusing on what others have done to me unfairly gradually and try to accept it. Forgive them, I find myself with less hatred.

 When I accept other people’s mistakes repeatedly, I realize that I can also accept my own mistakes in the end. Since forgiveness starts within me, it is imperative to start the process of forgiveness from the inside out.

Acceptance

When we do something wrong, we have two choices: change the situation or accept it. In Buddhism, this is referred to as right action and right view under the teachings of Noble Eightfold Path. If there is something we can do to change the course of things, we should take the right action or practice till we get it right. However, if we can’t change anything, we should practice the right view, which means looking at the situation in a new light.

Non-acceptance often leads to feelings of guilt and frustration. We should accept that we are human beings with emotions that often lead us to ignorance. 

It is because of our ignorance that we might commit mistakes. But, if we shed light on our ignorance, we can transform it into wisdom and learn from our mistakes.

Sending loving kindness to myself

In the past, when I dwell on the past and constantly analyze a situation, I might somehow be able to overcome it. Sadly, It never works that way, instead, it chained me to the past with torments. The past is gone, but my mind keeps it alive. 

Mentally revisiting a situation repeatedly only causes more suffering — it doesn’t solve anything. Instead of holding on to these dark memories, meditation is a way to look inward and get to know what’s happening inside my mind. 

By seeing through the self-generated feelings and emotions, I learn to let go.

I began meditating, as best as I could and doing it daily. Loving-kindness meditation is one of the meditations I practice often. 

Keeping my eyes closed, thinking of a person close to me who loves me very much. It could be someone from the past or the present; someone still alive or who has passed; it could be the Buddha or my mother. Imagine that person standing by my side, sending me their love, sending me wishes for my wellness, for my health and happiness. I could feel the kindness and warmth coming to me closely. That gives me the strength to carry on living. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy,

may I be free from pain. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy, 

may I be free from pain. 

May I live with ease, may I be happy, 

may I be free from pain.

Acknowledge the sufferings, accept it, forgive myself, and most of all, send loving-kindness to myself and let the Buddha’s Dhamma guide me. 

No matter how many years I have suffered, the best thing that happens to me is I have Dhamma by my side.

Handful of Leaves and Kusala Mag are in collaboration to share Inspiring stories sprinkled with Buddhist wisdom. Check out the latest edition!


Need help? It is one call away 

Sexual Assault Care Centre by AWARE

National Care Helpline: 1800-202-6868

SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444 

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019 

Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours) 

Tinkle Friend:1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children) 

Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800-353-5800 

#WW: 💀Jan is dead, where is our Real Home anyway?

#WW: 💀Jan is dead, where is our Real Home anyway?

Wholesome Wednesdays (WW): Bringing you curated positive content on Wednesdays to uplift your hump day.

2 stories for you today!

January has “passed away”, how has the first month been? January was also a month that marked the passing of Ajahn Chah, a famous Thai Forest Monk. We share a story of his teaching and a simple picture on spring cleaning!

1.Our real home: Ajahn Chah’s encouragement for a dying disciple

2. Spring cleaning our social media

Our Real Home: Encouragements for a dying disciple

Unsplash

What’s going on here

Ajahn Chah, a renowned Thai forest monk, gives encouragement to a lay disciple that was passing away. He beautifully encourages the person to be fearless as life ebbs away. It is worth a listen and read especially for those of us who are with someone facing death.

Why we like it

Ajahn Chah uses the nature of things to skillfully cast out fear for his disciple. He makes you ponder deeper about where our true home is. We can spend this year chasing the external material stuff or this year developing ourselves. We are often paralysed when loved ones are diagnosed with a terminal illness or facing their end. Hence, this provides a balm to the questions we might have about dying.

“The river that must flow down the gradient is like your body. Having been young your body has become old and now it’s meandering towards its death. Don’t go wishing it was otherwise, it’s not something you have the power to remedy. “

Wise Steps

Where is our real home? Are we developing it daily or are we putting energy into things that eventually fall apart? By reflecting deeper, may you find the energy to develop your mind for the rest of the year!

Read it here

Listen to it here

Spring cleaning our social media

neon signage
Unsplash

What’s going on here

@peopleiveloved draws a simple image of housecleaning our lives.

Why we like it

A short simple image to remind us to let go of things that no longer uplift our mind. The acquaintances or influencers whom we follow and feel jealous about.

“Housecleaning. I used to want to know… now I am not so sure.”

Wise Steps

Check your social media feed! Are there people you follow that makes you feel inadequate and demotivated? It might be time to unfollow!

See what she posted here or down below!


Cultivating Faith In Fearful Times

Cultivating Faith In Fearful Times

This is adapted from Sylvia Bay’s bulletin for Buddhist Fellowship written in March 2020. This is a great reminder for us as we greet each new year. This pandemic throws all the curveballs we could never expect. Here is how we can l

TLDR: These are unprecedented times. The past few months have been very hard for us as the world gradually descends into a Covid-19 pandemic and we watch an accustomed way of life slowly disintegrates. Here is how we can develop faith in fearful times

Every new day seems to bring worse news and we are seized by worry and fear for the safety and well-being of ourselves and our loved ones.

It doesn’t help that nobody knows how long this pandemic will drag on. What more damage will it inflict on society and the economy before it passes? Will it even be over? Will ‘normal’ life as we know it ever return?

Why Must We Not Give In To Fear & Worry?

It brings out the worst in us. In our practice, we must learn to recognise racing thoughts driven by worry and fear.

Recognition, seeing rightly, is a necessary first step to breaking away from being trapped in an endless, vicious cycle of anxiety and panic proliferating frightful thoughts which in turn heighten the overall sense of doom.

Fear and worry are powerful akusala (unwholesome) mental states that can and often do bring out the worst in us. We become selfish and self-centred. We do silly and illogical things. We hoard food, masks, sanitisers, washing detergents, toilet papers! Fear and worry drain our goodness and humanity.

Our capacity for metta, compassion, generosity, empathy and so on dissolve under the deluge of worried and fearful thoughts. Even our noble aspirations to be good Buddhists and to do the right thing for ourselves and for others are terminated in mid-stream.

That is why it is critical that we try our utmost not to give in to fear and worry. It is not easy, but it can be done.

When you see those two mental states arising, take a deep breath and acknowledge their presence.

Call them out by name: “That is fear. That is worry.”

But don’t get defensive.

Don’t self-flagellate.

Don’t blame yourself for their presence.

Just be aware of them and other akusala mental states trailing in their wake: greed, anger, resentment and so on. Then consciously and deliberately choose not to give in to all the mental negativities.

We must not because if we are decent people and especially if we want to be good Buddhists, we will regret any unkind word said and selfish action made while caught in the grip of fear and worry.

What Do We Turn Our Minds To?

Turn our minds to Faith

Instead, turn our minds to faith (saddhā). As Buddhists, our faith is in the Triple Gem: the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.

The stronger our faith, the more we will feel fear and worry dissipate. Faith is so powerful that it can bring up intense joy and immense gratitude.

If you don’t believe, try this: take a deep breath and say slowly, mindfully and with conviction, “My faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha will protect me.” Don’t think. Don’t over-analyse. If you do as instructed, you will see faith surge. Joy, gratitude and humility will wash over you.

Like all mental states, faith has to be cultivated. Therefore, set aside quiet time to pay homage to the Triple Gem. More importantly, use that time to reflect on the meaning of the ancient words.

Right reflection is necessary to strengthen faith and protect the kusala (wholesome) in the mind.

Buddha

We start by recalling the Buddha’s virtues as follows but in a language that we understand and can appreciate: “The Blessed One is an Arahant, perfectly enlightened, accomplished in true knowledge and conduct, fortunate, knower of the world, unsurpassed trainer of persons to be tamed, teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One.”

What stands out here is the fact that the Buddha was the epitome of wisdom (vijjā) and goodness (carana).

He had realised entirely on his own how his mind works and how suffering can cease.

And then out of compassion for all sentient beings, Buddha devoted the rest of his life to helping others to the same intuitive realisation. Buddha was an incredible teacher: ingenious and creative, uplifting and inspiring, with boundless compassion, drive and energy.

He taught Dhamma literally to the end.

As he laid dying beneath the Sal trees in Kusinara, Buddha reminded his students to strive on and to realise Nibbāna for themselves.

Buddha’s life was profoundly inspiring.

In these difficult times, we must remind ourselves to bring out that ‘Buddha’ potential in us and not give in to our darker instincts, namely, greed and anger. We must believe that we too are capable of great wisdom and goodness. We only have to stay committed to the practice and not lose faith.

Dhamma

Reflect on the virtues of the Dhamma as follows: “Well expounded is the Dhamma by the Exalted One, directly visible, immediately effective, calling one to come and see, leading on, to be personally realised by the wise.”

This is a reminder to ourselves to not get caught up in the running commentaries in our heads. Thought constructions are often unhelpful but they can be downright destructive if fuelled by fear and worry.

Instead, live in the present moment or as the Buddha had put it: “sandiṭṭhiko” (visible here and now) and “akāliko” (timeless). Learn to enjoy the NOW.

Be aware of how our mind can stay in the present, without chattering, at least for a while before it drifts off again. Be grateful each time you are aware of this present moment where the mind is quietly watchful.

Treasure this moment in the Dhamma. Feel blessed that with the guidance of a 2500-year old teaching, we too are enjoying this wondrous experience

Sangha

To recall the virtues of the Sangha is to remind ourselves that we must stay kusala and not willy-nilly stray into akusala. As the first part of the homage recitation goes, “The order of the Exalted One’s disciples is practising well; … is of upright conduct; … has entered the right path; … is practising correctly.”

Indeed, the noblest of Buddha’s disciples were all paragons of virtues. If we profess to be Buddha’s disciples, the least that we can do is to restrain our akusala instincts and to conscientiously cultivate kusala ones.

We learn to speak kindly and gently. In this trying time, where everyone is anxious and agitated, we should not add to another’s pain.

We shall act with consideration. We take (or buy) only what we need for survival and not clear the shelves because we can. We must be giving (cāga). For those of us with means, this is really a chance to cultivate generosity because there are very real and desperate needs out there. If we find our mind resisting to give, tame that stain of miserliness by giving more.

What must we do?

Be empathic.

We must be empathetic. Covid-19 obviously does not respect national boundaries. There is no one race or religion immune to Covid-19. The entire human race is in this together.

So we will not point fingers and look for convenient scapegoats. Instead, we should embrace all and help all alike. And finally, we will be grateful for our blessings to be living in a country where we have good people and resources to contain Covid-19 outbreak and save lives.

The fact that we remain hopeful despite the body blows to the economy and complete disruption to our social lives, shows that instinctively we trust the people in the forefront know what they are doing.

We must not add to their burden. Instead, we will be humble and wholly support them. We must think positive, stay optimistic and believe that this pandemic will pass.

May we all emerge from this defining challenge of our time, stronger in our faith, kinder in our words and conduct, and wiser in our thoughts. May your faith in the Triple Gem keep you well and at peace

Saying Goodbye To My Father When I Couldn’t Be Next To Him

Saying Goodbye To My Father When I Couldn’t Be Next To Him

TLDR: Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. Here is my story and why closure is not always a necessity.

Once upon a time,

Birth and Death were lovers.

They have always been in love and

had never been separated.

But one day,

Life separated them.

Like all great love stories,

They will find each other again someday,

because they always belong together.

Birth & Death are inseparable.

Grief is not a stranger to me. I have overcome cancer treatments and I understand the fear of losing someone close to me. It started with my grandparents, my good friends, and then my father. 

I have not seen my father for over a year after my cancer treatments because he was suffering from Pneumonia, an infectious disease. Due to my low immune system, I had to move out and keep a distance away from him. How do you say goodbye to the person when you are not right by their side? Grief only becomes harder. It hurts a lot and it took me some time to go through the grieving. 

Death is a selfish B*tch. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. It can happen anywhere and at any time. There is no warning or a good ending. Death never left anyone behind. The lucky ones will get to depart first. The one that stays on will linger on a bit longer facing grief.

Death will eat you up, mess up your mind and when someone we truly love dies, it can feel like the end of the world.  

I remembered the story of Kisa Gotami vividly from the Buddha’s chronicle. After losing her only child, she went crazy, holding her dead son desperately seeking someone that could bring her son back to life. Her grief was paralysing so an old man advised her to look for the Buddha, a man well known for his wisdom. 

The Buddha asked her to find mustard seeds from a household where no one had died so he could bring the child back to life. After hearing this wonderful news, she eagerly went from house to house, but to her despair, every household had suffered from a loved ones’ death. Eventually, the realization struck that there is no house free from death. She buried her son and returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. 

I always wonder why would the Buddha agree to save her son although it is not possible? 

The first stage of grief is self-denial, refusing to believe that the person had gone. There is this strong attachment that keeps holding on to the person. Buddha is a wise teacher, had he not assigned Kisa Gotami an impossible task she would not have understood the inevitability of death by herself. 

We don’t have to find “closure.” Seeking closure is akin to someone trying to ask a question with no answer.  Closure personally for me seems harsh, like trying to shut the door and end it with a bang. How can you shut down the love you had for someone?

The ability to face the truth is better than closure, it allows us to come to terms with what’s happening. It can help us to process the overwhelming reality of death.

Grief is like a stream running through our life, and it’s important to understand that it doesn’t go away. Our grief lasts a lifetime, but our relationship to it changes. Moving on is the period in which the knot of your grief is untied. It’s the time of renewal.

— Martha Beck, “Elegy for Everything”

Dhamma is the best Psychiatrist

Dhamma helps to clarify. There is no right or wrong way to grief. Everyone has their way of coping with it. 

Don’t let anyone judge how your grieving should be. Some people travel, some people take a break from their job and some people just need to get help from a professional by seeing a psychiatrist. The truth is it will get better as time goes by. 

However, it takes effort to understand the Dhamma, read what Dhamma has spoken about death. The purpose of Dhamma is to help our mind to expand and grow, to clarify. It should uphold us and create an inner sense of peace, joy and clarity.

No one can tell you how long this grief will last or how to make it right. 

What is important is that we should stop concentrating on what we have lost and instead acknowledge what our loved ones have achieved in this life. Doesn’t it make sense that life is not subjected or defined by how long we live, but by how we make an impact on our surroundings, family and friends?

Metamorphosis

When a caterpillar metamorphoses, it doesn’t want the other caterpillars to feel sad for him. Instead, every caterpillar knows it will get through this process naturally. There is no pain, no sorrow, and no guilt. It is merely how nature works. No one can stop the metamorphosis. Death is just a temporary end to a temporary phenomenon.

Also, part of me selfishly focused on my grieving and on what I’ve lost, failed to understand that this person doesn’t belong to me and his presence is not existential. Our loved ones are not born for us to grieve. I realised that everyone, not just me, had experienced grief before and we have to understand that everyone was born to die.

We all will become someone’s ancestors someday.

After the preaching from the Buddha, Kisa Gotami was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arhat (An enlightened being that goes beyond birth and death). We too can work towards enlightenment by realising these small truths of grief along the way.


Wise Steps:

  • Don’t let the grief destroy love, shatter hope, corrode faith, suppress precious memories that you have for the departed.
  • Closure is not necessary. Don’t beat yourself hard by asking questions that don’t come with an answer.