Archive for December 2011
Over the last year, I’ve been slowly processing my grandmother’s passing. There are times when her spiritual presence is very strongly with me. And other times, like when I want to call her and tell her about my day but then I remember she’s gone, when I’m painfully aware of her physical absence. With each day, it gets easier.
When she was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2010, I began a quest to understand the nature of death…and life. One of the things I like about Buddhist philosophy is the idea that death is not an end; instead, it’s more of a transformation.
For Buddhists, this physical body is a constant river of change. As we go about our day, eat, and interact with our environment, our moods, emotions, ideas, and energy all change. Old cells break down. New cells form. Very simply put, we are constantly changing in a way that, moment-by-moment, makes us never the same person. Death is just a continuation of this transformation. And while the person may physically be gone, their presence is still very much with us.
This weekend marked the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. So on Friday night, just as I was last year, I decided to stay up with her–except this time, instead of my grandmother being sick and me crying, I wanted us to cook and share a meal. The Buddhist Ceremony for the Deceased helped me do that.
Ok, so the ceremony just covers the being together part. During the ceremony, you’re supposed to offer the deceased some food they liked when they were alive. Since my grandmother loved it when I cooked for her, I wanted to share that experience again. And I often feel her presence when I cook, especially when I’m sauteing onions and garlic, one of her favorite smells.
My grandmother loved my greens. She also liked spicy foods and sweet potatoes. So for the meal, I created a Winter Green Soup with kale, spinach, beet greens, sweet potatoes, lemon, and a hint of jalapeno. It was amazing. (Maybe I’ll post the recipe one day )
For the ceremony, according to Buddhist tradition, you put a picture of the deceased and the food at the family altar. My buddhas and saints are kinda tucked away on a shelf in my home office, so I brought a few of them to the kitchen table. For the photo of the deceased, I chose a picture I took of my grandparents while we were in Paris in 2001:
The ceremony takes about an hour. After honoring your ancestors and spiritual teachers, there are some discourses on the true nature of life and physical existence, followed by repentance for “unskillful” actions and a commitment to compassionate, mindful living. The ceremony concludes with thoughts of gratitude for the deceased. It also reminds us to look for the departed in everyday life.
Here’s a variation of one of the prayers from the ceremony (I actually recite this one every morning):
No Coming, No Going
This physical body is not me.
I’m not limited by this body.
I am life without limit.
I have never been born, and I have never died.
See the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations from my wondrous True Mind.
Since beginningless time, I’ve always been free.
Birth and death are merely doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.
So laugh with me and take my hand.
Let us say goodbye to meet again.
We meet today.
We meet tomorrow.
We meet at the source in every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.
After the ceremony, I sat down at the table and ate in silence, smiling with my grandmother. Overall, it was a beautiful experience that reaffirmed life while celebrating my grandmother’s memory. I went to bed feeling peaceful and liberated.
[More pictures of my grandmother here.]
- No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life by Thich Nhat Hanh – A book that really explains the Buddhist philosophy on dying, it teaches us that letting go of our fear of death can help us live in peace.
- Chanting from the Heart by Thich Nhat Hanh – This book is full of Buddhist Ceremonies and Discourses by the Monks and Nuns at Plum Village. Because there isn’t any supplemental discussion to help frame understanding, I recommend this one for more advanced practitioners of Buddhism.