When my husband went to Tibet with his father for his (the father’s) 60th birthday, they each brought me back a priceless gift. My husband brought a jewelry set that is precious to me because it signifies the moment that we both knew we would get married.
My father-in-law brought back a Buddhist mala made of bones. At the time, I did not do much meditation, but had just recently converted a favorite rosary into something less-Catholic. When he gave it to me, he told me that a part of the Tibetan-Buddhist practice is meditation on the impermanence of everything, including life. The beads of the mala were polished, he said, because it was likely a used mala, one whose bone-beads had been smoothed by years of the daily practice of the poor farmer who sold it to him. The bones, he said, were probably yak, but human bones are also used, and are considered to be some of the most sacred.
For a long time, this was the only mala I used: it was the right length (my olive wood former rosary was not), and it had a history. These days I use it specifically when I want to meditate on death & impermanence.
Today is my birthday. I’m going to spend some of it with my sisters, having our monthly tea, and I hope to spend some of it in meditation about death. With my father’s illness (and his emotionless updates on it) and my continual growing-up/aging, I think it’s appropriate.
Perhaps on my way home, I’ll stop by one of my favorite places in LA: Forest Lawn. I used to have lunch at the one in Glendale, and it’s still one of my favorite picnic spots. Maybe after visiting it, I’ll stop by the one in Burbank and see how it is.
In German, the word for cemetery is “Friedenhof“, which literally means “Peace-Courtyard”. I’ve rarely been in a cemetery that does not bring me peace, and Forest Lawn, though perhaps the Wal-Mart of the funerary business, does it very well.
Which reminds me, DH & I should write wills.
My father-in-law’s objection to my killing mosquitos was a very gentle reminder that, if I was going to do it, could I please not do it in front of him, or if I must, I should offer a brief acknowledgement to the universe: a short meditation of “Life is short”. I do this, now, every time I kill mosquitos (although sometimes I don’t think of it until after I do). Each tiny life gets this acknowledgement from me.
John has a special place in his heart for death & rituals surrounding it, so when I ran across this, I thought of him. It’s a blog by a veterinary technician who euthanizes animals as part of her (? I think it’s a woman) job. She eulogizes each one. Sometimes briefly: “An aged dachshund with cancer”, sometimes she gives stories. Each one is beautiful and each one is an acknowledgement that the ending of a life is not something to be taken for granted. (Look for the pet chicken, her soul searching about that one is poignant.) [hat tip to BoingBoing for linking me to it. Read the comments, many of them are also worth it]
I think the hardest part of dealing with my father’s illness is the knowledge that it generally ends in suffocation or starvation when the muscles in the neck cease to be able to function. At that point, I know what my father’s wishes are and I know that all my sisters and my mother will agree with them. And I’m preparing myself for my need to be okay with it.
Originally uploaded by MatthewBradley
From AP (via BeliefNet):
“The Tibetan people would not support a successor selected by China after my death,” the Dalai Lama was quoted as saying on a trip to Japan by the Sankei Shimbun, a national daily.
“If the Tibetan people wish to uphold the Dalai Lama system, one possibility would be to select the next Dalai Lama while I am still living,” he was quoted as saying in an interview.
“Among options being considered are a democratic selection by the high monks of Tibetan Buddhism, or the appointment of a successor by myself,” he said.
I am fascinated by the Dalai Lama succession system. When a Dalai Lama died, his advisers began searching for his reincarnation (the discovery of the present Dalai Lama was illustrated beautifully in the movie Kundun). The young boy was then brought to the capital and trained as a monk and ruler. Regents rule until the boy comes of age. It may come as no surprise, then, that for 200 years, only two out of seven successors survived past the age of 21 (and those two died in their forties). Clearly, the office of the Dalai Lama is a hazardous one.
The Chinese government is currently a player in the appointment of successors. In 1995, when the Dalai Lama announced that they had found the successor to the Panchen Lama (the #2 head monk in his school of Tibetan Buddhism), the boy and his family suddenly disappeared, and the Chinese government appointed a new Panchen Lama. Now if you suspect that someone is the reincarnation of a revered guru, you have to fill out a “reincarnation application” and stand in line at the State Administration for Religious Affairs. I’m not making this up.
Though the 14th Dalai Lama’s suggestion would be a radical break with tradition, given the specter of Chinese meddling, it’s probably a necessary one. I wonder, however, what his followers think. Many, if not most, regard the Dalai Lama as the living incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokiteshvara. I’ve witnessed the devotion of some Tibetan Buddhists, and their reverence for him is comparable to the regard that many Catholics have for Mary. Is a reincarnation electable?