using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
winter 2007| 96 |buddhadharma Death on a beautiful Day by Cynthia Kear mikeholmes My sister was my dearest friend; we found, and took, refuge in each other. When she lived nearby, we met often. Near or far, we spoke on the phone several times a day. In October 2001, she found a lump in her left breast. Seventeen months later, at the age of forty, she died. In life, and almost more so in death, she remains a great gift to me. I was standing in the living room the day she called to tell me she had found the lump. Behind me, a small Buddha sat upon a chest. Before me, on the mantle, rested a Buddha head. As I listened to my sister, my heart responded in disbelief and fear, and my mind spun into hyperdrive with plots and plans to beat breast cancer. The ground opened up beneath my feet as I stood there sandwiched by these two Bud- dhas. And ultimately, it was the buddhad- harma and practice, with a heavy dose of friendship, that buttressed me on the jour- ney of my sister’s dying and death. I had just begun to sew my rakasu. It was a timely metaphor, to take a seemingly whole piece of cloth, cut it into pieces, and sew it back together into something altogether new. My sister’s body was her rakasu. She had a double mastectomy and eight rounds of chemo. The chemo made her violently ill with vomiting, flu-like symptoms, aching bones, and numbness. She lost her hair, which she hated more than the cancer itself. Her beloved daugh- ters were aged nine, six, and three. She worried how her cancer affected them. And so my sister suffered, physically and emotionally. It is also suffering to be with someone who is suffering greatly and be utterly powerless to change things. During this time, I met regularly with my teacher, and it was clear that my practice had become, exquisitely and excruciatingly, learning to dwell in this all-pervasive land called “I don’t know.” Yet this is where we all live, all the time. No matter what the circumstances of our lives, no matter how pleasing or plaguing, all we have is this moment, and we simply don’t know anything beyond that. I didn’t know whether my sister would live or die, and I didn’t know, if my sister died, if I could, or would, want to live. In November 2002, we learned her cancer had metasicized to her lungs. Thus began the last five months of her life, and, along with it, a deeper phase of my prac- tice. I went toe-to-toe with the fourth remembrance, “All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.” As I began to grasp the inevitable truth that my sister was impermanent and that we were to be separated, I plunged into practice with an abandon. With each stitch I sewed in my rakasu, with each breath, I immersed myself deeper into practice. And each precious, painful moment pushed me further into present- tense living. There was no escape. Each moment reflected the larger drama being played out in my sister’s dying: it arose, existed, and faded. Just like this moment. And now this one. This is the dharma of death, and of life. I was alone with my sister when she took her last breath. I washed her body and anointed her. Then, after being in the hospital for thirty-six hours, I walked out into a glorious spring day. This world that existed just the other side of my sister’s last breath was breathtaking. The sky was cloudless, trees were bursting with blossoms, birds were flying, and insects were humming. A thousand shades of green promised endless renewal. Every- thing was budding and alive. Everything except my sister. I am tempted to this day to recall that charged beauty as ironic, but that would be missing the point. Sentient beings are stepping in and out of the stream of life at every moment. Of course she left the world on a day that was teeming with life. We will all leave the world on such a day. It has been five years since her death. Since then, a dear friend and my fifty-six- year-old brother have died. They are but two of countless other beings who have left the stream. Death is a fierce, uncompromising teacher that offers no immunity. But death’s accelerated teaching on “just this, just now” is surprisingly generous. Whack! Life and death in each breath. Nowhere else to be but here. No other time to be but now. Sewn to this moment, this very moment, with the thread of breath. Cynthia Kear is a Zen praCtitioner affiliated with the san franCisCo Zen Center and the wild Geese sanGha, where she is a foundinG MeMber. she is also in traininG with darlene Cohen and the shoGaKu priest onGoinG traininG Group. journeys