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Buddhadharma : Fall 2015
fall 2 0 1 5 buDDhaDharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 53 T IS A FINE THURSDAY IN SEPTEMBER. My brother is visiting; we are about to go out for breakfast when Kakumyo calls. What’s up? His voice is serious and the words instantly fade out of reach. I hear only “Kyogen” and “heart attack” before I yelp. What! No! and then I am coping: Okay, I’m coming, which hospital? And then he says, Wait. And then he says, He died. When I hang up, my brother is hovering beside me, confused. I try to explain, already ticking off the list of what I need to bring: my rakusu, my tablet, a copy of the exhortations. The dog? What should I do with the dog? My brother shifts from foot to foot: What happened? Tell me what hap- pened. And then I just crumple to the floor and weep while he pats me awkwardly, saying, Breathe. I get lost driving to a hospital I’ve been to many times before, park in the wrong lot, go to the wrong building, get lost twice more before I find the room. And when I walk in, I am walking into a new world, where my teacher of three decades lies in a hospital bed—so clearly himself and so clearly not alive. He is wearing a gown he would joke about if he could still joke. Gyokuko, his wife and the co-abbot of the Dharma Rain sangha, sits in a chair beside him. She is crying; she has been crying for quite a while; I am crying too, and it feels that I have cried for hours. There is nothing to say, so I say, Oh. Oh. A few weeks earlier, I had begun leading a sangha discussion group on death and dying. We planned to talk about the Buddhist view of death, funeral plans, and the many tasks of death: those of the dying person, of the caregiver, of the griev- ing. During the first class, I asked each person to describe their ideal death—the sometimes vague, sometimes detailed image we have of how we will die. I also asked them to close their eyes and imag- ine that they would die in two minutes—that there was no time for any of the plans. We read a por- tion of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra: “Impermanent are all compounded things. How could this be otherwise?” The resident monks arrive and we work through the tasks: Set up the traveling altar. Recite the exhortation for the moment of death, which passed in a crazed flurry of CPR. Bathe him gently. Shave his head of a few days’ stubble, but, after a brief discussion, leave the goatee of which he was inor- dinately pleased. Dress him in a white kimono with a white rakusu, and then spend some time trying to get the mala to fit properly in his stiffening hands. All these things, he taught me to do; all these things, I’ve done with him by my side. I think, He died, and a wave of disbelief breaks over me. The Buddha lay down to die in front of everyone, saying with his every breath: Don’t look away. Decades of practice and many hours at the bedsides of the dying and the dead, the loss of other beloveds—what these give me now is not accep- tance but awareness of denial. The chance to not resist my resistance. To see my disbelief for what it is. A willingness—which may only be a decreased ability to lie to myself—to feel the pain. (OPPOSITE)pamelaploWhiebert|(TOP)DaviDrobinson