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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
64 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2017 enlightenment The Daughter I Love by Stephen Holoviak Our daughter, now thirty, is autistic, nonverbal, and has pervasive communica- tion issues. She was an infant when diagnosed in 1981. Back then there was little knowledge of autism, even among health care professionals, and not much in the way of support. As we worked to find ways to help her, my wife and I realized we needed to find a source of strength and spiritual support in our daily lives in order to stay positive for her. During a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh many years ago, we learned about the three doors of liberation, especially the first one: emptiness. I’m sure he wouldn’t recall my questions during a walking meditation he led. It was sup- posed to be in silence but I maneuvered to be near him, feeling that I desper- ately needed guidance from a person of his immense knowledge. I later suffered embarrassment in private moments of reflection for badgering him during that walk, but his clarification greatly helped our decision to pursue the teachings on emptiness as a guiding source. Thich Nhat Hanh cautioned that we should not look to emptiness as a phi- losophy and over-intellectualize it. Instead, we were to see it as a door we could go through to find help with our suffering. At first we weren’t sure about this being our suffering—wasn’t it our daughter who was suffering? But the truth was that my wife and I had experienced a great deal of mental suffering because of our daughter’s autistic condition. We saw her as “apart”—a separate entity, an imperfect, isolated girl. Despite her autism and the sense of indifference she may show at times, she is aware of how people feel about her. We needed to transcend our bitterness of letting go of our dreams and find a way to be with her as she was, lovingly and without pitying her. As we came to see our daughter as she was, we began to experience her in an entirely new way—one that allowed us to see the beautiful and often funny ways that autistic people interpret the world. Eventually we were able to join her world and enjoy it. And to our amazement, over the years she began to display more reciprocal emotion. The process of growth we pursued has yielded a belief that nirvana is avail- able this very moment, and every succeeding moment. Our nature is not dif- ferent from the Buddha’s. Moment-to-moment awareness offers us a way to experience this. Intellectually, we enjoyed debating and pursuing the doctrine on emptiness. But being immersed in our daughter’s world and having to let go of our illusions made it more than an intellectual exercise. It made the teachings come to life. Fall 2011