Birth and Death

A few weeks ago I had an email from a woman who studies with me. The subject line was, Death. This is how she contemplates preparation for death: “I think that living in the moment and welcoming each new experience and letting go of the last is preparation for death. That learning to do that in meditation and being willing to let go helped us get beyond birth and death so that death is just the next step, when the time is right”.

Today the author of the email and I talked on the telephone. Our last contact before she has a potentially life threatening medical procedure. I gave words of support and encouragement; offered my thoughts on the use of the rosary to help keep focused, pointed to faith and reminded her that many people will be offering merit. She quietly said, “Thank you” and I knew there was very little I could or even needed to say. She iswell prepared.

In the opening paragraph of the Shushogi (What is Truly Meant by Training and Enlightenment), Great Master Dogen speaks about the necessity of understanding birth and death completely and of letting go, of going beyond the opposites. The paragraph ends with, “The understanding of the above breaks the chains that bind one to birth and death therefore this problem, which is the greatest in all Buddhism, must be completely understood”.

The chain referred to is the chain of dependent origination. Simply put, this is a description of how beings remain bound within the cycle of birth and death. There are twelve links in the chain of dependent origination and another twelve that describe how the cycle ceases.

So, there is nothing like having impermanence come into ones life for focusing on basic practice and the reasons for training in the Way.

All Merit offered for those who sit in waiting rooms and for those whose life may hang in the balance.

Nine Dragons

I’ll not pause too long to talk as I am about to eat breakfast before leave for the airport to return to Edmonton. It has been a good week; taking Refuge with fellow monks of our Order, encountering a ten year old monk and his guardian practicing within the Tibetian tradition, visiting spring in Vancouver, and receiving a variety of offerings from several members of the congregation. Very many thanks to all for making me so welcomed. Visiting the temple dedicated to Kanzeon, Bodhisattva of Compassion, was a highlight of my stay.

In the ceremony we do in our tradition for the Buddh’s Birth in May we have a miniature version of what is depicted here. As the celebrant pours sweet tea over the baby Buddha’s head with a ladle there is a verse: “Nine Dragons came forth to bathe the Blessed One”. At that point in the ceremony a novice, discreetly poised behind the altar, plugs in the power for the pump which then continuously pours water over the statue. Many is the time I have crouched anxiously waiting for the moment to plug in the pump praying everything will work. Mostly it did. (There is spiritual teaching in this however I don’t have the time to go into that now, maybe another time.)

Last Sunday we, the monks at Lions Gate Buddhist Priory where I have been staying for the last week, went to pay our respects at the Kuan Yin Temple in Richmond, BC. It is said to be “The most exquisite example of Chinese palatal architecture in North America”. It certainly is big! The web site of The International Buddhist Society is well worth a visit as there are more photographs of the temple as well as Buddhist teaching.

While we were taking a break from our tour a couple of nuns appeared briskly from around a corner and we fell into greeting bows followed by general chat. There are thirty nuns living in the temple and as far as I could tell a number of them were there as it was too cold down in there temple in New Mexico during the winter. As we were speaking the Abbot, Venerable Guan Cheng, emerged from the meditation hall with a flock of devotees. He’d been giving the last of a series of lectures and after several group photos on the steps of the hall he came over to say hi. We spoke briefly and then took him up on his invitation to join in celebratory sweet snacks in the dining room along with all of the devotees. The nuns were glad to inform us that they had made the cheese cake in the temple. It was good.

Blog Traffic

I know of people who read this blog who also write one. I came across this article in a blog written by an ER nurse in Australia. Anyway I was brought up a bit short reading it and the material pointed to within the article. It helped me to remember to maintain a sense of perspective in the midst of the rush to write and publish. Yes, and the rush of realizing people read it too!

The web site, Impacted Nurse, is interesting even for the lay observer, for medical people I could see it as really supportive. It also travels with a smile on it’s face. And that is how I’ll be traveling to-day, weather conditions permitting!

Junior Teacher

Here is a six year old expressing an understanding; frustrated desire leads to anger which can lead to ‘bad words’. The implication being that bad words are not ‘good’. Well done little one.

I’ll be in flight to Vancouver tomorrow afternoon. They do say that it is spring over there, while here we are entering a late winter.


This correspondence it published here with permission.

Dear Rev. Mugo

I find myself deeply in grief for somebody who died over 50 years ago – how on earth can this be?

When I was about 7 years old the family moved to Devon, and we lived there until I was 12. Obviously I accumulated the usual motley collection of friends through primary school and into the grammar and I became particularly friendly with one boy. Obviously, when we moved away, after I had two terms in the grammar school, I had to leave these friends behind and I found this very difficult.

This turned out to have been the ‘Rosebud’ event in my life, I hope you’re familiar with Citizen Kane. Throughout my life I have had occasional vivid and highly emotional dreams, which have had my hometown as their focus, and I have tried, from time to time through the Internet etc, to renew contact with my friend, without success. I found this failure surprising because he had a quite unusual surname. Anyway, I think I had always assumed that I would eventually track him down.

About a week ago I found somebody on the Friends Reunited website who was my contemporary at those two schools, and I contacted him. I discovered that my friend had died, from peritonitis caused by a burst appendix, within a year of my leaving the area. I was appalled – by the senselessness of it and by the thought of all I have experienced in life that he has been denied. He also gave me the address of a website which contained his photo.

I don’t mean to burden you with all this, but it’s an odd story isn’t it?

In gassho,

Dear Friend,
Yes that is an interesting story. You can do all the normal Buddhist things that you already know about: offer merit, ask for a memorial at the priory or do one informally yourself, put his name on the transfer of merit board and the like. This will help and it will probably help you too. Your looking for him, finding him and then finding that he had died, and so soon after you lost contact is indeed, interesting.

I believe this is another example of how the benevolence of the Universe works. Quite naturally, and out of conscious awareness, we’re drawn towards conditions and circumstances that can help and teach. So thanks for this and I’d like to publish this story if you are willing. Mugo

(this letter added to this posting on March 9th after having received permission to publish)

Dear Rev. Mugo,
It was very kind of you to reply to my story. I am rather stunned by it at the moment and don’t want to do anything beyond reflection and meditation. I expect I shall ask for his name to be read out at the next Segaki. Please use the story as you like.

In case you think I have entirely lost my senses of proportion and humour, let me say that the message containing the news of my friends’ death also brought news of another friend. He was killed, several years ago, by a camel. Apparently he was driving a car in Saudi Arabia and collided with the unfortunate animal. I am beginning to get a bit wary of doing any further research using Friends Reunited.
In Gassho,

Here’s an after thought from Mugo: Finding somebody can be double edged and outcomes unpredictable, and one has to go by the simple sense of if it is ‘good’ to do.

Hum, and I must track down a copy of Citizen Kane and view it sometime.