Sunday, December 14, 2014

Finding Buddha on the Eve of Christmas

It’s been a tough year for our family.  In April, I unexpectedly lost a brother (A Sibling Rival, Now Gone).  Then, my wife lost a brother a few days before he was expected for a Thanksgiving feast.  On the heels of the holiday, an old and very close friend told us of the death of his daughter (just a few years after he lost his son). 

It has all left me feeling profoundly sad and looking for answers.  I don’t understand why good people are meant to endure these losses.  What does it mean?

After my brother died, a mutual friend sent me a book, Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander.  A neurosurgeon by trade, Dr. Alexander tells the story of his near death experience (NDE).  It’s a remarkable book, largely because the author is a scientist and a non-believer.  He had always thought of NDE’s as the result of hallucination.  But his personal experience and a review of the medical evidence convince him otherwise.  There is a heaven, he concludes.

The book was profound.  However, I find no answers there.

My surviving brother reads his Bible daily.  He offers Matthew (5:3): “blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted”.  He offers the story of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead. 

Others offer the story of David who, upon the death of his son, “went into the house of the lord and worshipped”.  David’s acts demonstrate that he had given himself to the lord long before the death of his child.  Perhaps those who feel close to God are better able to cope than those who don’t.  Revelations (21:4) says “… God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”.

Perhaps a renewal of my faith would enable me to find comfort when I endure these losses.  Yet, to me, it feels too much like buying an insurance policy. 

An Irish blessing – more earthly in its expression – reminds us we “do not walk alone”.  It starts…

May you see God’s light on the path ahead…

and ends with the wish that…

… God give you...
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

Wonderfully phrased, as are all Irish blessings.  But, again, it begins and ends with faith in God as a source of comfort while grieving.

Setting aside the almighty, a very matter-of-fact Tennyson presents a bleak picture in his poem, “All Things Will Die”.  It ends with the stanza…

The stream will cease to flow;
The wind will cease to blow;
The clouds will cease to fleet;
The heart will cease to beat;
For all things must die.
All things must die.

That’s certainly true but it offers neither meaning nor answers. 

A Buddhist parable tells of a mother, having lost her son, seeking a teacher who might restore her son’s life.  The teacher tells her that he has a cure and sends her for some mustard seed.  However, she must retrieve the mustard seed from a house where no one has lost a son, a husband or parent.

Naturally, she is unable to find such a household.  “The living are few, but the dead are many,” one tells her.

The experience clears her mind and helps her find her resolve.  All things are impermanent, she learns.  

Another such parable ends with the reminder that “Those who have a hundred dear ones, have a hundred sorrows. … Those who have no dear one, for them there is no sorrow. These, I declare, are the griefless ones, free from human passion, without despair.”

For some reason, I find some comfort in these parables.  They are told from the perspective of human experience.  Going door-to-door, speaking with everyone in your community, finding perspective in the experience of others is something I can relate to.

Sociologist and author Brene Brown tells us…

“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” 

From the depths of sorrow, we must find it in ourselves to recover from grief. 

It requires courage. 

It requires that we reconnect with those who survive. 

It requires that we remember that we are worthy of love.


  1. I was twelve years old when I was cast out of The Church of England. A favor I have always been immensely grateful for. I was a paid choirboy with a pretty good soprano voice, inherited from my grandmother, who could actually crack a glass with her pitch. It seems that my erratic occasional attendance for choir duty didn't qualify for the measly pittance of half a crown in wages. I was free! My Sundays could now be spent fishing and messing about.

    Shortly afterwards, my cousin declared in 'Religious Instruction' at school that he was an atheist, and I decided to side with him in the debates that ensued in the classroom. A few years later, I became more and more convinced that God had either forsaken me, or didn't exist. I was content with both ideas.

    I brought my two boys up as atheists but let them do as their schoolpals did, and attend Christian services and educations classes. They came out of that unscathed by religion.

    Many years ago, I read an article that suggested to fully understand the world and humans, one needed to study at least three religions. I already had been schooled in the Protestant English High Church, prayers every day, and religious Instruction twice a week at school, plus the numerous years I spent in The Choir.

    My second religion to study was The Mormons. At one time, I lived in Palmyra NY, where Joseph Smith found the golden tablets, and the angel Moroni translated The Book of Mormon. I therefore studied the phenomenon.

    So lets look at Mormonism for a moment. Smith carried the tablets back from Hill Comorah where he found them, to his house a couple of miles away. They weighed hundreds of pounds. He translated the inscriptions by staring into his top hat at a Seer stone, a dowsers tool. He must have been intoxicated from his own carbon monoxide in the hat because The Book of Mormon poorly copied the formant of King James 1st bible. It's so bad, one has to ask that if Moroni was God's messenger, either God or Moroni, had a very poor understanding of The English language. I discarded Mormonism with the contempt it deserves.

    My third learning experience regarding religion was to study Bhuddism. At last I found something that I could relate to, it seemed closer to my ancestral roots of the Celtic world of Avebury and Stonehenge. To pass through this world as an observer, to leave things as they were found, to let live, and so much more. There was no god, there seemed to be complete peace.

    And them, I found Islam. A book of blood thirsty evilness. A teaching so against all human endeavor. To rob, lie, steal, murder, rape and pillage. To enslave all non believers, demean women into slavery.
    It goes on and on. I have vomited on some of the readings. I realised then that religion has been the bane of the human race since it's inception.

    Now, where do most of these beliefs come from? The Middle East. Arabs over two thousands years ago conjured up this nonsense. What a wonderful concept. The promise of eternal life, and all you had to do was to believe and join the flock and take instruction from the shepherd.

    It seems that shepherds often had ulterior motives. The power they could wield would destroy nations. Glib words, a gift for the gab, from the pulpit, could bring untold riches. I simply cannot understand why most of the human race have subjected themselves to scribblings from a part of the world that lived in tents, cooked on camel dung and behaved like animals two thousand years ago. Science has continually disproved so much of their rantings.

    cont ------------------------------------

  2. So where does that leave me? All this religion, or the lack of it?
    I will have no 'eternal life in heaven', no soul that needs saving, nothing to look forward to after death. I won't meet my parents, my deceased sister, my beloved cat Leo or the most wonderful dog in the world Barkley. It all sounds so depressing. Or does it? It also means I won't have to deal with an eternity of worshipers who I have detested most of my life, who have lied and cheated their way into this heaven.

    I am content in the fact that after death, there is nothing else, it will be just the same as before life. millions of years of unconsciousness.

    My objective is to enjoy the remaining days of my life, not bowing to some god who is a figment of someone's imagination, not wasting my time on Sundays (A Celtic celebration day). I am content to be happy, to embrace the thought of my demise and to delay it as long as possible. I don't want to spend one minute of this valuable time worrying about religion or what wil happen to the world. When the time is right, I hope I am allowed to remove myself if I so wish. I want to leave laughing, a joker!

    And finally! I'd hope that before I close my eyes for the last time, a bloody great meteorite is spotted a few years out heading for this planet, because if there is one carnivorous species that needs obliterating, it it the human race, a thoroughly murderous nasty bunch on the whole, indoctrinated in a nonsense called religion. They simply don't deserve this heaven.

  3. What a great piece!

  4. The historical Buddha, like you and me, had physical form, was born, and was destined to die. But the content of his being did not die and continues to live. And that is immeasurable life. And not only life. Because it brings us to awakening, it is also immeasurable light.

    - Taitetsu Unno, "Even Dewdrops Fall"

  5. I loved this post. I just sent it to a close friend whose sister (my age) just died of ALS after having been diagnosed in February. All of this loss is unbelievable....but we are of the age where we will face more of it. Love our loved ones and hold everyone close. xoxo Alicia

  6. Outside your normal wheelhouse, John, yet a very touching read.

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Magnificent.
    Very thoughtful post. I’ve been doing a lot of work around this area, too.

  8. Well done John. Many of us have been there. My own conclusion is that our future rests in the works and deeds we leave behind.