In life, we don’t always get what we want. We’d love our lives to be perfect; we wish that we didn’t have to face the loss of loved ones. However, death is a part of life. Both for oneself and others. In my life, there have been so many situations where I wish I could go back to the past and change what happened. However, one needs to realise that in life things don’t go the way we want and we have to make peace with that fact. Similarly we have to make peace with the fact that in life, invariably we are going to face losses and that too of dearly loved ones. We can’t go back in time and wish they didn’t die. That’ll never happen. Now the person who was my father is no more. He is undoubtedly reborn and very likely in a very good place as he was such a good human being in this life. And I need to make peace with that.
Lord Buddha in no uncertain terms has said that losing loved ones is a part of life, and that sorrow and lamentation- in short grief is a part of life. As children we are carefree and don’t feel the intensity of loss unlike when being an adult. As adults one has to go through such a wide range of emotions
As humans we have minds, and a mind is an amazing thing. Where is it? One can’t see it. But it’s there! The Buddha spoke about mind objects. Mind objects are whatever comes and goes in the mind. And as humans, we proliferate on mind objects
From a young age, I knew that I’ll have to experience the deaths of first my grandparents and then my parents. My grandfather lived to a good old age and I had no regrets. I loved him completely and I made sure he knew I loved him. However, my own father’s death made me a complete wreck. I was inconsolable. I’d turn to friends and relatives desperately for emotional support. I never imagined that my father’s death will make me suffer so intensely. Some children lose their parents at a very young age. I am blessed that I had my father to hand me over to my husband on my wedding day. He lived to see my son. At least as a child. Latterly, my father and I bonded in a very close way. He was more like a good friend to me.I needn’t feel sorry for myself for having lost my father. I was happy with my father and as the Buddha said, it’s my love and attachment to him that caused me to suffer.
Lord Buddha in no uncertain terms has said that losing loved ones is a part of life, and that sorrow and lamentation- in short grief is a part of life. As children we are carefree and don’t feel the intensity of loss unlike when being an adult. As adults one has to go through such a wide range of emotions. And grief is one such.
“Kisa Gotami was the wife of a wealthy man of Savatthi. Her story is one of the more famous ones in Buddhism. After losing her only child, Kisa Gotami became desperate and asked if anyone could help her. Her sorrow was so great that many thought she had lost her mind. An old man told her to see the Buddha. The Buddha told her that before he could bring the child back to life, she should find white mustard seeds from a family where no one had died. She desperately went from house to house, but to her disappointment, she could not find a house that had not suffered the death of a family member. Finally the realization struck her that there is no house free from mortality. She returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. She was awakened and entered the first stage of Arahatship. Eventually, she became an arahat”.
“The following Dhammapada verse is associated with her story:
“Though one should live a hundred years
Without seeing the Deathless State,
Yet better indeed, is a single day’s life
Of one who sees the Deathless State.”
“The story is the source of the popular aphorism: “The living are few, but the dead are many”.”
( Source for Kisagothami’s story above :https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Kisa_Gotami)
Lord Buddha gave a very special word for clinging to attachment- The word is “Upadana”. In this context it would mean attachment to loved ones which makes it hard for one to let them go when death happens.As human beings we have egos which basically make a self out of oneself. We must realise that this is the ego which is grieving. And just that.
After my father’s loss I had a lot of self pity. I pitied myself for losing my one and only father. I would feel so much self pity that I’d go off food, and be unable to eat. The act of eating would be distressing to say the least. I would not have any appetite whatsoever. I need to be aware that I am creating my moods. I am the creator of it. And in this instance it’s a mood of self pity.I asked myself why I should be sad. There’s no reason to be sad about. My father is in a good place. If so, why should I feel sorrowful? I should feel happy. It’s always me , me , me all the time. That’s what self pity is all about. My loss. My suffering. My agony.
When we are grieving, it’s very important to be occupied by some activity. Otherwise the human mind will go berserk with grief and make us needlessly suffer. It’s always better to be happy than suffer. It’s also good to be a little detached in general. This leads to the topic of Equanimity which to me personally is a very beautiful and potent quality. To be equanimous without going into the two extremes of happiness or sorrow. It’s a very soothing mental state which if cultivated well will lead to peace. Immense peace, ease and relief as well. The Buddha labeled it Upekkh.
The person who cultivates Upekkhor equanimity is literally walking the path of the wise. By being equanimous one can help others. Otherwise one can’t. To cultivate equanimity one has to let go of both the past and the future. Namely regretting the past and anticipating the future. Mudita - Joy at the happiness of others- is also a wonderful quality to cultivate. It takes oneself away from oneself and one can feel actual joy for others.For me, personally, to see any person smiling, brings me so much joy. And I too can’t help smiling then. Cultivating equanimity and joy at the happiness of others helps in reducing the pain of constantly dwelling on the loss of a dearly loved one.
As humans we have minds, and a mind is an amazing thing. Where is it? One can’t see it. But it’s there! The Buddha spoke about mind objects. Mind objects are whatever comes and goes in the mind. And as humans, we proliferate on mind objects. The human mind, constantly verbalises. While I write, my mind is having verbal thoughts which I am jotting down in front of me. In this instance in English. When suffering the loss of a loved one, one needs to be aware of when the sorrowful feelings originate in the mind. It can originate verbally. One needs to observe and just let the pain all go. The time period of suffering becomes shorter and shorter when one cultivates awareness whenever the feelings of loss and grief arise.
Empathy to an abnormal degree creates suffering. I feel so much for people who have lost loved ones of people going through cancer. ( My father died of cancer). I feel so much that I’d choke with empathy. This is not very healthy. If I am to really help someone going through what I went through, I need to be at my best, meaning mentally strong. If I’m not, then how can I help. I am realising that I can give strength to people because I know what it feels like to really suffer the agonising pangs of grief. Buddha saw suffering and the way out of suffering. He didn’t advise anyone to dwell in feelings of sorrow and needlessly suffer and torment oneself. Practising metta or loving kindness invariably bring about joy. Practising loving kindness towards other beings and doing good things in life and doing good for others helps reduce the suffering. Doing social work keeps one’s mind occupied and so the grief one feels as a result of losing loved ones lessens. Making people happy is a way out of suffering.
The Wisdom the Buddha spoke about is a process and a realization. I am on a journey. A spiritual one and I can’t help thinking how it must feel like to finally realise Nirvana- to be free from all that mass of suffering. Oh what bliss! I hope one day I achieve it. May you too realise the supreme bliss of Nirvana!