Những Suy Ngẫm Về Cái Chết Cuộc Sống,
Debbie Stamp - : Nguyễn Văn Tiến
(Bring To Life The Contemplation Of Death - Debbie Stamp)
Bài viết nầy đã được phỏng theo buổi nói chuyện của Debbie, trong Khóa , Lễ Năm 2013.
Vua Pasedadi nói, "Bạch
Tất cả các vị thầy tu-trong-rừng,
Mỗi năm, kể từ mùa hè thứ hai mà
Có một năm, một cậu bé khi từ rừng
Tháng Năm vừa rồi, mẹ tôi đã chuyển qua
đã nhiều giây phút thật khó khăn, , nhìn chung, đã có nhiều phước lành. Tôi vì tôi đã về cái chết, bởi vì tôi rằng mọi chuyện sẽ khác đi rất nhiều, nếu tôi đã không đặt sự nầy trong tim tôi. Nếu tôi đã không những sự suy tư, tôi nghĩ rằng tôi sẽ có một rất khó khăn, trong khi tôi .
Một ngày kia, tôi thưa với
Mẹ tôi đã
Một phần của trái tim bạn, nói rằng "Tôi không muốn điều nầy xảy ra." Nhưng đây là những gì thật sự đang xảy ra. Bạn chẳng biết phải làm gì cả. Bạn
Khi mẹ tôi chuyển qua
Tôi là người chăm sóc chính, cho mẹ tôi. Tôi có những lúc rất khó khăn, vì tôi phải
Tôi đã có nguồn
Tôi hỏi: "Mẹ ơi, khi mẹ chết, nếu chúng con muốn tắm rửa cho mẹ, và thay áo quần cho mẹ, có được không? Mẹ có bằng lòng không? Mẹ nói, "Được chứ, nếu con muốn làm như thế." Rồi tôi hỏi tiếp, "Bộ quần áo nào mẹ muốn mặc?" "Con à, con hãy tự
Sau đó, mẹ tôi đã
Đây là cách làm việc của mẹ với
Tôi có nhiều cơ hội để được nhắc nhở, là tôi nên sống một cách khôn khéo, đây là một điều rất
Ngay trước khi tôi về thăm mẹ tôi, tôi có một cuộc viếng thăm từ một
Đối với mẹ tôi, chẳng còn có gì khác mà
Mẹ tôi nói rất nhiều lần, "Mẹ rất
Giờ đây, mọi chuyện đã quay ngược chiều, tôi là người lau
Trong hai mươi bốn giờ
Đến phiên tôi, làm ca
Tôi đã đến thăm bố tôi, bởi vì tôi muốn biết
đã mặc xong quần áo cho mẹ, rồi vào phòng, và đưa mẹ tôi lên giường. nằm xuống gần mẹ tôi. Cháu trai và cháu gái của tôi đặt tay lên người mẹ. chuyện trò. . đã cười và đã khóc. Mọi chuyện xảy ra , vì không có ai định trước. Những người trong chọn-cái-chết-bình-an, nói với là khi làm xong, gọi họ để họ đem xác mẹ đi. Sau sáu tiếng đồng hồ mới làm xong. rất là , trong lúc ở đó với xác thân của mẹ tôi.
Một tuyên úy đến từ
Sau đó,gọi điện thoại, để họ đến mang xác mẹ tôi đi. Tôi tự động để sắp xếp với họ, vì điều nầy đang là một cho bố tôi. Tôi thật lạ lùng, lúc tôi bước chân ra khỏi căn phòng nầy, tôi nghĩ rằng, "Trời ơi, tôi sẽ chẳng bao giờ còn trông thấy mẹ tôi nữa." Tôi đã , và nói chuyện với họ. Những người đến đưa xác thì rất tử tế, , và hỗ trợ cho . Tôi ký giấy tờ, rồi tôi đi trở lên lại
Tôi đã xuống thăm bố tôi vào
Tôi có nhiều
Tôi phải nói rằng, đấy là một
Sau đó, phần còn lại là
nữa, tôi đã quên đi cái chết. Tôi đang ngồi đây và nói về cái chết, và tôi cái chết thật sự, ngay bây giờ, rất mạnh mẽ. , tôi sẽ lại quên đi. Tôi sẽ được nhắc nhở, hoặc là tôi phải tự nhắc chính tôi. Tôi nghĩ về cái chết khi tôi còn đang học ngành sinh học về các . Tôi có về cái chết từ chuột-lemming. Tôi không biết những con chuột-lemming nầy đã học những gì , , chúng hay chạy tới vách núi dốc, và nhảy xuống chết dưới vực sâu. Các nhà khoa học không thể tại sao. , tôi nầy, cho là những con chuột-lemming. đang đứng gần bờ vực. không biết đang đứng sắp hàng ở khúc đầu hoặc khúc cuối. không biết rằng, sẽ hoặc chết trẻ, , vào một thời điểm nào đó, sẽ rơi xuống vực sâu.
Tôi đã từng suy ngẫm về
Tôi đã từng có
Bạn đừng ngại ngần suy ngẫm về điều nầy, và hãy đặt nó vào trong lòng. Bạn hãy
Tôi chỉ còn một
Mẹ tôi chia sẻ với tôi một điều. Một ngày kia, khi mẹ tôi nghĩ rằng, mẹ đang kề cận cái chết. Thật ra, mẹ tôi chưa đến lúc chết,
Có những giây phút khi tôi nhìn vào tấm hình của mẹ tôi ở
Đây là một cơ hội
Bring To Life The Contemplation Of Death
This reflection is adapted from a talk offered by Debbie during the 2013 Thanksgiving Retreat.
In a sutta in the Saṃyutta Nikāya, the Buddha asks King Pasenadi, “How is your day going? What’s your day been like?” King Pasenadi says, “Well, it’s a normal day for a king. Wars, keeping our territories, sensual delights . . . ” and so on along the very worldly lines of a king’s life.
So the Buddha asks him, “What would you say if someone you trusted came from the north, someone worthy of listening to and he said, ‘There’s a mountain as high as the clouds coming in this direction. It’s mowing down everything in its way.’ Then someone else you trust comes from the west and says, ‘There’s a mountain as high as the clouds coming this direction. It’s mowing down everything in its way.’ Then a third trusted person comes from the south and says, ‘There’s a mountain, O king, as high as the clouds. It’s coming and mowing down everything in its path.’ A fourth trusted person comes from the east and says, ‘O king, there’s a mountain coming as high as the clouds. It’s mowing down everything in its path.’ What would you do, O King?”
King Pasenadi says, “If that was the case, I would live by Dhamma and try to do as many good and meritorious deeds as I could.” Suddenly, life takes a different perspective.
All the forest masters, the Buddha, and the suttas encourage us to contemplate death and its inevitability. The suttas encourage us to really reflect on death’s inevitability. It’s not a morbid reflection; it’s a reflection on inevitability. Because we took birth, we take death. However, it is not easy to take on this practice in a way that makes it feel real.
Every year since the second summer that Abhayagiri monastery has been in existence, a group of teens comes from Spirit Rock for two or three nights to participate in the community schedule. One afternoon they are each taken out to secluded spots in the forest. While there, they’re asked to write a poem, draw a picture, or write about an insight.
One year a boy came back with a quote: “The leaf falls and the other leaves in the tree laugh in the breeze, laughing at that leaf that fell. They don’t know they’re next.” We have these insights and then we forget them. That is just how insight is. We have to keep encouraging ourselves to work at it.
I’ve taken on death reflection for a long time. I’ve been around people I’ve cared about who have died. Many people were here last year when I talked a little bit about my mom. Her health was failing a year and a half ago. Every day we thought she was going. I basically asked for forgiveness and tried to tie up loose ends. The doctors managed to put together the right medicines to give her another year plus. So every day I reflected, “The time is short. Use it wisely.”
Last May, Mom went into hospice care. I was going home for Mother’s Day, knowing I wasn’t coming back to the monastery until after she passed. Despite all my reflection, I still didn’t want things to be the way they were. I resisted. I remember getting a ride down with someone, trying to make it as normal as I could. Yet it was hovering over me: I was going to be with my mom to help her pass. I was with her five weeks before she did pass away and then I stayed with my father for another month to help him.
There were many moments that were very difficult, but in many ways we were blessed. I feel blessed that I was reflecting on death because I am sure things would have been very different if I had not worked that contemplation into my heart. If I had not done those reflections, I think I would have had a very difficult time being fully present in the way that I was able to be.
If we take reflection on death to heart, it can bring a perspective that enriches our lives, relationships, and practice. We see the value of living by precepts, the guidelines that help to keep us skillful in our actions so that, as much as possible, we’re not creating negative kamma. We can put our sights toward creating wholesome kamma, like King Pasenadi, living our lives by Dhamma and doing good, skillful, and meritorious deeds, working on understanding this life and what we’ve been given. The suttas and teachings of the forest masters have offered us so many tools, techniques, and practices to be grateful for.
During the time I was with my mom, I asked the work monk, Ajahn Yatiko, “If you need things ordered online for the monastery, let me do it. Send me emails. I need to be reminded that this is normal, not an exception.” It’s inevitable. We can’t get away from it. But trying to make it normal is not an easy thing. It took me a while until I could really eat. I actually felt nauseous every time I sat down at the table, but I just kept working at it. There are still times when the reality of the separation from my mom hits out of the blue and the tears come.
The other day I said to Luang Por, “It seems like this year has been full of death.” He said, “Yes. It’s never been like that before, right?” It just seems death is in my sphere of reality in a more intense way with people I know or love. My sister-in-law suddenly passed away in February. I have a feeling that this is the way it’s going to be. As you get older, more people you know pass away.
My mother had a rough year, she was on oxygen for congestive heart failure and she hated hospitals. She had bad experiences in them. She was very sensitive to the medication and hallucinated a lot. She just wanted to be home. When the cardiologist said there was nothing else they could do, my mom replied, “No, I’m done. It’s enough.” She had a very strong Catholic faith as a Catholic to call on for strength. Even so, it still wasn’t always easy because she was leaving behind a family she really loved. That was really difficult. It was a powerful thing to witness. I’ve been a caretaker before. I’ve been with people when they’ve passed. But it’s not the same when it’s your mother.
A part of you says, “I don’t want this to be happening.” But this is what is happening. There’s nothing to be done. You live in the Dhamma as much as you can, draw on your friends when you need that support, and take the teachings to heart. Reflect every day that this could be the last day. The Buddha said the most skillful way of thinking about death is: “This could be my last ‘in’ or ‘out’ breath.”
When my mother went on hospice care, she was so joyful that she had these people on board to help her, so happy that my father and I were going to be there, and so grateful that she could be at home. My sister was willing to be there as much as she could and my brother came on weekends. She was really blessed because often times we don’t get that kind of choice. We had time to reflect on and talk about the good things she had done in her life, about the love and regrets we had. A lot of people don’t get this kind of time and space.
I was the main caregiver. There were times that were very difficult like being up through the night. My mother had a lot of confidence in my ability and wanted me to be the one who lifted her to the toilet or did other things that involved lifting. She felt that I was strong - I could do that. She gave very clear directions: “Debbie lifts. Lisa cooks.” She made the right choice.
It was inspiring to be with her and I think she was really thriving on the care. I could see that her body was breaking down. There were signs. I think she was aware of it too, but she kept saying, “I feel like I’m getting better. Do you think they’re going to think I’m an imposter? Are they going to kick me out of this program?” She was afraid that hospice was going to kick her out because she was doing so well. She and we were able to talk about things. She was held and we were held.
I asked, “Mom, when you die, is it all right if we wash your body and dress you? Would that be okay with you?” She said, “If that’s what you want to do.” Then I said, “What do you want to wear?” “Well, you just decide. It’s okay. Just pick something.” So my sister and I talked about it. A little while later, my mom said, “Well ... you know that top ...?”
So she participated. She told us what she would like in a memorial service and what kind of venue. She had people from the church come by. The choir director from when my parents sang in the choir came by, and they went over the songs that my mom wanted to have sung. She even had my dad take a picture that could be used for her memorial.
This was my mother’s way of working with us to begin the process of letting go. She was still very much alive. It’s something that we all should be thinking about every day. I don’t know when or how I’m going to die. I kept telling myself, “My mom’s the one on hospice care, but really, I could die before she does.” It was a precious time for reflecting upon that. I was very grateful for my practice to keep me grounded.
The opportunity to have a reminder to live in a more skillful way is very rich. It’s something that most people don’t have in their lives. The majority of the world is out there trying to grab more, trying to get ahead of the other person, thinking that’s what’s going to give them peace. How blessed we are that we have a practice that teaches and encourages us to find a ground, a footing, to get into our bodies, and to turn towards the things that scare us the most. How blessed we are to experience what it’s like to turn towards and face a great fear. Nobody escapes. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, young or old. We owe it to ourselves to reflect on that, to bring it in to every day. It’s not easy.
Right before I went down to be with my Mom, we had a visit from a very well-respected monk, Ajahn Dtun, a very special being, from eastern Thailand, the Chonburi area. One of his practices is reflecting, “This could be the last day of my life.” Even he, with all his skill and mastery, talked about how this takes a lot of determination. We have to do it again and again. We have to be really determined and open, again and again, reminding ourselves, “This practice is not easy in the best of times. But what else can we do?”
With my mom, what else could we do? We had to accept it. I watched the breakdown of her body. I think she knew it was happening, but she couldn’t see it. She started retaining water; putting on more water weight. I thought, “Yes, the suttas talk about the dissolution and the breakdown of the body. This is what’s happening. How many times have I seen that in the suttas?” Here it was happening, the breakdown of the body. But it’s hard to let this stuff in.
My mom said so many times, “I’m so grateful. Thank you so much for being here.” And I said, “Mom, I’m so grateful that you let me be here.” It was such a change. Here was the person who was always doing things for me: cared for me when I was sick changed my diapers, fed me, welcomed me home from school, helped me with my homework, encouraged me. Sometimes she encouraged me and I didn’t like it very much: “Leave me alone.” But the connection and love were so strong.
The tables turned and I was the one wiping her after she used the toilet. I remember thinking this is just so surreal. When it came time, she let go. She was ready. She couldn’t bathe anymore. She couldn’t get in the shower. So my sister and I would give her sponge baths. I can’t say why it comes naturally to me. It’s not awkward for me. But my sister had never done anything like it and she was really struggling with this because she considered my mother her best friend.
So we bathed the body. My sister only could do the legs and the arms. Later she had to go back to work, but she emailed me saying it was the most profound experience in her life and she couldn’t stop reflecting on it. I watched my sister face her greatest fear, the death of our mom.
In those last twenty-four hours, when my mom was really struggling and wasn’t coming out anymore, I watched my sister move in and hold and sing to her. It was very beautiful. We took shifts that last night.
I had the last shift. It was a difficult night. I was in charge of the medicines and didn’t really understand them that well, so I was on the phone with the marvelous hospice support team. They guided me through it. I just kept doing the best I could.
I was concerned about my dad. On June 11 my parents very joyfully celebrated their 63rd anniversary and my mom died on June 20. They both independently said to me how much the other was a part of them after all that time. They were very close.
I went to be with my dad because I wanted to make sure he was okay and get him some breakfast. My sister just sat next to my mom, put her arms around her. My mom passed with my sister there. I thought, “Yeah, mom knew what she was doing. She knew that Lisa would be the one that would benefit the most from being there.” It was very beautiful.
Also in this time, as open-minded as I think I am, I saw different things in different siblings that I never would have imagined were there. My brother came with his wife, my seventeen-year-old niece, and my ten-year-old nephew. My other brother had come from Roseville the night before. My sister, my father, and I said, “We’re going to bathe the body. If anyone wants to, you can help bathe the body.” I had no real plan other than I would put that out there to see who was interested. I knew I wanted to do that. I was really surprised. The only one who didn’t want to participate was my ten-year-old nephew. So we all participated, my brothers and sister-in-law with the face, hair, legs, and arms. My father, my sister, and I did everything else just to preserve a sense of modesty in a way I knew my mom would have been most comfortable with if she were alive.
We got her dressed and then everybody came in the room and got her on the bed. We were lying next to my mom. My nephew and niece had their arms on her body. We talked. We told stories. We laughed and cried. It was so unplanned and spontaneous. The hospice people told us to call when we wanted them to get the body. It ended up being six hours later. It just felt very natural to be there with the body.
The chaplain came from hospice. Some of the neighbors came. They didn’t really want to ... but they wanted to. It was so rich. We kept saying how beautiful and peaceful she looked. The room was the quietest it had been for the whole five weeks I had been there, because her oxygen had been on for twenty-four hours a day. There was peace. There was a lot of grief, and peace.
Then we called and they came to pick up the body. I automatically got up to deal with them because it was way too much for my father to do. It was interesting: as I was walking out of that room, I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m not going to see her again.” I went down to talk with them. Everyone was so kind, spacious, and supportive. I signed the paperwork and went back up.
There’s a favorite chant of mine the monks do when people request a funeral chant. It’s a good reflection in itself. “Aniccā vata sankhārā” (Impermanent are all conditioned things). “Upāda vaya dhammino” (Having the nature to arise, they cease). “Uppajjitvā nirujjhanti” (Having arisen, they then pass away). “Tesan vūpasamo sukho” (And in their passing, there is peace).
I’m so grateful that I worked with and reflected on this so much. It was actually what I was witnessing in my mother and everybody around her. Just realizing that it’s a body, but I’m still attached to that body and all the perceptions that body reminds me of. They actually suggested that most people leave the room when they take the body, but my sister-in-law and I both stayed. I wanted to take the reality of it in as much as I could. This is what is really happening. This is part of life. She was on a gurney and then in a bag. I could see the body as they wheeled her out to the van. Then everyone followed and waved good-bye.
I was down at my father’s the week of Halloween, looking at the photos we took. I was looking at the pictures of my mother’s body, thinking, “Why did I think it was beautiful? It just looks like a corpse.” That’s with time. That’s the difference in perception, the shift in perspective.
I have a lot of work to do, because I was surprised at how resistant the mind was to hearing that the only thing left was palliative care. All I could think of was that if I hadn’t been doing these reflections, if I hadn’t been taking them to heart, what would it have been like? It’s not a morbid topic, but a part of life. This is Dhamma. We’re all going in that direction. We don’t know when. That’s the only thing. We don’t know which leaf is going to go next. The Buddha implored us to take this to heart and I also encourage everybody to do this.
I have to say it was a life-changing event and I’m sure I haven’t seen all the ways that it’s changed my life. We are so blessed to have this practice, these tools, each other’s support, and the reflection, opportunity, and reminder to be more skillful in interactions. We’re so fortunate to have a sangha nearby to remind us and to give us encouragement. When we forget, we can be reminded.
Then the rest is up to us. We have to keep reminding ourselves, every day, every moment, so that we can live our lives fully and take the gift of this precious human birth and really use it. Nothing is wasted. We put the effort in and none of it is wasted.
I’ll forget that again. I’m sitting here saying it and I feel it really strongly right now. But I’ll forget. I’ll have to be reminded, or I’ll have to remind myself. I thought about death when I was a wildlife biology major. I had this image of the lemmings. I don’t know what they’ve learned lately, but the lemmings would go to the cliff and jump off the end. The scientists couldn’t figure out why. So I used to have this image that we’re just a bunch of lemmings. We’re getting closer to the cliff. We don’t know where we are in the group. We don’t know how old or young we will be, but at some point we’re going over the edge.
I used to reflect on my resistance to the fact that there was going to be this inevitable separation with my mom. For the last year of her life whenever I went home to see my mom, she would be sitting on one spot on the couch. That’s the first thing you would see when you came in. Everybody would gravitate towards her.
I used to bring this image to mind, a visualization of me being this old lady walking with a cane, coming through the kitchen and coming around the corner, wanting mom to be there for me. If I’m old, hobbling in with my cane, what would it be like for her? I would never wish that for her. The prolongation of her life was not an easy year. There was peace in the passing.
Don’t be afraid to reflect on this and take it to heart. Practice with the little things, the little fears that you have that you find yourself turning away from. Find something that you’re very resistant to that you can take as a practice every day. Learn to really face it fully and really experience it. Let it pass through you. You owe that to yourself. You have the ability to do that. It’s a very rich practice.
Just one last thought that I’ve been having a lot. I reflect often about view. The view is my lifetime: that’s my view. I came into Buddhism and there were certain teachers. These are the best teachers! And they’re getting older and they’re dying. But you know what? They had teachers who were the best teachers and who got old and died. You know what? There are more teachers coming who are going to be the best teachers. When we’re not here anymore, other people are going to be saying, “These are the best teachers!” This legacy of Dhamma is rich. That’s what we have to pass on and share.
My mother shared one thing with me. One day she thought she was getting near the end. She wasn’t quite there yet, but she said, “Debbie, I just want to let you know I think you’re in the right place. I think that this is the Lord’s plan for you.” It was very beautiful. I let go of wondering how they held what I was doing a long time ago. I knew they were okay with it and I never worried about it. This was just my life. Yet that was the greatest gift for me: my mother was saying that she was at peace.
There are moments when I look at my mom’s picture on my shrine. Out of nowhere, tears will come, and that’s okay. I had the insight one day walking back from my kuti that now I have to be the one to love myself because mom’s not here anymore. That unconditional love is not here anymore.
It’s all grist for the mill. It’s very rich. I encourage all of you to take this contemplation on and find out what really brings it to life for you. If it starts to go flat, think of what you can bring to enliven it again. It’s rich. It’s not morbid. It’s life. And in many ways it’s a very incredible aspect of life. So, I’ll leave that with you. Please take whatever is useful and leave the rest behind.