Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The 4 Immeasurables for condolence to a Buddhist friend

Maybe it is my exploration of the Tao (life's way). Maybe it is me getting older and, in combination, I am exposing myself to many more points of view...and the people holding them. 

So, when a Buddhist friend experiences a death in her/his family, what should I write?

The Buddhist view of death

Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang explains in

"In the teaching of the Buddha, all of us will pass away eventually as a part in the natural process of birth, old-age and death and that we should always keep in mind the impermanence of life. The life that we all cherish and wish to hold on. To Buddhism, however, death is not the end of life, it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life, but our spirit will still remain and seek out through the need of attachment, attachment to a new body and new life."


The Buddhist view of grief

This does not suggest that a Buddhist feels no pain at the loss of someone dear. The natural responses to death are fully human, heartfelt, rich in memories, and a sadness that time shared in this life's journey cannot occur again. Grief reminds each of us that everything is impermanent. The thought of losing life's vigor and identity is perplexing and disturbing. What comes next?

Confronted by grief

Joan Halifax, Head Teacher at Upaya Zen Center, characterizes grief as "the heavy stones that will eventually be the ballast for the two great accumulations of wisdom and compassion."  Halifax shared the paradox she confronted when her mother was dying: 
  • be a "good Buddhist" and follow the teachings of letting go or, 
  • feel every ounce of the sorrow. 
In an action she calls 'scouring', Halifax ritualized her loss by visiting a rocky desert with photos and letters, and scoured her sorrow with hot tears on cold hard rock. The acts of feeling help us to transform a universal experience into new understanding and then, we can peacefully let go.
Image by Michele Valentinuz
Halifax quotes the Zen nun, Rengetsu:

“The impermanence of this floating world
I feel over and over
It is hardest to be the one left behind.”

Being 'left behind' is at the core of grief. A severed connection is a wound. One of the best ways that wound will heal is to discover that threads remain:  our memories.

The 4 Immeasurables

  1. immeasurable equanimity
  2. immeasurable love
  3. immeasurable compassion, and
  4. immeasurable joy
To awaken the natural and boundless capacity of one's heart, a Buddhist seeks to embrace all living beings--whose number is immeasurable. The practice is like a wheel:  meditating on the four immeasurables increases the capacity to act with love and compassion. Those actions deepen the tranquility achieved in meditation. 

Consider including these elements in a note to your Buddhist friend:

  1. Equanimity (calmness in a difficult situation) "How can I help you at this difficult time?" or a specific offer/action such as "Why don't I drive your children to school this week?"
  2. .Love (affection and respect) "Observing your gentle care of your father was so inspiring."
  3. Compassion (to accompany with concern) "It must be so hard to say goodbye to your wife, [name]. You are in my thoughts and I hope we can share a cup of tea, soon."
  4. Joy (great happiness)  "I will cherish my memory of _____ ."

I want to refer readers to additional insights from my post on writing condolence to clergy. Rev. Dr. Steven Schafer reminded us that we do not have to share the belief system of a grieving person in order to comfort them.
Thank you for caring!

No comments: