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- FEBRUARY 2006 NEWSLETTER -

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IN MEMORY OF MY SISTER PATRICIA

 

 

ďThis body is not me.

I am not limited by this body.

I am life without boundaries.

I have never been born,

and I have never died. 

 

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,

manifestations from wondrous true source.

Since before time, I have been free.

Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,

sacred thresholds on our journey.

Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek. 

 

So laugh with me, hold my hand,

let us say goodbye, to meet again soon.

We meet today.

We will meet again tomorrow.

We will meet at the source every moment.

We meet each other in all forms of life.Ē

[Poem by Ven THICH NHAT HANH]

 

On Saturday 14 January 2006, my eldest sister, PATRICIA ANNE HODGSKIN, had a stroke and died. She was on holiday with her family in the seaside town where we live. She went swimming in the lagoon with my mother, when her face started tingling. She said to my mom they had better get to the shore as she was feeling funny. They started swimming back, but my sister's head fell face down into the water. My mother quickly swam up to her and turned her body over. Her face was blue in colour, her eyes were vacant and staring into space, and she wasn't breathing. My mother pulled her to the shore, and attempts were made to resuscitate her with artificial respiration, but they failed, and she died.

 

FOR A TIMELESS TIME I DIED WITH YOU

 

When death happens so suddenly and unexpectedly, you cannot believe it is real, you cannot believe it has happened. You are shocked out of your comfort zone, and all your filters, screening devices and cushioning falls away. Your mind also falls away and you experience the state of no-mind (Zen terminology), or true mind (Tibetan terminology). There is a state of complete surrender, as the ego cannot stand up in the face of death. It looses all power and control.

 

When death happens life as we know it comes to an end. There are no hopes, no fears, no plans, no ambitions, nothing to do, nothing to achieve, nothing to get, nothing to hold onto - just nothing. Everything is gone, gone Ö gone beyond. Family, friends, loved ones, possessions, accomplishments. Like a dream, it is finished forever Ö and you wake up somewhere else, to some other experience Ö a new dream. You donít even have time to pack a suitcase, or tidy your handbag. Here one minute, gone the next minute. Just like that.

 

For the rest of the weekend, I entered a timeless dimension. Life appeared surreal, unreal, dream-like, silently happening as if in slow motion. Everything dropped, time stopped, and for a timeless time I died with Patricia. There was awareness of things happening, just awareness. Thatís all there is, emptiness and awareness, and the play of life happening around you. The director of the play is the Law of Karma and all the pieces come together, then move on and depart for the next scene. You donít even feel like an actor in this play, its just happening and you are aware of it, from a timeless place that is beyond it all. Hence the surreal quality.

 

On Monday morning, I felt the wheels of Samsara start moving and grinding, and the feeling of timelessness disappeared. I felt the urge to get back to Ďmy own lifeí, to separate from this strange uncanny part-of-the-whole where things happen as if in a dream. And the sages tell us that this life is like a dream, just a very long one compared to the mini-dreams we have each night. From the perspective of timelessness, this seems to be the case, but we are still caught in a very limited dimension of time and space. This is our present reality and it overwhelms us, so that we loose touch with the bigger picture, and the vastness of eternity fades away behind the veils of time and ego again.

 

IMPERMANENCE AND DEATH

 

 

 

ďAll composed things are like a dream,

a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightening.

That is how to meditate on them,

that is how to observe them.Ē

[DIAMOND SUTRA]

 

Photo taken the night before Patricia died

 

 

 

Death reminds us of the preciousness, and fragility of human life Ė it is like a dream, a dewdrop that melts in the morning sun, a flash of lightening that lights up the sky for an instant. The teachings instruct us to meditate on impermanence and death on a daily basis. This is not a morbid instruction, because increased awareness of death also brings increased awareness of the preciousness of life, and we stop taking life for granted. Because there is life, there is death - they go together, just a bit of time separates them, and nobody knows how much time. Life does not come with a guarantee of X amount of years. Death is certain, the time of death is uncertain, and the Lord of Death comes unbidden.

 

We are experts at denying the reality of death, of thinking that it happens to other people, but somehow it wonít happen to me, at least not ítil I am old and grey. We tend to think we are invincible, we will be around forever, we have lots of time. So we procrastinate and postpone what is truly important. We engage in trivial pursuits and we waste much precious time. Death is a wake up call to live life to its fullest, now and until you die. This is your life Ė once gone, you donít get it back, so donít waste your precious human life. Reflect on what is truly meaningful and important, and let this be your focus in life. Then when the time comes to leave everything behind, you will have no regrets.

 

THE BARDOS

 

In my Fatherís house are many mansions.

 

Death is a very important time of spiritual transition. Death marks the end of a particular physical manifestation that we love and are familiar with, but the consciousness / mind-stream / soulís journey continues. Since death is actually a continuation, the Law of Karma continues to govern the soulís destiny. Since karma is flexible and not absolutely fixed, it is possible to help the dead person, by doing good deeds and performing positive actions on their behalf. From such virtuous actions you accumulate merit, which you can dedicate to the dead person. This will help you and it will help them.

 

There are many things one can do to help the dead: spiritual practices such as reciting Sutras, making offerings of light, flowers, food, water bowls etc to the Three Jewels on behalf of the dead person; doing a weekend Vajrasattva / Chenrezig / Medicine Buddha retreat; doing Tonglen meditation, meditating on emptiness; making thangkas or statues; publishing Dharma books; making offerings to Churches and charities, helping poor people, sick people, animals.

 

Buddhism believes that the soul migrates for 49 days or 7 weeks before taking rebirth elsewhere. Every 7th day is particularly important, so the dedication of merits on those days is particularly important. There are 2 main types of karma that determine rebirth: throwing karma determines the realm of rebirth; and completing karma determines the circumstances within a realm. Merit dedicated on the 7th days effects and can improve the throwing karma; and merit dedicated on other days effects and can improve the completing karma.

 

PRAYERS FOR PATRICIA

 

We pray that Patricia will be protected in her onward journey, that she will be in the company of angels, bodhisattvas and Enlightened Beings who will illuminate her passage through the intermediate stage to the next life. We pray that she will continue her journey in their presence and with their guidance. We pray for a good rebirth, that Patricia will be born in a Heavenly Realm or Pure Land where you can become enlightened. If she must take physical form again, we pray for a precious human rebirth with access to spiritual teachers and teachings and the opportunity and inclination to practice them. We pray for all this, together with the protection afforded by her family's faith that her soul will go to God.

 

Patricia was a good wife, mother, daughter and sister. She was a kind and caring person, who always made an effort to connect with people and keep in touch. She was always there when you needed her, and she always had time for everybody. She leaves Tracy, 22 years, and Gregory, 20 years, and husband Tommy behind. Patricia died at a happy time, she was with her family, her death was quick and there was absolutely no suffering. She died in the lagoon that she so loved. The last memories are happy and special ones that we will treasure. We have faith that Patricia has gone to a better place, leaving this suffering world behind. May her soul be in peace.

 

 

The Lords my Shepherd

I shall not want

He leads me beside quiet waters

He restores my Soul

[PSALM 23]

 

Photo of lagoon in Plett where Patricia died