Sunday, June 17, 2007

melody of compassion

Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

There are moments in our lives when you know that today is not the same as yesterday, and that consequently tomorrow will not look as it might have done. Actually, life is always like this, but so often I stumble through with little or no understanding of the depth and breadth of impermanence.
One thing we all share, with absolute certainty, is that each breath, while being the source of life, also brings us closer to death. There is no turning back, no putting it on hold. Nothing. At some point we will breathe our last breath and be lost from the world that we cling to. All that we have held dear will no longer be ours, and even the tears of those that love us most deeply will not be salve to the final wound of death.
For so many of us, the process of dying and the moment of death may not come easily. Our minds may be filled with fear, with regret, with anger, with grief. It is after all the separation from all that is familiar, including the very bodies that have carried us forward, year after year.
Many of us, especially those of us who have lived for more years than now lay before us, have probably experienced death in some form - colleagues, family, parents, children, pets. I remember the process of my mother dying quite vividly, although I was not with her at that final moment, I had nursed her for some months and lived with and through so much of her pain, denial, regret, anguish. Fortunately, her last moments with me before she fell into a coma were light and joyful, a gift that soothed both my mind and hers.
There seems so little we can do as we watch our those that we love - people and animals alike - slip from our life and theirs; no hand grip is strong enough to pull them back over the precipice. We can bathe them, and read to them, and ease their pain, and care for them in any and every way possible. And we do. But so often we wish we could do more.
We can.
I spoke at the beginning of this post about those moments in life when the fabric is re-woven, the pattern re- shaped. Such a moment has occurred, most directly in my life, but because my life and yours are connected through our hearts, also in yours.
This week my beloved teacher Jetsunma offered us a gift beyond measure; it is a prayer, a lullaby of compassion, the tune of which arose from the depths of her heart, that beats always and only for the benefit of others. The words are a traditional Tibetan prayer for those who are dying, but the tune is extraordinary, lovely, comforting; it is the cadence of compassion itself. If we could put our ears to the seashell of hope and love, of all the goodness we wish for others, if we could record the prayers of every being who has passed from our lives, if we could hear the echo of clarity and wisdom, if we could recognise the sound of our very own hearts, as they cry out for the end of all suffering, this is what we would hear.
Having brought this prayer to the world, amidst the chaos and busy-ness of NYC, Jetsunma's wish is to share it, as far and wide as our thoughts can stretch, and beyond to that place we all seek through our lives. It is not about being Buddhist, or embracing our faith, it is simply about opening our hearts to receive this gift in the way it was intended, founded in unconditional love, like that of a mother for her child.
This prayer is especially for those who are dying, so to play it in a hospice, or as someone passes from this life, or where animals may be killed, is very potent; it will comfort them in ways we may not be able to see or measure, but nonethless are there. It is available free as a CD.
There is so much in life we are unsure of or hesitant about, but please don't let this be one of them. I do not pretend to understand the true wealth inherent in this prayer, but having listened to it again and again as I type on the keyboard, I know it is a melody that flows in my blood, that permeates my pores; I know this tune from before time and space existed, because it is the sound of every beating heart that ever did or could exist. Compassion has no boundaries, yet it will appear in shapes and sounds and forms we recognise, like drifing clouds that appear so robust and solid, yet dissipate into space. This prayer is the echo of the compassion in our hearts.
So whatever your faith or beliefs - if you have ever wished for a better world, for the end of pain, that your loved ones may pass from this life into a place of kindness and joy, please listen and share this gift. So that where there is hardship, there may be comfort. That where there is fear, there may be courage. That where hope is lost, it will again be found. And that at the final moment, when we are so alone, we shall all be bathed by perfect compassion, and know the truth of our hearts.


Anonymous said...

That is a beautiful gift and I appreciate that you shared it with us. We take with us, as one of our few momentos on this trip, the prayer flags you sent us. They will hang above our heads as we sleep on this journey.

Impermanence walks hand-in-hand with suffering it seems. The process of letting go is about change, something I know I have been dealing with now for some time. I don't know why I choose the way of being a wandering spirit, but letting go, reducing life to the core and impermanence seem to be something that follows me. I am thankful for a woman and a wonderful partner who is willing to explore those things with me. I grapple with fears of my parents being so far away and getting older by the moment. I know they will not be around forever, I also carry the weight of fear of losing them.

Thank you for your post!

EdaMommy said...

Thank you for your post and for the gift of the mantra. As always, you write eloquently and passionately, and it is always a pleasure to read your blog - I always learn something new.
I've gone back and forth debating about commenting here - all week it seems. But after long consideration, I've decided to share my experience.

Actively practicing Buddhism - both through mindful living and through meditation (amongst other things) - has stirred up a lot of stuff that's been packed away in my psyche. Some of it's been hidden for a long time and I've been trying to mindfully "blow the dust off" each issue, emotional experience, etc. and decide what to do with it.

I was surprised to find that Jetsunma's mantra stirred up strong feelings of grief and angst in me. Perhaps it's just the arrangement - I've no clue. I wish I knew what the words mean - is there a direct translation or is it more like the Jewel Mantra?

In any case, while my response was probably "not right" or "not appropriate," it was genuine and I've chosen to view it as a useful catalyst. One thing I've learned in trying to process past issues is that pain is a beautiful, wonderful gift. By accepting pain as a teacher and as a resource, I have the opportunity for growth, compassion and understanding - all of which are so vital for a movement towards peace in the world.

kunzang said...

Dear Edamommy
Thank you for opening your heart; honesty is a great tool and gift.
I would say there is no such thing as a right or appropriate response when exposed to the voice of pure Bodhicitta. As you have acknowldged, the point of this path, and possibly many spiritual paths based on kindess and truth, is to be aware of our reactions, our responses, our connections to the environment. They are what they are - ultimately neither good nor bad, just habits and emotions that we are familiar with. As you know, the richness of the path is that there is the oportunity to learn and change using these very habits as tools.
Jetsunma is a profound being, acknowledged as a Tulku (re-incarnate Lama) and the very display of White Tara herself. So her voice contains - is - the sound of liberation, the calling of compassion, the wish for suffering to end. That has the potential to stir to great depths, because our own hearts already echo with that very same sound.
The tune arose spontaneously to her wisdom mind, so it is was not 'composed' in an ordinary way. The prayer is ancient - it is the prayer of Buddha Amitabha himself, and therefore a display in sound of the qualities of compassion and wisdom. In combination, this is a powerful force. Your heart heard this and responded.
The words have no English translation that I am aware of. If you go to the site there is a link to Jetsunma's music, and there you can download the music, the text and a teaching Jetsunma recently gave on this recording.
We are trying to get this recording out as far and wide as possible. Why? Because, as you experienced, it has immeasurable potential to open hearts. It is not about being Buddhist, it is knowing that the source of this prayer is pure Bodhicitta, or awakened compassion, and the response in every heart that hears it will be the same - the seed and fruition of awakening to boundless compassion and love. The grief and angst you tasted is perhaps on some level the stirring of recognition of who you truly are.
I read your blog with pleasure, because you share your exploration from many different aspects, and with honesty. There is always something to contemplate.
I wish you courage and joy, to be a warrior of compassion and peace!

EdaMommy said...

Kunzang, I deeply appreciate your kind response - there's a lot of food for thought here. Thank you!

Stephen Newton said...

Amen to your words, every last beautiful one of them.