Monday
Nov272006

Forty-nine Days

Within a few minutes of my mother’s passing, two friends, one of whom had sensed that they urgently needed to come, walked into the apartment. Other friends who knew that I wished to chant for twelve hours came as soon as they received the word. And so, in Elkhart, Indiana, a group of westerners who two years ago had not heard of Amitabha Buddha or the Western Pure Land came to chant “Amituofo” through the night. Together, they insured that there was always at least one person in the room chanting for my mother. As each new person arrived, she was quietly shown by the others what to do. The chanting continued for almost thirteen hours.

Seven days after my mother’s passing a ceremony was held at the Amitabha Buddhist Library in Chicago. I attended and brought home the peiwai—a paper tablet bearing my mother’s name. To encourage my mother to seek rebirth into the Pure Land, we repeated the ceremony in my mother’s home on each seventh days until November 26th, the forty-ninth day after her passing.

On each of the Sundays in Elkhart, friends came to help—chanting for one and a half hours in Chinese, although none of them spoke or read Chinese. They admirably strove to read the pronunciation system in the ceremony recitation book while following the recording of the ceremony.

I do not know the words to express my admiration for these amazing and compassionate friends, several of whom came a number of times. They came to chant words they did not know how to pronounce as they sang music they had never heard, which was written in a system they had never seen.

Everyone came together to help encourage my mother to ask Amitabha Buddha to take her to the Western Pure Land. As much as we wanted her to achieve this rebirth, we did not have the ability to make it happen. We were not praying to ask Amitabha to help her; he could not intervene to do this. We were chanting to encourage her to help herself by asking for his assistance.

I said in the last entry that my mother was not a Buddhist. What I meant was that she was not a practicing Buddhist in this lifetime . It was my mother’s practice in her past lifetimes that had planted the seeds that brought about the amazingly wonderful conditions of having so many caring people—family and friends—come together to help her both before and after her passing. I know exactly what she would have said—Thank you.

Tuesday
Nov212006

My Best Friend

Everything changes—nothing remains the same, or turns out as we expected.

On October 2nd, my mother went to bed at her usual time. A little before 2 am, I heard her call me. When I saw her, it was clear that she had had a stroke. The ambulance rushed her to the hospital where the cause and severity of her stroke was discovered. On the 5th, my sister and I brought my mother home.

My mother’s stroke was major, and she had long ago indicated her final wishes to us. We told her why we had brought her home and she understood. She was at peace with our decision and trusted us to do what was best for her. From the time we brought her home, she did not complain but acted with dignity and grace, and even with flashes of her well-known humor.

Over her final few days, many of the good friends we had so recently made came to visit my mother. When awake, she would thank those who had come. She also joked with Louise and I, and with her visitors. Louise and I told her that we would be fine and thanked her for being such a wonderful mother.

On the 8th, a very kind monk I knew called me to see how she was. He gave me some very wise advice, which I considered and then I realized what might hold my mother back. I spoke with Louise and we then went to talk to our mother. We spoke to her for just a few minutes and then we both began to chant.

My mother was not a Buddhist and did not chant, but she had always been very happy with my decision to become a Buddhist nun. But after we spoke with her and began to quietly chant “Amituofo” for her, Louise and I both realized that Mom was moving her mouth. She was silently chanting with us!

Although her speech had been difficult to understand and her right side was immobilized, she was clearly chanting with us. Amazed, we looked back at her and watched as she chanted with us. Then, the next chant never came, and we realized she had quietly slipped away from us. And my best friend was gone.

May my mother, Evelyn Bolender,

be born into the Western Pure Land in her next rebirth

to forever leave suffering and confusion behind, and

to find lasting liberation and happiness.

Amituofo

Wednesday
Sep272006

Sometimes It Doesn't Matter

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In his book Opening The Door of Your Heart, Ajahn Bhram retells a wonderful story that was told by his teacher, Ajahn Chah.

"A newly married couple went for a walk together in a wood, one fine summer's evening after dinner. They were having such a wonderful time being together until they heard a sound in the distance: ‘Quack! Quack!’

‘Listen,’ said the wife, ‘That must be a chicken.’

‘No, no. That was a duck,’ said the husband.

‘No, I'm sure that was a chicken,’ she said.

‘Impossible. Chickens go “Cock-a-doodle-doo”, ducks go “Quack! Quack!” That’s a duck, darling,’ he said, with the first signs of irritation.

‘Quack! Quack!' it went again.

‘See! It's a duck,’ he said.

‘No dear. That's a chicken. I'm positive,’ she asserted, digging in her heels.

‘Listen wife! That ... is ... a ... duck. D-U-C-K, duck! Got it?’ he said angrily.

‘But it's a chicken,’ she protested.

‘It 's a blooming duck, you, you ...’

And it went ‘Quack! Quack!’ again before he said some­ thing he oughtn't.

The wife was almost in tears. ‘But it's a chicken.’

The husband saw the tears welling up in his wife's eyes and, at last, remembered why he had married her. His face softened and he said gently, ‘Sorry, darling. I think you must right. That is a chicken.’

‘Thank you, darling,’ she said and she squeezed his hand.

‘Quack! Quack!’ came the sound through the woods, as they continued their walk together in love."

It is so easy to get caught up in little discussions like this that we usually do not realize how inconsequential the discussion is. What does it really matter whether it is a chicken or a duck? But in the heat of a “discussion” we lose sight of this. We feel the need to set the other person straight. And we fail to notice that we are hurting the other person and destroying their happiness.

What joy is to be found in winning an argument when we have hurt a person we love, who we have promised to look after and to respect? What comfort is to be found in being right when we have contributed to another’s worry over making another mistake? When we have caused their fears to increase?

All this so we can be right. But how often in such situations have we been absolutely convinced without the slightest doubt that we were right only to learn later that we were mistaken! So the unhappiness we caused was pointless.

Sometimes, it is best not to tell others they are wrong.

Sometimes, it simply does not matter whether it is a duck or a chicken.

Sunday
Sep242006

D.A.N.C.E.

I have checked out a copy of When a Family Member Has Dementia by Susan M. McCurry from the amazingly well-stocked Elkhart Public Library. The library and the Daily Grind (great coffee and baked goods, and where we always run into friends) are my mother's and my favorite places here.

Dr. McMurry has a wonderful acronym for five core principles for caregiver's—DANCE.
Don't argue
Accept the disease
Nurture your physical and emotional health
use Creative problem solving
Enjoy the moment with your loved one

Very Buddhist! Don’t argue, accord with conditions, nurture both the body and the spirit, be flexible in resolving problems, and enjoy the moment.

In writing about the first principle of not arguing, McMurray provides tools to help the reader let go of the compulsion to argue. I have often spoken about how we argue because we believe we are right and the other person is clearly wrong. But so often in life, it is actually we who are wrong. We just don’t know it.

With dementia, the sad reality is that we as caregivers most likely are right. But in this situation, it is even more futile to argue, and even worse, it causes the other person pain. Either they realize they are wrong once again, or they are frustrated or saddened over a situation they cannot fully grasp.

To help people not feel compelled to argue, McMurray proposes what she calls caring detachment. “The first secret to being able to give up arguing is detachment. Detachment is not emotional indifference or pretense that nothing is the matter…Rather it is a very loving action of genuinely accepting the other person as he is, not as you want him to be.”

As Buddhists, we strive to let go of attachments—to care with detachment. We are not unconcerned or uncaring, rather, we accept others as they are and do not burden them with having to live up to our expectations.

Everything changes—relationships, abilities, situations—everything. If we expect that those we love will always remain the caring, wonderful people we know so well, that they will always be there for us, we are setting ourselves up for much suffering. If instead, we can let go of our frustration and sadness over things changing, let go of the fears of what will happen tomorrow, of our fear that we will prove inadequate to the task, we will be able to move out of ourselves and to focus on the other person. To listen to the other person. And to care for the other person, for who they have become, and for the memory of who they once were.

Amituofo

 
Sunday
Sep102006

path to peace

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"A momentary flash of anger may seem inconsequential, but it carries with it the potential for a lifetime of suffering." 

It seems reasonable for us to think the outcomes of what we say and do will be in direct relationship to those words and actions. Surely a moment of being angry will result in just a moment of suffering. But the outcome of our words and behavior have the potential to last not merely for a moment. They have the potential to last for a lifetime.

Fortunately, our caring words and actions born of understanding what another person is undergoing can, in the same way, bring us a lifetime of happiness. By understanding the potential results of our thoughts and behavior, we will gradually learn to be more careful in what we say and in how we act.