All Beings Have Been Our Parents

Once, when a person was distraught over the death of his father, the Buddha asked him which father he meant; his father in this lifetime? Of his last lifetime? A lifetime before that?

It can become very easy for us to become lost in our sorrow over the death of a parent or someone else we were close to. Perhaps the death was sudden and we weren’t prepared for it to happen. In the future, of course, but today—no. Perhaps we had planned things together, and now we will not have the opportunity to fulfill those plans. And so we mourn the loss of what might have been. Perhaps our parent had been a close friend, and now that closeness is ended and we feel adrift. And so a deep sadness sets in, and feels like it will be with us forever.

But as it is said in the Brahma Net Sutra, “All male beings have been my father; all female beings have been my mother.” If we focus only on thoughts of our parents of this lifetime, we will be ignoring all those we loved in innumerable other lifetimes.

For the first forty-nine days, after my usual dedication of merits after my practice and work, I said a second merit dedication for my mother. But each time, I felt both worry for her and loss for me. But gradually, there was an increasing sense of happiness when I came to the final words of the dedication for I was thinking of the Pure Land. And as I added my father to the dedication, I felt happier.

Focusing on the love we have had for innumerable past parents can help us to pull ourselves back from sadness and loss. For if we grieve too much, we will not be able to dedicate ourselves to helping others end their sorrow, and thus, their suffering. Wanting to help all those who have been our parents can begin to fill our heart with equanimity and love. In time, there will be no room for sorrow.


Nature's Way

Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt,
sleeping when you are tired,
eating when you are hungry,
or sneezing when your nose itches.
It is nature's way of healing a broken heart. 

A cut finger is numb before it bleeds,
it bleeds until it begins to heal,
it forms a scab and itches until, finally,
the scab is gone and a small scar is left
where once there was a wound.

Grief is the deepest wound you have ever had.
Like a cut finger,
it goes through stages and leaves a scar.

By Doug Manning  


path to peace

 November 30.jpg


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.


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.