I could not stay another day

I can’t believe it’s happening.

So said the beautiful Ruth to me, in tears, at the wake of her fiancé John, last night in Jersey City.

I mentioned that he and I had spoken the morning that he died. She acknowledged this and added:

He was so excited about his new snowblower, he couldn’t wait to try it out. I can’t compute. This doesn’t seem real.

Between the blowing and the shoveling, John had a heart attack. Samsara’s pleasures are deceptive. And at times like this, when things go disastrously wrong and we simply can’t compute, I think we are shocked out of our permanent grasping and get glimpses of how nothing is as it seems, glimpses of the illusory, dream-like nature of things. We don’t always know what to make of that understanding — but we do know at those times that we want to wake up.

Kadampa Buddha 1
Awakened One

I said to Ruth, “It feels dream-like, yes?” And she stared at me and shook her head, “Yes, yes, that’s it. Like a nightmare.”

During this wake, we were greeted by John’s almost identical and equally charming brother James, who was gracious enough to introduce us to the whole family, even though France and Julian were just neighbors and I had known John for approximately ten minutes. The atmosphere was far from gloomy, despite the tears. Even as John lay there with his spectacles on (I wondered why, seeing as he wasn’t even wearing them when his eyes worked), this large African American assembly were all greeting each other warmly, laughing in the midst of tears. Earlier in the day, when Julian and I delivered food to John’s circle of friends in his home, encountering this rich-hearted community struck me with the realization that each living home in this road was not separated out as it appears from the outside, but connected in a million ways. People just like me live in all these houses, drive all these cars. We are all in this together.

Now, at the wake, it was not hard to see what Shantideva meant when he talked about us all being “walking corpses”. John’s body was so waxy. Bodies are so obviously just lumps of meat – it so clearly was not John laying there. So where did he go?! Where are people really headed as they walk their bodies up and down the streets of Manhattan or drive their cars along the road? Where are we all really headed, given that our bodies will all be laying there like this before we know it?

madame tussauds
Look the same, could not be more different.

You know how you see pictures of celebrities with their doubles at Madame Tussaud’s? These bodies are made of wax, but it doesn’t seem so different to the lifelessness of our actual bodies when they are no longer animated by consciousness.

So what is the relationship between the mind and the body?

I started musing on this subject in this article, Buddha & the Brain, which has garnered some good comments from people who have pondered this subject. Plus, I intend to write more about the mind-matter connection soon, so in the meantime please leave your comments so I can incorporate them.

madame tussauds 2
Appearances are deceptive.

I once took some people to visit a morgue with the idea that it would help our death awareness, and it did, it certainly did. The mortician was delighted at having young people voluntarily visit him and ask about what he did all day, he said his friends never asked about it, in fact he didn’t have any friends. For days after seeing those waxy bodies, I could not help but see cities of animated corpses, including the squirrels. We are not our bodies, that much is clear. And it may seem morbid but I also find it utterly realistic and therefore helpful to envisage myself lying there, like John, and to envisage people I am attached to lying there, like John. For that is what is going to happen. Better to prepare for that now, get things in perspective now, live each remaining day fully now. Seriously, folks, we are all going to be dead very soon.

Ruth had chosen a beautiful poem, adaptable to whichever holy being we have faith in,
given to us all on the back of this card. Hopefully “that place” is the Pure Land, where John now John at wakefinds himself thanks to his positive mind and the thousands of prayers he has created the causes to receive.

I’m Free

Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free,
I’m following the path God laid for me.
I took his hand when I heard Him call.
I turned my back and left it all.

I could not stay another day
To laugh, to love, to work, or play,
Tasks left undone must stay that way.
I found that place at the close of the day.

Perhaps my time seemed all too brief.
Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

15 thoughts on “I could not stay another day”

  1. In my experiences with death and grief, it seems one of the best things is just to be compassionately present for each other. For the person grieving, just hold the space for the person. Let that person wail, grieve, cry…then send him or her love and light and also send the deceased love and light…illuminate the way. In those instances when I’ve experienced losses, it was wonderful to know my friends were there offering their empathy and support. I found solace in being reminded that my beloved had a connection to the pureland. For those who grieving and reading this, hold the space for your loved one; cry, grieve, and compassionately remember the kindness of that person. Have faith that the pain you presently feel will heal and be open to the blessings of Holy Beings. Death will visit us all but it doesn’t have to be the victor?

  2. I liked the article, Luna, especially the epitaph poem. I did a little rewrite to make it more generic:

    Don’t Grieve For Me

    Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free,
    I’m on the path I laid for me.
    I’m bounding now, over the wall
    I turned my back and left it all.
    I could not stay another day
    To laugh, to love, to work, or play,
    Tasks left undone must stay that way.
    I found that place at the close of the day.
    If my time seemed all too brief.
    Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.

  3. I dwell in Possibility
    A Fairer House than Prose
    More Numerous of Windows
    Superior – for Doors

    Of Chambers as the Cedars
    Impregnable of Eye-
    And for an Everlasting Roof –
    The Gambrels of the Sky –

    Of Visitors – the Fairest –
    For Occupation – This –
    The Spreading Wide my Narrow Hands
    To Gather Paradise-

    Emily Dickinson

  4. Love that last sentence of the poem. Death is part of life, so no need to grief too much. Learned that lesson when a former roommate of mine suddenly died while I was abroad. Great article with lots to ponder about!

  5. I’d like to add my voice to the many prayers that John take or has taken a fortunate rebirth in Buddha’s Pure Land and that the grief of Ruth and his family be brief. Thank you, Luna, for your insights into death and impermanence.

  6. Beautiful! Thank you for this. I love it. What a beautiful reminder. So simply: We will all be dead soon. We are all connected. We are all in this together. And yet…how easily we forget!

  7. very powerful message……. thank you for opening my mind to death as a concept I face instead of ignore…..

  8. Hi Luna.

    I am wondering if you can comment on the relationship between the mind and brain regarding mental illness. As someone who experiences clinical mental illness and who takes meds that usually work I am perplexed. I have tried so very sincerely to overcome what seem like delusions through meditation on Lamrim which includes self generation. It helps me so much and has brought meaning to my life and will, I believe, lead to enlightenment for myself and others. But – I can’t access my tools when I am sick (or at least it seems that way). Meds and meditation seem to be the combo I need. Yet I am so confused about the meaning of this.

    I have had different dear Kadampa RTs say different things. Some say that it will be great when I am off of meds and some say I should definitely take my meds (these are usually the RTs who have seen my symptoms directly). Some say I need to practice more deeply and of course this is always true until we achieve enlightenment but I don’t think that’s their meaning.

    Anyhow I hope it’s okay to share that- I say it not for sympathy but to illustrate my confusion and maybe even the confusion within our Sangha.

    So what do you think about this subject and could you also say why you think it or what deeper questions this brings up?

    One more thing I want to share is that I try to view my docs as Medicine Buddha and my pills as medicine nectar… So that I think is a major reason my meds work too.

    Thank you for whatever you think you can share (without sticking your neck out uncomfortably). Love your articles.

    Lots of love.

  9. I loved your latest article Luna, thank you for sharing.

    Just moments after I read your article and with the content still fresh in my mind, I saw a random link on Facebook to a clip of Whitney Houston. It showed her singing in 1995.

    As I watched her, alive and full of vitality, I wondered where did she go? I pondered, as I watched and listened, that she kind of still exists on film and record and as memories in people’s minds, but that vision of her youthful and full of exuberance is long gone. It was a bit like a dream that you could rewind and forward but unreal in the sense that you could never return to it. That moment in 1995 had ceased to exist physically but remained in a more limited capacity. Likewise, I can’t return to earlier today or even 5 minutes ago when I began to type this.

    In that moment, voice in full flow, Whitney could not have realised her ultimate demise years later to be found dead in a bath tub, on the verge of attending a big awards show hours later. She was probably still making plans: perhaps what she might wear, plotting another comeback, who she might meet and so on. And yet, in a moment, she was gone. Just like your friend.

    It made me realise how impermanent we all are and seeing the investment in fame (among other worldly pursuits) is largely pointless. Award ceremonies are also meaningless because at the end of the day we are just a name engraved on a statue or a record in an almanac. Just a label and an idea. We may be adored and grabbed by fans in our lifetime but then we end up as a photograph, film footage, memories and nostalgia. Because we all have limited lifespans, the memories of others will also cease and yet we made a mark on the world, however subtle. As karmic imprints that will one day ripen?

    But returning to Whitney, where does the person, the thing, actually go? We can’t find them can we? They are just a thought, really. An appearance to mind. They may be walking around one minute and gone the next, but as thoughts they are one and the same.

    I can’t reach out into the screen and pull out Whitney Houston and even when she was alive as Whitney Houston, I couldn’t really find her either. She’s kind of there, somewhere, but where? I can’t find her in a bunch of CDs (there is a voice I can hear); on-screen I see a body walking around; in magazines we read about the person and try and gain insight into what they are about and what makes them tick. Often the writer adds their own accent and viewpoint. But none of it matters, ultimately. It’s all externalised appearance and misguided perceptions.

    We spend so much time plotting our futures and yet our futures are not guaranteed. Your article proves this. We have expectations as to how everything – our lives embodying ourself and others – will play out. And yet they never will play out exactly as we imagine whilst we remain in samsara and we all have different karma ready and primed to ripen.

    So what have I learned? To cultivate meaningful interactions, use others and the environments we find ourselves in as vehicles to plant the right intentions. And that anything can be used as a spiritual teaching, including Whitney Houston.

    And make the most. We only have the now to play with and even that has just passed.

    1. Dan, you are so right. I’ve realized a lot of what I do on a daily basis is simply cultivating the right motivation/intention.

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