Buddhism A–Z
Grief & Buddhism

Buddhism offers both philosophical insights and practical techniques for coping with grief, loss, and sorrow. But it must be understood that grief is deeply complex and deeply personal. The Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax said, “Grieving is a landscape that is so varied and so vast that it can only be discovered through our own most intimate experience.” And there is no one-size-fits-all formula for dealing with it.

Grief is a Natural Emotion

Buddhism acknowledges that grief is a natural human emotion. It is not something to be avoided or suppressed but rather something to be understood and experienced fully. Of course, sometimes grief can be crushing, and experiencing it fully may seem unbearable. At first, there may be numbness and denial, then anger, then despair. Most of us will need support from friends, family, and sangha. Eventually, we may come to acceptance and compassion. This process may take months or years. It’s an individual and intimate process, but it’s a process that can’t be bypassed or avoided. 

Recognition of Impermanence and Suffering

Central to Buddhist teaching is impermanence (anicca). Buddhism emphasizes that all things, including life itself, are impermanent. One who has developed insight into and accepted impermanence will perhaps be less overwhelmed by a deep loss. Grief often arises when we resist or deny the impermanence of life.

By the same token, the First Noble Truth of Buddhism is that life is dukkha, a word often translated as “suffering,” as well as “imperfect” or “stressful.”  Grief is a form of suffering, and Buddhism provides tools to cope with grief and to understand it deeply.

Practices to Help with Grief

Mindfulness practices such as meditation are helpful in coping with grief. Mindfulness allows individuals to observe their thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to grief with non-judgmental awareness. This can lead to greater self-compassion and understanding. Buddhist memorial rituals can also be remarkably helpful by making the process of grieving open and tangible and not something locked up inside ourselves.

Buddhism emphasizes compassion (karuna) and loving-kindness (metta) as essential qualities to cultivate. These virtues can be directed toward oneself and toward others who are experiencing grief. Practicing compassion and loving-kindness to oneself and others lightens our hearts and enables spiritual growth.

Related Reading

A Practice to Work with Grief

Kimberly Brown takes us through the practice of “standing on the earth,” which can help us in times of great change and grief.

a white candle reflects on a frosted window

My 49-Day Journey Through Grief

After the loss of her son, Karen Wallace Bartelt sought solace beyond the practices of her Christian faith. Finding inspiration in Buddhism, she shares how she learned to sit with her grief and create a sacred space within for transformation to unfold.

Ask the Teachers: How Can the Dharma Help Us Work Through Grief?

Breeshia Wade, Tenku Ruff, Damchö Diana Finnegan share how the dharma can help us work through grief.

Buddhism A–Z

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