Andrea Miller shares some thoughts on her father’s death, reflecting on the old Buddhist tale of Kisa Gotami’s grief.
One morning when I was about eleven I asked my dad if he believed in ghosts. Still in his bathrobe, he held up a coffeepot. “See this coffeepot,” he said. “I believe in this coffeepot because I can see it. I don’t believe in what I can’t see.”
My father and I never directly discussed miracles but given the coffeepot I think it’s safe to assume that he had no time for them—that he would not have put any stock in Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. But though a doubting Thomas, my dad was a sensitive man. He would have understood why Mary wanted her brother Lazarus to live again and he would have understood why I wish that I could bring him, my dad, back to life—healthy and whole.
Yes, he would have understood the grief in the story about Lazarus but I think he would have appreciated more the Buddhist story of Kisa Gotami. She was a woman who was so devastated by the death of her only son that she carried his body to the houses of all her neighbors, asking them for medicine to cure him. They all said, “She has lost her mind; the boy is dead.” But finally Kisa Gotami met a man who said that though he couldn’t cure her son he knew someone who could: the Buddha.
“Please help me,” Kisa Gotami said when she found him.
“I will,” the Buddha answered. “If you bring me a mustard seed from a house where no one has lost a child, husband, parent, or friend.”
So Kisa Gotami went from house to house and people pitied her and said, “Here, take this seed.” But when she asked if anyone of their house had ever died, they all answered yes.
It’s been almost three thousand years since Kisa Gotami gave up on finding that mustard seed, but nothing has changed since then. Now, as then, we all must know death.
Thanks to the Buddha, Kisa Gotami was finally able to realize that she wasn’t alone—it is our suffering and mortality that unites us all. And she was able to bury her son and move on.
Likewise, my father would have wanted me and everyone else that he loved to accept the inevitability of death and to move on—to continue enjoying life and food and laughter as much as he did. So I will try to do that. For him.
To conclude, I’d just like to clarify something. If anyone thinks it is inappropriate for me to mix Buddhism with anything having to do with my father—a man who rejected the notion that there are no atheists in the foxholes—you should think again.
Just a couple of days before he died he had something of a Buddhist moment when, in his politically incorrect way, he told a few of us his plans for the next life; he said he would come back as a gay girl. All right, he was joking, but twenty years from now when I meet a young gay woman, I hope that I treat her softly. I hope that I remember that she is my dad—if not literally then figuratively. She has the same stuff in her as my dad, the same stuff that I have in me, and the same stuff that all of you have. She too will suffer; she too will die.
Now that we have seen how fragile life is, let us all be soft with each other.
[…] read this post over on the shambala sun blog: words on my father’s death But finally Kisa Gotami met a man who said that though he couldn’t cure her son he knew someone […]