Facing the Loss of a Loved One

Master Jingzong; English translation by Jinghua, edited by Fojin

Two objects, A and B are fastened together by a rope. When A drops, it will naturally affect B if B is not anchored. However, if B is rooted, it will be able to hold up A and not let it fall, and will eventually pull it back up.

The relationship between two people is often bound by the karma of emotions. When one of a closely related couple, such as mother and son, or husband and wife, passes away, the other may be so overwhelmed with grief that he or she wants to die too. This would be like two objects falling together. The death of the surviving partner would not help the deceased but would accelerate his descent into evil realms, like dropping stones on a person who has fallen into a well. If the survivor could stay calm and not be overly saddened, this could instead benefit the deceased. That is why Sage Zhuangzi drummed on a basin and sang when his wife passed away.

But, being ordinary beings, we are not as detached and sanguine as a sage. When we lose a loved one, we are inevitably saddened and dejected. However, as long as Amitabha Buddha is rooted in our minds, we would not feel too painful to live on, or want to die. By reciting Namo Amitabha with peace of mind, a touch of sorrow will turn into a touch of Dharma joy. This is evidence that we helped deliver our loved one to the Pure Land. On the other hand, if we do not walk out of the shadow of our grief and ease our pains, for the rest of our lives, no matter how many merits we dedicate to the loved one, we will not deliver her out of the misery of the samsara. Hence, excessive mourning for months even years is a foolish way to cherish our memories of the deceased, and may inflict prolonged afflictions on her. We should not do such things if we truly love the departed.

What I am going to say may seem a bit harsh to some but, nevertheless, I must say it: when we have lost a loved one, not only should we not carry our grief to excess, but we should try to wear a peaceful smile and fill our hearts with the joy of blessing the deceased. This is the attitude of true love and a responsible act. We can do it as long as we have Amitabha Buddha in our hearts.

Buddhism deals specifically with the important matter of life and death, and Amitabha is the Buddha who delivers us from the cycle of life and death. If we are accustomed to constantly reciting Namo Amitabha Buddha, we would not lose our minds when facing death. This is like an experienced firefighter who, having gone through hundreds of fire drills, would not react to a fire alarm in the same way as an ordinary person. If we Amitabha reciters feel helpless and mournful when facing the departure of our loved one, would it not suggest that the Amitabha-recitations we have been practising were just a showy and ineffectual way of liberation? Adversity tests our faith in the Buddha. Our faith must be firm and unshakable, and we must recite the Buddha’s name conscientiously; each of our calls must be earnest and taken to heart. Such a state of mind should be cultivated daily. The final test of how much Dharma we have absorbed is when we face death.

Death is an illusion. Fools hold onto it as real. They wail and even throw themselves onto the floor or a wall in bereavement. Sages view such melodrama with sighs and pity. When we face death, we are not obliged to lament. We could also smile peacefully. When you smile, the deceased smiles too, especially the one who was dearest to you in your life.

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