Today's guest blogger is a man whose words resonate with tenderness and the tenets of his faith. Caine Das is an ordained Buddhist Monk and, as you will see in this post, he is also a devoted son. His struggles to accept and deal with his mother's illness stretch the limits of his faith while still offering him comfort. In part five of our continuing series on Grief, Faith and Culture, Caine shows us his serenity in the face of coming loss. ~ Charity Gallardo, Blog Coordinator
Disclaimer: The religious information contained in these guest blog posts are the beliefs of the guest blogger and in no way reflect Fairhaven’s endorsement of any particular religion.
"Your mother's cancer has returned and is widespread. It is just a matter of time now." A year before, I heard the same doctor state, "Your mother has a rare and aggressive form of uterine cancer. I will do the surgery and chemo, but best case, we are looking at a five percent chance of long-term survival."
Both times, the doctor touched my shoulder and said, "I am so sorry." As he turned and walked away, tears rolled down my face. How many times in my life had tears flowed? A phone call, "I am sorry Caine, your teacher, he has passed away." Another doctor, many years ago, "The baby is failing to thrive. There is nothing more I can do." These memories and so many more flood my thoughts as I turn and slowly walk down the corridor towards my mother's room.
The son will be the one who tells his Mother the cancer is back. The child will tell the woman the prognosis. She decides to not go without a fight, even while saying how tiring it all is. Her life has not been an easy one. As the weeks pass, comments about how she wants her funeral to be, location of important papers, how no one lives forever mix in with, "I don't feel like I am dying. Not really."
One question comes up that is not exactly a surprise, "Will you be wearing your robes at the receiving of friends?"
I fondly think back to over thirty years ago when she first saw them. Maroon and yellow with a shaved head. "What in God's name are you wearing? Where is your hair?" I had become a Buddhist Monk and my mother was very shocked at the sight. The years have softened her views.
Being a Buddhist Monk led to many discussions on why, where, how, when, would you like to see a doctor? She did love hearing about the places I had traveled, but my beliefs and the fact I was no longer the family religion did worry her so.
At this time of transition, my mind centered on the words of the Buddha. “This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightning in the sky, rushing by, like a torrent down a steep mountain.” These words carried such tender meaning facing the mortality of my Mother.
Grief comes to all beings, and for all, there is a difference in the depth, width and intensity of the road it becomes. I have seen people move on quickly because it was the only way they could continue, but the sting left its mark. Others, not so. Their grief holds them like a prison. Intervention of loved ones is often necessary to help these people carry on the most simple of tasks, their grief so fixated.
The words 'Impermanence' and 'Equanimity' flow around my grief. Everything changes, nothing is permanent. All the people and places I know will and do change. My friends, my family, myself, all will die. I had always known this but it never became real until I studied the path of the Buddha. The fact that all things were impermanent made suffering all the more a reality.
I recall asking my Teacher one night, "Why do you stare at the stars so much? They are hundreds of light-years away. Everything you are seeing has changed."
He smiled and said, "Caine, you have learned impermanence, but you must embrace equanimity to understand why I look at the stars and smile."
I was a novice Monk then, not even sure if I wanted to stay. I yearned for the peace and firmness of mind my Teacher had. He was compassionate and caring whether things were good or bad. He never wavered. He taught that equanimity was compassion in action and during actions. All things change, suffering will happen because of these changes, yet compassion and love stands in the middle of all changes.
Through the years, grief became more and more of a constant, visiting more often. I faced grief with equanimity, a faith and confidence of being able to stand in the middle with peace and compassion, not judging or saying what if. I looked at what could be done to help.
My Mother said, "Well, are you going to wear your robes?"
I smiled at her just as my Teacher had smiled at the stars.
My Mother just smiled back and said, "Wear the nice ones at least."
"I will Mom, I will."
Caine Das has been a Buddhist Monk for over 30 years. He found peace in the words and teachings of the Buddha and has carried this peace to the world. His mission is simple, to serve others. His website is Reflection of a Buddhist Monk.