Briefest ruminations on the death of a child

I’m just back from assisting the facilitation of a service at the cremation of a child who lived four hours. I first wrote that last line “of a child who lived only four hours.” But, I realized what I was feeling and wanted to express here is that there was no need for the modifier “only.”

As I mentioned in an earlier posting from when I was gathering materials for possible use at this service, there is that old story collected as a koan in the Blue Cliff Record: “Great Master Ma was unwell. The temple’s superintendent visited and inquired after the venerable’s health. Ma replied ‘Sun face buddha. Moon face Buddha.'”

That’s the whole case. It is helpful to know that in Buddhist legend a Sun face Buddha lives for a great length of time, I’ve read eighteen hundred years, I’ve heard ten thousand. The point is simple enough, a life of wisdom of great length. A Moon face Buddha lives for a single day and a single night. It is not necessary but interesting to know that Mazu, Great Master Ma, one of the most wonderful of our Zen ancestors in fact died shortly after this encounter. He lived long, for a human, and it was a Buddha’s life.

As is four hours.

One old teacher of Zen said if you cut a golden staff near the foot it is gold. If you cut that staff in the middle, it is gold. If you cut it at the end, it is gold.

But often our experience seems a little different.

The Diamond Sutra gatha sings “So listen to this fleeting world, a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream, a flash of lightening in a summer cloud, a flickering lamp, a phantom and a dream.”

Some can hear this and think it is telling us the world is maya, illusion, and infer we need to abandon it in favor of the real real beyond. And that is the teaching of some spiritual traditions.

But not the ones I follow.

Rather, our lives are fleeting, a star to be glimpsed between passing clouds, a bubble dancing on a rushing river, a flash of lightning, a flickering lamp.

The phantom, the dream are also true, but only in so far as we give them, our lives, a substance they do not possess, an identity separate from all that is.

What they are, what our lives are, yours and mine, are immediate exact expressions of the the great empty, of the place without name. And in that all are joined, all are one.

And whether we live a hundred years, or four hours, that immediate expression of truth as one life, remains truth.

So terrible, so sad, so beautiful.

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