My mother died on this day 13 years ago. I woke up this morning before dawn—spontaneously—at the exact time she passed over. For an hour I lay awake thinking of her, her death, and the difficult weeks and months that followed. I thought of the many more people who have died in these thirteen years. My mom was the first of our parents to die. We didn't know it then, but within 7 years the remaining three of our parents would be buried. In that same interval I lost my first Buddhist teacher, Kobun Chino Otogawa, and my closest mentor in education, Don Ryckman. Lots of difficult loss. At breakfast I talked with Sarah about all this; she said I was sounding depressed, that I should do something to get out of my funk.
I went sailing today on my little sailboat on my favorite body of water, Tomales Bay. No activity I know...well no activity that can be discussed in polite company—and I'm still old-fashioned enough to prefer polite company—is so completely engrossing for me as is sailing a small boat on open water.
Here's a picture of my father and mother taken on their wedding day on August 24, 1948.
Just before he passed away, the Buddha said to his disciples, "Only my physical body will pass away. My Dharma body [Dharmakaya] will remain with you."
By dying, my mother taught me the meaning of this teaching very clearly. Her body's gone. But important parts of my mother's energy live on in me and in my brothers and sisters. She's still here with me in countless ways. She gave me the gift of music, a gift for which I am deeply grateful. Each time I hear Bach's Italian Sonata or "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" I think of my mom; she used to play both of these Bach compositions on her baby grand piano when I was a little boy.
Mom was by no means perfect; she transmitted much of the suffering she endured. That's been part of her teaching, too. When I first heard the Buddha's Noble Truths, the First Noble Truth, the truth of suffering, rang loudly throughout my mind and body with undeniable and convincing veracity. Thanks to my mother and father, I was receptive soil for the Buddha's seeds of wisdom.
As the years have passed I've grown more and more forgiving of Mom's shortcomings. I've grown more appreciative of the simple fact she brought us, my brothers and sisters and me, into this world and got us through childhood.
So here's to you mom!
May you be safe, happy, and loving wherever you are.