When you write about death, a very western response is to label it “dark” or “depressing.” The Buddhists, who often meditate on their demise (and even on the grotesque look of what lies beneath their comely skin, eyes, and smile), would have it otherwise. They take a more pedestrian view of death, and it’s as fair a topic as what to wear today, that ant crossing the sidewalk, or the raindrop that just landed on your eyelash.
This point was driven home as I read the late Dick Allen’s last book, Zen Master Poems. He hits the usual topics of Buddhists, most of them quite simple (but not), and he does not veer from death, either. Reading his work only weeks after death took him to new lives was especially poignant. Let me share a few:
Sickness Is My Companion by Dick Allen
Sickness is my companion
that walks with me beside the sand garden
and follows me into the zendo room.
Death is my friend
that never leaves me to myself on a hilltop
and always awaits my footsteps.
The three of us,
sitting around a small table, sipping tea,
whispering among the rising fumes.
Reminiscent, isn’t it, of Siddhartha riding outside his palace walls to meet old age, sickness, and death. It was the catalyst for all that would follow, that. And another:
Awakening the Fire by Dick Allen
“Awakening the fire,” I call it.
You listen to people, you listen so deeply
you can hear their past lives,
the crackle of their funeral pyres,
and see smoke rising over the Ganges,
and there it is, that individual spark
that makes one life unlike any other.
You tease it out. You blow on it. You fan it.
You offer it a handful of dried tinder.
But that’s all you can do
and almost always
the spark glows momentarily and then
returns to ash.
Not this life. Not this life. Not this life.
Not even the next.
Safe travels, we wish Dick. None of us is far behind. Not in the perspective of the universe, where both people and their time are fleeting.