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Knowing that I’d be at Adhisthana this month, I was hoping to meet Bhante. I haven’t been with him one to one since I used to read to him in his warm annexe at Madhyamaloka over fifteen years ago; those readings being one of the great pleasures and privileges of my life back then.
I wrote to him early last year to reconnect after a period of struggle in my life during which I tasted many sour fruits, the most plump among them being pride. Having tasted it, and its core of fear and doubt, I was convinced there was no way such an ugly fruit could come from a tree I planted! I looked around. Who’s orchard was I in? Bhante’s. So, I’m ashamed to say, I blamed him. I didn’t reserve it all for him, some of the orchard’s keepers came into view too, but he was at times foremost among them.
In my letter to him I included the following poem, which was my attempt to explain myself and say sorry – that hardest, deepest of words. It came to mind, and the letter I sent, when I heard of his death, and for some reason I’ve felt compelled to share it here.
I think of the poem as a sort of death poem, “the sea” indicating any sudden or difficult or overwhelming bardo that we may drop into.
In it I’m like Icarus, forgetful that my life has taken flight by the work of another man: a visionary, a maker of wings.
Bhante is like Daedalus, Icarus’ father.
The poem veers off from tradition with Icarus, or his spirit, still conscious after his fall, remembering Daedalus’ attempt to save him.
And that was how it was for me.
Burnt and broken by pride, Bhante’s life and work, relentlessly driven by his Bodhisattva vows, eventually helped to get my heart beating again through the dark and chaotic night.
Now that he’s left this world, may he begin to reappear when we enter those foreign, dark, intimate realms of our own physical and spiritual deaths: a reassuring presence by our side, a spirit of light, fearless, imperturbable, there to kindly guide us.
And still it beats, my buried heart,
Despite my crashing badly, the pounding in my ears,
The darkness of this sea,
The chaos of this night.
It happened so quickly, my falling.
There were no signs it was coming.
The sun showed colours I’d never seen before
With my little human eye.
The wind pushed me past the horizon,
Though it hardly mattered I could fly,
More important was the love to come, as I imagined it,
The adulation at being a new kind of god.
I felt perfect, sublime, much more brilliant
Than the one who made me, my father, a mere dot
Then in the clouds below. I looked around and saw
Heaven and earth were all mine, all mine!
Then the dreadful falling, the spinning in my head,
The blackness, the isolation, the cries of the dead,
And the awful, sickening fear
That hell would be my future.
But then my father appeared, trying to catch me,
And for the first time in what seemed like years,
My heart grew tender and I felt such love
Then the sea hit me.