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I remember once going to see Bhante in his flat in Madhyamaloka. I was there to talk about ‘births, deaths and marriages’, and how we should conduct those important life rituals in Buddhist Centres. We talked about naming ceremonies and weddings, laying down basic principles and establishing how to enable them to be performed in line with the Dharma. So far, so practical. When we came to funerals Bhante perked up a bit “Now this is something we Buddhists are really good at!”
I remembered that as I sat with his body, so beautifully laid out in his Order robes with the Refuge Tree at his head. He had planned this for so many years. His coffin, I understand, was painted by Varaprabha years ago, and moved with him from Madhyamaloka to Adhisthana. Presumably it was stored in a room somewhere. It wasn’t for him that he lay there, but for us. One last teaching, one last reminder, one last opportunity whilst something of his physical presence remained.
The Arahants, they say, didn’t cry at the Buddha’s death. It was not of them that I thought. I thought of Ananda, how after the Buddha’s death he walked slowly back to the Gandhakuti, through the crowds of monks and townspeople who were uncertain, watching to see what could happen next. I thought of how Ananda took up his broom, swept aside the offerings and made his master’s seat ready, much as he did when the Buddha was alive. I thought of Bhante’s carers, how they took his body home, lifted it with such care and made him ready one last time.
I thought of Sariputta, who knew his death was coming and went to the Buddha to ask for the Buddha’s permission to enter Parinibbana. The last act of the disciple. How Sariputta fell down and embraced the Buddha’s legs saying ‘so that I may worship at these feet have I fulfilled the perfections throughout countless aeons.’ How the Buddha asked him to teach one last time so that the young monks could hear him. How the Buddha took his shell coloured relics in his hands and rejoiced in Sariputta, and how the assembly for him was empty.
I thought of Yeshe Tsogyal and her songs of lament as Padmasambhava left for the Copper Coloured Mountain. She had spent her whole life utterly devoted to her teacher, followed his instructions wherever they led, and now, though she had seen into the heart of the Dharma, she lay on the ground and wept. “For a time all Tibet was filled with your blessings; now only your footprints remain.”
Sometimes I am reflective, sometimes I want to sway under one of the great Oak Trees and speak of what I know to the moon. There is no metaphysical treaty here on non-duality or Buddhist philosophy. There are times when I feel the blessings of my teacher, particularly whilst doing my Sadhana, and there are times when I feel his loss. “My teacher has gone, the one who opened my eyes to the mysteries of existence, the one who made me look upwards to a vision of human potential, and the unfathomable nature of friendship. My parents gave me my life and a way to live it in line with human values, but my teacher gave me a reason to live. My teacher has gone, who gave us everything he had, who was kind and took an interest in what is highest in me. My teacher is travelling to the Copper Coloured Mountain, and has left me here gazing after him with so much still to learn. My teacher, made from the aura of Guru Rimpoche, embodiment of all the Refuges, the most precious gifts, is leaving this sad world and the Dakinis accompany him. In my heart is the shadow he cast, he left me everything that is of value in my life, and I, who cannot repay him, long for his company one last time’.
When Bhante was first at Adhisthana he told me about his struggles with old age and the strain of moving. I was telling him I wanted to make a vow to always be his disciple, through lifetimes. His reply surprised me, “Does that mean I will have to remain in samsara?” From a somewhat selfish perspective I said he did, “Samsara is a very difficult place for me at the moment, but the Order is some consolation.” May the Order remain a consolation now you are gone. May it console those in a suffering world, and may it bring about the conditions to reach liberation.