http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... June 17, 2003


In This Issue:

2. The Joy Hidden in Sorrow
3. Understanding the Experience of Grief
4. Grief is for Sharing
5. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week:
The Amaravati Monastery
6. Book Review:
Healing Lazarus: A Buddhist's Journey from Near Death to New Life
...by Lewis Richmond


2. The Joy Hidden in Sorrow ...Reflections given by Sister Medhanandi, at the Death and Dying Retreat, Amaravati Buddhist Monastery


In meditation we can go deeply into the mind, to investigate: who is it that we really are?

Who dies?... Because what dies is not who we are.

...suffering is our teacher, it's through our own experience and ability to contemplate suffering

that we learn the First Noble Truth.

As long as we're holding one negative thing in our hearts – towards ourselves or anyone else– we cannot fully realise our true nature. We cannot be free.

During these days of practice together, we've been reading the names of many people – our departed loved ones, and also relatives, family members, friends, who are suffering untold agony and hardship at this time. There is so much misery all around us – how do we accept it all? We've heard of suicides, cancer, aneurysms, motor neurone disease – plucking the life out of so many young and vibrant people. And old age, sickness, decay and death snuffing the life out of many elderly people who still have a lot of living that they want to do. Why does this happen?

Death is all around us in nature. We're coming into the season now where everything is dying. This is the natural law, it's not something new. And yet time and again we keep pushing it out of our lives, trying our best to pretend that we're not going to die –- that we won't grow old, that we'll be healthy, wealthy and wise until the last moment.

We are constantly identified with our bodies. We think, 'This is me', or, 'I am my body, I am these thoughts. I am these feelings, I am these desires, I am this wealth, these beautiful possessions that I have, this personality.' That's where we go wrong. Through our ignorance we go chasing after shadows, dwelling in delusion, unable to face the storms that life brings us. We're not able to stand like those oak trees along the boundary of the Amaravati meadow – that stay all winter long and weather every storm that comes their way. In October, they drop their leaves, so gracefully. And in the spring, they bloom again. For us too there are comings and goings, the births and deaths, the seasons of our lives. When we are ready, and even if we are not ready, we will die. Even if we never fall sick a day in our lives, we still die; that's what bodies are meant to do.

When we talk about dying before we die, that does not mean that we should try to commit suicide to avoid suffering; it means that we should use this practice, this way of contemplation, to understand our true nature. In meditation we can go deeply into the mind, to investigate: who is it that we really are? Who dies?... Because what dies is not who we are.

Death can be peaceful. A peaceful death is a gift, a blessing to the world; there is simply the return of the elements to the elements. But if we have not come to realise our true nature, it can seem very frightening, and we might resist a lot. But we can prepare ourselves, by investigating who it is that we really are; we can live consciously. Then when the time comes, we can die consciously, totally open, just like the leaves fluttering down, as leaves are meant to do.

Chasing shadows... What is it that we are really looking for in life? We're looking for happiness, for a safe refuge, for peace. But where are we looking for these things? We desperately try to protect ourselves by collecting more and more possessions, having to have bigger and bigger locks on the door, putting in alarm systems. We are constantly armouring ourselves against each other – increasing the sense of separation – by having more possessions, more control, feeling more self-importance with our college degrees, our PhD's. We expect more respect, and we demand immediate solutions; it is a culture of instantaneous gratification. So we're constantly on the verge of being disappointed – if our computer seizes up, if we don't make that business deal, or if we don't get that promotion at work.

This is not to put down the material realm. We need material supports, food, clothing, medicines; we need a shelter and protection, a place to rest; we also need warmth, friendship. There's a lot that we need to make this journey. But because of our attachment to things, and our efforts to fill and fulfil ourselves through them, we find a residue of hunger, of unsatisfactoriness, because we are looking in the wrong place. When somebody suddenly gets ill, loses a leg, has a stroke, is faced with death, gets AIDS and has to bear unspeakable suffering, what do we do? Where is our refuge?

When the Buddha was still Prince Siddhartha before his enlightenment, he had everything. He had what most people in the world are running after, as they push death to the edge of their lives, as they push the knowledge of their own mortality to the farthest extreme of consciousness. He was a prince. He had a loving wife and a child. His father had tried desperately to protect him from the ills of life, providing him with all the pleasures of the senses, including a different palace for every season. But he couldn't hold his son back, and one day the Prince rode out and saw what he had to see: the Four Heavenly Messengers.

Some of us might think it's contradictory that a heavenly messenger could come in the form of a very sick person: 'What's so heavenly about a very sick person?' But it is a divine messenger, because suffering is our teacher, it's through our own experience and ability to contemplate suffering that we learn the First Noble Truth.

The second and third messengers were a very old man struggling along the roadside, and a corpse, riddled with maggots and flies, decaying on the funeral pyre. These were the things the Buddha saw that opened his eyes to the truth about life and death. But the fourth heavenly messenger was a samana, a monk; a symbol of renunciation, of someone who'd given up the world in order to discover the Truth within himself.

Many people want to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, but actually there is a Himalaya in here, within each of us. I want to climb that Himalaya; to discover that Truth within myself, to reach the pinnacle of human understanding, to realise my own true nature. Everything on the material plain, especially what we seem to invest a lot of our energy hungering for, seems very small and unimportant in the face of this potential transformation of consciousness.

So that's where these four celestial signs were pointing the young Siddhartha. They set him on his journey. These are the messengers that can point us to the Way of Truth and away from the way of ignorance and selfishness, where we struggle, enmeshed in wrong view, unable to face our darkness, our confusion, our pain. As Steven Levine said: The distance from our pain, from our wounds, from our fear, from our grief, is the distance from our true nature.'

Our minds create the abyss – that huge chasm. What will take us across that gap? How do we get close to who we really are – how can we realise pure love in itself, that sublime peace which does not move towards nor reject anything? Can we hold every sorrow and pain of life in one compassionate embrace, coming deeply into our hearts with pure awareness, mindfulness and wise reflection, touching the centre of our being? As we realise who we are, we learn the difference between pain and suffering.

What is grief really? It's only natural that when someone we are close to dies, we grieve. We are attached to that person, we're attached to their company, we have memories of times spent together. We've depended on each other for many things – comfort, intimacy, support, friendship, so we feel loss.

When my mother was dying, her breath laboured and the bodily fluids already beginning to putrefy, she suddenly awoke from a deep coma, and her eyes met mine with full recognition. From the depths of Alzheimer's disease that had prevented her from knowing me for the last ten years, she returned in that moment to be fully conscious, smiling with an unearthly, resplendent joy. A radiance fell upon both of us. And then in the next instant she was gone.

Where was the illness that had kidnapped her from us for so many years? In that moment, there was the realisation of the emptiness of form. She was not this body. There was no Alzheimer's and 'she' was not dying. There was just this impermanence to be known through the heart and the falling away, the dissolution of the elements returning to their source.

Through knowing the transcendent, knowing who we really are - knowing the body as body – we come to the realisation that we are ever-changing and we touch our very essence, that which is deathless. We learn to rest in pure awareness.

In our relationships with each other, with our families, we can begin to use wisdom as our refuge. That doesn't mean that we don't love, that we don't grieve for our loved ones. It means that we're not dependent on our perceptions of our mother and father, children or close friends. We're not dependent on them being who we think they are, we no longer believe that our happiness depends on their love for us, or their not leaving, not dying. We're able to surrender to the rhythm of life and death, to the natural law, the Dhamma of birth, ageing, sickness and death.

When Marpa, the great Tibetan meditation master and teacher of Milarepa, lost his son he wept bitterly. One of his pupils came up to him and asked: 'Master, why are you weeping? You teach us that death is an illusion.' And Marpa said: 'Death is an illusion. And the death of a child is an even greater illusion.'

Marpa showed his disciple that while he could understand the truth about the conditioned nature of everything and the emptiness of forms, he could still be a human being. He could feel what he was feeling; he could open to his grief. He could be completely present to feel that loss.

There is nothing incongruous about feeling our feelings, touching our pain, and, at the same time understanding the truth of the way things are. Pain is pain; grief is grief; loss is loss – we can accept those things. Suffering is what we add onto them when we push away, when we say, 'No, I can't.'

Today, while I was reading the names of my grandparents who were murdered, together with my aunts and uncles and their children, during World War II – their naked bodies thrown into giant pits – these images suddenly overwhelmed me with a grief that I didn't know was there. I felt a choking pressure, unable to breathe. As the tears ran down my cheeks, I began to recollect, bringing awareness to the physical experience, and to breathe into this painful memory, allowing it to be. It's not a failure to feel these things. It's not a punishment. It is part of life; it's part of this human journey.

So the difference between pain and suffering is the difference between freedom and bondage. If we're able to be with our pain, then we can accept, investigate and heal. But if it's not okay to grieve, to be angry, or to feel frightened or lonely then it's not okay to look at what we are feeling, and it's not okay to hold it in our hearts and to find our peace with it. When we can't feel what must be felt, when we resist or try to run from life, then we are enslaved. Where we cling is where we suffer, but when we simply feel the naked pain on its own, our suffering dies... That's the death we need to die.

Through ignorance, not understanding who we are, we create so many prisons. We are unable to be awake, to feel true loving-kindness for ourselves, or even to love the person sitting next to us. If we can't open our hearts to the deepest wounds, if we can't cross the abyss the mind has created through its ignorance, selfishness, greed, and hatred, then we are incapable of loving, of realising our true potential. We remain unable to finish the business of this life.

By taking responsibility for what we feel, taking responsibility for our actions and speech, we build the foundation of the path to freedom. We know the result that wholesome action brings – for ourselves and for others. When we speak or act in an unkind way – when we are dishonest, deceitful, critical or resentful – then we are the ones that really suffer. Somewhere within us, there is a residue of that posture of the mind, that attitude of the heart.

In order to release it, to be released from it, we have to come very close. We have to open to every imperfection – to acknowledge and fully accept our humanity, our desires, our limitations; and forgive ourselves. We have to cultivate the intention not to harm anyone (including ourselves) by body, speech or even thought. Then if we do harm again, we forgive ourselves, and start from the beginning, with the right intention. We understand kamma; how important it is to live heedfully, to walk the path of compassion and wisdom from moment to moment – not just when we are on retreat.

Meditation is all the time. Meditation is coming into union with our true nature. The Unconditioned accepts all, is in total peace with all... total union, total harmony. As long as we're holding one negative thing in our hearts – towards ourselves or anyone else – we cannot fully realise our true nature. We cannot be free.

How can we really take responsibility for our actions? By reflecting on our virtuous, or wholesome actions we are taking responsibility, and this is a support for the practice in the present moment. We feel the momentum of our mindfulness, confidence, trust, the energy of purity of mind, and that helps us to keep going. Contemplating things that I don't feel good about can perhaps bring a dark cloud over consciousness. In fact this is very wholesome; it is the arising of moral shame and moral fear, hiri-ottappa. We know when we've done something that was not right, and we feel regret; being completely honest. But then we forgive ourselves, recollecting that we are human beings, we make mistakes. Through acknowledging our wrong action, our limitation, our weakness, we cross the abyss and free our hearts. Then we begin again.

This moral fear engenders a resolve in the mind towards wholesomeness, towards harmony; there is the intention not to harm. This happens because we understand that greed conditions more greed, and hatred conditions more hatred – whereas loving-kindness is the cause and condition for compassion and unity. Knowing this, we can live more skilful lives.

Once, when the Buddha was giving a teaching, he held up a flower. And the Venerable Mahakassapa, one of his great devotees and disciples, smiled. There's a mystery why the Venerable Mahakassapa smiled when the Buddha held up the flower.

What is it that we see in the flower? In the flower we see the ever-changing essence of conditioned forms. We see the nature of beauty and decay. We see the 'suchness' of the flower. And we see the emptiness of experience. All teachings are contained in that flower; the teachings on suffering and the path leading to the cessation of suffering –- on suffering and non-suffering. And if we bring the teachings to life in each moment of awareness, it's as if the Buddha is holding up that flower for us.

Why are we so afraid of death? It's because we have not understood the law of nature; we have not understood our true nature in the scheme of things. We have not understood that there's non-suffering. If there is birth, there is death. If there is the unborn, then there is that which is deathless: 'The Undying, Uncreated, Love, the Supreme, the Magnificent, Nibbana.'

In pain we burn but, with mindfulness, we use that pain to burn through to the ending of pain. It's not something negative. It is sublime. It is complete freedom from every kind of suffering that arises; because of a realisation – because of wisdom – not because we have rid ourselves of unpleasant experience, only holding on to the pleasant, the joyful. We still feel pain, we still get sick and we die, but we are no longer afraid, we no longer get shaken.

When we are able to come face to face with our own direst fears and vulnerability, when we can step into the unknown with courage and openness, we touch near to the mysteries of this traverse through the human realm to an authentic self-fulfilment. We touch what we fear the most, we transform it, we see the emptiness of it. In that emptiness, all things can abide, all things come to fruition. In this very moment, we can free ourselves.

Nibbana is not out there in the future; we have to let go of the future, let go of the past. This doesn't mean we forget our duties and commitments. We have our jobs and the schedules we have to keep, we have our families to take care of; but in every single thing that we do, we pay close attention, we open. We allow life to come towards us, we don't push it away. We allow this moment to be all that we have, contemplating and understanding things the way they really are – not bound by our mental and emotional habits, by our desires.

The candle has a light. That light, one little candle from this shrine can light so many other candles, without itself being diminished. In the same way, we are not diminished by tragedy, by our suffering. If we surrender, if we can be with it, transparent and unwavering – making peace with the fiercest emotion, the most unspeakable loss, with death – we can free ourselves. And in that release, there is a radiance. We are like lights in the world, and our life becomes a blessing for everyone.

Jelaluddin Rumi wrote: 'The most secure place to hide a treasure of gold is some desolate, unnoticed place. Why would anyone hide treasure in plain sight? And so it is said: 'Joy is hidden in sorrow.'

The illumined master Marpa weeping over his child – does his experience of the loss of his young child diminish his wisdom? Or is it just the supreme humility of a great man, a great sage expressing the wholeness of his being, of his humanity.

I want to encourage each one of you to keep investigating, keep letting go of your fear. Remember that fear of death is the same as fear of life. What are we afraid of? When we deeply feel and, at the same time, truly know that experience we can come to joy. It is still possible to live fully as a human being, completely accepting our pain; we can grieve and yet still rejoice at the way things are.

3. Understanding the Experience of Grief
...This article has been designed to help you and your family through this difficult time, and covers many aspects of the grieving process.


When a person dies suddenly from an accident, murder or suicide, more often than not an adolescent or young adult is involved. Such a death is not only completely unexpected, it also violates our sense of what is right or normal. Death from cancer, stroke or a debilitating heart condition, by the very nature of these illnesses, helps us to prepare for what is to come. Typically, moreover, it is an elderly member of a family who suffers such an illness. Yet the death of a loved one still comes as a shock to us even if we have had some forewarning.

As intelligent as we human beings are and as much as we know and are able to control different aspects of our lives, there is still much that we do not know about human emotions, the working of the mind or the part that chance plays in our lives. As a result, we find it almost impossible to explain to a grieving mother or father why their son or daughter committed suicide or was killed.

We have, however, come to understand the experience of grief. We do know, for instance, how a survivor will generally react when informed of the unexpected death of a loved one.


Initially, the reaction is one of profound disbelief; the mind rejects such unacceptable news. The survivor in fact may become so emotionally numb that a mother, for example, may even be incapable of crying over the death of her child.


A second reaction may be one of anger. Often times survivors express an unpacifiable anger toward some person who appears to be responsible for the death: the 'incompetent' doctor; the 'negligent' driver; or the 'careless' friend. Even God may be blamed for allowing such a tragedy to occur. At the same time that anger is focused on the person to punish themselves, even to the point of serious injury or death.

Anger is a profound and frequently uncontrollable emotion. It may at times be directed toward the one who has died. Anger is one of the more difficult aspects of the grief experience for the survivor.


A third reaction often experienced by a survivor is a feeling of personal responsibility for the death. Irrational guilt can sweep over the survivor in relentless waves. A mother, for example, may feel just as responsible for the death of a son – that occurred a thousand miles from home and under circumstances over which she had no control – as a mother whose child has been poisoned with a household cleanser thoughtlessly left within reach.


In the case of suicide, especially, feelings such as guilt can also be accompanied by an overriding sense of shame and embarrassment. The suicide of a child or spouse can be interpreted as an implicit, if not explicit, act of rejection. To be compelled to face the fact that the deceased preferred to take his or her life rather than to continue living can induce a wrenching sense of shame in the survivor, and with it the loss of self-esteem.


A fifth aspect of grief that has been recognised is the desire of the survivors – the spouse, the parents, the brother or sister – to describe and explain in detail the circumstances surrounding the death. This is an important, although frequently overlooked and often times resisted, reaction to loss. It is however, part of the process whereby survivors come to acknowledge and accept what has occurred.


What is also frequently observed in recently bereaved persons is heightened suggestibility. A widow may impulsively sell her home on the advice of family or friends and move to another city. A grieving widower may remarry shortly after the death of his wife. Such hasty decisions may add to the burdens of the survivor at a later date. Care should be taken by all concerned to minimise the difficulties and potential problems associated with the twin grief reactions of dependency and suggestibility.

Dreams and Nightmares

Another aspect of sudden and unexpected loss that can be very disturbing to the survivor is the experience of vivid dreams and nightmares. While they may be distressing and indeed on occasion terrifying, in most cases they will, in time, fade away.


What can also be upsetting to the survivor are hallucinations. These are apparent sights or sounds or a 'sense of presence' of the deceased. Widows have reported hallucinatory experiences for up to ten years following the death of their husbands. Many report, however, that such experiences are a welcome comfort. Others, on the other hand, unfamiliar with such mental processes are profoundly disturbed by them, and believe that they may be losing their minds. Hallucinations however, like vivid dreams and nightmares, generally disappear over time.

Behavioural Changes

Far more common, however, are the abrupt changes in behaviour that can be observed in survivors. Such changes include: inability to sleep (insomnia); lack of appetite; an increase in smoking or drinking; repetitive speech or actions; impulsive acts such as quitting a job or breaking off a long-term friendship; persistent irritability or emotional outbursts or acts of violence toward a family member, friend, or even a total stranger. Survivors should keep in mind the possibility of such behaviours, and their general 'normalness'. They should, be cautioned that when such behaviour threatens to become injurious to themselves or others, professional guidance or assistance should be considered.

News Media

Frequently in the case of sudden unexpected deaths, particularly those of a more unusual nature – suicide, homicide, or sudden infant death (SlDS) – the intrusion of the news media or public agencies into the lives of the surviving family members is potentially fraught with trauma and psychic injury. Careful attention needs to be paid to the survivors' grief and their privacy and dignity need to be protected. The potentially abrasive and insensitive behaviour of newspaper reporters, cameramen, and other media representatives need to be defended against, lest they aggravate the grief of the survivors. So, too, might well-meaning public officials whose task it is to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death, be cautioned. An act or gesture or even the intonation of a voice that implies negligence or responsibility for the death on the part of a blameless survivor can only add to the burden of loss.


What can be done when the tragedy of death suddenly strikes? This is a time when a survivor needs the support of other family members and friends, the clergy and possibly other members of the caring professions. This is often the very time when such comfort and support is most resisted or rejected by the survivor. The survivor should do everything in his or her power, however, to overcome the impulse to refuse assistance and to recognise the value of outside help as well as the need for it. On the other hand, a relative, friend or caregiver should continue to stand by the survivor and assist him or her whenever possible, even in the face of protest and anger. Grief, we have come to learn, is too profound an emotional experience to be left solely a private matter.

4. Grief is for Sharing
...A chance to heal and grow


What does the grieving person need to know – and have to be able to do – in order to successfully work through the pain and chaotic emotions that accompany the death of someone we love?

To begin with, we need to know grief is a normal and natural response to loss, it is part of the human experience. There is only one way a person could live without any grief in their lifetime and that would be to live a life without love or attachment. Grief represents our humanness as does our love.

The death of a loved one is a universal experience, and its occurrence initiates a painful journey that travels from grief to healing. It is an unstable process – a lonely journey characterised by self doubts and intense emotions.

The first few weeks

The first few weeks and months you may feel you are living your life in slow motion. You may feel numb, detached from life and unable to concentrate. Life is happening for others but you may not feel part of it. You have lost part of yourself. You feel disorganised and you may cry a lot. The sadness is overwhelming and we sigh frequently. Others may feel they have to be strong and fight back the tears. Some people feel if they start to cry they may never stop.

You may be very angry. Angry at God. How could God do this? There is no God. Angry at the world and those around you. Angry with yourself and even angry with the person who has died. How dare they die, leaving you so alone. Loneliness is one of the biggest problems of grief – one feels abandoned and powerless.

Irrational guilt can sweep over you. Some may even feel a personal responsibility for the death.

Many find their grief to be exhausting. You feel tired all the time. Sleep is difficult; either we don't sleep, or sleep is disturbed by vivid dreams and nightmares. While they may be distressing and indeed on occasions terrifying, in most cases they will fade away in time.

You may find yourself talking to the dead person as if they were present. You come home from the supermarket and find you have bought a bottle of their usual shampoo or favourite fruit juice. You may think you hear the dead person coming in the door and call out, "I'm in the kitchen" and realise no-one is there – and they will never walk through the door again.

People are often very disturbed by apparent sights and sounds of the deceased person which can be very vivid, but like the dreams and nightmares, they too will fade away in time.

These responses and heightened suggestibility are natural. They are part of the grief process. Let it all happen. Feel the pain. Don't be afraid to cry or to express your anger. It is important not to hold the hurt inside.

If you swallow your grief, that proverbial lump in the throat will only surface later in the physical symptoms of insomnia, diarrhoea and headaches, or gastro-intestinal problems.

Left alone

Some friends and even family may not come to visit after the funeral – they can often feel uncomfortable with your tears and intense emotions and perhaps they don't know what to say. Others erroneously believe that their job is to distract you from your grief.

Talk about feelings

Most grieving people need to speak about their feelings of grief, the loneliness, sadness and depression and 'tell their story' to make living more tolerable. Talking about your loss in reality will help you to heal and work through the process of grief, so try to find people who will listen to you and help you feel understood and not so alone. (For friends and neighbours who would want to be supportive but feel they don't know what to say, the Outstretched Hand Foundation's leaflet "Tell me all about it" offers helpful advice.)

In discussing grief it is important for each of us to remember we accumulate our losses. Every loss we have ever encountered and suffered in our lives, if they have not been dealt with, are still with us, we are still carrying them. It was beautifully described to me by someone who said it was like having a row of bells across your chest, large bells, medium sized bells and small bells. Every time we suffer a loss in our life, one of these bells is going to ring.

Time does not heal in itself

It is what you do with it, and it is important to remember that the length of the course of grief is not a sign of weakness. Each person will be unique in their time of grieving.

Understanding your grief

The full sense of the loss of someone loved never occurs all at once. The birthdays, wedding anniversaries and the first anniversary of the death often makes you realise how much your life has been changed by the loss. You have every right to have feelings of emptiness, sadness, despair, even guilt and anger. You may be frightened by the depth of emotion felt at these times.

Unfortunately many people surrounding you may try to take these feelings away. Friends, even family, erroneously believe that their job is to distract you from your grief. Most grieving people need to speak about their feelings, the emptiness, sadness and depression and 'tell their story', to make living more tolerable. Talking about your loss in reality will help you to heal and work through the process of grief so try to find people who will listen to you and help you feel understood and not so alone.

Dealing with grief

Another point to remember in dealing with grief is to be gentle with yourself. The emotional energy expended just coping will probably leave you feeling fatigued, so respect what is being said by your mind and body.

Eliminate unnecessary stresses. You will already feel stressed so there is no point in over-extending or over-committing yourself. While you don't want to isolate yourself, part of keeping your stress levels in check is to understand and respect your need to have time for yourself. Some people may try to 'keep you busy' in an effort to distract you from your grief. Experience suggests that 'keeping busy' really only increases stress and serves to postpone the need to talk out thoughts and feelings related to your grief.

Be with people you find comforting and supporting, who allow you to be yourself, not those who expect you to put on a happy face for their sake.

Try to see the good intention of those who came to you with the strong cliches such as 'you must be strong for the children' – or 'God never gives you more than you can handle.' Other instructions to 'try and forget it' or worse, 'try to be happy' can only minimise the profound loss you have experienced.

Talk about the person who has died. If people around you sense you are able to talk about your loss it may help them recognise your need to remember the joy of having loved this person who was an important part of your life.

Children and Grief

How do we help children deal with grief? Children suffer greatly, they go through the same process as adults but their grief is more intense and of a shorter period. Their actions and reactions are not always appropriate. They often tend to act out their grief and I think we have to be very tolerant if their reactions are not quite what we consider to be appropriate. Children need to be included in the family grief. Children know that something is wrong. They need to be held, to be loved, to be reassured, they need to participate. If further information is needed on this subject, please see 'Talking to Children about Death'.

Forever changed

As people who have been blessed with the capacity to give and receive love, we are forever changed by the experience of grief in our lives. We, as human beings, do not 'get over' our grief but work to reconcile ourselves to living with it. We hope eventually to find some meaning for these sad happenings in our lives, to heal and to grow.

Life is not fair. Life is a series of tragic losses but we cannot lose something unless we have first had it so the magnitude of each loss becomes the measure of life's gifts.

Memories made in love can never be taken away from you. If your memories bring laughter, let yourself smile, if memories bring sadness, let yourself cry. If your faith is important to you, express it, and remember to love yourself.

How to deal with your grief – a summary

These points highlight a few important matters to consider during bereavement. Each person is different, so beware of ready-made solutions. The following are suggestions to consider; they may or may not fit your situation.


– Everyone needs some help – don't be afraid to accept it.

- While you may feel pressured to put on a brave front it is important to make your needs known by expressing your feelings to those you trust.

– Often numbness sees us through the first few days or weeks. Don't be too surprised if a let-down comes later.

– Many people are more emotionally upset during bereavement than at any other time in their lives and are frightened by this. Be aware that severe upset is not unusual and, if you are alarmed, seek a professional opinion.

– Whether you feel you need to be alone or accompanied – make it known. Needing company is common and does not mean you will always be dependent on it.

– There is no set time limit for grieving. The period will vary from person to person.


– It is easy to neglect yourself because you don't much care at a time of grief.

– You are under great stress and may be more susceptible to disease.

– It is especially important not to neglect your health. Try to eat reasonably even if there is no enjoyment in it.

– Although sleep may be disturbed, try to get adequate rest. And please, no grog or sedatives.

– If you have symptoms, get a doctor to check them out.

– If people urge you to see your doctor, do so, even if it doesn't make sense to you at the time.


– Friends and family are often most available early in bereavement and less so later. It is important to be able to reach out to them when you need to. Don't wait for them to guess your needs. They will often guess incorrectly and too late.

– During a period of grief it can be difficult to judge new relationships. Don't be afraid of them, yet it is usually wise not to rush into them. It is hard to see new relationships objectively if you are still actively grieving, and this kind of solution may only lead to other problems.

– No-one will substitute for your loss. Try to enjoy people as they are. Do not avoid social contacts because of the imperfections in those you meet. Someone who is not close to you but who is willing to listen may be particularly helpful.


– Avoid hasty decisions. Try not to make major life decisions within the first year unless absolutely necessary.

– In general, most people find it best to remain settled in familiar surroundings until they can consider their future calmly.

– Don't be afraid to seek good advice. Usually it is wise to get more than one opinion before making decisions.

– Don't make any major financial decisions without talking them over with experts.

– Having a job or doing voluntary work in the community can be helpful when you are ready, but it is important not to over-extend yourself.

– Relationships with family and friends should not be sacrificed in an effort to keep busy.


– Personal faith is frequently a major source of comfort during bereavement.

– For some, however, maintaining faith may be difficult during this period of loss.

– Either reaction may occur and both are consistent with later spiritual growth.

I say unto you: a man must have chaos yet within him to be able to give birth to a dancing star. ... F. Nietzsche

5. The Amaravati Monastery


Amaravati is a monastery in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism and a centre of teaching and practice.

Its heart is a resident community of monks and nuns, whose life of meditation and work is open for visitors to share, as a living example of the Buddhist path.

"Amaravati" means "Deathless Realm" in the Buddhist scriptural language, Pali, a verbal reminder of the highest spiritual aspiration.


A great variety of forms of religious practice are associated with the word 'Buddhism'.

Their source is the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gotama, who lived and taught in northern India over 2,500 years ago.

The monastic order he founded and personally guided is still flourishing today, the living reflection of his wisdom.

Over the centuries, the Buddha Dhamma* has spread from India throughout the world, adapting to local cultures.

Today there are three main schools: Theravada, 'The teaching of the elders', which thrives in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Burma and Thailand.

Mahayana, 'The great vehicle', which embraces the various traditions within China, Korea, and Japan.

Vajrayana,'The diamond vehicle', which is associated primarily with Tibet.

The essence of the Buddha's Teaching is contained in the Four Noble Truths that lead to the end of suffering. This is the true meaning of taking refuge in the Triple Gem.

The origin of Amaravati

Thailand is blessed with a number of widely respected Buddhist Masters, one of whom is Luang Por Chah, a renowned teacher from the Forest Tradition.

At the invitation of the English Sangha Trust, a charitable organisation founded in 1956 for the purpose of supporting a Buddhist monastic order in Britain, Luang Por Chah came to Britain in 1977.

He brought with him his senior Western disciple, Ajahn Sumedho, a bhikkhu who had trained under his guidance for over ten years.

Having seen that there was much interest in Dhamma in the West, he allowed Ajahn Sumedho and three other bhikkhus to take up residence at the English Sangha Trust's house in Hampstead, London, and make the teaching available for those who were interested.

It soon became apparent that the time had come to search for a place to establish a proper monastery. In the summer of 1978, a generous benefactor offered 108 acres of woodland, Hammer Wood, located in West Sussex. In 1979, Chithurst House - less than half a mile away from the forest - came up for sale with its outbuildings and land. The Trust sold the Hampstead Vihara and purchased it immediately.

Another benefactor purchased a small cottage adjacent to Hammer Wood as residence for the nuns, allowing training for women to be established in England for the first time.

These became Cittaviveka, Chithurst Buddhist Monastery, the first Forest Monastery in Britain.

The monastic community has continued to grow steadily over the years and by mid-1983, the limitations of Cittaviveka became clear. The English Sangha Trust therefore purchased a former school near Hemel Hempstead which became Amaravati.

This spacious site with many buildings and extensive grounds offers greater opportunities for both monastic training and the participation and instruction of lay people. It has become possible to set up permanent retreat facilities where meditation courses can be taught, to offer more accomodation for visitors, to hold regular meditation classes and family events and to host large gatherings on Buddhist festival days.

6. Healing Lazarus: A Buddhist's Journey from Near Death to New Life
...by Lewis Richmond


From Publishers Weekly- Richmond had it all: loving wife, great address in the San Francisco Bay area and a successful multifaceted career as software designer, Buddhist teacher, musician and author. He'd even beaten cancer once. Then viral encephalitis a rare disease attacked his brain and sent him into a coma for 10 days. While recovering, he experienced an acute neuropsychiatric complication from a therapeutic drug that posed a second life-threatening challenge. This page-turning account of his slow and spotty recovery is a vivid, affecting and painfully honest Buddhist dharma (teaching) story. This overachieving California-style corporate executive and former Buddhist priest whose previous book was Work as a Spiritual Practice: A Practical Buddhist Approach to Inner Growth and Satisfaction on the Job here learns that the central Buddhist teaching of life as suffering and impermanence has literal as well as spiritual meaning. Providing additional depth to his archetypal story of near-death and recovery, the author portrays the deeply rooted fears and anxieties that became his companions on the healing journey. The book may make a more valuable contribution to the literature about brain injury than to the well-stocked shelf of Buddhist titles; little non-technical or narrative writing is available on the medical frontier of brain trauma and the light it sheds on the relationship between body and mind. Richmond made a descent to the inner underworld, and returned a sadder, wiser man. His psychic excavations will enrich all who read this gripping account.

Amazon.com- Reviewer: Daniel M. Kaplan from San Francisco, California USA... This new work by Lewis Richmond is moving, touching beyond measure as the chronicle of his journey from a relatively healthy buddhist teacher turned businessman to falling deathly ill with a rare disease, to his slow, but sure recovery, not just of body, but of spirit and mind. I cried unashamedly as I read of his psychic pain and suffering, his rediscovered love for and by his wife, the openning of his heart. This is an inspiring story of the redemption of a psyche. The power of his experiences and the beauty and honesty with which he conveys them will have you crying, laughing, and moved beyond words. It did for me!

Amazon.com- Reviewer: Wendy L Station from North Vancouver, BC Canada... Lewis uses the words, "...permanently transformed by the experience..." "...must endure against formidable odds." In this book, Lewis has told his story in a manner which will warm the hearts of survivors, AND help loved ones and caregivers understand. I will very highly recommend this book to my survivor friends. A remarkable autobiography!


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