Lovely Lion: Bye bye, beautiful boy!
Today, my wife and I held a brief funeral service for one of our dogs that died earlier this week. His name was Lion - because of his lion-like appearance - and he was not quite a year old when he died of unknown causes. After several days of intermittent grief, we went to his graveside, burned incense, offered ice, a dog treat, and I recited the following Buddhist verse which is commonly heard at funerals here in Thailand:
Anicca vata sankhara
Uppada vaya dhammino
Tesam vupasamo sukho.
All things are impermanent,
Arising and passing away.
Being born, they must cease;
Their calming is happiness.
Both my wife and I were deeply affected by this little hound's demise, perhaps especially myself as I spent the most time with him, writing many of the Buddha Space articles on this blog while he sat by my chair. He even used to lie down next to me every morning when I meditated. Anyway, despite my Buddhist understanding and practice, Lion's death was a blow out of the blue that triggered some serious suffering in this mind. And, alongside associating with awareness rather than the painful memories arising in it, it seemed appropriate and therapeutic to have a small ritual to mark Lion's life and death.
Daily rituals, which are very common in the Buddhist temples here in Thailand have never appealed to me much. Sometimes I use them, or truncated versions of them, and sometimes not, for attachment to rules and rituals is said to be one of the initial impediments to enlightenment, after all. But, in dealing with the complicated and powerful emotions associated with the loss of a loved one - and we did love this dog - a ritual marking the ending of a life and the continuance of the lives of those left behind seemed a wise thing to do. It is both an act of closure and a moving on. Done with awareness of the moment, it can be an intense way to focus on the perfectness of the present, perfect in the sense of being just the way it is, and reflective of the clear knowing that lies at the heart of being.
So, Lion is gone, remaining as memories and images (like the one above), and in being thankful for the short nine months that he was with us, and all the lessons we learned and failed to learn in his presence, my wife and I are truly grateful. For, the Dharma is expressed in a multitude of ways, much of which passes us human beings by without us ever noticing, but once in a while we are presented with events that are so earth-shatteringly attention-demanding that we are driven back towards the innate wisdom that we all posses - if we can wake up to it. Reflecting on suffering and its origin in our attachments is a lesson never more obvious and potentially inspiring as when we're really hurting inside. And little Lion has given us this opportunity by giving up his life.
By marking this important event in our lives with an albeit brief but heartfelt ceremony, my wife and I have turned suffering into the basis for awakening to the way-things-are (the Dharma). It has been brought back into sharp focus, and in the glare of awareness is seen for what it is: a conditioned process arising in unconditioned knowing. The latter is dubbed 'Buddha Space' on these pages, and rituals can be used to highlight this liberating peacefulness that is so easily overlooked. Whilst it's unlikely that either of us will take up daily rituals as a result of this experience, it has given us some insight into the skillful use of such activities, as opposed to the blind attachment to ceremonies. What is your experience of rituals? If you have anything to share on this, or anything else in this article, please click on the comments link below and leave your thoughts for reflection. May all beings be happy!