It’s Not Too Late If You Are Reading This…

One of my dearest friends lost his brother to Dengue this morning. It happened suddenly – he was diagnosed last Sunday and didn’t live to see the next one.

I urge you to take care.

Not just from the disease, but from the regret of not having loved and listened to those people in your lives while they were around. Take care of them while they are alive and well.

I know it feels like there will always be time tomorrow right now. And I know they sometimes ramble and tell you things you’ve heard before. And maybe they phone more often than you would like to talk. And of course, you intend to return their calls, even when you don’t.

They are annoying sometimes in interrupting your plans and life. They may not be in the right place at the right time but put them at ease anyway. Don’t continue to hold against them what they once said because it makes you a winner in some game of moral righteousness. The only way that game ends is with you losing.

You will miss them some day. Not just the sound of their voice which you will hear in your head only then. Not only the secret memories – those polaroid moments of eternity. Not just the smell of them that cannot be replicated – or the touch of their skin pulsing with Life. You will miss their annoyances someday. You will regret those times when a flickering screen was more important than a human being you loved.

Look around right now. You have something beautiful and perfect and irreplaceable – this moment. You may not be as wealthy as you would like but you have something the richest person on the planet can’t purchase a minute more of. Use this moment to say and do what is really important, not merely what seems urgent. Take care to use this moment as if it were priceless.

Use this moment to say your ‘sorrys’ and ‘thank yous’…

Because not all of us get to say our good-byes.

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The Magical Zen Death Poems

Zen Death Poems

Recently, in my new favorite book ‘A Tale For The Time Being’ by novelist and Zen priest Ruth Ozeki, I came across a little-known and very beautiful Zen custom.

Traditionally, a Japanese, Chinese and Korean Zen Master would write a final poem or haiku when he was about to die. In the death poem or jisei, the essential idea was that at one’s final moment of life, one’s reflection on death could be especially lucid and therefore an important observation about life. The poem was considered a final parting gift to disciples.

Curious, I tracked down some of these poems for myself and thought they were worth sharing:

Breathing in, breathing out,
Moving forward, moving back,
Living, dying, coming, going —
Like two arrows meeting in flight,
In the midst of nothingness
Is the road that goes directly
to my true home.

– Gesshu Soko

*

Like dew drops
on a lotus leaf
I vanish.

– Shinsui

*

Since time began
the dead alone know peace.
Life is but melting snow.

– Nandai

*

I pondered Buddha’s teaching
a full four and eighty years.
The gates are all now
locked about me.
No one was ever here –
Who then is he about to die,
and why lament for nothing?

Farewell!

The night is clear,
the moon shines calmly,
the wind in the pines
is like a lyre’s song.
With no ‘I’ and no other

who hears the sound?

 – Zoso Royo

*

Empty handed I entered the world.
Barefoot I leave it.
My coming, my going-
Two simple happenings
That got entangled.

– Kozan

Zen legend has it that a few days before his death, Kozan called his pupils together, ordered them to bury him without ceremony when he died. One morning, after writing this poem, he lay down his brush and died while sitting upright.

As I get older, death feels more relevant. The magical thinking of youth fades – it becomes clearer that death is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. And I wonder what would it take to pass over with such clarity and grace… and a tiny grain of true wisdom worth passing on?

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Gifts of The Spirits

Gifts from Spirits

Ancient cultures kept their contact with ancestors alive and used spirits for guidance and healing. But today, when we speak about spirits of dead people, the stock reaction is one of ‘freaking out’. Thanks to books and horror movies, entities are typecast as evil, ugly and super-powerful. And tragically, today these entities – who are no more good or evil than us ‘living’ humans are – are probably the most maligned group in the world after the Nazis.

“The spirit realm interests me,” my mentor GD said to me a few months ago, “because it’s an area where we have shut down our awareness, a natural openness which we had as kids.”

He shared an incident that had happened to him. One night, he was woken up at 3.30 am and just could not go back to sleep. As he got up and went into his living room, he sensed some strange energies around him; the hairs on his body stood on end. Instead of shutting down or contracting himself, he sat very silently, expanded, and connected even more deeply with the spirits. He immediately sensed a group of burqa-clad women entities – almost 30 to 40 of them – who were stuck in this realm. On earth, they had been so religiously conditioned to believe in their sinfulness, that they now felt unworthy to go into the Light. As GD guided them to re-experience the Light within them and allowed them to see that they were as pure and untainted as ever, one by one they dissolved into energy particles and disappeared.  Within 30 minutes, the process was over and GD went back to sleep.

Over that weekend, I learned a more empathetic view of these ‘ghouls’ from GD. Strong emotional cords, GD explained, often keep spirits of these departed souls attached to earth in a psychic no-man’s land. Some don’t realize they are dead; others know they are dead, but for some reason can’t move on. And because their time-space reality is different from ours, they can stay stuck here for centuries. Moreover, he showed me that entities are not always uninvited strangers knocking upon our consciousness – we may hold spirits within our energy field too.

I discovered this in a most dramatic way that weekend, when GD did an entity release upon me! It was of an old woman, GD said, a past-life mother, who was in my aura holding a poverty paradigm. I had drawn her to me because I believed that terror around money was good and necessary for me. And this entity was doing just that: constantly scaring me about money and career and security. GD said that if I was willing, he would set this lady free from this ‘job’, and allow her to move on. While I closed my eyes, he moved his hands and whistled softly under his breath. I could swear my body was being rocked back and forth, as if on a choppy ocean. In just a few minutes, I felt lighter than I have felt in years. The sadness which had been a weight in my silence was gone, and a natural mischievousness returned.

Since that weekend, I have become more open and compassionate towards entities. Unlike GD and my therapist wife Aditi, I am not destined to be a ghost whisperer. But I feel we can all become ghost well-wishers. In broadening the scope of our awareness and compassion to include the world of the Dead, we can all embrace Life more fully.

Image used under creative commons license via h koppdelaney

RIP Yash Chopra

These days, the Indian film Industry seems to remind me every few weeks about the impermanence and urgency of Life. Yesterday, I attended the chautha (fourth day funeral rites) of an old film industry colleague, and this evening we got the shocking news that 80-year-old Yash Chopra – perhaps the greatest director-producer in Indian cinema – expired. Ironically, he expired a few weeks before the release of his swansong ‘Jab Tak Hain Jaan’ which means: “as long as life continues…”

Quite unlike his legendary stature, he was known as a laughing, life-loving man, fond of good food and good humor. So here’s my way of putting a marker for the end of an era for Bollywood.