Today marks 100 days since my dad left his body. In following my Buddhist teachings, I chanted special mantras every 7 days for 49 days. Forty nine days is the estimated time for the spirit to move on to a state of rebirth, although, depending on the circumstances, it can happen any time between 3 days, 21 days, 49 and 100 days. In Tibetan Buddhism is called the Bardo, or transition. The prayers, chants and meditations are designed to aid the deceased in their quest to accept death, review his/her earthly life, his/her karmic path and make a decision as to how to heal accumulated negative karma, seek enlightenment and obtain an auspicious rebirth. While Buddhism does not see anything or anybody as having an inherently existing and permanent soul, it sees that one’s consciousness does not die with the body. It continues in subtle form. Professor Lin, my Buddhist teacher called it “the Ling particle”. This Ling particle seeks the next life form. If the family, especially the eldest child of the deceased ensures proper assistance in the form of prayers and remembrance ceremonies, a favorable rebirth may indeed occur.
So after 100 days a final prayer ceremony is conducted. Thereafter, one may stage another ceremony yearly on the deceased anniversary. It is not seen as clinging to the departed. It is more a celebration of the gifts we received from their lives and deeds and an acknowledgement of the natural cycles of life and death. It helps the living to focus on living ethically, so that a good death and rebirth may happen to us. In addition to mantras, prayers, and visualizations for an auspicious rebirth, food is offered and shared. Fresh flowers, candles, incense also adorn pictures of the deceased. Today I created a wonderful brunch feast. I dusted the surface where both of my parents’ pictures reside, and offered rice, the symbol of endless abundance, oranges for brightness, luck and protection, tea for continuous prosperity, blessings and joy for the ones left here and earth, strawberries, for the opportunity to carry within oneself the seeds of goodness throughout many lifetimes (good karma), and blueberries as a symbol of the rich soil and plentiful fruit that can be found just by looking to the earth and gather its riches. I also shared bread made from five grains, dusted with goat cheese to symbolize my kinship to other life forms and jam because it looked awesome. I invited the spirit of the consummate Bodhisattva of Compassion; Kwan Yin to round out the feast!
Altogether, these rituals also provided me with an opportunity to contemplate my view of my father’s life. It presented me with occasions to reflect on our relationship and the role of his parents in our family life. As in many families, it was more complicated than it appears. I had a very strong bond with my paternal grandparents, and their spirit has always been for me a beacon of hope, love and deeply rooted trust. For him, and in his words, it was a mixture of love, trust, hope and rebellion due to his inability to meet their high standards. The funny thing was that they loved him very much and saw beyond his limitations. The problem was that they did their best to create their view of him whether my father liked it or not. This dynamic colored his life well into his late seventies. In time and well after my mother’s death, he became more reflective, more accepting, more grateful and quite gracious. He lived for our triumphs and became present to our discomforts, but never interfered. As he had an uneasy relationship to parental expectations throughout his life, he was not critical and saw that we all have our own path. His last strong wish was to be able to see better. Isn’t perfect? He had treatments to stop macular degeneration and finally, cataract surgery. Impatiently, he decided that he was not seeing yet well enough and left us. As Mother Theresa said, life is a Promise and our job is to Fulfill it. My dad did fulfill his promise to love us, teach us and encourage us and to honor each other and treasure our family. As my mother often said, we were their wealth. Today I pray that wherever his ling particle is, that my prayers and offerings will enable him at last to see better, that his next rebirth will be clear and loving and peaceful and that in his new life he is able to carry the message of love, encouragement, respect, and beauty. These are the gifts I received from him. Thank you, Dad!