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Life, Death, and India

............................................................................

LIFE, DEATH, AND INDIA

My father passed away while we were in transit to India. As deaths go, it was the best that could have been hoped for; a peaceful, painless ending to a long and happy life. He was eighty nine. His death was not unexpected. His health had been declining for a number of years, and his quality of life was reduced to few moments of pleasure amid days of pain and personal humiliation as his body failed him. Everyone in the family was thoroughly prepared, and his death was viewed as a welcome relief from his suffering. We were glad for his sake, and our only tears were selfish ones, because he would no longer be with us. Before leaving, I spent several weeks with him, and I made sure to say all my goodbyes, just in case.

My family had planned for this. It was agreed in advance that, if it happened during the winter, Dave and I would not rush home from overseas. The memorial service would be held in the spring. We would finish our necessary business, and we would arrive later, whenever we could catch a flight.

So now I’m in India, reflecting on life and death. And cell phones, airlines, and red tape. This is of the worst places in the world in which to reorganize a travel itinerary, but one of the best in which to contemplate the mysteries of the universe. India is home to a vast motherlode of spiritual energy, and, I want to spend the next few days tapping into its source. I want to mourn properly, and then let it go, and then return home, to help my mother do the same. Can I bring home something more than just trinkets?

What has made this place such a magnet for seekers? How is that, in the midst of the poverty and the chaos, the exploding population growth, the traffic and the garbage, the spirit of Om Shanti comes shining through? How is it that this land has produced more mystics, saints, gurus and religious variations than any other single country on earth? Is there something in the water here (besides the usual parasites)? And, can a jaded American business traveler get some too?

It must have something to do with the continuity of human civilization here. India has been a home to religious communities dating back thousands of years. When Buddha attained enlightenment here, in about 400 B.C., sophisticated Hindu traditions were already long established. The Vedas were written over a thousand years before the time of Christ. These ancient texts expounded on the great philosophical questions of life long before the Greeks or the Romans ever did. People have been praying on the banks of the Ganges every single day, without fail, for over five thousand years. Pilgrims come from all over the world to visit, hoping that India will brush off on them. Even the camera toting tourists feel it obliquely.

I was eager to go with the spiritual flow, but first, we needed to change our travel arrangements, which meant that we needed cellphone connections. Back to red tape. We went to the little corner store near our hotel to get SIM cards. There, amid the candies, the packets of laundry detergent, the dusty bottles of warm, sugary soft drinks and the patent medicines, was the other side of India: the maddening side, which insinuated itself into my contemplations with a vengeance. It turns out that, in order to get an Indian SIM card for a foreign cellphone now, a foreigner needs all of the following documents: a photocopy of the passport, a photocopy of the Indian visa, a special letter from the hotel, a passport photo, a carefully filled out application form, and five strategically placed signatures, one per document. These strict rules are a counterterrorism measure, which have been in place ever since the Mumbai attacks.

We needed mobile service, so we soldiered on through the paperwork. And then, the gentleman behind the counter stunned me with his next question. “Father’s name?” he asked.

I blinked.

Emotions ran through me like a torrent of downtown Delhi traffic. What could the Indian government possibly want with my father’s name? After all, he was no longer alive. His name was meaningless. He was gone forever. The sudden sense of loss was overwhelming. Tears welled up and I swallowed them back. The tears were supplanted by anger. Did the Indian government did not regard me as a responsible adult person just because I was female? They are incredibly sexist in this country! But then, they asked for David’s father’s name as well.

We completed all the paperwork, and we finally have a working phone. Flights got changed, and things got cancelled. Life went on. I’m trying to meditate, but it’s a hard thing to do while sitting in an office, surrounded by men who are haggling over gemstones. It’s also hard to think of spiritual matters when I can’t take my eyes off of the glittering piles of loveliness sitting on the table right in front of me.

But I must return to the reality of my father’s death, and the finality of it. I must grapple with it, come to grips with it, and then let it go, like one of those little candle-boats that people set alight to float down the Ganges. And then I must go home and bring my mother my newfound insight.

I return to my favorite inspiration: the words of the Buddha. He is worshipped as a god, and Buddhism has become a religion, but the Buddha himself rejected all such claims. He was a person, simply that. He studied with the holy men of the day, but was unsatisfied. So, one day, he simply sat under a tree and vowed not to rise until he had achieved some kind of understanding.

He arose from the tree with what he called the “Four Noble Truths.” These are the four truths, as I understand them:

1. All human beings are born, and eventually they will know suffering and they will die.

2. The source of all suffering is craving. (even physical suffering)

3. It is possible to attain the end of suffering, by renouncing all craving. There are three types of craving: the desire to rid oneself of physical pain and suffering, the desire to protect oneself from suffering caused by impermanence, and the desire to defend oneself from the inevitable cycle of life and death.

4. The way to end all suffering is to break free of all craving, and to transcend it all, even physical suffering and death. Anyone can awaken into enlightenment. It is only our craving that prevents us from doing so. (Of course, the body still dies, but that is no longer important).

Buddha soon discovered that he couldn’t teach enlightenment. He couldn’t make his disciples understand the four noble truths, and the eightfold path. Each disciple had to walk that path by his or her self. In the end, rather than talking, he simply handed each disciple a flower. Of all of them, only one was able to fully receive the teaching, and that person attained enlightenment on the spot.

I believe that my Dad transcended much at the end of his life. He had to renounce so much! His ailing body had already lost a limb. He’d already lost everything but his family, his friends and his sense of humor. But there was a sense of inner peace around him near the end. He’d already found it. Or at least I hope so. His spirit is one with the universe, ).

“Om Shanti, Dad. Mom, I’ll be home soon. I’ll bring you a flower.”

Dedicated to the memory of Gordon H. Swift
Wonderful father, loving husband, boatbuilder extraordinaire.

............................................................................

LIFE, DEATH, AND INDIA

My father passed away while we were in transit to India. As deaths go, it was the best that could have been hoped for; a peaceful, painless ending to a long and happy life. He was eighty nine. His death was not unexpected. His health had been declining for a number of years, and his quality of life was reduced to few moments of pleasure amid days of pain and personal humiliation as his body failed him. Everyone in the family was thoroughly prepared, and his death was viewed as a welcome relief from his suffering. We were glad for his sake, and our only tears were selfish ones, because he would no longer be with us. Before leaving, I spent several weeks with him, and I made sure to say all my goodbyes, just in case.

My family had planned for this. It was agreed in advance that, if it happened during the winter, Dave and I would not rush home from overseas. The memorial service would be held in the spring. We would finish our necessary business, and we would arrive later, whenever we could catch a flight.

So now I’m in India, reflecting on life and death. And cell phones, airlines, and red tape. This is of the worst places in the world in which to reorganize a travel itinerary, but one of the best in which to contemplate the mysteries of the universe. India is home to a vast motherlode of spiritual energy, and, I want to spend the next few days tapping into its source. I want to mourn properly, and then let it go, and then return home, to help my mother do the same. Can I bring home something more than just trinkets?

What has made this place such a magnet for seekers? How is that, in the midst of the poverty and the chaos, the exploding population growth, the traffic and the garbage, the spirit of Om Shanti comes shining through? How is it that this land has produced more mystics, saints, gurus and religious variations than any other single country on earth? Is there something in the water here (besides the usual parasites)? And, can a jaded American business traveler get some too?

It must have something to do with the continuity of human civilization here. India has been a home to religious communities dating back thousands of years. When Buddha attained enlightenment here, in about 400 B.C., sophisticated Hindu traditions were already long established. The Vedas were written over a thousand years before the time of Christ. These ancient texts expounded on the great philosophical questions of life long before the Greeks or the Romans ever did. People have been praying on the banks of the Ganges every single day, without fail, for over five thousand years. Pilgrims come from all over the world to visit, hoping that India will brush off on them. Even the camera toting tourists feel it obliquely.

I was eager to go with the spiritual flow, but first, we needed to change our travel arrangements, which meant that we needed cellphone connections. Back to red tape. We went to the little corner store near our hotel to get SIM cards. There, amid the candies, the packets of laundry detergent, the dusty bottles of warm, sugary soft drinks and the patent medicines, was the other side of India: the maddening side, which insinuated itself into my contemplations with a vengeance. It turns out that, in order to get an Indian SIM card for a foreign cellphone now, a foreigner needs all of the following documents: a photocopy of the passport, a photocopy of the Indian visa, a special letter from the hotel, a passport photo, a carefully filled out application form, and five strategically placed signatures, one per document. These strict rules are a counterterrorism measure, which have been in place ever since the Mumbai attacks.

We needed mobile service, so we soldiered on through the paperwork. And then, the gentleman behind the counter stunned me with his next question. “Father’s name?” he asked.

I blinked.

Emotions ran through me like a torrent of downtown Delhi traffic. What could the Indian government possibly want with my father’s name? After all, he was no longer alive. His name was meaningless. He was gone forever. The sudden sense of loss was overwhelming. Tears welled up and I swallowed them back. The tears were supplanted by anger. Did the Indian government did not regard me as a responsible adult person just because I was female? They are incredibly sexist in this country! But then, they asked for David’s father’s name as well.

We completed all the paperwork, and we finally have a working phone. Flights got changed, and things got cancelled. Life went on. I’m trying to meditate, but it’s a hard thing to do while sitting in an office, surrounded by men who are haggling over gemstones. It’s also hard to think of spiritual matters when I can’t take my eyes off of the glittering piles of loveliness sitting on the table right in front of me.

But I must return to the reality of my father’s death, and the finality of it. I must grapple with it, come to grips with it, and then let it go, like one of those little candle-boats that people set alight to float down the Ganges. And then I must go home and bring my mother my newfound insight.

I return to my favorite inspiration: the words of the Buddha. He is worshipped as a god, and Buddhism has become a religion, but the Buddha himself rejected all such claims. He was a person, simply that. He studied with the holy men of the day, but was unsatisfied. So, one day, he simply sat under a tree and vowed not to rise until he had achieved some kind of understanding.

He arose from the tree with what he called the “Four Noble Truths.” These are the four truths, as I understand them:

1. All human beings are born, only to suffer and die.

2. The source of all suffering is craving. (even physical suffering)

3. It is possible to attain the end of suffering, by renouncing all craving. There are three types of craving: the desire to rid oneself of physical pain and suffering, the desire to protect oneself from suffering caused by impermanence, and the desire to defend oneself from the inevitable cycle of life and death.

4. The way to end all suffering is to break free of all craving, and to transcend it all, even death. Anyone can awaken into enlightenment. It is only our craving that prevents us from doing so. (Of course, the body still dies, but that is no longer important).

Buddha soon discovered that he couldn’t teach enlightenment. He couldn’t make his disciples understand the four noble truths, and the eightfold path. Each disciple had to walk that path by his or her self. In the end, rather than talking, he simply handed each disciple a flower. Of all of them, only one was able to fully receive the teaching, and that person attained enlightenment on the spot.

I believe that my Dad transcended much at the end of his life. He had to renounce so much! His ailing body had already lost a limb. He’d already lost everything but his family, his friends and his sense of humor. But there was a sense of inner peace around him near the end. He’d already found it. Or at least I hope so. His spirit is one with the universe, ).

“Om Shanti, Dad. Mom, I’ll be home soon. I’ll bring you a flower.”

Dedicated to the memory of Gordon H. Swift
Wonderful father, loving husband, boatbuilder extraordinaire.

............................................................................

LIFE, DEATH, AND INDIA

My father passed away while we were in transit to India. As deaths go, it was the best that could have been hoped for; a peaceful, painless ending to a long and happy life. He was eighty nine. His death was not unexpected. His health had been declining for a number of years, and his quality of life was reduced to few moments of pleasure amid days of pain and personal humiliation as his body failed him. Everyone in the family was thoroughly prepared, and his death was viewed as a welcome relief from his suffering. We were glad for his sake, and our only tears were selfish ones, because he would no longer be with us. Before leaving, I spent several weeks with him, and I made sure to say all my goodbyes, just in case.

My family had planned for this. It was agreed in advance that, if it happened during the winter, Dave and I would not rush home from overseas. The memorial service would be held in the spring. We would finish our necessary business, and we would arrive later, whenever we could catch a flight.

So now I’m in India, reflecting on life and death. And cell phones, airlines, and red tape. This is of the worst places in the world in which to reorganize a travel itinerary, but one of the best in which to contemplate the mysteries of the universe. India is home to a vast motherlode of spiritual energy, and, I want to spend the next few days tapping into its source. I want to mourn properly, and then let it go, and then return home, to help my mother do the same. Can I bring home something more than just trinkets?

What has made this place such a magnet for seekers? How is that, in the midst of the poverty and the chaos, the exploding population growth, the traffic and the garbage, the spirit of Om Shanti comes shining through? How is it that this land has produced more mystics, saints, gurus and religious variations than any other single country on earth? Is there something in the water here (besides the usual parasites)? And, can a jaded American business traveler get some too?

It must have something to do with the continuity of human civilization here. India has been a home to religious communities dating back thousands of years. When Buddha attained enlightenment here, in about 400 B.C., sophisticated Hindu traditions were already long established. The Vedas were written over a thousand years before the time of Christ. These ancient texts expounded on the great philosophical questions of life long before the Greeks or the Romans ever did. People have been praying on the banks of the Ganges every single day, without fail, for over five thousand years. Pilgrims come from all over the world to visit, hoping that India will brush off on them. Even the camera toting tourists feel it obliquely.

I was eager to go with the spiritual flow, but first, we needed to change our travel arrangements, which meant that we needed cellphone connections. Back to red tape. We went to the little corner store near our hotel to get SIM cards. There, amid the candies, the packets of laundry detergent, the dusty bottles of warm, sugary soft drinks and the patent medicines, was the other side of India: the maddening side, which insinuated itself into my contemplations with a vengeance. It turns out that, in order to get an Indian SIM card for a foreign cellphone now, a foreigner needs all of the following documents: a photocopy of the passport, a photocopy of the Indian visa, a special letter from the hotel, a passport photo, a carefully filled out application form, and five strategically placed signatures, one per document. These strict rules are a counterterrorism measure, which have been in place ever since the Mumbai attacks.

We needed mobile service, so we soldiered on through the paperwork. And then, the gentleman behind the counter stunned me with his next question. “Father’s name?” he asked.

I blinked.

Emotions ran through me like a torrent of downtown Delhi traffic. What could the Indian government possibly want with my father’s name? After all, he was no longer alive. His name was meaningless. He was gone forever. The sudden sense of loss was overwhelming. Tears welled up and I swallowed them back. The tears were supplanted by anger. Did the Indian government did not regard me as a responsible adult person just because I was female? They are incredibly sexist in this country! But then, they asked for David’s father’s name as well.

We completed all the paperwork, and we finally have a working phone. Flights got changed, and things got cancelled. Life went on. I’m trying to meditate, but it’s a hard thing to do while sitting in an office, surrounded by men who are haggling over gemstones. It’s also hard to think of spiritual matters when I can’t take my eyes off of the glittering piles of loveliness sitting on the table right in front of me.

But I must return to the reality of my father’s death, and the finality of it. I must grapple with it, come to grips with it, and then let it go, like one of those little candle-boats that people set alight to float down the Ganges. And then I must go home and bring my mother my newfound insight.

I return to my favorite inspiration: the words of the Buddha. He is worshipped as a god, and Buddhism has become a religion, but the Buddha himself rejected all such claims. He was a person, simply that. He studied with the holy men of the day, but was unsatisfied. So, one day, he simply sat under a tree and vowed not to rise until he had achieved some kind of understanding.

He arose from the tree with what he called the “Four Noble Truths.” These are the four truths, as I understand them:

1. All human beings are born, only to suffer and die.

2. The source of all suffering is craving. (even physical suffering)

3. It is possible to attain the end of suffering, by renouncing all craving. There are three types of craving: the desire to rid oneself of physical pain and suffering, the desire to protect oneself from suffering caused by impermanence, and the desire to defend oneself from the inevitable cycle of life and death.

4. The way to end all suffering is to break free of all craving, and to transcend it all, even death. Anyone can awaken into enlightenment. It is only our craving that prevents us from doing so. (Of course, the body still dies, but that is no longer important).

Buddha soon discovered that he couldn’t teach enlightenment. He couldn’t make his disciples understand the four noble truths, and the eightfold path. Each disciple had to walk that path by his or her self. In the end, rather than talking, he simply handed each disciple a flower. Of all of them, only one was able to fully receive the teaching, and that person attained enlightenment on the spot.

I believe that my Dad transcended much at the end of his life. He had to renounce so much! His ailing body had already lost a limb. He’d already lost everything but his family, his friends and his sense of humor. But there was a sense of inner peace around him near the end. He’d already found it. Or at least I hope so. His spirit is one with the universe, ).

“Om Shanti, Dad. Mom, I’ll be home soon. I’ll bring you a flower.”

Dedicated to the memory of Gordon H. Swift
Wonderful father, loving husband, boatbuilder extraordinaire.
I miss you, Daddy, and I love you, wherever you are.

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely yours, Diana


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