Saturday, August 18, 2007


The Face of Amida Buddha

"The ultimate protection is emptiness;
Know what arises as confusion
to be the four aspects of being."

Stella, whom I had been visiting intermittently in the Hospice, and then in a Nursing Home, died on 14th August.

She had asked that I be called to see her. She had attended a dharma group I set up locally in an Age Concern meeting hall a few years back. The dharma group met fortnightly for what was basically a cosy chat, sitting in 1980s chintz chairs in the gloom. There were seldom more than four of us at any particular time.

In 2005 I disbanded the group, and lost contact with Stella, although we had corresponded by email occasionally. Her call for me to visit her disconcerted me. She was dying of terminal cancer, with brain metastases. I found her in a hospice bed, quite incapacitated, but capable of slow, painful speech. She asked me first if she was dying. I recall answering that it looked like it, but that death was hard to judge or predict. She asked me if I would help her. I remember saying "That's why I'm here". I didn't, in truth, know what that meant, only that I had gone because she had asked me to, and I wanted to.

She then said, "I want to learn to be a Buddhist". I said, "Stella, you really don't need to be a Buddhist" and I meant it. I told her that I thought she had done all the work she ever needed to do to face death, and now was the time to draw on the fruits of that work, not to look for anything else. It was all there for her. She asked me, "How do you know?". I said, "I don't know, I just have confidence in you, and in it".

Stella was a science teacher, a biologist and chemist by training, and a natural sceptic. I loved the way she challenged everything, challenged my assertions, my glib aphorisms.

Our relationship was very uncertain. At one point I told her that I thought my visits were a hindrance to her, and I stopped visiting her. I think that uncertainty, my uncertainty, her uncertainty, had a value for both of us beyond the assurances of Buddhist teachings or the prescriptions of, for example, the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

"The ultimate protection is emptiness;
Know what arises as confusion
to be the four aspects of being."

I dedicate this post to Stella Whittaker, her life, her death, and to the merit of all sentient beings, great and small, near and far, born and yet-to-be-born, that they may be free from suffering, and the rooots of suffering, and heal into their true nature, and know peace.

Om Amidewa Hrih
Om Amidewa Hung Hrih
Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Siddhi Hung
Om Ah Hung Benza Guru Pema Tetrung Tsul
Benza Samaya-Dza, Siddhi Pala Hung Ah

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