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Tag Archives: jizo

caregiver’s curiosity

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I hosted a jizo ceremony for members of our mediation group yesterday — an occasion to reflect on personal losses, sew little garment, and place them on statues in our meditation garden. All done in silence, except for a couple of chants and poems; solemn, some tears. Afterwards two people wrote to say that “it was more profound and beautiful than I could have imagined. We both noticed a sense of lightness ….”

While I guided the proceedings, I also visited my own grief. Once everyone had left, I marvelled at this wonderful practice. How did I get to be so fortunate (blessed?) to have the tools and opportunity to be of service? I felt drained and took to bed; woke up an hour later, refreshed and still.

Many friends are caregivers: nurses, counsellors, health care providers, volunteers, companions, teachers, parents. How do you do it, day in and day out?

What motivates a caregiver’s actions?
Why are we willing to be with another’s pain?
Who can say?
We want to help,
but that’s not the whole story.
We feel obliged,
but that’s not it either.

Beneath the many motives of the conditioned mind
rests the mysterious Tao,
which is the true source of all caring.
We can’t see it or understand it.
We can only trust that it
is the origin of what we do
and the power that helps us see it through.

source: Martin, W. & M. (2011). The caregiver’s Tao te Ching. Novato, CA: New World Library, p. 24. The Tao te Ching is a 2600-year old Chinese text. The term tao can be translated as “way” to mean course of life and its relation to eternal truth. 


when jizo meets rumi

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I woke up this morning as if under a blanket of sadness. Not the kind of blanket one can flip away and get up from under. More like a blanket that sticks to the body like a robe made of horse hair — old, heavy, rain-resistant.

I stepped outside to notice that the red garments put on the jizo figures during yesterday’s ceremony were wet with rain, clinging to the concrete. And that the tiny message tags (“Daddy loves you.”), hung on branches of the bare plum-tree had soaked through and been blown away, leaving behind flimsy bits of string. I wanted to go outside and tidy things up, to make things right … .

But I remain standing at the window, paralyzed, realizing that no amount of tidying can undo the knot in my heart. I open a book by Stephen Levine who, with his partner Ondrea, has witnessed a hundred individual deaths. He writes that

“the phrase ‘opening the heart’ can be misleading because it implies that the heart is at times closed — when actually the heart, like the sun, is always shining, though occasionally obscured by passing phenomena. We are not so much opening the heart as clearing the way to the heart, recognizing that hindrances to the heart are the hindrances to healing.”

As I stand at the window, then lie down on a mat, I find my breathing shallow and restricted. As I deliberately breathe into the armour, tears erupt and thoughts go to the people who came to yesterday’s ceremony. Turning inward, I hear words by Rumi —

There is a way of breathing
that’s a shame and a suffocation
then there’s another way of expiring, a love breath,
that lets you open infinitely.

source: Levine, S. (1987). Healing into life and death. New York: Anchor Books, p. 6. image: a tag hung on branches of a cedar tree, two years ago.

healing [updated]

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This morning seven people will come to my home for a Jizo ceremony — to remember and set adrift the spirit of a baby that died a while ago. I may say more about this later in the day. Stephen Levine writes that “the secret to healing is no secret at all.”

Lather that day. I feel so tired. Could be that spending two hours amidst a close-knit group mourning the loss of an unborn child weighs heavily on my heart. The kind of ache that even a mid-day nap won’t erase. Could be that my body has assumed some of the pain felt by others — not unlike Quan Yin, the Buddhist guardian of compassion, who “hears the cries of the world.” Or simply a cold coming on.

This morning I read aloud these lines by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore: 

Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet.
Let it not be a death but completeness.
Let love melt into memory and pain into songs.
Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest.
Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night.
Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence.
I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way.

May all beings be at ease.

source: Levine, S. (1987). Healing into life and death. New York: Anchor Books, p. xiii.

unborn babies

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Babies have been rearing their little heads in my life recently — metaphorically and otherwise. Two weeks ago someone contacted me to arrange a Jizo ceremony* for friends who’d had a miscarriage and wanted to honour and let go of their little one. Last night, while passing a towel to ~P~ as she stepped out of the shower, I said something about “thirty years from now” to which she replied, “I’ll be well into menopause and you’ll be dead.” No babies for us, alas. Then this morning after a breakfast of French toast, ~C~ spoke of her own miscarriage four years ago, one that even her parents don’t know about.

Tears come easily. My friend’s loss, kept as a secret. The couple who’ll soon gather at our zendo to sew red garments in remembrance. And the realization that I’ll never be a father and a startling reminder of old age and missed opportunities.

* This old post describes a previous Jizo ceremony I did. I’ll soon be offering a similar one in Victoria BC for anyone who’s lost anyone, not just babies. My teacher Jan Chozen Bays MD is the author of the definitive Jizo Bodhisattva: modern healing and traditional Buddhist practice. She regularly offers Jizo ceremonies at Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon. image:

writing while jet-lagging

Goodmorningbodyandmind. Wake up at 3:21 am. Offer a garden walk to an eager dog (oops, one of us is naked). Back to bed, now wide-wake. Body clock somewhere over Greenland (why isn’t their flag green?), eight hours out of synch. They say it takes the metabolism one day to adjust for each hour of time difference. Brew Assam tea and eat cookie meant for tonight’s meditation group. Sweep meditation room (good monastic practice to calm the mind), straighten cushions, and remove little altar table that previously held incense bowl, candle, and statue of Guan YinWhat did you do that for?

Two reasons, in retrospect. 1. To make room for one more cushion to accommodate the growing number of weekly sitters. 2. To unclutter the space and acknowledge that many come to sit without seeing themselves as Zen/Buddhist practitioners. Among them are hospice workers, nurses, cancer patients, yoga teachers, and like-minded ones. They come, so they say, to be in a quiet place — externally and, so they hope, internally as well. Two of them recently asked whether we could do without incense as it makes them feel nautious. A tiny Buddha statue as well as the lovely Jizō figure (see image) had already been moved to greet guests near the front door — so no further need for an altar table.

Now to read Nathan’s recent posts (always eloquent and thought-provoking), then to write this post, then a hot bath before heading back to bed. If the dog is perplexed by all this commotion, he’s not saying. Equanimity at 4:12 am.

drunk in the garden

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My friend Ryushin (“dragon heart) is senior novice at Great Vow Zen Monastery. Many things keep him from sleeping past 3:43 in the morning; his current duties include caring for the gardens. He writes:

ryushin sunflowerWhere’s that Sacred Fool? You’ll find him in the garden whispering sweet nothings to Chamomile sprouts. He sews seeds calling each by their secret name: lyopersicon esculentum, anethum graveolens, and eruca sativa. He wanders through rows, making water offerings to the vegetables, flowers, and weeds equally, beaming and chanting his heart’s song.

What does he drink to see the world like this? Nothing more or less than the sparkling air and gently-sieved sunshine. He eats the colour green with avid eyes and soaks hands in rich loam. He lives in divine madness, piling up rock stupas and bowing with decided reverence. Assuming the venerable hoe-leaning posture, he contemplates the nature of rust and calls to crows. The crows know better than to pay him any mind.                

Beauregard lives next to the compost bin, though ordinary people just call him “rat.” Field mice dig tunnels mere inches below Earth. Slugs and earthworms crawl their way to and fro. Each handful of dirt is a world of wonder, and in the garden lies a veritable universe. We all share equally in this bounty of the earth as she offers herself freely. The Fool places himself no higher than the others, just another splash of orange dripping down the canvas in the painting of life.  

And does he simply wander around all day, an unproductive bag of oatmeal and peanut butter? But, no! The function of the Fool is to respond. To welcome everything that comes forward with a warm and undefended heart is simply the red nose of Jizo Bodhisattva.  

In a world of freely functioning the action of the question calls forth an answer. This reply begins in heart, or perhaps the gut, which commences to wiggle. It grows into a quiver then a twitch to a quake until the force echoes in the fingertips. The Fool belches out an answer, and walks away without apology.  

So, take him as he is: innocent, fearless. And if you aspire to such grandeurs of incorruptibility … talk to plants and walls and sky. Forget birthdays and Tuesdays and instead appreciate the Purpledays and Maybedays. Wrap yourself equally in people’s praise and blame, then slough both off and roam naked through afternoon meadows. Cherish these teaching and revere them as holy as everything else until they lose all meaning and you become natural.

jizo ceremony

Jizo Bodhisattva is a much beloved figure in Japan, Korea, and China and is  becoming increasingly well known in the West. In Buddhist cosmology Jizo is seen as protector of anyone in transition, especially children (who have died), travelers, and women, as well as those working with a life problem or physical affliction.   

saints.jpgSeveral patron saints in the Catholic tradition are Jizo equivalents, e.g., St. Christopher or Julian the Hospitaller for travellers and people in distress; Brigid of Ireland for infants; Margaret of Scotland  for deceased children; Teresa of Avila for parents, mothers, fathers who have died; and Gertrude of Nivelles for the recently dead. 

The ceremony will be done in silence, involves sewing a red garment to be placed on one of the statues, a simple chant service where the names of the dead are called out and incense is lit in remembrance. The whole thing is free of charge, lasts an hour, and is open to anyone regardless of religious or spiritual orientation. To respect confidentiality, photos are only allowed after the ceremony and mere spectators will not be admitted. Anyone may visit the memorial garden at any time in the future.