You haven’t heard from me for a while because I had an unexpected recurrence of Lyme Disease symptoms, from an original infection six or seven years ago. I was just bedridden for more than three weeks. After 20 days with no improvements, I thought I might never get better. So I did a quick review of my life and, feeling pretty good about it, readied myself to die, to let go of this body/mind forever. A couple of days after that my health suddenly improved just before it was time to go with my family on our annual trip to the Caribbean. Quite a pleasant outcome!
During the three days before I left, I met with several of our sangha members.
I told the one about my experience and she said incredulously, “You were ready to die, without fear or anxiety?” I said, “Sure, I have been practicing dying to my worries and concerns on my cushion for more than 50 years. Little Tim is nothing more than a coagulation of these concerns. Meditation practice is a wonderful way to ready ourselves to let go of body/mind completely.” I think she believed me, but I am not sure.
Another sangha member came into my room, sat down, and spoke in a hushed voice. “I felt a great stillness when I opened the door and looked at you. Thank you for that.” I replied, “You’re welcome, but if you felt a stillness, that means it’s within you as much as it’s within me, so thank yourself as well.” She looked puzzled, but of course it’s true.
One of the last people I saw had just completed our silent retreat called Rohatsu, which we do the first week in December every year. I asked her how it had been for her. She looked at me intensely and said, “Do you remember Rohatsu last year, how I came in to see you for a meeting and cried and cried, feeling so helpless, discouraged, and alone?” She went on to say that this year it had been good, that she had been able to stay with the practice pretty well for the entire time that she meditated, and that a quiet confidence had developed within her since that meeting with me a year ago. She thanked me profusely for instilling that confidence in her. I said, “I didn’t instill anything in you. You tapped into your Buddha nature. That’s all.” I congratulated her as I would congratulate anyone who stays with their meditation long enough to develop a confidence in their ability to let their thoughts and feelings pass through them without judging them or getting stuck on them.
Many people wondered how my own root teacher, Suzuki Roshi could be so calm and ordinary in the face of his very painful death from cancer. Here’s dharma teacher Lew Richmond’s response in the December issue of Lion’s Roar:
“He was always ready to die. He was the embodiment of his own best teaching: Don’t stick to anything, even the truth. Each moment new. That was his dharma.”
Maybe that’s my dharma, too. Anyway, it’s not that complicated. Little by little, we develop the capacity to appreciate what is. Then the division between life and death is not that big a deal. The best preparation for death is learn to die to our small selves on the cushion so we can open up to the wonder of being.
That said, I am very happy to have a few, or possibly many more days/months/years to be in this body/mind with you!
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher