Loss is enlightenment – Dogen

My youngest son is going to College for the first time. We leave to take him there tomorrow. A day of packing today. Next week the house will be quiet. No Children. 

This is a life’s passage. It is a loss, a grieving, a separation. How do I practice with this? I am so grateful that I know about “practicing with it”. How would I get by in this life full of sorrow and loss without my spiritual guidance. I don’t know.  When life is hard, that is when our opportunities are ripe and our practices save us.

So here is how I am practicing with this sorrow:

  1. I allow myself to feel my feelings without covering them up. I allow myself to have the queasy feeling in my stomach, to cry, to have headaches. As Reb Anderson taught me when I asked him how he was dealing with old age, He said, “I welcome it. I am generous towards it, I have patience” (Using the first two paramitas as his guide.)
  2. I, what I call “extend the tonglen.” I extend my sorrow to include all beings who are having a similar sorrow. So, in this case, millions of parents are letting go of their children. Some are letting them go to kindergarten, some like me, at the end of the cycle, letting them go out into the scary world without us. I am one of millions. Somehow just thinking that helps me reduce the “uniqueness of my suffering.” Every single parent in all generations from time eternal have let go of their children.
  3. I pull up the great gathas and verses I have studied in the past and start using them again.

Two examples:

Birth will end in death,
Youth will end in old age,
Wealth will end in loss
Meeting will end in separation
All things in cyclic existence are transient and impermanent.
I have pulled out
Meeting will end in separation.
And I remind myself of this sentence as I go thru the day.

And the verse above comes from the 5 Remembrances:

I am of the nature to grow old.
There is no way to escape growing old.
I am of the nature to have ill-health.
There is no way to escape having ill-health.
I am of the nature to die.
There is no way to escape death.
All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.
There is no escape being separated from them.
My deeds are my closest companions.
I am the beneficiary of my deeds.

My deeds are the ground on which I stand.

When we think of freedom or enlightenment, we often think we are gaining something. 

“Loss is enlightenment. Gain is delusion” – Dōgen

But as Dōgen has indicated actually the letting go process involved in loss is the same process of “dropping off body and mind.” We drop off our self-centered thinking which concentrates on a self-centered feeling of loss, and we join into the rhythm of cyclic existence without resistance. Things come and go.

Even the word “tathagata” which is what Buddha called himself, is translated as “that which comes and that which goes.” Or “the person who is beyond coming and going”.

We can contemplate the beautiful equanimity phrase:

May I be at peace with the comings and goings or the ups and downs of life.