Two weeks ago, I went to the monastery (Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, at Woodstock, New York) to participate in a birthday party for our venerable Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche who is the Abbot of the monastery and have been my spiritual teacher for more than 10 years. Every year, when he gives the 10-day teachings on mahamudra, many of his disciples come from all over the world to listen to his teaching. Among other things, one of the highlights of this 10-day event, is a birthday party for Rinpoche. This year is his 82nd birthday (we were told that Rinpoche was born in 1924). It was quite a scene to observe this event usually given outdoors with people waiting in lines holding flowers, white scarves, all kinds of "goodies" to make offerings to Rinpoche and received his blessing. Rinpoche used his Tibetan tradition to hold our head with his two hands and touched our forehead with his. I always think that has been one of most wonderful gifts I can ever receive from Rinpoche, my dearest spiritual guide. His hands were very warm. When his forehead touched mine, I felt in my heart that I was receiving Buddha's blessing like the nectar pouring into my head.
I remembered two years ago, when he was just past 80 years old, I saw him in one occasion. That day, he looked pretty tired and his face was a little swollen. I greeted him with my usual concern, but more worry that time. Usually Rinpoche's response to my concern was some comforting words, such as "not to worry, I am all right, etc." But not that time. He looked very serious and said, "May Lein, do you know I am already an 80-year-old old man? So you need to prepare that every time you see me, I will be different. You will see me aged day by day. Do not put too much thought on how I look, whether I am healthy or not, or how my body changes its shape. This is all natural process. As a Buddhist practitioner, this should not affect your mind. You need to let go your concern about me. I know you care about me. However, you do need to learn to live with this natural process of my being older and older every day and not to worry about it." What Rinpoche said was very thought provoking and it helped later on when I accompanied my Mom to experience her last breath. I've learned not to worry about things not happening yet. I've learn to accept that it is simply a natural process that every single breath in our life is a little step toward the so-called end of our life - death (maybe it's a little step closer to something wonderful after this life?) I also learn to focus on all the admiring qualities of my spiritual guide - his teaching, his overwhelming compassion towards all the sentient beings, the demonstration of his triumph in the six perfections, his diligence in his own practice, etc. Day by day, if I can learn just a little of these qualities, my life will be enriched, my practice will be improved, hopefully I will be a little step closer towards recognizing the nature of my mind.
In the process of my Mom closer to the end of her life, day-by-day she gradually found she could not move her legs freely, then her body, and then her hands. She wanted to sit up, but she couldn't. She wanted to come down from her sick bed, but she was so heavy (too much water in her body) that we could not even raise her to sit up. It was a very scary situation for her. She simply just could not understand why and how her body could degenerate so quickly in a very short time. For the first time in her life she came to the point that she was losing control of her body, her legs, her hands, etc. She cried bitterly couple nights asking why she did not feel the existence of her legs or hands. She had no choice but started thinking that she would not get well any more - she always hoped she would recover from her illness and that hope was diminishing. I comforted her that it was alright that she could not move her legs or hands and it was alright that she would never recover from her sickness. But it had to be the time she should learn to focus not on her body but on her mind since the strength and power from one's mind will be the ultimate. I calmed her down by doing massage on her almost all night long. I touched her all over her body. She told me she could feel my hands that were very warm to her. So for many long hours day and night, we were in silence - I focused on the massage with mantra recitation (usually the six-syllable mantra) and she would be very peaceful knowing I was there and she should try to get familiar with using the mind power. Watching her losing her life one breath by one breath, strangely enough, I did not feel sad because I was too concentrated on helping her go through the process. I did not have any thought on what would happen when she died, how much loss it would be to me when she died. That was the first time in my life I tried to do something with all the attention and concentration I could put together. I felt the strength of my mind was supporting me to go through the difficult time with her. My only thought at the time was how to guide her so that this natural process of so-called "death" could be a smooth one, even better, a very positive, constructive one because only with a positive process, one would be able to accumulate more merits even to the last moment. These merits will serve as the necessities in our suitcases when we need to travel long in many future lives until we reach the enlightenment and escape from this cyclic existence. Any negative thinking will only bring more karmic obscurations to the person who is dying and to the people who surround him/her. Before one loses his/her last breath, even at the last fraction of second, the mind can still be in control to accumulate merits and remove obscurations by simply thinking positively, praying for the blessing from our guru or Buddhas, and visualizing the Amitabha's Pure Land. At the time when body becomes useless, it's the power of mind that will surface to serve as the Captain of the ship to sail on. I am grateful, even to this date, Mom, at her final moment, had a chance to learn that it was the mind, not the body, that would make the differences and it did.

May Lein Ho