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Lions Roar : November 2018
Lama.” My being is suddenly filled with the peace I felt in 1991 when I first met him. Standing in a small circle of West- erners in Dharamshala, India, he had taken both of my hands in his, looked into my eyes, and laughed. I was over- taken with the most profound peace I’d ever felt. His nonverbal transmission seemed to be, “Everything is so okay. You have no idea.” It feels this way right now, with Dad. I feel his cold hand gripping mine, see his legs twitch, and feel the okayness of impermanence, of him being exactly where he is. I open the text on emptiness called The Mirror of Essential Points: A Letter in Praise of Emptiness, which some long-term practitioners consider one of the most treasured distillations of twelve hundred years of Tibetan Buddhism. The AT 3:20 AM, I WAKE UP and amble into Dad’s room. He’s pretty wheezy and raspy. I go to the kitchen and grind up some Ativan between two spoons to dissolve into the morphine I will give him. He lies on the pillow, allowing the putrid liquid to drain down his throat, but with no dis- taste visible on his face. Then he props himself up on his elbows to stare at something that is so compelling he stays there for almost a minute. I’m amazed he has the upper body strength for this. Then he lies back down, his face drawn but calm. My father seems to be mov- ing between worlds, back and forth and back again. There is something so unstoppable about this that it can’t help but pull forth the kind witness inside me. I gather up my meditation chant book and my kata, a white scarf used in the Tibetan tradition to receive blessings. In this dark, silent, chilly anteroom to the next life, there is all the time in the world. I read the prayers and invocations slowly, letting some words and syllables lan- guish in my mouth for what feels like an eternity. Some of them drip down onto my heart and warm it all over, especially those about wishing all beings to be free of suffering and its causes. I take my time with the “Long-Life Prayer for His Holiness 14th Dalai THIS DHARMA LIFE Dad Is Dying As BRENT KESSEL sits by his dying father’s bed, the two truths of impermanence and emptiness become one, and it’s all okay. author is a lama named Nyo- shul Khen Rinpoche who lived in the Dordogne Valley in France in the 1980s. In this letter back to his mother on the profound teachings of emptiness, he describes the wonders of the West: “They have all kinds of magic and sights, like flying through the skies, and moving like fish in the waters.” He then points out the inherent emptiness and interdependency of everything, no matter how spectacular in appearance. I pause and contemplate my father’s body, its auto- nomic functions all slowing at an almost imperceptible rate. Yet so much is going on in his inner consciousness, reflected in incredibly active hands, facial expressions, and sentences in other languages. The teach- ing I’m reading is right—these physical phenomena that make up his body are impermanent. They originated in lots of other things, like food, oxygen, evolution, parents. They are empty of any inherent existence of their own. I think back to several of the failures and successes of Dad’s life, and see their inherent emptiness too, their imperma- nence and their frailty. When I started practicing in the Tibetan tradition called Dzogchen, I thought emptiness meant that nothing in the world of form or phenomena really mattered. If it’s all impermanent and couldn’t exist without everything else, then who cares? But sitting here, with the form of my Dad’s body doing its thing, and the real- ization of emptiness filling my being, I COURTESYOFTHEAUTHOR BRENT KESSEL is the co-founder/CEO of the financial services firm Abacus, which spe- cializes in socially responsible investing, and author of It’s Not About the Money. Brent Kessel and his father hold hands. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2018 17 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE