Wednesday, June 23, 2010

funeral preparations

Sometimes I really am afraid -- not just humble-pie, toe-in-the-sand afraid -- that I won't remember why anyone might want to practice zazen, the seated meditation that is a focal point in Zen Buddhism. The meanings and importance and particulars are all around, but it's like looking at a lily -- it's beautiful ... what else is there to say?

And then along comes someone like Pat, with whom I spent an hour or more this afternoon going over what it was she might like me to say or do at the memorial gathering for her brother Francis (Fran) who died June 3. Pat and I met at an obscenely immaculate funeral home and were attended by the owner of the home -- a man groomed as tight and clean as his carpets.

Fran had been into Zen Buddhism and Pat wanted someone to say something in line with what Fran cared about. Fran had been a student for 20 or 30 years. And Pat asked me about what Fran did at the Zen center where he lived.

As soon as Pat asked, it didn't seem so complicated. But the nature of Friday's gathering -- mostly members of the large Polish-American, Catholic family Fran haled from -- were likely, if Pat was any yardstick, to be nice people who loved Fran to varying degrees and would remember him in their own ways ... all of them good. In my mind, although I didn't know that family, I imagined they wouldn't give much of a shit about Zen or Buddhism ... what they would care about was Fran and the fact that he was dead.

Anyway, Pat and I had a nice conversation and we agreed that whatever I would say might run about 15 minutes -- a time frame in which I might get one foot in my mouth, but would probably have difficulty inserting both feet. I will do what I can to suggest the family find comfort in family and friends ... and perhaps (without too much emphasis) investigate some of the silence that crashes like thunder after someone dies.

So ... I'll do a little chanting, light a little incense, talk a little ... and keep an eye on the clock.


  1. Although, outside of my wife, my family knows little of my Zen Buddhist practice. I have thought of having the leader of our sangha speak at services at my passing . . . I think you will be surprised at what you have to offer Fran's family: Some insight into Fran, that, otherwise, may have gone unknown/unnoticed by some member of his family and friends. Good luck.

    In gassho,


  2. Like you, Sekishin, my family knows little of my practice. Which reminds me that, if I were to die tomorrow, I would probably receive the full fireworks of a Roman Catholic service -- which admittedly wouldn't bother me much in my state (The important thing, as you point out Adam, is gathering together in memory and celebration of a person's love and influence, and contemplating the silence that follows.)

    They wouldn't be aware, however, of the practice which has come to influence my thoughts and actions daily. Why do we keep it secret? (First guess: probably to avoid the God conversation! Another guess: because it makes us have to really be sure about the path we've chosen -- not a bad thing).

    Bon courage, Adam, and well done..

  3. Thanks for the comments ... it helps me clamp down on my too-inventive speculations.

    One of the things I have found in Zen practice is that over time the secrecies with which we may surround it become less interesting. Sort of: If it's secret, it's important, but the reason it's important shape-shifts over time and we really can talk about it without worrying too much. The central secret, to the extent that there is one, is the secret we keep from ourselves, not the secret we keep from others.

    Or, as Suzuki Roshi put it once when asked about the importance of practice, "It's important, but it's not that important."