This is December 17 2020. And that means we're sort of settled into the very longest nights of the year. darkest time of year. And maybe that's why I'm thinking of all of the victims of COVID.
I think it was last week that we pass the 300,000 mark of just in the United States, deaths attributed to COVID. We're already up to Oh, it's so hard to to keep up with it up to 320,320 5000 now, but I thought it would be appropriate to stop and honor or remember, Memorial memorialize these 300,000 some dead in our country, and then the altogether one and a half million worldwide. It it's as staggering as these numbers are. It is difficult to assimilate them, isn't it? I keep up with a news check in with main, mainstream sources of news. And so I noticed that the numbers, especially when it's day after day, month after month, this drip drip drip of these numbers, statistics that come at us. And they're so abstract. This is so so difficult to feel how can anyone feel each of these deaths these these terrible deaths? Maybe we're not meant to feel them, but at least we can remember these people. It's it's what we don't want to do is become callous to it. And yet, I think it's very easy to become numb. When we don't have faces really we have numbers. Who was it may have been stolen, who said one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. So I'm struggling here to not become numb to all these deaths and to try to find a way to acknowledge the magnitude of what we're going through. They sometimes use you hear analogies they, they want to instead of they want to go beyond statistics to something a little more like they like give some number of fatalities to COVID equal to the number of people in the city have such and such or that's equivalent to have every week the number of people who could fit in Yankee Stadium or things like that, that try to it's it helps a little bit makes it makes it a little more concrete takes it out of the abstract but still. Still, how can we absorb these numbers? Maybe we just can't you know Who? Who has to absorb these numbers. Or absorb these deaths had their close to are the critical care health care workers, the critical nurses and doctors who have daily exposure to these deaths. Even if not deaths, then these these these critical cases, on respirators
I've seen a few times I've seen nurses testifying to the anguish that they go through day after day now for months, I've seen them come to tears in these in these interviews, they talk about how they have to serve as as surrogates. For the for the family members of these patients, because of the the hygiene restrictions. Even the closest family members are sometimes not allowed in to be with the dying person, their their parent, or their sibling or even their child that can't be with them. As they're dying. The patient is left with one of these body surfers who work there and nurse or doctor who who the patient may barely know. So So here you are, drawing your last breaths alone, alone in a way that probably none of us can remember ever having done that alone, as we're dying, without even someone we know next to us. These these nurses and doctors do the best they can but they're they're shrouded in peepee in this, these masks and shields and gowns and gloves. And so imagine that the last thing you see in your life is this figure whose face you cannot even see.
And then the grief of the survivors.
Anyone who has lost a parent or sibling or dear friend, child of course even grandparent knows that kind of grief. Especially when it's it's all the more so maybe when it's sudden when you haven't had the time to adjust to the person fading away. I think our president elect Joe Biden has come up with some very heartfelt ways of of it. referring to this kind of terrible grief. He has gone through so much himself talked about how you're left with this black hole in your heart. He's he was talking in the context of of all these victims to the COVID or the that empty chair at the table. It's terrible. Even since I began this talk 10 minutes ago or whatever. There are people who have died in this country alone. of COVID. It's the the sense of of the terrible finality of death for the survivors that terror finality, the inescapable sense that the person is gone. Gone.
Just the collective grief that has occurred that is continuing that will continue into the next year. the grief of so many people the mass, the tears.
Well, those of us who believe in rebirth, don't see death as final. it sure feels final when it's someone close to you. But I thought it may be something today to do the memorial prayer from just me alone to recite the memorial prayer, that's the sort of a heart of Buddhist memorial service or funeral, either one to recite the memorial prayer for these 320, whatever, 1000 people just in this country alone?
I don't know what else do we do? What else do we do? So that's what I'm going to do. Just a little explanation in in, in Zen and Buddhism more broadly, the memorial prayer is done, as a way of addressing the deceased, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and other old texts about death and dying, the sense of hearing is the last thing to go after death. And so there is there is a very real sense I believe this there are all kinds of accounts of people having perceived things that people who were momentarily dead and came back to life of having heard things, this is impossible that seems. So, the moment in the memorial prayer, we're addressing the deceased directly. But if that's too much for anyone to believe in, maybe it's a little easier to believe in the way in which an immortal sort of the memorial prayer, we are calling on Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which which really means Buddhas means enlightened ones. What he suffers, of course, are great beings of wisdom and compassion. Maybe the best way is to think of, of what we're doing is calling on our own Bodhisattva and Buddha nature as a way of honoring the deceased and helping is a way of fortifying the deceased as she or he finds their way through this intermediate state that we call the Bardo. So this will be a memorial, the memorial prayer will be directed to those collectively, to these hundreds of 1000s of people who have died. Now at this we've reached this juncture of kind of a Buddhist number three, the Buddhist the number three. So without rambling on, just read this. Just do it once and then I'm going to follow it with a recitation of a poem, Japanese poem called flowers also directed to collectively to these victims of COVID but first the memorial prayer, all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas abiding in all directions, endowed with great compassion and doubt with love, affording protection to sentient beings, consent to the power of your great compassion to come forth, or compassionate ones, you who possess the wisdom of understanding the love of compassion, the power of protecting and in comprehensible measure COVID victims are passing from this world to the next. They are taking a great leap. The light of this world has faded for them. They have entered solitude with their karmic forces. They have gone into a vast silence. They are born away by the great ocean of birth and death. Or compassionate ones, protect these victims who are defenseless, be to them like a father and the mother. Or compassionate ones, like not the force of your compassion be weak, but aid them. Forget not your ancient vows.
And then, now, the poem called flowers. This is reserved for funerals, generally. I'm going to read it now.
The world is a flower. Gods are flowers, and lightened ones are flowers. All phenomena are flowers, red flowers, white flowers, green flowers, yellow flowers, black flowers, all the different kinds of the colors of flowers. All the different kinds of love shining forth. Life unfolds from life and returns to life. Such an immense universe. Oh, many lives. Flowers of gratitude, flowers of sorrow, flowers of suffering flowers of joy laughters flowers, angers flowers, heavens flowers, hells flowers, each connected to the others, and each making the others grow. When our real mind's eye opens this world of flowers, all beings shine, music echoes through mountains and oceans. One's world becomes the world of millions. The individual becomes the human race. All lives become the individual, billions of mirrors all reflecting each other. Oh COVID victims, there is death and there is life. There is no death and no life. There is changing life, there is unchanging life. Flowers change color, moment by moment. Such a vivid world, such a bright, you victims of COVID you were born out of these flowers, you gave birth to these flowers. You have no beginning and no ending. You are bottomless and limitless, even as you are infinitesimal dust. Victims of COVID You are the flower you are love. All beings shine out of their uniqueness or melt into the oneness of colors. You are one you are many. Only one moment, only one unique place only the unique you. Beside you There is nothing you dance appearing and all. from nowhere, you came to nowhere you go. You stay nowhere. You are nowhere attached. You occupy everything. You occupy nothing. You are the becoming indescribable change. You are love. You are the flower