-An extract from Venerable Pomnyun’s book, Life Lessons–
P: When our parents are alive, we don’t realize how precious they are and how grateful we should be for their existence. Once they pass away, we realize how big their presence had been in our lives and regret that we didn’t realize it sooner. Likewise, we don’t feel thankful to our spouses when they are by our sides. We always complain, focusing on the issues that we disagree on. It’s the same with our children. When they are healthy, we want them to do well in school, and if they do well in school, we want them to be outstanding. We focus on our children’s shortcomings and push them to do better. Then, if by some misfortune, the child passes away, we bitterly realize how foolish we have been. Often we gripe and complain about the people close to us and don’t realize how grateful we should be to them when they are by our sides, but we feel regretful and miserable when they are gone.
There once was a lady who wept while she told me about her fiancé who suddenly died in a car accident. She said, “When he was alive, he worked hard to help the elderly and the children. However, I always complained and hurt him verbally because I thought he was too idealistic. After his death, I have been feeling increasingly more guilty about my past actions toward him, and I even wonder if I was responsible for his death.”
Many of us, like this lady, complain and feel dissatisfied with our loved ones when they are with us, and then, we make ourselves miserable with regrets when they pass away. Would a dead person tell you that he died because you hurt them? The dead remain silent, but this lady kept looking back at the past and had locked herself in a prison of guilt.
Feeling guilty and missing her fiancé are simply the thoughts and feelings she herself is clinging to. They do nothing for the person who has passed away. Therefore, she should let go of her lingering affection or regrets for her deceased fiancé and say goodbye with a light heart.
It is always the errant child who weeps the most when his parents pass away. Children who didn’t bother to visit their parents when they were alive are the ones who cry a great deal when they are gone. Dutiful children have no reason to cry because they did their best for their parents when they were alive. Setting up a fancy grave for the parents or offering huge amounts of food during ancestor memorial services is useless to the deceased parents. Doing something as simple as offering your parents a glass of cold water while they are alive is the action of a dutiful child. Then, calmly saying goodbye to your parents when they pass away is the best thing you can do. Even if you have regrets, it is best to put them behind for your sake as well as that of your parents.
No one can live forever. People are struck with various illnesses. Will crying cure an illness or prevent anyone from dying? So, if your parents are ill, it’s better to prepare them meals, clean their room, and offer them a smile as often as you can instead of crying. If you are anxious all the time and do nothing but cry while thinking, “”What will I do if my parents pass away?” your parents will also be unhappy. Even if they were to die tomorrow, if you can smile happily today, your parents will be happy until the moment of their death.
There was a lady who told me that she cried whenever she thought of her mother who passed away 10 years ago in an accident. She asked me,
Q: “I prayed for my mother to go to heaven, but does heaven really exist?”
In response, I quoted the Bible: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” and “Blessed is she who believed for there shall be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” It means that she will benefit greatly from believing, “My mom has gone to heaven.” instead of wondering whether heaven exists or not. She would feel unhappy if she thought that her mom went to hell, and she would feel empty if she believed there was nothing after one’s death.
A daughter should not cry because her mother doesn’t appear in her dreams. The more she misses her mother, the harder it will be for her mother’s spirit to peacefully leave this world, so it would keep coming back. But since the spirit does not have a body to go back to, it will drift and become a so-called “forlorn wandering spirit.” The daughter should say goodbye to her mother and let her go quickly so that her mother’s spirit can leave this world without attachments to hold her back.
A while back, a questioner whose child had died wept in front of me as if the world had ended. I can’t imagine the heartache of a mother who has outlived her child. Still, she had to let go of her dead child in order to live her own life. So, I asked her to say “Goodbye, my child.” with a light heart, but she couldn’t. She said, “Goodbye” weeping copiously with tears running down her face.
Of course, it is not easy to let go of her child, but saying goodbye should be as light as biting into a crispy rice cracker. If she says goodbye with a lingering attachment like a sticky taffy, her child’s spirit won’t be able to leave this world. We weep because we are sad about the death of a loved ones, but weeping miserably greatly torments the dead.
Whether it is a husband, a child, or a parent who passes away, we should say goodbye with a smile after the funeral. People often burn the clothes of the deceased because it’s so hard to say goodbye. If we are able to let go of our attachments to those who pass away, we won’t have any problems using their possessions. However, since most of us become sad upon seeing their possessions, we burn them to get rid of any attachments.
We should do our best for our loved ones when they are alive, but let them go with a light heart when they pass away. However, we tend to do the opposite. We give them a hard time when they are with us but hold on to them when they die. Ancestor memorial services and rituals for sending spirits to a good place are actually performed for the peace of mind of the people who are alive rather than for the deceased. If we don’t hold onto the spirits of the deceased, they will leave of their own accord. A problem occurs when we hold the dead back out of our own grief and regrets. Letting go of the deceased from our heart without any lingering attachment is what will actually help the spirits go to a good place.