Recently, I was asked to give a talk on death and dying. It made me recall a passage in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying where Sogyal Rinpoche describes what faces you after death. From memory, I think he writes about first being faced with a bright white light. This is nirvana. If you can enter the light you can enter nirvana. If you can’t manage this, you are then faced with a soft blue light. This is the gateway to the Purelands. If you can’t face that, you are then presented with images from all of the other realms, and those things you have a karmic affinity with. You end up where your lust takes you, if your lust is strong.
Why is it so difficult to face the bright white light, or the soft blue light? For the same reason it is difficult to meet the full force of the Buddha’s love in this lifetime. When the Buddha loves us he or she sees us as just we are. They love the whole of us, even the bits of us we’d rather anyone not see.
This is a hard thing to face: to have the whole of your self pulled into the light.
No wonder we say ‘do not be afraid’, during the committal of a funeral. The dead need some encouragement and support.
There are other reasons why it can be painful to be loved. As our hearts open old hurts come flooding in along with the love, or regret that we have kept our hearts closed for so long, or fear about what comes next. A closed heart is known. An open heart faces the unknown.
You don’t need to be a Buddha to see this is true.
But if it is so painful, sometimes, to be loved, how does this square with the apparent ease of birth in Amida’s Pureland, for Pureland Buddhists?
When I asked myself that question, what came to mind are the lotus flowers in Sukhavati. Those with heavy karma are born in closed lotus flowers when they enter the Pureland, and are also closer or further away from Amida, depending on their karmic baggage.
I know some people don’t like this part of the sutra, “Birth in the Pureland is for everyone, we should all be loved equally, Pureland Buddhists should be not punished for their karma,” and so on and so forth.
Imagine sitting inside a lotus flower. Instead of the bright light of Amida, and all those jewelled trees, the light is soft and diffuse.
Perhaps we are given just as much love as we can take. Rather than the bright light of the Buddha burning off all of our karma in one go, leaving us in goodness knows what state, some of us need a softer approach. The soft light softens our karma, and slowly, as we become ready, the lotus flower begins to open and we can see the Amida clearly.
The Buddha loves us just as much as we need.
We might be able to learn from this in our personal relationships too. How can we love each other just the right amount?
lotus image by Iwatebudy
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