August 04, 2011

Heartfelt responses to Norman Fischer's "Into Emptiness"

Today's Daily Dharma was a quote from Norman Fischer's "Into Emptiness," a moving personal essay about the death of his mother.

Gradually, over the course of days and nights, she began to give up everything. First her body became more relaxed, as though it wasn’t hers anymore. Then she stopped having any sense of whether she liked or didn’t like anything. Then she couldn’t tell who anyone was or recognize anything in the room. All of the worries and cares of her life began to mingle in her delirium: her clothes, things she had to do at home or for my father, things at the office where she had worked. One by one she put them down, too. Finally there was only a dim awareness that grew finer and finer as her breath seemed to go more and more deep—more and more inward....

Over the course of today, it has been comforting to read the many heartfelt responses to Fischer's article from Tricycle Community Members. For example:

This touched my heart as I read I remember going through the same thing with my Mother and then my Father. And as the days go by a very close friend and a next door neighbor are headed down the same path. Here I go again. The story is the same.


This is quite a synchronicity. My mother died one year ago today. I just read Pema's article on renunciation, Ravens in the Wind. About meeting your edge, and being paralyzed there. Life with my mother was a constant journey of meeting the edge. It seems the same is true in the aftermath of remembering. There's the recurring feeling of never having gotten it right. Today is yet another opportunity to renounce that persistent doubt, and try to breathe past the paralysis, not necessarily into some action, but into quiet.


Thank you, Norman, for all us motherless children.


Dear Norman,

Perhaps making 'sense' of the Heart Sutra is like making 'sense' of death.

Clear, unadorned writing, grabs me in a place that by-passes the figuring and interpreting that more ornate writing requires. Thank you for the years of plying your craft to attain such a skill.

As a publication and community that often explores topics related to the nitty gritty truths of living and dying we have, at times, found ourselves worrying that some of the nastiness that's out there on the Internet will spill onto beautiful, real articles such as this one. It's life-affirming to see that there's a place on the Internet for respectful conversation, where we can still speak in hushed tones about what matters most. Thank you, Norman, and thank you, readers of this article.

Read the rest of "Into Emptiness" here.

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latifpoet's picture

My history with Norm goes back to mid 60's when I was editing ANTE magazine out of L.A.--knowing how much life I have lived in that time, whether on the move or sitting quietly, I can only imagine that his life as a Buddhist and poet parrallels my own in significant ways. It is so difficult to be critical of the work being done in the Buddhist West, but I can only remember what my Tsawai Lama His Holliness Dudjom said to the few of us who had the great good fortune to study with him in Berkeley area in mid-70's: "Check out your teacher very carefully, know his or her lineage and come to recognize His Face as your own and that all is impermanent, even light and shadows of the various bardos.

There is a tremendous flow of books, articles and so on in the West these days. In the beginning there were a few memiographed Sadhanas and short Ngondros from a few qualified Lamas. This idea that Norman puts forth that Buddhism is a practice for death, and it is something I have told many people who ask me what do you do in Buddhism.

Now there are a large number of "professional" Buddhist who write books on some aspect of the 87,000 teachings extant before Tibetan Buddhism made it to the West. It worries me that the lineages will become diluted and the actual teachings will be lost in the Badlands of Babel. Without critical thinking on the current teachings, especially on Powha and Bardo, translated by those special translators that are slowly being educated in the West, libraries will grow and essence will dissapear. Thanks Norm, am working on my experiences of growing older.


Do not become bound
by hopes and fears
regarding this practice
we call Life and Death

Effortlessness is the key
not accomplishment through
Practice and head banging

Give up your attachment to all
but the View

and then
give that away too

Latif Harris
"A Bodhisattva's Busted Truth "
Selected Poems
Browser Books Publishing, 120 pages 2006, San Francisco

buddhabrats's picture

For me the entire process of Buddhist philosophy is in preparation for death, we are going through the bardos at all times so that when we die we can withdraw our senses with minimal suffering and the process of transition is as smooth as possible. When my mother died it hurt like hell but i abided in the emotion and eventually came through it. It is not an event that is ever going to be easy but if we can minimize our own suffering we are directly benefiting them, as they will then not be drawn back to earth by our lamentations. Attachment always leads to suffering and to some extent it is inevitable but if we understand the process of non attachment we can at least hope to minimize it. As a dzogchen practitioner i am forced to see the perfection in her untimely death and make the best of it, while still going through the grieving process which is a natural state in itself.