The other day I was thinking of my dear friend and mentor who passed away in 2014. When he was alive he humored my existential and metaphysical questions. I am convinced that each person will face a moment during their lives when THE BIG QUESTIONS hit. For many, these questions often come during the experience of grief.
There is a story that Jack Kornfield tells. I’d like to share it with you.
A prominent and beloved doctor in the San Francisco Bay area died leaving his wife and a considerable community to grieve.
Just as soon as the news of his death got out, the widow’s telephone started ringing.
A friend involved in Tibetan practice said, “It’s fine. He’s OK. I’ve been doing the 49 recitation from the Tibetan Book of the Dead and these deep meditations that my Lama taught me, and I’ve seen him. And he is in the bardo of the blue light of this particular bodhisattva. And he’s fine, he really will be okay.”
The woman felt somewhat reassured by hearing this. Then the phone rang again.
A friend from the Christian contemplative community was calling to say, “It’s so important, I’ve been waiting to tell you. I was doing my prayer and my meditation and I saw him. He is with the ascended masters and wrapped in this light. And he’s fine and this is what he said” and so forth.
The widow got a little confused. She decided to call a friend who was a Sufi teacher. She got him on the phone, and he said:
“He’s already in the womb. He’s just been conceived. He’s in the womb of a woman in Washington, D.C. and I know just where he his…” The widow didn’t know whether to hang the phone up or cry.
Finally, she called Jack Kornfield. He met with her.
They sat together. She said, “I don’t know what to believe anymore.”
“Where is he?” … “What happens when you die?” she asked.
Jack Kornfield said to her, “I’m not going to give you another answer. You’ve already got more answers than I could possibly make up. Suppose, though, that you don’t look for an answer. Let’s just sit and meditate for a minute. Reflect on all the things you’ve been told and all the spiritual teachings you’ve learned and you let them go for a minute and you rest in yourself — in your own knowing.
Ask yourself, simply, is there anything you know so certainly that it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, even if Buddha came in the room and claimed it wasn’t so, you’d say yes it is?”
The woman sat there for a moment and said. “I don’t know very much but I know that everything changes. That I know.”
Kornfield looked at her and said, “Maybe that’s enough. If you could live from that knowing — how Suzuki Roshi summed up all of Buddhism as ‘not always so’ — maybe that would be enough.”
So I ask you, as Kornfield asked the widow, “What is it that you really know to be true? Something that you are so certain of that it doesn’t matter what anyone else might say, you know deep within you, that it is true.“
As I reflect on the pages I wrote in my journal considering my mentor and if there was an afterlife or not, I can say this: I don’t know very much. I’ve studied and practiced many different spiritual paths — and, that hasn’t brought me closer to any definite answer. What I know to be true is that loss is loss, and it hurts, and that I am usually surprised where I find myself five years in the future. Everything changes.