Tonight I was invited to dinner at my sangha grandmother’s house (sangha is a Buddhist term for community). Tammy and her husband have recently moved into the log cabin of their dreams in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Following very precise directions, I meander down an old gravel road that parallels a fresh-cut pasture. Ninety minutes from my own home in the Black Mountains, it’s amazing what a few hundred feet in elevation change will do. There is hardly any need for mowing out my way just yet, and when I pull into Tammy’s driveway I see that the front porch is bordered by daffodils in full bloom.
After introducing me to the dog, Tammy shows me her “pride and joy” – her meditation practice room. I feel that the carpet is soft and thick underneath my feet. The room smells heavily of incense, a sure sign of a dedicated practitioner. The colors on the curtains and hanging thankas are bright, invoking the Shambhala lineage within which we both practice Buddhism.
And it strikes me, as Tammy gently turns the pages in her chant book – red-grey hair trimmed nicely around her face, brown eyes sparkling like the sunlight on water – that she is not afraid to die. For a moment I question this observation, wondering if my paint-the-world-with-frosting perspective is glorifying the evening. She has no immediate reason to consider death as it is. But no, this was a spontaneous observation and there’s something to it. There is a genuineness to Tammy that is unspeakable. Everything about her is soft, gentle, deep. In Buddhism it is not as if we contemplate death all the time. There are many things to contemplate besides death that are equally difficult! But at a certain point a practitioner may joyfully accept the fact of his/her own non-existence and therefore Death, as we commonly stutter it, seems far from tragic. In other words, a Buddhist can find a way to harmonize his/her existence in the relative reality (day-to-day) while resting in the wisdom of the ultimate reality (non-dualistic).
While I know that the Buddhist path is highly individual, I admire the steadiness and depth of practice Tammy has attained in less that four years as a practitioner. Her compassion for others flows outward with determination and grace.
We eat homemade chicken curry for dinner and when it is time for goodbye it’s just a quick hug and “I’ll see you soon.” But the gift of her presence lasts all the way home, and then some.