Are You Ready to Depart? (And Let Your Loved Ones Depart?)

Reflection on the Attachment Game: Are You Ready to Depart

Imagine you are facing a disaster with five loved ones around you. You have to sacrifice one of them so the rest of you can survive. Who would you

Must I choose someone? Can I choose myself instead? Many questions popped up when this challenge was given during the Pure Land Practice
Fellowship session on 30 September 2011. What a hard decision to make, isn’t it? If possible, I believe most of us would not want to be put through such a situation at all!

Death and dying is often an uncomfortable topic, if not taboo, to most people. As Buddhists, the topic on death is however not avoided for it is seen as part of a natural process. This is even more so for Pure Land practitioners, where one emphasis in practice lies in ‘dying a good death’, i.e. going to Pure Land, by being mindful of the name of Amitabha Buddha well.

Yet, how many are truly ready to part from this world? Especially if you are a Pure Land practitioner, how seriously have you thought about this? And to turn the question around, how ready are you in letting go of your loved ones? This would mean you departing and leaving your loved ones behind, or having your loved ones depart before you.

It would not be sufficient if the above questions are merely thoughts in passing. You would understand what I mean if you have gone through the game. One of the toughest moments would be when you had to throw the slip of paper into the box, on which was the name of the person who you chose to sacrifice. That was when you were forced to acknowledge that the person becomes ‘deceased’ through the physical act of releasing the slip. Another tough moment would probably be when you had to explain why you chose a particular person. That would force you to really think through how you feel towards letting go of the person.

Looking back at the game, what would matter more is not the justification given for selecting the person, but the emotions you feel towards having to sacrifice a loved one. It is normal to feel a sense of grief, given that we are human beings with emotions. What would be important then is to understand why you bear such feelings toward your loved ones if they pass away. Is it your attachment towards your losses in life, hence the reluctance of accepting their deaths even though you know its inevitability?

I find it helpful to cope with my attachment to my loved ones by referring to the Pure Land teachings. The promise of ‘(being able to be) gathered in one place’ (俱会一处) in Amitabha Sutra reassures me that I would still get to be with my loved ones in Pureland if I practise harder. All the better if I can motivate them to aspire to go to Pure Land to the best of my ability.

Similarly, the promise of how one can ‘wish to manifest freely for (helping) beings according to their original vows’ (under ‘Vow #22: Vow of Bodhisattvas Attaining Stage of Becoming Buddhas After One More Life’ in the 48 Vows of Amitabha Buddha) provides me with greater confidence to let go of my loved ones in time. This would apply more to the case of my brother with special needs. I have come to accept the reality that his condition is incurable as there is indeed no remedy for autism at present. What actually concerns me most would be that no one might be around to take care of him if the rest of the family, including myself, passes away before him. And even if he passes away before me, I wonder where his karma would lead him to in his next lifetime. Would he continue to suffer from the same condition? To my realization, I would not be able to truly help him as long as I stay in Samsara. This stated condition hence encourages my aspiration to go to Pure Land, so I can quickly return to Samsara to look out for him. In addition, no retrogression from my path as a practicing Buddhist is guaranteed.

Of course, I feel that the prospect of being reunited with your loved ones after this lifetime should not be an end in itself, as it should serve as a means to motivate you to ‘migrate’ to Pure Land. The bigger purpose then would be to help your loved ones and other sentient beings more effectively without the burden of worldly concerns, just like how the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas do.  Similarly, this game should not be an end in itself, but a means to discover how you can find your ‘solution’ (particularly from the Pure Land teachings) to cope with your attachment to your loved ones. Amituofo!

Related Article:
Are the Enlightened Among Us Now?

Please be mindful of your speech, Amituofo!

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