When Calamity Happens
Tibetan Buddhists frequently recite a prayer called The Four Immeasurables that begins
yet existence in this world is always characterized by suffering of some kind. One of the most difficult to bear is Impermanence in the form of sudden death, especially when it is visited upon numerous individuals all at once.
Sometimes it is helpful to consider the example of others who have experienced great loss:
The Example of Patachara
One of the Buddha's first female monks had been the only daughter in a wealthy family but, smitten with love for one of the servants, she ran away with him. The couple left town and several years later, after having two children, they decided to take them to see their grandparents and to beg the family's forgiveness.
On their way they had to pass through the forest, where her husband was fatally bitten by a cobra. Despite her great loss, but with more reason than ever to return home, she and the children continued on their way.
On the shore of a swollen river, one of the children was carried off by a large bird of prey. She ran after it, calling out to the other child to stay put, but he misunderstood and following after her, was swept away in the current.
< Wall painting (Orientations, June 1975, 34) in Poorvarama Vihara, Sri Lanka, illustrating part of the life story of Patachara, who had already lost her husband when her two children were swept away.
In despair, but no longer having anyone to hinder her progress, she arrived home only to find that her parents had just died. In fact, their bodies were already on the cremation pyre.
Now, truly out of her mind with grief, a kind neighbour took her to see the Buddha,. He listened to her with compassionate concern and helped her.
< Mural from Poorvarama Vihara in Kathaluwa, Sri Lanka (Orientations, June 1975, 35.)
Eventually she was able to find peace in the truth of his teaching and became one of the first nuns. Later, she became enlightened while washing her feet (pata is a reference to foot.) She had noticed that when the water ran off her feet it flowed across the ground a little before soaking in. With the second pouring it ran a little farther, and even further the third time. By this, she understood that some people die young, some in middle age, and some in old age, but eventually everyone must die. She became renowned as a great teacher.
Prayers for Very Difficult Times
:: A Prayer for Times of Catastrophe by Jigdräl Yeshe Dorje (the late Dudjom Rinpoche)
DZAM LING CHI DANG YUL KHAM DI DAG TU
At this very moment, for the peoples and the nations of the earth, May not
:: Prayer that Swiftly Fulfills All Wishes <external link, Tibetan script, phonetic rendition, translations in many languages. This prayer was composed by Guru Padmasambhava and, as a mind-treasure, was revealed by Jigme Lingpa. After the events of September 11, 2001, it was transmitted from memory without hesitation for the benefit of all suffering beings by Lama Lodu Rinpoche of Kagyu Droden Kunchab in San Francisco.
acharya: [achhArya] is a Sanskrit word actually meaning "one who knows and can apply the rules or laws" and, by extension, one who can teach through example.
equal to Space: Whose numbers would fill all of Space, and Tibetan cosmology consists of a multitude of universes too numerous to imagine; all of them surrounded by Space.