The River Of Silence

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel

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Death, whether our own or others, can be a powerful gateway to complete tenderness. The confrontation with the impermanence of all things is perhaps the widest gate to liberation from suffering. Facing death or dealing with death, our sight becomes clear. “Priorities and omissions are etched in a merciless light,” as Audre Lorde wrote. Given the sheer quantity of death around us, why not use this merciless light to better see who we are?

When I was thirty-nine years old it was I who received the call that my father had died in the hospital. I had long known with my childhood intuition that it would be I who would tell my mother. That Sunday I drove together with my sisters to the church where our family had worshipped with migrants from Texas and Louisiana for more than forty years. Mom was coming down the long cascading steps when I ran to meet her. She knew by the look on my face that Dad had died. Ten years later my mother would be diagnosed with a brain tumor and take the great leap into death herself. When my parents died I came to learn that despite the fact that everything appeared the same the day after as it did the day before, death, in fact, changed everything and everyone. Death widens the river’s mouth, loosens our relentless grasp on life, and delivers us closer to the ultimate silence on this earth.

I came to see that the great matter of death is not great because it’s scary but because it is profound in its immense capacity to arouse a loving nature within us. It brings our attention to birth as an entrance into belonging. No one should be denied this belonging, regardless of their race, sexuality, or gender. Proximity to death provides an experience by which we can see our profound lives, not as defined by vocations and careers, but as an experience of being awake.

Death seals a formidable interrelationship between all beings and all things. All things arise and cease; all beings are born and die. In death we come to know the spirit within us all. When death arrives it reminds us, like nothing else in life, that we are completely interdependent with each other. When a life is lost, we lose. When, in the wake of catastrophes caused by war or weather, many are found dead in the aftermath, we see ourselves in the dead. We tremble as we connect with each other in the face of such loss.

Perhaps we can be less afraid of our differences when we realize that this merciless light of death shines upon us while we live. Perhaps we can awaken to the flow of “the river of silence” (as prophet Kahlil Gibran called death), as it courses through the vast continuum of life. This doesn’t mean that we won’t tremble in the presence of our fears of one another, but that we will be more present with our trembling, more awake to the truth that underlies our fears.

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is an author, visual artist, drummer, and Zen Buddhist priest. Excerpt above from this essay.

Seed questions for reflection: How do you relate to the notion that realizing the merciless light of death shines on us all can make us less afraid of our differences? Can you share a personal story of a time proximity to death connected you to the profundity of life? What helps you be more awake to the truth that underlies your fears?

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8 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jul 27, 2021 Shane K Floyd, Ph.D. wrote:
    Manuel's "River of Silence" brought back memories for me when at grave sites where ministers often stated "In the midst of life we are in death." Yes, death serves as that common fate we have been designed to experience; however, it does unfold the newness of the eternal. A diversity of path, depending upon what we hold to be the course of inevitablejourney. Manuel's mentioning of this "River of Silence" reminds us of that next great experience. Man/Woman born, but must die; however, death is that gateway that should not be feared if you aspire to live in such as way to return to the very essence of your creation. I am reminded of a writer who said "Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery. He comes up and is cut down like a flower; he fleesas it were a shadow, and never continues in one stay." "This River of Silence" could perhaps be the celestial shore where man/woman have no notion... [View Full Comment] Manuel's "River of Silence" brought back memories for me when at grave sites where ministers often stated "In the midst of life we are in death." Yes, death serves as that common fate we have been designed to experience; however, it does unfold the newness of the eternal. A diversity of path, depending upon what we hold to be the course of inevitablejourney. Manuel's mentioning of this "River of Silence" reminds us of that next great experience. Man/Woman born, but must die; however, death is that gateway that should not be feared if you aspire to live in such as way to return to the very essence of your creation. I am reminded of a writer who said "Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery. He comes up and is cut down like a flower; he fleesas it were a shadow, and never continues in one stay." "This River of Silence" could perhaps be the celestial shore where man/woman have no notion of time but have been afforded the grace to exist in the eternal with the One who's charted their own unique path. Yes, it can be something to look forward to if we strive as we live to keep our minds affixed upon our ultimate destination.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Jul 21, 2021 Kay L wrote:
    "Given the sheer quantity of death around us, why not use this merciless light to better see who we are?"This is a good question! Thisreminds me of RamanaMaharishi'squestion of humanity, Who Am I? As a former hospice chaplain, I was surprised and curious why so many people are afraid of death. I wonder if because we have little refection into ourselves and we live this span between birth and death completely identified with our bodies and personhood which is an illusion. With self reflection/inquiry the veil of our divisions lift and we began to see our oneness. The more we turn our eyes inward, perhaps"the river of silence" will help us, as was stated, to flow peacefullytowards that end point we call death.

    1 reply: Amy | Post Your Reply
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    On Jul 20, 2021 Barbara Gross wrote:
    I was deeply touched by this reflection on death. I am going to keep reading it and absorb more of its' meaning in my life and the lives around me at the care center whereI work, learn, care and pray. Deeply grateful,
    Barb

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    On Jul 17, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    Merciless light of death means to me to realize that death of form is inescapable. Death is a common denominator. It is a universal symptom of existence. Realizing we are all alike in that we will all die can make us all less afraid of our differences. Impermanencedoesn't liberate us from suffering -- we suffer all aspects of human life including impermanence. Impermanence can liberate us from the illusion of permanence and from our "relentless grasp", to use Manuel's term, for the permanent. The near death of my wife deepened my appreciation of life, deepened my gratitude for this briefhuman life that we each have, deepened my awareness that bodily death is in the near future for each of us. What helps me be more awake to the truth that underlies my fears is my faith that human death is death of my body which is a manifestation of God in human form and not death of soul or God that is me and is eternal.

    1 reply: Aj | Post Your Reply
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    On Jul 16, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    No sane person will deny that things and we as sentient human beings are going to die one day. Seeing somebody dying or knowing that someday I will also die makes me realize that we all have a common thread running through outward differences and we all are interrelated.Death does not treat people differently. The merciless light of death shins on us all. Realizing this merciless truth awakens us to the underlying reality of oneness. Such realization makes us less afraid of outward differences. Chance, our dog, has been with us for the last 15 years. He has been having severe seizures for a couple of months. He has brain tumor. Seeing him going through the suffering is sadly very painfulto us in our family.Sadly but necessarily we have decided to let him go. Tomorrow the veteran is going to give him heavy sedation to let him die peacefully. The merciless light of death helps us remain awake and aware of the profundity of life. Death is a lighthouse that keeps me awake and aware of how... [View Full Comment] No sane person will deny that things and we as sentient human beings are going to die one day. Seeing somebody dying or knowing that someday I will also die makes me realize that we all have a common thread running through outward differences and we all are interrelated.Death does not treat people differently. The merciless light of death shins on us all. Realizing this merciless truth awakens us to the underlying reality of oneness. Such realization makes us less afraid of outward differences.

    Chance, our dog, has been with us for the last 15 years. He has been having severe seizures for a couple of months. He has brain tumor. Seeing him going through the suffering is sadly very painfulto us in our family.Sadly but necessarily we have decided to let him go. Tomorrow the veteran is going to give him heavy sedation to let him die peacefully. The merciless light of death helps us remain awake and aware of the profundity of life. Death is a lighthouse that keeps me awake and aware of how to live fully and spiritually. When I will die is beyond my handsbut how do I live is within my hands.

    Self-awareness is the inner light that keeps me awake amd mindful of the transitory nature of life. The wise teachings of the Buddha about the nature of the worldly life has been very helpful to me. The worldly life is continuously changing-anityam, anityam, sarvam anityam. It is also momentary-ksanikam, ksanikam, sarvam ksanikam. Such awakening helps mevalue each moment of life and cherish it and be grateful for it. I keepthe light of awarenessshining to see things as they are.
    Namste!
    Jagdish P Dave'[Hide Full Comment]

    1 reply: Kgaisie | Post Your Reply

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