BEING born Catholic, I spent most of my youth believing that there is only this life that we have, and after death, one has eternal life, and will end up in heaven or hell for the rest of eternity. A part of my psyche always rebelled at this thought, the concept that there is only one this one limited life.
I used to look at the stars and ask how could God create such a vast universe, with numerous solar systems, and not give us the chance to savour the marvel of all of His creations? Surely, one cannot be shown all of this abundance and not have the opportunity to experience them? There is so much to see, so much to do, to taste, to know-- surely, we cannot be limited by just this one lifetime?
It’s like having a catalogue of all the beaches in the world- the white sand ones, pink sand ones, midnight black sand ones- and knowing your feet can only know the feel of just a few of those. Or having an entire library at your disposal, but you can only go through a small section because of the amount of time you are allowed to spend there.
I used to feel anger and frustration when I thought about this, the idea of a limited life, until my eldest sister Nena introduced Chiara and I to Zen meditation.
There is this beautiful Zen prayer that we recite, and this one always fills me with comfort and a deep peace. (The other prayer that makes me tear up is “Ama Mi”, the Ilocano version of “Our Father”). The Zen prayer goes like this:
The Wisdom of God says
Source of all Being,
You created me when Your purpose first unfolded
Before the oldest of Your works
From the everlasting I was firmly set
From the beginning, before the earth came into being
The deep was not when I was born
There were no springs to gush with water
Before the mountains were settled
Before the hills I came to birth
Before You made the earth, the countryside
Or the first grains of the world’s dust.
When You fixed the heavens firm, I was there
When You drew a ring on the surface of the deep
When You thickened the clouds above
When You fixed fast the springs of the deep
When You assigned the sea its boundaries
And the waters will not invade the shore
When You laid down the foundations of the earth
I was by Your side, a master artisan
Delighting You day after day
Ever at play in Your presence
At play everywhere in Your world
Delighting to be with the children of earth
The second time we visited Sri Lanka, Chiara and I went to Mihintale, one of the internationally recognized sacred sites of peace and power. MIhintale is the seat of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
On our way down from the main temple on top of the mountain, there was a monk waiting for us.
He introduced himself as Venerable Dammarathana Thero, head monk of Mihintale. He invited us to tea, showed as the humongous quartz crystal that used to be on top of the stupa before they took it down after it was struck by lightning. He allowed us to touch the quartz; I still feel a remembered tingling when I think about this quartz.
Even without telling the Venerable about ourselves, he knew what we were about- he talked about energy, positive focus, crystals, meditation.
When he mentioned Baguio City (we never told him where we were from), we understood him to have deeper awareness. Aside from being psychic, could he read our minds, perhaps?
We asked him about meditation, and he demonstrated. He was most reverent when he took each breath, as though savouring life to the fullest with each slow inhale.
Throughout our visit, he kept mentioning Samsara, which is the cycle of life and rebirth, and that we will meet again. If not in this lifetime, then in another.
Afterwards, he accompanied us to where our driver was waiting to take us back to Colombo. He told our driver, “Take care of them, they are my family.”
Our driver was stupefied to meet the Venerable. The monk was a celebrity in Sri Lanka, and I know we were treated with honour when he walked us back to our driver.
Samsara. Cycle of life and rebirth. In another lifetime, the Venerable must have been a sibling, or a parent.
I left Mihintale feeling blissful, the Venerable had confirmed what I longed to be assured of. There is life after this life. There was life before this life. Life and its possibilities are limitless. God is great.