Synopsis: Life, Death, and “Gone”– we take life for granted, putting off the work we need to do. And then, poof… we’re gone.
So, last Sunday we headed back to Costa Rica from Nicaragua, on a quite nice bus. The trip went pretty well, but maybe an hour south of Granada we got stuck in a traffic jam. Turned out there’s been an accident.
We sat for about an hour, then inched past the crash. A transport truck was on its side; it stretched from the other lane, over a ditch, and the cab was on its side in the tall grass.
Then… we passed a crumpled motorcycle.
Then, two “lumps,” each covered over with a blanket. Clearly, the recently deceased occupants of the crumpled moto.
Lump in throat time.
My head went to the concluding lines of the “Heart Sutra:”
Gate gate paragate parasasam gate bodhi svaha.
I first learned this mantra from Ram Dass, who used it to teach how to use a mala for chanting / meditation. Being a sutra, or a mantra, it defies easy translation. But we’ll have a try at it anyway.
Now, the traditional translation of this short mantra has to do with enlightenment, and how that plays out. You see that aspect in the word “bodhi,” which means awakening or enlightenment.
The word that caught my attention, however, was gate.
Gate means “gone.”
I thought the “gone” part also might apply to the two lives snuffed out in an instant. Here, then gone. It puts another spin on the traditional translation.
OK, first, the traditional interpretation
The front end is pretty easy to translate. It’s the last two words that are a little tricky when combined. We’ve got bodhi=enlightement, or waking up, coupled with the word svaha, which is colloquial. Someone translated the two words as: “Enlightenment! Whoopee!”
Here are two other attempts at translating the mantra:
Edward Conze: Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening, all hail!
The 14th Dalai Lama went with: Go, go, go beyond, go thoroughly beyond, and establish yourself in enlightenment.
The rest of the Heart Sutra, which I just might talk about soon, has a real “Here is how to live in the world as it actually is” flavour to it. But let’s get real.
And “real” is: life is as it is, and one aspect of life is that life is simply the forerunner to death.
The issue becomes: how do I live an enlightened life NOW? In this moment? How do I wake up NOW? Because each of us is the living, breathing being, while at the same time, each of us is a blanket-covered lump on the side of the road.
Try Conze’s translation, above, with a slightly different translation in the context of the moment of death:
Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond, O what an awakening! Shit!
What an awakening, what a surprise, indeed!
We tend to act like humans instead of Buddhas (our true nature, the Buddha told us,) and one thing that separates us from Buddhahood is simply this:
We plan on sorting things out “tomorrow.”
- “After I have wasted a lot of time feeling sorry for myself.”
- “After I find the right person.”
- “After… after… after.”
We are addicted to pain, sorrow, and especially addicted to thinking we actually have a tomorrow. Or even a next moment, seeing that, in this instant, a metaphorical truck might crash in our path.
Gate, gate paragate parasasam gate bodhi svaha.===Gone. Gone. Really gone. Altogether gone. Oh what an awakening!
If only I’d not wasted my life and had instead done the work necessary.
Of course, I’m making no judgements about the people from the accident. I’m talking about where my head went upon seeing the accident. I only want to say that they likely hadn’t planned on that particular ending to their story. Hadn’t planned to be done so soon, to be gone so soon. It was just going to be a normal, uneventful ride.
Which reminds me of John Lennon’s line: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
The “gate” mantra addresses this by suggesting that there is something “beyond,” but it’s not in the heaven sense. It’s going beyond the petty meannesses, the dramas we create, the “putting it off” stuff that is the basis of most of our days, me, of course, included.
It’s a beyond state that lets us see, right now, that the only moment we can completely engage with–the only moment we have to do our lives differently, is this one.
With this breath, right now.
No waiting, no pity parties, no sleeping through the moment. No, “if only’s” no “shoulda, woulda coulda.”
It’s far better, I think, to be gone now, before you’re gone… forever.