It is said that when Buddha went back to meet his family after his enlightenment, he was given a stately welcome. His father, the king, treated him like the prince he once had been. The ministers and members of the royal family greeted him most reverentially. His own son, Rahula, ran up to him and hugged him tight. For seven years he had heard so much about his father and anxiously waited to see him. I continue the scene from Yasodhara, the Wife of the Bodhisattva by Ranjini Obeyesekere:
Yasodhara, the mother of Rahula, did not make an appearance.
The king sent for Yasodhara, but she replied, “Surely if I am deserving of any regard, Siddhartha will come and see me.”
The Blessed One having greeted all his relatives and friends asked, “Where is Yasodhara?”
And on being informed that she had refused to come he rose straightway and went to her apartments.
“I am free,” the Blessed One said to his disciples, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana whom he had bidden to accompany him to the princess’s chamber. “The princess however is not yet free. Not having seen me for a long time she is exceedingly sorrowful. Unless her grief is allowed its course her heart will cleave. Should she touch the Tathagata, the Holy One, you must not prevent her.”
Yasodhara sat in her room, dressed in mean garments and her hair cut. When the Buddha entered she was, from the abundance of her affection, like an overflowing vessel unable to contain her love. Forgetting that the man whom she loved was the Buddha, lord of the world, the preacher of truth, she held him by his feet and wept bitterly.
Remembering however that Suddhodana, the Shakya king and Buddha’s father, was present she felt ashamed and rising, seated herself reverently at a distance.
The king apologized for the princess saying, “This arises from her deep affection and is more than a temporary emotion. During the seven years that she had lost her husband when she heard that Siddhartha had shaved his head, she did likewise; when she heard that he had left off the use of perfumes and ornaments, she also refused their use. Like her husband she had eaten at appointed times from an earthen bowl only. Like him she had renounced high beds and splendid coverings and when princes asked her in marriage she replied that she was still his. Therefore grant her forgiveness.”
Most of our life’s struggle is focused on avoiding grief and protecting happiness. If our expectations from life are met, we are happy or else we are sad. What makes our negative emotions even worse is our inability to correct them as soon as they arise. We feel helpless, we cry, we get angry, we don’t want to, but we do. In the story I just quoted, two lines stand out in particular:
“Unless her grief is allowed its course her heart will cleave” and “This arises from her deep affection and is more than a temporary emotion”.
The more vested we are in something or someone emotionally, the greater our grief is when things fall apart. As a river creates its own passage, grief runs its own course as well. You can rechart the route of a river, but you can’t stop it forever. Eventually, unless it dries up, it must merge into another river or in the sea. Grief too must be absorbed by a higher emotion or it never ebbs. Because, unlike most other emotions, grief is not a temporary or a fleeting feeling. It arises from the deepest point of love. The river of grief can only ever unite with the river of gratitude, it can only merge into the ocean of love. It hurts bad when a loved one exits your life. And, until you are able to love someone else with the same intensity, you can’t overcome your grief at the loss of the one you once had in your life.
Either you are lucky enough to find someone and love him/her with all your might or you learn to shift your attention; there aren’t many other options of getting past your grief. It heals with time. Replace the source of grief or replenish yourself with love. At any rate, don’t be sorry for grieving. For, grief is not a choice but an emotion. Besides, it’s futile to feel bad for feeling bad. It only makes you more contrite. Instead, when a certain emotion hits you, accept it and allow it to run its course. Allow the impact to wear off.
I must say a word of caution here: running its course does not mean that you contemplate on it or worry about it. Thinking about your grief will elongate the course, in fact. While you don’t have to feel guilty for feeling sad, an attempt to gently shift your attention (to something positive or gratifying) should still be made. It will help you to gradually pull yourself and your mind out of it.
A disciple said to his master, “I have an anger issue. I get really mad. What do I do?”
“Hmm…” the master said stroking his white, flowing beard, “I need to see your anger to understand its severity. Get angry for me now.”
The disciple looked askance, and said, “How can I show it to you right away? It’s not like I can get angry anytime!”
“Oh,” the master said, “if you can’t show me your anger anytime you want that means it’s not your true nature. Go to the source to harness it.”
Sadness and joy, like sorrow and happiness spring from the same source — our minds. We feel them in our hearts, but they originate from the mind. Our emotions are like waves in the sea, ceaseless and inseparable. In the same ocean where you find priceless pearls and precious gems, you also find white sharks and killer whales. In the ocean of the mind, in the sea of life, our feelings are constant, intricate and connected. It is impossible to always feel happy or be eternally sad. When we dive into our inner world, we are going to meet all forms of emotion.
Like creatures of the sea, our feelings too have a life of their own. Accept them to be at peace. The moment you are in harmony with all that you have in you, you naturally reach a tranquil state. And how to be in harmony? Be mindful. Be grateful. Love and gratitude are the only terminal points of grief.
Prayer helps as well. How? For another time.