Dharma Talks / On Grief and Loss

Sr Tuệ Nghiêm


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In Zen, we often say that the moment of death is the moment that reveals how we have been practicing. Indeed, the fear of dying is the base for all other fears. As practitioners, death should be an object of our contemplation.

Sister Insight shares her experience of practicing in a way that helps her to let go of clinging, of suffering and of perceptions. Contemplating death brings us back to what is most essential in life and helps us to live each day fully and meaningfully. We become determined to live our life with kindness and love and to savor every moment.

Experiencing the death of a beloved one, or grieving over the state of our planet, are also difficult moments in our lives. Even though there is the teaching of impermanence, a loved one’s passing still is a loss. And in addition to the loss, we might be struggling with guilt and regret inside of our heart.

Sister Insight shares her personal experience of having gone through the loss of her mother and her teacher. Taking refuge in the Sangha, getting in touch with Mother Earth, taking refuge in the island of self and dwelling in the present moment, were the four key practices that helped her.

Below are some reflection questions and home practices to help us bring the teachings from Sister Insight’s talk into daily life. 

1. Letting go of guilt and regret

“When our loved ones die, it is our guilt and regret that eat into us.” (Sister Insight)

  • Look into the causes and conditions that came together to contribute to the situation that you regret or feel guilty about. Is it really “you” and “you” alone who was responsible?
  • Write a letter to our loved ones who have passed away and express your regret.
  • What were their joys, passions, and dreams? How can you continue to live those joys, passions, and fulfill their dreams?
  • Offer your love and care to those who are alive, right by your side, and you will experience what Thay means by “In true love, there is no separation between the lover and the beloved”.

2. Going through grief and loss

  • Take refuge in the sangha, in a community of practice. 
  • Get in touch with Mother Earth and see the interbeing of the elements inside and outside of ourselves. 
  • Breathe mindfully, stay present, see clearly, and do not run away from or suppress emotions.
  • Recognize the stories that are the “second arrows” –  smile to them and let them go.
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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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