One of my dear Dharma friends and students, Miles McBreen, or Karma Palden, is currently hospitalized with health complications. I recently went to visit him in the hospital. Here is an excerpt from a very sweet post that he wrote on his Instagram page; this is only part of the message:
Yesterday my trusted spiritual friend and root guru, Khenpo Karten Rinpoche, whose kindness this simple yogi will never be able to repay, imparted a protection amulet blessed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and has sent my photo and name to family and friends in Tibet and elsewhere around the world. Tonight, three large monasteries will be conducting Medicine Buddha and Green Tara Pujas for all sick beings including me in the list of prayer recipients. Along with a Puja tomorrow night through Zoom with Manjushri Dharma Center that really brings warmth to my heart and gentle tears of joy to my eyes.
In any case, know I am happy, I am calm, I am not in pain. I am at peace. I wish the same to everyone else …Cherish every moment you are given in this life. Even the challenges. Especially the challenges, they are a precious opportunity for insight, growth, empathy, love, and compassion.
Here, I will recount a bit about my visit to the hospital to see Miles.
When I entered the hospital, I was greeted by a very kind hospital worker; she was Nepalese and recognized that I was a Buddhist monk. She showed me the way to Miles’ room and gave me his room number.
As I approached his hospital room, I quietly peaked in without his knowing. I saw Miles sitting up on his hospital bed; he was praying his mala and meditating, and he looked quite serious in doing so.
Very sweetly he told me, “This is because of you.” He says that he often reads my blogs on the Four Noble Truths, Impermanence, and the blog Meditation is Medicine for the Mind. He then said that he goes back and rereads them again and again. He also said that he felt extremely lucky to find Buddhism and to meet me. He explained that he feels that I am a good teacher and good practitioner; truly, I must say, I’m not sure about this, but he felt that this was so. Through his study, he said, finding a good Dharma Teacher is of greatest importance.
Then we spoke a bit about Dharma. We discussed the ‘tong-len’ practice, the meditation of giving all positive actions that you have and will generate in the future and sending them out to all sentient beings, even those who seek to harm you, and taking upon yourself all others’ pain, suffering, bad karma, and negativity. Even though your intention is to take the suffering of sentient beings upon yourself, this does not mean that you will receive all of their suffering and bad karma. Rather, because of your strong compassion, all the causes of your own suffering will be destroyed and the result is that your own suffering is lightened and ultimately eradicated.
We then talked about death and impermanence. Most people are averse to death and do not like to hear about impermanence, not even the words themselves! As a Buddhist monk living in this area, I am often called to the hospital and people’s deathbeds when people are very sick suffering from serious illness or dying. Throughout my life, over many years of traveling to different countries, I have met with many people from diverse cultures and backgrounds in this condition.
At the time of death, one can usually tell whether a person has practiced Dharma throughout their life.
Someone who has not at all considered Dharma during their life, impermanence and death in particular, may be very tormented at the time of death. When I visit them in the hospital, some are in a truly awful state; not only their body, which is of course decrepit with illness or age, but their mental state is often desperate and extremely negative. I have seen with my own eyes people trembling at death with eyes wide with terror. Such frightening scenes affect those around them and we ourselves were filled with dismay.
These individuals have complete identification with their body and their attachments, believing the outside world to be real. Human beings encounter the outside world through their senses, and believe that what they see, hear, touch, taste, and smell through these sense organs is reality.
The more someone has contemplated the holy Dharma, and especially impermanence, the less fear they will have in times of great difficulty.
If the person is someone who has devoted some time to the practice of Dharma, who has contemplated and meditates on impermanence and the twelve links of interdependence, etc, even if they don’t accept Dharma in this lifetime, when they encounter suffering and difficulties they are more able to willingly face them. They are more lighthearted and courageous. They have more internal fortitude and can have a vaster outlook. This brings great benefit during one’s life, and these individuals approach death differently.
Then there are good Dharma practitioners; these practitioners have centered their life around the practice of Dharma, and always have the Three Jewels with them and constantly meditate upon impermanence and death which stay transfixed in their mind. These exceptional individuals have prepared themselves for death beforehand. They are at ease and maintain their peace of mind at the time of death, dying without fear. I have seen people like this, such as my own father and my uncle, with my own eyes, and I saw how they died. At the time of death, these individuals were quite comfortable and prepared.
They do not completely identify themselves with the physical body and see death as a change. Our body dies and falls apart, and we don’t know when we will lose it. The body, however, is not yourself. Your mind is really who you are, and is what you carried from your past life and what you will bring to future lives. The mind is always with you. Therefore, the body cannot be you. Deluded people believe that his body is my home whereas this body is definitely not your permanent home but rather a guesthouse. The fourth verse of the “Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas” states:
“Loved ones who have long kept company will part.
Wealth created with difficulty will be left behind.
Consciousness, the guest, will leave the guesthouse of the body.
Let go of this life - this is the practice of Bodhisattvas”
That being said, I was extremely happy to see my student Karma Palden and to witness his attitude in the hospital. Afterwards, he sent me a few very sweet voice message which I have also included below:
Very good to hear you’re getting a vaccine, thank you for the good energy and sending energy my way. It’s working. I’m not better healthwise, my body is doing worse today...
So my blood in my body is low again, but all the things that happen with low blood, dizziness, nausea, hard things, suffering, when blood is low, are not happening at this time. It’s much easier to remain in peace with the mind than it has been the past few weeks. I believe the energy is greatly helping. Thank you, sending you lots of love.
A few days later on Thursday, 4/29, Karma Palden had surgery to assess his medical condition and to diagnose his complications. He was put under with general anesthesia. I went to visit him a second time once he began to recover and come back to his senses.
Actually, every time that I visited Karma Palden or communicated with him while he was in the hospital, he never talked about his health or his physical condition. He only wanted to talk about his practice and the Dharma. He has said that since the onset of the pandemic, his practice has improved because he has been on a sort of retreat in the Big Sur, and he was worried that he would not be able to continue this.
If and when something happens to your physical body, just think, this may very well be the result of my previous karma. It is best, though, to minimize your own worrying about it. Worry does not help. As Shantideva said, “If a problem can be solved there is no need to worry. If there is no solution, what use is worrying?”
Worry does, however, harm your peace of mind. Thus, it is very important not to let your mind become disturbed. Your mind is always in your own hands. Moreover, mental happiness can help to dispel physical suffering. So, try to be happy.
My Sangha is always in my heart and in my prayers. I send you all my love and best wishes. Tashi Delek
~Khenpo Karten Rinpoche