August 12, 2021

The Ending of Summer and Other Things

In case you haven’t noticed, summer is starting to wane. It’s actually been happening since June 22nd, but now it’s getting noticeable. The energy of late spring and early summer has passed and the biosphere is quieting down. This is happening, and will continue to happen regardless of our relationship to it. It’s just what is so.

The Dharma, as in the Buddha’s teachings, tells us that all things are of the same nature. They are born or arise, live for some period of time, and then pass away. The Dharma, as in the natural world, manifests those teachings clearly and endlessly. While it’s simply what’s so, the passing away part can be challenging for us, especially with other beings passing away. The hole in the relational fabric is real and often deeply felt. The sense of loss and sadness over that loss is an appropriate response.

When Sāriputta and Moggallāna died within the same year, the Buddha stated, “It’s like the sun and the moon have gone out of the sky.” He was clearly experiencing the loss of his close and trusted friends. Yet the very next words he spoke were, “And isn’t it amazing the Tathāgata does not suffer over this.” Here’s where things get interesting and raises the question, “Can we experience sadness and loss without suffering?” If so, what are the conditions that support that?

To the degree that there is Wise View and an understanding of how life unfolds in this realm, will be to the degree that one is congruent with things. When one is congruent with the truths of life, one doesn’t resist them. In the non-resistance there is a lack of suffering. Suffering is when we demand that life be different than it is. The gap between that demand, and that we do not have control over ensuring that demand be met, is the suffering. No demands, no suffering. Perhaps sadness and loss, yes, but there is the possibility of not having a sense that something is wrong or shouldn’t be happening heaped on top of that sadness and loss. In her exquisite poem, The Dakini Speaks (if you haven’t read it, you must), Jennifer Welwood writes:

Let’s grieve our losses fully, like ripe human beings.

But please, let’s not be so shocked by them.

Let’s not act so betrayed,

As though life had broken her secret promise to us.

The ending of summer is simply nature’s tireless commitment to teaching us the truth of the way things are. We can grieve summer’s loss, if that’s what is in our hearts, and simultaneously, it’s possible to reside in the stillness of a heart and mind that doesn’t feel betrayed by life, because it knows what is so.

  • Chas DiCapua, August 2021