by Dana Hayne
NO! Not another funeral, my mind shrieks! You see, these days my social life is more about death and funerals than marriage and babies. For, I have finally reached what my sister kind-heartedly calls the ‘low side of old’— a growing group that many of us are being pressed into— willingly or not.
As a labor and delivery nurse and hospice volunteer, I am no novice to life’s transitions and have assisted many in the comings and goings to and from this world. But the growing trend to cremate rather than bury, with little or no one questioning the trend, disturbs me and I feel compelled to share a sober perspective.
You ask from what authority I speak. I speak from the wisdom of His Holiness Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a 120 year old mystic from Sri Lanka. I met His Holiness in 1973. Like so many other disillusioned Baby Boomers, I had dropped out of everything and became a professional globe trotter, looking for meaning. But in 1973, I returned, disheartened and in low spirits, not having found the longed-for enlightenment. Oddly enough, it was here in the United States where I met this wise man, who had been invited to teach.
I studied with his Holiness for the next thirteen years until his passing. Over those years, hundreds came asking question, among them world leaders, journalists, educators, and religious scholars. I was present for many of those interviews by notable sources such as Psychology Today, the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Press, Time Magazine, and WBAI radio.
The Hindus called this centenarian, Guru or Swami. The Muslims called him Sheikh or His Holiness. For myself, I came to call him Bawa, which means father. Eschewing honorifics himself, this humble man, who referred to himself as an ‘ant man’, spoke in parables and extoled each of us to see all lives as our own, to acquire God’s divine qualities, and to die to the false self or to die before death.
What follows are reflections about cremation from notes, written while living communally in Bawa’s presence.
March 1974 – Tonight, Bawa sang a long, mournful song. “O God, what kind of world is this today that one has to pay to be born and pay to die?” As I listened, his mournful notes began to erode my youthful shield of immortality. When he finished singing, he explained that proper burial was essential to the journey of the soul and should be considered and upheld as an inalienable right due every individual, regardless of status. (Tell that to the funeral companies!)
He continued to pluck this tune about death and dying— a tune which was most irreverent to youthful ears. Soon, however, I recognized it as central to his teachings on both a spiritual and physical level. On a metaphysical level, he spoke about man’s need ‘to die before death’ to the false self or to the ‘I’ —a mere concept, constructed on the wisp of a thought. On a physical level, he spoke about the need for proper burial practices.
March 24, 1974 -Tonight, I was sitting in Bawa’s room. I was tired and nodding off—beat after a twelve hour shift, helping to deliver a reluctant baby. As I listened in between snores, Bawa told the story of creation, explaining how the soul needed to be physically ‘housed’ and how God requested of each of the elements a willingness to embody the soul, and how all the elements, except Earth, refused the duty. I shrugged myself, trying to stay awake. Next, he explained that man had a ‘debt’ to the earth for this real estate contract and that upon his physical death, man must repay the loan in full, that that earth must go back to earth; that is, into the ground.
What did he say? I gave myself another shrug and straightened up. He had my attention now and I thought to myself, So?? What about cremation? I mean really! It makes so much more sense than burial. No holding all that real estate hostage to dead bodies and all.
He continued the story and was describing Judgment Day and how each part of the body must stand before the Creator for an accounting about the good or the bad deeds they had performed. He explained that the tongue must be witness to what it had said (Ouch!); that the ears must declare what they had heard (Ouch!); The hands (Ouch!); and so on. I’m ouching in my mind as I recall all the bits of life that I thought I could mentally sweep into the trash as ‘didn’t happen.’ I had not realized that all those offenses sat there as future evidence, for only Purity could permanently delete the items in my Trash bin.
Bawa continued the story. Now he was talking about the moment of death. He was explaining that consciousness remained with the body until the body was interred, that the individual could not move or speak, as though anesthetized, but could feel and hear.
What! Now, I was not just mentally ouching, but screaming. What? Can hear! Can feel! I was shocked and appalled as the import of this explanation began to sink in. This was not unlike stories I had heard from near-death survivors, who described something similar. Suddenly, another disturbed listener squeaked, “But Bawa, what then of cremation?”
Graphically, Bawa blew all my ideation about the logic and practicality of cremation out of the water. Horrified, I listened as he described the crematory process in graphic detail and how the body essentially melted, with consciousness feeeeling each and every thermal spark and flicker. He described how as the flames worked their way up the body and reached the level of the chest, the heart would burst and the soul in its effort to escape the body, made the corpse jolt upright, hence the practice of weighting the corpse with logs. Next he described how as the fire reached the level of the head, the brain would burst and wisdom would depart.
I was done. Fried. (sorry) I had so much to think about. You see, at this time, I was a budding Florence Nightingale and this ‘capital D’ thing was just dogging me. I had so many questions. What about transplants? What about artificial insemination? What about test tube babies? What if all these brilliant scientific innovations were built on similar ignorance?
It’s a wonder how so many of us, even the most articulate, are rendered mute when it comes to expressing intimacies. It’s as though we’ve been gagged or our tongues have been surgically removed. If we’re lucky, those confidences break their bund before our loved ones depart so that healing can occur.
About two weeks before my mother died, (Who knew it was to be only two more weeks?) I was perched on the edge of her bed, when the damn broke.
“Dana, did Chris (my father) ever hurt you?”
Ok, I didn’t see this coming and was certainly not prepared. It just seemed such poor timing to open this wound on the home stretch. But I guess, better late than never.
”You know, Mom. What’s done is done. Dad’s gone. And I’m Ok. Let’s leave it there.” I looked over. She’d closed her eyes, and I thought, Whew!
Relieved that she seemed willing to take her finger off the fire of this topic, I sat there lost in my own thoughts. I’d always wondered if she’d suspected ‘things’. Somehow that she braved asking me about it seemed enough. Certainly, we weren’t going to find ease with each other if I held her somehow accountable at this late stage in the game.
But she wasn’t finished. “Dana, what did Bawa say about cremation?”
Now she asks me!!! Why now? Oh, she had timed these questions so spectacularly to get my attention. In all my years with Bawa, she never once asked me anything and, basically, chose to ignore my relationship with him. Furthermore, she had already made it clear to each of her children that she wanted to donate her organs to medical science and that her remains should be cremated. That being said, I had also learned long ago that it was useless to plead any cause, let alone this one, before this dynamo, who back in 1945 was dubbed a ‘Fair Portia’ by the Supreme Court of South Carolina when she was the first woman lawyer to plead a case in that court. So now that she’d dropped the bomb, I was hesitant to answer.
“Oh, Mom. He said so many things, most of which are a matters of faith and with which you may or may not agree like about the soul and Judgement Day and the questioning. Whether you believe any of those things or not doesn’t concern me because I know your goodness. But one thing he said that does concern me was that when cremated, one feels the fire, and if that’s at all true, I certainly would not want that for you.”
So it was that Mom was buried.
So dear reader— THE DOOR. We must all pass through that door one day. We can be certain of that. Other things we cannot know with such certainty. For my part, I surely hope I’ve created doubt in some of your beliefs about the efficacy of this thing called cremation.
No matter what you choose, my friend, be kind and dare to speak and most certainly, forgive, for it is law that each of us will take our turn in that bed.
I leave you with a poem that hopefully will offer happy thoughts and make for a joyous exit.
I’ve waited many babies their entrance into this world.
Some, who were willing and eager,
Came swift and squalling into this roil called life.
While others, who were fearful and resistant,
Slowed and slipped,
Came halting and languid.
And all the while, excited voices urged their progress,
“You can do it! Come on! Come on! We await you!”
And now, scores later, I sit here still, waiting and watching,
As friends, now ripened and spent,
Crawl and slither the dark passage from here to there.
Swift is not so common the pace at this transition.
Not certain that Mother waits their arrival on yonder shore,|
Most seem to stall their progress,
To bargain yet another breath,
Willing to barter every physical comfort for another pulmonary puff or sputter.
Oh, how to assure these wary travelers that maternal instincts do joyously await their arrival,
That as they slip this earthly chrysalis, holy ones do wait to wrap them in celestial wings of love.
Rest, dear traveler, and know your journey done.
Be not critic of your own show,
For Providence sees with vastly kinder eye.
Go now, weary one.
Push off with that bargained, last breath
And trust the wave to wash you into waiting arms|
That chant not funeral dirge, but feliz anivesrário.
About the author:
Dana Hayne is a retired labor and delivery and maternity nurse. She received a bachelor of science in nursing from Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, graduating magna cum laude. She continues to assist individuals in their healing journey as a medical tour guide to the Casa de Dominacio Healing Center in Brazil for the spiritual healer, John of God. She also volunteers with the chaplaincy and hospice services in her community hospital. Dana lives with Rodger, her husband of more than forty years, in the suburbs of Philadelphia where they enjoy their two sons and three grandchildren. Learn more about Dana and her newly published book “GPS for the Soul: Wisdom of the Master” by visiting GPS4TheSoulBook.com.
By Wolfgang Borchert
Last November marked the 70th anniversary of the death of Wolfgang Borchert, a young German writer who was seriously wounded in World War II then imprisoned for resistance activities. Physically destroyed, he lived only two years after the war. During that time he wrote antiwar literature that is widely read in Germany but little known in the USA, where it is currently most needed. His play about a traumatized veteran, DRAUSSEN VOR DER TÜR (THE MAN OUTSIDE), brought him literary fame after his death. “Dann gibt es nur eins!” (“Then There’s Only One Choice”) is the last poem he wrote before his death in 1947 at the age of 26. It shows a perceptive foresight of the inevitability of global destruction unless the people of the world refuse to serve the military.
Translated from the German by William T. Hathaway
You. Man at the machine in the factory. When they tell you tomorrow to stop making pots and pans and instead make helmets and machine guns, then there’s only one choice:
You. Woman in the store, woman in the office. When they tell you tomorrow to fill grenades and mount telescopic sights on sniper rifles, then there’s only one choice:
You. Factory owner. When they tell you tomorrow to make gun powder instead of baby powder, then there’s only one choice:
You. Researcher in the laboratory. When they tell you tomorrow to invent new ways to kill people, then there’s only one choice:
You. Songwriter in your studio. When they tell you tomorrow not to sing love songs but hate songs, then there’s only one choice:
You. Doctor in the clinic. When they tell you tomorrow to declare soldiers fit for combat, then there’s only one choice:
You. Minister in the pulpit. When they tell you tomorrow to bless murder and sanctify war, then there’s only one choice:
You. Captain of the freighter. When they tell you tomorrow to ship cannons and tanks instead of wheat, then there’s only one choice:
You. Pilot of the plane. When they tell you tomorrow to drop bombs on cities, then there’s only one choice:
You. Tailor in your shop. When they tell you tomorrow to make uniforms, then there’s only one choice:
You. Judge in robes. When they tell you tomorrow to serve on a court-martial, then there’s only one choice:
You. Railroad worker. When they tell you tomorrow to give the signal to send the troop and munition trains, then there’s only one choice:
You. Man in the country, man in the city. When they try to recruit you into the military, then there’s only one choice:
You. Mother in Normandy, mother in the Ukraine, you, mother in San Francisco and London, you, on the Yellow River and the Mississippi River, you, mother in Naples and Hamburg and Cairo and Oslo — mothers of all continents, mothers of the world, when they tell you tomorrow to raise children to be nurses for field hospitals and soldiers for new battles, then there’s only one choice:
Say NO! Mothers, say NO!
Because if you don’t say NO, if YOU don’t say no, mothers, then:
In the noisy steamy dusty port cities the great ships will groan into silence and float like cadavers of drowned mammoths, slapping sluggishly against the lonely docks while algae, seaweed and mussels grow on the once roaring gleaming hulls that now lie decomposing in a watery cemetery stinking of squishy decayed fish.
the streetcars will become dull senseless glass-eyed beetles lying crudely dented and peeling next to skeletons of tangled wires and rusted tracks, behind dilapidated sheds with holes in the roofs, in desolate, cratered streets —
a mud-gray, porridge-thick, leaden stillness will roll over everything, devouring, growing spreading over schools and colleges and theaters, over sport fields and playgrounds, gruesome and greedy, unstoppable —
the juicy sun-ripened grapes will rot on their broken arbors, the green rice will wither on the parched earth, the potatoes will freeze in the abandoned fields, and the cows will raise their death-stiffened legs like upside-down milking stools towards heaven —
in the research centers new medicines discovered by great doctors will turn to fungus and mold —
in the kitchens, dining rooms and cellars, in the cold-storage lockers and warehouses, the last sacks of flour, the last jars of strawberries, pumpkins and cherry juice will spoil — the bread under the overturned tables and smashed plates will turn green, and the rancid butter will reek, the grain will lie limp as a fallen army in the fields next to rusting plows, and the smokestacks of the pounding factories will fall and smash and crumble to be covered with eternal grass —
then the last person, with lacerated bowels and polluted lungs, answerless and alone under a poisonous glaring sun and wobbling sky, will stagger back and forth between gaping mass graves and massive concrete idols of the deserted cities, the last person, scrawny, cursing, accusing, insane — and his terrible cry: WHY? will die unheard, fading across the plains, whispering through the shattered ruins, brushing against the rubble of churches and bunkers, sinking into pools of blood, the last answerless animal cry of the last human animal —
all this will happen, tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, maybe tonight, maybe tonight, if — if —
if YOU don’t say NO!
For more about Wolfgang Borchert: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Borchert.
About the translator:
William T. Hathaway is a Special Forces combat veteran now working to overthrow the empire he previously served. He is the author of Radical Peace: People Refusing War, which presents the true stories of activists who have moved beyond demonstrations and petitions into direct action, defying the government’s laws and impeding its ability to kill. Noam Chomsky called it, “A book that captures such complexities and depths of human existence, even apart from the immediate message.” His new book, Lila, The Revolutionary, is a fable for adults about an eight-year-old girl who sparks a world revolution for peace and social justice. Chapters are posted on www.amazon.com/dp/1897455844. A selection of his writing is available at www.peacewriter.org.
The Journey Within: Exploring the Path of Bhakti – A Contemporary Guide to Yoga’s Ancient Wisdom by Radhanath Swami
In this long-awaited follow-up to The Journey Home, The Journey Within, now in an affordable paperback edition, guides readers through the essential teachings of bhakti yoga. World-renowned spiritual leader Radhanath Swami draws from his personal experiences to demystify the ancient devotional path of bhakti, capturing its essence and explaining its simple principles for balancing our lives.
His down-to-earth writing simplifies spiritual concepts and answers timeless questions in a narrative that connects sacred philosophy to modern life. What is love? What is the soul? Who is God? How can we live in the physical world without losing touch with the spiritual?
In concise and approachable language, Radhanath Swami sheds light on how to answer these vital questions and offers solutions to many of life’s challenges. The Journey Within invites readers to reach beyond the material world and delve into their hearts to discover not only the beauty of the true self, but also the simple truths that unite us all.
“Radhanath Swami is a towering spiritual figure of our time.”
—Dr. Cornel West, philosopher, academic, activist, author
About the Author
Radhanath Swami was born in Chicago in 1950. At age nineteen, he traveled overland from London to India, where he lived in Himalayan caves, learned yoga from revered masters, and eventually became a world-renowned spiritual leader in his own right. His acclaimed memoir, The Journey Home, has been translated into over twenty languages and published in over forty countries worldwide.
Radhanath Swami presently travels throughout Asia, Europe, and America teaching devotional wisdom, but can often be found in Mumbai, where he works tirelessly to help develop communities, food distribution initiatives, missionary hospitals, schools, ashrams, emergency relief programs, and eco-friendly farms.
“If you’re looking for an introduction to bhakti yoga and the meditative life, then this is a great read. I haven’t read the predecessor, so I am new to the author. I am also not an expert in bhakti yoga, so I can’t speak to the veracity of his ideas. To clarify for a newbie, bhakti yoga is a way of thinking and living, not a form of exercise. The book is an engrossing read with plenty of food for thought. The author intersperses discussion and explanation of original texts such as the Bhagavad Gita with modern-day experiences and stories. The balance between the two makes the book easy to follow and engaging. It also makes me want to go back and read/reread the original texts such as Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. Much time is spent in the early chapters asserting that religious divisions are false, that each religion essentially centers on the same god/God with its own cultural context and interpretation.”
“Radhanath Swami has conveyed the Divine Light through his writing with the gentle and seductive effortlessness that he does in person. This book is a joyful way to move closer to the truth within you.”
—Russell Brand, comedian, actor, author, activist
“Drawing from personal anecdotes and on religious insights derived from the Vedic traditions and folkloric wisdom, The Journey Within imparts inspiring devotional teachings for today’s spiritual seekers.”
—Edwin Bryant, PhD, professor of Hinduism, Rutgers University; author, The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali
“The Journey Within combines the powerful wisdom of the East and the West, and I recommend this book to anyone who wants to feel authentic, lasting happiness.”
—Marci Shimoff, #1 New York Times best-selling author of Happy for No Reason
The Journey Within: Exploring the Path of Bhakti
Mandala Publishing | Publication date: October 3, 2017 6” x 9” | 320 pages | Category: Spirituality/Self-Help Paperback | $18.00 | ISBN: 978-1-68383-190-7
Transcend the material world and develop your inner self, your interpersonal relationships, and your capabilities as a leader with these 62 wisdom cards from New York Times best-selling author Radhanath Swami.
In day-to-day life it’s easy to get lost in the material rush of money, jobs, possessions, and entertainment. But is that existence fulfilling? Does the happiness achieved from having the nicest car or the latest gadget last beyond a few moments?
In this uplifting card deck, Radhanath Swami, New York Times best-selling author and world-renowned spiritual leader, provides practical tips on how to integrate a spiritual mindset into everyday life. Whether you’re a CEO looking for guidance on how to balance integrity with making money, someone looking to build deeper, more meaningful connections with other people, or a seeker looking to unlock the miracle of transcendent love within yourself, these down-to-earth non-denominational cards will show you how to live spiritually in today’s material world.
by Serge Mazerand
As a pianist and a composer, I admit being somewhat biased towards music. Yet, when we really come to think of it, we are all musicians by nature. We hum, whistle, sing and swing. Our vocabulary is impregnated with musical terms: we resonate with people and things, we set the tone, do things in concert and feel upbeat or downbeat. Our hearts are the soundboard that beats the rhythm of our emotions.
I have become fascinated by the many analogies with music when it comes to life. That realization led me to write a book called 7 keys to Serenity–– Creating harmony Within.
How can we play a harmonious life symphony and not slide into a cacophony? How can we avoid the many dissonances, subtle and not so subtle that–– when left lingering–– contribute to cause mental illness and disease?
Novalis, a German poet, wrote that disease is a musical problem and its cure a musical solution––hardly an exaggeration, I would argue. Music must be understood as sound, vibration, frequencies, amplitudes and rhythms. This is indeed the stuff of life. This is how our cells function. They orchestrate their own symphony, their song, their dance, through the many receptors and effectors their membrane is studded with. These cells are the musicians––some 35 trillion of them––who play the sacred music of our lives. Quite an ensemble, wouldn’t you say?
They orchestrate a subtle symphony called homeostasis. This is the music that keeps us alive and in good health. When some of these musicians begin to play out of tune, they create dissonance. When enough of them get entrained into playing out of sync, the body feels ill at ease. The result is disease. The key is to create and maintain harmony.
Harmony in musical terms is defined as a balanced combination of notes or pitches that create a sound that is pleasing to the ear. While this is by far not a complete description, the essential element is balanced combination. It is not about just one isolated note, but overtones and chords that are assembled and played in unity, alignment and consonance. It is about interconnection. The occasional dissonance is allowed, yet, when not resolving into consonance, it degenerates into a cacophony––far from pleasing the ears.
On the score of life, harmony could be defined as a balanced combination as well: a combination of mental notes––thoughts––but also of words and actions, that are pleasing to the body, mind, heart and soul. To play life in harmony we must therefore endeavour to create alignment and unity between these three components. Sadly, however, this is not what most of us do in our day-to-day lives. We think one thing, we say something else altogether and, even worse, often act in total contradiction. This creates conflict. Thoughts and words are vibrations that create waves. In Physics, we are taught that when waves align, they create what is called “constructive interference”. When, to the contrary they are misaligned, they create “destructive interference”. They can even cancel each other out altogether. This is how white noise is created. As we keep creating these contradictions and misalignments, we produce subtle energy conflicts and blockages that are detrimental to the “chi”, the life energy that keeps us well and healthy.
So, how can we ensure that we create and maintain this harmony in our life symphony?
In my book, I identified seven keys–– in line with the seven notes that create music: ABCDEF and G. The most important key is A and it stands for Awareness. It plays out in all other keys. Awareness has many other names: vigilance, paying attention, consciousness and the much-touted mindfulness. Yet, it is not just a thing of the mind. It has also to do with the heart. It is intuition. More than a state of mind, it is state of being. I compare it to an embedded antenna that helps us scan our inner and outer environment effortlessly. To stay in our musical metaphor, it is the art of listening––the way a conductor listens to his orchestra and detects shortcomings in tone, volume and rhythm.
As we stand on this “podium” of awareness, we come to notice the subtle music that plays within us. We reconnect with our selves, with our breath, with our emotions.
– Key of B. We realize which attitudes and beliefs empower us and which ones limit our potential
– Key of C: We learn to create our reality by creating thoughts, choices and change.
– Key of D: We incorporate awareness and discipline into a strategy of self-care in the four essential sections of our orchestra: the physical, the mental, the emotional and spiritual.
– Key of E: We become multi-sensory beings, learning to see and feel beyond the visible and the tangible. We notice synchronicity. We become aware of the Human Energy Field and its interconnection with all other fields surrounding us.
– Key of F: We create Flow in our lives through forgiveness and authentic freedom from distractions.
-Key of G: We become aware of guidance, available 24/7 as long as we are connected to the divine energy that permeates the Universe––the matrix of all matter as Max Planck called it.
There are, of course, more variations available in these seven keys, combinations, chords, octaves, sharps and flats–– key variations such as gratitude, attraction, acceptance and many more. When we play them in synergy, they combine to create harmony. Then and then only, do we become the composers and conductors of a beautiful life symphony.
Serge Mazerand is an improvisational pianist and composer of healing music. He records and writes under the private label and brand Keys to Serenity®. He is the author of 7 Keys to Serenity: Creating Harmony Within
Born in France, Serge established very early in his life a profound kinship with nature and music. Yet he chose to study business and pursued a corporate career, marketing luxury fragrances throughout the world. Mid-life spurred him to embrace a radical lifestyle change and he immigrated to Canada to build and operate a floating salmon-fishing resort on the North Coast of British Columbia.
The man of action transformed into a man of reflection when he settled on the banks of an enchanted river. The river became his mentor. After some twenty years of introspection and meditation, Serge was inspired to crystallize his thoughts into written notes. 7 keys to Serenity is his first book.
Coming full circle and combining the power of music, of the spoken and written word, Serge has made it his late-in-life mission to contribute to healing nature and people.
As an inspirational speaker of words and player of notes, Serge is available to set the tone at conferences and events that focus on health and wellness, spirituality, self-empowerment and environmental issues. He also stages his own events along with healing benefit concerts.