MANI PADME HUM
George Hartley, Dylan's father
the first week of November, 2003 Tibetan monks came to Athens, Ohio
to create a sand painting mandala. I had heard of their visit, but
being caught up in the details of life, including my frequent trips
to Columbus to visit with Dylan and to take him to various medical
appointments, I didn't pay much attention to the visiting monks.
my previous connections with Buddhism have been primarily through
Zen literature and practice (minimal really), I was nevertheless
vaguely interested in Tibetan Buddhism. During the week after Dylan's
initial diagnosis with cancer in July 2002 I had bought a copy of
the Tibetan Book of the Dead, having heard of it in one of
my favorite books, Peter Matthiessen's The Snow Leopard.
I read enough at different times to become acquainted with the notion
of the bardo, the condition of existence between death and rebirth.
But frankly, the whole idea of Dylan's death frightened me too much
to read very far into the Book of the Dead, or, as it is
also known, The Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo.
as I was sitting in a local coffee house just off campus on that
Tuesday afternoon I saw two Tibetan monks, with shaven heads and
saffron robes, walk into the coffee shop, order drinks, and sit
talking in the window seats. I had a strong urge to jump up and
ask them about the bardo and whether they could include Dylan in
their thoughts as they continued the sand painting. But to do so
would have meant admitting that Dylan might really be that close
to death, so I just sat and watched as they left to get back to
painting. I later followed them and got my first glimpse of the
mandala in process.
daughter, Katy, a student at Ohio University, told me that night
that she had wanted to see the monks and especially their sand painting
(Katy is a Fine Arts major). So on Thursday afternoon, almost by
accident, I went back to the sand painting at 3:00. They were due
to destroy the painting in their closing ceremony at 4:00, so Katy
soon met me and we watched their closing ceremony.
was interested to see the effect of the ceremony on all of us onlookers.
People became relatively silent, looking on in awe or reverence
or just politeness. I then saw a few people who appeared to be meditating
during the monks' chanting, so I eventually began to meditate, even
though I was feeling a bit self conscious doing so in a public group
where I'm known under different circumstances as a professor there.
But I meditated anyway.
soon began having the most vivid visualizations I've ever experienced.
Usually I see flat circles of swirling lights and cartoonish images
if any. But now I was seeing in 3-D, feeling like I was spinning
along with the visualizations of flesh-like magnifications, undulating
mounds and folds that I can't really identify. In the midst of this
euphoria, though, I suddenly heard a voice in my head tell me, "He's
OK. Let him go."
panicked. To say yes would mean accepting that after a year-and-a-half
struggle Dylan and I would have to admit defeat, admit that our
strength and determination might in the end prove not enough to
save his life beyond the extra time he already had. So I said no,
of course, and continued meditating and watching the final stages
of the destruction of the Medicine Buddha mandalasuch a fitting
coincidence! as the affirmation of life's ultimate impermanence.
half an hour of this auditory hallucination I got a call from Jenny,
Dylan's mother, telling me to get to Worthington quickly (it's an
hour and a half drive) because Dylan had just started having seizures
again and seemed on the verge of dying at any moment. Hardly a week
later Dylan died in the arms of his familyJenny, Katy, Valerie,
and me at which time I gave in and started reading him just
one more book, the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
FOR THE ATHENS MONKS
FOR THE MANTRA FOR AVALOKITESHVARA, BODHISATTVA OF COMPASSION