Abbot's Journal Vol 64, June 10, 2008

by Norman Fischer | June 10, 2008 at 3:03 PM

Abbot’s Journal Vol 64
June 10, 2008
Muir Beach

Went over in the morning yesterday early, to be there when the crematorium guys arrived to take away Michael’s body, which had not yet begun to smell bad. They were very skillful and quiet and respectful, as we were all silent, weeping, hugging one another. They used a gurney with retractable wheels. It can be cranked up very high, to easily slide the body off the hospital bed (after it’s covered with plastic sheets, all carefully wrapped), which is at the same level. Then wheeled out, and the gurney slides right onto a special ramp for it in the hearse, you crank down the front wheels so the gurney slots in, then fold down the back wheels to slide it all the way in securely. So there’s no lifting, no bending, no transferring of the body at all. Big black shiny car driving slowly away, very sad. Having the body there, though lifeless, was yet comforting; now just absence. Fu came over from next door, weeping along with the rest of us, crying too for her Grace, who’s still in a coma from the car wreck on the Golden Gate bridge several weeks ago. 

We performed the cremation ceremony, as it’s done, at the ovens of the crematorium in Mill Valley. Body in open box, Michael’s head back, mouth fallen open. The family came with bags of rose petals and all sorts of stuff to burn with him, his rakesus, lineage papers, herbs etc. – his body entirely covered with stuff, except for the face. I then did the standard Dharma words, absolution of karma, commending the body to the fire to “end this phantom life,” we chanted En Mei Jikku Kannon-gyo twenty-one times, then Dai Hi Shin Dharani while offering incense; but couldn’t circumambulate the body because not enough space. I found myself very strongly connected to what was going on (the powerful timeless moment of ceremony, especially ceremony having to do with death, itself frozen in time) and there was a strength to my voice in that eeriness though it was oddly difficult to speak (because of the raspiness in my throat left over from the difficult night I’d had). Throat was painful as if I was getting a cold or flu. In the end I shouted (against the oven’s roar) the final words (“Complete this existence!”) as the body went into the furnace and Emila pushed the button to turn on full fire. 

Lots of people there, some in the room, some outside, with a garage door open so they could see the proceedings. Reb was nearby and after the ceremony we commiserated. From now on, I told him, there will be more and more of this. Maybe we should be taking bets, who will do whose funeral – I his or he mine. “I don’t want to do your funeral,” I said, meaning, “I prefer to die first.” But we shall see...


Norman Fischer