Of Gurus, Loved Ones and Dead Bodies

There is a picture of Sai Baba hung on the wall near to my altar where I have placed the Buddha as a centre image, together with Jesus’ photo at one corner. One morning, when I was looking at the picture of Sai Baba, it dawned upon me that he is no longer in the human form, to mean he has passed on.

Not that I am unaware of his passing away, but it does not strike in me that he is “dead”. It does not matter whether he has entered mahasamadhi or any name given to that something greater, but to my mind he is no longer around.

It was at that moment, that I started to ponder about the meanings of other photos. What if I had my mum’s photo placed at the same location? Surely, my mum’s photo would have immediately been seen or reminded as a deceased. It is something already done by my mind, irrespective how I would like to see it otherwise, just as other meaning in the picture of Sai Baba.

Yet again, if it is a photo of someone that I do not know, and already dead, and given prominence as the picture of Sai Baba in my hall – would I have had the same perception as what I have towards my mum; or that when I look at it, a certain fear would have came up in my mind?

I remembered years back about a photo that I had in my computer folder of someone who has passed away, used for the purpose of insertion in a Buddhist book. It is tradition to encourage the immediate family of a deceased to reprint sacred books for free distribution as an act of dedication of merits to the departed. Being a layout artist, it is normal for me to receive images of the departed for final insertions. Somehow I always felt that I would not like to store these images in my computer, having a fear to look at those faces again. Only later did I realize that the mind has a meaning of looking at some kind of a “ghostly” figure when it comes to such images. But for my mother who has passed away two years ago, there was never such a perception. Why is that so? Is there really something outside there that makes us frighten or it is merely our own conjured meanings of such images?

That brings me to another story shared by my friend. When the books I printed in memory of my mum arrived at a particular Buddhist centre, she overhead someone saying that there is a dead person’s face on the book and for that, she did not want to have anything to do with the book! It is interesting how we view images in our mind. Isn’t the Buddha, and for that matter, all other images representing a past individual who once lived, died before? Or is it death that we do not want to be reminded of?

It became so obvious to me that the so called “real” world I live in is the meaning my mind gives to it. From it, respect, fear, sadness, happiness and others emotions are derived. That includes the “me” that I value so much.

On the same note, if I had blindly followed a certain religious faith without being open minded enough to explore any other faith, I might have quietly scorned another for having other images in his or her house, nevermind whether it is done silently in the mind, or expressing it out. Disrespectful or intolerance will be a more realistic statement. Yet the cause was never about what is outside but the meanings my mind gives to it.

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