Death and the Nature of Waves

Ajahn Amaro • November 2008

We received news yesterday from Koṇḍañña’s partner that he’s fading rapidly. He’s in a hospice in San Francisco. Jay passed away a few days ago. Ajahn Karuṇadhammo is having surgery today. While we were sitting this morning after doing the paritta chanting for Ajahn Karuṇadhammo and Koṇḍañña, an image came to mind of different waves coming in from the ocean and moving toward the shore. There’s the wave named Jay, having reached the shore and broken up, and the Koṇḍañña wave, a wave moving steadily toward the shore. Similarly, with Ajahn Karuṇadhammo and all the rest of us, there are these little waves on the great ocean of nature, steadily, inexorably moving toward the shore. They sustain a form for a particular time—what we call Jay or whatever—they move along picking up material, and finally reach the shore and disperse. These energy waves flow through the oceans of the world. When they reach the beach, there’s the sound of the waves crashing on the shore, and then the energy disperses.

When we reflect on the imminence of death, it seems like such a dramatic thing—a life coming to an end. It seems so personal. The Amaro wave seems so different from the Pasanno wave, the Cunda wave, the Ṭhitapañño wave. They all seem separate and different. But when we look at them from a broader perspective, it’s merely the same ocean of stuff, with different patterns of energy moving through it. The waves have a certain coherence, a certain individuality that’s apparent, but there’s no need to get excited about this wave versus that wave, to worry about which one is closer to the shore, or to think that anything desperately bad has happened when a wave reaches the shore. It’s simply what waves do. That’s their ultimate destination, their nature. Their energy disperses.

Sickness and death are very much in our consciousness these days. Ajahn Karuṇadhammo going under the knife, Ajahn Toon passing away, Jay passing away, and Koṇḍañña in his last days. So this is a good time to cultivate a sense of knowing the nature of waves, and to look upon our own lives and the lives of others with the same kind of equanimity and evenness. We’re simply watching the ocean doing its thing. Waves forming, flowing in, breaking on the shore, washing out. That’s it, no big deal.

We can also reflect on the distinctions between our lives and the lives of others, those we know and those we don’t know. We can see how different textures of feeling can gather around particular waves. They seem so important because there’s a name for each wave, the name of someone close to us. But the knowing quality within us reflects that it’s just another wave. How could it be so different or special even when it has our own name on it? This body, these aches and pains, these ailments, this lifespan—there’s that knowing within us which can realize, Well, it’s not such a big deal. Waves rise up, they move, they break. That’s it, no big thing. We have the ability to discover that quality of evenness, steadiness, and balance. We can have an unshakable and profoundly stable equanimity which is undisturbed in the midst of all that arises, moves toward the shore, and disperses.