I felt very concerned that Jay look after the quality of his own mind and not let peopled distract him due to their own traumas about his imminent death. Jay recognized the dynamic that was going on around him; he was certainly not trying to maintain social contact because of agitation or restlessness. Still, he realized that he had to take responsibility for his own stability. Although he gave himself completely to his friends during the visiting hours, he meditated many of the other hours of the day beginning when he awoke at two or three o’clock in the morning.
During the days before his death, I pushed Jay into not becoming distracted. He had a lot of visitors. I told him it’s best not to get too caught up with all these people. Kendall had told me when I first came that Jay was doing fine, that it was the rest of them who were falling apart. It was very obvious that Jay had touched the lives of many people, and they gathered around him before his death. His sister, Triya, was there. Some of his friends considered him their spiritual teacher. Many of his friends were lawyers, other friends were born-again Christians. So, there were many different needs, and Jay, being kind-hearted and generous, tried to fulfill them all.
I never talked to Jay specifically about the past…I focused instead on his spiritual well-being and on his ability to face death with as composed a mind as possible. I was not relating to him as a person convicted of a crime, I was relating to him as a person facing death.
I gave a short Dhamma talk to him and the guards…
I told the story of the Buddha, just after his enlightenment not wanting to teach, as he thought nobody would understand. I talked about the nature of delusion of the human world and the liberation of the Dhamma. I talked about the Four Noble Truths, about how letting go was not a rejection of anything. I instructed Jay to pay attention to the arising of consciousness, rather than inclining the mind towards that which will result in suffering and rebirth. I told Jay to move instead towards relinquishment and focusing the mind.
In terms of letting go or relinquishment, we talked about forgiveness in the context of “not self.” If we haven’t forgiven, we keep creating an identity around our pain. That is what is reborn. That is what suffers. I asked Jay, “Is there anybody you have not forgiven yet?” I meant the system, his parents, others. Jay thought about it. “I haven’t forgiven myself completely,” he said softly at last. It was touching.
He had a memory of being a person who had been involved in something wrong in the past, yet now in the present he was a different person. It was helpful for him to see that he was not this memory of himself, to let go of the person in the past who was involved in the crimes.
“If I am not the body, not the feelings, not the mind, then what is it that is liberated?” I told him that such a question appearing then in his mind was simply doubt arising. When you let go of everything and experience the peace and clarity inherent in that, you don’t have to put a name or identity on it.
This reflection by Ajahn Pasanno is adapted from the book, The Last Breath.