A “Three Buddha Farewell” Revisited.

January 2020:  I am revisiting this piece from 2001 as a result of a whole new perspective given to these three Buddhas by the second of our three sons, who helped us choose items of significance or treasures to pack in our car, in readiness for evacuation should a bushfire threaten our property, a log house in a forest clearing on a bushfire prone block.

The three Buddhas sit together on a side table in our living room. They represent many aspects and memories of our rich life in South Asia in the 1980s and 1990s. They are gifts I received on leaving Nepal in 1999, from each the three groups that I had served as the WHO Representative in Nepal.

I had selected the larger of the three to go into the box of treasures to pack. When Michael saw this he asked “Why are you only taking Dave?”. I realised instantly that Michael had assumed these three Buddhas represented our three boys, and was either unaware or had forgotten their original story. Suddenly, like a drum-roll, like a fanfare, our three statues  take on a whole new set of additional meanings and dimensions. They had not represented our three sons. They do now, and I thank Michael for giving them this extra meaning.

3 budha farewell

A Three Buddha Farewell   ( a piece from 2001)

One aspect of our departure from Nepal in 1999, at the end of my second WHO assignment there, is what I describe as the ‘Three Buddha Farewell’. Three seated statues of Buddha, between 20 and 27 cms high, one copper, one gold painted and the other bronze, had been presented with affection and good wishes as farewell gifts; one from the members of the WHO-Nepal staff team; one from the Nepal Ministry of Health; one from fellow heads of UN agencies in Nepal, each unaware of the others’ gift.

At the time the three Buddhas symbolised for me the three levels of our WHO work at country level: being members of a WHO team, being in partnership with the people of Nepal and being a member of the UN team and the wider world of international support.

Those three Buddhas reminded me also of three things I have taken with me from living amongst Buddhists in Nepal; the benefits of letting go; the need to be centred and live in the present moment; and the value of compassion.  I anticipated that these three Buddhas would give me symbolic energy, serenity and equanimity, and these three precious things at many levels, as I moved on to the next phase of my life as WHO Representative in Cambodia. And they did.

There is much more to such Buddha statues than meets the eye. They represent different aspects of the Buddha simply by the position of their hands. I had accepted the gratitude and friendship they represented as gifts from people who had mattered so much to me. I had added symbolic meaning, but had not even thought about, or I am ashamed to say, even noticed the position of their hands.

Then Pam Putney, an old friend from our first time in Nepal was here briefly in Phnom Penh. I showed her the three Buddhas, now placed side by side together on a rather fine old Cambodian side table in our living room. She was delighted with my story. Then she gently said “How wonderful, they are all in the service position, their right hands touching the ground, making connections”.

In an instant, here was new information. In an instant, whole new meaning. In a moment, more meaning in these three gifts than I had ever imagined. In a moment, new meaning at many levels in what they say to me, what they say about those who gave them, what they say about us all and where we are; and for me, not just meaning, but a message for this and subsequent phases of my life.

That ‘aha’ moment and its consequences also remind me that we do not see things all at once, nor do we need to, and perhaps should not try to; that we cannot know it all now, nor might we need to, and therefore maybe we should not strive to have all the loose ends so neatly tied. Perhaps we should rather celebrate uncertainty and incompleteness and focus on the connectedness, unfolding-ness and preciousness of being a human being.

Now in January 2020, I am so grateful to all those who connect me with these three Buddhas and the myriad of meanings and memories they represent.


Advice to self: action I can take

Thoughts arising as we pass through a Bushfire Emergency on the South Coast of NSW, January 2020:

I see around me people who are overwhelmed and overwrought, dissipating their energy on things that are beyond their control, blaming others, generating anger which they spray on others, catastrophising and immobilising themselves and at times those around them. I see others who do what they can with what they’ve got, reach out and be part of a community, collaborating and contributing. I find myself wanting to reach out to those who are in pain and in a state of fear or anxiety and let them be part of this other community. I ask myself, what can I do to calm the overwrought, soothe the troubled and comfort the frightened.

I think I might try the following:

With kindness and kind words, establish what the facts are, choose not to pass on or amplify alarmist posts, false posts, incomplete information. Let such stuff ‘stop with me’. Passing things on amplifies them. I will pass on the good news, the good advice, the reassurance of others.

Celebrate achievement, no matter how small. Be less judgemental. Be not judgemental at all. Be willing to see the many sides to every story, the many dimensions of every situation. I can say “Let us learn to collaborate with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Let us discover the unfoldingness of things. Let us experience the connections we have with the community in which we find ourselves”. Being connected. Being compassionate. Being collaborative. Being kind, to myself and to others.

Focus on what is. The ‘is-ness’ of things is what we have. It is solid ground in an otherwise shifting of sands, which, if we jump up and down in it, becomes quicksand. Be grounded on what is. Be grounded in the present moment. Cultivate the notion that together we will get through the present situation, no matter how awful.

Focus of what is, not on what is not. Highlighting defects, deficiencies, gaps, and negatives just heightens the fears and anxieties, especially of those who grasp on to such things as confirmation of how bad things are. Blaming others, bad mouthing them seems to come from that place of fear and anger and make matters more fraught. I have found that providing balance with stories of success, of help given, of support provided, can enable me to see the bigger picture, one in which there is good and bad, positive and negative, hope and fear. When others have nothing to say but how awful it was, or is, I will listen. I will let them know that I understand the impact that had on them, reassure them, bring them into the present, remind them of what is happening, what is being achieved, of the miracles being wrought all around us. I will collect stories of these miracles, so that I am ready to share them when I encounter others whose fears and anxieties immobilise them and prevent them from seeing what is there, what is happening, what is helping, who is there to support and how they are supporting. I will acknowledge what is, whether it be fear, pain, support given, support received, sorrow or joy. I will be interested in where others are and how they are travelling, how they are negotiating the uncertainties, the ups and downs of their respective journeys. I will do my best to be there for the other.

I can make a pot of tea, a brew of coffee. Make muffins. Cook a meal. Include love as an ingredient. Share such things.

Pause, go for a walk, be still in a forest. Hug a tree. Plant a tree. Keep alive a tree previously planted. Pause, be still as I listen to a favourite piece of music, listening with my whole self and my full attention, being there within the music. Let tears flow if that is what is prompted. Let the soul resonate, if that is what ensues.

Find comfort in the uncertainty of things. Avoid seeking certainty in this uncertain journey. Avoid encouraging others to do so, even inadvertently. Life does unfold in uncertain and mostly beautiful ways. Seek and find the beauty, the harmony, of things.

Find the music within. Seek stillness, allow myself to resonate with it.

Find peace and equanimity, sharing these precious things by being peaceful and equanimous.