Thursday, November 15, 2007


My grandmother, Marian Warner, died at 4:55 this morning, Thursday November 15, 2007. My dad, my aunt (her daughter), my cousin Trisha and her son Robbie were there along with a lady from the local hospice who happened to be named Stacey (same as my sister) and whose husband is Brad (not me, different Brad).

My aunt woke me up about an hour before she passed away because the hospice lady had woke her & my dad and told them that grandma’s breathing and vitals had changed and she thought it might be time. My aunt asked if there was any religious thing I wanted to do. So I rummaged around my bag and found the little booklet of sutras I carry with me. I lit a stick of incense and chanted the Heart Sutra. Grandma’s breathing was heavy and her eyes were closed most of the time, though she did open them occasionally and acknowledge us. As her breathing began to settle I chanted once more. I was still chanting when she took her final breath. My aunt was holding her hand. My dad and Trish were standing at the foot of the bed.


That was just seven hours ago. It’s a mistake to write about such a thing in a public forum so soon after it happened. For practical purposes I’m posting this mainly to let those who signed up for the day-long retreat at the Hill Street Center this Saturday (Nov. 16) that I won’t be there. But the retreat will still go ahead as planned. Kevin Bortolin, another Dharma Heir of Nishijima Sensei will be there. Maybe he’ll say a few words at the end.

I’ve hashed and re-hashed my whole what-happens-when-you-die schpiel a dozen times this year, I think. I don’t mind letting people in on the secret. It’s just that I don’t have a whole lot of confidence most folks grasp what I’m saying when I try to explain it. Which isn’t to say that I’m all Enlightened and you’re all dumb-asses. It’s just that it takes a certain amount of serious, dedicated practice before these kinds of things are gonna make sense. And most of you haven’t done that. No judgments there. It's just a fact.

Anyway, we all imagine that this thing we call “me” is the personal property of us as individuals. That, in itself, is a weird idea and provides a clue to how absurd the view is. I own me. We posit not one but two individuals. There’s me that I can describe and name, and then there’s a more nebulous, indescribable me that owns this describable, nameable me.

The real situation is that this thing we call "me" is not our property. It is an expression of the Universe. As such there is nowhere it can possibly go when we breathe our last. This me is not a soul that flies up to Heaven or descends to Hell. It is not an Atman that reincarnates in a different body. It is not a True Self that merges into the All-ness of Being. It can’t be limited in any of those silly and trivial ways. Even what I just said about it being an expression of the Universe puts far too many arbitrary limits on it.

My grandma’s dead and gone, waiting soon to be buried. She’ll never return. And yet the Universe of which she was an expression can never die, can never go anywhere, can never be extinguished.


The funeral will be Saturday afternoon. If you want to do something for me to ease my grief then go see Puffy Amiyumi at the Key Club tomorrow (Friday Nov. 16th) and take some good photos because it looks like I won’t make it. I may make it to their show Sunday in Annaheim.

When I lay dying you can light some incense and chant the Heart Sutra, put on The Beatles White Album, hold my hand (but not if you’re a dude, cuz that would be gay, dudes can sorta pat me on the shoulder in a manly way*), or be very quiet. I’m guessing I’d appreciate the silence more than anything else. Though I really like the White Album. Play that when you think I still have a few hours left then be quiet afterwards. That'll work.

My grandma lived a good life and died peacefully at home. May we all be able to do the same.

* Dammit it’s a joke. Stop taking everything so seriously.


cometboy said...

Hey Brad,

I'm sorry for your loss. Two deaths of people so close to you in such a short time has got to be painfull.

I just can't imagine any view of the universe, Zen or otherwise, that would keep this from hurting.

And thanks you for the words you have been writing in this and your other columns. Lately you seem to be answering my questions directly (no I'm not hearing voices !).

Just thanks and hope you will do well with all this.

aumeye said...

Brad ~ Your post is both sad and helpful. While it contains a painful reality, as it reminds us all of our own families, it also provides us with a means of processing that pain. Or at least one way to perceive it that might make a difference. Thank you for that.

No matter the Universe, and all its attending truths about life, and the ownership of self, losing our loved ones hurts; I am sorry for your loss, and comforted that your Grandma had a good life and a peaceful passing.

Well wishes to you and your family in these coming days.

Anonymous said...

My sincere condolences Brad. I never mentioned this, but my father passed two years ago and your words have helped me handle the situation a bit better than I probably would have had I never read them. Take care.

Edward Doty

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. Death is an issue that obviously touches all our lives, and it's helpful to hear how others cope with it, especially in a Zen context.

There's a link to your post here:
(scroll down a few posts)
Thought you might like to know.

Anonymous said...

My condolences. Thanks for this blog.
Be well

element said...

I'm sorry

HezB said...

Sorry to hear this news.



me said...

Saddness here too

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry.

apophasis said...

I'm sorry for your loss, Brad. Thanks for taking the time to share your views here when you've got to have other stuff on your mind. I hope you make it to see Puffy.

I may have to go find the White Album now.

Mysterion said...

His Bradness sed:
"I’m guessing I’d appreciate the silence more than anything else."

When my mom died (we were at dinner when the news arrived), my brothers were really amazed at my calm.

I told them: "She is not now in a place that she has not been before."

I once gave a three hour lecture about silence. [ironic?]

["The Heart Sutra is dedicated to the teaching of sunyata, translated as the "void" or "emptiness," but sunyata is not easily translated into English. The author attempts to describe how the scientist's notion of the building blocks of matter and all life being solid indestructible particles has evolved to the realization by subatomic physicists that there are no objects, only ever-changing processes, "a continuous dance of energy." Sunim shows a parallel between this observation and the experience of one in meditation who in his silence comes to see that all that exist in the world are but brief moments of consciousness. He says, "no form exists without being infused by this universal energy; form and energy interpenetrate each other endlessly in an ever-changing dance of the molecules, creating our universe."]

from HERE

BRussu said...

Very sorry for your loss.

Colinski said...

My condolences.

Yueheng said...


Dying can be a lonely, scary affair. When my uncle was dying, he couldn't speak (throat cancer) and there was tremendous and desolate agony in his eyes. I wanted to do something spiritual for him like holding his hand, tell him about the Buddha's mercy and chant Amitabha's name into his ears, but that would have been weird considering the circumstances at that time.

Not sure if you will be reading this, but I am really sorry to hear about your grandma's passing. Do take care.

Anonymous said...

dice decided.


Anonymous said...

sorry for screwing up.


Anonymous said...

bummer man

i guess this would be one of those situations that illustrates how someday we'll reach an end to our practice and everything is peaches and gravy and we'll never have to deal with pain or drama anymore is a fairytale.

i dont think i would ever wanna reach that state if their was one.
life would get pretty flat and dull.

i like many others here, are grateful to you for sharing your insights on this blog.

be well brother.


Chris said...

Brad -

Thank you for such comforting words
in your time of loss.

Sincere condolences,


Mysterion said...

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita perceives that all five skandhas are empty and is saved from all suffering and distress. Sariputra, form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form. That which is form is emptiness, that which is emptiness form. The same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Sariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness. They do not appear or disappear, are not tainted or pure, do not increase or decrease. Therefore, in emptiness, no form, no feelings, perceptions, impulses, consciousness. No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind, no realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness. No ignorance and also no extinction of it and so forth until no old age and death and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path, no cognition, also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita and the mind is no hindrance. Without any hindrance, no fears exist. Far apart from any perverted views, one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds, all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore, know that Prajna Paramita is the great transcendent mantra, is the great bright mantra, is the utmost mantra, is the supreme mantra which is able to relieve all suffering and is true not false. So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra, proclaim the mantra which says:

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha.


Anonymous said...

I lost my grandmother last year. (she didn't die... we just can't find her!)

Sorry. Bad joke. She did die. That happens to grandparents when you start getting our age. I've still got one left.

My condolences.

Anonymous said...

My condolences to you and your family. I wish you and your family happy thoughts of her as you mark her life.


joyce said...

Peace Brad,

I appreciate your words and demeanor is this blog. I recently lost someone close to me, and reading this made me think about some things a little differently. Or at least made me do some evaluation about the concept of death...may you keep your understanding and compassion that you showed here throughout your grievance.


Anonymous said...

Dear Brad,

My birthday today. So this somehow felt a little more.

Bill Stafford writes about how each year we pass through the day when our last breath will come.

Each day full. All passing.

Keep well.

Danny Parker

Mysterion said...

The mantra:
Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha
can be translated as:
Gone, gone, gone beyond, together gone beyond
But this is the formula.

Here is the actual mantra:


These are all Sanskrit words.
BODHI is pronounced bo-dee.
SVAHA, is pronounced swah-ha.

The meaning of a mantra is less important that its sound and energy, this mantra is thought to be a summation of the process leading to Enlightenment. It begins and ends with the untranslatable syllables OM and SVAHA, which open and close many mantras. In Sanskrit, GATE literally means gone, but it also means realize or understand. BODHI means enlightenment.

Lone Wolf said...

My regards to you and your family Brad.

Igor said...

Hi Brad! I hope that it doesn't appear as a lack of respect for your grandma when I say that you description of her last moments was a really beautiful one.

Be well

DB said...

Thanks for sharing what has to be a painful episode in your life and making it a teaching experience in ours. That takes guts.

Anonymous said...

Condolences on your loss, Mr. Warner.

Anonymous said...


Take care,


dood said...

Sorry for your family's loss Brad.

Take care of yourself and those around you,

lisa said...

I'm sorry to hear about your grandma's passing. I seem to have found your blog at a sad time for you.

I'm Tibetan Nyingma so practice Vajrayana with an emphasis on Dzogchen, which has a lot in common with Zen. We have a slightly different take on the rebirth question, though, as I'm sure you're aware. I'd like to discuss that with you sometime. I've been enjoying your books greatly and may email you at some point.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry for your loss.

Some of your other comments in this post reminded me of this:

thisischrisg said...

Bummer man. Reading a for real dudes for real experience shed a little light on some things for me. Thanks and take care.

Anonymous said...

Love to you and your family.

Edward said...

sorry for losses brad.

i think when someone has become a perfect buddha he's allowed to that that when you die you turn into barney the magical dinosaur.

but seriously i think there's gotta be some kind of greater levels of awakening. because even brad attributes something to it.
i don't know

Mysterion said...

To repeat: in Sanskrit:

GATE means gone.

But GATE also means realize or understand.

BODHI means enlightenment.

If you have the knowledge, the practice, and the aspiration, when you die you become enlightened, not before.

THAT is why when you ask a True Buddhist® if s/he is enlightened it is like asking: "Will you go die?"

Enlightenment is the terminus of the journey.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the cool post.

I'm sorry.

Gerry Gomez said...

George: Boy, that was awkward!

Jerry: I don't mind the cemetery.

George: What were you saying to the Rosses over there, anyway?

Jerry: Oh, I don't know. I told them her death takes place in the shadow of new life. She's not really dead if we find a way to remember her.

George: What is that?

Jerry: Star Trek II.

George: (identifying it) Wrath of Khan!

Jerry: Right. Kramer and I saw it last night. Spock dies, they wrap him up in a towel, and they shoot him out the bowel of the ship in that big sunglasses case.

George: That was a hell of a thing when Spock died...

Jerry: Yeah...

[For a brief moment, the two become overwhelmed with emotion.]

Mika Rantanen said...

My condolences.

Anonymous said...

mysterion, were you starved of attention as a child?

- AnonyMuse

Anonymous said...

accept no substitutes or imitations.

not to be confused with anonymuse, anonymoose, etc.

-the one and only anonyMouse

Marc said...

Beautiful post. My condolences to you and your family.


Ellen said...

Thank you for this post. My sympathies to you and your family on the loss of your grandma. Good life and a good death are reasons to be grateful.

I've had some weird sadness and grief stuff going on, tho' no one has actually died yet. Not gonna share the details here, but I can say that what the universe expresses in your writings really helps.