My father had just died. His drinking had finally come to an end. He had been an alcoholic for over 20 years but I dont think I ever realized just how serious it was while he was alive. I always believed that he would one day stop drinking and everything would return to "normal" again. Now it was time for that delusion to die as well.
I never really saw how quickly he was going down hill. He had aged 40 years in 20. He was very skinny due to malnutrition but he was also pie faced due to bad circulation. He did not come to my wedding. He had never seen his grandchildren and now he never would. Now whether I wanted to or not I had to face it. Death is the great teacher.
My father never harmed me physically but living with an alcoholic is hard both emotionally and psychologically. It wasnt always bad. When I was young it was very good but as I got older and the alcoholism got worse the good times were less frequent. Knowing how it used to be and how it could have been seemed to make it even harder to deal with.
I tried to emulate my father like most boys do but his way of life hadnt worked for him and now it wasnt working for me either. He was the antithesis of Buddhism. He believed that no one ever changes, that you only believe in what you can see and only weak people join groups. He thought of himself as the "lone wolf." I think these beliefs prevented him from ever seeing his alcoholism.
I was so angry at my father that I even dreamed about fighting with him after he was already dead. I would wake up several times a month from these nightmares feeling both ashamed and frustrated. I was ashamed that I had these negative feelings and frustrated that I was unable to stop my father from drinking.
My life was becoming smaller and darker every day. I was retreating from the world. My wife Linda was very, very worried about me and didnt know how to help me. After five years of suffering, Buddhism found me. All I knew about Buddhism was that it had something to do with balance and I knew that my life was completely out of balance. So I bought the book "Awakening the Buddha Within" by Lama Surya Das and within one chapter I realized that this is what I had been looking for my entire life. It was as if I had written the book I was reading. It described all the causes of my frustrations.
The suffering was all due to self inflicted wounds. Time stood still. I knew I had to follow Buddhism. There was no other path to follow. My life depended on it.
After practicing Buddhism and meditating for over a year things began to improve but the nightmares persisted. I still hated my father. I began reading a book on meditation and it said if you havent cried while meditating then you arent doing it right. It was then that I realized that I hadnt cried in over 15 years. I couldnt even cry when my father had died. I was merely numb. I had convinced myself that I didnt care that he was dead and that it didnt matter anyway. Not crying was just another symptom of being closed off to life.
So I began to meditate on my father and I started crying like a baby. Not only was I able to forgive him but more importantly I was able to forgive myself for not being able to stop him from drinking. I realized that it was my ego that thought one sentence from me could stop his drinking.
I also began to see that my father was overwhelmed by causes and conditions just as we all are. He never decided to be an alcoholic. I know he wanted to be a "good" father and husband. He never drank to hurt me or to hurt himself for that matter. I began to feel sorry for my father. He wasted much of his life.
I then began to study Emptiness. The notion that nothing has an independent self-nature. Not only are objects empty but so are their causes and conditions. One writer boldly stated that karma is for those who are ignorant of emptiness. Then in a flash it hit me. I was no longer defined as the son of an alcoholic, just as I am not inherently good or inherently bad. I am not inherently anything. I am not a noun. I am a verb.
However, one day while I was out running I kept thinking "Dad bad, Buddhism good"; back and forth with every step. How can something so bad lead to something so good. That is when it became clear that my father had led me to Buddhism. He had given me the most important thing one can receive: spirituality. I will be forever grateful to him. He is my bodhisattva.
Now I can see my father as he truly was, a man struggling to make it in the world. I am no longer angry with my father. It is all gone now, both the anger and the nightmares.
Namu Amida Butsu.
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