Tragedy             The Wisdom of Gravestones


The Wisdom of Gravestones

Graves are amongst our greatest teachers, for they teach us the only thing we can be sure of. I love them. I love pacing up and down in graveyards turning my mind to the ungraspable, that like all these remains of the dead I too will have a fate like them. At times I pierce to beyond the limits of ‘merely’ sentient life and reflect, have some felt sense, that coming into being and passing away is what ‘holds’ the whole universe together. We can’t get more universal than this truth – that we, that you, that I, have it in common with blades of grass, beautiful flowers, bricks, stones, rocks, mountains, the moon, and even – scientists tell us – the sun. 

Sometimes I feel burdened, feel deflated and somewhat depressed that I too will join the band of the many, for only the few are alive. Sometimes I fear futility and meaninglessness: I came, I lived, I died. And then the reality of living, the reality of my problems, the reality of my fear of suffering tugs at my consciousness, brings me back down to earth! I have no plans to commit suicide, have no desire to die, at least not before my time is up. And then I sometimes imagine sharing my heart, my innermost thoughts, in an atmosphere of intimacy with an imaginary stranger amongst the gravestones, ushered in by the awareness that we are nearing the end. We look back together at this passing life – what perfumed our lives? What added a little sweetness to it? The words of the wonderful Yunus Emre (d. 1320?) spring to mind: 

Come, let's get to know each other
and make our work easier.
Let's love, let's be loved.
No one inherits this world.


Human kindness as the king of virtues comes shining through as the ultimate in life. When were we really touched, really moved by a human being? Perhaps even this is too narrow; for I know for sure that the play of cats for example softens and delights the heart of not a few people. When have we got out of the way of the ego’s folly and allowed the truth of our interconnectedness to ‘break through’ into the world and express itself in the only language it understands: love; the great uniter, that traverser of mind-made barriers. 

Sometimes the shackles of convention, custom, culture and fear stifles our true nature. What we have in common with others is greater than what divides us. After all, we all defecate, we all eat and get thirsty, we all breathe and we all thrive in an atmosphere of appreciation and love. I believe our greatest purpose in life is to get out of the way and let compassion through. As Sangharakshita (1925 -  ) puts it in one poem: 

Compassion is far more than emotion. It is something that springs
Up in the emptiness which is when you yourself are not there,
So that you do not know anything about it.
Nobody, in fact, knows anything about it
(If they knew it, it would not be Compassion);
But they can only smell
The scent of the unseen flower

Of course generalised love, the love that says, “I love everyone,” or “I respect everyone,” can be a scoundrel’s refuge. How many people are concerned to love ‘everyone’ and yet can’t, or don’t, show a little kindness to their nearest and dearest? As the English poet puts it: 

He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars: general Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer…” 

William Blake (1757-1827) 

As is said, charity begins at home…but by no means ends there.