Seinfeld, Impermanence, Death, Grief, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed

Jerry Seinfeld Found Acceptance in His Father’s Death

Jerry Seinfeld This February-2002 article from the newspaper-magazine Parade quotes comedian Jerry Seinfeld on coping with the death of his father. Instead of recalling emotions of sadness and loss, Seinfeld declares he found acceptance:

His dad’s death at age 66, when Jerry Seinfeld was 30, was the first great loss of Seinfeld’s life. Did it crush him? Surprisingly, after a brief pause, he says no. “I tend to accept life as it is,”he says. “I’m not one of these ‘Life isn’t fair’ people. I tend to accept whatever the limits are, whatever the rules are.” He sits back. His love for his father is evident, but no more evident than his acceptance of the basic facts that the man is no longer around … “It’s okay,” Seinfeld says. And you get the feeling that it is.

Acknowledging Impermanence Can Foster Happiness

The above anecdote about Jerry Seinfeld invokes the Buddhist concept that everything—including life—is impermanent. The Buddha taught, “Decay is inherent in all component things.”

Life, Death and Rebirth in Hinduism Nothing in the world is fixed and permanent. Everything is subject to change and alteration. Life offers no control or consistency but rather impermanence and successive changes—youth changes into old age; the past changes to the present and then into the future.

Suffering, Buddhism teaches, is caused by unrealistic expectations of permanence—especially in relationships. Accepting impermanence can therefore lead to an existence with less suffering. Appreciating that everything in life is fragile and impermanent can foster an appreciation of the present.

Buddhist Parable of the Mustard Seed

Kisagotami and Parable of the Mustard Seed in Buddhism When faced with adversities you must feel and experience—not deny—your emotions, and then embark on a healing process by looking at the situation in a more realistic light.

The Buddha used a well-known parable to help a woman prevail over the death of her son. Here is the “Parable of the Mustard Seed” from British Pali scholar T W Rhys Davids‘s Buddhism: A Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha (1894:)

Kisagotami is the name of a young girl, whose marriage with the only son of a wealthy man was brought about in true fairy-tale fashion. She had one child, but when the beautiful boy could run alone, it died.

The young girl in her love for it carried the dead child clasped to her bosom, and went from house to house of her pitying friends asking them to give her medicine for it. But a Buddhist mendicant, thinking “She does not understand,” said to her, “My good girl, I myself have no such medicine as you ask for, but I think I know of one who has.” “O tell me who that is,” said Kisagotami. “The Buddha can give you medicine; go to him,” was the answer.

She went to Gautama, and doing homage to him, said, “Lord and master, do you know any medicine that will be good for my child?” “Yes, I know of some,” said the Teacher. Now it was the custom for patients or their friends to provide the herbs which the doctors required, so she asked what herbs he would want. “I want some mustard-seed,” he said; and when the poor girl eagerly promised to bring some of so common a drug, he added, “You must get it from some house where no son, or husband, or parent, or slave has died.” “Very good,” she said, and went to ask for it, still carrying her dead child with her.

The people said, “Here is mustard seed, take it”; but when she asked, “In my friend’s house has any son died, or a husband, or a parent or slave?” they answered, “Lady, what is this that you say; the living are few, but the dead are many.” Then she went to other houses, but one said, “I have lost a son “; another, “We have lost our parents”; another, “I have lost my slave.”

At last, not being able to find a single house where no one had died, her mind began to clear, and summoning up resolution, she left the dead body of her child in a forest, and returning to the Buddha paid him homage. He said to her, “Have you the mustard seed?” “My Lord,” she replied, “I have not; the people tell me that the living are few, but the dead are many.” Then he talked to her on that essential part of his system the impermanency of all things, till her doubts were cleared away, and, accepting her lot, she became a disciple and entered the first Path.

Buddhism: Acknowledging Impermanence Can Foster Happiness

Swiss novelist Hermann Hesse wrote in Siddhartha, “I learned… to love the world, and no longer compare it with some kind of imaginary vision of perfection, but to leave it as it is, to love it and be glad to belong to it… Everything is necessary, everything needs only my agreement, my assent, my loving understanding; then all is well with me and nothing can harm me.”

Idea for Impact: The key to finding equanimity and contentment in life is to develop a heightened acceptance of reality.

Postscript: The Buddhist parable of the mustard seed is not to be confused with the identically-titled Christian parables in Matthew 13:31–32 of the New Testament: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” This parable also appears in Mark 4:30–32 and Luke 13:18–19.

Bereavement and Death

The Dharma Mirror blog features Trang Tran’s touching article about the loss of his family pet dog. Trang reflects on the concept of impermanence and the virtue of compassion.

Paradoxically, [my pet dog’s] death brought to life the impermanence of our existence and how the greatest and truest love that you could ever give to anybody is in their darkest moment—the moment when they need you the most. Whether it’s your children, parents, or even a dog that you love and cherish with all your heart, you carry that love and compassion with you into your next life.

I hope that in the last moments of my life, I, too, will be surrounded by loved ones who will brush my thinning, white hair, bring in some boxes of chocolate, retell funny, familiar stories, and not part with me until I take my last breath.

Bereavement and Contemplating Death

Impermanence

When you were born you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a manner than when you die, the world cried and you rejoice.
* Kabir, Indian Mystic

The loss of loved ones often leads us to contemplate death — to become conscious of the fact that life is fleeting and we shall all die someday. Our education, relationships, career, possessions, belongings — none of these are stable or permanent. Reflecting on the briefness of our lives can be a powerful motivating force to help think about the purpose of life and clarify our values and priorities.

Have you reflected on the impact of your life? Have you touched others? What will be your legacy? How will you make a difference in the lives of others?

Cherish Your Loved Ones

1913 Illustration by Nandalall Bose from Rabindranath Tagore's 'The Crescent Moon.' Source: Wikimedia

Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘My Song’

Rabindranath Tagore was an influential philosopher, visual artist, playwright, novelist, and composer from Bengal, India. Popularly known as Gurudev, he won the 1913 Nobel Prize in Literature.

‘My Song’ is from ‘The Crescent Moon,’ Tagore’s translations into English of a collection of Bengali poetry.

This song of mine will wind its music around you,
my child, like the fond arms of love.

The song of mine will touch your forehead
like a kiss of blessing.

When you are alone it will sit by your side and
whisper in your ear, when you are in the crowd
it will fence you about with aloofness.

My song will be like a pair of wings to your dreams,
it will transport your heart to the verge of the unknown.

It will be like the faithful star overhead
when dark night is over your road.

My song will sit in the pupils of your eyes,
and will carry your sight into the heart of things.

And when my voice is silenced in death,
my song will speak in your living heart.

My Grandma

Grandma » B. S. Mahadevamma My grandma, Smt. B. S. Mahadevamma passed away two Saturdays ago, on the 24th of November, eight days before I would have seen her in Bangalore, India. As her first grandchild, I retain very fond memories of her.

Last year December, she had recollected her experiences growing up, discussed her large family and had described change during her lifetime. When I would return this year, I had promised to, among other things, watch her favorite movies with her and take her on an airplane. Frail and old, she was filled with tears as she had come to the door to bid me goodbye. Deep down in my mind, I had wondered if I would see her again. Yet, I had said, “Grandma, I will see you next year.”

Goodbye Grandma; I will miss you!

Call for Action

Cherish Your Loved Ones

Cherish your loved ones everyday.

Pick-up the phone and call them. Write to them. Better yet, visit them. Be grateful for the difference they have made in your life.

There may never be a tomorrow.