Bruce had been a Japanese chanting Buddhist for thirty five years before his death on July 9th 2010, this is not to say he was Japanese, but the branch of Buddhism is and they chant in Japanese. It’s called Soka Gakkai International.
We assembled in the bowl shaped Chapel in the woods at the Crematorium and Bruce’s wicker casket covered in garden flowers was carried in by his son-in-law, his cousin and his two step sons. It was placed on the plinth in front of the curtains and a Gohonzon, the scroll which is a depiction of life in the Buddha state, was moved to the other end of his casket.
The leader of the service knelt in front of the Altar and began the chant of the Lotus Sutra which about half the gathering knew and joined in. It was the most wonderful, soothing, rhythmic chanting, not unlike some of the more gentle chanting of the South Sea islands and New Zealand, which is where Bruce was born. It made me think of all those days that Bruce had chanted for other people, when they were sick, in trouble or just needing something positive in their lives. Somehow you always knew when Bruce had been directing his energies in your direction, it was very humbling and powerful.
After a year focusing on the progression of his illness and death my feeling at this moment was that a disembodied Bruce was lying peacefully waiting for the end of his physical being. It was like a long sigh of release and expectation for the journey ahead, a total acceptance before going into the fire. It was as though his whole life had been focused on this precise point before his body was consumed by the flames, and that he was very much there with us. I could feel his pride in his capable, open hearted daughter, Lily, as she stood so dignified in front of his casket and his friend and son in law, Paul, turned out in his wedding day kilt and I could feel his contentment that his two grandsons were strong and healthy.
His step son, Xavier, spoke of his gratitude to Bruce for putting him on the right path in life, his cousin spoke of his memories of family holidays in New Zealand, the good times in the sun with wine and Gary, professional opera singer and long time friend of the family, stood up and sang a Venetian love song to him. With no accompaniment Gary’s strong male voice filled us all with joy, sadness, peace, feelings from another time and place, an ethereal piece and something I know Bruce enjoyed immensely.
The leader of the chant spoke of how even death is life, how Bruce’s next incarnation will take him closer to his Buddha nature and of how his chanting of the sutras in this life will stay with him into his next life. It was a very positive message for those left behind after the death of a Buddhist. I know it left me feeling no fear or anxiety for him, totally unlike all the other funerals I’ve been to.
It was an extraordinary funeral in that it connected us all to the life force in the midst of death.
We filed past his casket placing a flower and saying our last thoughts to him and walked out to join his family and friends talking in the sunshine.