Call the family. Gather friends. Sign papers. Put away bright clothes. Every tradition has its own sequence of events that are set in motion when someone passes away.
In the tradition of bhakti yoga, the first priority is to gather together and sing God’s names. Doing so is part-prayer, part-emotional release, and partly for the benefit of the soul of the departed. It’s an all purpose activity. In a recent kirtan workshop I was helping to run in Australia, I called it the Swiss Army knife of yoga practises. I’m sure it could be put more poetically, but it’s quite true.
So last night, after the morning passing of a dear uncle and member of our temple community, we gathered in the evening to sing. Throughout the day, the news had spread and now hundreds of well-wishers and friends streamed through the temple doors to pay their respects. One of the most touching things was the breadth and diversity of the people that came. For different reasons, groups are usually a bit segregated in our temple community. Over the years, Sundays have been mostly attended by the Gujarati/Indian members of the congregation, whereas a different demographic is represented on other days. But last was one of those rare occasions where everyone you could think of was present – young, old, families and ashram residents, even some faces I hadn’t seen around for years.
In the passing of a loved one, we were united. It was a testament to the breadth of the love he showed, and it brought us together to form what felt like the perfect family. Family doesn’t mean blood or the same last name. The bhakti tradition teaches that we are all the same in essence – and that our ultimate goal – to love God, is the same. In realising this together, sharing our sadness together, praying together, sharing our appreciation for a dear friend and giving each other strength, we felt the closeness of true family. Though it may be too big to fit in a family portrait; it may be more multi-coloured than a Benetton ad; more complex than any family counselor could handle, it felt perfect to me.