one sky music
December 19, 2004
by Milarepa, Japan, May 1999

I had just finished giving a concert in a small Japanese city called Shizuoka. Some friends invited me to stay in their house for the night. They lived outside the city in a large, traditional-style Japanese farmhouse made of wood with paper walls. In one part of the house, their grandmother had been living with them. She had died one day before. The musicians I was traveling with were each given a choice which part of the house they would like to stay. Our host turned and offered me Oba-chan’s room (oba-chan is the Japanese word for grandmother) saying she said she thought I would have more space to rest there as long as I felt comfortable with the situation. So I graciously accepted her offer. Stepping through the door to Oba-chan’s room, I couldn’t help noticing the official certificate of death tacked over its entrance, having been placed there by the local Shinto priest. I assured my hosts I would be fine and we all said goodnight.

Alone in the room, I could sense the presence of death still hanging in the air. It was tangible, like a vibrating stillness I felt I was on sacred ground and bowed to the shrine in the corner. Lighting some incense sticks, I placed them carefully next to the buddha statue in the shrine. A small mirror had been placed at the shrine’s center.It is one of the Zen influences of Shintoism has absorbed, the significance being: whoever seeks God by looking in the shrine will see their own face in the mirror.

I lay awake a long time that night before finally drifting off into a deep, dreamless sleep. The next morning, I awoke feeling refreshed, and grateful to Oba-chan for the opportunity to have participated in the mystic experience of her death. Taking up a pen and paper, I wrote down the following poem in her honor and to say thank you.

In the corner of my small house
An altar with a mirror shines
Empty and clear
Reflecting ripples on the lake

My shoes wait now
Patiently by the door of
This house where I lived a life
Where only moments before
I laughed in the sun alive in this
Mischief

Kind people come today
They sing and play their instruments
As is their joy
Their laughter carried by the morning breeze
Echoes through my empty rooms

Someone lights to burn
Fragrant sticks in the room
Where only yesterday I laid
Sick and dying.
Nothing much has changed, only
This is not my house
Anymore

The incense burns slowly
And with each passing day
Soon the memory of me will fade away
Until the mirror at the altar shines
Empty and clear again
Reflecting ripples on the lake

poems1

Prada, Yoko, Milarepa and Neera at natural hot springs