The Cathars had an unusual view of consoling or being consoled which greatly inspired me during my time living and training in Roussillon. The Consolamentum was extremely liberating for those who received it, purifying them entirely so that they could live an angelic life liberating others. They had no doubt whatsoever that the body was a temporary resting place for the spirit which provided refuge and time to learn to love unconditionally, and to allow the ego to lose its dominance over the spirit.
Buddhists likewise train hard to realize that although the body is temporary, it can be used skillfully to work to liberate others. A favorite Burmese Buddhist teacher of mine, Ajahn Chan, taught the following:
When the body is born it doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s like our meditation hall. After it’s built spiders come to stay in it. Lizards come to stay in it. All sorts of insects and crawling things come to stay in it. Snakes may come to live in it. Anything may come to live in it. It’s not only our hall; it’s everything’s hall.
These bodies are the same. They aren’t ours. People come to stay in and depend on them. Illness, pain and aging come to reside in them and we are merely residing along with them. When these bodies reach the end of pain and illness, and finally break up and die, that is not us dying. So don’t hold on to any of this.
These direct words somehow give permission for us to become one with the Universe, with god, Buddha, Paul McCartney, or whoever your spiritual source is. We are not separate in any way. It is pure love, our natural essence, which amalgamates with that of all sentient beings, and this emptiness or consoled state is the key to total and lasting happiness. We should lavish every moment of our human refuge on purifying our body speech and mind so that we can lead all sentient beings to the other shore of Nirvana.
For the Cathars, death was simply a veil marking the end of the human part of the eternal journey of the spirit. And for me as a Nirvana Buddhist in the Shinnyo line of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, I practise with my ancestors, consoling them constantly, and increasing their comfort and happiness. If they are eternally happy, then so am I. It is moving to realize through special veneration of my ancestors and related spirits that I would be nothing without their wisdom and human lessons learned, and that they are ever-present, watching over me intensely.
In Japan, it is fairly normal for people to revere and celebrate their ancestors, though they may not be on any particular spiritual pathway. This has been greatly inspiring coming originally from a Christian background in which the dead are usually kept at arm’s length, and life revolves around the vibrance of youth. In Japan, as in other Asian countries, ancestors are never forgotten. Their passing to the spiritual world is celebrated at regular intervals with formal ceremonies and warm-hearted gatherings of family members. Even the younger generation believe fully in their ancestors and want to show their gratitude in numerous ways. (Please see previous article:
Westerners are often reluctant to allow their feelings about ancestors free, somehow denying that their human form and spirituality emanates from their lineage. When I first started to pracitse as a Japanese Buddhist, I was roughly awoken when my devotion to the Buddha was directly attributed to the devotion of my Roman Catholic grandmother. It was at this moment that I became moved to care for the spirits and lovingly accept the merit of all my ancestors back to the beginning of time, as we know it. This gave new depth to my faith, and made me able to empty my ego as waves of incredible gratitude for their sacrifices and kindness consumed me.
On 4th December, I will be ordained as a Shinnyo priest. It has been indicated that without the religious devotion of my Christian, Buddhist and pre-Buddhist ancestors, along with my other lives as spiritual seekers, I would not have been able to encounter this destiny. In the same way, for the Cathars, their virtue handed down through the ages, enabled them to elevate spiritually and to get increasingly closer to god until the veil could be lifted and they would become one.
To express this in a more mundane way, I believe that we not only inherit our DNA from ancestors, but also their merit and negative karma. The merit can easily be polished by embodying a religious teaching or following a spiritual guide, and the negative karma can be systematically purified by working to liberate all sentient beings at the same time as having immense gratitude for our human lineage. Sincere gratitude and renunciation leave little time for pursuing human desires and being contaminated by ignorance, greed and hatred.