November 23, 2014

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Celebrating the life of Yao Feng of Greece

Unexpected news of the passing of Yao Feng (Dimitris Maras) arrived early this morning. Yao Feng was the husband of many decades of Co-Abbot of the Order of Hsu Yun, Fa Lian Shakya (Ayna Maurer). He passed away after a long struggle following a stroke on September 1, 2012. During his 19 day hospital stay he aquired a lung infection which resolved but returned again after returning home. Due to the turmultous state of social and political affairs in Greece it was not possible to acquire home medical care and he passed away on September 27th.

"Some people are uncomfortable even thinking about death. This is only fear of the unknown. I feel peace there, and respect for the past. I feel many things - but not fear." -- Yao Feng, from Uncle's Last Trip, 2002

Yao Feng (Dimitris Mara)

Unexpected news of the passing of Yao Feng (Dimitris Maras) arrived early this morning. Yao Feng was the husband of the Co-Abbot of the Order of Hsu Yun, Fa Lian Shakya (Ayna Maurer). He passed away after a long struggle following a stroke on September 1, 2012. During his 19 day hospital stay he aquired a lung infection which resolved but returned again after returning home. Due to the turmultous state of social and political affairs in Greece it was not possible to acquire home medical care and he passed away on September 27th. During his final days he was fully conscious but unable to speak or move and could only communicate with his eyebrows. "He was calm and had a controlled mind to the end", Fa Lian told me.

MitsosYao Feng was more than a devoted Chan Buddhist, he was an independent thinker, a creative spirit, and a light that shined brightly for all those who dared look. He was an artist, photographer, poet, and explorer. His unique and quirky sense of humor, along with his deeply perceptive inquiries into life, ingratiated him to everyone who knew him. Over the last decade, he honored the Order with a collection of essays reflecting on life and Chan ... and his car and companion, Mitsos: The Lottery Ticket, Uncle's Last Trip, First Autumn Rain, and We're All Buddhists.

I don't like to write elegies, I prefer to celebrate a life that graced our world than to mourn it's passing, for passing is what happens to everything, everybody. It's inescapable and without it we would not have a life to begin with. Knowing this, however, does not lesson the pain we experience when we have to say goodbye ... forever. We celebrate a life that enriched the world and our own, and we mourn it's passing.

Yet within this suffering there is a certain kind of golden lining. Being reminded so clearly of our own mortality has the potential to awaken us to new dimensions of being - to expand our awareness of what it is to be human. Suffering can be transformational. In the writings of Yao Feng, he often reflected on the brief existence we all share and how fear of death is merely fear of a future unknown, not based on anything substantive. In the Buddhist ideal, he transcended birth and death long before his physical departure, and maybe this is something we can all take with us as his last parting gift. To arrive at death's doorstep fearless, with ease of mind, and pass out of this world fully awake, what more could any of us wish for?