Celebrating the Life of a Bodhisattva

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Today I celebrated the life of a Bodhisattva. Her name was (is) Anna Marie (A.M.) Collins and she is a perfect example of what a Bodhisattva looks like. She is the kindest, most compassionate human being I ever met and she taught me a lot about forgiveness and non-judgment.

I learned a few things about her today I never knew; she lived in a commune when she was in her early twenties; she studied Buddhism and Astrology; she was an AA sponsor; she wrote a successful play, “Angry Housewives” (does that name sound familiar?); she worked as a phone psychic and went on to working with dogs. Elephants were her passion. She was booked to return to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in India this spring.

A.M. died suddenly a couple weeks ago from a massive stroke, a reminder of  life’s impermanence. She walked the earth for 59 years and what an impression she made while she was here. A.M. touched so many sentient beings’ lives. This is a sign she wrote and kept by her work desk:

AM quote

The first time I met A.M. was when I was going through cancer treatment. She worked with my husband, John at a doggie kennel, and offered to sit with me one day while he ran errands. I was too weak to be left alone. As soon as I met her, we clicked. I felt like I knew her for a life time and this was before I studied Buddhism. I was just a chick, a very sick chick, who was trying to get through the day. A.M. brought along a book to read in case I slept through her visit. It had to do with Buddhist teachings. I don’t remember all of our conversation except that I wanted to know more about Buddhism and something called, “sentient beings”. I wanted to learn how to be like her.

Over the past five years, that I knew her, I never heard her say a bad word about anyone. Last summer John was “jumped” by five teenage boys at his workplace. It was nine o’clock and he was alone at work. When he came home with a swollen eye from being punched, A.M., who was his supervisor, got an “earful” from me when I called to tell her what happened. I yelled at her for at least ten minutes. John told me a few days later, that A.M. admitted to putting the phone down so I could let off steam and she wouldn’t have to deal with all my negative energy. I laughed about that, well, sort of. I had to let it go, after all, she wasn’t the one who punched John.

Two years ago, A.M. made us a home a made Christmas card with pictures of my doggies on it. I still have it. We didn’t spend a lot of time together but we exchanged gifts many times. I treasure them now.

There are wonderful, famous Buddhist teachers, many of whom I follow, but I think the best “teachers” are the people we meet everyday. They never write books or have websites.They aren’t guests on Oprah, but the impression they make is just as “real”. They work in dog kennels, are AA sponsors, volunteer at sanctuaries, or bag your groceries. They walk the earth and make everyone they meet feel welcome, just like A.M.

She donated her organs and left her body to science. She continued to give even after she took her last breath.Thích Nhất Hạnh says we never die. We just live on as something else; the air, the trees, the wind. A.M. lives on in the bodies of a few people. Her heart continues to beat in another person fortunate enough to have it. Will this person ever know how kind she was? Who knows? I’m sure it isn’t important to A.M. She’s happy to know she could help someone who needed it.

I am grateful to have known this woman, she made my life better.

I want to carry on her legacy, and “be willing to help all beings”.


AM elephant

Namaste A.M. — until we meet again over the Rainbow Bridge.

Oh, I almost forgot, another friend of hers wrote a beautiful piece about her life in the local newspaper. If you would like to read it, click here.




The Dalai Lama and Deepak Chopra

I’ve been thinking about the Dalai Lama the past few days, ever since I heard him speak at his 80th birthday celebration last Sunday. One of the questions he was asked is how he handles criticism. You can hear his answer on the following video.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk, but according to Mahayana Buddhist belief, he comes from a long line of (reincarnated) Dalai Lamas believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have postponed their own nirvana and chosen to take rebirth in order to serve humanity.

That being said, he is still human and all that that implies. He’s got to have the same thoughts we do, including negative ones. Right? I’m no expert on bodhisattvas, so maybe he doesn’t. It’s just that my simple human brain has trouble wrapping itself around that. Maybe he stays quiet because it would look really bad if he let his temper get the best of him. Can you imagine him calling someone an asshole? Me neither. If for some crazy reason he did, it would be trending on Twitter in seconds. Then again, if I meditated as long as he does everyday, I might have a calmer vibe.

The Dalai Lama has been surrounded by people all his life, shielding him from a lot of the daily “stuff” people like you and me deal with on a daily basis. Then again he has the Chinese government to contend with, like them occupying Tibet. That’s got to be aggravating. The biggest problem I have is dealing with someone acting like a jerk. I’ve never had to flee a country, but then again, the day isn’t over.

Another spiritual leader I admire and want to emulate is Deepak Chopra. When he’s in the public eye, he walks his talk but in a documentary made by his son, Gotham, we see another side of him; his human side that I can relate to. He gets pissed off. He checks his social media too much. He does things we all do…because he is human but that doesn’t delete all the good work he does. Here is a video from ABC News that captures what I mean.

Both men want to make the world a better place. They both have their critics. One is a bodhisattva and the other, bodhisattva-like.

Who cares if the Dalai Lama does or doesn’t show anger? Deepak Chopra does and that’s ok.  I choose to focus on their message and follow their examples the best I can. I’m human and have my flaws, and am now aware of them. It’s spiritual leaders like these two, who help me become a better version of myself. They give me things to think about and see the world from a different perspective.

Russell Brand explains how he understands the Dalai Lama’s message which makes perfect sense to me.



Sam Simon a Bodhisattva


Sam Simon, co-creator of the television show The Simpsons died yesterday from colon cancer. He was 59 years old.

Sam and I have a few things in common. I am a stage four rectal cancer survivor. I am 59 years old. I try to help as many sentient beings (namely animals) as I can.

As soon as he found out about his prognosis, he gave his money (millions of dollars) away to charities helping animals and children. In my opinion Sam exemplifies what it means to be a compassionate being or what I call a bodhisattva.

I am so fortunate to be alive and healthy, but I don’t know how much time I have left to spend on this beautiful planet, so I intend to put that time to good use. I don’t have millions of dollars to donate but I do have time and a willingness to make a difference in an animal’s life. It is humans like Sam who inspire me to be a better person.

Rest in peace Sam Simon, the world is a better place because you were here.