What to Say to a Buddhist Whose Loved One Has Died

Written by Lyssa Menard

January 22, 2022

Yesterday, Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned and beloved spiritual leader and peace activist, passed from this life to the next.

My heart is heavy today and it’s difficult to put words to the page. But honoring Thây (Vietnamese for teacher) means honoring my commitments. So write, I must. In fact, I’ll do what he would have guided me to do.

I’ll teach.

What to Say to a Buddhist Whose Loved One Has Died

  • Focus on the good this person did in the world. Buddhists believe that good karma, manifested in this life, will support the life that follows, so this is encouraging.
  • Quoting meaningful passages from Buddhist scripture can provide consolation. 
  • It’s comforting to refer to impermanence, gently and with solidarity. In Buddhist thought, clinging to what we desire is both futile and the root cause of suffering, because all things pass. Acceptance of this requires continual practice. But we’re all in this impermanence together and joining with each other in that acceptance is loving and kind.

What NOT to Say to a Buddhist Whose Loved One Has Died

  • From the Buddhist perspective, we exist within an endless cycle of birth and death, so steer clear of cliches about heaven and future reunification.
  • Do not say, “May you meet this with equanimity.” Experienced meditators sometimes feel the need to spout such nonsense. This is not helpful when someone’s in pain. Equanimity – the balance that comes from wisdom – is considered “the secret ingredient” in mindfulness, and it is a key quality to cultivate in spiritual work. But today is not the day to lecture on the topic. Humans typically don’t feel equanimous just after losing a loved one. There’s space and time for that later. Avoid suggesting that anyone grieving should balance their feelings in the moment.

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