Shaheryar Azhar

Omar Sahib’s Memorial Service

Omar sahib died the way he lived – gently.

Notwithstanding the fact that I am 19-years his senior, I’ve always called Omar with the honorific ‘sahab’ or ‘sahib’ as a way to acknowledge and show my respect for the sharpness of his mind and the gentleness of his heart and character.

To quote some one anonymous: “”A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam. And for a brief moment its glory and beauty belong to our world. But then it flies on again, and though we wish it could have stayed, we feel so lucky to have seen it….”

Omar sahib and I were more friends than Uncle-Nephew and that suited me fine as I got to go to all the hip parties and hang out with the smart crowd.

Of the nineteen or so consecutive Thanksgivings at our home since we arrived as immigrants in America, Omar sahib was with us on all but two.

The day his illness was diagnosed in May of 2007, he came over to our apartment, hugged me, which he rarely did, and broke the news gently as if it was I who was in need of solace.

That was vintage Omar sahib, always solicitous about the welfare of others. When I had recovered, I said: “Bad luck, Omar sahib” and he replied, nodding matter-of-factly in agreement “Yes, bad luck, Shahzi Khaloo”.

And that was that. We got on with our dinner.

Over the 20 or so months of his illness our conversations grew more and more intimate, which can only happen when we have an imminent, complete and full realization of the impermanence of all things, above all our own mortal existence.

We often discussed death and what it may mean to face it.

Ten days ago, Omar sahib asked me to accompany him for his bone scan to the Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. Between tests, when we went for a sandwich lunch at the nearby Starbucks, I realized he wanted to talk about the inevitable details that must be attended to following death.

He told me that at his service he wanted me to do something similar to what I had done when he and Mursi had asked me to perform their wedding. “Do what you did on our marriage. Something Buddhist!” he had said with a naughty smile.

Omar had on occasion, both before and after his illness, done Zen meditation with me, at home or at the Zendo and at other times he had meditated alone. In his last days he tried to do the same as his breathing became more and more labored.

At some point on our Montefiore visit I said, “Omar sahib, given how welcome a baby you were when you were born, not just to your parents, but to both sets of grand parents and to the extended family on all sides, and all the attention you were given and spoiling that was done, it is a wonder you didn’t turn out to be a brat!” “Actually, Shahzi khaloo”, he had said with a great deal of relish, “I am a bit of a brat!!”

As his questions about dying became more and more direct, I said to him: “Perhaps, I may not be the right person to answer all your questions. May be there is a book out there, written by some one, who was in your position that may do a better job”. At this, Omar sahib’s face lit up as only his face could, he broke into a wide and very amused smile and said, “Yea, I suppose we should be looking for the book “Dying for Dummies”. We both simultaneously burst out laughing, very hard and very long.

I knew then with certainty that Omar sahib would be just fine when the time came to transition from this life.

What I didn’t know was that it would be so soon. But he knew.

What he had and what he showed throughout his long illness and that day at Montefiore was what we call Grace, which comes but to a very few.

So here is something similar to what was done at your wedding Omar sahib, similar but not the same, – a mixture of Rumi and Zen Buddhist Chants that you wanted.


What is this, O Muslims?

I am lost.

I am not Christian or Jew,

Zoroastrian or Muslim.

I am not from the East or the West,

From the land or the sea.

I am not from India, China, Bulgaria,

Or Spain, Iraq or Khorasan.

My place is no place,

My seat is no seat.

I have no body or soul,

I am the soul of the Beloved,

I am free from duality,

I see the two words as one,

I see One; I know One

I see One; I call One.


This particular Sutra is regarded as the essence of Buddhist teaching. This may be heavy going. So by way of background, I should mention that few months ago, I had given Omar sahib Commentaries on this Sutra by the famous Vietnamese Buddhist Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Omar was deeply, deeply moved when he finished reading it and asked me for more Zen Buddhist writings like these.

It would be appropriate here to briefly explain the meaning of the word “Empty” or “Emptiness”, which is the usual translation for the Buddhist term Sunyata (or Shunyata).  It refers to the fact that no thing — including human existence — has ultimate, unchanging substantiality, which in turn means that no thing is permanent and no thing is totally independent of everything else. That is, no thing in and of itself has any underlying or unchangeable substance or a separate self or meaning other than with reference to something else.  In other words, everything in this world is interconnected and at the same time in constant flux.  A deep realization of this truth about emptiness thus saves us from the suffering caused by our egos, our attachments, and our deep resistance to change and our deep resistance to loss.

So here it goes:

Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, meditating deeply on Perfection of Wisdom, saw clearly that the five aspects of human existence are empty, and so released himself from suffering.  Answering the monk Shariputra, he said this:

Body is nothing more than emptiness,

emptiness is nothing more than body.

The body is exactly empty,

and emptiness is exactly body.

The other four aspects of human existence —

feeling, thought, will, and consciousness —

are likewise nothing more than emptiness,

and emptiness nothing more than they.

All things are empty:

Nothing is born, nothing dies,

nothing is pure, nothing is stained,

nothing increases and nothing decreases.

So, in emptiness, there is no body,

no feeling, no thought,

no will, no consciousness.

There are no eyes, no ears,

no nose, no tongue,

no body, no mind.

There is no seeing, no hearing,

no smelling, no tasting,

no touching, no imagining.

There is nothing seen, nor heard,

nor smelled, nor tasted,

nor touched, nor imagined.

There is no ignorance,

and no end to ignorance.

There is no old age and death,

and no end to old age and death.

There is no suffering, no cause of suffering,

no end to suffering, no path to follow.

There is no attainment of wisdom,

and no wisdom to attain.

The Bodhisattvas rely on the Perfection of Wisdom,

and so with no delusions,

they feel no fear,

and have Nirvana here and now.

All the Buddhas,

past, present, and future,

rely on the Perfection of Wisdom,

and live in full enlightenment.

The Perfection of Wisdom is the greatest mantra.

It is the clearest mantra,

the highest mantra,

the mantra that removes all suffering.

This is truth that cannot be doubted.

Say it so:







Which means…



gone over,

gone fully over.


So be it!

With hands palm-to-palm (i.e. in gasho)


Vast is the robe of liberation,

A formless field of benefaction

Wearing the universal teaching

I realize the one true nature

Thus harmonizing all being!

We deeply bow to you Omar sahib, to the life you led and to all life! (three standing bows)

…And now as he would have wanted it, let us party and celebrate!!

Shaheryar Azhar


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