The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

By Sogyal Rinpoche, with a foreword by the Dalai Lama

1. Death is a natural part of life, which we will all surely have to face sooner or later. There are two ways we can deal with it while we are alive. We can either choose to ignore it or we can confront the prospect of our own death and, by thinking clearly about it, try to minimize the suffering that it can bring. However in neither of these ways can we overcome it.

2. Knowing that I cannot escape it, I see no point in worrying about it.

3. Our state of mind at the time of death can influence the quality of our next rebirth.

4. No less significant than preparing for our own death is helping others to die well.

The Book: “What I am trying to do in this book is to explain and expand the Tibetan Book of the Dead”

5. The purpose of the book is to offer the wisdom of the ancient Buddhist teachings in order to bring the maximum possible benefit.

6. Death is the most important moment of our lives.

7. There was humility in everything we did (in the monastery).

8. Most of the western world lives either in denial of death or in terror of it.

9. All of the greatest spiritual traditions of the world have told us clearly that death is not the end. They have all handed down a vision of some sort of life to come, which infuses this life that we are leading now with sacred meaning. But despite their teachings, modern society is largely a spiritual desert where the majority imagine that this life is all that there is. Without any real or authentic faith in an afterlife, most people live lives deprived of any ultimate meaning.

10. The master knows that if people believe in a life after this one, their whole outlook on life will be different, and they will have a distinct sense of personal responsibility and morality.

11. We need a fundamental change in our attitude toward death and dying… It is only with spiritual knowledge that we can truly face, and understand, death.

12. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has shown that with unconditional love, and a more enlightened attitude, dying can be a peaceful, even transformative experience.

13. Death is neither depressing nor exciting; it is simply a fact of life.

14. According to the wisdom of Buddha, we can actually use our lives to prepare for death. We do not have to wait for the painful death of someone close to us or the shock of terminal illness to force us into looking at our lives. Nor are we condemned to go out empty-handed at death to meet the unknown. We can begin, here and now, to find meaning in our lives. We can make of every moment an opportunity to change and to prepare – wholeheartedly, precisely, and with peace of mind – for death and eternity.

15. In the Buddhist approach, life and death are seen as one whole, where death is the beginning of another chapter of life.

16. Tibet’s famous poet saint, Milarepa, said: “My religion is to live – and die – without regret.”

17. Meditation is the only way we can repeatedly uncover and gradually realize and stabilize the nature of mind. The nature of mind the West now has is an extremely narrow one.

18. The fundamental message of the Buddhist teachings is that if we are prepared, there is tremendous hope, both in life and in death.

19. Montaigne: “Let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death…”

20. Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is because we do not know who we are.

21. Chuang Tzu: “Man’s thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present.”

22. We have a false belief in continuity and permanence.

23. Yet if our deepest desire is truly to live and go on living, why do we blindly insist that death is the end?

24. Western laziness consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues.

25. In Tibetan the word for body is “lu”, which means “something you leave behind,” like baggage.

26. In Buddhism the key to finding a happy balance in modern lives is simplicity.

27. The only truly serious goals in life are “learning to love other people and acquiring knowledge.

28. There is nothing that is permanent and constant…Nothing, nothing at all, has any lasting character…One of the chief reasons we have so much anguish and difficulty facing death is that we ignore the truth of impermanence.

29. The whole universe, scientists now tell us, is nothing but change, and process – a totality of flux that is the ground of all things.

30. The Buddha listened with infinite compassion. He said, “The death of your child has helped you to see now that the realm we are in – samsara – is an ocean of unbearable suffering. There is one way, and one way only, out of samsara’s ceaseless round of birth and death, which is the path to liberation. Because pain has now made you ready to learn and your heart is open to the truth, I will show it to you.”

31. A close encounter with death can bring a real awakening, a transformation in our whole approach to life, an increased concern for helping others, less interest in materialistic pursuits, a purpose in life, a definition, a definite direction, a passionate desire to see world conditions improve.

32. Reflection can slowly bring us wisdom.

33. Letting go is the path to real freedom.

34. All things are interdependent with all other things. Nothing has any inherent existence of its own; everything in the universe helps to make the tree what it is…We must therefore develop a sense of universal responsibility.

35. Have positive intention. This is the essential point. This is true spirituality.

36. Only in that meeting of hearts and minds will the student realize the living presence of enlightenment is within.

37. Pure awareness of “nowness” is the real Buddha.

38. The true revolutionary insight of Buddhism is that life and death are in the mind, and nowhere else.

39. To realize the nature of mind is to realize the nature of all things.

40. Buddha’s message – that enlightenment is within the reach of all – holds out tremendous hope.

41. Perhaps the darkest and most disturbing aspect of modern civilization is its ignorance and repression of who we really are.

42. We are terrified to look inward. Why is that?

43. The Dalai Lama talks often of the lack of real self-love and self-respect that he sees in many people in the modern world. Underlying our whole outlook is a neurotic conviction of our own limitations.

44. Tibetan saying: If you are too clever, you may miss the point entirely.

45. It is meditation that slowly purifies the ordinary mind, unmasking and exhausting its habits and illusions, so that we can, at the right moment, recognize who we really are.

46. The final goal of human existence is enlightenment. Meditation is the road to enlightenment. The root of ignorance itself is our mind’s habitual tendency to distraction. The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. Above all, be at ease; it is essential to create the right inner environment of the mind.

47. Meditation is a question of training and the power of habit. It is a state free of all cares and concerns. When you begin to understand where meditation will lead you, you will approach it as the greatest endeavor of your life, one that demands of you the deepest perseverance, enthusiasm, intelligence and discipline. Meditation is bringing the mind home.

48. The practice of mindfulness, of bringing the scattered mind home, and so of bringing the different aspects of our being into focus, is the first practice on the Buddhist path of meditation. It defuses negativity.

49. Meditation is the true practice of peace, the true practice of nonaggression and nonviolence, and the real and greatest disarmament.

50. A firm faith in life after death has occupied an essential place in nearly all the world’s religions. Voltaire: “After all, it is no more surprising to be born twice than it is to be born once.”

51. Buddhism believes in universal causation, that everything is subject to change…so there is no place given to a divine creator…rather everything arises as a consequence of causes and conditions.

52. Karma: the natural law of cause and effect. Whatever we do with our body, speech or mind will have a corresponding result. The result of our actions are often delayed, even into future lifetimes.

53. The Buddha: “What you are is what you have been, what you will be is what you do now.” The kind of birth we will have in the next life is determined by the nature of our actions in this one…the effect of our actions depends entirely upon the intention or motivation behind them, and not upon their scale.

54. Whatever joy there is in this world, all comes from desiring others to be happy, and whatever suffering there is in this world, all comes from desiring myself to be happy.

55. Dalai Lama: “There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; my philosophy is kindness.

56. Karma is not fatalistic or predetermined. Karma means our ability to create and to change. It is creative because we can determine how and why we act. We can change. The future is in our hands, and in the hands of our heart.

57. How we act and think inevitably changes the future.

58. Whenever we act negatively, it leads to pain and suffering; whenever we act positively, it eventually results in happiness.

59. The masters tell us that the qualities of buddhahood are veiled by the body, and as soon as the body is discarded, they will be radiantly displayed.

60. With constant repetition our inclinations and habits become steadily more entrenched.

61. All of us have our own individual karma. We each live in our own unique and separate individual worlds.

62. The six main negative emotions: pride, jealousy, desire, ignorance, greed and anger.

63. How can we possibly say definitively what does or does not exist beyond the bounds of our limited vision?

64. The “three wisdom tools”: the wisdom of listening and hearing; the wisdom of contemplation and reflection; and the wisdom of meditation.

65. Lifetimes of ignorance have brought us to identify the whole of our being with ego. Ego and its grasping are the root of all our suffering. To end the bizarre tyranny of ego is why we go on the spiritual path.

66. The noblest and the wisest thing to do is to cherish others instead of cherishing yourself.

67. The more and more you listen, the more and more you hear; the more and more you hear; the deeper and deeper your understanding becomes.

68. The deepening of understanding comes through contemplation and reflection, the second tool of wisdom.

69. Our society promotes cleverness instead of wisdom.

70. The more knowledge you have, the more doubts it gives rise to. Doubt is a fundamental activity of the unenlightened mind. Doubts cannot resolve themselves immediately; but if we are patient a space can be created within us, in which doubts can be carefully and objectively examined, unraveled, dissolved and healed. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to solve all your doubts. Make haste slowly.

71. The spiritual journey is one of continuous learning and purification. The greatest achievements take the deepest patience and the longest time.

72. A man in his fifties said: “It’s not what you know that moves me, but that you really do have an altruistic and a good heart.”

73. True teachers are kind, compassionate, and tireless in their desire to share whatever wisdom they acquire.

74. I would encourage you to follow with complete sincerity the path that inspires you most.

75. What will we have learned, if at the moment of death we do not know who we really are?

76. We need to realize the continual presence of this ultimate teacher within us.

77. We need to have the humility to go on learning.

78. Simply opening your heart and mind to the embodiment of truth really does bless and transform your mind.

There is some very helpful guidance on pages 177 – 188 entitled, “Heart Advice on Helping the Dying.” I would encourage anyone who is with or around a dying person to read and consider the counsel from this section. Briefly summarized salient points include:

79. Don’t deny the likelihood or certainty of impending death – to yourself or the person dying.

80. Relax any tension in the atmosphere; this will allow the dying person to bring up the things he or she really wants to talk about.

81. Encourage the person warmly to feel s free as possible to express thoughts, fears and emotions about dying and death. This hones and unshrinking baring of emotion is central to any possible transformation…and you must allow the person complete freedom, giving your full permission to say whatever he or she wants.

82. Sometimes you may be tempted to preach to the dying, or to give them your own spiritual formula. Avoid this temptation ABSOLUTELY. No one wishes to be “rescued” with someone else’s beliefs.

83. A dying person most needs to be shown as unconditional a love as possible, released from all expectations. People will die as they have lived, as themselves.

84. Kubler-Ross’ five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

85. “I once asked a man who knew he was dying what he needed above all in those who were caring for him. He said, ‘For someone to look as if they are trying to understand me.’ It is essential that we care enough to try. Just be there as fully as you can.

86. Should people be told they are dying? Yes, as quietly, as kindly, as sensitively, and as skillfully as possible. “I believe dying to be a great opportunity for people to come to terms with their whole lives.” So by kindly and sensitively telling people at the earliest opportunity they are dying, we are really giving them the chance to prepare, and to find their own powers of strength, and the meaning of their lives.

87. As a caregiver, looking at your own fears honestly will also help you in your own journey to maturity and will help you immeasurably to be aware of the fears of the dying person.

88. Another anxiety of the dying is often that of leaving unfinished business.

89. Give the dying person “permission” to die and reassure the person they will be all right after he or she has gone, and that there is no need to worry about them. Tell them they are not alone, now or ever – they have all your love.

90. Be aware of the importance of talking positively and frequently to the dying person. Allow the dying person to die in silence and serenity. There is no greater gift of charity you can give than helping a person to die well. The power of compassion has no bounds.

91. Every dying person is a teacher, giving all those who help them a chance to transform themselves through developing their compassion.

92. “Wherever I go in the West, I am struck by the great mental suffering that arises from the fear of dying.”

93. Your task is never under any circumstances to impose your beliefs but to enable them to find these within themselves.

94. Always when you are with a dying person, dwell on what they have accomplished and done well. People who are dying are frequently extremely vulnerable to guilt, regret, and depression; allow them to express these freely.

95. “So what is it I hope from this book? To inspire a quiet revolution in the whole way we look at death and care for the dying, and so the whole way we look at life and care for the living.”

End of Notes