How to Enjoy Death - Preface

Preparing to Meet Life’s Final Challenge without Fear
 

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We Must Prepare for Death

When suddenly one day one of your loved ones dies and you
don’t know what to do to help, you’ll feel so confused, so lost.
Recently a Buddhist student of mine told me that this is what
happened to her when her father died unexpectedly. This made
me think that knowing how to help others at the time of death
is such important education to have.
As you get older, you’ll definitely hear about people dying—
family members will die, friends will die, even your enemies
will die too!—so you will need to be prepared to help them. This
doesn’t just apply to people who work with the dying; everyone
should learn to know how to help people when they die.
Helping our loved ones at the time of death is the best service
we can offer them, our greatest gift. Why? Because death is the
most important time of life: it’s at death that the next rebirth is
determined. By providing the right support, the right environment,
you can help your loved one die peacefully, with virtuous
thoughts, and thus have a good rebirth.
We need to deal with the physical needs of our loved ones
at the time of death, of course, but the spiritual needs are paramount.
To die with a happy mind, a peaceful mind, that is a
spiritual concern. Some people are prepared for it but most are
not, because they never think about death.
Buddhist teachings explain that the best spiritual practitioners
are joyful when they are dying, as if they’re going home
to see their family after a long absence. Less accomplished practitioners
are happy and comfortable at the time of death and are
fully confident that they will have a happy rebirth. And even
the least accomplished practitioners die without worry or fear;
death does not bother them at all.
Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism has so many powerful methods
to help people before they die, while they are dying, and even
after death. There are two aspects to helping a dying person: (1)
helping those who are facing death to find peace and (2) doing
the appropriate spiritual practices at the right time.
First of all, the most important thing is to help the person prepare
psychologically so that they die with a positive and happy
mind. To die without anger or clinging is vital for a happy
death and a good rebirth, and so that should be foremost in our
thoughts when we are around a dying person. The help we give
can result in a better rebirth and a swift path to attaining all realizations
and eventually enlightenment. This gift is absolutely
priceless, more valuable than universes full of wish-granting
jewels. Secondly, there are many spiritual practices that can be
done before, during, and after death that can help your loved
one die well and receive a perfect human rebirth or rebirth in
the pure realm of a buddha. I will explain what to do at each
stage.
You don’t need to think, “Oh, I don’t know what to do.”
Remember, as a Buddhist, the foundation of all your practices is
refuge: relying on Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. At the time of
death, for example, with strong faith you could visualize Buddha
above the head of your loved one and pray strongly that
they purify all their negative karma immediately and achieve a
good rebirth. Even if you don’t know any other practices, other
sophisticated things, this would help hugely.
As for babies, small children, or people who have lost their
capacity to understand because of coma or dementia—animals
too—there is not much that they themselves can do. The least
we can do is help them be peaceful and thus die with a happy
mind. But this is not all. Whether a person or animal is benefited by many of the practices in this book doesn’t depend upon the person’s or animal’s understanding; just hearing the sounds
of mantras, prayers, and teachings or seeing holy images will
leave positive imprints on their mind, which can activate virtuous
karmic seeds at the time of death, allowing them to receive
a good rebirth. This is our precious gift to them.
But before you can help someone else at the time of death,
you need to learn how to prepare for your own death. If you
look at your mind and how much attachment you have, I think
you will see that there is a lot of work to be done before you
face death, and this is true of almost everybody. Have you freed
yourself from attachment to your possessions? To your loved
ones and friends? To your career and reputation? Could you
separate from your body happily tomorrow? The more familiar
you are with the various practices, the ways to think, how to
make your mind happy, the more easily you can help others
at the time of death. But if you haven’t prepared for your own
death and you’re limited in your knowledge of what to do at
the time of death, you’ll be limited in your ability to help others.
So write down what you want to practice at the time of your
death, how you want to die. Write it down in your diary right
now! Whether you die gradually or suddenly, you need to know
this. Otherwise when death comes or when the doctor tells you
that you have cancer, you will have no time to prepare, and
because of attachment to this life you’ll panic. You will have no
renunciation, only grasping at this life.
At the time of death it’ll be like, “You mean you didn’t prepare
anything? Nothing? You don’t know what to do?” You
won’t have planned anything. You will never have thought
about it. You won’t have had a good, strong practice of Dharma:
collecting extensive merits, purifying, meditating on the path to
enlightenment, planting the seeds of the path in your mind. If
it’s like that, at the time of death there will no difference between
somebody who doesn’t know any Dharma at all and somebody
who does know Dharma but didn’t practice. How very, very sad
that would be.
So prepare now. Write down now what you are going to practice,
what you intend to do; then when the time of death comes
you will be able to do it easily. That’s very intelligent, I would
say; that’s the action of a very, very intelligent person.
But preparing for a happy death depends not just on practices
at the time of death; a happy death depends upon how we live our
life every day, every moment. Practicing patience when someone
is angry with us, provokes us, or disrespects us, for example,
is practical preparation for death. Practicing like this every day
protects us from creating negative karma, and that makes death
lighter, less fearful. The future depends on the present. Practicing
every day and preparing for the time of your death is far
more important than going to the hospital to check the body,
because death can happen at any time—even for healthy people.
Today many people have died, healthy as well as unhealthy.
When you know how to die, fully confident that you won’t
be reborn in the lower realms, that you will definitely have a
good rebirth, a good future, that death is just change, that you’re
leaving this old, sick body for a new, healthy one—then you
will be qualified to help others who are dying. You will be able
to explain things skillfully, according to their minds. You will
create the right conditions so that it’s easy for their minds to be
transformed into virtue at the time of death. You will know how
to help them die with a happy mind.
And not only that: once you’re familiar with what to do you
can tell others what they can do to help you at the time of your
own death.
THE SOURCES
I will use as a basis for the advice in this book an explanation
that Chöden Rinpoche gave at Land of Medicine Buddha, in
Soquel, California, in July of 2002. I will mention just some of
the things that Rinpoche taught so that you get the essence of
Rinpoche’s advice, which is extremely precious and very useful.
I will give advice that I have received from some of my other
lamas as well.
I will also use a book called Tibetan Ceremonies of the Dead
(bod mi’i ‘das mchod), written by Thupten Sangay and published
by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala,
India. It was written to educate the Tibetan people outside of
their country about their traditions. It is very, very useful.
It explains what to do at the time of death and immediately
after the person has died: how to request a lama, a guru, to
do the practice of transferring consciousness, called phowa in
Tibetan, to a pure land, and how to make offerings to the lamas.
It explains how to go about having astrological readings done
after death, which determines what to do during the days before
the body is removed, how to pack the body and remove it and
whether it should be moved today, tomorrow, etc., and what
offerings should be made to the monasteries, the holy objects,
the beggars, etc. It also explains what to do during the forty-nine
days that the mind is in the intermediate state between lives,
called bardo in Tibetan: what prayers and practices should be
done during the first week, the second, and so forth, and, finally,
what to do on the forty-ninth day.
I won’t go into all these details here. But I will explain some
of the most important points relating to the weeks and days
before death, the time of death itself, and the days and weeks
afterward.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche