Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying - Sogyal Rinpoche

Sogyal Rinpoche guides us through this book, to make us aware of, to prepare us to the reality of death which we so naively, complacently ignore. It is the Tibetan way so there are many Tibetan practices that h refers to. Several of my doubts have been cleared through the book, using my own cross-references to what I have learned, read or experienced. It took me more than a month to read.

Denying Death
When we deny death, he says, the effect goes beyond the individual. Since we believe that death is final, we do not have a long-term vision, engage in plunder, which we would not do if we knew we would have to come back and pay for. The concept of rebirth and life after death is fundamental to this book and he dwells a bit on both.

We can use our lives to prepare for death because death is the beginning of another chapter, the mirror through which the entire meaning of life is reflected. There are states we go through, after dying, called bardos which are changing realities, an intermediate stage between death and rebirth. We die, hover around our body without realising we are dead and stay in that confused state until we realise we are dead, which is when we get the dead consciousness, and then depending on our state of mind and to some extent our karma, attain rebirth, not necessarily in human form. Sometimes we just hover.

Using Life to Prepare for Death
Life can prepare us for death. Simplicity, discipline and meditation are likely to make us better prepared for death. We are all born to realise and to learn, to share more love and more loving. Our life purpose seems to be to learn to love other people and to acquire knowledge.

Practice Non-Grasping
The root of all problems is grasping. We must practice a non-grasping way of living. The only thing we can hold on to is impermanence. Letting go is the path to real freedom. The only thing we have is now.

Two things we must always ask ourselves - that every moment I am dying as everyone else is, and so I must treat all with compassion. Am I pursuing enlightenment because my understanding of death and impermanence have become keen.

We are all dying says one master. Diseases like cancer are warnings to remind us that we have been neglecting deep aspects of our spiritual needs. If we take this warning seriously and change fundamentals the direction of our lives, there is a very real hope of healing, not only our body but our whole being.

Nature of Mind
To prepare better for death and after death, we must understand the Nature of Mind, our true nature, through meditation. It is the gap when we are free of clinging - a gap we must try to prolong as long as we can. We have two minds - the ordinary mind of duality and the Nature of Mind, primordial, Rigpa. When one is enlightened the space inside merges with the space outside. There is no duality anymore.

To end distraction is to bring the mind home to its true nature. Meditation is bringing the mind home, to realise and to relax. Sogyal gives ways to meditate - the practice. Sit erect with back straight is most important Gaze into an ocean. Eyes open. Let is expand. You can use an object, a mantra, focus on breath. Do it without effort. You must experience an absence of thought. It can become a part of your daily life.

Karma is action. Whatever we do with our body, speech or mind will have corresponding reactions. The effect of your actions depends entirely upon the intention or motivation behind them. Wise selfish people think of others, help others and as a result they too benefit.

The Four Bardos
Bardos are transitions. There are four bardos - the natural bardo of life, the painful bardo of dying, the luminous bardo of the dharmata and the karmic bardo of becoming. At the moment the body is left, we are offered the greatest possible opportunity for liberation. If at this moment we can recognise the Ground Luminosity, we attain liberation. Normally we pass through without recognising, unless we are practitioners. The practice of Dzogchen, a state of total awakening, prepares people best to deal with these transitions when they arise. It involves two practices - Trechko (cutting through delusion with fierce, direct thoroughness) and Togal (quality of immediate realisation).

Helping the Dying
In death, people need practical, emotional and spiritual care because they are at the most vulnerable point of their lives and are about to lose everything, their body, their possessions. They are confused and clinging. This is the point when they need unconditional love, compassion, listening, so make them comfortable and peaceful. Make death a peaceful, transformative process he says.

When we are with people who are dying he suggests we establish an unafraid, heartfelt communication. A dying person is weak, feels insecure, is grasping. Be relaxed. Relax any tension naturally. Let them speak of things they want to. Encourage them. When they are communicating their most private feelings, do not interrupt, deny, diminish. They are most vulnerable. Listen, receive in silence.  Touch them. Look into their eyes. Hold.

A dying man once said 'I was looking for someone to look as if they are trying to understand me.'

Tell them not to worry about any unfinished business. Tell them that all will be taken care of after they are gone. they have one enough and can go peacefully. Give two explicit verbal assurances - give them permission to die and reassure the person that you will be alright after their death and there is no need for them to worry

After Death
After they are dead, leave the body undisturbed for as long as possible. Talk positively. Let them die in peace.

There is a practice of Toglen where we take on their suffering and give them our happiness. The most non-grasping of them all. And then there is the practice of Phowa to help the dying where one visualises the consciousness merging with the greater consciousness of the Buddha.

The practices, the meditations, all prepare us to deal with the states of life, death, after death. There is a way to sleep when dying, on the right side or in the sleeping lion posture. There are detailed descriptions of what one would encounter at each stage - the outer dissolution as the body slowly ceases to function and stops, the inner dissolution, the black experience, the Ground Luminosity, the bardo of becoming.

Pray Mindfully with Right Intent
The period after death - from seven days to 49 days are when we can help the person the most through our practices and prayers. The first three weeks even more so. Pray sincerely, compassionately and they will benefit whether they just died or whether they died a hundred years ago.

The book gives many ways to prepare oneself for death and in doing so also live better. Some questions like what happens to those who die due to an abortion (they travel once again through bardo states until rebirth, and they need the same purification practices, seeking of forgiveness if the parents feel guilty, helping others, sponsoring humanitarian and spiritual projects). Suicide attracts negative karma while organ donations is good karma. So go ahead and donate your organs - I am planning to.

In essence, this life of ours is valuable and precious and we must use it well. What we do in this life will determine what happens to us after. Life and death are all a creation of our own mind but our habits and patterns guide us. So discipline, meditation, can help us use the knowledge of the bardo states to seek liberation. It is a practical guide and makes immense sense in how one can help those dying, how one can help those dead through prayers and practices, how one can prepare for one's own death and mostly, how one can life better and thereby prepare better for death.

Practice non-grasping to start with.

No comments: