Noble Living, Noble Caring, Noble Dying

Conversation: Preparing For Our Own Death

In July, 2018, Samye Institute recorded a series of conversations on the topic of Noble Living, Noble Caring and Noble Dying. This project came about from the questions we heard from many sangha members about coming to terms with impermanence–acknowledging the reality of our human condition and our eventual death. In these conversations with Tulku Migmar, Tsunma Jamyang, and Andrea Sherman, we explore a wide variety of issues that we hope will give us all much to contemplate and work with in our own lives.

Andrea Sherman here guides the conversation by asking questions that we have heard from many people in very different life situations. We encourage you to explore the conversations and to post your own questions and comments in the forum. We have a team of people working on this project and they will respond to your questions!

Introduction of the Speakers

Preparing for Our Own Death as Buddhist Practitioners

Prepare and practice well so that we have no fears or doubts at time of death. We need to prepare during this life so that we can die with confidence. And then also can tell our families that we are prepared so that they won’t be so upset and fearful—we can assure them that we are ready for this final stage.

Preparing for Our Own Death: What Is the Best Practice When I Realize I Have Limited Time?

Tulku advises that we continue doing what we already know, making that practice stronger, more authentic and more powerful. It’s best to focus on a practice we already know rather than listening to many other opinions. We don’t have much time, everything is impermanent, uncertainty. Whatever you learned from teacher and have been practicing, just continue, be more mindful—you have more confidence.

Ani J adds that we can benefit from deepening the practice we are already doing. And this is also the time to embrace the intention of developing unshakable faith in the teacher. If we come to accept our teacher as the greatest support at the time of death we can take that sacredness into our life.

Devotion Plays a Crucial Role: Focusing on the Teacher at the Time of Death

Devotion to our teacher and to the teachings gives us great confidence at the time of death. These days we may have some questions or concerns about the role of devotion and how that may relate to our practice—especially in the Vajrayāna. Some people may have natural devotion based upon our merit and our previous live’s practice. But Tulku Migmar explains that most of us have to study, and practice in order to develop devotion. We first need to feel inspiration—and we seek a role model. Unshakable faith and devotion usually only develops from our own study, investigation and experience. We start with inspired devotion and, with training, then we can give rise to unshakable faith. We won’t get shaken when we encounter obstacles on the path.

Devotion is based upon intelligent faith rather than just blind faith. With blind faith, we have to be very lucky to meet an excellent guide or teacher. But if we’re not lucky, then things could go quite badly. But if we’ve investigated carefully, and feel unshakable faith, we can receive blessings and realization very quickly.

Ani J explains that even if people themselves don’t have this type of confident faith, the dying and ill can absorb that strength from practitioners around them. She explains that they can feel the difference in the room—it makes them feel grounded, safe, and seen, and it is a palpable experience. And Andrea notes that when we are actively dying—as we are going through the bardos, being able to have faith, devotion, and recalling the relationship to our teacher is so important. At this key passage, to focus on your teacher, and feel confidence in that relationship makes such a difference.

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.