Buddhist Philosophy

Talking With Children About Death

Death is Real

We all will experience death. Those that we love and those around us will die. And we ourselves will definitely die. This is simply a fact. Buddhist teachers repeatedly emphasize reflection on impermanence. This awareness includes the reminder that all living beings die–it is the nature of things. In this video, Phakchok Rinpoche once more urges us to think about impermanence regularly. Rinpoche responds to a common question–how should we talk to children about death?

Reflect on Our Own Attitude Toward Impermanence

Rinpoche says that before we explain something to children, we begin by considering our own reactions and experience. First, think about how awareness of impermanence changes us. How do we think about and react to the idea of death? If we really consider impermanence, then we will want to change our character for the better. We won’t then spend so much time on useless activities like quarrels. We often hear of people who dedicate their final period of life to more meaningful purposes.

Before we talk with our children we can consider how acceptance of death might allow us to spend our lives in a more meaningful way. Once we have absorbed this lesson, then we can be helpful when we speak to children. We can take time to be truthful, patient, and gentle as we explain the reality of impermanence.

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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.