Preparing to Die, Learning to Live
In this online teaching, recorded on April 3, 2021, Tulku Migmar discusses how preparing to die is fundamentally about how we live. When we live with aims like accumulation of wealth, and we have a lot of attachments, facing death can be quite difficult. Death comes for everyone—anyone who is born will die. And the only thing that we bring with us is our Dharma practice.
Tulku-la tells the story of a practitioner who spoke to Dromtönpa, a lineage-holder of Atisha, and told him he was engaged in circumambulation of a sacred place. “That’s great,” said Dromtönpa, “but wouldn’t it be better if you practiced the Dharma?” The practitioner went away, and studied sutras. Then he spoke to Dromtönpa again, and told him he was studying sutras. “That’s great,” he said, “but wouldn’t it be better if you practiced the Dharma?” When finally he spoke to Dromtömpa again, and told him he was meditating, and was given the same answer again, he asked: “If none of these things is sufficient, what should I do?” Dromtönpa said he should give up attachment to this life. Only that brings freedom.
In essence, Tulku-la says, consciousness of our impending death is a spur to our practice. How we live is how we prepare for death. Practice, and our whole life, can be understood as preparation for dying. In the beginning, the recollection of death and impermanence is the cause for entering the path; in the middle, it is the motivation for our dharma practice; and in the end it is what will help us to realize selflessness or emptiness. We can do practices on behalf of others, but when someone’s time is truly up, there is only so much we can do. So Tulku-la encourages us, as Dromtönpa did, to give up our attachments to this life and practice well.
He draws for this Dharma talk on (and concludes by reciting) The Noble Sutra Teaching the Eleven Perceptions, which include the perception of non-attachment, the perception of love for all beings, the perception of fearlessness, and the perception of understanding nirvana as peace.