Death isn’t something that most people in the west like to think about very often, but The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche discusses the subject in a way that will pleasantly surprise those who discover it. By taking a good look at death and dying from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, the topic of life itself is illuminated, and by the time you close the book your attitude to living and dying is likely to have changed quite significantly for the better.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is a substantial book, weighing in at more than 400 pages, but the author is a superb communicator and you won’t have any trouble completing the journey once you have started it. There are four parts to this book, and these are titled Living, Dying, Death and Rebirth and Conclusion.
In the very first chapter of Part One: Living, the author discusses his first experience of death and defines why he wrote this book. ‘I want it to be a manual, a guide, a work of reference, and a source of sacred inspiration,’ he writes, and it really does work on all of those levels. Subsequent chapters discuss Impermanence, The Nature of Mind, Bringing the Mind Home, Evolution, Karma and Rebirth, Bardos and Other Realities (including a definition of this life as ‘the natural bardo’) and The Spiritual Path. This section alone could have been published as a stand-alone book and would have been well worth your bookshelf space, but here we’ve only just started.
Part Two: Dying is as practical as it is informative and inspirational. The author provides Heart Advice on Helping the Dying, then discusses Compassion: The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel and Spiritual Help for the Dying. The last two chapters of this section then cover The Practices of Dying and The Process of Dying, which can help us to start thinking about our own inevitable death and prepare for it with eyes wide open. The author describes the various stages of the dying process in detail, and this will be of particular value to those who are in any way fearful about what to expect.
Part Three: Death and Rebirth discusses what happens when the dying process comes to an end in terms of liberation or rebirth. It also provides a chapter called Helping After Death which is packed with advice on how to help the recently deceased from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, as well as on how to help ourselves to deal with grief and sorrow. The author then takes a good look at The Near-Death Experience and highlights the similarities and differences between this and the various bardo teachings.
Part Four: Conclusion wraps the book up with two chapters. The Universal Process puts the process of death into a broader context, showing us that the same kind of process is taking place every day even as we continue to live, and in Servants of Peace the author discusses his hopes that this book could be ‘an unfailing, loyal companion to anyone who makes the choice to become a bodhisattva.’
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is highly recommended to anyone who is old enough to read it, regardless of religious persuasion. As the author states in the final chapter:
‘This book is giving you a sacred technology, by which you can transform not only your present life and not only your dying and your death, but also your future lives, and so the future of humanity.’