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Thoughts on Death
The Tibetan attitude towards death and the between is neither mystical nor mysterious.
The Bardo Thodol, known in the West as the "Tibetan Book of the Dead", is a guidebook for the journey through the between and it shows how the reality of death fits into the Tibetans' world, vividly picturing the continuity between former, present and future lives. Their multilife perspective is no more and no less a religious belief system than our modern sense of the structure of the solar system, or of the pattern of the cycle of the seasons in a year. Tibetans considered it a matter of common sense and scientific fact that animate beings exist along a continuum of lives, and that death, between and rebirth processes follow a predictable pattern.
This approach to death is shared by all Buddhist societies.
The Dalai Lama says in the introduction: "The Tibetans think of their systematic study and analysis of the human death process as a cautious and practical preparation for the inevitable. After all, there is no single one of us who is not going to die, sooner or later. So how to prepare for death, how to undergo the death process with the least trauma, and what comes after death - these are matters of vital importance to everyone of us. It would be impractical of us not to study these issues with the greatest care and not to develop methods of dealing with death and the dying in a skillful, compassionate, and humane way.
"The Book of Liberation Through Understanding in the Between" has been
quite popular for many centuries in Tibet. It is a manual of useful instructions
for people who are facing their death, as well as for their relatives and
friends. It is connected with a large literature in Tibetan that thoroughly
investigates the phenomena of dying. Indeed, the reality of death
has always been a spur to virtuous and intelligent action in all Buddhist
societies. It is not considered morbid to contemplate it, but rather
liberating from fear, and even beneficial to the health of the living.
Count your garden by the flowers,
Never by the leaves that fall.
Count your days by golden hours,
Don't remember clouds at all.
Count your nights by stars not shadows,
Count your life with smiles not tears.
And with joy, through all your journeys,
Count your age by friends not years.
Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp,
A phantom and a dream.