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Death and Transitions : Practices for the Deceased

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche at various locations (Last Updated Nov 28, 2013)

Death of a Loved One

Creating Merit After Parents’ Death
Rinpoche checked and advised a student how to create merit on behalf of his parents after their death.
  • For your father: read the Prajnaparamita, and make a statue of the Buddha, five feet tall.
  • For your mother: make a statue of Manjushri, four feet tall.  


Tsa-tsas for a Deceased Parent
A student's mother had passed away. Rinpoche gave the following advice.

My dear Pauline,
I am very sorry to hear about your mother, I have done prayers for her. Your mother has given us a good teaching. She has shown us that the nature of life is impermanence, and death can happen at any time. This is the same teaching on death and impermanence that Buddha gave when he showed the aspect of passing away.

I checked and it came out very good to have 77 Lama Tsongkhapa tsa-tsas made for her. I am attaching a picture of a specific mold. We have one mold at the Aptos house and I will ask the nun here to make 15 for your mother. As we only have one mold it will take time, so I will ask Nalanda Monastery to make the remaining 62.

The original mold for this particular tsa-tsa belonged to Domo Geshe Rinpoche, who was a great yogi. The original tsa-tsa actually had relics of Lama Tsongkhapa in it and it is from that tsa-tsa that we made a mold.

Maybe Nalanda could paint or gold leaf them and open the eyes. They could be mailed to you, that would be so good. If you want these extra things you can request them directly. Hope to see you soon.

With much love and prayers... 


Father Had Died 
Rinpoche gave the following advice to a student whose father had just died.

Dear Charles,
Do Medicine Buddha puja every day for the next week at least. From the day your father passed away, try to do Medicine Buddha puja every day for forty-nine days, or at least once every seven days for forty-nine days.

Print a nice photo of White Tara, as large as you can, and have it blessed on the same day. Do this on the next eighth day of the Tibetan calendar.

Try to make longlife deity tsa-tsas every day, or organize for someone else to make them, until  you have made the number equal to his age (approximately 90 tsa-tsas).

This is my advice.


Family Deaths
A student asked Rinpoche to check his two brothers’ and his father’s current rebirths, following their deaths and he also asked what practices should be done to lift them up to higher rebirths if necessary. His brother had died of pneumonia aged seven in 1959, a second brother was killed in a plane crash in 1971 and his father died of lung cancer in 1973. Rinpoche gave the following advice.

Dear John,
I checked about your brothers and father and advise the following:

Death of Grandfather
A young student wrote to Rinpoche saying her grandfather had just died and she was very sad. Rinpoche sent her the following note.


My very dear Eliza,
What happened to your grandfather is a great teaching for us; it shows the reality of life. It is telling us what we need to do with our life. There is nothing more beneficial than holy Dharma. That doesn’t mean just talking about Dharma texts, it means one’s mind being transformed into virtue, and especially transformed into the path to liberation and enlightenment, which means liberating all sentient beings from the oceans of suffering and its causes, and bringing them to enlightenment, which is peerless happiness. This is something they have been longing for and is the most important need. This is what everyone is longing for but is not really aware of. They are not aware that such a thing as the highest, peerless happiness can be achieved.

With much love and prayers...

Long Life
A student’s 13-year-old daughter died in bed. The doctors could find no cause. She had an 18-year-old son and asked Rinpoche what she could do for her son’s long life, as she was afraid he might have the same destiny as her daughter.

My very dear Sonia,
Thank you very much for your kind letter. I am very sorry for the long delay in replying. I am also very sorry for your loss. I have been making prayers for your daughter and also for your whole family.

My way of thinking is—so many people in this world went to bed last night but in the morning did not get up, they died. The cause can be natural, or a coma, also unknown, etc. Death does not come when it is expected. Many times, the doctors do not know the cause of death. Many people die who are healthy, who are young, and it doesn’t make sense. Many people who are in perfect health suddenly die. So many people in this world go to bed and in the morning, they are dead, without any pain, just passing away in their sleep, their breath stops. This happens so many times. Actually, you will find it is not unusual for this to happen, in this world.

You don’t need to feel superstitious regarding this. This is karma. How long one lives and having an untimely death is caused by karma. Death is definite, it’s not like death won’t happen. When someone dies is not fixed according to one’s age. It’s not like when one is 100 or 50 then one dies. The time of death is not fixed. Whether one has a long or short life all depends on past karma.

Regarding what you can do to cause a long life, it is very good if you practice a long life meditation. This is for your long life, also you can do it for your son, but not just for him, also for all other human beings. In the practice you visualize all beings on the moon disc at the deity’s heart, so here you can also think of your son.

With this practice you can achieve any happiness you want, all good things for one’s future lives and especially ultimate happiness—liberation from samsara, including great liberation and enlightenment. Then, one is able to liberate numberless sentient beings from each realm, from all the sufferings and causes, and one is able to bring all sentient beings to great liberation and enlightenment.

This practice causes a long life for you, but also for others. So, it is very good for you to practice one long life meditation every day, such as White Tara, Amitayus, or Namgyalma, whichever you choose.

Whatever you practice you can do not only for yourself, but for your whole family, and also for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is the originator of all sentient beings’ happiness, also all one’s gurus, all other holy beings, and all sentient beings, especially sentient beings who do good things for others. Also, do the practice for sentient beings who live in morality (Sangha).

By doing this practice one can achieve happiness, not only in this life, but in all future lives. This is what one should do if one wants to have a long life. Also, one can do the meditation for others, visualizing others, that they receive the long life nectar, etc. This is one way to prolong one’s life and also others’ lives, as well as all sentient beings’. Also, one can make prayers for all sentient beings’ happiness, especially sentient beings who by staying alive can bring more benefit to others, also for sentient beings who when they die they will be reborn in a lower realm. In that case, to live even one more minute in this world is much less suffering for them, so therefore the longer they can stay alive, the longer their suffering is postponed. In this way, practice every single long life meditation not only for yourself, or for the people in your family, but for all sentient beings.

Other practices and things you can do to cause a long life include liberating animals, which means liberating animals that would otherwise be killed, such as worms that will be used for bait, or insects that will be fed to other animals. You save and protect the animals from an untimely death. If you do animal liberations, then please use the materials that I have put together which explains how to do them, with mantras, etc., as this makes it most beneficial for the animals.

Other things you can do for a long life are: helping people who are sick; giving clothes to people who are poor, also money; giving medicines to people who are sick; and taking care of young or old people, who cannot take care of themselves.

Also, you can make light offerings to statues, stupas, scriptures, and to the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. For instance, making a light offering in front of a Tara statue all night long causes a long life. You can make offerings of beautiful coverings for Dharma texts or very nice clothes for Buddha statues.

These are all things one can do to cause a long life; these are just a few examples.
With much love and prayers...

Letter to Steve Irwin's Family
Rinpoche sent the following letter to the family of Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife expert, on the occasion of his death.

My very dear Janine,
I am the spiritual head of the FPMT, which is a worldwide organization devoted to benefiting society through the practice and philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism, education, public service, health, and culture. The FPMT has 141 centers and activities in 31 countries. We have 21 centers and projects in Australia, including Chenrezig Institute, which is very close to the Australian Zoo.

I am from Nepal, near Mount Everest.

I am sending you my condolences for our dear Steve Irwin, who is known to the world as the crocodile hunter, maybe even known to the snakes and crocodiles, as well. I watched Steve Irwin on TV so many times for so many years, catching snakes and crocodiles, letting them go, and also helping them, with all his incredible excitement. It made me curious, when I was watching him, being so active, about how his life would end, whether one day he would be killed by one of those animals.

When I heard the news I immediately made prayers for him, chanting many mantras and prayers, purifying anything that causes suffering. I made prayers for the best thing to happen to him.

You and your family must be very sad, but since you have a strong bond with him, then according to Buddhist philosophy, you have created the cause to meet him again, maybe not in the same body, but to meet again. He may not reincarnate in the same shape or body. It is like the flame when you light another candle from it, but the flame continues.

Please continue having your good heart, bringing peace to the world, to human beings and animals (that are the largest number in the world when you compare to humans). Continue to give your love to them.

Thank you very much.

With much love and prayers...


Dealing with Grief after the Death of a Loved One
Rinpoche offered the following advice about dealing with grief.

I advise some people who don’t have a Dharma background that, because you lived with the person who died, you have created a strong connection with him or her. Because of that, you’ll meet again in a future life. You feel very upset at separation, thinking you will never meet that person again, but you will definitely meet again in future because of the strong connection the two of you have established.

The other way is acceptance, accepting that this is the nature of life, that after birth we have to die. Until you actualize the spiritual path and cease the delusions and action motivated by negative karma, only then are you able to overcome death, rebirth, and sickness and be free from all the problems you experience between birth and death.

Among the paths of the three spiritual vehicles, or yanas, according to the Lesser Vehicle path, the Hinayana, when you achieve arhatship, you are freed from delusions and karma, which includes total freedom from death and all the problems that occur between birth and death.

According to the Sutrayana division of the Great Vehicle path, the Mahayana or bodhisattva path, which, like the Hinayana path has five divisions—the paths of accumulation, preparation, seeing, meditation and no more learning—when you achieve the fifth of these you have attained full enlightenment, great liberation, and have also completely overcome all suffering, sickness, and death.

Then, according to the Secret Mantra path, the Vajrayana, which at its highest level has two stages—generation and completion—which can also be divided into five divisions mentioned above or into the stages of body and speech, isolation of mind, illusory body, clear light of meaning and learner’s union—when you attain the fifth of these you are fully enlightened and again completely free from death, rebirth and all suffering.

Until you achieve any of these spiritual paths, you have to die. Everybody has to die. Even plants are born, decay, and die. Even the whole Earth has a beginning. It started, it decays, and it ends. The Earth has a certain number of years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds that it will last. Then, after that, it ends. Nothing is left. Even the Rocky Mountains that look so solid now will be gone. At that time, only space will be left. All this happens without choice so we have to accept it.

As the great Buddhist saint Shantideva said: “If something can be managed, what’s the point of worrying, and if it can’t be managed, what’s the use of worrying?”

This quote is always useful in this kind of situation. It’s useless to be upset that you can’t have something. It’s like being upset that your house is not made of diamonds or that you are not the ruler of the world.

Some of your grief and suffering at having lost a loved one is not because your friend had to follow their karma, created the karma and had to be reborn in the lower realms and suffer; it’s not that kind of concern and care for that person but the concern and upset that comes through cherishing your own comfort and pleasure in having that person with you. It’s concern for your own pleasure.

This upset is due to cherishing the “I,” cherishing oneself, and then losing the object of attachment. It’s the self-cherishing thought in your mind that’s making you upset and unhappy. Then, because you are following attachment and the self-cherishing thought, and those minds are unhappy, you feel disturbed, and you believe that you are disturbed and unhappy.

In reality, what is upset is your attachment, your self-cherishing thought, not your whole mind. Your wisdom and positive thought renouncing attachment to samsara, to temporary samsaric pleasures which are in the nature of only suffering, are not upset; your loving kindness and compassion are not upset or depressed because the object of your attachment and self-cherishing thought has died.

So, it’s wrong to think that your entire mind is completely depressed and grieving. You grieve and feel depressed only when you follow the self-cherishing thought. When you stop following attachment and self-cherishing and follow wisdom, meditate on emptiness, cultivate the mind that is opposite to attachment—renunciation—and have the thought of benefiting others—bodhicitta—then, when you follow those minds, there’s no grief, there’s no depression; there is only peace and happiness.

So my suggestion is, rather than being depressed and grief-stricken out of attachment and self-cherishing, accept the nature of phenomena as impermanent and let go. Things are transitory. Everyone has to die. Accept that, and then, with those positive minds, do something worthwhile to benefit the dead person. Instead of being attached and clinging to that person—which doesn’t help and only increases your pain, day and night, and can even cause you to commit suicide, to end your precious, wish-fulfilling human body with which you can achieve all happiness up to enlightenment—do something worthwhile and beneficial for that person.

Offer charity to others who are needy, homeless or sick. Help old people, save them from problems; help the young, save them from problems. Educate others to develop the inner good heart and wisdom. Even if you have nothing material to give, offer service to others. Do something to benefit others. Volunteer your service. Dedicate all your positive actions and merit to the person who died for them not to suffer but to achieve ultimate happiness, the total cessation of all suffering and its cause, and to actualize the peerless happiness of enlightenment.

There is so much you can do in this world to offer service. So many people are needy. So much is needed. If you can understand the benefits there are so many spiritual Dharma projects that offer so much good, that purify other beings’ past negative karma and defilements so that they don’t have to experience the result, suffering, caused by their past negative karma, and that also develop their minds on the spiritual path, in method and wisdom, causing them not only to have happiness in future lives but also total liberation, freedom from suffering and its causes, and full enlightenment.

You can also perform meditation practice or recite mantras of powerful purification buddhas to help your loved one who died, to save him or her from suffering. There are so many things you can do to benefit that person. This way, there will be so much joy in your heart. Otherwise you just grieve, cherishing yourself, which is useless.


Unexpected Death in the Family
The father of a very devoted student in Singapore died suddenly one morning, shaking the family deeply. The other family members were particularly upset with “God” for taking their father away.

My very dear Mother and family,
It is not God’s fault. It is your father’s karma to pass away. Life is not permanent. The Buddha said it is impermanent in nature. That is the reality we experience. It is also not the fault of Buddha. He taught that life is impermanent.

The most important thing is that Father didn’t die with much pain. It is good that it happened suddenly.

We should pray for him: to have a good rebirth in the next life, to be born in a pure land where he can become enlightened (or you can say, where he can be with God), or receive a perfect human rebirth so he can achieve enlightenment in that life by meeting a perfect Mahayana guru and putting the teachings into practice correctly.

We are all on the same journey as Father. This is the reality of life. It is very important to realize this, and remember it every day. The benefit of doing this is that we prepare for death and future lives’ happiness. More important than this is liberation from samsara, which is called nirvana. Most important is achieving enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The only way is through Dharma practice: pure mind and pure action. The best Dharma is bodhicitta mind and bodhicitta action.

You can do many virtuous actions to help Father, by dedicating them to him. This way, we can still help him and continue to help him, so please be happy!
With much love and prayer...


After the Death of a Loved One
A former center director and student of many years died of cancer. Rinpoche wrote this letter is to his wife and child.

My dear Jane and Jim,
I am very sorry that our very dear ex-director and student passed away. You should not worry. In my divination, some days before he passed away, it came out positive that he will have a good rebirth. He offered service and was very devoted, sincere, and kind-hearted. He was an easygoing person, and offered service for many years to sentient beings and to the teachings of Buddha, as director of the center.

I wanted to let you know that I made prayers to guide him after hearing that he had passed away. I recited the short 100,000-verse Prajnaparamita teachings a few times, and also tried to do po-wa. We also made 30 tsa-tsas of the three types of deities. That came out very beneficial for his future rebirth, and we also made three stupas and Mitukpa tsa-tsas for him. After sojong, Chöden Rinpoche, Geshe Ngawang Drakpa, all the Sangha members in the area (about 30) and I recited the King of Prayers, the Lama Tsongkhapa prayer and Maitreya Buddha prayer, and dedicated them to him.

In case you are worried or missing him, you should recollect that we all, those of us who are not free from samsara, have to die. Since we are born, we have to die, because we are under the control of delusion and karma until we are free from samsara. This is the nature of life. Even this whole earth, which looks so permanent to us, will become nonexistent. It decays, and then after some time will become non-existent. There will be space where the earth used to be. Nothing that is a causative phenomenon lasts. It changes and decays, not only from moment to moment, but even within each moment.

What will benefit him is if you perform positive actions in your daily life with a good heart, with the thought of benefiting others: with compassion and loving kindness. By living your life with this pure motivation and good heart, your actions become virtuous, even if you don’t perform any extra positive actions. From these virtuous actions, you collect merit, and you can dedicate those merits, offering them to him, for him to have a good rebirth. Dedicate them for him not only to achieve just temporal happiness, but most importantly for him to be freed as quickly as possible from samsara, from the cycle of birth and death, and to achieve enlightenment in the quickest way possible.

Remember him by performing more positive actions for others, such as giving generously to others and living in morality by abstaining from harming others and harming oneself. For his benefit, try to practice patience when somebody treats you badly, or insults you or shows disrespect toward you. If you at least manage not to get angry, that means you don’t harm others. Even when you practice patience or try to stop the thought of harming others when it comes, dedicate that to him If you can, think that this is also for the happiness and benefit of all sentient beings, who, like him, also want happiness and do not want suffering. Dedicate in this way however many positive actions you are able to perform each day. At least, when there is a danger of anger arising, stop that and practice patience or compassion. And when you start to have negative thoughts, which are harmful to others, like ill will, jealousy and so on, try to stop that and practice their antidotes.

On top of this, benefit others as much as possible, with a sincere heart, in your daily life. Whether it is a small or big help to others, this will make your own life of better quality. It will make your mind healthier, and that means having a healthier body and longer life, and you will have inner peace and happiness. However much more you are able to practice positive things, and perform good deeds, there will be that much less suffering for you when you pass away. There will be less of a problem or no problem, so you will have a happier death, a peaceful death, very pleasant and inspiring for others. You will give courage to other people to practice Dharma, meditate, and to do positive things, so you will have a very happy ending to your life.

Your husband’s passing away is a reminder to us how precious our human lives are, and for us to practice harder and more purely.

With much love and prayers...

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