Don’t Be Afraid of Death

Don’t Be Afraid of Death

Date of Advice:
October 2013
Date Posted:
November 2020

A student was experiencing ill-health, had lost weight and was feeling weak and tired. A geshe had told the student that death was approaching. The student was afraid to die and asked Rinpoche for advice.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Delhi, India, January 2009. Photo: Ven. Roger Kunsang.

My most dear, most kind, most precious, most wish-fulfilling one,
I am very sorry it took so long to reply to your email. I checked your life and according to my observation this year is good; next year maybe you will have some difficulties, either sickness or something, then the year after that there are more obstacles, it’s looking bad.

I am sure you have heard in the Lamrim Chenmo, Lama Tsongkhapa’s lamrim, that it is very good to think, “I am going to die.” If we think about that, we practice Dharma and make preparation for death, then even if death doesn’t happen, it is good because we have prepared for death. Even if death doesn’t happen, this helps.

I also advise the five powers, which integrate a whole lifetime of practice. The five powers are in Liberation in the Palm of your Hand, and you should learn them as your main practice. This topic is in the section on thought transformation after bodhicitta [Liberation, pp. 612–16]. Please put effort in this practice, which becomes real Dharma practice according to Mahayana and becomes the foundation for practicing tantra. [See also FPMT eBook: Practicing the Five Powers Near the Time of Death.]

If you are familiar with self-initiation, there is elaborate and short self-initiation. If you are not familiar with it, you can discuss with other students who have experience. If not, then at the end of the day do Vajrasattva practice, one mala or half a mala or at least 21 mantras, with the remedy of the four opponent powers. That becomes powerful purification, not only to purify that day’s negative karma, but also the past life’s negative karma and the negative karma and obscurations collected since beginningless rebirth.

When you do prostrations by reciting the Confession of a Bodhisattva’s Downfalls to the Thirty-five Buddhas mindfully, even just reciting the names mindfully, this purifies so many eons of negative karma—not years but eons of negative karma. There is one buddha, Glorified Flower, who purifies 100,000 eons of negative karma. Reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names is unbelievably powerful. In the life story of Lama Tsongkhapa it does not mention Vajrasattva so much but the Thirty-five Buddhas. Lama Tsongkhapa did 700,000 prostrations by reciting the Thirty-five Buddhas’ names, then rainfalls of realizations came. If you can, do this practice three times a day—in the morning, afternoon and evening—and if not, then do the prostrations by reciting the Confession to the Thirty-five Buddhas in the morning. That is unbelievable.

Whatever commitments you have taken from Lama during initiations, try to follow them if you can, for example, the Six-Session Guru Yoga, which has a long, middle and short version. Also for other commitments there are long and short versions.

The Guhyasamaja root tantra text came out good for you to recite if you can. If not every day, then recite it from time to time.

Try to go to bed with a comfortable mind after purifying with Vajrasattva and if possible recite the Thirty-five Buddhas practice one time and then if you can, do one dedication, for example, the King of Prayers or Lama Tsongkhapa’s Prayer for the Beginning, Middle and End of Practice. From the eight prayers, do one of them. You can do a different one each day. You can try this, it is very good, but it’s very important when you recite the prayer to pray mindfully, because this plants a seed in your mind.

If you can, do the King of Prayers and one other prayer. This means always reciting the King of Prayers and then a second prayer, and in this way you can change the second prayer each day. If this is difficult, then just recite one prayer. By reciting the King of Prayers, this causes you to be reborn in Amitabha’s pure land.

This is my advice. The other important thing is to live your life with the motivation for others as much as possible. Thank you very much.

With much love and prayers,

Lama Zopa

P.S. You don’t need to be afraid. We are Buddhist and we are so lucky. We have found the most worthwhile object, the perfectly qualified object to guide us: Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. If we take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha they definitely guide us, and we don’t need to fear the lower realms. By taking refuge there is no need to be afraid of death, especially if we are practicing bodhicitta.

Especially with bodhicitta—even if there is no realization but the effortful motivation of bodhicitta—that is the best way to die for sentient beings. Take the death of all sentient beings on yourself and experience it for sentient beings so that they can be free from death and have ultimate happiness in dharmakaya.