Feeling Happy About Death

Feeling Happy About Death

Date Posted:
October 2005

A practicing psychologist and very devoted student was dying of cancer. Some time after she had been diagnosed, she wrote to say that she really appreciated what she was going through, and felt very happy about experiencing her death. Rinpoche wrote her the following.

I don’t know how to say how sorry I am, and how fantastic it is, that you have found this disease.

As a Dharma practitioner, it may be good to read the book Transforming Problems, if you think there is a need, and also to read talks I gave about thought transformation, of utilizing sicknesses on the path as a means of bringing happiness to all sentient beings, including bringing them to enlightenment. In this way, you use your sickness to practice bodhicitta, which means experiencing the illness on behalf of all sentient beings. So, you can do these things to make basic preparations. These are the most important methods. Try to use them as much as possible. Think that this is your best retreat, one hundred times more powerful than years of doing Vajrasattva retreat with a self-centered mind, with a comfortable life, and so forth. That is because, here, the fundamental practice is that you are giving your life to other sentient beings. You give your happiness to other sentient beings, and experience their sufferings yourself. The foundation of this practice is bodhicitta, exchanging self with others. So, study and practice every day, and remember as much as possible the practice of the five powers* near the time of death.

It is very important, too, that you remember those stories about the benefits of bodhicitta, about the benefits of generating great compassion. For example, remember how Asanga was able to see Maitreya Buddha only after he made a sacrifice. He was unable to see Maitreya just by doing retreat. He could see Maitreya only when he learned to appreciate great compassion, giving up his life for a wounded dog.

Then there was the disciple of the yogi Ngagpo Chöpa, who sacrificed himself by touching and carrying the female leper, whose body was totally blackened and ugly, filled with leprosy and pus. Then, as he was carrying her across a river, he was able to see that the leper woman was Vajrayogini. She took him to the pure land Kechara, in the same human body, which means that he became enlightened there.

There is also a story about when the Buddha was born in the hell realms, where he was pulling a carriage with another hell being. This is the very first time he generated great compassion. At that time, he thought of pulling the carriage by himself alone, thinking, why let the other person suffer? They were pulling the carriage over iron ground that was oneness with fire. So, he let the other hell being go free and pulled the carriage by himself and took on all the suffering. As soon as he did that, the karma guardians hit him on the head with a hammer. Immediately, his consciousness was transferred to Tushita pure land.

These are all the benefits of bodhicitta, of sacrificing one’s life for others, even for just one other sentient being. This is how to become enlightened very quickly, by sacrificing one’s life for one sentient being.

It is good to read the stories of the past lives of Guru Shakyamuni Buddha, how for three countless great eons he practiced charity—especially charity—and morality, patience, and the other perfections. He offered charity to others so many times, offering his eyes, limbs, even his whole body.

There is also a story about his practice of patience, and how he practiced charity by offering his body to ants. There was a king who came to look for his wife in the forest. He found his wife in the same area as the Buddha, who was a bodhisattva in that lifetime. The king got upset with the bodhisattva and asked him, “What are you doing?” The bodhisattva replied, “I’m meditating.” However, the king got angry and cut off one of the bodhisattva’s limbs. Then the king repeated his question and the bodhisattva answered the same way, so the king cut off another of his limbs. This went on until the king had cut off all four of the bodhisattva’s limbs. Then only his torso was left. When the people found him, they threw the rest of his body away, saying what was the use of that. But even then, the bodhisattva offered what was left of his body to the ants.

There is an incredibly inspiring lama, Je Drom Gonpa, who had a hermitage very high on the mountain above Sera Je monastery. He had a guru, Atsaya, from whom he received teachings on bodhicitta, and so was able to realize bodhicitta. One day, he saw his guru in the forest on the mountain. He was alone reading a text and making the thumbs-up sign with one of his hands.

“What are you doing?” Je Drom Gonpa asked.

“Reading the Buddha’s past life stories,” his guru replied. He was giving the thumbs-up sign to Guru Shakyamuni Buddha to show how very worthwhile it is to be a human being. The Buddha made it worthwhile to take a human body. You can also ask Geshe-la to tell you more stories of this kind to inspire you.

Other things you can do are the Namgyalma mantra, not only for a long life but for powerful purification. Other people can do Medicine Buddha practice for you. They can also recite Amitayus’ mantra for you. Visualize nectar flowing from Buddha Amitayus and entering your body and mind, purifying all obscurations and obstacles to life, diseases, spirit harms, and so forth, and filling your body with the nectar of immortality. While they are doing this for you, they can also do it for others, for all the other beings with cancer, life obstacles, for those people who do good things for others, and for those beings who change their minds from harming others to helping others. They can also pray for their own long life. Other people can do group practices or can do them individually.

Also, since you have been doing Vajrayogini practice, Vajrayogini is a very important solution for your life situation at this critical point. Vajrayogini becomes the most precious thing for you. You should do the self-initiation once a week, if you cannot do it every day.

Other people can help you. Other Sangha or lay people can come and pray with you. Or if you wish to practice alone, that is OK too. You can invite anyone that you like, anyone that you feel comfortable with. You can also invite Geshe-la to practice it from time to time with other people. Then, Geshe-la can do the chanting in Tibetan. It is very good that way. Also, if Khensur Rinpoche is visiting the area, you can invite him to do Vajrayogini practice with you.

During the Vajrayogini self-initiation, you can take shortcuts. You can leave out the long prayers at the point where you make extensive offerings and just do the mantra of the offerings. You don’t need to recite the prayer. The most important part is after completing the sadhana, when you take the vows. This is the key thing, reviving your vows and making them pure, and then there is introducing the secret Vajrayogini. Even if you don’t do that part, you can do the last part where it says “now the four initiations.” You can do this sometimes. You can do any version, according to your convenience. Put more effort into this, on the basis of bodhicitta practice. You can also take the Vajrayogini initiation, if you feel like it, from Geshe Tashi Tsering. As different types of dreams occur, we can check which practices you should do, as they can change.

Your main refuge should be dying with bodhicitta, experiencing the suffering of the deaths of all sentient beings. Also, regarding karma, keep on praying that whatever suffering sentient beings have, may it ripen on you. Using your breathing, meditate on their specific sufferings.

When, according to your dreams and your physical health, it is time to die, maybe it would be better for you to lie down in the lion position, like Guru Shakyamuni Buddha did when passing away into the sorrowless state. This helps the mind to be transferred into virtue more easily. It reminds you of Buddha, and so also leaves a positive imprint. It is easier to stop attachment, anger, and so forth. You can lie down like that, unless you prefer to sit. Generally, it is better to die in the lion position, as the Buddha did.

Then, you should ask people to put Lama Tsongkhapa’s lam-rim text on your pillow at your head. This also helps prevent you from falling into the lower realms. During this time it is up to you whether you wish to be quiet, or if you want Geshe-la and others to come and recite prayers, for example, Vajrayogini practice or Medicine Buddha, and so forth.

So, go ahead, enjoy your death. Make the best use of it. Take the greatest profit from it. Like the most successful business person in the world, become a billionaire. I will pray for you. Don’t worry. You met His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lama Yeshe, and many other great bodhisattvas. You met Mahayana Buddhism. You heard complete teachings on the complete path, and specialized in the quickest path to enlightenment. You have prepared so much, done lots of meditation on the lam-rim, and benefited lots of people. Rejoice in this many times every day.

It might also be possible for you to recover; but as a Dharma practitioner, the best psychology is to decide every day, “I am going to die today.” That is the best practice.

I want to say thank you very much for everything, for your own practice and your help benefiting so many people and the organization, as well as your service for Lama and myself, and for your prayers. Thank you very much.

Since there has been a strong karmic connection between us, we may meet somewhere. Please enjoy good luck.
With much love and prayers...

* The five powers are the power of the white seed, the power of the attitude, the power of blaming the one, the power of prayer, and the power of training. See The Moment of Death in Rinpoche's Online Advice Book or more details.