Donating Organs and the Time of Death

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche

A few years ago, an elderly woman asked Lama Zopa Rinpoche about donating her organs at the time of death (not realizing that she was too old for her organs to be acceptable for that purpose). Here is their conversation.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche in Taos, New Mexico, 1999. Photo: Lenny Foster.

Mother: People are dying because there’s not enough parts and I just want your advice because I would like…you see, I’ve been always very healthy—my heart, kidney, liver, everything. My eyesight—I still don’t need glasses—and people going blind because they need cornea and there’s no replacement. So I just thought, if you would think it’s good, I’d like to donate my body, so that they can use the parts. The only thing is, you always say that, when one dies, one should stay for three days quietly. But after three days, maybe the body is not so good any more, so I just wonder what you think is the best thing to do.

Rinpoche: Normally in the Tibet, like that, where you can keep the body, where you are able to keep the body, keep three days, like that, also, Tibet is also, I guess, also cold, not hot place. I think also, body doesn’t have smell in this area (?). So, like that.

But, that reason, that’s not always case, because if the body starts to smell immediately, means the consciousness left the body. If the body smells, whenever the body starts to smell, then, means the consciousness left the body. So, doesn’t need to keep for three days. So, it depends on these circumstances.

[Rinpoche throws mo.]

As long as…when they take the parts of the body, how long after breath stopped, do you know?

M: Well, probably the sooner the better, because when it’s still almost alive, not quite…but I don’t know, maybe if you keep it in a cold storeroom—but then you shouldn’t be putting the body in a cold storeroom anyway, should you?

Rinpoche: Yes, yes…but I think, it would take some time… I mean, it depends on whether one die at home or die in hospital. So if it’s home, you have choice; you don’t need to do that immediately. They take the parts of the body to charity, you don’t have to do that immediately.

M: How long could you keep the body like that, at home?

Rinpoche: No. If it’s at home, then you have, there’s more opportunity, gives more time to pass slowly. There's more time. But I think even in the hospital, if somebody discuss with doctor, even like to wait for ten minutes, fifteen minutes, wait for one hour, half hour, like that. Not immediately, right after breath stopped. Wait for one hour or couple of hours.

M: In hospital?

Rinpoche: Even in hospital. Maybe can be discussed with doctor. To wait, to not cut immediately. To wait one hour, half hour, even twenty minutes. Not immediately, right after breath stopped. So I’m sure it can be discussed, for example... I’m sure friendly way can arrange, can arrange. So depend what they say. I heard, right after breath stopped, then they take. But I think, maybe can be discussed, wait for one hour, half hour, even twenty minutes, at least fifteen minutes. So, to take time.

Then, without touching any part of the body, first thing to touch is the crown, on the crown. First thing, touch here [on the crown of the head], pull the hair. Pull the hair strongly and then…I have special substances called po-wa pill. Po-wa pill contains Buddha’s relics, and great enlightened beings’, great yogi’s bones, relics, and mixed with stone magnet, or iron magnet…it’s pill made of those things.

M: You mix the powder with what?

Rinpoche: Stone magnet, iron magnet. Mix with the Buddha’s relics or high yogis’, very high lamas’, yogis’ relics, their bones’ ashes mixed together. Then you put on the crown, here, stick here, attach on the skin, then that, the magnet, pulls consciousness this way. If the consciousness left through the crown, it goes to formless realms or the pure land of Buddha. There’s only two ways. If the consciousness went [through the crown]. Only high realm—the pure land and the formless realm.

M: Even with bad karma?

Rinpoche: [Laughs.] Yes. For Mother, even with bad karma. Exception, exception! [Laughs.] No, that time, all the bad karmas become good karma. [Laughs.] No bad karma that time. [Laughs.]

So the relics of buddhas, yogis, they bless the mind, and the magnet pulls the consciousness to that point.

And also Kalachakra, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s sand, sand powder. It’s very good for this method, to put here. Mix it with butter and put it here. That helps to transfer consciousness through the crown, to go to pure land. I have pills, so I can give you. So, can do these things, like po-wa pill.


So, because, Mother, you have received Tara Cittamani initiation from Lama Yeshe, from Lama, remember? You have received Tara Cittamani initiation from Lama Yeshe many years ago, at Noojee, remember? So maybe what you can do is, in these days, if Mother can recite more the Thirty-five Buddha names, the prayer, Thirty-five Buddha names, if Mother can recite Thirty-five Buddhas’ names. I did the oral transmission yesterday, downstairs. So that’s very, very good for purification.

M: But when do you do it?

Rinpoche: In these days; in these days, to do that, every day. To do as many times as you can, as many times as possible. As many times as possible. Is there Kalachakra sand? [Brian: I haven’t seen Kalachakra sand, Rinpoche, in the medicine bag.] Yes, maybe not. Then maybe some mani pills. The small bottle, this special water.

So Mother received the Cittamani Tara initiation from Lama, so it’s very good. So also you may possibly have a connection with Tara, so that, you think, you visualize Tara and Lama as one, on your crown.

M: When do I do that, Rinpoche?

Rinpoche: That you can do even now, but the time when you think you are dying, then that time, don’t think any other thing, just think Tara. Just think Tara on your crown, Tara oneness with Lama. If it’s difficult to think of Tara, just think of Lama, that aspect. Otherwise Tara/Lama, you visualize Tara, but it’s Lama, Lama Yeshe. Then think that you made strong prayer to Lama Yeshe and Tara. When you think that “Now I’m going to die,” then you think, make very strong prayer to Tara/Lama Yeshe.

Then you…there’s a hole, central channel you think—if you can think central channel—like a trumpet upside-down. Here’s the big part, the hole [at the crown], then it stretches straight down to the navel. But the navel is closed; there’s no hole there. So, inside at the heart, yourself in the form of…size of mustard seed, light. So that’s yourself, your consciousness.

Then, you make strong prayer, from there…you can see through, from there, Tara/Lama Yeshe. Then you make strong prayer, with whole heart rely upon Tara, “Please liberate me from the unbearable, terrifying lower realm precipices and liberate me from the terrifying oceans of samsara, and lead me to the pure land right now, without delay even a second.”

So make strong prayer, like this. Then your consciousness, like size of mustard seed, not heavy, so light—like cotton [wool]. Any time, it can go, it can go up, fly up, like that. So, it went from the heart to the neck chakra, then from neck to the crown. Or, you can go one time straight; just try one time straight [to the crown]. From there, straight going to Tara’s heart; Lama Yeshe/Tara’s heart. Or, if it’s easier, go outside the crown, then from there you can go up.

Then, your mind is oneness with Tara/Lama Yeshe. Then it went up, like shooting arrow, went up to the pure land of Tara. The pure land of Tara. It went in the pure land of Tara. So think, “I have arrived in the pure land of Tara, where there’s no suffering—no rebirth, no old age, no sickness, no death.” So everything is filled with most beauty. Dakinis in the pure land procession music to you, then you are able to see Tara, receive teachings from Tara.

So that time, just go to the pure land. But at the moment, evenings, morning, you can practice this meditation. You go to Tara heart, then make strong prayer and shoot out to Tara’s heart, become oneness. You don’t need to think coming down. [Mo.] If you’re coming down, you can think of yourself as a small Tara. Maybe coming down, you don’t think, don’t need. Then again you become Tara, then again inside the channel, then yourself size of a mustard seed there, at the heart, in the central channel, then again went up, shoot up to Tara’s heart. So can do like that maybe twenty-one times, in one session, twenty-one times.

M: You mean doing it now, every day, every night, just to practice.

Rinpoche: Every night, do twenty-one times.

M: You just visualize it?

Rinpoche: Yes, yes. So, if you get—after one or two days, three days—if you get pus [secretion], pus coming out, or swollen here [at crown], or get numb. Getting numb or swollen, or pus coming out, those are good signs; numbness or swollen or pus, water, coming out; those are good signs. Or the hair…anyway…those are good signs.

When the person’s dying, at that time those whose consciousness goes to pure land, that time their hair falls down [out]. The hair falls down. This happens; recently happened.

So, just go to the heart of Tara, then stay there a little bit. Then again you become, again think of yourself as Tara, then start again. Like that. Maybe twenty-one times in one session.

So, when you think you are actually dying, then you go to Tara’s heart, then to Tara’s pure land, like arrow. Then think, “Now I have arrived in Tara’s pure land.” Extremely beautiful. Dakinis doing prostrations; Tara there giving teachings; whole sky filled with scented smell; birds flying singing Dharma songs; and the wind is…on the trees, wish-granting trees, beautiful trees blown by wind but making Dharma sound.

But this practice, based on the five powers at the time of death; five powers to be practiced near the time of death. So that’s very important. So that’s what we need to train now. We have to remember what are the five, at least their names, meaning. Then possibility to put into practice.

So the first one is the power of the white seed. Power of white seed means family, possessions, even one’s own body, to be detached, by thinking that “Being attached to these things, then they cause me to be reborn in samsara, and die, reborn numberless times, from past lives up to now, and this is only nature of suffering; this samsara, these aggregates; in the nature of suffering.” By thinking this, then try to be detached from all these things.

Then, the virtue, the help of being detached is that, then, even they are not gone away, not given away, gone away, they are up in the room, but the mind, what you have received, possessions, for charity to other sentient beings, already in your mind you decided to offer merit field or to make charity to sentient beings, so if your mind has already decided what to do, to give away, then it’s very good, because if there is plan like that, your mind gets detached. So it’s very useful. Otherwise, when your mind is attached to one’s own body, then the sense pleasures, and the present family members and the possessions, then that attachment, even you know the meditation techniques…

[Break for side business….]

M: But tell me, what shall I do with my body?

Rinpoche: You can do that. You can give it away, and that is very, very good, because that will help Mother’s…because you know that that body is going to make charity, and it’s very good for the mind; very good to keep the mind in a state of bodhicitta. It helps for that. Very good for that.

M: So I do all these practices you told me, and then I can give it away?

Rinpoche: Yes. So, this practice to do now, to train now, to do now, but you, actually going to pure land, like shooting arrow, yourself Tara, then you went Tara’s heart, then yourself Tara/Lama Yeshe, then shoot in the sky and pure land—that one is only when you think you are dying, but not now. Now only go to Tara’s heart. Then you are there—stay there a little bit—then visualize, then again you become Tara, until you finish session. Like that. Maybe twenty-one times.

So, this practice should be based on…what makes successful, this practice, is by five powers. Five powers which are to be practiced near the death time. So first, power of the white seed, so that explained. So whether the things have gone away or not, but in the mind, made offering to merit field, the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, then the charity to other sentient beings, in the mind, if one decided, then that helps very much. Then, your body charity to others, so it helps to not arise, to not cling. So this one, power of white seed, is very important. To not cling these things and to make offering or to make charity to others. One way to collect merit and one way it helps not to have attachment.

The first one is very important. The letting go of everything. If that didn’t happen, by thinking that “Being attached in these things makes to die and reborn again samsara. So that’s what happened from beginningless rebirth to now. What kept me in samsara is this.” Then, if mind try to be detached like this, then that’s one thing. Then the other one is, so body is given to others, Triple Gem and all other sentient beings.

Then, the next power is power of the attitude. So that’s the, that one is making plan. So think, “From now on, I will never allow myself to be under the control of the self-cherishing thought, from now on, and up to death, until death and especially today, even each second,” to make strong plan like that, “I will never separate away from bodhicitta until enlightenment, until death, especially today, even for one second, I will never separate from bodhicitta.” That one is very important to do like this; strong plan. That means always to keep the mind in the bodhicitta, thought of cherishing others. Always in that state.

Then, next one is power of blaming to one. What is that one? That is ego, self-cherishing thought. So, that, “So far, why I did not become enlightened, did not achieve liberation from samsara, didn’t achieve any realizations, so far I have been suffering in samsara, what makes me to do this, is by this ego, this great demon ego, and if I follow this it will continuously do the same harm, will never allow me to be enlightened and to be free from samsara. Won’t allow me to have any realization. Whatever unfavorable situation, any obstacle, any unpleasantness, whatever discomfort, anything happen, this all came from ego. This came from ego. All this caused to me by ego.” So look at the ego as the enemy. You keep separate, away from it; you keep away from the self-cherishing thought by looking at it as enemy.

Then any unfavorable situation, any discomfort, any unpleasant, whatever happens, then you give it to the ego. You use it like weapon, like atomic bomb, or weapon, to the ego, all this unfavorable, this unpleasant things. Give it to the ego. Instead of taking it on yourself, give it to the ego and destroy completely the ego, destroy, completely non-existent. So the power of blaming to one. So all the problems, undesirable thing happens, anything, day-to-day life, even the, as I mentioned before, from beginningless rebirths to now, suffering in samsara, all this, putting all the blames on ego. So by putting all the blames on ego, by knowing that all this is caused by ego, then you split from the ego, then you don’t follow ego, then there’s a place, then the mind is able to cherish others, able to practice bodhicitta.

Then, by having the realization of bodhicitta, then one enter in the Mahayana path, then by realizing emptiness, together, then cease all the gross and subtle defilements and achieve enlightenment, then enlighten all living beings, liberate numberless living beings from all the suffering and its cause and bring them to enlightenment. So, even before realization of bodhicitta one will feel the good heart, cherishing others, benefiting others, then one collect merit like limitless sky, good karma, merit like limitless sky. And then, whatever action that one does becomes virtue, cause of enlightenment.

So now the last two. Next one is power of prayer. Dedicate the merits, “Past, present and future merits collected by oneself and the three time merits collected by others—buddhas, bodhisattvas, all other sentient beings—may I never separate away from bodhicitta during death time, during intermediate stage, during rebirth, all the time, may I never be separate from bodhicitta and have quickest realization of bodhicitta.” Pray. So you can think Lama Yeshe/Tara.

Then the next one is power of training. The power of training means like this, so when you know that “Now I’m going to die,” then you lay down, many meditators they die in meditation state by sitting, by many meditators also by laying down they die, they pass away in the meditation on death by laying down. So, power of training is you lay down, is called position of lion lying down, on the side. So you remember the Buddha, you remember how Buddha passed away, this way, in the lying position, so you remember that, because if you remember Buddha, it leaves positive imprint on the mind, so that helps the mind to become virtue, then that helps good rebirth.

So if you can do like this [occlude right nostril with a right finger], it’s OK, because this breath, it’s the breath of attachment, so by breaking this, it helps to not be reborn lower realms. But however, whether you can do that or not, so put head here [in right hand on pillow], stretch two legs, then stretch this arm here, like that [left arm down along left side], then…

M: Does it matter which side you lie on?

Rinpoche: The right side. Then, that’s the position of the body, because laying down this way, it helps. Even when we go to bed, if you able to lie down this way, spirits cannot harm you, because due to this position, the spirits cannot harm you at night time. Like nightmares or spirits pressing down, these things don’t happen. Not only death time, even now, before we go to bed, if we remember Buddha, how Buddha passed away in the lion position, then you keep that position, then either mind in guru devotion, thinking of Lama one with Tara with devotion, or compassion to other living beings, or emptiness, or taking other sentient beings’ suffering and destroy the ego, then give everything—one’s own body in the form of wish-granting jewel and possessions and merits, all the three time merits, all the result happiness, all up to enlightenment, give everything to every hell being, every hungry ghost, every animal, every human being, every sura being, every asura being, every intermediate stage being, that all their place become pure land, like Amitabha pure land, like Tara pure land.

All the hell realm, the unbelievable cold ice mountain, ice plain, then iron ground oneness with fire, iron house oneness with fire, all these completely become pure land, so beautiful, and mandala, jewel palace, all the weapons become flowers.

Then pretas, so everything become pure land, then, their main suffering is hunger and thirst, so they receive billions of nectar, like oceans of nectar, drink and nectar food, for pretas. Billions, like a big market, they receive so much, and they enjoy. So they enjoyed these things, they receive everything what they want and what they need and cause them to have realizations of the path, method and wisdom, cease all their defilements, they all become enlightened. Every hell being become enlightened, every hungry ghost become enlightened, every animal.

Particular for animals, so their place become pure land after you give everything. Then their main suffering is being eaten by other ones, all these things, being fool and being eaten, so they all receive protection. Vajrapani appeared (?) and being attacked by other animals and by human beings, danger to be killed—they become free of all this, they receive everything what they want and need, then by enjoying that, caused them to actualize path of method and wisdom, cease all their defilements, they all become Tara. So you can think everyone become Tara: every hell being become Tara, every hungry ghost become Tara, every animal….

Then you give everything to all human beings. Then, every human being received rainfalls of dollars, billion dollars, all their houses fully packed with money, wealth, dollars. Like rain. Everyone receive rainfalls, billions of dollars, and all their place become pure land, they received everything what they want, what they need—they don’t know what they need, but—guru, Dharma, all these things. Then they enjoy all this and then cause to actualize path of method and wisdom, ceases all the defilements, gross and subtle, they all become enlightened.

Then, same thing sura and asura, same. The sura, asuras, armor, particular thing is armor, what they need is armor. So everything you give becomes armor, and also guru, teachings. Then same, they all become enlightened in Tara.

Then intermediate state beings, place becomes pure land. They totally free from incredible, terrifying fears. Their karmic view, suffering like mountains of waves, they chased away, or wind, incredible heavy unbelievably strong wind, and then fire and all this, so all this stop completely, all these fears and dangers. All the place become pure land, then there is whatever the want, whatever they need. One’s own body, wish-granting jewel body, possessions, three time merits, all the happiness, so they receive. So they receive whatever they want, whatever they need, then cause them to actualize the path, cease the defilement, they all become Tara.

Now, you can do like this. Then, when you are actually, when the time of actual dying, that time, maybe do more of taking. If you can do more taking, all their suffering, causes, then try to die with the bodhicitta, cherishing others. Exchanging oneself for others, with the meditation of taking all their suffering, cause of suffering—delusion, karma—their particular death, numberless sentient beings who are…taking on oneself. Then absorbed through the nose, absorbed in the ego, then destroyed the ego. So you keep on doing this. So try to die with that meditation, bodhicitta. But if you prefer to do giving, then also that. Take, give, take, give.

But if you prefer, then you meditate on emptiness, then you take all the suffering, cause, all the death, went inside, completely destroyed the ego, totally become non-existent. Then, even the I that ego cherishes so much, the real I that appears to one, even this become totally non-existent. Then you stay in that state of emptiness. Then try to pass away. That’s one choice.

M: After the death, how soon could they use my body? Should there be an interval?

Rinpoche: To be able to use the body, I don’t know what’s the minimum time. If it’s OK for one hour…it has to be arranged with a doctor. If it’s OK for one hour, keep for one hour.

M: But you think one hour is all right?

Rinpoche: Yes, yes. One hour, Anyway, twenty minutes, half hour, one hour, I mean, if it’s OK longer, it’s OK, but depends what the doctor, minimum time that it’s OK to give the body to others.

But then, the important thing is, that breath stopped, then your body is still soft; not become hard; still soft. Like same as not dead. Breath stopped but everything is like sleeping. So, whatever the name of the time the doctor gives, just before that, in any case, after the breath stopped, don’t touch any part of the body. Just leave it. Then, if need touch, before the doctor does the operation [to remove parts], then pull the center hair [at the crown] and put this pill here [po-wa pill on the crown]. This is special water. This is from Mt. Kailash. This is Vajrayogini water. And anybody who drink this, it is said, go to pure land, and anybody who washes in this or drinks this.

M: So when do you drink it?

Rinpoche: When you think you are dying, that time you drink this. So, make sure the other people who are looking after you, ask them to put. Just, when the breath is about to stop, or during those moments—if it’s possible before the breath stops, that’s very good. This [giving Mother pills], this pill is this one [mani pill to put in water or take daily]; this is the pill, to put here [po-wa pill for crown].

M: This is the mustard seed…?

Rinpoche: No, this is the precious [po-wa] pill to put here [on the crown]. So this one [mani pill], you can take any time, every day two, but when you think that now it seems death is happening, then that time, crush, put in the water, in the bottle here, then either you drink or someone put in mouth with spoon. This is His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s mani pill. Many deity meditators, thousands of Tibetan people, they chant mantra, they blessed.

M: Rinpoche, how often do you do that?

Rinpoche: Oh, these you take two, three a day.

M: Any time? Even now?

Rinpoche: Yes, any time you can take. Morning, before meditation, you take. And think your mind is completely, that time, received all the qualities of Compassionate Buddha [Chenrezig], bodhicitta. Received realization of bodhicitta and omniscient mind, all the qualities of Compassionate Buddha. Especially at the time of death, crush and put in bottle, then to shake and then either somebody put in mouth or you put this way, to bless.

M: Well, thank you Rinpoche, I’ve taken up so much of your time. (Rinpoche: No problem, no problem.) I thought I’ll be ten minutes, so that was wonderful.

Rinpoche: I thought [this was] ten minutes! No, I’m very happy, very happy to do this for Mother. Very important. I’m very happy; this so important, and I’m very happy to help Mother.

So this, Mother study this, or listen again, and so then, if you meditate on these things now, in every day, besides this one, the one with five power, then at the time, when the death comes, very easy, all this naturally.

M: Yes, I’ll be listening every day.

Rinpoche: Sure, that’s very good. And also…before the doctor…in case…[mo]…in case still in meditation state, breath stopped and long time meditation state, then before the time, if the meditation is not over, then incense, can light incense; person who’s round light incense. So incense makes to stop meditation. Light incense, or maybe even put in here [not sure what this means], light incense, then that makes stop meditation, so then the doctor can do things.

So, I think that’s it. Anyway, Mother is very lucky, Mother is very lucky. Met Lama, met His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Lama Yeshe.

M: Where’s my little thing [blessing string]? That’s still from Lama Yeshe, this, is it the red one? I never take it off. You see? It’s so thin already.

Rinpoche: When from? During his last time? During his last visit?

M: I think he gave it early, in Kopan. In 1973 or ’74.

Rinpoche: Actually, I just thought this morning, just come to the home, just stop short time to home, just for cup of tea. I thought this morning. I did not know that Mother is coming here. I didn’t know.

M: You didn’t know that I was coming?

Rinpoche: No, I didn’t. I thought, this morning thought came, “Oh, I go to house, just to chat, just cup of tea.”

M: Yes, I told Yeshe Khadro that I wanted to talk to you about this. Because I didn’t tell anybody about it yet, but I told last night Yeshe Khadro and she said that I should get your advice.

Rinpoche: No, I didn’t know. Thought just came to me this morning that maybe I should go to visit you, just for cup of tea and chat a little bit.

M: Well, thank you so much. I really thought I’ll be ten minutes, I’ll just ask you the question, you’ll say yes or no, so that’s wonderful. It’s maybe the last time?

Rinpoche: No, this is really my great pleasure. Really.

M: So kind. So, I don’t know, will I still see you in this life?

Rinpoche: Well, my time is uncertainty. I may come at any time to Australia.

M: Well, you’ve got so many places that everybody wants you. It’s very difficult.

Rinpoche: Yes, right, yes. But now His Holiness the Dalai Lama is coming; next year.

M: Where is he coming to?

Rinpoche: Melbourne. Then after, again the next year, coming. Yes, two times. So, greater opportunity.

M: We all went to Sydney. That was about four years ago.

Rinpoche: Kalachakra.

M: When His Holiness gave a Kalachakra.

Rinpoche: That’s right, that’s right. Wasn’t that wonderful?

M: Oh, terrific.

Rinpoche: [Laughs.]

M: I mean, just to see him, it’s so, it’s so…I don’t have words.

Rinpoche: Yes, you’re right, Mother. You’re right.

M: And you know, not just Buddhists. Everybody think of him so. Just, you can feel that it’s different person…

Rinpoche: Sure, definitely, definitely…

M: So maybe one day, Tibet will be free. Who knows?

Rinpoche: Yes, it’s taking much time.

[Tape stops.]