Preparing for Death
& The Art of Dying





'Heart Advice on Helping the Dying'

Opportunity to Develop Compassion

At every moment in our lives we need compassion, but what more urgent moment could there be than when we are dying? What more wonderful and consoling gift could you give to dying people than the knowledge that they are being prayed for, and that you are taking on their suffering and purifying their negative karma through your practice for them?

Even if they don’t know that you are practicing for them, you are helping them and in turn they are helping you. They are actively helping you to develop your compassion, and so to purify and heal yourself. For me, all dying people are teachers, giving to all those who help them a chance to transform themselves through developing their compassion.

excerpt from Chapter 11 - 'Heart Advice on Helping the Dying'

The most essential thing in life is to establish an unafraid, heartfelt communication with others, and it is never more important than with a dying person...

Often the dying person feels reserved and insecure, and is not sure of your intentions when you first visit. So don't feel anything extraordinary is supposed to happen, just be natural and relaxed, be yourself. Often dying people do not say what they want or mean, and the people close to them do not know what to say or do. It's hard to find out what they might be trying to say, or even what they might be hiding. Sometimes not even they know. So the first essential thing is to relax any tension in the atmosphere in whatever way comes most easily and naturally.

Once trust and confidence have been established, the atmosphere becomes relaxed and this will allow the dying person to bring up the things he or she really wants to talk about. Encourage the person warmly to feel as free as possible to express thoughts, fears, and emotions about dying and death. This honest and unshrinking baring of emotion is central to any possible transformation - of coming to terms with life or dying a good death - and you must allow the person complete freedom, and give your full permission to say whatever he or she wants.

When the dying person is finally communicating his or her most private feelings, do not interrupt, deny, or diminish what the person is saying. The terminally ill or dying are in the most vulnerable situation of their lives, and you will need all your skill and resources of sensitivity, and warmth, and loving compassion to enable them to reveal themselves. Learn to listen, and learn to receive in silence: an open, calm silence that makes the other person feel accepted. Be as relaxed as you can, be at ease; sit there with your dying friend or relative as if you had nothing more important or enjoyable to do.

A dying person most needs to be shown as unconditional a love as possible, released from all expectations. Don't think you have to be an expert in any way. Be natural, be yourself, be a true friend, and the dying person will be reassured that you are really with them, communicating with them simply and as an equal, as one human being to another.

It is essential that we care enough to try, and that we reassure that person that whatever he or she may be feeling, whatever his or her frustration and anger, it is normal. Dying will bring out many repressed emotions: sadness or numbness or guilt, or even jealousy of those who are still well. Help the person not to repress these emotions when they rise. Be with the person as the waves of pain and grief break; with acceptance, time, and patient understanding, the emotions slowly subside and return the dying person to that ground of serenity, calm, and sanity that is most deeply and truly theirs.

Don't try to be too wise; don't always try to search for something profound to say. You don't have to do or say anything to make things better. Just be there as fully as you can. And if you are feeling a lot of anxiety and fear, and don't know what to do, admit that openly to the dying person and ask his or her help. This honesty will bring you and the dying person closer together, and help in opening up a freer communication. Sometimes the dying know far better than we how they can be helped, and we need to know how to draw on their wisdom and let them give to us what they know.

We invite you to read excerpts fromThe Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche

Bereavement can force you to look at your life directly, compelling you to find a purpose in it where there may not have been one before. When suddenly you find yourself alone after the death of someone you love, it can feel as if you are being given a new life and are being asked: “What will you do with this life? And why do you wish to continue living?”

My heartfelt advice to those in the depths of grief and despair after losing someone they dearly loved is to pray for help and strength and grace. Pray that you will survive and discover the richest possible meaning to the new life you now find yourself in. Be vulnerable and receptive, be courageous and patient. Above all, look into your life to find ways of sharing your love more deeply with others now.


Quotes - Main Points

The birth of a man is the birth of his sorrow. The longer he lives, the more stupid he becomes, because his anxiety to avoid unavoidable death becomes more and more acute. What bitterness! He lives for what is always out of reach! His thirst for survival in the future makes him incapable of living in the present.


Death is a vast mystery, but there are two things we can say about it: It is absolutely certain that we will die, and it is uncertain when or how we will die. The only surety we have, then, is this uncertainty about the hour of our death, which we seize on as the excuse to postpone facing death directly. We are like children who cover their eyes in a game of hide and seek and think that no one can see them.


Be Afraid of Death Now

Karmapa Rinpoche, one of TsongKhapa's teachers when he was young, says:

"We do not bother about death while we are alive. When death comes, we start to scream, tearing at our chests with unbearable fear. Be afraid now of death - now, when there is something we can do about it. Then, when death comes, we will be able to pass away in peace and with great joy."



Theun Mares - Toltec Teachings



"In the face of death we all inhabit a city without walls, because everything is full of causes that produce death and because such is the constitution of human nature.......Therefore, unless we are really foolish, we should see as absurd and incredible not the fact that we die, but that we manage to last a certain time, and we should see as very prodigious the fact that we last until old age."

Fourth Book on Death, by Philodemus



We cannot hope to die peacefully if our lives have been full of violence, or if our minds have mostly been agitated by emotions like anger, attachment, or fear. So if we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well: Hoping for a peaceful death, we must cultivate peace in our mind, and in our way of life.




Preparing for Death

Life, as Buddha told us, is as brief as a lightning flash;

yet, as Wordsworth said:

“The world is too much with us: Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”

It is that laying waste of our powers—that betrayal of our essence, that abandonment of the miraculous chance that this life, the natural bardo, gives us of knowing and embodying our enlightened nature—that is perhaps the most heartbreaking thing about human life. What the masters are essentially telling us is to stop fooling ourselves:

What will we have learned, if at the moment of death we do not know who we really are?

Sogyal Rinpoche

Loss and bereavement can remind you sharply of what can happen when in life you do not show your love and appreciation, or ask for forgiveness, and so make you far more sensitive to your loved ones.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said: ‘What I try to teach people is to live in such a way that you say those things while the other person can still hear it.” And Raymond Moody, after his life’s work in near-death research, wrote: “I have begun to realize how near to death we all are in our daily lives. More than ever now I am very careful to let each person I love know how I feel.”

Whatever we have done with our lives makes us what we are when we die. And everything, absolutely everything, counts.


With mind far off, not thinking of death’s coming,
Performing these meaningless activities,
Returning empty-handed now would be complete confusion;
The need is recognition, the spiritual teachings,
So why not practice the path of wisdom at this very moment?
From the mouths of the saints come these words:
If you do not keep your master’s teaching in your heart
Will you not become your own deceiver?




"Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up."

Matthew 24


Looking into death needn’t be frightening or morbid. Why not reflect on death when you are really inspired, relaxed, and comfortable, lying in bed, or on vacation, or listening to music that particularly delights you? Why not reflect on it when you are happy, in good health, confident, and full of well-being? Don’t you notice that there are particular moments when you are naturally inspired to introspection? Work with them gently, for these are the moments when you can go through a powerful experience, and your whole worldview can change quickly. These are the moments when former beliefs crumble on their own, and you can find yourself being transformed.


There are those who look on death with a naive, thoughtless cheerfulness, thinking that for some unknown reason death will work out all right for them, and that it is nothing to worry about. When I think of them, I am reminded of what one Tibetan master says: “People open make the mistake of being frivolous about death and think, ‘Oh well, death happens to everybody. It’s not a big deal, it’s natural. I’ll be fine.’” That’s a nice theory until one is dying.

Glimpse of the Day, Sogyal Rinpoche


In horror of death, I took to the mountains—
Again and again I meditated on the uncertainty of the hour of death,
Capturing the fortress of the deathless unending nature of mind.
Now all fear of death is over and done.


The Way of the Samurai - Preparing for death in any moment

From Hagakure, The Way of the Samurai, by Yamamoto, translated by William Scott

The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation in inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried by surging waves, thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by great earthquake, falling from thousand foot cliffs, dying from disease, or commiting seppuku at the death of one's master. And everyday without fail one should condifer himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.


Instead of feeling helpless the soldier took his chances, slim as they were, and entered a hell-hole. Through his actions the soldier acknowledged death but did not surrender to it. This is what is meant by a warrior acknowledges without acknowledging, and ignores without ignoring.


Theun Mares - Toltec Teachings





One of the chief reasons we have so much anguish and difficulty in facing death is that we ignore the truth of impermanence.

In our minds, changes always equal loss and suffering. And if they come, we try to anesthetize ourselves as far as possible. We assume, stubbornly and unquestioningly, that permanence provides security and impermanence does not. But in fact impermanence is like some of the people we meet in life-difficult and disturbing at first, but on deeper acquaintance far friendlier and less unnerving than we could have imagined.

Planning for the future is like going fishing in a dry gulch;
Nothing ever works out as you wanted, so give up all your schemes and ambitions.
If you have got to think about something—
Make it the uncertainty of the hour of your death.



A direct reflection on what death means and the many facets of the truth of impermanence can enable us to make rich use of this life while we still have time, and ensure that when we die it will be without remorse or self-recrimination at having wasted our lives.

As Tibet’s famous poet-saint, Milarepa, said: “My religion is to live—and die—without regret.”


Learning from Dying


So many veils and illusions separate us from the stark knowledge that we are dying. When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.

Sir Thomas More, I heard, wrote these words just before his beheading:

“We are all in the same cart, going to execution; how can I hate anyone or wish anyone harm?”

To feel the full force of your mortality, and to open your heart entirely to it, is to allow to grow in you that all-encompassing, fearless compassion that fuels the lives of all those who wish truly to be of help to others.

Glimpse of the Day, Sogyal Rinpoche



I often think of the great masters and imagine beings who have their depth of realization as magnificent mountain eagles, who soar above both life and death and see them for what they are, in all their mysterious, intricate interrelation.

To see through the eyes of the mountain eagle, the view of realization, is to look down on a landscape in which the boundaries that we imagined existed between life and death shade into each other and dissolve. The physicist David Bohm has described reality as being “unbroken wholeness in flowing movement.”

What is seen by the masters, then, seen directly and with total understanding, is that flowing movement and that unbroken wholeness. What we, in our ignorance, call “life” and what we, in our ignorance, call “death” are merely different aspects of that wholeness and that movement.

Sogyal Rinpoche

Insights & Observations




Moment of Death
- excerpts by Sogyal Rinpoche Author of Tibetan Book of Living & Dying


At the moment of death, there are two things that count: whatever we have done in our lives, and what state of mind we are in at that very moment. Even if we have accumulated a lot of negative karma, if we are able to make a real change of heart at the moment of death, it can decisively influence our future, and transform our karma, for the moment of death is an exceptionally powerful opportunity to purify karma.



When we die we leave everything behind, especially this body we have cherished so much and relied upon so blindly and tried so hard to keep alive. But our minds are no more dependable than our bodies. Just look at your mind for a few minutes.

You will see that it is like a flea, constantly hopping to and fro. You will see that thoughts arise without any reason, without any connection. Swept along by the chaos of every moment, we are the victims of the fickleness of our minds. If this is the only state of consciousness we are familiar with, then to rely on our minds at the moment of death is an absurd gamble.


Think of the moment of death as a strange border zone of the mind, a no-man’s land in which, on one hand, if we do not understand the illusory nature of our body, we might suffer vast emotional trauma as we lose it, and on the other we are presented with the possibility of limitless freedom, a freedom that springs precisely from the absence of that very same body.

When we are at last freed from the body that has defined and dominated our understanding of ourselves for so long, the karmic vision of one life is completely exhausted, but any karma that might be created in the future has not yet begun to crystallize.

So what happens in death is that there is a “gap,” or space, that is fertile with vast possibility; it is a moment of tremendous, pregnant power where the only thing that matters, or could matter, is how exactly the mind is. Stripped of a physical body, the mind stands naked, revealed startlingly for what it has always been: the architect of our reality.



Ground Luminosity, or Clear Light

In death all the components of the body and mind are stripped away and disintegrate. As the body dies, the senses and subtle elements dissolve, and this is followed by the death of the ordinary aspect of the mind, with all its negative emotions of anger, desire, and ignorance. Finally nothing remains to obscure our true nature, as everything that in life has clouded the enlightened mind has fallen away. And what is revealed is the primordial ground of our absolute nature, which is like a pure and cloudless sky.

This is called the dawning of the Ground Luminosity, or Clear Light, where consciousness itself dissolves into the all-encompassing space of truth. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says of this moment:

The nature of everything is open, empty and naked like the sky.
Luminous emptiness, without center or circumference; the pure, naked Rigpa dawns.


The moment of death is a tremendous opportunity, if we understand clearly what is happening and have prepared well for it in life. For at the actual moment of death, the thinking ego-mind dies into the essence, and in this truth, enlightenment takes place. If we familiarize ourselves with the true nature of mind through practice while we are alive, we become more prepared for when it reveals itself spontaneously at the moment of death. Recognition then follows as naturally as a child running into its mother’s lap. Remaining in that state, we are liberated.



I remember how people would often come to see my master Jamyang Khyentse simply to ask for his guidance for the moment of death. He was so loved and revered throughout Tibet, especially in the eastern province of Kham, that some would travel for months on end to meet him and get his blessing just once before they died. All my masters would give this as their advice, for this is the essence of what is needed as you come to die:

“Be free of attachment and aversion. Keep your mind pure. And unite your mind with Buddha.”



If, at the moment of death, you can unite your mind confidently with the wisdom mind of the master and die in that peace, then all, I promise and assure you, will be well.

Our task in life is to practice this merging with the wisdom mind of the master again and again, so that it becomes so natural that every activity—sitting, walking, eating, drinking, sleeping, dreaming and waking—starts to be increasingly permeated by the master’s living presence. Slowly, over years of focused devotion, you begin to know and realize all appearances to be the display of the wisdom of the master. All the situations of life, even those that once seemed tragic, meaningless, or terrifying, reveal themselves more and more transparently to be the direct teaching and blessing of the master, and the inner teacher.




The Four Bardos

From the Tibetan Buddhist point of view, we can divide our entire existence into four continuously interlinked realities:

1. life; 2. dying and death; 3. after death; and 4. rebirth.

These are known as the four bardos:

1. the natural bardo of this life,
2. the painful bardo of dying,
3. the luminous bardo of dharmata, and
4. the karmic bardo of becoming.

The bardos are particularly powerful opportunities for liberation because there are, the teachings show us, certain moments that are much more powerful than others and much more charged with potential, when whatever you do has a crucial and far-reaching effect.

I think of a bardo as being like a moment when you step toward the edge of a precipice; such a moment, for example, is when a master introduces a disciple to the essential, original, and innermost nature of his or her mind. The greatest and most charged of these moments, however, is the moment of death.



Above Excerpts by Sogyal Rinpoche - Author of Tibetan Book of Living & Dying



Now when the bardo of this life is dawning upon me,
I will abandon laziness for which life has no time,
Enter, undistracted, the path of listening and hearing, reflection and contemplation, and meditation,
Making perceptions and mind the path, and realize the “three kayas”: the enlightened mind;
Now that l have once attained a human body,
There is no time on the path for the mind to wander.




What happens when you die?

When you die, your energy body, which is more than the sum of your body cells, will move away from the body and also from the mind (thoughts, "Time"). So if that happens naturally, what some religions call reincarnation and let's suppose there is re- incarnation, and the incarnation is not of your body/mind but of this other state. That means that this other state must be here with you around you or above you during this life.

So what's the fuss to focus on the body and the mind if that other state is what is carried into the next life. Why not have the connection to it now because you will be much more intelligent and deal with problems more easily than if you only rely on something which is only for a period of say 80 years.

It's a little like, say you come to a river and you want to cross this river. Say this river is your life now - 70 years. Now you go in a boat and as you move on the other side you are starting to think what am I going to do with the boat. When I arrive there I don't want to leave the boat. Then you can only go back and forth on the river if you don't want to leave it. The boat is beautiful but once you have reached the other side forget the boat. So if you do that and you are in the middle of the river, you want to take very good care of the boat but you are conscious, you are aware and observing that you are more than the boat. It's as simple as that.

Manuel Schoch


In the course of the Socratic dialectic of the Phaedo, the participants come to a consensus on the fact that "death is nothing more or less than this, the separate condition of the body by itself when it is released from the soul, and the separate condition by itself of the soul when it is released from the body" (Plato: The Last Days of Socrates, Hugh Trendennick trans. (Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 108). Socrates goes on to recommend this separation, stating "So long as we keep to the body...our soul is contaminated with this imperfection" (p. 111). Hence, "true philosophers make dying their profession" (p. 113). (full article)


Near Death Experience (NDE)


Those who have been through the near-death experience have reported a startling range of aftereffects and changes. One woman said:

The things that I felt slowly were a very heightened sense of love, the ability to communicate love, the ability to find joy and pleasures in the smallest and most insignificant things about me. . . . I developed a great compassion for people that were ill and facing death and I wanted so much to let them know, to somehow make them aware that the dying process was nothing more than an extension of one’s life.

Sogyal Rinpoche

Some common Near Death Experiences


'The "Tunnel experience" can also be said to be the soul going up through the main power current of the body along the spine and leaving at the bright light of the crown chakra'

Life Review

'According to hundreds of near-death experiences, people report seeing their life zip before their eyes. They see with great clarity every significant event of the life they are on the brink of leaving. In seemingly the space of a few Earth Seconds or minutes, they review decades of meaningful moments of their life.

This instant replay communicates one thing - how well the person has learned to love and acquire knowledge.'

above extracts from, The Tenth Insight, Holding the Vision'', Experiential guide by J. Redfield and Carol Adrienne.

Is there life after death?


As a scientist, do you really believe there is life after death?

The contemporary evidence is now very strong that some aspect of our personality or memory survives. Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia has collected hundreds of case reports showing that some young children have verifiable memories of past lives, including the ability to identify wives, sweethearts, and even murderers from a previous life. At this time, a reasonable person could hold the opinion that some part of our mind-stuff does endure after the death of the body, but, nonetheless, we wouldn’t recommend putting off any present plans to be accomplished in your next lifetime.

Research body will shed more light on near death experiences
Feb 2001

In the Southampton study 63 heart attack survivors were interviewed within a week of their cardiac arrest and asked if they remembered anything during their period of unconsciousness. Seven of the survivors reported some NDEs features and four patients (six per cent) reached the strict Greyson criteria used to diagnose NDEs. They recalled feelings of peace and joy, time speeded up, heightened senses, lost awareness of body, seeing a bright light, entering another world, encountering a mystical being or deceased relative and coming to a point of no return. This raises the question of how such lucid thought processes can occur when the brain is dead. Dr Parnia, a University clinical research fellow and registrar, said: "The main significance of the NDE lies in the understanding of the relationship between mind and brain which has remained a topic of debate in contemporary philosophy, psychology and neuroscience. "Very little is known scientifically about the subjective experience of dying, the nature of the human mind and its outcome during 'clinical death'. This is becoming a very important issue in medicine. "Our findings need to be investigated with a much larger study. But if the results are replicated it would imply that the mind may continue to exist after the death of the body, or an afterlife."




'The Afterlife is home. It's where we come from and where we return to. According to ancient wisdom, as well as accounts of near-death experiences and regression studies, the Afterlife is the "place" or dimension in which our individual consciousness continues to exist between lives on earth....It exists not "up" in the celestial skies but on the planet invisible to our five senses....What the Afterlife is depends on who you are, what you think about and what you expect to be.'

In the beginning of your spiritual sojourn, you are still entrenched in your fixations of the life you just left. With help from your soul group, and a willingness to "wake up," you then progress to higher levels and take part in the vast amount of learning that is going on in the Afterlife.'

Sogyal Rinpoche


Eternal Life


'What could be more life-changing than knowing-not just believing - that our consciousness survives in tact after our physical death? like a butterfly, in dying we emerge from the cocoon of the body with wings and iridescent beauty-if we have not made serious errors here that send us into a long and painful personal recapitulation of the suffering we have caused others.'

'Death as we know it is not a great void. In this new awareness, life and death are seen as two states of an eternal mysterious process.'

Sogyal Rinpoche



Some thoughts:

Death has been widely misunderstood. Death is a transition from one state of consciousness to another.

Dying is similar to having the phone line cut off in the middle a conversation with a friend. What happens to the other person? Do they disintegrate? No, of course not they are - just temporarily cut off!

Your loved ones are still here but in a different state!

More Perspectives:

'Isolation is death'

When you cease to make a contribution you begin to die.
Eleanor Roosevelt



Spiritual Care Programme UK
The UK Spiritual Care Team offers seminars on such themes as:
Being Present with Death: a day for caregivers to explore the value of a spiritual perspective and spiritual practice
Who Cares for the Carers: finding spiritual resources within ourselves
Opening the Heart to Loss and Grief: a spiritual approach to bereavement
On invitation, we also run training days and give talks in a variety of settings including hospitals, hospices, colleges, and conferences.

Christine McAnaney
330 Caledonian Road
London N1 1BB
Tel: +44 (0)207 609 7010
Fax: +44 (0)207 609 6068



recommended reading & tapes

‘The living don’t perceive the purpose of death. But the dying eventually do — only then it is too late for them to return and tell us what it is. I tell you the purpose of death and convey the art of dying.’

Few dare speak of death, let alone make conscious preparation for it. Barry Long puts the taboo aside in an uplifting account of what happens when we die. He has counsel for the bereaved, compassionate words for those actually dying, and advice about explaining death to children.

This tape prepares all of us for death — by telling us the truth of it. The fear of death is a barrier that must be breached to realise the truth of life.

'In the game of living, the rule is: everyone dies. You win by finding death before it finds you. The prize is life.’
- More audio & books by Barry Long

***** New 10th Year Anniversary Edition of Bestseller, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying ~Sogyal Rinpoche, Rider, Paperback - 9 May, 2002, read more

Good Life, Good Death -- Rinpoche Nawang Gehlek (Hardcover - Michael Joseph - 28 March, 2002)
Our Price: £10.39 read more -

On Life After Death by ~Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Usually dispatched within 24 hours
Celestial Arts, Paperback - 1 April, 1992

Facing Death & Finding Hope, Christine Longaker

Freedom from Fear of Death by Carl Simonton Hay House Audio Books Audio Cassette Read more... (UK / US)

Tibetan book of the Dead, Evan Wentz

Egyptian book of the Dead

Jung on Death and Immortality Jenny Yates (UK / US)

Living on Light by Jasmuheen (UK / US)

In Resonance by Jasmuheen (UK / US)

Breaking the Death Habit : The Story of Everlasting Life by Leonard Orr, Kathy Glass, Bob Frissell (Preface) (UK / US)

Why Die? : A Beginner's Guide to Living Forever by Herb Bowie (UK / US)

The Other Side of Death : Scientifically Examined and Carefully Described by C.W. Leadbeater (UK / US)

The Heart of the Mind: How to Experience God Without Belief, a book by Russell Targ & Jane Katra, Ph.D.

Miracles of Mind: Exploring Nonlocal Consciousness and Spiritual Healing, a book by Russell Targ & Jane Katra, Ph.D.

Remote Viewing and your Nonlocal Mind, a videotape by physicist Russell Targ


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