Nonduality Salon (/ \)
THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING
Reflection and Change
Impermanence has already revealed to us many truths, but it has a final treasure still in its keeping, one that lies largely hidden from us, unsuspected and unrecognized, yet most intimately our own.
The Western poet Rainer Maria Rilke has said that our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasure. The fear that impermanence awakens in us, that nothing is real and nothing lasts, is, we come to discover, our greatest friend because it drives us to ask: If everything dies and changes, then what is really true? Is there something behind the appearances, something boundless and infinitely spacious, something in which the dance of change and impermanence takes place? Is there something in fact we can depend on, that does survive what we call death?
Allowing these questions to occupy us urgently, and reflecting on them, we slowly find ourselves making a profound shift in the way we view everything. With continued contemplation and practice in letting go, we come to uncover in ourselves "something" we cannot name or describe or conceptualize, "something" that we begin to realize lies behind all the changes and deaths of the world. The narrow desires and distractions to which our obsessive grasping onto permanence has condemned us begin to dissolve and fall away.
As this happens we catch repeated and glowing glimpses of the vast implications behind the truth of impermanence. It is as if all our lives we have been flying in an airplane through dark clouds and turbulence, when suddenly the plane soars above these into the clear, boundless sky. Inspired and exhilarated by this emergence into a new dimension of freedom, we come to uncover a depth of peace, joy, and confidence in ourselves that fills us with wonder, and breeds in us gradually a certainty that there is in us "something" that nothing destroys, that nothing alters, and that cannot die. Milarepa wrote:
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.
excerpt from Chapter 5,
Bringing the Mind Home
The purpose of meditation is to awaken in us the sky-like nature of mind, and to introduce us to that which we really are, our unchanging pure awareness, which underlies the whole of life and death
In the stillness and silence of meditation, we glimpse and return to that deep inner nature that we have so long ago lost sight of amid the busyness and distraction of our minds. Isn't it extraordinary that our minds cannot stay still for longer than a few moments without grasping after distraction; they are so restless and preoccupied that sometimes I think that living in a city in the modern world, we are already like the tormented beings in the intermediate state after death, where the consciousness is said to be agonizingly restless. According to some authorities, up to 13 percent of the people in the United States suffer from some kind of mental disorder. What does that say about the way that we live?
We are fragmented into so many different aspects. We don't know who we really are, or what aspects of ourselves we should identify with or believe in. So many contradictory voices, dictates, and feelings fight for control over our inner lives that we find ourselves scattered everywhere, in all directions, leaving nobody at home.
Meditation, then, is bringing the mind home.
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.
Compassion: The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel
We all feel and know something of the benefits of compassion. But the particular strength of the Buddhist teaching is that it shows you clearly a "logic" of compassion. Once you have grasped it, this logic makes your practice of compassion at once more urgent and all-embracing, and more stable and grounded, because it is based on the clarity of a reasoning whose truth becomes ever more apparent as you pursue and test it.
We may say, and even half-believe, that compassion is marvelous, but in practice our actions are deeply uncompassionate and bring us and others mostly frustration and distress, and not the happiness we are all seeking.
Isn't it absurd, then, that we all long for happiness, yet nearly all our actions and feelings lead us directly away from that happiness? Could there be any greater sign that our whole view of what real happiness is, and of how to attain it, is radically flawed?
To realize what I call the wisdom of compassion is to see with complete clarity its benefits, as well as the damage that its opposite has done to us. We need to make a very clear distinction between what is in our ego's self-interest and what is in our ultimate interest; it is from mistaking one for the other that all our suffering comes.
We are grateful to Harper San Francisco for permission
to use excerpts from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying