Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully
The Profound Practice of Transference of Consciousness
By Geshe Kelsang Gyatso
One of the few certainties in life is death!
If death were the end of our problems, perhaps we need not be so concerned but, as Buddha taught, for as long as we remain ordinary beings, one life is followed by another as surely as day is followed by night.
Despite the inevitability of our death and the complete uncertainty of its time or manner, few of us give it a moment’s thought until it is too late. Given that many future lives lie ahead and that these will be shaped by our actions in this and previous lives, it does not pay to die unprepared.
In this beautiful book, Geshe Kelsang shows how coming to terms with our mortality enriches our life and enables us to meet our passing with dignity, confidence, and joy. He teaches us how to live a pure, liberating lifestyle in which every moment is meaningful.
The book includes special practices to perform as our death approaches and how to pass with confidence to a higher level in the next life. There are also practices to assist others who are dying.
Why We Need to Think About Death
Contemplating our own death will inspire us to use our life wisely by developing the inner refuge of spiritual realizations; otherwise we shall have no ability to protect ourself from the sufferings of death and what lies beyond.
Moreover, when someone close to us is dying, such as a parent or friend, we shall be powerless to help them because we shall not know how; and we shall experience sadness and frustration at our inability to be of genuine help. Preparing for death is one of the kindest and wisest things we can do for both ourself and others.
The fact of the matter is that this world is not our home. We are travellers, passing through. We came from our previous life, and in a few years, or a few days, we shall move on to our next life. We entered this world empty-handed and alone, and we shall leave empty-handed and alone.
Everything we have accumulated in this life, including our very body, will be left behind. All that we can take with us from one life to the next are the imprints of the positive and negative actions we have created. If we ignore death we shall waste our life working for things that we shall only have to leave behind, creating many negative actions in the process and having to travel on to our next life with nothing but a heavy burden of negative karma.
On the other hand, if we base our life on a realistic awareness of our mortality we shall regard our spiritual development as far more important than the attainments of this world, and we shall view our time in this world principally as an opportunity to cultivate positive minds such as patience, love, compassion, and wisdom.
Motivated by these virtuous minds we shall perform many positive actions, thereby creating the cause for future happiness. When the time of our death comes we shall be able to pass away without fear or regret, our mind empowered by the virtuous karma we have created.
The Kadampa Teachers say that there is no use in being afraid when we are on our deathbed and about to die; the time to fear death is while we are young. Most people do the reverse. While they are young they think ‘I shall not die’, and they live recklessly without concern for death; but when death comes they are terrified.
If we develop fear of death right now, we shall use our life meaningfully by engaging in virtuous actions and avoiding non-virtuous actions, thus creating the cause to take a fortunate rebirth. When death actually comes we shall feel like a child returning to the home of its parents, and pass away joyfully, without fear.
We shall become like Longdöl Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist Master who lived to a great old age. When the time of his death came he was overjoyed. People asked him why he was so happy and he replied ‘If I die this morning I shall be born again this evening in a Pure Land. My future life will be far superior to this one.’ Longdöl Lama had prepared carefully for his death and chosen the specific place of his rebirth. If we use our life to engage purely in spiritual practice we can do the same.
© Geshe Kelsang Gyatso & New Kadampa Tradition