Dharma Friends recommended Books & DVDs

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For years Lama Zopa Rinpoche has envisioned a practical book to inform students of how to help loved ones have a beneficial death. How to Enjoy Death has been compiled from years of Rinpoche’s teachings and has been lovingly edited by Venerable Robina Courtin. Here Lama Zopa Rinpoche provides detailed advice on how best to prepare ourselves to face the inevitable end of our own and our loved one’s lives with courage, grace, and a mind free of fear.

With great care, Rinpoche explains what to do in the months, weeks, and days that precede death, as well as how to handle the moment itself and the mantras, prayers, and meditations that must follow the death of a loved one. All of the practices one needs to be prepared to face death are handily included between the covers of this thoroughly pragmatic volume, making this an essential reference for Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, caregivers, hospice workers, or chaplains.

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"Everyone dies, but no one is dead," goes the Tibetan saying. It is with these words that Advice on Dyingtakes flight. Using a seventeenth-century poem written by a prominent scholar-practitioner, His Holiness the Dalai Lama draws from a wide range of traditions and beliefs to explore the stages we all go through when we die, which are the very same stages we experience in life when we go to sleep, faint, or reach orgasm (Shakespeare's "little death").

The stages are described so vividly that we can imagine the process of traveling deeper into the mind, on the ultimate journey of transformation. In this way, His Holiness shows us how to prepare for that time and, in doing so, how to enrich our time on earth, die without fear or upset, and influence the stage between this life and the next so that we may gain the best possible incarnation. As always, the ultimate goal is to advance along the path to enlightenment. Advice on Dying is an essential tool for attaining that eternal bliss.

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“A powerful guidebook and a source of comfort at life’s most crucial moment.”—Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, author of Boundless Healing

“We all have temporary and ultimate fears, those of this life and those of the future-but among all of our fears, our greatest fear is the fear of death. Dying with Confidence gives us the methods to grasp the stronghold beyond death. Thank you, Anyen Rinpoche, for this incredibly kind book.”—Garchen Rinpoche

“Drawing from his vast knowledge of Buddhist teachings, Tibetan master Anyen Rinpoche offers us a wise and luminous guide to the interplay between life and death, to the nature of consciousness, and to the transformation of fear into faith.”—Tsoknyi Rinpoche, author of Carefree Dignity and Fearless Simplicity

“This may be the most important contemporary Dharma book now available.”—Deborah Schoeberlein, author of Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness

Mandala Editors Choice

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We all face death, but how many of us are actually ready for it? Whether our own death or that of a loved one comes first, how prepared are we, spiritually or practically? In Preparing to Die, Andrew Holecek presents a wide array of resources to help the reader address this unfinished business.

Preparing to Die is for anyone interested in learning how to prepare for death from a Buddhist perspective, both spiritually and practically. It is also for those who want to learn how to help someone else who is dying, both during the time of illness and death as well as after death.

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The Tibetan Book of the Dead is one of the best-known Tibetan Buddhist texts. It is also one of the most difficult texts for Westerners to understand. In Living, Dreaming, Dying, Rob Nairn presents the first interpretation of this classic text using a modern Western perspective, avoiding arcane religious terminology, keeping his explanations grounded in everyday language. Nairn explores the concepts used in this highly revered work and brings out their meaning and significance for our daily life. He shows readers how the Tibetan Book of the Dead can help us understand life and self as well as the dying process. 

Living, Dreaming, Dying helps readers to "live deliberately"—and confront death deliberately. One thing that prevents us from doing that, according to Nairn, is our tendency to react fearfully whenever change occurs. But if we confront our fear of change and the unknown, we can learn to flow gracefully with the unfolding circumstances of life rather than be at their mercy. 

Of course, change occurs throughout our life, but a period of transition also occurs as we pass from the waking state into sleep, and likewise as we pass into death. Therefore the author's teachings apply equally to living as well as to dreaming and dying. 

 

Helping the Dead - An excerpt from Living, Dreaming, Dying

 

 

When we die, our stream of consciousness floats free and roams the death bardos, undergoing very powerful experiences. In this state a huge potential for liberation is present, because if the person's bardo mind were to focus on its spiritual reality, the realisation and experience of that reality would be beyond anything we could imagine from our knowledge of spiritual practice here". The mind is nine times stronger and the environment in which it moves is less solid than this one. Thus, if it thinks of a place, it will be there. If it is able to focus on spiritual truth it will immediately be drawn into it, experience it and be liberated by it.

In the death bardos our enlightened reality appears to us over and over again, and by now we know the key. If the bardo mind can focus sufficiently to recognise the experience for what it is, instead of fleeing in fear or falling into confusion, the result will be immediate enlightenment.

The problem is that although the mind is much stronger, it is also unstable, in the sense that the rational frameworks that held it in place here have gone. Think of dream. An apparently simple thing like recognising the dream as a dream while we are in it is almost impossible for most of us.

Thus the potential for becoming enlightened, which is so tantalisingly close all the time we are there, is constantly missed because we simply cannot get it together to focus and recognise.

All the practices to help the dead are based on a knowledge of the above, with the understanding that although the dead have lost the power to communicate with us, we have by no means lost the power to communicate with them. For one thing, they can hear us. The subtitle to The Tibetan Book of the Dead is Liberation in the Bardo through Hearing. Traditionally lamas and monks spend the 49 days reading to the dead person. They sometimes do so beside the body, or call the person by name. So no matter where the mind is, it will hear the call and come. Then, day after day the lama reads, saying to the person words to the effect, 'Now you are dead, you have left your body and entered the bardo of death. You cannot return; do not attempt to go back; go forward. Today such and such will happen. There will be appearances, vivid lights, sounds. Do not fear. They cannot harm you. They are projections of your mind. See them for what they are and go towards the bright light. Merge with the bright light; it is your enlightened mind.'

In this way the dead are constantly encouraged and helped to come into focus. Apparently we don't even have to speak to them. Thinking of them is like calling their name, so they will be drawn to us. This is the first aspect of these death practices; making direct contact with the person and offering guidance, instruction and reassurance.

The other aspect is the generation of beneficial spiritual forces to help them. This can be done in many ways and at many levels. To obtain full details you would need to contact your nearest Tibetan Buddhist centre, but here are a few examples.

 

Mantra

 

Mantras are words of power that focus very strong spiritual forces. If loving and kind thoughts can have such a tangible effect, imagine how much more effective mantras can be, especially when accompanied by a visualisation.

 

Yantras

 

A yantra is a picture, usually geometric, that brings into focus and magnifies spiritual forces. If we contact a yantra through one of our senses, including touch, the blessing is transmitted to our stream of consciousness. There is a set of yantras that can be placed within and upon a coffin prior to burial or cremation. It is said they will help the consciousness of the deceased to remember to focus. They create a beneficial atmosphere to ward off fear and confusion, and connect the mind to its enlightened reality.

 

Making offerings

 

This falls into two categories:


1) Food offerings to the deceased.
2) Offerings on behalf of the deceased

 

Hungry Shades Outside The Walls

Outside the walls they stand, and at crossroads. At door posts they stand, returning to their old homes. But when a meal with plentiful food and drink is served, no one remembers them:
Such is the karma of living beings.

Thus those who feel sympathy for their dead relatives give timely donations of proper food and drink - exquisite, clean thinking: 'May this be for our relatives. May they be happy!'

For in their realm there's no farming, no herding of cattle, no commerce, no trading with money.
They live on what is given here, hungry shades whose time here is done.

'He gave to me, she acted on my behalf, they were my relatives, companions, and friends': Offerings should be given for the dead when one reflects thus on things done in the past. For no weeping, no sorrowing no other lamentation benefits the dead.
But when this offering is given, well-placed in the Sangha, it works for their long-term benefit and they profit immediately.

In this way the proper duty to relatives has been shown, great honour has been done to the dead.

Source: The KHUDDAKAPATHA from the TIROKUDDA KANDA SUTTA

(From one of the Buddha's teachings)

 

Food Offerings

 

It seems that some people who have died think they still need food and drink even though they no longer have a body to support. This belief causes them suffering because they search for sustenance without finding it, and experience the psychological equivalent of hunger and starvation without being able to find relief. We can help them.

When you have a meal, think of the person and put a small portion of food aside on a plate for them. When doing so, say the mantra om mani peme hung three or seven times, and think, 'This is for you.' After the meal, put the food outside where people don't walk, in a place where birds or wild animals will be able to eat it. This will give relief.

A more complicated procedure involves a bit of chanting. In this instance you burn the food and offer the smoke or smell of burnt food. Evidently the smell of burnt food offered in this way satisfies the hunger of those who have died. Not only humans, but a wide range of suffering beings. This is normally done at monasteries and is called 'tsur' in Tibetan.

 

Offerings on Behalf of the Deceased

 

Helping people who are poor, hungry or suffering generates good karma.

What the lamas suggest is that we do beneficial acts on behalf of a deceased person, thinking, 'This is for you; I dedicate the benefit of what I am doing to your welfare' or words to that effect. The words aren't important. What matters is to undertake compassionate activity with the pure intention of helping the person. Best of all, distribute some of their wealth or possessions with this in mind. Practising generosity, even on behalf of others, is a very powerful spiritual help for them.

In Buddhist countries it is common for relatives of dead people to make offerings to monasteries or to endow temples with this motivation. It is said that one way of generating spiritual energy, not only on behalf of people who have died, but for everyone, is to make offerings to spiritual teachers or to support spiritual institutions. The teachers are not enriched by these offerings; in the Tibetan tradition they do not earn 'salaries'. The offerings contribute to the professional running and upkeep of the centres, to the support of visiting teachers, the printing of dharma texts and other literature.

So this is something we can all do; it's practical and in harmony with our Western philanthropical practices. Many of the West's greatest institutions - universities, hospitals, schools, churches were founded and are supported by the endowments and bequests of ordinary folk, as well as industrial billionaires. In the East there is also an extra spiritual dimension to this that can help the dead; that ordained Buddhists keep their vows of poverty, teachers are not paid, and that the intention of the giver, not the size of the gift, is what counts. Dana (an offering to a teacher or institution) benefits the giver as well as the recipient.

I find this area of teaching very heartening and practical, because it is so empowering. Instead of collapsing in grief and self-pity when someone close and dear dies, we know that death is not the end of the story. It is the opening of a new chapter where we can do things that will help the person as never before. We can do more for their true, long-term spiritual welfare than may have been possible in life. If we love someone, what more could we ask?

 

Excerpt from: 'Living, Dreaming, Dying' by Rob Nairn

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Since its beginning, Buddhism has been intimately concerned with confronting and understanding death and dying. Indeed, the tradition emphasizes turning toward the realities of sickness, old age, and death - and using those very experiences to develop wisdom and liberating compassion. In recent decades, Buddhist chaplains and caregivers all over the world have been drawing on this tradition to contribute greatly to the development of modern palliative and hospice care in the secular world at large. Specifically Buddhist hospice programs have been further developing and applying traditional Buddhist practices of preparing for death, attending the dying, and comforting the bereaved.

Buddhist Care for the Dying and Bereaved contains comprehensive overviews of the best of such initiatives, drawn from diverse Buddhist traditions, and written by practitioners who embody the best of contemporary Buddhist hospice care programs practiced all over the world today.

Contributors include Carl B. Becker, Moichiro Hayashi, Yozo Taniyama, Mari Sengoku, Phaisan Visalo, Beth Kanji Goldring, Caroline Prasada Brazier, Joan Jiko Halifax, and Julie Chijo Hanada.

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Death comes to all living beings and at that crucial time of transition from one life to the next, we may not know how to best help our loved ones or ourselves.

This book contains advice from Tibetan Buddhist master Lama Zopa Rinpoche on preparing for death and assisting others through this
time, and provides a plethora of heart practices to do at the time of death, including the Medicine Buddha puja and the traditional eight prayers done in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries. This book also contains the most powerful mantras to say for those who are dying or who have died, teachings on their precise benefits, as well as a sheet of mantras to place upon the body of one who has died. It contains precious sutra texts to benefit the minds of those who are dying, to relieve pain, and to purify negative karma.

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(DVD)

FILM / DOCUMENTARY – “A Buddhist’s Death – The Wisdom of Tibetan Death Practice”

Directed by: Barrie McLean, narrated by Leonard Cohen

Death is real, it comes without warning and it cannot be escaped. An ancient source of strength and guidance, The Tibetan Book of the Dead remains an essential teaching in the Buddhist cultures of the Himalayas. Narrated by Leonard Cohen, this enlightening two-part series explores the sacred text and boldly visualizes the afterlife according to its profound wisdom.

Part 1: (47 min) A Way of Life reveals the history of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and examines its traditional use in northern India, as well as its acceptance in Western hospices. Shot over a four-month period, the film contains footage of the rites and liturgies for a deceased Ladakhi elder and includes an interview with the Dalai Lama, who shares his views on the book's meaning and importance.

 

Part 2: (42 min) The Great Liberation follows an old lama and his novice monk as they guide a Himalayan villager into the afterlife using readings from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The soul's 49-day journey towards rebirth is envisioned through actual photography of rarely seen Buddhist rituals, interwoven with groundbreaking animation by internationally acclaimed filmmaker Ishu Patel.

Geshe Sherab Answers some Questions at the Death in Tibet Film Festival

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  • Can the Tibetan Buddhist Astrological calendar be consulted and used to determine the ideal cremation date for sangha members that pass? If so, how/who would we contact for that?

 

I think this will be difficult because there are not many Tibetan Buddhist Astrologer who can do this kind of astrology. Also, it can be very complicated if all the members do not follow the astrology. 

 

  • How is negative karma accumulated when one takes initiations or vows that are most important for us to be aware of and try to avoid?

 

We accumulate negative if we do not keep our vows, commitments, and devotion towards the teacher after having taken initiations. If we can keep all of that then no negative karma but positive.

 

  • What ways should we practice the Five Powers to be most effective?

 

Reading and discussing Lama Zopa’s guidance on the Five Powers can be helpful.

 

  • How is the Amitabha Powa done properly for a dying or dead person? Who should do it and when?

 

I personally do not think that a Lama can easily do Powa for anyone and guide them to the pureland. My skeptical mind says, if that is the case, Buddha would have already done it for all of us. But if students still want to do than we can send a request to Lama Zopa Rinpoche to do from a distance.


 

If you would like to re-watch the films, they are available here:

https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-tibetan-book-of-the-dead https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGS9Ol9Cndg

You can also download them using Vidpaw, a free downloading program: https://www.vidpaw.com

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In our busy modern lives, we may not give much thought to death. We fear that thinking about death will take the joy out of living. But in reality, when we actively think about death and prepare for it, we find peace, fulfillment, and happiness in our current lives and our fear of death disappears. The Tibetan Buddhist master Lama Zopa Rinpoche has given profound and accessible teachings on death and dying for many years. Recently, he asked that these teachings be made available so that all students beginner 

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