Dying with Confidence - Preface
My heartfelt request for Anyen Rinpoche to prepare this guide for dying came as a result of my own mother's death. As she lay dying over a period of seven months, I was drawn to Buddhist texts for advice on how to help her die skillfully.
The wish for her to be free of all her pain and suffering stirred deep in my heart. She'd had a stroke, and subsequently had shed those personality traits that had driven me crazy as a child; she was now transformed into a woman who radiated love at everyone she saw no matter who they were. I wondered if I could die too with such unconditional love.
My mother's death gave me the most precious gift of bringing me to Buddhism as well as helping me to recognize the immense opportunity we all have to share love and compassion, both in this life and at the time of death. It inspired me to learn more about the process of dying and how I could best help others go through it as well.
In this book, Anyen Rinpoche gives us practical information that will benefit both those seeking a Tibetan Buddhist death and non-Buddhists wanting to help a loved one or friend die in this tradition. He encourages us to take responsibility for ourselves as Dharma practitioners, to assess our practice honestly, and to contemplate impermanence—our own impermanence—deeply. He shows us how to create the necessary vehicles for using the process of dying to further our aspirations for enlightenment in the service of all beings.
Rinpoche has a grassroots vision of "phowa groups" throughout the Buddhist community practicing phowa, or the transference of consciousness at the time of death, both for themselves and for others. If a lama cannot be present at someone's death, experienced practitioners trained in phowa can be there to assist the dying person. Thus, through practicing phowa together, we can benefit our sanghas and Dharma communities.
There is, of course, much more to study in depth on this topic than can be presented in this one book—and ultimately, close contact with a teacher or lama is crucial. Nonetheless, by using the foundations in this guidebook, we can create the conditions for an excellent death and rebirth and make the most of our prior efforts to practice the Dharma and embody its principles.
I would have been grateful for such a guide to help my mother, and I am grateful now for these preparations for my own death and to help others. I hope we can all heed the advice given here, as we don't know when death will come.
The teachings in this manual were given in many different settings by Anyen Rinpoche since he came to America in 2005. They have been translated from the Tibetan by Allison Graboski, who is also the translator of Anyen Rinpoche's books The Union of Dzogchen and Bodhichitta and Momentary Buddhahood. Allison gave generously of her time and skills to not only translate additional teachings for this book, but to clarify numerous questions and offer wise insights. Without her untiring efforts in translating for Anyen Rinpoche, Western students would miss the opportunity to receive many precious teachings.
Rinpoche answers a number of direct questions from his students in this book that are relevant to Western culture and not addressed in traditional texts. I am very grateful that Rinpoche has agreed to continue to answer questions about the dying process on the website for the Phowa Foundation, a project of Orgyen Khamdroling, a nonprofit organization founded by Anyen Rinpoche. The Phowa Foundation offers prayers and ritual practices for those who are ill, dying, or have already died, as well as retreats, education on the dying process, and special related materials.
Whenever Anyen Rinpoche gives teachings on preparing for death, the question-and-answer sessions could go on for hours. We are fascinated, curious, and a little uncomfortable all at once at the descriptions of the dying process and the bardo states. Part of this book grew out of just such question-and-answer sessions, and the gist of that material has been integrated into the flow of the chapters.
As we face the deaths of parents, loved ones, and our own unknown time of death, we will have many more questions that could not be included here. Students who may not have regular access to a lama will be able to benefit by asking their questions of an authentic teacher of Dharma, and exploring the resources and opportunities offered by the Phowa Foundation.
May this effort benefit all beings and help bring us swiftly to enlightenment.
Eileen Cahoon, Ph.D.