190 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING of course, it is not possible to leave the body alone for the three-day period that was customary in Tibet, but every support of silence and peace should be given to the dead to help them begin their journey after death. Try and make certain also that while the person is actually in the final stages of dying, all injections and all invasive procedures of any kind are discontinued. These can cause anger, irritation, and pain, and for the mind of the dying person to be as calm as possible in the moments before death is, as I will explain in detail later, absolutely crucial. Most people die in a state of unconsciousness. One fact we have learned from the near-death experience is that comatose and dying patients may be much more aware of things around them than we realize. Many of the near-death experiencers reported out-of-the-body experiences, from which they were able to give surprisingly accurate detailed accounts of their surroundings and even, in some cases, of other rooms in the same hospital. This clearly shows the importance of talking positively and frequently to a dying person or to a person in a coma. Conscious, alert, and actively loving care for the dying person must go on until the last moments of his or her life, and as I will show, even beyond. One of the things I hope for from this book is that doctors all over the world will take extremely seriously the need to allow the dying person to die in silence and serenity. I want to appeal to the goodwill of the medical profession, and hope to inspire it to find ways to make the very difficult transition of death as easy, painless, and peaceful as possible. Peaceful death is really an essential human right, more essential perhaps even than the right to vote or the right to justice; it is a right on which, all religious traditions tell us, a great deal depends for the well-being and spiritual future of the dying person. There is no greater gift of charity you can give than helping a person to die well.
TWELVE Compassion: The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel CARING FOR THE DYING makes you poignantly aware not only of their mortality but also of your own. 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. So everything that I have been saying up until now about caring for the dying could perhaps be summed up in two words: love and compassion. What is compassion? It is not simply a sense of sympathy or caring for the person suffering, not simply a warmth of heart toward the person before you, or a sharp clarity of recognition of their needs and pain, it is also a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their suffering. Compassion is not true compassion unless it is active. Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, is often represented in Tibetan iconography as having a thousand eyes that see the pain in all corners of the universe, and a thousand arms to reach out to all corners of the universe to extend his help. 191