212 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING The one thing you should know for certain is that the only thing that Tonglen could harm is the one thing that has been harming you the most: your own ego, your self-grasping, selfcherishing mind, which is the root of suffering. For if you practice Tonglen as often as possible, this self-grasping mind will get weaker and weaker, and your true nature, compassion, will be given a chance to emerge more and more strongly. The stronger and greater your compassion, the stronger and greater your fearlessness and confidence. So compassion reveals itself yet again as your greatest resource and your greatest protection. As Shantideva says: Whoever wishes to quickly afford protection To both himself and others Should practice that holy secret The exchanging of self for others. 9 This holy secret of the practice of Tonglen is one that the mystic masters and saints of every tradition know; and living it and embodying it, with the abandon and fervor of true wisdom and true compassion, is what fills their lives with joy. One modern figure who dedicated her life to serving the sick and dying and who radiated this joy of giving and receiving was Mother Teresa. I know of no more inspiring statement of the spiritual essence of Tonglen than these words of hers: We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him at this very moment. But being happy with Him now means: Loving as He loves, Helping as He helps, Giving as He gives, Serving as He serves, Rescuing as He rescues, Being with Him twenty-four hours, Touching Him in his distressing disguise. A love as vast as this cured Geshe Chekhawa's lepers of their leprosy; it could also perhaps cure us of a disease even more dangerous: of that ignorance, which life after life has hindered us from realizing the nature of our mind, and so of attaining liberation.
THIRTEEN Spiritual Help for the Dying I FIRST CAME TO THE WEST at the beginning of the 1970s, and what disturbed me deeply, and has continued to disturb me, is the almost complete lack of spiritual help for the dying that exists in modern culture. In Tibet, as I have shown, everyone had some knowledge of the higher truths of Buddhism and some relationship with a master. No one died without being cared for, in both superficial and profound ways, by the community. I have been told many stories of people dying alone and in great distress and disillusion in the West without any spiritual help, and one of my main motivations in writing this book is to extend the healing wisdom of the world I was brought up in to all men and women. Do we not all have a right, as we are dying, not only to have our bodies treated with respect, but also, and perhaps even more important, our spirits? Shouldn't one of the main rights of any civilized society, extended to everyone in that society, be the right to die surrounded by the best spiritual care? Can we really call ourselves a "civilization" until this becomes an accepted norm? What does it really mean to have the technology to send people to the moon, when we do not know how to help our fellow humans die with dignity and hope? Spiritual care is not a luxury for a few; it is the essential right of every human being, as essential as political liberty, medical assistance, and equality of opportunity. A real democratic ideal would include knowledgeable spiritual care for everyone as one of its most essential truths. Wherever I go in the West, I am struck by the great mental suffering that arises from the fear of dying, whether or not this fear is acknowledged. How reassuring it would be for people if they knew that when they lay dying they would be cared for with loving insight! As it is, our culture is so heartless in its expediency and its denial of any real spiritual value that people, 213