216 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING And as I do this, I keep praying that the person in front of me should be spared further suffering, and find peace and liberation. I do this with the deepest concentration and earnestness, and then I try to rest in the nature of my mind and allow its peace and radiance to permeate the atmosphere of the room. Many, many times I have been awed by the sense of sacred presence that then establishes itself very naturally, and which in turn inspires the dying person. I'm now going to say something that may surprise you. Death can be very inspiring. In my experiences with dying people, I have found that I have surprised myself by the way in which my prayer and invocation transformed the atmosphere, and I myself have had my faith deepened by seeing how effective this invocation and prayer and this presence of the buddhas are. I have found that being by the bedside of a dying person has made my own practice far more powerful. Sometimes I see that the dying person also feels this atmosphere of deep inspiration, and is grateful to have provided the opportunity for our reaching, together, a moment of real and transformative rapture. GIVING HOPE AND FINDING FORGIVENESS I would like to single out two points in giving spiritual help to the dying: giving hope, and finding forgiveness. Always when you are with a dying person, dwell on what they have accomplished and done well. Help them to feel as constructive and as happy as possible about their lives. Concentrate on their virtues and not their failings. People who are dying are frequently extremely vulnerable to guilt, regret, and depression; allow them to express these freely, listen to the person and acknowledge what he or she says. At the same time, where appropriate, be sure to remind the person of his or her buddha nature, and encourage the person to try to rest in the nature of mind through the practice of meditation. Especially remind the person that pain and suffering are not all that he or she is. Find the most skillful and sensitive way possible to inspire the person and give him or her hope. So rather than dwelling on his or her mistakes, the person can die in a more peaceful frame of mind. To the man who cried out: "Do you think God will ever forgive me for my sins?" I would say: "Forgiveness already exists
SPIRITUAL HELP FOR THE DYING 217 in the nature of God; it is already there. God has already forgiven you, for God is forgiveness itself. To err is human, and to forgive divine.' But can you truly forgive yourself? That's the real question. "Your feeling of being unforgiven and unforgivable is what makes you suffer so. But it only exists in your heart or mind. Haven't you read how in some of the near-death experiences a great golden presence of light arrives that is all-forgiving? And it is very often said that it is finally we who judge ourselves. "In order to clear your guilt, ask for purification from the depths of your heart. If you really ask for purification, and go through it, forgiveness will be there. God will forgive you, just as the father in Christ's beautiful parable forgives the prodigal son. To help yourself to forgive yourself, remember the good things you have done, forgive everyone else in your life, and ask for forgiveness from anyone you may have harmed." Not everyone believes in a formal religion, but I think nearly everyone believes in forgiveness. You can be of immeasurable help to the dying by enabling them to see the approach of death as the time for reconciliation and reckoning. Encourage them to make up with friends or relatives, and to clear their heart, so as not to keep even a trace of hatred or the slightest grudge. If they cannot meet the person from whom they feel estranged, suggest they phone them or leave a taped message or letter and ask for forgiveness. If they suspect that the person they want to pardon them cannot do so, it is not wise to encourage them to confront the person directly; a negative response would only add to their already great distress. And sometimes people need time to forgive. Let them leave a message of some kind asking for forgiveness, and they will at least die knowing that they have done their best. They will have cleared the difficulty or anger from their heart. Time and time again, I have seen people whose hearts have been hardened by self-hatred and guilt find, through a simple act of asking for pardon, unsuspected strength and peace. All religions stress the power of forgiveness, and this power is never more necessary, nor more deeply felt, than when someone is dying. Through forgiving and being forgiven, we purify ourselves of the darkness of what we have done, and prepare ourselves most completely for the journey through death.