222 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING Do this practice throughout your loved one's illness, and especially (and most important) when the person is breathing the last breath, or as soon as possible after breathing stops and before the body is touched or disturbed in any way. If the dying person knows you are going to do this practice for them, and knows what it is, it can be a great source of inspiration and comfort. Sit quietly with the dying person, andoffer a candle or light in front of a picture or statue of Buddha or Christ or the Virgin Mary. Then do the practice for them. You can be doing the practice quietly, and the person need not even know about it; on the other hand, if he or she is open to it, as sometimes dying people are, share the practice and explain how to do it. People often ask me: "If my dying relative or friend is a practicing Christian and I am a Buddhist, is there any conflict?" How could there be? I tell them: You are invoking the truth, and Christ and Buddha are both compassionate manifestations of truth, appearing in different ways to help beings. I strongly suggest to doctors and nurses that they can also do phowa for their dying patients. Imagine how marvelously it could change the atmosphere in a hospital if those who were ministering to the dying were also doing this practice. I remember the death of Samten in my childhood, when my master and the monks were all practicing for him. How powerful and uplifting it was! My deepest prayer is for everyone to die with the same grace and peace that he did. I have formulated this essential phowa specially from the traditional Tibetan practice for dying, and it incorporates all the most important principles. So it is not only a practice for dying, but it can also be used both to purify and to heal; it is important for the living, and for the sick as well. If a person is going to be healed, it will assist that healing; if a person is dying, it will help them and heal their spirit in death; and if the person has died, it will continue to purify them. If you are not sure whether a person who is seriously ill is going to live or die, then whenever you visit them you can do this phowa practice for them. And when you go home, do it again. The more you do it, the more your dying friend will be purified. You never know if you will see your friend again, or if you will be present when he or she actually dies. So seal each visit with this practice, just as a preparation, and go on doing the practice in whatever spare moments you have. 4
DEDICATING OUR DEATH From the TibetanBookof the Dead: SPIRITUAL HELP FOR THE DYING 223 0 son/daughter of an enlightened family, 5 what is called "death" has now arrived, so adopt this attitude: "I have arrived at the time of death, so now, by means of this death, I will adopt only the attitude of the enlightened state of mind, loving kindness and compassion, and attain perfect enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings who are as limitless as space ..." Recently one of my students came to me and said: "My friend is only twenty-five. He's in pain and dying of leukemia. He is already frighteningly bitter; I'm terrified that he'll drown in bitterness. He keeps asking me: 'What can I do with all this useless, horrible suffering?'" My heart went out to her and her friend. Perhaps nothing is as painful as believing that there is no use to the pain you are going through. I told my student there was a way her friend could transform his death even now, and even in the great pain he was enduring: to dedicate, with all his heart, the suffering of his dying, and his death itself, to the benefit and ultimate happiness of others. 1 told her to tell him: "I know how much pain you're in. Imagine now all the others in the world who are in a pain like yours, or even greater. Fill your heart with compassion for them. And pray to whomever you believe in and ask that your suffering should help alleviate theirs. Again and again dedicate your pain to the alleviation of their pain. And you will quickly discover in yourself a new source of strength, a compassion you'll hardly be able now to imagine, and a certainty, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that your suffering is not only not being wasted, but has now a marvelous meaning." What I was describing to my student was in fact the practice of Tonglen, which I have already shared with you, but which takes on a very special significance when someone is terminally ill or dying. If you have an illness like cancer or AIDS, try as intensely as you can to imagine every other person in the world who has the same disease as you. Say to yourself with deep compassion: "May I take on the suffering of everyone who has this terrible illness. May they be free from this affliction and from all their suffering."