on October 23, 2000
My bookshelves are filled with books on many topics, including death and dying and spirituality -- this book might be the only book I really need.
For years I have thought I must read the Tibetan Book of the Dead -- but whenever I tried, it was much too complicated for me to understand.
Sogyal Rinpoche has written this book so that it is easily understood by anyone, even us Westerners, without compromising any of the Buddhist teachings it offers.
In essence, we begin to die the moment we are born. We spend this life preparing to die well. Nothing is permanent, but we spend much of our lives filling our time with activities and pursuits that help us elude ourselves into thinking that what we see and touch is all that matters.
Sogyal Rinpoche says, "To follow the path of wisdom has never been more urgent or more difficult. Our society is dedicated almost entirely to the celebration of ego, with all its sad fantasies about success and power, and it celebrates those very forces of greed and ignorance that are destroying the planet. It has never been more difficult to hear the unflattering voice of the truth, and never more difficult, once having heard it, to follow it: because there is nothing in the world around us that supports our choice, and the entire society in which we live seems to negate every idea of sacredness or eternal meaning. So at the time of our most acute danger, when our very future is in doubt, we as human beings find ourselves at our most bewildered, and trapped in a nightmare of our own creation."
He writes about the importance of realizing the interconnectedness of all living beings (including nature), of meditation (and gives instructions and advice), of finding and being devoted to a good master (something very difficult for Westerners to accept -- he acknowledges that there are fraudulent ones about), of learning to live and learning to die, of letting go of egos and becoming egolessness. Throughout the book, he tells of female masters as well as males, something female readers may greatly appreciate.
Sogyal Rinpoche is from Tibet, and speaks of the cruelty of the Chinese to the Tibetan Buddhists (very similar to the persecution of the early christians, and later the Jews by the Nazis -- when will we ever learn, but then that's the point of this book!)
In the last section of the book, he speaks of "The Universal Process" which is about spirituality, living and dying of all humans, regardless of race, spiritual beliefs, gender or national origin. There are in the back two mantras with explanations and he shares photographs of his beloved masters. Throughout the book are inspiring poems from such poets as Rumi and St. Francis of Assisi, as well as Buddhists. In the very back he gives suggested readings, and offers phone numbers and addresses of Rigpa National Office, where those who are interested can find referrals to cources and study groups in the US, Canada and around the world.
This book is a very good place for the seeker to begin. For those curious about Buddhism, or seriously interested in becoming a Buddha or a Buddhist, or just looking for more thoughts and information on death and dying, this book is excellent, easy to understand, thought-provoking.
on September 19, 2002
Whenever I read a book, I generally use highlighter and underliner to mark the sentences and words that convey the true meaning and essence of what the author wants to say. While reading The Tibetan Book of Living And Dying, I had to stop using the highlighter after a few pages only as the most of the words on each page were worthy of being highlighted. Indeed, the author has said so much precious on every page that a reader must read and re-read the book and with every reading she/he gets more and more knowing.The subject of death has been most puzzling and perplexing to humankind since the time immemorial. The Eastern way of looking at the death as only a 'transition' is explained by the author in a profoundly simple manner. The book certainly helps one to understand the true meaning of the phenomena called death. This understanding helps one to reduce the irrational fear of death. From the lives of the great men and women we know that those who 'lived' a life can only meet the 'death' with equnimity. Thus the author has first taught the art of 'living'. It is only through right type of living that we can 'live' the death also.
I suggest that this book be read by all the Buddhist as well as by non buddhists also. Every one who reads it will find something for him/her.
I salute Sogyal Rinpoche for giving us a wonderful gift of THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING.
on December 20, 2002
After reading other reviews, I feel it might help to say this:
Yes, there is quite a substantial amount of Tibetan ritual encased in this book. But that shouldn't be a surprise, or a hindrance - it IS the "TIBETAN Book of Living and Dying", and not the "Generically Believable For Everyone, Book of Living And Dying".
With that in mind, I loved reading this book. From the first page, I was drawn into a world where compassion and mindfulness reign, and it's these tools that will help us face the inevitable truth that we *are* all going to die, at some point.
Rinpoche skillfully shares his own wisdom, that of many other masters, and anecdotal evidence of what may happen when we physically die, and the stages we may go through during the process.
Topics discussed include the Bardo states, reincarnation, the concept of karma, and fear of the unknown. The book is very readable, and covers the material therein with sensitivity and warmth. At times, it may be difficult to the average Western mind to grasp the concepts of such things are reincarnation - but as Buddha himself did advise, the goal is to read, absorb and take what YOU find important from the lesson...not to read blindly and accept everything blindly.
To anyone even vaguely interested in Buddhism, death and dying or simply becoming more aware of their own self, this book is an invaluable addition to your library.
Truly a classic.
on August 31, 2002
This book fully captures the essence of Tibetan Buddhism. I don't claim to be an authority on the subject, but I was born into a Buddhist household that has remained faithful and reverent to both Mahayana and Hiyana traditions of Buddhism. From the information I've had passed on to me by both family and Tibetan Buddhist clergy, this book has never been contradictory to anything lecture I've heard. In fact, everybody seems to recommend it enthusiastically!
Essentially, according to Tibetan Buddhism, the purpose of living is to cultivate the mind and purify the body and soul to prepare for death. Westerners may, at first glance, find this philosophy morbid. However, we must remember that reincarnation is integral to Buddhist text (and most world religions, for that matter; the 'one life' theory is actually relatively new). Death is explained as a transitional period, like the end of a chapter to a book. To waste away ones life is like wasting away all your money without care for the future. Basically, this philosophy heavily emphasizes living in the present with thoughtfulness and offers a plethora of Buddhist insight into life and death. It also stresses the urgency of cultivation in a day and age when we disregard life, old age, and disease as trivial matters and nothing that science cannot combat.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is written by a Rinpoche. For those who are not familiar with Tibetan titles, a Lama is essentially a monk who has abandond wordly comforts for a spiritual pursuit, and a Rinpoche is a recognized reincarnation of an esteemed Lama.
If you are a Buddhist, I highly recommend this book. It is enlightening, insightful, and an absolute must in any Buddhist library. Whether you follow the traditions of Chinese Buddhism, Zen or Chan, take the Amitabha or Guan Yin approach, etc., as a fellow Buddhist to another, you should not go without having this book. It's available in Chinese, as well, for the Buddhists out there who are more adept at Chinese than English.
For seekers, this is a wonderful guide, as well. The best part with any book as wonderful as this is that everytime you read it, you'll find new insight in the words. Beginners and established Buddhists alike will take in much insight.
I also highly recommend this to Buddhists who are unfamiliar with the Tibetan traditions. The Tibetan texts will open a whole new door for you. I know from personal experience, because my mother (who is the spiritual leader of the family) was originally a student of Chinese Buddhism, but after reading this book, our entire family discovered a whole other arena of philosophies that have done nothing but enrich our practices.
So whether you're already a Buddhist wishing to broaden your knowledge, a Buddhist who would like new material to absorb, or a seeker who is just curious of the fundamentals of Tibetan Buddhism, this book is definitely a must.
on April 18, 2001
This book should be read by or to everyone at some point in their lives. It not is not just for the buddhist. As His Holiness, the Dalia Lama explains, no matter what religion you practice the goal is the same: happiness. This book can be an inspiration at all times in life. Once you have read it through once, it is organized in such a way, so one can go back and read certain sections to help along the way. Sogyal Rinpoche captures the essence of his purpose of creating the book when he writes: "to learn how to die, is to learn how to live." That simple statement is a social commentary on the development of modern society and the direction it is heading in. The ageing and dying are quickly isolated and doctors are rarely educated in emotional or spiritual care. Sogyal Rinpoche's proposes a new attidute to those who are in a stage that we all will reach at some point. His beautiful writing style and comforting compassion radiates from the pages themselves. I do not associate myself with any one religion, but consider myself a wanderer following my own road in search for answers, for all those who feel the same, this book can illuminate some of the darkness that surrounds us all who have not yet awakened.
on February 4, 2007
This book is a classic on Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism. It was written to clear some of the misunderstandings appeared after the West published "The Tibetan book of the dead", but Sogyal's teaching goes beyond that and explains the big picture of which the teachings of Tibetan book of the dead is only a part. He presents - incidentally or not - some of the great Tibetan masters of the last century, that he was a student of. I believe this to be the most important book I have read so far, and I think I'll study more about Buddhism.
The book was inspired by the deaths in his childhood of two people he loved. Noticing similarities and differences he then realized the power of Tibetan tradition, that better practice in the lifetime makes for an easier death, and most of all. the presence of a master near the dying is a very important element. After decades of living in the West he felt death is misunderstood there, although it is the most important moment of life.
Unfortunately, people are avoiding such important issues of existence and preparing for death, either by filling their schedule to the rim and doing countless things, so there is no time left to be alone with themselves (in the West), or by spending time foolishly lying in the sun, drinking tea and gossiping with friends (in the East).
The only permanent thing in life - the only permanence - is the impermanence. Mind has a temporary, superficial and deceiving aspect (sem in Tibetan) and the inner nature, real and primordial (Rigpa in Tibetan). Realizing the true nature of mind is the key to understanding life and death; we need to understand the nature, that aspect of mind which remains the same even after dying, and that understanding needs to happen in the lifetime; realizing the Rigpa means realizing the true nature of everything in the Universe. Training the mind is the most important thing to prepare for dying, because when dead mind is almost impossible to control unless we trained it. Buddha left behind 84000 meditation methods, and Sogyal explains a few of them and emphasizes that true meditation influences every moment of life, not only when sitting in the posture, close eyes and focus on ourselves.
According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition the existence is made of four bardos (planes - intermediate, temporary realities): natural bardo of living, the painful one of dying, the luminos bard of dharmata, and the karmic bardo of becoming.
Even in the West many people believe in reincarnation - actually it was part of Christian teachings until Middle Age. Reincarnation - and life - is affected by karma (literally action), that is our good and bad deeds from the past (this life or previous lives). Per Buddhist teachings, a soul can reincarnate in one of six realms, depending on karma and the dominant negative emotion of the mind: gods (pride), demigods (jealousy), human (desire), animal (ignorance), hungry ghosts (greed) and hell (anger). The human realm is the best - or maybe the only one - for spiritual progress. The ego is the main obstacle of attaining enlightenment, because it determines a duality between "I" and the rest of the world.
In Tibet the master has a great role to play in enlightment, and he should have a known spiritual lineage, so the the student could be sure that the teachings are genuine. The student needs to fully surrender to the master, considering him even above the Buddha, because he is living in the same realm and can help much more than other enlightened being. Sogyal introduces the Guru Yoga - the practice of uniting with master's mind - every day, but most importantly at the moment of death.
The author presents some Dzogchen elements (most important compassion practices), explains the overview and emphasizes seeking a genuine master for going beyond that.
An important element of a good death is the knowledge of this book's teachings by the dying.and the accepting of death. Also, the family needs to accept it and let the dying know he/she has their permission to die, so that the death could be peaceful. The dying should get all the help they can get - even from lifelong enemies.
Compassion is an perhaps the main element of Buddhism - all religions actually - and is a very important step for attaining enlightenment. Tibetans have a special practice (meditation) for that, in which they help the beings in need, and those dying could benefit a lot from that. The people dying in pain could (mentally) direct their suffering toward helping others, and thus eliminating a lot of bad karma. That practice (Phowa) is all about transferring the consciousness from the dead body to another realm. Both the dead and others could do that. Phowa should begin shortly after dying and continued as often as possible for 21 days (or even 49).
At the moment of death, the best three attitudes are: meditation on the true nature of mind (Rigpa) - for people who achieved that, the practice of Phowa, or praying towards enlightened beings (or own master).
At the moment of death, the essence of the body transfers the subtle energy from gross essence to higher levels of matter. Eventually, the Clear Light (real nature of mind) will dawn - which is an opportunity for enlightenment. However, because or lack of training, most people will miss it, getting into a state of unconsciousness for three days (that's why Tibetan don't move corpses for at least three days after death). After three days the consciousness leaves the body definitively, the bardo of dying is gone,
The soul enters the bardo of dharmata, which has four phases - four opportunities for liberation (not as a great as the first one and even harder to recognize). It displays a landscape of light and sound, deities (depending of dead's beliefs), wisdom and spontaneous presence.
After the four opportunities are gone, the soul goes into the bardo of becoming, which will be inhabited for 49 days, of which 21 days have stronger connections to the life that just ended. It must be said that until now karma didn't manifest, the most important factor being the thoughts, the attitude at the moment of death (which is a good thing for those with lots of bad karma, because they can achieve enlightenment if they recognize the opportunities). In the bardo of becoming the mind takes over, and consciousness begins to wander away, terrified by the wind of karma. The mind is very difficult to master in this bardo, especially without training during life. The dead can read minds, and a person (or relative) thinking badly about the dead can have a disastrous effect, because the mind is out of control and the anger will be amplified and have strong negative influences on the next birth. On the other hand, thinking good about them has amplified beneficial effects. Eventually, depending on preferences and mostly on karma, most souls choose some parents and get born through a process opposite to the bardo of dying.
Meanwhile, the people alive can and should help the dead with rituals to help the consciousness choose a better rebirth.
Sogyal shows that modern near-death experience confirm most of the bardo teachings.
Different aspects of the mind get stronger during different bardos. Even during lifetime we get through all the stages: living (being awakened), dying (dreamless sleep), dharmata (the moment before dreams begin) and becoming (the dreams). Actually, between two thoughts we go through all the stages.
To conclude, the book helps putting the life in the proper perspective. If you are a seeker, but not for a very long time, probably this book can give you many answers and save you a lot of time of. I recommend it highly!
on January 11, 2000
This is an amazing book full of the richness of the spiritual greatness of Tibet. Every one should read it, regardless of religious affiliation. Sagyol Rinpoche gives great insight into how to live your life so that you are ready to embrace death when your unexpected time comes. I would rate it number one as a guide to liberation.
on January 8, 2001
This book is like an armour for those like minded people that want a deeper understanding of life and the nature of mind. Sogyal Rinpoche takes lengths to explain in detailed chapters, the MEANING and PURPOSE of life, death and dying; how we can use our true nature of mind to overcome difficulties, and use compassion and meditation to become enlightened in this life. This is a serious book for those that want to follow the spiritual path, of believing and listening to the inner self and overcoming obstacles by healing one's self first. Sogyal Rinpoche has a lot of wisdom to teach and share through his words, and you will find that the end of the last page, you had everything to gain.
on October 11, 1999
Sogyal Rinpoché is one of the most amazing, and compassionate teachers living today. His kindness is only transcended by his ability to understand both the Eastern and Western mind, and to take things that seem complex and make them not so.
By giving this adaption of the Bardo Thrötol (called the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Westerners) he helps to better explain the Tibetan Buddhist view of samsara, and cyclical experience.
I read this book after it was recommended by KT Shedrup Gyatso, and Ven. Chöpak Rinpoché, and now I shall never be without it.
on August 4, 2001
If you had to pick one book to read in this lifetime, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, by Sogyal Rinpoche would be the one. I have read many, many books on many topics, I have traveled all over the world and have seen many things, but nothing even compares to reading this book. To read this book is to truely become worldly. All I can say is, I wish for everyone to have the opportunity to read this book. Take a good look at yourself before you read the book and than look at yourself in the mirror again after you read the book. You will not see the same person when you first started. All you will be able to say is: I have got to tell someone about this book, I have to talk to someone about this book, I have to share this.