The Tibetan Book of the Dead is an ancient instruction manual read aloud by a Buddhist lama to a dying believer. It tells them how to prepare for the coming change in their existence, how to accept it, even embrace it, how to calm their mind and willingly yield to it’s demands—to give in, not in failure, not in triumph, but in recognition of a perfectly normal part of life.
The book is even read after death because they believe the deceased can still hear and understand. The instruction tells the deceased what to expect at each of several stages of the afterlife so they will not be frightened by this new experience, and that whatever terrifying forms they may see are merely harmless projections of their own consciousness. It also comforts the family to see the death of their loved one as a natural process and to be reassured the deceased is progressing properly into the afterlife.
What a consoling custom, much better than teary-eyed relatives surrounding the bed, unable to deal with the situation themselves, wringing their hands, not knowing what to do, what to say, needing comfort more than the dying one.
Except for scholars, the original Book of the Dead is unsuitable for a Westerner who has not spent a lifetime in Buddhist thought and culture. But I am reading a bestseller of not long ago, “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” that explains the thinking of the original and how the principles can be applied to our lives, in our culture, with our religious background.
One of its recommendations is to think of death every day, as often as possible. This is not ghoulish, not morbid, not even depressing. On the contrary, death is a metaphor for the impermanence of everything, and thinking about it teaches us to celebrate what we have right now rather than something hoped for in the ephemeral future. Think of every thing and every person you treasure. The day will surely come when you will see them for the last time.
My grandchildren love to be carried, although far too big to need it, but I still love to carry them. They ask me why, and I tell them it is like a walking hug. I have carried them since they were infants, but, eventually, it has to end, and that will be a sad day. I will probably not realize it until it is long past, so, even with aching arms, I appreciate each time now, aware that it may, just may, be the last.
This is what death teaches us.