"All beings arise in time; Time continually consumes them all.
Time is the Lord who possesses the vajra, Whose nature is that of day and night." 

~ spoken by Buddha in Ashvaghosha's Acts of the Buddha.

The nature of existence is impermanent, and it is not useful to cling to the past.  But in the tradition of the Mustard Seed story, an offering of light can provide a fitting form of remembrance with compassion as its motive. You could sponsor the lighting of butter lamps at the ritual for auspicious rebirth performed twice yearly at Swayambhu in Nepal.  Other Buddhist shrines, such as KTD in New York state, will also accept offerings for the burning of lamps.       

The Mustard Seed

The reputation of Buddha Shakyamuni had spread far and wide.  Not only was he renowned as a great, compassionate and fully enlightened human being, but also as a skilled teacher and a miraculous healer who could even bring the dead back to life. 

One day, a woman approached him after a teaching begging that he do something to restore her dead child to her.  The Buddha listened patiently to her plea and saw how great was her despair.  He said to her, "Mother, if you bring me just one mustard seed from any household in which no person has died, then I shall revive your child." 

The woman was greatly encouraged by the Teacher's words.  She traveled from door to door throughout her own village, but could not find even a single residence in which no one had died.  She went out of town, wandering to this hamlet and that in search of the tiny seed that the Buddha had requested.  Days later, muddy and footsore, she returned to the place where the Buddha and his followers were passing the rainy season. 

She was ushered into the Teacher's presence worn out, but not discouraged.  "Master, try as I might, I could not locate the token you requested as an offering.  But I have come to understand that death visits every household and eventually, every single one of us.  I would like now,  to 'enter the stream' and work towards the liberation that the teachings provide." 


Where does a cloud come from?  Where does it go? 

Where was it before it appeared?  Who are you?

The Causes of Death

The First Dalai Lama taught, 

 "There are three causes of death, namely, exhaustion of life span, exhaustion of positive energy, and exhaustion of karmic life supports. Each of these has its own remedy. When the death indicated [by knowing the signs of death] has its cause in one or two of the above reasons it can be turned away by the appropriate methods. However, when it is caused by a an exhaustion of all three, there is no way to deter the advent of death. All one can do then is to prepare one's mind for death by means of training in the consciousness transference yogas." 

When we are experiencing a period of insufficient sustaining energy, longevity practices are one way of  improving the situation. Some deities associated with long life are Amitayus, Tara and Usnishavijaya.  There is also a yoga called "taking the sky as food." 

The First Dalai Lama on the remedies for the causes of untimely death:

Exhaustion of life span -- take long life initiations, practice healing meditations, etc. 

Exhaustion of merit -- perform tantric feasts and prayers, seek the blessings of holy people, etc.

Exhaustion of [sustaining] karma -- purify the mind of negative karmic stains through consciously examining negativity, generating a distaste for negativity, meditation upon love and compassion, or upon the void nature of negativity, etc.


Death, we will remember, is one of the 4 sights that Gautama Shakyamuni is said to have experienced that moved him to pursue an end to suffering for all beings.

It can help us to remember that we have each been wandering in samsara for endless eons, or we can become caught up in the grief of losing our connection with someone which reinforces the belief that this life is all there is.  Nevertheless, it is always sad to say goodbye.  That sadness can be considered a tribute to the life of the person who has died.  Sometimes, it is a reflection of our own regrets.

To dwell on grief though, is not helpful.  Instead of focusing on that emotion we can work to end the suffering of our friend, and also of all the other beings wandering in the bardo and in samsara.

If cremation is not an option, please consider avoiding the usual (and expensive) kind of coffin made of many different materials that contribute to the pollution of the earth.  Since hundreds of thousands of people die every day, this is a serious problem.  If a coffin is required, consider using an EcoPod.


The practice that is performed at the time of dying is called phowa or powa in Tibetan, meaning "transforming."  That is, the consciousness is transformed by being ejected from the dying body, to be liberated and eventually, received or transferred to another form of existence. 

There are 4 ways to accomplish this transformation, through the Dharmakaya, the Sambhogakaya, the Nirmanakaya or through the forceful method known as chetsab. 

Generally it is a lama that does the powa, or someone who has received the initiation and is accomplished in the Amitabha practice and who has accumulated 666,000 mantras of that deity. 

Discussing the pohwa tradition, Ven. Khenchen Ayang Rinpoche

Glenn H. Mullin. Living in the Face of Death: The Tibetan TraditionIthaca, NY:  Snow Lion, 1998.   Includes 9 different texts on dying.

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, trans. Lama Yeshe Gyamtso.  Preparing for Death dvd



A Simplified Practice for the Time of Dying Adapted to Suit Anyone

Mary C. Fish thinks the following adaptation is helpful for people who are not Buddhist:

"Visualize a vivid presence of God, whatever form of God you feel connection with -- Holy Spirit, Jesus, Mary, Buddhas, a pure light, whatever is real to you. Fill your heart with this presence and trust it. Then pray a p'howa prayer with the full focus of the heart, mind, and soul. 

Through your blessing, grace, and guidance, through the power of the light that streams from you: 
May all my negative karma, destructive emotions, obscurations, and blockages be purified and removed, 
May I know myself forgiven for all the harm I may have thought and done, 
May I accomplish this profound practice of phowa, and die a good and peaceful death, 
And through the triumph of my death, may I be able to benefit all other beings, living or dead. 

After this prayer, imagine the presence you have invoked is so moved that he or she responds with pure love and streams of light. The light is completely purifying and healing, and you dissolve completely into the light." 

~ Mary Catherine Fish, Beyond the Road's End,  about her husband's fatal illness

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, also known as The Great Liberation

See the National Film Board's 2-part production narrated by Leonard Cohen on YouTube.

Francesca Fremantle - Trungpa Rinpoche. Tibetan Book of the Dead. Lovely carry-around paperback format.


Tenga Rinpoche (1932-2012) "Bardo Essentials" on YouTube as of 23 June 2015

Six Bardos:  In-between [states of existence.]

What Dies is Only the Body: the death of HH 16th Karmapa.  It concludes with a series of answers by HE Tai Situpa concerning the preparation of the lama's body.

Lama Zopa on How to Benefit the Dying and the Dead

*Phowa suggestions,* above

The Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg's, death

a bibliography

The Bardo

During the 49 Days after a being has died, we can pray for their auspicious rebirth.  After that time period has passed, their image, usually a photograph, is burned and offerings made.  This indicates that we free them from any obligations they may have had in this life, and that we wish them well in any future existence.

The 49-day period is an intermediate, or bardo, state between existences.  

Khenpo Karthar's Death, Dying and the Bardo: transcript of 5 tapes courtesy Donden Chojin.

Thrangu Rinpoche's teaching on the Bardo from Vancouver 1998 visit:  60-page .pdf file at Shenpen Osel .

When a pet animal dies


Ven. Tenga Rinpoche was asked about the experience of animals at the time of their death.  (that was in 1994, when he was teaching Karma Lingpa’s The Peaceful and Wrathful Deities.  

QUESTION: How do animals experience the bardo? How can we help them?
ANSWER: The Buddha gave these bardo teachings of the book of the dead on the basis of the human body, since the human body possesses the three main nadis and the six chakras.  Prana, which carries the white and red elements of the father and of the mother, flows in the nadis. All the nadi regions of the body are penetrated by prana, and through that by the white and red elements. That is why the appearances arise in the bardo.  However the Buddha gave no teaching about animals, not even whether they experience a bardo existence or not.

Generally the phowa ritual can be carried out for an animal that has died just as for a person.  That is of great value.

~ AlexWilding,  translator of  the 1994 German transcripts.

Tenga Rinpoche's above lectures became the basis for Transition and Liberation (Wisdom, 1999.)

Ven. Bardor Tulku, when asked, said that animals do experience the bardo but in their own animal way.   He has produced a cd especially for the benefit of animals:




An elegy is a poem on the death of someone.  Link to the list of submissions on the theme of dead animals in poetry in English.  (A 1997 project of RW Brown.)

who possesses the vajra:  That is, the indomitable, the undefeatable one.

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