"All beings arise in time; Time continually consumes them all.
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.
Where was it before it appeared? Who are you?
The Causes of Death
The First Dalai Lama taught,
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."
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.
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 Tradition. Ithaca, 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:
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
Francesca Fremantle - Trungpa Rinpoche. Tibetan Book of the Dead. Lovely carry-around paperback format.
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.
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.
Generally the phowa ritual can be
carried out for an animal that has died
just as for a person. That is of great value.
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:
who possesses the vajra: That is, the indomitable, the undefeatable one.