Elevate Difference

Living in the Face of Death

This profound collection of Tibetan Buddhist writing on the subject of death and transcendence is a gorgeous initiation into the thoughts shared by those that follow this religion/set of beliefs. Mullin chose a variety of writings that approach the inevitable by former Dalai Lamas, yogis, mystics and spiritual teachers. As a whole the collected works are easily digestible and clear in their impact. There is only one sure thing in this life, why not prepare for it while there is time by becoming comfortable with one’s own impermanence?

The preface, written by the late Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (who wrote On Death and Dying), greatly praises Mullin’s collection; the writings bridge a gap between Eastern and Western thought on the subject of death. Western culture views death mostly as a taboo subject when it comes to everyday life. However, the American obsession with homicidal television shows and movies that typically glorify outlandishly dramatic death might be a coping mechanism to lessen the tragedy of matter.

In Buddhist thought, there is a continual birth and death of the mind from one moment to the next. Daily, the body and mind go through the process of dying. When falling asleep, dream state is the in between state or Bardo, and then the body enters rebirth, or the waking state. This essential thought strikes me as being an amazing step in understanding the process of death.

Meditating upon the subject of death daily awakens the practitioner to the importance of every moment spent, as Geshe Ngawang Dargye suggests. When one embraces this thought, it is easy to dwell in the current moment and live accordingly to a morally accountable existence.

Through the book, Mullin shares details of the Gye-re Lama’s death. Many spiritual leaders in Tibetan religion have made their final teachings—that of their witnessed deaths—to be of great significance to their disciples.

Mullin also shares with readers many prayers and mystic approaches to realizing the signs of death, and subtle meditations to hopefully prolong the life that is at stake. Longevity methods are to be applied once one has been made aware of the signs of death. When this has been done, and death is still pending, it is suggested by Tibetan Buddhism to begin the act of transference of consciousness.

The collection contains a guideline to the prayers and meditations that should be said in honor of the dead. Within this information lies the process with which the body should be dealt with according to Tibetan Buddhism.

Mullin's work as a whole is a graceful attempt to address the issues that are often shunned in our culture. While death is not an easy topic to address, it is one that should not be avoided.

I’ll share one thought that proved most valuable as I read the collection. Mullin included a sermon from the thirteenth Dalai Lama, Gyalwa Tubten Gyatso “Death and the Bodhisattva Trainings.” From that he shared a poignant reflection that we all could take heed.

“Procrastination leads to further procrastination, and in the end death strikes and leaves us empty handed. Alternatively, if we grab the opportunity while we have the chance, the essence of a meaningful life can become ours.”

Written by: A. Mariel Westermeyer, May 3rd 2009