5 Things I learnt from Advice on Dying by the Dalai Lama



I have never read anything quite so scary that has filled me with renewed zest for life. Advice on Dying, And Living a Better Life is one of those books that one would have to read many times to understand its true meaning. The Dalai Lama goes to the extent of breaking down the stages of death, the intermediate stage between death and our next birth, and how to gain freedom from this cycle of life and death. Or at the very least, get a better next life. While parts of it are meant for very advanced practitioners of meditation, there's still so much to learn. This book has made me relook at my attitude towards life and death. 

Here are 5 quotes from the book and what I learned from them.

  1. To make life meaningful, acceptance of old age and death as parts of our life is crucial. Feeling that death is impossible, just creates more greediness and trouble - sometimes even deliberate human harm to others.
    He talks about great emperors, monarchs and leaders, who got huge palaces and walls built for themselves. It just showed that they believed that they would stay in this life forever. Leaders are capable of great good, but they are also known for some of the worst atrocities known to man. Without awareness of death (and the fact that in death everyone is equal or perhaps even worse), we make life miserable for ourselves and others. What piece of land or jewellery are you fighting for? Will it be yours forever?
  2. If you have a strong certainty of death and of the uncertainty of its arrival, you will be motivated from within. It will be as if a good friend is cautioning “Be careful, be earnest, another day is passing.”
    In this book he describes that if we use this life for practice (of good deeds or spiritual activities), we can, at the most, attain the level of Buddhahood, where we are capable of helping others. The second level would be to break this cycle of life and death. And at the very least, how we spend time on earth can determine a better next life for us. Most of us spend our time looking for good food, great conversation, beautiful clothes, but we don’t see this life as a huge (yet fleeting) opportunity to create a better future for ourselves from a very macro perspective. As he says in the book: The profound loses out to the trivial.
  3. Compassion strengthens your outlook, and with that courage you are more relaxed. When your perspective includes the suffering of limitless beings, your own suffering looks comparatively small.
    He explains that when we come into this like we know no one. And over time we are all about my friends, my tribe, my family, my circle. And where there are friends there will also be my enemies. These misplaced relationships only end up creating more hatred, lust and confusion. Instead, by extending compassion to friend and foe alike (a hard task to say the least) you will become stronger, happier and more empowered.
  4. Even though there is no certainty that you WILL die tonight, when you cultivate an awareness of death, you appreciate that you COULD die tonight. With this attitude, if there is something that you can do that will help both this life and the next, you will give it precedence over something that will just help this life in a superficial way.
    He advices that you practice morality, single pointed meditation and wisdom on a daily basis.
  5. Be frank about facing your death. Skillfully encourage others to be frank about their deaths. Do not deceive each other with compliments when the time of death is near. Honesty will foster courage and joy.
    Whenever someone talks about dying, we immediately shut them up. We ourselves don't like to think about our own death. Its weird because of all the things in the world if one thing is definite, it’s death. He also advices that when a near and dear one is breathing his last, do not hold them back with tears and sorrow. Instead, create a calming environment that will help them go in peace. Because the way you go from this life, will determine your next.