Question: Tibetan Buddhism often focuses on death and dying. That is a difficult concept for Westerners, I think, who have a fear of death and a preoccupation about it at the same time. Why does Buddhism focus so much on death?Tulku Thondup: The goal of Buddhism is to improve life. for Buddhists, life isn’t just this one life that we now see. “Life” includes our future lives too, for Buddhism believes in reincarnation, and we see life from that broad perspective. So for us, death is a part of life. It is the unavoidable transition that joins this life to the next.
When I lived in my monastery in Eastern Tibet, we used to contemplate our mortality and the changeable nature of the world every morning. The purpose was to keep us on track and anchored in reality. There’s nothing like the unavoidability of death to focus the mind on what is truly important in life – spiritual values.
We have all asked ourselves: “What should I do with my life?” The fact that we ask this shows that we have some notion that our time here is short and that we should use it wisely.
When we understand our mortality and the speed with which life is passing – not just intellectually, but from the heart, – we will innately know what to do with our time here. We will automatically want to deepen our spiritual qualities, for everything else is left behind at death.
This question is part of a longer interview with Tulku Thondup by Linda Sparrowe, editor in chief of Alternative Medicine magazine. A portion of this interview appeared in the May 2006 issue of Alternative Medicine magazine. To read the entire article, click here.
The photo below is a picture of Thigles (spheres made of colorful lights), which filled the sky during the cremation of Khandro Pema Dechen on September 9, 2006 in Sikkim, India. This is seen as a sign of her high Dzogchen attainment. Photograph by Tsewang Trungkar.