Dying with Confidence

A Tricycle Book Club Discussion with Anyen Rinpoche

Practicing for Death
We all know that death is certain—no one ultimately evades death. What we often forget is that death can come at any time. For Buddhists, the moment of death is the most potent opportunity to practice. Indeed, it is the key opportunity to attain realization or a positive rebirth. Thus, meditation practice in Buddhism is actually practicing for death. You are practicing so that you can have mindfulness and clarity in that moment when you are dying, so you are confident you are prepared to use the experiences after death for the best rebirth possible—or even complete and perfect liberation.

We must redefine the meaning of our practice so we can cultivate a feeling of rejoicing about the moment of death. If we practice hard enough in our lifetime, the experience of death will be our absolute best opportunity to have the strongest result from all of the aspirations and practices we’ve cultivated in our dharma life. If we are duly prepared, I can promise that the moment of death will be an experience of rejoicing. If we are not prepared, it will surely be a time of fear and regret. When we think about death in this light, we should feel strongly motivated to practice every day.

Some people think that contemplating their own death will make them sorrowful. They would prefer not to think about it. For a meditation practitioner, however, this is a great mistake. By avoiding thinking about the reality and moment of death, we are losing a chance to really motivate ourselves to practice. We must reflect on our lives: there may only be a short time left. Do we have the confidence and the tools to die skillfully? Have we done the utmost to practice properly? Although we may plan how we would like to die and express our wishes to our friends and family, it may not always be possible to have someone next to us reminding us what to do. It is our responsibility to be prepared. No one can do this for us.

May the teachings in this book inspire and guide us to practice the true dharma and to face death fearlessly. May they help create the conditions for all to attain liberation and perfect enlightenment!

Purchase Dying with Confidence from Wisdom Publications here.

Anyen Rinpoche
was born in Amdo, Tibet. After more than fourteen years of intensive study and solitary retreat, he earned the degree of khenpo (master scholar) and became the head scholar of his monastic university in Kham, Tibet. He currently lives in Colorado, where he teaches at Naropa University.

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Sam Mowe's picture

Thanks to those of you who have participated in this discussion. I just wanted to let people know that this discussion will be closed at the end of the day today, so if anybody has any closing thoughts on the book please share them now!

Next month the book club will be reading Sharon Salzberg's Real Happiness. The entire Tricycle staff will be participating in her 28-day meditation challenge and we hope that all of you will join us.

Best wishes,

chrislemig's picture

Like most Westerners, I am afraid of dying. It is becoming less mysterious and terrifying to me as my practice of Buddhism deepens but still, I am afraid. However, when I first read Dying With Confidence, like David, a light went off: "Aha! This is why we practice! This is what we are preparing for!" And for the first time in my life, my fear of death was transformed into excitement, hope and the resolve to make a great effort to prepare for this most important part of life.

I have begun the process of putting together my Dharma Will. I took a day last month to work on what Rinpoche calls our Dharma Vision, an honest assessment of where we are in our practice and where we want to take it in the future. I can tell you that it was time well spent.

The task of putting all the pieces of the Dharma Will together is sometimes a little overwhelming but I think that by following the clear instructions in the book it is absolutely attainable. I like Sarah's reminder too, that this is an evolving process: we can do the best we can with it with what we know now and continue to refine it for the rest of our lives. The important thing is to begin today!

alchoyang's picture

Thanks for commenting, Chris.

I'm so glad you received Rinpoche's message about the moment of death. It is difficult to change our habitual way of thinking about this moment of our lives; but given that death will certainly occur sooner or later, it is more logical and practical if we have a way to deal with it. This is something that, no matter how hard we try, we will never really be able to avoid--so it is better to be prepared.

The idea of dying with confidence is such a beautiful idea if we can really embody its essence. We are free of doubts about ourselves and what we are to do. We are free of regrets about how we have spent our lives, and what we have practiced.

Also, when we die with confidence, we bring peace not only to ourselves, but also our loved ones and our spiritual communities. We set an example for others not to be fearful, and also help ourselves to attain the result of serious, lifelong practice. This will be a true expression of bodhichitta--our last expression of bodhichitta for this lifetime.

Good luck on your dharma will. Let us know how it goes for you.

Best wishes,
for Anyen Rinpoche

william allred's picture

Matter can neither be created nor destroyed, it merely changes state. Energy of mind, thought, all "I" am. Preparing for death of the corporeal body and change of state to energy-pure mind-"I" already exist only in that state. No change in death but for this body, this flesh, which provides a sensory tether to the material world. Letting go, day by day, minute by minute, one thought at a time.

dsecondo2009's picture

After reading this book, I finally felt like I understood the path of Tibetan Buddhism. As Anyen Rinpoche says, all of the practice we do in our lifetime is preparation for death. I have been practicing for about six years and have read many Dharma books. They are always inspiring, but I am usually left with some confusion as to how to proceed on the path after reading them. Many books lead to more questions than answers. This book is an exception. It has given me confidence in the process of death- that it is a great opportunity for liberation. I have always seen death as such an unknown, scary thing and now I have peace of mind. I once read a Dalai Lama book where he said he looked forward to dying so he could use the methods that he has been practicing his whole life. That has always stuck with me as such an amazing thing and I was always so surprised at his outlook. But, after reading "Dying with Confidence" I can see how and why Tibetan masters would think this way. This book is a treasure for all of humanity! I look forward to rereading this book over and over again to help maintain the inspiration it has given me for daily practice. How lucky we are to have beings like this to help guide us through life and death!

alchoyang's picture

Hi David,

I love that insight of the Dalai Lama's--and it couldn't be more true. For we practitioners of the Dharma, there is no more important moment in our lives than the moment of death. It is the measure of our whole life's practice; our state of mind at the moment of death is an energetic imprint that we carry with us into the bardo states and our future lives. When we think in this manner, life is simply a rehearsal for death--it is something to look forward to since we finally have the opportunity to use what we have practiced so hard for. I hope more people are able to transform their outlook about dying, so that they do not miss this precious and rare chance for personal realization, which will directly enable them to benefit other beings still suffering.

Best wishes,
for Anyen Rinpoche

Monty McKeever's picture

Hi everybody,

I thought it might be good to share today's Daily Dharma here. It seems to relate...

A Dream Unfolding

"Time is very precious. Do not wait until you are dying to understand your spiritual nature. If you do it now, you will discover resources of kindness and compassion you didn’t know you had. It is from this mind of intrinsic wisdom and compassion that you can truly benefit others....Moment by moment, we should look at life as if it were a dream unfolding....In this relaxed, more open state of being, we have the opportunity to gain the infallible means of dying well, which is recognition of our absolute nature."
-Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche

DarrellGKing's picture

I have ordered a sample from Amazon in Kindle format. Even at 52, I have become Digital Boy...:).

I am an RN, working in psychiatry with an interest in hospice. I also have an abiding and motivating interest in the mind and in awareness. On many levels, I expect the book to appeal to me, but I always start with a sample to ensure I am able to gain from the writing style. It isn't always the right moment for everything!

I have lately been returning to the concept that I am alive now and that it may not be the wisest move to ignore the importance of now. Like a nagging cough or a persistent itch, the thought keeps popping up. The book may be timely for that reason alone! Over the past few years, I have gradually made many changes in my life that have supported increasing investments of time in pursuit of self-development (as opposed to, "spending time", or "wasting time", or "passing the time"). My perspective about what activity I choose to invest in right now has been changing.

I also looked at Naropa, but I am unable to relocate or take months or years away from my obligations right now, and I didn't see a degree I could pursue exclusively through distance learning.


alchoyang's picture

I hope you have had a chance to look through the book since you last commented!

I am so glad to hear that you have an interest in hospice. This is one of the places that the Buddhist teachings really resound with Western healthcare--and it is a way that we can serve others and help them to manage their pain while also dying in a more peaceful and natural manner.

There are many wonderful Lamas and sanghas throughout the United States and the West--one doesn't need to rely on a formal education program like is offered at Naropa to gain knowledge about living and dying. I hope you have a chance to explore more and I wish you the best of luck!

Best Wishes,
for Anyen Rinpoche

sarahteaguejohnson's picture

After reading this book, I have started the process of preparing for death - thinking about who I would want to help me practice, what prayers I like to be read, and how I would like my body to be handled. My family is not Buddhist, and although they are supportive, they would have no idea what I would want. My grandmother passed away recently and there was some uncertainty about how to have her memorial service, what she would have wanted and so on - it was beautiful in the end, but we would have all felt less anxiety and more comfort had we known exactly what she had wanted. So I think making this preparation for death is a gift not only for yourself, but also for your loved ones.

I remember reading someplace that when we die, we will not be finished doing something, we will be in the middle and things will be interrupted and incomplete. Whether that's the dishes, finishing a degree, watching your children grow up, driving to the store - whatever it is, but there will be unfinished business! Personally, I don't like to be interrupted and have things unfinished, and if I were to die today (assuming I would have a chance to think about it or know I was dying) I would feel frustrated and sad! But, I would take great comfort in knowing that I have the most important things in place. I am certainly not finished working on my Dharma will, Dharma vision and Dharma box, but do have it started and will continue to refine these plans. It's an evolving process.

I was thinking perhaps I should make payments ahead of time to the Phowa Foundation, as I know what I would like there. Hmmm...

alchoyang's picture

Hi Sarah,

My name is Allison, and I assisted Anyen Rinpoche in working on this book, and I will be reply to the comments on this forum along with Eileen Cahoon, our editor.

I am so happy that you have already started working on your Dharma Will and Dharma Box. Especially, I would encourage you to seriously start planning how you will meet with your entrusted Dharma friends so that you will begin to gain a sense of confidence that, spiritually, your affairs are in order. As we were working on this book, we realized that the relationships that are formed between the entrusted Dharma friends are so key to this whole process. There are so many things to consider when we choose them. Who should we choose, how many should we choose, how do we work together as a group, how do we maintain the harmony of the group, how do we deal with issues that come up as a group...

I'm so excited to hear feedback from practitioners who form these groups and tell us how it has worked for them, and what they have learned. It seems that this is an aspect of community that most practitioners are longing for--but it is up to us to actually do it!

I hope that people who are working through this process will also report to us and ask questions on the Phowa Foundation website:

We are hoping to create a bulletin board of student's questions and answers by Anyen Rinpoche that can serve as a resource for others who are working through this process.

Please let us know how things go as you continue to work through the advice in the text!!!

for Anyen Rinpoche

m.denesha's picture

At birth, we demonstrate absolute mindfulness by absorbing (every second) with all of our senses. So should we at death. The ultimate opportunity to eliminate fear and suffering!

eglen.laura's picture

Absolute mindfulness is what I meditate for. Big decision's take careful thought.