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"Death comes without warning. This body will be a corpse. Until that time, I will practice with exertion."
-- A Buddhist Meditation

Truly respecting death and its inevitability brings, paradoxically, a relaxing of the fear of death, along with a heightened sense of the importance of life and of what we choose to do with the time we have. The fact that any particular person is going to die or has already died is no ones fault -- it is a necessary part of being alive.

Excessive fear of death distorts lives, and seems to be responsible for many of the more bizarre and inhumane excesses of our American medical system. In our search for sustainable, effective, respectful health care practices, ideas that could contribute to a sane and compassionate integrated health care system, we've found nothing as simple, basic, workable and cost effective as coming to terms with death and the process of dying -- something we can do as individuals, as families, as communities and as a culture.

The issues we need to face to prepare for our own death, or that of someone we love, are mostly the same, whatever we believe about what, if anything, will follow this life. Whether you believe you will live again in another body, with another personality and history and so on, or that your life will continue in one or another of the heavens or hells described by various religions, or that when you die, that's it -- whatever you believe about what happens next -- death itself is relatively simple.

Our featured article, Living and Dying: A Buddhist Perspective, makes no assumptions about reincarnation, but focuses on the basic fact that existence is marked by impermanence, and that death is something we can get ready for.

The links in the Web Resources section offer suggestions and information on just about every aspect of death, dying and grieving, mostly from the perspective of contemporary Western culture. The Books section is mostly focused on Buddhist perspectives, and it does offer a few titles focused on the concept of multiple incarnations, because many people have found them comforting and inspiring.

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Living and Dying: A Buddhist Perspective

Living and Dying: A Buddhist Perspective

by Carol S. Hyman

"Regular contemplation of death is part of Buddhist training.  Various schools of Buddhism take different approaches based on the Buddha's insights, among which one of the most fundamental is that existence is marked by impermanence: everything put together sooner or later comes apart, including our precious lives."

"Meditation is a practice in how to let go, first of our thoughts, emotions and opinions; later, as we settle down and are able to be simply present, we let go of each moment, constantly moving into the next. Paradoxically, such relaxation, rather than spacing us out,  brings us more directly in contact with what actually is, which might be called nowness or being awake in the eternal present.  For this reason, the symbol for meditation is an endless knot, also called the knot of eternity. Training in such a way is, in effect, training for the ultimate surrender human beings encounter, letting go of this body at the time of death."

"If we learn to let go into uncertainty, to trust that our basic nature and that of the world are not different, then the fact that things are not solid and fixed becomes, rather than a threat, a liberating opportunity. Then we are free to savor what life offers, to taste the texture of each moment fully, whether the moment is one of sadness or joy."

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Web Resources
"The basic impact of the experience is the same whether you believe in reincarnation or not: it is the discontinuity of what you are doing."
Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche

Death and Dying -- This page from the Global Ideas Bank includes a section on Natural Death and Woodland Burial, the full text of The Natural Death Handbook (1993 Edition), and many other interesting contributions.

Spiritual Care Education and Training Program -- inspired by Sogyal Rinpoche. Demonstrating practical ways in which the compassion and wisdom of the Buddhist teachings can be of benefit to those facing illness or death, their families, and caregivers.

Association for Death Education & Counseling -- death education and death related counseling and care giving. 

Choice In Dying -- the non-profit organization that pioneered the living will provides information about advance directives (Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney for Health Care), counseling, and educational information on end-of-life issues.

American Academy of Hospice & Palliative Medicine -- An international organization of physicians dedicated to the advancement of palliative medicine in the management of patients with terminal illness. 

Children's Hospice International  -- Provides medical and technical assistance, research and education for children with life threatening conditions and their families. 

Hospice Foundation of America -- Sponsors an annual Living with Grief teleconference series, a monthly bereavement newsletter and other publications.

National Hospice Organization -- provides referral services to link individuals with hospices in their local communities, and various educational programs.

Natural Death Center (UK) -- Woodland Burial in the Unites States

Funeral and Memorial Societies of America -- dedicated to a consumer's right to chose a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral. 

The End of Life: Exploring Death in America -- a National Public Radio special led to this Web site.

Death and Dying -- a comprehensive collection of resources and Web links at About.com.

Sociology of Death and Dying -- "individuals' death concerns and experiences of dying and grief are strongly structured by their social
environments." See also Death Related Weblinks.

Last Acts -- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. A call-to-action campaign designed to improve care at the end of life. Its goals are to bring end-of-life issues out into the open and to help individuals and organizations pursue the search for better ways to care for the dying. 

Soros Foundation: Project on Death in America -- The Project on Death in America seeks to transform the culture of dying by supporting initiatives in research, scholarship, the humanities, and the arts, and by fostering innovation in the provision of care, public and professional education, and public policy.

Your Personal Death Clock counts down the seconds till your estimated time of death, based on your age and sex.

Near-Death Experiences

Buddhist Views of Reincarnation

Reincarnation: Tibetan Buddhism (NPR)

Reincarnation from various perspectives

Dr. Ian Stevenson's Research on the Past Lives of Children

What happens after death? -- The biochemical processes of rigor mortis and decay, from "the ultimate guide to forensic entomology."

Questions Which Tend Not to Edification

"I have not explained that the saint exists after death; I have not explained that the saint does not exist after death; I have not explained that the saint both exists and does not exist after death; I have not explained that the saint neither exists nor does not exist after death. And why, Malunkyaputta, have I not explained this? Because, Malunkyaputta, this profits not, nor has to do with the fundamentals of religion, nor tends to aversion, absence of passion, cessation, quiescence, the supernatural faculties, supreme wisdom, and Nirvana"

-- Lord Buddha

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Books and Tapes

This section offers information that isn't available on the Web.
"If we look into our lives we will see clearly how many unimportant tasks, so-called 'responsibilities' accumulate to fill them up. One master compares them to 'housekeeping in a dream.' We tell ourselves we want to spend time on the important things of life, but there never is any time. Even simply to get up in the morning, there is so much to do: open the window, make the bed, take a shower, brush your teeth, feed the dog or cat, do last night's washing up, discover you are out of sugar or coffee, go and buy them, make breakfast the list is endless....  Helpless, we watch our days fill up with telephone calls and petty projects, with so many responsibilities or shouldn't we call them 'irresponsibilities'?" 

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, is Sogyal Rinpoche's classic text on death and dying from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism.

PaperbackHardboundAudio Cassette

Review by Charles C. Tart

Excerpts and Reviews at the Author's Web Site

Tibetan Wisdom for Living and Dying -- 6 audio cassettes

"When you say that Buddhists do not believe in God it does not mean that Buddhists do not believe in the nature of God, because the nature of God is the nature of Truth .... Buddhists do not believe in the concept of God, because in many ways, ... however good the concepts of God are [they] do not do justice for the Absolute." 

The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo; Francesca Fremantle and Chögyam Trungpa. Traditionally read aloud to the dying. Here death and rebirth are seen as a process that offers the possibility of attaining ultimate liberation. This unabridged translation emphasizes the practical advice that the book offers to the living. The insightful commentary by the renowned meditation master Chögyam Trungpa explains what the scripture teaches about human psychology. 

Paperback; Pocket Classics; Audio Cassettes.

Chapter: "Acknowledging Death" from Heart of the Buddha by Chögyam Trungpa.

Living with Death & Dying -- Dr. Elisabeth Küebler-Ross, in this guide to communicating with the terminally ill, emphasizes the importance of meaningful dialogue in helping patients to die with peace and dignity. See also her On Life after Death.

Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying -- Steven Levine suggests ways to how to open oneself to the immensity of living with death, to participate fully in life as the perfect preparation for whatever may come next. See also Healing into Life and Death; and A Year to Live: How to Live This Year As If It Were Your Last.

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages -- Leo F. Buscaglia tells this warm, wise, simple story about a leaf named Freddie -- he and his leafy companions change as the seasons pass, finally falling to the ground with the first snow.

How to be a Help Instead of a Nuisance: Practical Approaches to Giving Support, Service and Encouragement to Others -- Karen Kissel Wegela, Ph.D.

Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die: Death Stories of Tibetan, Hindu & Zen Masters , Sushila Blackman (Editor) "In a society in which the fact of death is obscured by fear and denial, we are in dire need of teachers who can show us how to leave this world with grace and dignity, and to place death in its true perspective."

Born in Tibet -- the autobiography of Chögyam Trungpa.

Kundun: A Biography of the Family of the Dalai Lama -- Mary Craig.

The Little Lama of Tibet;-- Lois Raimondo. Life of a young incarnate lama (Ling Rinpoche).

Rebirth Into Pure Land: A True Story of Birth, Death, and Transformation -- Robert M. Sachs.  The story of the death the author's daughter and the Phowa (transference of  consciousness) that was done for her.

Reborn in the West: The Reincarnation Masters -- Vicki MacKenzie.

Hardcover; Paperback

Reincarnation: The Boy Lama -- Vicki MacKenzie.

More Books on Death, Dying and Grieving -- mostly from the Western perspective.

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Revised on July 12, 2000

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