Overview: Life and Death, Virtue and Wisdom

"For someone who has prepared and practiced, death comes not as a defeat but as a triumph, the crowning and most glorious moment of life." —SOGYAL RINPOCHE

From Preparing to Die by Andrew Holecek:

The most important spiritual preparation for death is to lead a genuinely spiritual life. We will die much the same way that we live. As the poet Kabir said of death, “What is found then, is found now.” A good life generates good karma that will then run its natural course, leading to a good death. The maxim “karma will take care of you” applies most directly to death. But there’s a difference between “I’ll take care of it” coming from Mother Theresa or from the Mafia. Good karma will take good care of us when we die, bad karma will take bad care of us. The Dalai Lama says:

In day-to-day life if you lead a good life, honestly, with love, with compassion, with less selfishness, then automatically it will lead to nirvana. We must implement these good teachings in daily life. Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much; whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. In my simple religion, love is the key.

Karma is basically habit. It’s the momentum of repeated actions that become habitual. It’s in our best interest to develop as many positive habits as we can. In the Mahanama Sutta, the Buddha said, “Just as oil rises to the top of a pot submerged in water, your virtue, your goodness, your faith, or generosity will rise to the top, and that is what will carry you to your next destination.”

Practicing the good heart, or bodhichitta, is the essence of a good life and the best possible habit. Bodhichitta, which is a heart filled with love and compassion, is also the essence of a Buddha. It purifies negative karma and accumulates positive karma. Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “The main thing is to practice bodhichitta. Dying with bodhichitta is the best way to die.”

Try to get to the point where your emotional default is into bodhichitta. In other words, what is your automatic reflex to life situations, especially difficult ones? Do you think about yourself, and how you might profit or escape from a situation? Or do you think about others, and how you can help? Progress on the path, and a sign that you’re well prepared for death, is when the former changes into the latter, when you default not into selfishness but into selflessness. If you’re uncertain about what to do in a situation, just open your heart and love. This is training in bodhichitta.

Being a good person, and helping others, creates the momentum that will carry you gracefully through the bardos. This is important because most of the practices we will discuss are meditations that non-Buddhists would never encounter. Buddhists aren’t the only ones who can have a good death or prepare properly. Anyone who lives with genuine goodness will be taken care of by the force of that goodness. Tenga Rinpoche says, “Even though it may appear to be a worldly activity, if you have the attitude of bodhichitta, then it is the practice of dharma.” And it will prepare you for death. Bodhichitta lays down a red carpet for you in the bardos.

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