How to treat a dying person
How to treat a dying person
It seems that in the Tibetan culture people do not find death a particularly irritating or difficult situation, but here in the West we often find it extremely difficult to relate to it.
Nobody tells us the final truth. It is such a terrible rejection, a fundamental rejection of love, that nobody is really willing to help a dying person’s state of mind.
It seems necessary, unless the dying person is in a coma or cannot communicate, that he should be told he is dying.
It may be difficult to actually take such a step, but if one is a friend or a husband or wife, then this is the greatest opportunity of really communicating trust.
It is a delightful situation, that at last somebody really cares about you, somebody is not playing a game of hypocrisy, is not going to tell you a lie in order to please you, which is what has been happening throughout your whole life.
This comes down to the ultimate truth, it is fundamental trust, which is extremely beautiful. We should really try to generate that principle.
Actually relating with the dying person is very important, telling him that death is not a myth at that point, but that it is actually happening.
“It is actually happening, but we are your friends, therefore we are watching your death. We know that you are dying and you know that you are dying, we are really meeting together at this point.”
That is the finest and best demonstration of friendship and communication, it presents tremendously rich inspiration to the dying person.
You should be able to relate with his bodily situation, and detect the subtle deterioration in his physical senses, sense of communication, sense of hearing, facial expression, and so on.
But there are people with tremendously powerful will who can always put on a smile up to the last minute of death, trying to fight off their old age, trying to fight the deterioration of their senses, so one should be aware of that situation also.
Just reading the Bardo Thödol does not do very much, except that the dying person knows that you are performing a ceremony of some kind for him.
You should have some understanding of the whole thing, not just reading out of the book but making it like a conversation:
“You are dying, you are leaving your friends and family, your favourite surroundings will no longer be there, you are going to leave us.
But at the same time there is something which continues, there is the continuity of your positive relationship with your friends and with the teaching, so work on that basic continuity, which has nothing to do with the ego.
When you die you will have all sorts of traumatic experiences, of leaving the body, as well as your old memories coming back to you as hallucinations.
Whatever the visions and hallucinations may be, just relate to what is happening rather than trying to run away. Keep there, just relate with that.”
While you are doing all this, the intelligence and consciousness of the dying person are deteriorating, but at the same time he also develops a higher consciousness of the environmental feeling:
so if you are able to provide a basic warmth and a basic confidence that what you are telling him is the truth rather than just what you have been told to tell him, that is very important.
It should be possible to give some kind of simple explanation of the process of deterioration from earth into water, water into fire, and so on, this gradual deterioration of the body, finally ending up in the luminosity principle.
In order to bring the person into a state of luminosity you need the basic ground to relate with it, and this basic ground is the solidness of the person.
“Your friends know you are going to die, but they are not frightened by it, they are really here, they are telling you that you are going to die, there is nothing suspicious going on behind your back."
Fully being there is very important when a person dies. Just relating with now-ness is extremely powerful, because at that point there is uncertainty beyond the body and the mind.
The body and brain are deteriorating, but you are relating with that situation, providing some solid ground.
As far as the visions of the peaceful and wrathful divinities are concerned, it seems to be very much left to the individual to relate with them himself.
In the Tibetan Book of the Dead it says that you should try to conjure up the spirit of the dead person and tell him about the images; you may be able to do that if there is still continuity, but it is very much guesswork as far as ordinary people are concerned; there is no real proof that you have not lost touch with the person.
The whole point is that when you instruct a dying person you are really talking to yourself. Your stability is part of the dying person, so if you are stable then automatically the person in the bardo state will be attracted to that.
In other words, present a very sane and solid situation to the person who is going to die. Just relate with him, just open to each other simultaneously, and develop the meeting of the two minds.