Tibetan Advice to Live and Die without Regret

Please note, this has nothing to do with Pet Society. If you’re looking for PS news, check out the official blog or any of the other sites in my blogroll.

I am in South Korea right now. My grandfather, who turns 99 next week, is dying.

In preparing for this trip, I’ve been reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. I’m not a spiritual person, yet I find many of the passages in this book very comforting. Rinpoche, who is a Tibetan monk, encourages us to think of death not as an end, but as the beginning of something greater than what we know as life.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that there are four continuously interlinked realities: 1) life 2) dying and death, 3) after death, and 4) rebirth. They believe that if we contemplate and accept death as part of our reality, we have a better chance of living our lives more fully and without regret. As Tibet’s poet saint, Milarepa, said, “My religion is to live—and die—without regret.”

My grandfather has definitely lived without regret. He’s a deeply religious man, who believes in the power of prayer. My mother, his child, is a doctor, and while he’s been proud of her accomplishments, he’s shunned Western medicine for most of his 99 years. He claims that he’s lived this long because of healthy eating, exercise, and devotion to God and family. He was with my grandmother for seventy years, from when she was 19 till she died at the age of 89. I don’t quite believe him when he claims that they never raised their voices at each other, but I do know that they had some very happy moments.

I remember my grandfather as a strong man. For the past several days, however, he’s been lying in a hospital bed, his body shrunken like a Holocaust survivor, his skin as flabby and yellow as that of a chicken. His breathing is forced, and he’s been sleeping most of the time. Still, he’s very much present. When I said hello to him yesterday, he opened his eyes and acknowledged me. I held his hand and he gripped harder, even swinging a few times. He didn’t speak, but when I talked to him, he nodded and blinked in response.

Right now, I’m sitting in his kitchen, expecting him to return home. One of his wishes is to die in his own bed. This is something that the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying also recommends, that people die in their homes, where they feel most comfortable. The book also encourages us to give relief to those who are near death, by touching them and letting them speak their minds freely, even to express anger. Above all, it encourages us to show unconditional love to the person dying.

I’m trying to do that now, for my grandfather, who is dying in a way that befits his long, dignified life.


18 Responses to “Tibetan Advice to Live and Die without Regret”

  1. 1 dark.malignity August 17, 2010 at 2:39 am

    thanks for sharing something so personal. it might be cold comfort, but my thoughts are with you 😦

  2. 3 Jean-Pierre August 17, 2010 at 4:06 am

    best wishes! it is wonderful that his life can have taught you so much 🙂

  3. 4 leslie August 17, 2010 at 9:22 am

    it’s nice that you are with him at this time and are able to share in his transition to his next reality …. it’s the people you leave behind that makes it hard, much more than the actual leaving, I think. And how wonderful for him to have had 70 years with your grandmother. xxoo

  4. 5 regina August 17, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    God will rescue him, just continue to pray that he will have an everlasting life :]

  5. 6 Cynthia August 17, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    I’m sure it’s hard to be there, but at the same time it’s great you can all be there — and that he can die at home instead of in a hospital. I hope I can, too, when my time comes — and that it won’t be for many, many happy and productive years. It sounds like your grandfather has had a good life.

  6. 7 Nena August 17, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    My grandfather is 92 and has lived a very good, dignified life as well. And I can only imagine how hard it will be when his time comes,though he still is very healthy. But the thing you say about death being a part of life is so beautiful.

    I wish you a lot of streght and peace! *hugs*

  7. 8 Mary Finnigan August 18, 2010 at 7:54 am

    Sogyal Lakar aka Rinpoche is not a monk. He is a sadistic sexual predator with an extremely seedy reputation. He did not write the TBOLD. He is barely literate and cannot read Tibetan. Google him to find out more.

  8. 9 jj August 18, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    My aunt, who was 95 and active till the end, just died with her family around her. Her funeral service was a beautiful celebration of her life. I’ve come away from it remembering how very wonderful it is just to have a family, and how important it is to have time with the people you care about.
    I hope your grandfather has a peaceful passing, and I hope your family finds comfort in being with him then.

  9. 11 Cait August 19, 2010 at 6:49 am

    I am so sorry 😦 My dad made it to 84 – he wanted to be 100 – and my mom was 79 – she died 4 months later…. both were at home – because I insisted upon it – even tho I left my own home to make it so – I am so glad I did! 😉 My grandmother was 105 – I had no say in the matter – she died in the hospital 😦 They all died the same year….

  10. 12 Pet Society Girl August 19, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    I’m glad you are able to spend this time with your grandfather. My thoughts are with you.

  11. 13 maplesstraveler August 19, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you for sharing this personal story with us. The parts of the book that you shared have made me think about living and dying in new ways.
    It sounds like your grandfather has lived a long, joyful and inspiring life. All the best to you and your family.

  12. 14 Jill August 19, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    thanks for sharing this with us. My thought of peace are with you and your grandfather. Thanks for the inspiration.

  13. 15 Ms. Booyah August 19, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Mary ‘Tact Is My Middle Name’ Finnigan, huh?

    Best wishes — it could be a whole lot worse, and my thoughts are with you.

  14. 16 Amanda Tutti A La Rutti August 20, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    Hi Soyon,

    Sorry to hear about your grandad. I have also read this book, it’s amazing and your article is great. I was brought up by my grandma, and she passed away a few years ago from cancer at the age of 81. From the moment, I found out she was ill to even now many years after she’s passed away, I have problems dealing with her passing and my bereavement. This book definitely helps. I wish you and your family well.


  15. 17 Bubbles August 21, 2010 at 2:20 pm

    I’m so glad your grandfather has his loving family there for comfort. I hope him peace of mind. I’m Buddhist and have always been taught that death is not an end but a chance to reborn.

  16. 18 Deanna August 28, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Thank you dear, for sharing your grandfather with us.

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