I am dying

April fish.

But wait, it’s no joke. Of course I’m dying. So are you. We are all dying, right from the moment we are born, and according to the book I’m reading, we need to think about our own death constantly, accept it, and prepare for it. Only then will our life have meaning.

I’m reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. The author intended it as an expansion of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which was published in 1927 but contains Buddhist teachings that are thousands of years old.

Does today’s post strike you as morbid? If so, you’re not alone. According to Sogyal Rinpoche, we in the West

are taught to deny death, and taught that it means nothing but annihilation and loss. That means that most of the world lives either in denial of death or in terror of it. Even talking about death is considered morbid, and many people believe that simply mentioning death is to risk wishing it upon ourselves.

I’ll admit my first thought when the book suggested I should think about my own death constantly was “Forget it! I want to enjoy my life.” Isn’t that what being here now is all about?

Apparently not.

Just the opposite, in fact.

According to Sogyal Rinpoche, contemplating death, or impermanence, is the way “to make rich use of this life” and to “ensure that when we die it will be without remorse or self-recrimination at having wasted our lives.” He quotes Tibet’s poet saint Milarepa as saying, “My religion is to live—and die—without regret.”

I’m on board for living and dying without regret.

Furthermore, if it’s true, as Sogyal Rinpoche contends, that “fear of death and ignorance of the afterlife are fueling [the] destruction of our environment that is threatening all our lives,” then anyone who cares about our planet deeply and wants to protect it needs to let go of thinking that death is contrary to life.

I’ve only just started reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which is 400 pages thick, and I’ve already encountered several provocative ideas I might explore on this blog over the next few weeks.

Of course, I haven’t forgotten that April is national poetry month in both Canada and the United States. In that spirit, I’ll share my favourite poem about death, by Mary Oliver:

When death comes


like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse


to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;


when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,


I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?


And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,


and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,


and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,


and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.


When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.


I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


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