Sharon Salzberg on The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Sharon Salzberg

Though my own parents died quite some time ago, I’ve been watching my friends face the loss of their parents. As a community, we have of course also been confronted by the deaths of siblings, friends, partners, children. As a community of practitioners, we have tried to translate the reality of change and loss into an awakened love and compassion.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying has been the go-to book for this process for almost everyone I know. A woman I met the other day told me she kept the book by her bedside for 5 months after her sister died. And all of us too, of course, will someday die, and all of us encounter change in every aspect of our lives. Remembering and incorporating this truth is to our great benefit in living, every single day. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying has immensely served those not currently bereaved, those not facing an immediate terminal diagnosis as well.

I first heard of the book when I was in Paris in 1991, having left Russia because of the coup attempt against Gorbachev. A friend brought me to Sogyal Rinpoche’s center in Paris to meet a wonderful Tibetan lama Sogyal Rinpoche was devoted to, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche. He was surrounded by a group of visiting schoolchildren, essentially playing with them. Sogyal Rinpoche graciously translated for us. It was an amazing day for me because I just loved Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche on the spot and he became my teacher.

I also met Andrew Harvey, who was stretched out on a floor with hundreds of pages of the manuscript strewn all around him as he edited. Remember what cutting and pasting meant in those days? He described what he was working on, and I said I’d look for it. It was an auspicious day all around.

One of America’s leading spiritual teachers and authors, Sharon Salzberg is cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts. She has played a crucial role in bringing Asian meditation practices to the West. The ancient Buddhist practices of vipassana (mindfulness) and metta (lovingkindness) are the foundations of her work.

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