Why We Are Here


Jeremy Tattersall, writes from France: I heard a piece of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying before I even knew what it was. On a still, cloudy morning on retreat in Australia in January 1992, Sogyal Rinpoche said he was going to read something to us, “just to try it out.”

I still remember the shock and the thrill of recognizing my reality, of everyone’s reality in his words.  In a few paragraphs, our neurotic conditioning and misguided quest for happiness was dissected and revealed for examination. It was followed by a litany of the sad, misdirected concerns and values of our small-minded, material society.  For me at least it described exactly how we were, and exactly how things still are.

It may sound a little strange to say it, but I felt really proud for him. I suspect I was beaming at him. The moment he finished reading he looked up to gauge the temperature of the room. In a fraction of a second he saw what was in my eyes and moved on, looking and sensing whilst the impact of the text was still written in our features. Right there in front of us, he had just got it completely and utterly right.

One thing I have always loved about The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is its language. It is no mean feat to represent on a blank piece of paper the unconventional implications of an intricate and profound oral wisdom. Somehow the long, rolling sentences dance effortlessly around the limitations of grammar and meaning to show the timeless realization of the Buddha. The book says exactly what this tradition has always said, transmitted in full into what was until very recently an utterly foreign language and culture. That is an extraordinary achievement.

So it’s probably deeply ironic that the sentence that has struck the deepest chord with me is possibly the shortest in the whole book. For me though, it expresses everything The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying encourages us to do. It has been a constant reminder to me over the last two decades, one that has pulled me through times of deep despair and confusion:

“To embody the transcendent is why we are here.”

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