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COVID and Impermanence

COVID and Impermanence [1]

COVID-19: A Lesson in Impermanence and Loss of Certainty

The untrustworthy Lord of Death
Waits not for things to be done or undone;
Whether I am sick or healthy
This fleeting life is unstable.

– by Shantideva

Covid-19 has really put impermanence and uncertainty in the front of our minds, where it should have been all along of course.

But so many things happen daily, things that have nothing to do with Covid, experiences that are unexpected, for example, the end of a relationship we thought would last for ever. Whether I am sick or healthy, I meet what I don’t want or what I didn’t expect. According to the Buddha, that is the very nature of this life: unstable, unpredictable, impermanent. I could die at any time…

Of course, there are many ways of getting sick and dying, but somehow this coronavirus, because it has spared no person and no country, has captured our imagination, and set in train fear and anxiety, and the sudden realization that life is fragile and I could die at any time. Yet this has always been a fundamental truth of the Buddha’s teachings; it’s just that we don’t really and truly believe it.

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[1] Talk given at the Dhammaloka Centre of the Buddhist Society of WA, Friday 24 September by Len Warren and Sue Lee


Meditation on Equanimity

Meditation on Equanimity [1]

As we approach death, it is good not to have excessive attachment to friends or hatred of enemies but rather a feeling of friendliness towards all – friends, enemies and strangers alike. This meditation is taken from Venerable Thubten Dondrub’s teachings on compassion given in 2004 at Hayagriva Buddhist Centre.

Select a friend, not your best friend or someone you are sexually attracted to, but a lesser friend. Then think of a stranger who you can picture in your mind. Finally consider someone you dislike, maybe they have hurt you, but don’t pick someone you hate. Visualize these three real people in front of you.

See that they are three human beings just like you who all want to be happy. Now ask, “Why is that person my friend? Why does he or she seem more deserving of my attention and energy? Is it because they bolster my ego? Is it that they fit with my self-cherishing thought?” Now try to remember what caused them to become a friend when you first met them. What was it that changed them from, say, a stranger into a friend?

You expect the friendship to go on, yet one rude word to you, one criticism, may kill the friendship. Friends often fall out; marriages break apart. So why exaggerate the friendship as your exclusive source of happiness and well-being? It is unhealthy to think, “Only these people like me and make me happy.”

But don’t be mistaken: with your friends, the object of the meditation is not to cut the friendship; you want to cut the attachment. If you generate a valid basis for the friendship, it will last longer and be healthier.

Read the Complete Meditation on Equanimity


Documents for Dying Updated

Documents for Dying Updated [1]

We’ve updated our popular pages on “Documents for Dying”. There are now 3 pages on the subject.

Part 1 is an introduction to the subject.

Part 2 provides a summary on each of the six documents.

Part 3 explains that, if you are unable to make decisions for yourself and non-urgent treatment is needed, treatment decisions will be made according to the ‘hierarchy of decision makers’.

We’ve also updated links to the latest version of forms and documents that can be obtained online.

Here’s a handy menu with links to all 3 pages:


The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud – Part 3 of 3

The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud (Part 3 of 3)

Don’t have 36 minutes to listen to the full audio recording of The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud? Not a problem! We’ve re-packaged the recording into three easy parts of 8, 12 and 17 minutes respectively. Here is the audio recording of Part III (the angry and frightening visions leading to the search for another body and rebirth) which runs for just 17 minutes and 32 seconds.

This is the last of the 3 part recording.


The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud – Part 2 of 3

The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud (Part 2 of 3)

Don’t have 36 minutes to listen to the full audio recording of The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud? Not a problem! We’ve re-packaged the recording into three easy parts of 8, 12 and 17 minutes respectively. Here is the audio recording of Part II (the peaceful visions at the start of the journey through the intermediate state) which runs for just 11 minutes and 20 seconds.

Listen to Part II then come back to our website’s News page over the next two weeks for a link to III.


The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud – Part 1 of 3

The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud (Part 1 of 3)

Don’t have 36 minutes to listen to the full audio recording of The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud? Not a problem! We’ve re-packaged the recording into three easy parts of 8, 12 and 17 minutes respectively. Here is the audio recording of Part I (The Moment of Death) which runs for just 7 minutes and 40 seconds.

Listen to Part I then come back to our website’s News page over the next two weeks for links to Parts II and III respectively.


The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud (full recording)

The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud (full recording)

This little book is a most wonderful and readable summary of the famous Tibetan Book of the Dead.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud was written by Jean-Claude van Itallie, who says in his Introduction, “A playwright and a practising Tibetan Buddhist for thirty years, I wrote it because I felt a need to make The Tibetan Book of the Dead as readily available as a book of poems. I wanted a version that could be easily read to oneself or to a friend at a time of need.”

As Jean-Claude van Itallie says, “The Tibetan Book of the dead contains practical navigational instructions of urgent use on the journey that starts with the dying and continues in the days following death. A guidebook to the ‘in-between place’, it instructs how to avoid the suffering caused by the confusion of constantly discursive thoughts”.

I have made an audio recording of the Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud.

The recording runs for about 35 minutes and is in three parts:

  1. the moment of death,
  2. the peaceful visions at the start of the journey through the intermediate state, and finally
  3. the angry and frightening visions leading to the search for another body and rebirth.

Attachment versus Love

Attachment versus Love [1]

Many of our teachers say that attachment will be our major source of suffering at the time of our death: attachment to this life, to our loved ones, to our possessions and most of all to our body.

Therefore, before we die, and whilst we are still capable, we should spend some time trying to pin down the meaning of attachment, what we are attached to, and learn how to overcome attachment and replace it with loving-kindness (‘love’).

The well-known nun, Thubten Chodron, has written a book about the main questions she has been asked over the years. The book is for those interested in Buddhism as well as those who have studied or practised it for many years but who are still unclear about some points.

In Buddhism, says Thubten Chodron, attachment is defined as an attitude that exaggerates other people’s good qualities, or projects good qualities that aren’t there, and then clings to these people. With attachment, we care for others because they please us. They give us presents, praise us, help and encourage us.

On the other hand, with love, we want sentient beings to have happiness and its causes simply because they are living beings just like ourselves.

When we are attached to others, we don’t see them for who they are and thereby develop many expectations of them, thinking they should be like this and they should do that. Then, when they don’t live up to what we thought they were or should be, we feel hurt, disillusioned and angry.

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[1] Extracts from Buddhism for Beginners, by Venerable Thubten Chodron, Snow Lion: Ithaca, 2001 page 30, selected by Len Warren


How attachment arises from ignorance

How attachment arises from ignorance [1]

For most of us, attachment will be a major source of suffering at the time of death: attachment to this life, to our loved ones, to our possessions and most of all to our body. Therefore it’s wise to investigate our attachments now, determine to reduce them, and find out how to do this. Understanding how attachment actually arises will be of great help in enabling us to eradicate it from the source. Some years ago, Geshe Jampa Tegchok gave some inspired teachings on this topic. They are quite deep and require some prior knowledge.

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[1] Extracts from Transforming the Heart: The Buddhist Way to Joy and Courage, by Geshe Jampa Tegchok, Snow Lion: Ithaca, page 228, selected by Len Warren


Compassion – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Compassion, a marvel of human nature [1]

Like all other mammals, we humans are born from our mothers, and for some time after birth we are utterly dependent on our mothers or other caring adults. For nine months we are nurtured in our mother’s womb, and at the moment of birth we are completely helpless. We can neither sit nor crawl, let alone stand or walk, and without the care and attention of others we cannot survive. In this state of absolute vulnerability, our first action is to suck at our mother’s breast. And with her milk, we are nurtured and given strength. In fact the period of dependency for young humans is particularly long. This goes for all of us, including even the worst criminals. Without another’s loving care, none of us would have lived more than a few days. As a result of this intense need for others in our early development, a disposition towards affection is a part of our biology.

[…]

There is now increasing scientific evidence that love, kindness, and trust have not only psychological benefits but also observable benefits to physical health. One recent study even shows that deliberate cultivation of love and compassion can even affect our DNA. It has also been shown that negative emotions such as anxiety, anger and resentment undermine our ability to combat illness and infection. Persistent negative emotions actually eat away at our immune system. People with a high level of self-focus are likely to be more prone to the stress and anxiety that accompany self-centredness. And stress and anxiety are well known to be bad for the heart.

Read more on Compassion – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

[1] Extracts from Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Rider 2012, page 41, with some headings added for clarity, by Len Warren, 10 January 2017 and 17 April 2020.