The Sky’s the Limit: Thoughts on the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

ImageThe six most privileged, sacred moments of my life have been giving birth to each of my three children, and being present for the deaths of each of my three family members, my mother, father and sister. The first three of these events took place 18 months apart. The three deaths occurred all within the span of seven months’ time, as if the universe were giving me a crash course of some kind. This is from a purely self centered point of view, of course. The seventh sacred moment is the day I married my soulmate.
DSC02770I guess the Catholic church is pretty smart when it comes to identifying the sacraments. Content for future postings. This morning, though, death is on my mind.

What has helped me very much during my recent “crash course” in death was reading the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. If you are not dead yet, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is a must read. This book was recommended to me by Henry Fersko Weiss, a social worker who has devoted much of his practice to easing the passage of the dying. I took his End of Life Doula training at the Open Center in 2007, when I was a patient advocate and seeking greater understanding to support terminally ill patients or family members of those who died suddenly. Little did I realize how it would help me on such a personal level this past year.

One premise of the book is that we expertly hide from the inevitability of death in our minds in so many ways as we go about our busy lives, building up fortresses of illusion through our work, our activities, our material possessions, our obligations and even our very own physical bodies, as fragile as they may be. The book seeks to demystify the fact of physical death and encourages the reader to contemplate death, not with heaviness, but rather, without fear or illusion. The author is a gentle guide and offers anectdotes with humor and compassion. His writings have the ability to shift one’s perspective from denial and fear to open acceptance and peace.

I will share some of the specific portions of the book and how they made an impact on me as I sat for each of my family members through each of their very different deaths.

To start out with, I want to offer this food for thought from the book about the nature of mind:

 Realization of the nature of mind, which you could call our innermost essence, that truth we all search for, is the key to understanding life and death. For what happens at the moment of death is that the ordinary mind and its delusions die, and in that gap the boundless sky-like nature of our mind is uncovered. The essential nature of mind is the background to the whole of life and death, like the sky, which folds the whole universe in its embrace. 
…if all we know of mind is the aspect of mind that dissolves when we die, we will be left with no idea of what continues, no knowledge of the new dimension of the deeper reality of the nature of mind. So it is vital for us all to familiarize ourselves with the nature of mind while we are still alive. Only then will we be prepared when it reveals itself spontaneously and powerfully at the moment of death; be able to recognize it “as naturally” the teachings say, “ as a child running into its mother’s lap” and by remaining in that state, finally to be liberated.


I think that on the simplest mundane levels, the relationships, activities, and endeavors that bring us closest to understanding our truest selves assist us on this path. The dear friend who makes you feel most like yourself. The person you can say anything to or be your silliest or most stupid and they still see you and love you. That special place in nature, a tree, the beach, a lake or mountain that speaks to you on a core level, the good book that you read over and over because when you close the cover you are left with the feeling all is right with the world.  Image

On a more transcendent or spiritual plane, I have come to believe that the situations and people that demand for us to be at our most compassionate and loving, forgiving and patient, are the golden opportunities to get in touch with “the boundless, sky like nature” of our own minds. Usually these could be the same situations that may make you feel the most angry or upset, sad or in pain, awkward, or out of your element. They are the people you want to stay away from, who make you uncomfortable, who you may  dislike or disagree with. The only way to embrace them is to access your “sky like” mind. Once that happens, the sky is the limit.


Images: Bamboo, ceramic sculpture, 2004, Renee Folzenlogen
Various family photographs.

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About reneetamara

Writing about death, mental illness, spirituality, art and perfume. Because beauty feeds the soul, and love is beyond what we think.

2 responses to “The Sky’s the Limit: Thoughts on the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”

  1. YAPCaB says :

    Decided to buy the book based on your recommendation. Here’s the link to the kindle edition for your other readers:

    • reneetamara says :

      I hope you enjoy it! I think you will. It’s a meaty read, inspirational and contemplative. I seem to open up the pages to the exact spot I need to read at the time. It’s that kind of book. Thanks for reading, glad you are back from your hiatus!

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