A Simple Practice from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying


Although I am currently in a peaceful place regarding the recent deaths of my mother, father and sister, it has been a matter of weeks since the sharp physical pain of grief was a daily companion. On that note, I wish to share about a simple, yet powerful practice that I adopted from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying referred to as Heart Practice.

I personally combined this heart practice with seven weeks of weekly prayer on the anniversary of the death of each of my loved ones. These periods of time were very transformative and seemed to allow the natural ebb and flow of grief to take its course. It also allowed for subtle shifts in perspective from raw grief to being in life more happily. This is week six of my weekly prayers for my sister, Deborah.

I was raised Catholic and took my religious life very seriously for decades, even going through a period of celibacy and a lifestyle of regular prayer and fasting. I now joke with close friends that I suffer from post dogmatic stress syndrome – insults and injuries of institutionalized religion have left a bad taste in my mouth. I realize that many have deeply satisfying spiritual lives in their own churches, synagogues, temples and mosques, and recognize this as a wonderful resource for people, but don’t see myself as part of that scene any time soon. Instead, I seek to infuse daily life with mindfulness and look for divinity in family, friends, and daily happenings.

This is why I share this wonderful heart practice, borrowed from Buddhism, which brings me much solace and an ongoing sense of well being throughout my grieving process. Since it is simple, universal and unfettered, I hope it may be helpful to others.

Described in the book in Chapter 19, entitled Helping After Death, the author, Sogyal Rinpoche, encourages the reader in this way: “ …whenever you are desperate, anquished, or depressed, whenever you feel you cannot go on, or you feel your heart is breaking, I advise you to do this practice. The only conditions to the effectiveness of this practice are that you need to do it with all your might, and that you need to ask, really to ask, for help.” Image

The four steps of heart practice are as follows:

Invocation: Invoke the presence of whichever enlightened being inspires you most, as an embodiment of divine love. For some this may be Jesus, for others, Buddha, for still others, Kwon Yin or Mother Mary. What appealed to me about the first step is the universality of this practice and the emphasis that the essence of divinity is more significant than the specific embodiment of a person, icon or figure.

Calling Out: Open your heart, asking for help, cry if you need to, weep freely to express your grief.

Filling the Heart with Bliss: Visualize the loving response of this enlightened being sending you streams of light, filling you with love and compassion, and replacing the suffering, grieving feelings with bliss.

Helping those who have died: With all confidence, send this blessing and feelings of bliss to your loved one who has died. Visualize the person’s suffering transformed into light, understanding and love. Image

I can only comment that this simple action has been of great comfort to me in these past months of bereavement and sincerely wish that it may be of some comfort to others.

Images: my former sun porch, depiction of the Green Tara from a work at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC, view of Verona Park on a Sunday afternoon

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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.

8 responses to “A Simple Practice from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”

  1. YAPCaB says :

    I completely relate to your feelings about organized religion. I was not raised in a religious household, but several times I went to churches to see if there was a fit for me. It was a uniformly depressing experience for me. All of them were as political and shallow as the worst companies I’ve ever worked at. Some where so openly non-inclusive and “superior” to non-believers that it was disgusting.

    • reneetamara says :

      Yes. I don’t resonate much with belief systems that are akin to spiritual country clubs where membership is conditional on this or that. I suspect that God, Love and Divinity are far beyond what we think or realize at this moment in humanity. We are all so diverse, complicated and mysterious…

  2. YAPCaB says :

    What about those people like me who aren’t sure who or what they believe in? Who do I invoke? I’m serious, this isn’t a taunt. All I “know” for sure is it isn’t possible that there is a supreme being who is all knowing, all powerful, and all loving. You can have any two of those three, but not all three.

    • reneetamara says :

      My best guess is that perhaps one need not be too literal in targeting a “divine being.” I know that there are times when I am more comfortable in visualizing the qualities of loving kindness and compassion. I only know that there have been watershed moments when I have felt sorrow or grief when a light went on and something in my heart said, “Love is bigger than even this that you are experiencing.”

      Hey, man, that’s all I got. Hope it helps. And thanks for your thoughtful replies.

  3. bedraggledandkicking says :

    Thank you for this. I would like to try this heart practice, it sounds healing.

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