Good Life, Good DeathThis book was published in 2001 and its author is a Tibetan who now lives in the US. Gehlek Rimpoche’s father was a senior official in independent Tibet and Gehlek Rimpoche, recognized as an incarnate lama, received a religious education in the traditional manner in a monastery. The author writes with feeling about the experiences that most of us face in our lives, as we move to realization that death awaits us.
Gehlek Rimpoche says that he has a firm and unshakable belief in reincarnation. He says that when we look at reality, we can see that things don’t happen at random. “There is always a reason, always a cause , and always a set of conditions.” He notes that, “From a spiritual point of view, when you look at why people suffer, you will see two different reasons, the original cause and condition.” Gehlek Rimpoche says that suffering is created by our negative emotional habits, and these block our freedom. For Buddhists life is simple; bad actions lead to more suffering and good actions lead to freedom and a good life, and actions in one life are reflected in later incarnations.
The Buddhist masters stress that negative emotions — anger, attachment, hatred and jealousy — are the original cause that keeps us trapped in the cycle of life and death. For Gehlek Rimpoche the beginning of freedom is through recognizing that we have anger, attachment, hatred and jealousy – “We have to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.” Gehlek Rimpoche argues that we have the opportunity to achieve enlightenment — and that we should seize the chance now.
The book also details the physical process of death, the stages we go though as we die. It also explains how we should react when we are dead and how we return in a new life.
Gehlek Rimpoche’s descriptions of negative emotions, such as anger, are particularly useful. He says that anger is addictive, deep down we can experience pleasure from being angry. He also says that repression can be a form of anger, an internalisation of anger. Gehlek Rimpoche notes that, “A lot of traditions encourage repression, but it can create many problems.”
He also comments on our human tendency to blame others, rather than accepting responsibility for our actions, we are too proud to admit our faults. Gehlek Rimpoche says that in Buddhism patience is seen as the antidote to anger. The patience that holds back from hurting or harming and pushing yourself to care for yourself and others, he says that, “patience plus enthusiasm creates an interest in life and work.” He says that patience can mean not submitting to hatred.
Gehlek Rimpoche quotes his father on suffering, and he said; “Whenever any kind of suffering comes …. it is our karma. If we don’t pay for our karma, who will?” He says that the only hope fir happiness is to abolish our negative karma. He says that patience is “not a strategy for overcoming your enemies .. it is a matter of overcoming the shortcomings of your mind.” But while being patient about inevitable suffering you do not have to add to suffering, that does not make you a better person, you need to take care of yourself physically and financially.
This book is about hope and developing the power to control our lives by controlling the negative emotions that we can so easily become addicted to; ending old and negative patterns in our lives.Gehlek Rimpoche says that visualization is a powerful tool which we can use to help create change, especially visualizing pure light filling your body, washing away negative behavior.
The author also writes at length about attachment, he says that attachment is an emotional pattern, “you see something, you like it very much, become possessive of it, and don’t want to be separated from it, your mind becomes fixated on it, desires it and becomes obsessed. As with objects, so with people, if you love purely you want the person you love to be happy, for their life to be better, whether or not you are with them. With every love we have attachment creeps in, so love is always a little difficult, and attachment is the glue that keeps us stuck in the cycle of life and death, without freedom of choice. He points out that pure love can overcome attachment.
For Gehlek Rimpoche the ego is the true enemy. However the ego is actually a collection of thoughts, of ideas and of fears. The ego lives in fear of being annihilated, and we think that the ego IS us. He says that the go catches fire when it’s protecting itself, “the flames that burn are anger and obsession, pride and jealousy. The fuel that keeps the fire burning is fear.” We blame conditions for our problems, but the problem, and the cause of our problems, is inside. Gehlek Rimpoche points out that we (in this life) are not permanent, we do not exist in isolation and no one is by nature either an enemy or a friend. He says that when we give up Ego we exchange “I” for seeing others as the most precious.
The book also contains Allen Ginsburg’s “Do the Meditation Rock”. Gehlek Rimpoche says that meditation is, “nothing but getting your mind used to focusing.” He says that it is useful to meditate many times a day, but for a short session each time. The mind has to learn how to watch the mind. The purpose of meditation is to eliminate negative emotions and fully enjoy positive emotions.
In Buddhism there are two truths; the absolute truth and the relative truth. Relative truth is the truth that we use daily and in society, absolute truth is not measurable. The path to freedom is wisdom and compassion. Gehlek Rimpoche says that, “you try to achieve the highest possible goal for yourself and others by applying love and compassion and wisdom to your life.” He says that Buddhism can be condensed into a handful or can be presented with enough detail to fill the universe. For him you have to remove your mind’s obstacles, then your pure nature can definitely shine, and by following this guidance you can have a beautifully functioning life.
The final chapter is entitled “A Good Death”. Having pointed to the fact that this life will end for us all at some time, Gehlek Rimpoche points to the importance of preparing for death now. At the point of death, not letting go is our biggest problem. And he then points out that the best way to prepare for death is to live life; practice patience, love and compassion in your daily life. Gehlek Rimpoche points out that to do a spiritual practice is to sleep with it, live with it, and die with it.
In preparing for death he suggests that property should be given before death. He also reminds us that death is a natural and inevitable process; the mind should be calm and quiet and resigned to dying, the mind should then be influenced with positive thoughts. Visualize Buddha, or Christ, or the prophets, think of compassion and love. As we die our hearing, sight go, then our clarity and lucidity; the mind begins the process of separation.
At the point of death you will see a whitish light, then a reddish haze and then darkness. The mind or consciousness remain clear, still and lucid as we pass from this life. Gehlek Rimpoche summarizes Tibetan Buddhism as a positive tradition, based on the notion that we can turn ourselves into completely wise and loving beings. The final sentence of the book is: “May you and all beings have happiness, be free from suffering, from attachment and hatred, and find the joy that has never known suffering.”
This is a marvellous book; deep ideas are expressed in simple language and the spiritual strength of Gehlek Rimpoche is found on every page.Good Life, Good Death