Lama Zopa Rinpoche is the spiritual director of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, a worldwide network of Buddhist centers and monasteries, clinics, hospices, and schools. His books include How to Be Happy and Dear Lama Zopa. Kathleen McDonald was ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun in 1974 and is the author of several books.
Most people in the West do not think much about death; it is a subject which our culture trains us to avoid. Impermanence is not very popular either. The latest trend counsels elders that by eating the right foods, exercising regularly, and avoiding accidents, they can stay forever young and not succumb to the diminishment of the body and mind.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Kathleen McDonald think it is helpful to constantly be asking ourselves questions about death and dying. What are your feelings when you read about the deaths of people in a car accident or of a disease that runs in your family? How does your body respond when you attend a funeral of a relative or friend? It is at these times that we can square off with our fear of death and learn how to deal with it. They also suggest doing some practices to connect with impermanence. Meditate on the rising and the setting of the sun, the consuming nature of the oil inside a burning lamp, or the changing of the seasons.
In each of these meditations we sense intimations of the fragility and vulnerability of life. The authors share the nine-point meditation on death from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. They also present the Five Powers which give a description of a life lived for others; these should be practiced as one approaches death. Other practices covered are dying with bodhichitta (practicing the good heart), tonglen (the practice of giving and taking), giving your body away, and dedicating merit.