Buddhist Prayers, Practices & Presence for the Dying

medicine buddha

Following is the advice of two Buddhist practitioners regarding presence and prayer for the dying.

From Christine Longaker at the Spiritual Care Program:

“When I first learned the Essential Phowa, I questioned whether a beginner could effectively do the practice for a dying person. How could I possibly offer spiritual support for another person? What if I did it wrong? Sogyal Rinpoche responded to my doubts with these valuable insights:

First, just at the moment of death, after the consciousness of the dying person “faints into darkness,” he or she will awaken into the luminous expanse of the truth. Thus our practice of Essential Phowa for the dying person is simply a skillful guidance to help them unite with the true nature of mind which will be dawning in their awareness at that time.

Second, in doing the phowa, we are invoking and relying on the limitless enlightened qualities of a buddha, a fully awakened being, which include an unbiased, boundless compassion and love, and the unlimited power to benefit and help all beings by responding to their needs, especially in the direst of circumstances. As soon as we invoke the presence of God, Christ, the Buddha, Padmasambhava, or another saint or Divine Being, their blessings and presence are spontaneously there. They will be present with the dying person in his or her hour of need, and they will know what to do!”

clear light buddha

From the venerable Loden Jinpa: 

“I often get asked, what people can do during the last days of a loved one.

Below is some simply advice for anyone currently dealing with death.

What to do when someone is dying
Generally speaking, just having good thoughts and memories of your loved one will be helpful both to you and your loved one(s). Getting upset, crying or getting angry, will only serve to make things worse. A persons state of mind at the time of death is important for a good rebirth. Therefore it is best to help the dying person remain calm and happy. Reminding them of events that will only cause problems is not a skillful action. So try to avoid this as much as possible.

If you feel so inclined, you and if possible, the dying person can meditate on compassion and loving-kindness for all sentient beings.

Start off the meditation by not focusing on a friend, as this can cause people to get upset and attachment to arise. Think about someone like a work friend or someone similar. Someone that you know and care for but, who is not too close that attachment will arise. Then as the meditation continues, add more and more people into the scope of your attention. In the end add all beings, even your enemies if you can without causing issues. Then this is the important part, try and develop a feeling that all the beings in the scope of your meditation are of equal importance to you. Why? because all beings want happiness and do not want suffering. No one wants to die, not even the worse people! But, we all have to leave our bodies behind. We all come into the world naked and all we leave naked. In this regard we are all the same, we are all equal. Try and develop a sense of equanimity towards all beings. This will happy remove attachment for friends and family and anger for people you feel have done you wrong. Buddhist assert that someone who dies with this type of mind is very likely to have a good rebirth.

In terms of a Buddhist prayers for the dying you and if possible the dying person can recite the following prayer.”

By this virtue (reciting this prayer), at the instant of death, may you take rebirth in Tushita (a heavenly realm). May you meet the limitless Bodhisattvas and be cared for by Maitreya, our supreme refuge.

Through the fire of great love, the wood of hatred is burnt.
Through the light of pristine awareness, the darkness of ignorance is dispelled. To the Regent of the Dharma (Maitreya Buddha) abiding in Tushita, I prostrate.

It is also recommended that anyone can recite the Clear Light Prayer for someone who is sick, in emotional distress or dying. We have several versions of it. Here is a Clear Light prayer from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and an updated version from from A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield, page 155.

More helpful tips for practicing presence, doing a Prayer or a Clear light Reading can be found here.

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