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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
29 fall 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly All of us need to have a last will and testament whose execution meets the statutory requirements of the state we live in. however, the dharma will we create for our spiritual care at death is not a will in the legal sense; it is, quite simply, a document stating our wishes for spiritual care as we are dying and immediately after our death. the dharma will should include instructions for our entrusted dharma friends and for non-buddhist family and friends, and requests concerning prayers and ceremonies at our burial or cremation. If we do not actually write these doc- uments in a timely manner, give them to our family and entrusted dharma friends, and place extra copies in our dharma box, we risk losing precious opportuni- ties for liberation when we die. We will not be able to take advantage of the frui- tion of our practice. It is helpful to take time now to call or visit local funeral homes or cremato- riums and discuss our special requests with them. some are more accommodat- ing to buddhist traditions than others— especially the practice of not moving or disturbing the body for several days after death. Ideally we should know which places would be best ahead of time. When we do this, we can include their names and contact information for our family and entrusted dharma friends. I have been happy to hear stories of practitioners who were allowed to keep the body of their loved one at home for the traditional three days after death. family members and the lama were able to pray and do phowa; then they were also allowed to be at the cremation to continue praying. this gave the family great confidence that the deceased prac- titioner had received all the blessings needed to support them in their journey in the bardo states. another student told me about orga- nizations that help people bring a loved one home from the hospital, nursing home, or hospice after death, conduct a funeral at home, and then transport the body to the crematorium or burial site after three days. If we decide to make such arrangements, we must discuss this ahead of time to be sure non-buddhist family members understand why we have requested this and that they are in agreement with this wish to be taken home for three days. In addition to having a dharma will, it’s important to prepare a dharma box that contains all the items that we and our entrusted dharma friends will need to help us actualize our dharma vision and carry out our dharma will at the time of death. It will take some commitment and diligence to complete our preparation of the dharma box; we need to be thorough and include each practice and prayer we wish to have recited, as well as all ritual items upon which we wish to rely. We will once more benefit by envisioning our own ideal deaths, “hearing” our most familiar practices being read to us, and imagining what photos, thangkas, and statues inspire us the most. Putting together our dharma box is an excellent endeavor that allows us to continue reviewing our spiritual prog- ress. many of my students found that they had forgotten various oral instruc- tions and practices; by reviewing and consolidating their notes as they planned for death, they were able to reinvigorate their current practice. and this personal text can serve as a constant reminder of what our teachers have instructed us to practice. the scriptures remind us of the many aspects of devotion and generosity that we must repay our spiritual teach- ers—the greatest being putting their teachings into practice. Without this vigilant self-reflection on our own prog- ress, the jewels we have been offered by our teachers become encrusted by layers of dirt that will later take great effort to unearth. It is best to keep these jewels polished and offer them back tenfold! If death does not arrive before our annual review of the dharma will, we can add anything meaningful to our dharma box at that time. thus, we can aspire to remain constantly mindful of our practices; our progress; the teachings that help us increase our devotion, faith, and bodhichitta; and awareness and preparation for the always-approaching moment of death. Ensuring your Spiritual Needs are Met When you Die anyen rinpoche explains how to prepare your own dharma will and dharma box to guide your family and friends. From Dying with Confidence, forthcoming from Wisdom publications