The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying
 A Dialogue With Sogyal Rinpoche
 With Swami Virato
 The following is an exclusive interview from NEW FRONTIER Magazine, 
 November 1993 edition.  For subscription or other information, 
 contact NEW FRONTIER Magazine, 101 Cuthbert St., Phila.,PA 19106.  
 If there were ever a stereotype of the "laughing saint," Sogyal 
 Rinpoche would fit it perfectly. It's not that he's a comic, it's 
 just that he makes you want to smile, maybe even laugh.  While 
 living at the Rajneesh ashram in India, I remember hearing Rajneesh 
 telling the story of the laughing saints, and Sogyal brought back 
 those memories.
 	A handsome, jolly man, Sogyal Rinpoche  does not seem 
 saddened in any way with the topic he has chosen as his life's 
 work--death and dying.  Perhaps it's because he sees death in a 
 different light.  In fact, he sees death as a part of life. 
 [Rinpoche, pronounced rin4-po-shay, is a Tibetan word meaning 
 "precious teacher," and is a title/function bestowed upon a high 
 teacher of the Buddhist tradition.  The first rinpoche, Padma 
 Sanbhava, introduced Buddhism to Tibet in 747 A.D.]
 	Sogyal Rinpoche's most recent book, The Tibetan Book of 
 Living and Dying (HarperSanFranciso) published this past year, has 
 become one of Harper's best-sellers, so when we heard he was going 
 on a press tour, we were delighted to learn that he would be coming 
 to Philadelphia.
 	Unfortunately, the television stations and the city's major 
 newspaper,  The Philadelphia Inquirer, which had agreed to interview 
 him, canceled at the last minute.  There was no reason for him to 
 make a 200 mile round-trip journey from New York City to 
 Philadelphia for New Frontier Magazine.  I was amazed when we were 
 notified by his staff, that Sogyal Rinpoche would make the trip just 
 for us.  He had agreed, and he would come.
 	Special thanks to my friend Ruth Green for the use of her 
 beautiful apartment high in the sky overlooking Philadelphia, where 
 I invited a small group of New Frontier Magazine friends to meet the 
 Rinpoche, as I conducted the interview.
 	When I arrived at Ruth Green's apartment, the rinpoche was 
 sitting in a lotus position on Ruth's overstuffed couch, draped in a 
 beautiful yellow-green silk robe.  He was as down-to-earth as anyone 
 you'd meet at a new age party, or for that matter, any party.  
 	Fluent in English (he studied at England's Trinity College, 
 in Cambridge), Sogyal Rinpoche was raised to become a lama (Buddhist 
 priest) from the age of six, when he was brought to live at a 
 monastery run by one of the most revered spiritual masters, Janyang 
 Khyentse Chvkyi Lodrv.  With his knowledge of English, Sogyal was 
 called upon to be a translator for several Tibetan masters.
 	He began teaching in America in 1974, and returns to India 
 and other Himalayan countries every year, to study with spiritual 
 	Sogyal Rinpoche is the founder and spiritual director of 
 Rigpa, which has established Buddhist meditation centers in England, 
 France, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Australia, as 
 well as many in America.  Over the past decade he has shared ideas 
 and insights with notable leaders in the field of death and dying 
 including Elizabeth K|bler Ross, Raymond Moody, Stanislav Grof, 
 Kenneth Ring, Margot Grey and Charles Garfield.
 	He is sought around the world to speak on various topics 
 including psychology, the environment, art and the sciences.  We 
 have included an excerpt of his book in this issue of New Frontier, 
 which we trust you will enjoy.
 *   *   *
 NEW FRONTIER:  Now, more than in many years, there is a 
 preoccupation with death.  Death seems to predominate most of 
 society's television viewing, reaching people's mass consciousness, 
 there's the AIDS plague and more people dying of catastrophic 
 diseases.  You've written a book dealing with death and dying.  Much 
 of Buddhism is concerned with death and dying, as is much of 
 Christianity.  Isn't it time we stopped talking about dying, and 
 learned how to live more?
 SOGYAL RINPOCHE:  You will notice from the title of my book, it's 
 not just about dying, it's about living.  The problem in Western 
 society is that you don't look at life and death as a whole.  You 
 isolate death.  That's why there's so much fear.  You become 
 attached to life and deny and reject death.
 	It is important to realize that death is not something to be 
 feared as a tragedy, but rather an opportunity for transformation.  
 Death is like a mirror in which the true meaning of life is 
 reflected.  Spiritual traditions, such as the Trappist order in 
 Christianity, often maintain a vow of silence while constantly 
 saying, "Remember dying."  If you remember dying, you might 
 understand what life is about.  
 	When we do not understand death, we do not understand life.  
 Even though we know that we will die one day, we think we have an 
 unlimited lease on life.  We become trivial and lose perspective.  
 By reflecting on death, realizing you could die at any moment, life 
 becomes very precious.  As Buddha said, "Of all mindfulness, and of 
 all awareness, mindfulness of death and impermanence is the most 
 important."  Reflecting on death enriches.  Death is in many ways 
 our greatest teacher.  It enlivens and shows us what life is all 
 NF:  When you speak of death, you mean death of the body, of this 
 flesh, but couldn't it be said that there is no such thing as death 
 at all?
 SR:  On the one level, that is true, there is no death.
 NF:  But people concern themselves with it.
 SR:  Exactly, because they don't understand it.
 NF:  So, what to do?
 SR:  In all Eastern traditions, it is said that body, soul and mind 
 are the three doors.  It is through these doors that we commit 
 negative karma as well as all our positive actions.  Mind is the 
 creator of both happiness and suffering.  What death is really 
 showing is that we only understand the very superficial aspect of 
 our mind.  Dying is the peripheral.  The inner essence is the real 
 nature of mind.  As a great Tibetan saint and yogi said, "In horror 
 of death, I took to the mountains, and again and again I meditated 
 on the uncertainty in the hour of death.  Then capturing the focus 
 of the deathless unending nature of mind, now all fear of death is 
 done and over with."  By discovering the deathless unending nature 
 of mind, we come to realize something that is beyond change.
 NF:  Is that called "no mind?"
 SR:  You can say "no mind" also, yes.
 NF:  So why all the sadness and tears?
 SR:  In this life, we do many things.  We drink tea, we do 
 interviews, we talk about death [laughter].  These are just some of 
 the things we go through, kind of a ritual.  A funeral is another 
 NF:  One of the main traditions of Buddhism, and you've mentioned it 
 several times in your book, is the "point of preparation."  Not only 
 the point of preparation before death, you also suggest there are 
 ways that friends and relatives can help the dearly departed even 
 before they die.  What do you do?  Say you have a friend who has 
 AIDS and you know science and medicine say he's going to die.  
 Should you be morose in terms of concentrating on this person's 
 death, or should you be like the ostrich, and put your head in the 
 sand and simply have a good time?
 SR:  Both are slightly extreme.  You need balance, the middle way, 
 which would be that death is neither extraordinarily depressing nor 
 something we can avoid.  Death is merely a fact of life.  When you 
 begin to understand that death is a fact of life, you begin to 
 accept that someone with AIDS and ourselves are in the same 
 predicament.  The person with AIDS may die a little sooner, but we 
 all die, sooner or later.
 	It is not the quantity of life but the quality.  When you 
 begin to realize you don't have too much time to live, you focus on 
 what is most important.
 	The person facing transition, who is a spiritual 
 practitioner, stable in that practice, will find that the practice 
 itself will aid him or her.  When someone does not have the 
 spiritual training, the loving and compassionate support of friends 
 and relatives helps the person go through this transition.
 	When you help somebody, it helps you also.  It's a giving 
 and receiving.  Thousands of people who have read my book and who 
 have had near ones dying--even when they got the book as late as one 
 month before their transition--transformed the death experience.  It 
 becomes a celebration.
 NF:  Do you consider yourself a spiritual man or a religious man?
 SR:  A bit of both, I think.
 NF:  What is your definition of enlightenment?
 SR:  Slo-o-o-wly wakening [laughter].  In the West there is a 
 dramatic idea of enlightenment.  The very word enlightenment 
 suggests wakening.  Because of ignorance, we are imprisoned in 
 ourselves, even though we have the potential.  Each of us, 
 regardless of who we are, has as our innermost essence The Buddha.
 	While it can be instantaneous and dramatic, generally, 
 particularly in my case [laughter], it is very gradual.
 	As one master said, the ultimate point of 
 enlightenment--having purified the great delusion, the heart's 
 darkness--the raging light of the unobscure self continues to rise.  
 That's what enlightenment is.
 NF:  If we don't achieve that state upon exiting, can we still 
 achieve it?
 SR:  Yes.  Sometimes one life is not sufficient.  If you look into 
 our minds, there is such a mess, that it will take many lifetimes to 
 purify.  Or you can say it took many lifetimes to get into the mess 
 that we are in.  There is a natural justice which is karma.  If you 
 live a good life, that will in itself lead you to a better next 
 life.  But practitioners often pray that when they die they will 
 meet with the spiritual teachings again to continue on their journey 
 to enlightenment.  Even in the case of The Buddha, he had one 
 thousand lifetimes before he became enlightened.
 NF:  Tell us about crossing over.  Do you have recollections of past 
 SR:  One has more recollections of this when one is younger.  To be 
 frank, I do not remember events or circumstances of my past lives.  
 I am supposed to be the reincarnation of a great master.  His name 
 is also Sogyal.  He was the teacher of the thirteenth Dalai Lama and 
 one of the great masters of the 19th Century.  But if you would ask 
 what evidence there is that I might be an incarnation, what is 
 interesting is that the wisdom continues.  From a very young age, I 
 had a natural grasp of the teachings.  Intuitively I began to 
 understand things without learning the deeper philosophies.  I had a 
 natural grasp of them.  It was later, when I came to study them, 
 that I realized, "Oh yes, that's all it is, I already knew that."
 NF:  Buddhism is considered a "religion" in Western society, yet 
 your work seems to be embraced by the New Age community.  SR:  
 Interestingly, Buddhism is both a religion and a way of life.  For 
 those that believe in religion, Buddhism is very much a religion; 
 but for those who do not believe in religion, Buddhism is a science 
 of mind, a way of life.  There are many who reject institutionalized 
 religions, but accept Buddhist spiritual teachings.
 	It's a vehicle for realizing the truth of ourselves.  When 
 you talk about the Buddhist teachings, ultimately there is the state 
 of non-meditation. In a sense, it transcends all paths.
 	If you need ritual, ritual is a part of our life; if you 
 seek ceremony, the Tibetan tradition is extraordinarily rich; if you 
 want symbolism, we have it; if you prefer chanting, there is 
 chanting; if you don't want that, we have simple sitting; if you 
 want philosophy, we have philosophy; if you require psychology, we 
 have psychology; if you want non-meditation, we have 
 	Buddha wanted to reveal to everyone his enlightenment, which 
 he saw as the nature of everyone.  Unfortunately, he realized with 
 sadness that, even though we have the Buddha nature, it's been 
 somewhat limited by our ordinary mind. To use an example, take an 
 empty vase.  The space inside the vase is the same as the space 
 outside it, but the walls of the vase limit it.  The space inside 
 the vase is like our nature, limited by ordinary mind.  When you 
 become enlightened, it's as if you break the walls of the vase.  The 
 space inside becomes one with the space outside.  In fact, they were 
 never separated.  Buddha wanted to show this, but realized that to 
 convey the profound peace he had realized, he needed different 
 vehicles to suit different needs.  That's why in Buddhism there are 
 many vehicles, because ultimately Buddha did not have a teaching.  
 He did not come to teach a particular dogma.
 NF:  Where did some of these things come from?  I'm curious about 
 the word "bardo."
 SR:  Bardo is a Tibetan word.  After you die, and before you take on 
 a new birth, there is an intermediate state called the bardo.  There 
 are other meanings also, because the word "bar" means in between, 
 and the word "do" means suspended.  Whenever you are in between two 
 circumstances or situations, you are in the bardo.  We are born, we 
 live a little bit, and we die.  The time/experience between birth 
 and death is a bardo.  In fact, all life is a bardo--every moment, 
 every thought.  It is constantly occurring, and what the bardo 
 teaching is showing is that in the transitionSYMBOL 190 \f "Symbol"
 even though we are confusedSYMBOL 190 \f "Symbol"there is always 
 the gap and in the gap there is the possibility of enlightenment.  
 It shows the different methods we can use to recognize our internal 
 NF:  Did you have a specific purpose in writing The Tibetan Book of 
 Living and Dying?
 SR:  When I came to the West, I realized there was much hunger for 
 spiritual teachings, but no environment for spirituality.  There is 
 religion, but no spirituality, so I felt a need to write one book 
 explaining everything from A to Z, to give a complete picture.  
 Initially, I wanted to write a small book, a kind of a pocket guide 
 for helping the dying.  But when you start talking about death, you 
 cannot help talking about life.  And when you talk about life, you 
 talk about karma, the nature of mind, and so forth.  It is not in 
 the form of the written tradition, but of the oral tradition as my 
 masters have transmitted it to me.  People in the West are not able 
 to follow the spiritual teachings, go to the Himalayas, or follow 
 the masters.  Therefore, we must give them something authentic and 
 accessible, which can perhaps transform their lives and help them 
 connect with the spiritual dimension to find meaning and happiness 
 in life.
 	So, if you read the book over and over, your understanding 
 becomes deeper and begins to flower.  And like a flower blossoming, 
 the layers drop off and you slowly awaken to understanding the true 
 meaning--the meaning behind the meaning.
 	This book has come as a result of ten years of reflection, 
 and three and a half years of writing.  Much suffering could be 
 removed if people have the knowledge, so I've written this book with 
 that aim in mind.  This is for the larger public, a larger audience. 
 	As my master used to say, the more you listen (or the more 
 you read), the more you hear, and the deeper your understanding 
 NF:  Do you have a favorite meditation?  
 SR:  I have many favorite meditations.
 NF:  If you were to pick one for us, what would it be?
 SR:  Be spacious.
 NF:  Do you think it possible that the people who are "exiting" now, 
 because of all the lessons being offered, have a better chance of 
 getting off the wheel of samsara?
 SR:  It is up to them.  As Buddha said, "What we are is what we have 
 been, what we will be is what we do now."  The master who 
 established Buddhism in Tibet further clarified this by saying, "If 
 you want to know your past, look into your present condition.  If 
 you want to know your future, look into your present actions."
 	Just because we go through a difficult situation, it doesn't 
 mean that the future is predetermined.  The future is very much in 
 our hands, in our actions.
 NF:  Some Western religions contend Buddhists are atheists.  How 
 would you reply to this?
 SR:  Buddhism does not deny the nature of God, but rather the 
 concept of God.  As one great Buddhist master said, "Absolute is 
 beyond mind."  That which is within the realm of mind is called 
 relative.  Since God is absolute, how can mind understand?  We have 
 to transcend mind to realize its true nature.  The problem is that 
 we conceptualize, and so we worship a kind of clichi, a concept.  A 
 concept, however good is, as the saying goes, like a patch--one day 
 it will come off.  That's one of the reasons Buddhism is really 
 personally realized.  We can even find the "Buddha Nature" in 
 Christianity.  In his moment of enlightenment, St. Thomas Aquinas 
 threw most of the Catholic teachings into the fire saying, "This is 
 all rubbish, because this is all concept."	Buddhism does not 
 deny the nature of God, or what God represents, which is goodness, 
 the heart of spirituality.  That it does not deny.
 NF:  We always seem to want to personalize God.  Even the Buddhists 
 say "Do not make an image,"  yet have statues of Buddha.
 SR: What is interesting about Buddhism, is that it always works with 
 two truths:  an absolute and a relative.  They are like the two 
 wings of a bird.  On the absolute level, there is no God as "other.
 "  God is not outside, but within the nature of our mind.  On the 
 relative level, just as there are beings like us, there are also 
 Buddhists who come in human form to help the beings on that level.  
 	If you understand the union and indivisibility of absolute 
 and relative, you can understand and appreciate the absolute and the 
 relative.  There is a famous Buddhist saying, "Form is emptiness, 
 emptiness is form."  That is to say, when you examine things, break 
 them down, you find they are insubstantial, empty, inherently 
 non-existent.  Yet, the appearance of things is in no way a 
 contradiction, because the truth of the absolute appears in the form 
 of form.  In Christianity, if you look at the trinity, the absolute
 SYMBOL 190 \f "Symbol"God the FatherSYMBOL 190 \f "Symbol"is, 
 through the medium of the Holy Ghost, manifest as the incarnate, as 
 the Son.  The Son is the appearance.  God is no-form, the absolute.  
 The medium is the Holy Ghost, the energy.  This is the trinity, or 
 the three kayas I mention in the Chapter called "The Universal 
 Process," in which I attempt to connect Christianity, Buddhism, and 
 NF:  Some say we can achieve instant enlightenment.  The Buddha also 
 said that enlightenment doesn't have to take many lifetimes, and can 
 happen in a flash.  At the same time, others say there has to be 
 deep study.  How can there be both the need for deep study , and 
 instant enlightenment?
 SR:  It depends on the person.  If you have already been purified of 
 your past karma, then it is possible.  There have been few 
 individuals in history who have gained enlightenment 
 instantaneously.  There are cases, but that is because in the past 
 they've done the work, so to speak.  Enlightenment is not 
 difficult.  It's removing the obstacles that is difficult.
 NF:  So enlightenment is always there, but we just can't see it?
 SR:  Yes.  For example, when you meditate you can get certain 
 glimpses of it, but then your old habits come back to obscure it.  
 After awhile we've almost no memory of it.  The main thing is to 
 stabilize our nature.  One glimpse is not enough.
 	In Buddhism, we talk about three things--the wisdom of 
 listening and hearing, the wisdom of contemplation and reflection, 
 and the wisdom of meditation and application.  Through these three 
 wisdom tools we awaken our real nature.
 	Sometimes I compare samsara to an accident in which we lost 
 our mind with amnesia.  Through this teaching, and the wisdom of 
 listening and hearing, the wisdom of contemplation and reflection, 
 and the wisdom of meditation and application, we gradually come to 
 realize our real nature.  Then, through practice, we stabilize it.  
 That's what takes so long, to purify and stabilize.  Then 
 enlightenment is possible.
 	Sometimes it is said that very high teachings are able to 
 bring realization very directly, but that is of course from the 
 ground of the teaching. When you actually apply it to individuals it 
 is a different story.
 NF:  Can one ever know for sure if someone else is enlightened?
 SR:  We can never judge.
 NF:  Can we tell if we're enlightened?
 SR:  For that we need to have the knowledge in order to know.  The 
 thing is, it can be a deception.
 NF:  How so?
 SR:  That's one of the reasons I've written this book.  Even though 
 this book is accessible, I've just shown you that there's no quick 
 fix.  Enlightenment requires discipline and effort.  Sometimes 
 people mistake little glimpses for enlightenment.  There is a 
 saying, "Understanding should not be mistaken for realization, and 
 realization should not be mistaken for liberation."  Ordinary people 
 cannot act like yogis, yogis cannot act like siddhas, and siddhas 
 cannot act like Buddha.  For example, if you have an experience and 
 you feel you really can fly, and you jump out the window, you get a 
 strong message that you can't.  You have an experience, and get 
 wrapped up in it, and the ego gets involved.  
 NF:  Some, such as psychologists and people who work with the mind, 
 do not believe in this process, might say that this is a bunch of 
 rubbish.  Earlier you said we have to work with the mind.  Isn't 
 this really a paradox?
 SR:  No.  We can work with mind to transcend mind.  Use mind as a 
 vehicle to transcend mind.
 NF:  I also know many people who use mantras to transcend mind, but 
 it seems like another co-dependency, another drug.
 SR:  It depends on how you do it.  The mantra itself is not a 
 co-dependency.  It's a method, a way of freeing.  The practice may 
 not be co-dependent, but if you have a co-dependent attitude, then 
 it could be.
 	You see, as long as we are in samsara, we grasp at 
 everything, including spiritual things.  That's why teaching is 
 important in order to decipher what is, or to bring about the wisdom 
 of discernment.  We really need the wisdom of discernment.
 NF:  Do you see the world becoming more spiritual or less spiritual 
 as we enter the21st century?
 SR:  I don't have the vision to answer that, but the Dalai Lama 
 feels that the 1990's are more spiritual, because people have 
 learned a little lesson from the confusion they've met.
 NF:  What do you see as the one biggest obstacle facing humanity?
 SR:  The biggest problem for humanity, not only on a global level, 
 but even for individuals, is misunderstanding.  We misunderstand.  
 Two people are saying the same thing, but they don't think they are 
 saying the same thing, and they begin to argue even though they are 
 saying the same thing!  I remember two students of mine, both 
 wonderful people, who were in conflict with each other because they 
 were both holding a particular work or something and each was always 
 thinking the other was against him.  I tried many methods, which 
 didn't work, and finally I took them and banged their head 
 together.  And it worked, because they both saw how they are each 
 wonderful, that they were not against each other, and they became 
 very good friends.  My frustration, like in Bosnia, and with other 
 peoples, is that they don't see that, and they just go on so 
 NF:  Do you have a Zen stick?
 SR:  [Laughter] That works only in certain situations!  What we need 
 to do is create understanding and communication.  Communication is 
 very important.  Communicate.  If you know how to communicate and 
 listen, you'll begin to understand.  Compassion is listening.  
 Compassion is communicating.
 NF:  Thank you so very much for driving all this way, and sharing 
 your knowledge with us.
 SR:  I enjoyed it very much. 
 Swami Virato is the Founder & Executive Editor of NEW FRONTIER