Date: Sun, 26 Sep 1993 16:24:15 EST
 The Boston Globe
 September  21, 1993, Tuesday, City Edition
 By James L. Franklin, Globe Staff
     Everybody is worried about dying, the Tibetan teacher Sogyal
 Rinpoche said. "But to die is extremely simple. You breathe out,
 and you don't breathe in."
    A ripple of laughter passed through the 400 people crowded
 into a conference room recently at Interface in Cambridge, a
 center for alternative religious, health and psychological
    They'd come to see a lama, a Tibetan monk, who is noted for
 his ability to  speak to Westerners and who, in a little less
 than a year, has sold nearly 100,000 copies of a book of Buddhist
 teachings, "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying."
    Rinpoche - a religious title meaning "precious one" - left his
 homeland as a child in 1959, studied in Catholic schools in India
 and in Britain at Trinity College, Cambridge, and set out to
 bring the ancient tradition of  Tibet  to  bear on the anxieties
 of men and women in Europe and North America.
    "I'm not a very good lama," he insisted to an interviewer. He
 speaks often of his own teachers, his "masters," some of whom he
 served as translator when they came to the West.
    The book is the result of doing what his teachers told him, to
 pass on the  ancient teaching to a new world, as "a service to
 humanity." That includes, he  says, teaching Westerners
 "discernment": which Buddhist teachings to use and which to
 ignore, how to find a teacher and persevere on the path to
   And he is succeeding in drawing new students to Buddhism, said
 Steve Zimmerman of Watertown, who leads classes at Rinpoche's
 local Rigpa center there. "Because he was raised largely in the
 West, he has much greater understanding of Westerners."
    David F. Gibbs, 45, a social worker at the Merrimack Valley
 Hospice in Lowell, said he once found Tibetan Buddhism "too
 ritualistic and elaborate, beyond my cultural experience."
    Now he finds Rinpoche's teaching has helped him "develop more
 compassion and understanding," in seeing how the people who come
 to the hospice "are distinct  from their behavior, how they are
 more than what they are thinking or feeling or doing."
    For part of the 10 years he spent preparing the book, Rinpoche
 worked in the hospice movement in Britain, helping those who face
 imminent death as a result  of cancer, AIDS or other serious
 illnesses. He came to believe that much of what is wrong in
 Western society arises from the denial of death.
 "I feel this denial of death actually complicates problems
 that exist in Western society," Rinpoche said in the interview.
 "It is why there is no long-term vision, not very much thought for 
 the consequences of actions, little or no compassion."
    "People see death as terrible, as tragic. Because they want to
 live, they see death as the enemy of life and therefore deny
 death, which then becomes even more fearful and monstrous."
    Beneath this fear of death lies "the ultimate fear . . . the
 fear of looking into ourselves," he said.
    But death can be a friend, he told the crowd at Interface.
 "Death holds the  key to the meaning of life," which is why
 Trappist brothers regularly greet each other with the Latin
 phrase memento mori, "remember you are dying," Rinpoche said.
    "Remembering . . . brings life into focus . . . It sorts out
 your priorities, so you do not live a trivial life . . . It helps
 you take care of the most important things in life first. Don't
 worry about dying; that will happen successfully whether you
 worry about it or not."
    He warns his students not to think about death "when you are
 depressed," but rather "when you are on holiday or impressed by
 music or natural beauty."
    But he knows that "when I am not practicing," or meditating in
 a disciplined way, "I am afraid of death." He has worried, too,
 about the death of the lamas  with whom he left  Tibet.  "A whole
 generation of legendary masters is passing  away - sometimes I
 wonder what the future is going to hold," he said.
    Rinpoche is hopeful when he remembers living teachers, such as
 the Dalai Lama, who wrote the foreword to his book. But he knows
 that the possible loss of  Tibet  is another experience of
 impermanence, of death, like that all human beings must face.
    His goal is to help the dying, those who care for them, and
 all who listen,  to "face our own mortality and realize how much
 love, how much compassion is in you," he told an interviewer.
    "This dying forces you to look into yourself. And in this,
 compassion is the only way. Love is the only way."
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