There’s more to dying than death a Buddhist perspective - Lama Shenpen Hookham

Review by Dharmacari Vidyakaya

There’s a lot of death around at the moment in my circle of friends and aquaintances. Accidents, overdoses, death from disease or old age – it’s all going on. My parents are in their nineties and my mother’s mind is dying. She lives much of the time in a fantasy world – when she isn’t sleeping the days away.

So I jumped at the chance to read and review this book – especially when I saw who it was by. Shenpen Hookham is the woman whose teachings have captured the imagination of a number of influential order members. She’s a teacher of Mahamudra – the highest Tantra in the Kagyu tradition. And yet in the photos she looks like a rather jolly middle-aged infant school teacher, with a rosy cheeked old-fashioned kind of face. There’s nothing austere or daunting about her.

Her prose style too is accessible and friendly. The Book is about death and dying but it’s also an excellent introduction to the basics of Tibetan Buddhism for someone who knows nothing at all about the subject. She talks a lot about Clarity (Awareness), Openness (Emptiness) and Sensitivity (Responsiveness or Compassion) as the three inseparable qualities of the True Nature of Reality. She talks a lot about the Awakened Heart (her translation of Bodhicitta) as something directly accessible right now – something indestructible that connects all of us, always. Some might find her eternalistic – though in these nihilistic times I find that no bad thing.

I like this book. It’s deep and it’s also extremely practical. Have you made a will yet? Why not? Death could come knocking anyday. As Bhante says somewhere ‘we don’t even know if we shall make it til lunchtime’. She suggests ideas for funerals, talks of How to behave around the dying (treat them like ordinary people – ask what they want). How to prepare for your own death (don’t panic – and have confidence in the Path). She even discusses near death experiences and suggests that the real thing is actually a lot more terrifying and that there’s need to be prepared for that. But don’t panic. Death is perfectly safe.


There's More to Death than Dying
by Lama Shenpen Hookam
Windhorse Publications.
ISBN: 1899579680
224 pages