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Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Chapter 1

Lama Tseten died in an extraordinary way. Although there was a monastery close by, he refused to go there, saying he did not want to leave a corpse for them to clear up. So we camped and pitched our tents in a circle as usual. Khandro was nursing and caring for Lama Tseten, as he was her tutor. She and I were the only two people in his tent when he suddenly called her over. He had an endearing way of calling her. “A-mi,” meaning “my child” in his local dialect. “A-mi,” he said tenderly, “come here. It’s happening now. I’ve no further advice for you. You are fine as you are: I am happy with you. Serve your master just as you have been doing.”

Immediately she turned to run out of the tent, but he caught her by the sleeve. “Where are you going?” he asked. “I’m going to call Rinpoche,” she replied. “Don’t bother him, there’s no need,” he smiled. “With the master, there’s no such thing as distance.” With that, he just gazed up into the sky and passed away. Khandro released herself from his grip and rushed out to call my master. I sat there, unable to move.

I was amazed that anyone who was staring into the face of death could have that kind of confidence. Lama Tseten could have had his Lama there in person to help him—something anyone else would have longed for—but he had no need. I understand why now: He had already realized the presence of the master within himself. Jamyang Khyentse was there with him always, in his mind and heart; never for one moment did he feel any separation.

Khandro did go to fetch Jamyang Khyentse. I shall never forget how he stooped to enter the tent. He gave one look at Lama Tseten’s face, and then, peering into his eyes, began to chuckle. He always used to call him “La Gen,” “old Lama”; it was a sign of his affection. “La Gen,” he said, “don’t stay in that state!” He could see, I now understand, that Lama Tseten was doing one particular practice of meditation in which the practitioner merges the nature of his mind with the space of truth and can remain in that state for many days as he dies. “La Gen, we are travelers. We’re pilgrims. We don’t have time to wait that long. Come on. I’ll guide you.

Transfixed, I watched what happened next, and if I hadn’t seen it myself I would never have believed it. Lama Tseten came back to life. Then my master sat by his side and took him through the phowa, the practice for guiding the consciousness at the moment before death. There are many ways of doing this practice, and the one he used then culminated with the master uttering the syllable “A” three times. As my master declared the first “A,” we could hear Lama Tseten accompanying him quite audibly. The second time his voice was less distinct, and the third time it was silent; he had gone.