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How We Live is How We Die – Pema Chodron

by Venky

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Contemplation is at the centre of this absorbing book. Contemplation about life and death, living and dying. Even though permeated by the flavour and colours of Buddhism, the tenets purveyed by the author transcends specificities such as religion. Born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York, she was ordained as a novice nun in 1974 by the 16th Karmapa. Deidre Blomfield-Brown became Ani Pema Chödrön. A prolific author and practioner, Chödrön, is principal teacher at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia.

Holding forth on the concept of “bardos” or “transitions,” Chödrön, urges us to be constantly aware and conscious so that we are not just ready to face death as and when it creeps up on us, but we are also prepared for the afterlife which we would be required to transition to. Yes, life after death is a running, if not a primary theme, addressed by How We Live Is How We Die. A bardo is a state of constant change and upheaval, and for us to be more aware of them, we would need to harness our emotions.

The author takes recourse to what she terms “mirror-like wisdom” (a philosophical equivalent of Generative Adversarial Network), characterised by two opposing emotions. For example, the common and ordinary propensity of craving can be countered by a wakeful energy that goes beyond the pettiness of desire. “By relating to our emotions in this way, we discover their enlightened aspect: the wisdom that is co-emergent with ignorance and confusion…If you don’t struggle with that energy, if you become one with that energy, it will wake you up.”

Chödrön also explains about the manifestations of colours that appear to a person on his/her deathbed. Drawing on the Near-Death Experience as recounted by an extremely popular Tibetan teacher Mingyur Rinpoche, in the book In Love With The World: A Monk’s Journey through the Bardos of Living and Dying, Chödrön explains that a person who is in the last throes of live experiences the phenomenon of coming face to face with three distinct colours in three distinct stages. White, red and black sequentially appear and disappear before the final exhalation takes place. This phenomenon is popularly known in the realm of Buddhism as ‘internal dissolution’ This dissolution does not mean that life as we commonly understand has come to an absolute end. On the contrary it is the child merging into the luminosity of a mother.

The physical demise leads to the beginning of the transition period into the various bardos. There are six realms through which there is a progressive transition depending upon the extent and degree of awakening and awareness. These concepts may sound to a skeptical reader as those belonging to the preserves of fantasy. As an agnostic myself, I choose to assimilate the philosophical and altruistic aspects attached to these topics while assiduously ignoring all references to the afterlife and such other allusions.

The most refreshing aspect about this book is the fact that author does not make any attempt, whether overt or covert to impose the principles of Buddhism in the reader. Written in an extremely sincere and pleasing manner. Chödrön disseminates to her readers the wisdom which she has been bestowed with by an extensive line of illustrious Tibetan monks and Buddhist preceptors. While it is for the reader to pick and choose the ones that are most acceptable according to one’s own predilections, there are dollops of insights which one can avail of by a studious reading of the book.

How We Live Is How We Die – interesting in more ways than one.

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