I have delayed writing this post for over a month now. I read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying because the Tibetan Book of the Dead was always on my list of books to read. However, after reading about reading that, I found the recommendation for an outsider to read the former book as it is much more approachable and useful than the latter. I am glad I made this choice because even this book was a bit unuseful at times because of constantly refering to the need to speak to a mentor about the ideas.
Death is an intersting topic. I actually feel like I need to sit down and write more about this on here rather than in my private files, but for now I am going to stay at a higher level rather than really getting too deep. The Tibetan view on life and death is so specific and regimented that one starts to feel like maybe they do know something that the rest of us do not. For instance, the number of days spent in a certain state between life and death and what goes on there seems like something knowable only by the dead. However, the concept of cyclical life and death is very intriguing to me. The issue for everyone if they think hard enough usually is "yeah but what came before that" when you keep moving back in time when thinking about the universe. Roger Penrose was the first one to introduce me to the idea of a cyclical universe. That is, the current state of expansion that we observe is just one small part in the cosmic cycle of continual expansion and contraction. "The" big bang was just one of an infinite number of singularities in a chain of creation of and destructions. This is somehow comforting because it satisfies the curiosity of what came before the big bang, a big crunch. Translated to the human condition, death is just the beginning of the next birth.
Is this easy to accept and structure your life around? Clearly no. Even more so, Western culture makes a mockery of this idea. I make a mockery of this idea. Afterlife? You must be insane. But, if you sit down and really try to accept the fact that you are going to die, and really feel what it will feel like when you are taking your last breaths, you start to question a lot of things. Why not at least consider the possibility? You can rule it out by whatever mechanism you use for decision making or that you believe in, but you should not dismiss the notion simply because it is foreign to you. This book presented ideas to me that I knew of vaguely, but for which I did not have a strong understanding. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how some Eastern cultures view the process of life and how they cope with pain and death. I feel I am better off for at least considering these ideas, shaping my own ideas and logic with more information always leads me to a better place even if it is a harder road.
All that said, there is a lot in this book about the practices one should employ while alive, dying, and dead to acheive enlightenment. If you are not planning on putting these in to practice, then a good chunk of the information in this book is extraneous. You will find yourself getting bored reading about exactly how to mediate on a certain idea. I was more interested in the philosophical components and therefore found myself bored with a fair amount of the book. However, it is good to know where to go if I ever decide to pursue this line of thought further.