The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: Book Review

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is quite a tome at almost 400 pages, but worth the read. It addresses the physical aspects of dying, as well as the emotional abyss and spiritual questioning. I wish I had read this book before my father passed away. It would have helped me deal with his dying a lot better.

Quick summary

The first part is philosophical, addressing the nature of mind. It includes how to meditate in order to escape our ego. The process of dying is then explained. This is followed by practical instructions on how to help the dying and those whom they leave behind.

Other topics discussed include:

  • what karma really means
  • the logic and method of reincarnation
  • whether euthanasia is a compassionate option
  • the need for spiritual guidance in all our lives
  • the heritage and struggles of Tibet
  • similarities between the major religions of Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism

Who should read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Those whose loved ones are dying

Part Two of the book explains the process of dying in great detail. It removes the mystery surrounding death that makes it so frightening. The author explains what can be done for a dying person to make the process as easy and spiritually healing as humanly possible.

Friends of the bereaved

With great understanding and compassion, the book gives instructions on how to help those who have just lost a loved one. It explains the anguish they go through, the help they need, and how those around them can provide support.

Healthcare professionals

Clinical death is all too familiar to doctors and nurses. But many of them are not comfortable dealing with the spiritual aspects of death. These are the very people who can make a difference at the end. They play a crucial role in guiding the dying and their families through the difficult, painful process of watching a life slip away.

Politicians and public health officials

Public health decisions require an understanding of best practices in palliative care. With compassionate legislation, countries can provide training and funding for professional hospice care that is lacking in many countries.

All of us who have to die one day

Until we have learnt the meaning of dying well, we will not know how to live well. Some people may find reading and talking about death morbid, yet we all have to face it. In my view, it is much better to go on a journey having some sort of road map than none at all.

Quotes from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

My favourite quote

“Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is because we do not know who we are. We believe in a personal, unique, and separate identity. But if we dare to examine it, we find that this identity depends entirely on an endless collection of things to prop it up: our name, our biography, our partners, family, home, job, friends, credit cards. It is on their fragile and transient support that we rely for our security. So when they are all taken away, will we have any idea of who we really are?” (page 16)

Other quotes

“Karma is often totally misunderstood in the West as fate or predestination. It is best thought of as the infallible law of cause and effect that governs the universe. The word karma literally means ‘action,’ and karma is both the power latent within actions, and the results our actions bring… (page 96) Karma then, is not fatalistic or predetermined. Karma means our ability to create and to change. It is creative because we can determine how and why we act. We can change.” (page 99)

“We often wonder: ‘How will I be when I die?’ The answer to that is that whatever state of mind we are in now, whatever kind of person we are now: that’s what we will be like at the moment of death, if we do not change. This is why it is so absolutely important to use this lifetime to purify our mindstream, and so our basic being and character, while we can.” (page 115-6)

“I want every human being not to be afraid of death, or of life; I want every human being to die at peace, and surrounded by the wisest, clearest, and most tender care, and to find the ultimate happiness that can only come from an understanding of the nature of mind and of reality. Thomas Merton wrote: ‘What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.'” (page 360)

Get a copy of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying here.

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9 replies on “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying: Book Review”

[…] I have finished reading the book. I have written already about this book previously (with some quotes). It is pretty heavy book, and it took me long time to go through it. Lots of difficult subjects, and I had to think some of the pages over which made the reading even slower. Some topics are inherently difficult, especially around the topics of impermanence and death. However, overall it is worth the effort and it contains a good mixture of thoughts, ideas, traditions and description of metaphors and rituals taken from the Tibetan tradition. There are good reviews of the book, for example this one. […]

Hi Akemi, thanks for dropping by. You’ll really like the book, I think. The author even talks specifically about what you just mentioned – that Western culture is very uncomfortable with death, and he hopes through the book to increase awareness and the ability to deal with the various aspects of dying, and thus of living.

Your last blog post was very bold in addressing the issue so directly, and I’m looking forward to your future posts!

Fr David,

I agree that life is pure gift, and that everyday when we wake up, we should give thanks for the bonus of one more day. I try to do that at the end of each day anyway, to be thankful for a day filled with good things. But you’re right that until we know what our life has meant, it is probably very hard to let go. You’ve given me good food for thought – how to measure a life.

By the way, maybe you can do a review of the Summa so that we can read one page that is worth 40,000 pages? 😉


You have a great site of book reviews! I will certainly check it out for good books to read. And I didn’t know there was an Egyptian Book of the Dead so I learnt something too.


I love reading and would read no matter what, so it really isn’t as difficult as it sounds to read a book a week. But it is difficult to read a serious book that stretches into hundreds of pages! I must remember to alternate this type of book with the lighter, easier ones.

Interesting. I’ve always known about the Egyptian Book of the Dead, but I didn’t know Tibetan Buddhism also had one. I’ll have to check this out.

ReadingBookies last blog post..Dianne Ascroft: An Interview with Author of Hitler and Mars Bars

Thanks for the review. It is great to read one page that is worth 400. I still think we are afraid to die because we are still trying to figure out how to measure our lives. In years? In achievements? In friends? In popularity? The thing is we cannot know is our life has been worthwhile until we figure out how to measure it. My taking is that when we learn that life is pure gift (Bernanos said, ‘all is grace.’) then we can let go.

[…] Book Review: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying I was very touched by the author’s deep and obvious love for his home country Tibet, and the various spiritual masters in his life who played a role in his formation. If each one of us had as strong a love for our country and our … […]

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