Life is Suffering To live is to suffer. Life is accompanied by inevitable pain, sickness, disappointment, disillusion, decay and death. This place we live on, the earth plane, is characterized by inevitable and unavoidable dissatisfaction, disappointment, rejection, failure, pain, yearning, decrepitude, and loss. "Suffering" in Buddhism refers not only to physical pain, aging, sickness, and death, and to emotional pain like fear, loss, jealousy, disappointment, and unrequited love, but also to the existential sense that, somehow, deep down, life is permanently out of joint. Everything is touched by the shadow of dissatisfaction, imperfection, disappointment. Suffering, in the Buddhist sense, is a pervasive condition. No one escapes it. Even enlightened teachers grow old, suffer the pains of decay, and die.

For a person with a spiritual faith it is beneficial to have spiritual objects around them e.g. an altar, a rosary, photos of their spiritual teacher, or to play spiritual music, or to burn incense, and so on - whatever reminds them of their spiritual practice. It is good also to talk to them about their spiritual practices, recite prayers with them and so forth. For an unconscious person it is said to be good to recite prayers, mantras etc into their ear. If a person does not have a spiritual faith, it is helpful to remind them of positive things they have done in their life, or of positive qualities such as love and compassion and kindness.

It is important to avoid religious activities that are inappropriate or unwanted by the dying person. Someone standing at the end of the bed reciting prayers may be an annoyance, and I have seen a case of an attempted deathbed salvation which greatly angered the dying person. The basic aim is to avoid any objects or people that generate strong attachment or anger in the mind of the dying person. From the spiritual viewpoint it is desirable to avoid loud shows of emotion in the presence of the dying person. We have to remind ourselves that the dying process is of great spiritual importance and we don't want to disturb the mind of the dying person, which is in an increasingly clear and subtle state. We have to do whatever we can to allow the person to die in a calm/happy/peaceful state of mind.

At the time of death, the body and mind go through a process of dissolution, where the 25 psycho-physical constituents that we are comprised of gradually absorb and lose their ability to function. This process of dissolution is associated with external and internal signs. This process continues even after the breathing ceases, for up to 3 days. During this process the mind becomes more and more subtle and clear until it eventually reaches the point of the 'clear light of death', where it is said to be approximately 9 times more clear than in the normal waking state. At this point the mind separates from the body, taking with it all of the subtle imprints from that life and previous ones.

This very subtle mind or consciousness and the very subtle wind upon which it rides then arises into an intermediate state (bardo) being which has a subtle (non-physical) body that can move through solid objects, travel anywhere just by thinking of that place, and so on. The intermediate state being stays in that state for up to 7 weeks, by which time a suitable place of rebirth is usually found. This place of rebirth is determined by the force of karma, whereby the intermediate state being dies and the consciousness is propelled without control towards the place of rebirth. The consciousness enters the fertilized egg at or near the moment of conception and the new life begins.

Crucial in this whole process is the state of mind at the time of death, because it is this that determines the situation a person will be reborn into. If the mind is calm and peaceful and imbued with positive thoughts at the time of death, this will augur well for a happy rebirth. However, if the mind is in a state of anger or has strong desire or is fearful etc, this will predispose to an unhappy or lower type of rebirth.

The mind that arises at the time of death is usually the one that the person is most habituated to. People tend to die in character, although this is not always so. So in the Buddhist tradition it is emphasised strongly that the time to prepare for death is now, because if we develop and gain control over our mind now and create many positive causes we will have a calm and controlled mind at the time of death and be free of fear. In effect, our whole life is a preparation for death and it is said that the mark of a spiritual practitioner is to have no regrets at the time of death. As a friend of mine said recently on hearing about these concepts, "Perhaps it's time I started swotting for the finals!"