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Lions Roar : September 2018
I have a loved one who is approaching death. Can you recommend some Buddhist books to help me care for her? Death is kind of a Buddhist specialty. In a way, it’s the central premise of the religion: that every compound phenomenon dies. (We call it impermanence, but that’s really just a euphemism.) Combine that with Buddhism’s famed techniques for working with the mind and its recognition that facing the reality of death is the key to living fully, and it’s not surprising that Buddhists have a lot of helpful advice about how to help dying people—and how to die yourself. Here are seven books we recommend (and there are many more good ones): The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, by Frank Ostaseski (Flatiron); Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End-of-Life Care, edited by Koshin Paley Ellison and Matt Weingast (Wisdom); Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encoun- tering Mortality, by Judith L. Lief (Shambhala); No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh (Riverhead); Living in the Light of Death: On the Art of Being Truly Alive, by Larry Rosenberg (Shambhala); Leaning Into Sharp Points: Practical Guidance and Nurturing Support for Caregivers, by Stan Goldberg (New World Library); and Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death, by Joan Halifax (Shambhala). Good luck. We are sure you’ll be of great benefit to your loved one at this time of poignancy and love. I’d like to create my own Buddhist altar. Any suggestions? An altar is quite personal—it should inspire you and create the right atmo- sphere for meditation. At the same time, there are some guidelines you can follow. First, you should set it up in a quiet and uplifted space, someplace that feels good for spiritual practice. You can create your altar on a nice table or wooden box, perhaps covered with a beautiful cloth. It might feature a statue or painting of the Buddha or another Buddhist icon, and perhaps your teacher if you have one. In some traditions, people place a line of small bowls on the altar that hold things like water, incense, and candles, which represent offering the five senses objects to the enlightened beings. Feel free to place anything on the altar that has deep meaning for you, from a piece of art to a natural object to an inspirational slogan. It’s your offering—to the buddhas and to yourself. ♦ WHO? WHAT? WHERE? Tell us what you’d like to know about Buddhism and meditation at firstname.lastname@example.org JANICERUBIN DIPA MA DIPA MA, “THE PATRON SAINT of household- ers,” (1911–1989) was a lay Buddhist teacher who pro- foundly influenced the American Vipassana community. Nani Bala Barua, as she was originally known, was born in a village in East Bengal. Growing up, she was studi- ous and drawn to Buddhism, but didn’t have access to any sort of formal training. At twelve, she was married to a man twice her age. Nani longed to be a mother but faced fertility issues and lost two babies. She called her one surviving child Dipa, meaning “light,” and that’s how she became known as Dipa Ma—“Mother of Light.” In 1957, Dipa Ma’s husband died and she experienced crippling grief. On a doctor’s recommendation, she began meditating and immediately had such deep powers of concentration that she didn’t feel it when a dog bit her. Dipa Ma considered leaving her daughter with a neighbor and spending the rest of her life at a meditation center, but instead chose to integrate practice into her lay life. Dip Ma quickly progressed through the stages of enlightenment and began teaching householders. Eventually, she had hundreds of students, and all day, every day there was a steady stream of visitors to her modest apartment. Her Western students included Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield. Dipa Ma’s students remember her as loving and com- passionate, but also firm in her belief that householder practice could be as demanding as monastic practice. “Being a wife, being a mother—these were my first teachers,” she said, emphasizing the possibility of learning from any circumstance. “The dharma is everywhere,” Dipa Ma taught. “It doesn’t matter where you are.” LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2018 27 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE