How to Benefit Someone Who is Sick, or Dying

When we have a connection with someone, we are able to soothe, comfort and encourage them along their journey towards recovering health, or to a new rebirth. Here are four suggestions:

Dedication:

You can simply dedicate whatever positive qualities, or merit that you develop through practice to your friend.  At the end of your practice session, you could bring your friend to mind -  

If they are sick, you could say “By this merit, may (name) be happy and at ease. May his discomfort and pain be lifted from him. May he recover from his illness quickly. May he be happy and at ease.  May his life be long and fruitful.”

If they are dying, you could say “By this merit, may (name) move through this process of dying with ease and confidence. May she know that it is time for her to let go into the process of letting go of this life and taking a new rebirth. May she know that whatever mistakes she may have made have been forgiven and cleansed.  May she know that her family and friends love and appreciate her and want her to move on without regret, and with confidence and ease. May (name) be guided towards a new and beneficial birth in a place that she can accomplish all of her virtuous aspirations”.

The Practice of Loving-kindness:

The Practice of Maitri Bhavana, or loving-kindness, is the first of the ‘four boundless attitudes’. The four boundless attitudes are the essence of enlightened heart and mind (bodhicitta).  In this practice, you can recite the traditional lines associated with these attitudes of loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity, while bringing your friend vividly to mind.

The Practice of Maitri Bhavana - here
You can learn more about the Four Boundless Attitudes - here
The Maitri Bhavana Sutra - this is the original teaching by the Buddha - here

The practice of ‘sending and taking’ (Tonglen)

In the practice of tonglen, we imagine that we are taking on whatever suffering that the sick person is experiencing, and sending to them whatever would soothe, or ease their burden. As you breathe in, imagine that their illness, discomfort, fear, anxiety (you choose) comes to you in the form of dark, murky light and dissolves into your heart.While you breathe out, image that comfort, freedom from pain, courage, peace (you choose) is sent to them through the medium of white light.

Step-by-step Tonglen Instruction by Pema - here
Here’s a clip of Pema guiding tonglen:

 

The practice of ‘phowa’, the transference of consciousness:

In this practice, we invoke a symbolic form of wisdom as a support to cleanse the dying person of karma and obscurations, to ease their fear and grasping and to offer comfort, and clarity as they move through the dying process into a new rebirth.

Phowa for a dying friend - here
There’s a beautiful article on the nature of ‘bardo’, and the meaning of the practice of phowa - here

What we are essentially doing at this time is transferring our consciousness from an impure, confused state into a pure and unconfused state. We are transforming consciousness and connecting with the true nature of mind and the reality of all phenomena on the spot.
— Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche