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:


We could 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.

  1. The Practice of "Maitri Bhavana" for those who are ill - here

  2. Learn more about the Four Boundless Attitudes - here

  3. 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. 

  1. Here’s a beautiful teaching on Tonglen by Pema Chödrön

  2. Step-by-step Tonglen Instruction by Pema Chödrön - here

  3. Here’s a clip of Pema guiding tonglen - here

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. 

To quote Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, “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.”

How to do Phowa for a dying friend - here
‘Bardo’, and the meaning of the practice of phowa - here

Here are some great articles:

How to Be a Help by Judy Lief
Death: The Greatest Teacher by Judy Lief
Preparing to Die by Andrew Holecek
Healing and the Reality of Death by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Reflections On Death by Tsoknyi Rinpoche
The Four Reminders & Checklists For Death compiled by Andrew Holecek
Travel Guide to the End of Life by Sallie Tisdale
Advice for Someone Who is Dying by Ajahn Chah|

Death and Dying suggested reading:

‘Dying with Confidence’ by Anyen Rinpoche
‘Preparing to Die’ by Andrew Holecek
Good Life, Good Death’ Paperback by Gelek Rinpoche
‘Mind Beyond Death’ by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
'Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters' in the End by Atul Gawande
‘Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth’ by Tulku Thondup
‘Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ by Sogyal Rinpoche
‘Facing Death and Finding Hope’  by Christine Longaker
‘Being with Dying’ by Joan Halifax
‘The Art of Being a Healing Presence:  A Guide for Those in Caring Relationships’ - James E. Miller with Susan C. Cutshall.  Willowgreen
‘Being with Dying, Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death’ - Joan Halifax
‘Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness’ by Joanne Lynn

Resources for advanced care planning:

Read this first - Making Healthcare Decisions & Completing an Advance Directive - Here
Miscellaneous resources for Preparing Your Advance Directive - Here
Values History - Here
Sample Advanced Directive form - Here
Sample letter to one’s family - Here
Comparison Of Advance Directives In Colorado - Here
‘Contemplating Mortality’ – Interview with Krista Tippet explores the question “What if we understand death as a developmental stage” – Here

Audio teachings from the center on Death and Dying - here 

Rebirth takes place every moment, every instant. Every instant is death; every instant is birth. It’s a changing process; there’s nothing you can grasp onto; everything is changing. But there is some continuity—the change is the continuity. The impermanence of the rebirth is the continuity of it.

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche