When our daughter, Shamara Phillipa, died on January 15th, 1984 at 48-days of age of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), my world changed. Assumptions of what it meant to be a father, a husband, and health care provider, as well as my view of what life was about and might have in store for me came crashing down. In their place emerged an unexpected direction. An expression of that change of heart and direction came in my desire to share the remarkable events that – upon hindsight – led up to, occurred during, and have continued to unfold since her passing. Over the years, I have come to see that the passing of people in our lives has this impact on us all, one way or the other, sometimes in small ways, other times profound. Of all of life’s events, death is the most humbling and seems to be one of our best teachers on how to live and love more fully.
Shamara’s death of SIDS did not happen in what some might call ordinary circumstances. She died while a Buddhist meditation teacher was visiting us. And, as a master and teacher of the conscious dying practices of Tibet, known as phowa (pronounced poh-wha), this teacher, Lama Ole Nydahl, used this extraordinary spiritual practice to effect what in medical terms can only be described as miracles. It was then that I learned that it is possible to help in and even transform the dying process. In what most of us in the West would define as being a time of utter hopelessness, something can be done. And having witnessed this to be true, I have devoted myself to learning more and sharing with others what they can do to prepare for and consciously work with their own dying and that of their loved ones.
In its first edition, Rebirth Into Pure Land inspired many friends and strangers. I am always a bit dubious when someone says, “This book will change your life.” But in the case of telling Shamara’s story, after watching, listening to, and receiving letters from countless people over the last fifteen years since the story was first released, I must honestly say that, yes, hearing Shamara’s story will change your life. It will change how you see life and, more than likely, how you live your life.
Rebirth was initially written more as a memoir and how my family’s practice of Buddhist meditation and philosophy impacted our view and state of mind in Shamara’s passing. Although I was happy to see it published, I was still a religious neophyte and did not see or make any attempts to really venture beyond the enclaves of my own spiritual community. But, 27 years later, having seen how her story has touched people from all faiths and walks of life, and my subsequent years of study, training, and practice in methods of conscious dying as part of my own personal development along with my profession as a hospice social worker and bereavement counselor, I felt it was time to, once again, share Shamara’s story. And, I wanted to offer the techniques and perspectives I have seen that make it possible for each and every one of us to traverse this inevitable time in a manner that prepares us ahead of time, serves us during our passing, and helps even those we leave behind. My goal is to inspire all who read this new edition of Rebirth into Pure Land to embrace death and learn that it is actually possible to work with the dying process, even death itself, as a natural part of our living.
Of course, the death of a baby is always sad. But in this new version, Rebirth Into Pure Land invites you to step back from this human tragedy, see the power, mystery, joy and miraculous possibilities in the sacred and remarkable world of which we all are a part, and even be an active participant until our final moments. As Stephen Levine says in the Foreword, Rebirth Into Pure Land, offers each of us options. When we become conscious of and engage our intentions on any process that we are going through, many possibilities can spontaneously arise in how to best address the moment. As such, Rebirth Into Pure Land points us towards every moment of our living.
Inevitably, no matter what road we take, in the impermanence of it all, we shall all arrive at the same final destination. Other than the numerous miracles that we witnessed in Shamara’s death and transformation and the many feelings of presence my wife and I are sometimes in touch with and other times not, her legacy and my intention for writing is to provide inspiration and tools to make it possible for each and every one of us to take the same amazing journey that Shamara, herself, took.
Considering that each one of us dies, as a culture, we don’t handle dying or death very well. It is almost as if we are afraid that if we talk about it, we are beckoning it towards us. We try to hide it from our children and our youth learn about it from the street or media in real or Hollywood versions more often than having serious, honest discussion at home. Even though all of us know in some place in our minds as we get older that death is a truth that we cannot escape, we tend to turn the dying and death processes over to medical experts, who seem to be infected with an ethos that makes death the enemy; something to deny, fight, and only acquiesce to. And, once our medicines and heroic methods “fail,” only then do our religious traditions come in, maybe offer a sacrament or final blessing, but spend most efforts on comforting the bereaved. There is little in our traditions that understands or tries to work with the dying process itself other than in a pastoral way.
Death happens at any age. It happens quickly for some, slowly for others and the process can come painlessly in the night or rage at us in searing agony day after day. In my book, Perfect Endings, I contend that dying and death come to us in accordance with how we have lived. Being a hospice social worker, bereavement counselor, volunteer, I have observed that the degree to which we do not embrace dying as a part of life is the degree to which our working with the dying and bereaved falls woefully short of creating healthy spiritual growth and psychological and philosophical integration of the death and legacy of our love ones into our lives. That is why it does not comes as a surprise that whereas Medicare provides for a six-month hospice benefit for those diagnosed with a terminal illness, because both doctors and families struggle with and are in denial of the dying they are witnessing before them, the norm is for people to use six weeks or less of that benefit. In the same way our culture does not teach or encourage us much in the way of self-reflection in our own lives and experiences, save for the conscience our faiths encourage us to have, when it comes to our own dying, we wait too long and the result is a panic that blurs our abilities to make clear decisions on any number of end-of-life issues, especially the most important one; creating a sane and supportive environment in which we can die in a peaceful and conscious manner.
But, this brings us to another issue within our culture. Dying well: Does it really matter?
On this, our religious traditions are divided. All will agree that it is much better to be at peace and out of pain as we die. This is a testament to our natural compassion. But, regardless of whether this is a reality or not, our perspectives on what happens next seem not to be connected to nor are somehow shaped by the attitudes and intentions we put into dying itself. It remains a hopeless condition which we hope will go well, but then whether it does or not, there is whatever happens next. And on this point, our various faiths take a wide range of positions. Some teach that when we die, there is nothing or that we just become dust; end of story. Others say that our final destination is a heaven or hell, depending on what we have done, whether we believe, how strongly we believe, or have been born again ensuring our safe passage to the destination of our choosing. In keeping with this perspective, there are some new agers who say that this life is their last; that they are never coming back. Although popular polling would indicate that a good number of people have a private belief in reincarnation, no modern western faith embraces this as a possibility, let alone reality. Sure, there are people who have had near death experiences who describe what they have seen “on the other side.” There may be stories of children recalling previous lives and demonstrating their knowledge of such. Most convincing of all in such stories is embodied by His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama; one of the many lamas of Tibet who recall their previous lives and demonstrate a remarkable ability to not only remember incidents, but also carry on teachings they have learned in previous lives into their current one. It may be easy to dismiss the “other side” crowd and children as just having flights of fantasy and that the information they present as mere coincidental. It is harder to apply this attitude to one of the most revered spiritual leaders of our time.
But, the tradition that the Dalai Lama practices and teaches, the Tantric Buddhism of Tibet, looks at reincarnation as a rather cosmic recycling program. Born with the potential to be as a Buddha from the very start, our original condition is that of being basically good. We have all we will ever need to reach our true potential as a being of light; i.e. enlightened, if we learn and practice methods to accomplish this. And, we have a relentless urge towards light that continues through to its full realization from one lifetime to the next. This process is not an inevitable linear trajectory. We learn as we go and sometimes we falter in various ways. We will end up in happy and painful lives and realms of existence. We may even go in and out of various heavens and hells as we progress. But, in the end, if we see ourselves as spiritual beings having a human experience, if we try to become and remain as conscious as we possibly can in each and every experience and milestone in our lives, then we all will eventually arrive at the most lasting of destinations; in a state of awakeness, of total oneness in the full awareness of our inter-connectedness. In short, we all become Buddhas.
But, of course, that is what I believe. And that said, does learning methods to prepare oneself to die and understanding and supporting the mental and physical states of the dying process matter if you don’t believe in reincarnation?
To this I say, YES, it does matter. It matters because in our lives, we are taught that information is power. We are taught that if we practice anything consistently, that when we are no longer practicing but are in the process of doing, we will do that much better. We shall make instinctual or habitual that which we have trained ourselves to do over and over. Thus, in times that are stressful, even dire, there is a greater probability that these instincts will kick in and support us. Applying this to dying and death, if in what most of us would agree is the most dire moment in our lives we knew that we could focus our minds and prepare our bodies for us to die with less pain and in greater peace, regardless of whether you believe in an afterlife or not, wouldn’t anyone want to do what it takes?
That is the point of each of the methods and techniques I shall share in this book. And, this is the deeper message underlying the story you are about to read about our daughter, Shamara Phillipa, and her passing into a Pure Land, the concept of which you will come to understand in the story’s telling.
Reviews of some of Robert's Works...
The Ecology of Oneness...
"The Ecology of Oneness, offers a compelling model of consciousnes and the role it's playing in the creative evolution for a thriving world...This is so much more than a good read...it's a portal of truth!" - Dr. Darren Weissman, originator of The LifeLine Technique
"I am glad that my friend of many years, Bob Sachs, has again written a book which brings together practical and important steps on the way to the realization of different transcendent cultures. Like much of is former work it exemplifies methods to see clearly and avoid wasting precious time while choosing ones spiritual path..." Lama Ole Nydahl, author of The Way Things Are, and Fearless Death
"The inspirational teachings of Bob Sachs have enhanced our lives. Bob speaks from such a pure and sincere place, with love, gentleness, wisdom, and great humility." Deva Premal and Miten, singers, songwriters, and renown mantra performers
"In modern countries where materialsm is strong, the concepts and practices of Buddhism can be effective in neutralizing the problems that naturally arise and create much suffering, including conflict and war. My student, Robert Sachs, gas written this book to show what role Buddhism can play in creating lasting political and social change...." Kunzig Shamar Rinpoche
Rebirth Into Pure Land...
"Here is a memorable story of how spiritual practice transforms our understanding of a traumatic event and, as a result, our reaction to it."
Ram Das, teacher and author of Grist for The Mill and Be Here Now
"In the mystery of life and death, there are more alternatives than imagination can conjure. This is a remarkable story of the grace that is our own great deathless nature and the grief, too, that even heaven cannot wholly eradicate...This is a book of options, an honoring of the continuum that few have believed possible..." Stephen Levine, author of Who Dies and Turning Towards the Mystery.