Judging by the number of reviews on Amazon, this is probably one of the most popular books on Tibetan Buddhism out there. The reasons for this are not hard to understand. In terms of its style it is extremely accessible and personable. The writing is both sincere and approachable; this is a “regular guy’s” guide to Tibetan Buddhism, not a scholarly or esoteric rendition. The author relates many personal stories about his own upbringing in the Tibetan tradition, giving it a feeling of great authenticity.
The material is quite comprehensive as far as an overview of Tibetan Buddhism goes, with a unique focus on issues of death and dying–how to relate to someone who is terminal, how to respect their feelings, help maintain their sense of integrity, and how to keep one’s own perspective on things as life passes away. For people who are dealing with the loss of loved ones, or who are themselves terminally ill, I think the book has a lot of comfort and guidance to offer.
There are many applied discussions concerning meditation. Practices of guru yoga and lojong are discussed, as are meditative preparations to help one deal directly with one’s own demise. I found the discussion of the Tibetan Bardo teachings to be particularly interesting, as this is not an area of which I am very knowledgeable. Essentially, the entire process of death, transition and rebirth is described from the inside out. I would be fascinated to know the means by which these teachings came into being; I suspect this is probably a cumulative tradition based upon many peoples’ near-death experiences and past life memories.
Altogether, I can easily recommend the book. What I can’t recommend is that you read anything about the author, because if you do it will give you something of a mixed feeling about what he has written. Assuming he wrote it, that is. Online I’ve encountered rumors that Sogyal Rinpoche is not even the author, that someone else either ghost wrote the book or contributed substantially without credit. I find this hard to believe, but I suppose anything is possible. I can only say that if the widespread allegations of sexual misconduct against Sogyal Rinpoche are true, then he must be something of a split personality, since it is clear he has also done much good.
My advice: read and benefit from the book, but don’t explore any further.
My Amazon rating: 4 stars