How We Live is How We Die

Pema Chödrön

Nonfiction 2022 | 221 pages


This is one of the more engaging, interesting, inspiring, and provocative books on my recent spiritual quest.  Thank you for the recommendation, my friend.

Chödrön talks about death from a Buddhist perspective, but you need not be Buddhist to gain insight and wisdom from How We Live is How We Die.  As with many (all?) spiritual writings, I think you will take what you are ready to take from Chödrön's writing.  A few concepts and teachings that particularly resonated with me, I include below.

One specific teaching that I especially appreciate is “using our emotions as the path to awakening." She speaks to the five "kleshas" or negative emotions (craving, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, and pride), and how, when we are able to 1) refrain from reacting and 2) adopt a positive view of these emotions, and 3) use these emotions as the path to awakening, we can gain the wisdom that each of these emotions teaches us.  If we build these habits as we live, we will be able to face death with curiosity and learning, and not fear.  Whatever klesha consumes us most frequently and most powerfully is the one we can gain the most wisdom from.

I also found quite fascinating the "stages of dissolution " or the changes our bodies and minds experience as we journey near to death: earth into water (body feels heavy, sight disappears), water into fire (feel thirsty, hearing goes), fire into air (feel cold, smell goes), air into consciousness (hard to breathe, taste goes), consciousness into space (respiration ceases, touch goes).

What you take with you into death are your "propensities."  Your propensities follow you into the death process.  For example, if you have a propensity for anger, you are likely to be angry as you die.  But we can change our propensities now.

There are some concepts Chödrön presents that I have heard too many times, or that simply do not resonate with me.  I will be curious to hear what resonates with you, if you take me up on this recommended and satisfying read.

September 2023


2 responses on “How We Live is How We Die

  1. Beverly Kropp

    I haven’t read this book but now it’s on my list…one of my life lessons was when my dear friend Mollie was dying of cancer. She thought she would have a year and we talked about what she wanted to do in that year. After she passed I started making my list “If I knew had a Year to live I would…”. I look and think about that list often and add something to it occasionally. I’m happy to say it’s how I live much of my life. Many of the things on the list have to do with my connection to nature and the concept of interbeing.