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Grieving for Buddhism

Exclusive Interview: Bel Cesar speaks about Budhism, death and grieving suggest a list of books that may help

Edition: Laura Capanema

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How different philosophies and traditions face death and grieving? What have we learned from them? We began this series of reflections with a chat with Bel Cesar * practicing psychotherapy from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism and dedicates to the monitoring of those who face death since 1990, and is the mother of mud Michel Rinpoche.

How did your involvement with the Buddhist religion happen?

Buddhism is not a religion, but a system of self-healing and self-realization: a deep method of inner science. It is a philosophy that teaches us about the direction of change, both in daily life and our death. In April 1987, organized by the request of a couple of friends, the first visit of mud Gangchen Rinpoche to Brazil. Our connection was immediate, and the very next year, inaugurated the first Tibetan Buddhist center in the West – I was majoring in psychology, but had understood it would be Buddhism the basis of everything. In 1992 I started working under the Buddhist perspective on psychotherapeutic care and monitor patients facing death.

What is the Buddhist view of death?

Death is not understood as an isolated event, but as a change in an endless cycle of change. It is a natural fact, a very special opportunity to transform our mind in a confused mental state of profound peace. In this sense, death is not seen as something morbid and feared, but as a great opportunity for spiritual growth.

The passage from one cycle to another is known by the Tibetan term bard: a time interval and intermediate, marked by a beginning and a definite end, basically between the death and the next rebirth. Bardo means “in between” ( “The Lazarus Project”, “between sleep and wake up”). Learning to identify mental states that occur during the bard’s life helps us to reduce the feeling of strangeness and mystery which generally we have about what happens when we die, because in that sense the state after death is nothing more than an intensification of what we have in life. In death “body and gross mind” will separate, but “subtle mind” follows its continuous process – the problem is not to die but to know how to direct the mind to a positive state of continuity for the future rebirth. Thus, Buddhism teaches us to include the death in life: to recognize the cyclical and continuous nature of the existence of all phenomena. So, when we abandon the false sense of permanence based on the principle that “I will die one day, but not now,” cultivates a sense of creative urgency, a deep sense of responsibility and self-protection on the precious opportunity to be alive and aware. In other words, this life is replaced by a broader sense, it does not end in itself.

How can we help those who are dying?

The main goal should be to help each other to have a positive thinking in relation to the baseline. We have to examine our relationship with the person, but not only: we must put in question our own fear of death, as observed and openly prepare our fears helps us on the path to maturity. Care for the dying is itself a deep contemplation, but also an intense reflection on our own death – is a way of addressing it.

As the grieving process is seen and lived in Buddhism?

Llamas warn that the following days to the death of a beloved one we must, above all, seek to send positive energy to it (just as we must avoid having discussions that could disturb you). For 49 days several prayers and ceremonies are held – this is the period in which the deceased is the bard. Tibet families make pilgrimages to holy places, donations for spiritual projects and meet teachers to pray (the greatest consolation of a Tibetan is whether a teacher is praying for his relative). All teachings and Buddhist practices are dedicated to accept our losses, once we learn to transform ingrained view of the concept of permanence in ability to cope with the continuous transformation of all the phenomena of life. To do something for the person who died give greater meaning to  death.

Image: Marco Pomaricophoto Marco Pomarico


What words would you offer to someone who has just suffered a big loss? (Even if that person is not a Buddhist).

Grief is a shock process: the relentless pain of a significant loss. My biggest advice is that we turn into mediators of ourselves. Buddhism inspires us not to accept our confusion, but to go beyond them. You must unravel them, exploit them. But acceptance of difficulty will depend largely on how it is loss – in general, it is much harder to deal with sudden, untimely and violent deaths. But we have to face them head on, anyway. As Rachel Naomi Remen in her book My Grandfather’s Blessings: “The pain that is not suffered becomes a barrier between us and life. When we don’t go through pain, a part of us gets stuck in the past. ”

Yes, we will survive. Often with the help of those who know how to swim and are willing to help us, but only learn to surf the waves of pain to the extent that we accept to relate to them. Let me explain: imagine that the great dream of your life is to visit Egypt. For years you have studied about  the country until the day comes for you to be able to visit it, but when you are about to embark, you get the news that Egypt is under siege, closed to anyone. What to do? Your energy tank is still full of dreams and expectations, but you cannot go to the chosen destination. Anyway, this is the process of grief: a part of that accumulated energy must be consumed intentionally directing it creatively to another path.

Buddhism teaches us to see pain as pain, not like suffering. Pain is inevitable, but suffering to interpret pain as something wrong, uncomfortable or inadmissible, is indeed optional. We should not inflict the suffering, interpreting pain as punishment, as telling us, “Oh if you have not done this or that.” I think it is best to learn to face the reality of the loss while we are still near those we love. The anticipatory grief  is a phase of limit, because, on the one hand, we must prepare ourselves for death approaching, but on the other, we need to devote to the ones who are dying with all our presence and attention.

You practice psychotherapy from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism. Is it mandatory to be a practitioner to have your follow-up?

There is a Buddhist psychotherapy itself, formatted in concepts and methodologies, but in the Buddhist view of human suffering and its processing methods. This is not to make the patient a practitioner, but to share with them the benefits of this philosophy and vision of life. Buddha’s teachings are universal because they deal with the human condition, with the suffering of birth, aging, sickness, death and the ways to overcome these hard moments. They are therefore important lessons for all cultures and religions.

Thinking about the time that we are today, in 2016, do you think that society (Brazil) is better prepared to deal with death? And what Buddhism has to contribute to that?

Yes and no. There is a growing interest in the area of palliative care and treatment of stress and trauma, but both issues are still largely taboo. Greater still is the issue of suicide, that however is denied, is growing alarmingly. Buddhism teaches us not to deny anything (either pain, or death), but to deal directly with it. It helps us to think with compassion and wisdom.
Books suggested by Bel:

Dying is not improvised

Bel Cesar / Publisher Gaia

Hope in the face of death – Preparing Spiritually for Departure

Christine LONGAKER / Editora Rocco

The Tibetan book of living and dying

Sogyal Rinpoche / Publishing Talent

Life and Death in Tibetan Buddhism

Chagdud Rimpoche / Paramita Publisher

When everything falls apart

Pema Chödrön / Editora Gryphus

The places that scare us

Pema Chödrön / Publisher Sextant

Start where you are

Pema Chödrön / Publisher Sextant

Stories that Heal

Rachel Remen Naomi / Publishing Now

Patient as a human being

Rachel Remen Naomi / Publisher Summus

Blessings from my grandfather

Rachel Remen Naomi / Publisher Sextant

A gradual awakening

Stephen Levine / Publisher Thought

Guided meditations

Stephen Levine / Publishing Now

The art of dying

Marie de Hennezel and Jean-Yves Leloup / Publishing Voices

And life continues

Alexandra Kennedy / Publisher People

Living in the heart

Alexandra Kennedy / Publisher Thought

The Book of Emotions

Ed Gaia / Bel Cesar

Mania Suffering

Ed Gaia / Bel Cesar
* Bel Cesar is a clinical psychologist with a background in music therapy at the Orff Institute in Salzburg, Austria. Practicing psychotherapy from the perspective of Tibetan Buddhism and is dedicated to the monitoring of those who face death since 1990. It is dedicated to the treatment of traumatic stress with SE® method – Somatic Experiencing (Somatic Experiencing) technique especially used in the treatment post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety frames, depression and panic disorder. In 1987, he organized the first coming of Lama Gangchen Rinpoche to Brazil. He chaired the Peace Dharma Centre for 16 years. Since 2004, in partnership with Peter Webb, develops Ecopsychology activities on the Site Life of Clara Luz in Itapevi (São Paulo). The counselor Lama Gangchen Foundation for a Culture of Peace. Elaborated the book “Oracle I Lung Ten”, compiling 108 Lama predictions Gangchen Rinpoche and other Tibetan masters. She is the author of the books “Inner Travel to Tibet” and “Dying is not improvised,” “The Book of Emotions”, “Mania of Suffering”, “The subtle imbalance of stress” in partnership with Dr. Sergio Klepacz psychiatrist and ” The Great Love – a life goal “in partnership with Lama Michel Rinpoche. All published by Editora Gaia.


Learn more about their work in the channel Quem pode ajudar (Who can help).