Fear of Death

William B. Turner
4 min readDec 31, 2021

The mortality rate for Covid-19 is quite low, but it is still a crap shoot. Certain factors make people more likely to die from the virus, but there is no guarantee that anyone who gets it will survive.

Given the pressure on hospitals of treating huge numbers of Covid patients, getting the vaccine, including the booster, which dramatically reduces the likelihood of hospital admission, and of death, is still a good idea.

Lots of people are expressing their fear of death as a result of the pandemic right now.

But fear of death is the core problem, in some sense, from the Buddhist perspective, or the core result. After he awakened, the Buddha had no fear of death because he saw the end of that lifetime as the fruition of his many preceding lifetimes and he knew he would never die again because he would never be born again.

In 1981, Rangjung Dorje, the 16th Karmapa, or spiritual leader of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, died at a hospital in Illinois. There is a fascinating account of how confused the medical personnel felt in trying to treat him. Most people in his situation suffer terrible pain, but the Karmapa never reported any. His amazing presence and lovingkindness towards the staff made a huge impression on everyone.

He finally died of a heart attack, after the doctor tried to resuscitate him much longer than he usually would. He finally gave up and pronounced the Karmapa dead, only to have his pulse and blood pressure return to normal a few minutes later.

That did not last long, however, and the Karmapa was officially dead. The hospital and the State of Illinois made exceptions to their rules to leave his body where he died for three days after his death. Two days later, the doctor found that his heart center was still warm and his skin was still pliable, unlike most human corpses two days after death.

We should be clear that the Karmapa was a tulku, which Tibetans believe is the literal rebirth of a recently deceased, prominent teacher. When they find the tulku of a dead teacher, the person is usually a small child, whom they take from its parents and put into a monastery. I don’t know, but I suppose this is a huge distinction for Tibetans, so parents apparently do not object to the practice. The current Dalai Lama is a tulku.

The result is that tulkus grow up in monasteries from an early age, surrounded by monks who already regard them as senior teachers and learning…