Karma is basically habit. It’s the momentum of repeated actions that become habitual. It’s in our best interest to develop as many positive habits as we can. In the Mahanama Sutta, the Buddha said, “Just as oil rises to the top of a pot submerged in water, your virtue, your goodness, your faith, or generosity will rise to the top, and that is what will carry you to your next destination.”

Practicing the good heart, or bodhicitta, is the essence of a good life and the best possible habit. Bodhicitta, which is a heart filled with love and compassion, is also the essence of a Buddha. It purifies negative karma and accumulates positive karma. Lama Zopa Rinpoche says, “The main thing is to practice bodhicitta. Dying with bodhicitta is the best way to die.”

Try to get to the point where your emotional default is into bodhicitta. In other words, what is your automatic reflex to life situations, especially difficult ones? Do you think about yourself and how you might profit or escape from a situation? Or do you think about others and how you can help? Progress on the path, and a sign that you’re well prepared for death, occurs when the former changes into the latter, when you default not into selfishness but into selflessness. If you’re uncertain about what to do in a situation, just open your heart and love. This is training in bodhicitta.

Being a good person and helping others creates the momentum that will carry you gracefully through the bardos. . . . Buddhists aren’t the only ones who can have a good death or prepare properly. Anyone who lives with genuine goodness will be taken care of by the force of that goodness. Tenga Rinpoche says, “Even though it may appear to be a worldly activity, if you have the attitude of bodhicitta, then it is the practice of dharma.” And it will prepare you for death. Bodhicitta lays down a red carpet for you in the bardos.

From Preparing to Die, by Andrew Holecek © 2013. Reprinted with permission of Snow Lion, an imprint of Shambhala Publications. www.shambhala.com.

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