Ashes to ashes, dust to stardust

Hunky Dory
Click on image for soundtrack to accompany this article.

I should not have been surprised, I suppose, but when David Bowie died I quickly realized that it wasn’t just me who felt so connected to him.

People reported being “devastated”. One old school friend of mine cried all day. Another whom I’d called on urgent business on Skype just stared at me blankly and said he was in shock. This kind of thing has been happening all over the world these past few days!

I had a dream about him a long time ago that’s remained with me my whole life – he was a fellow Buddhist in my dream, and a deep friend, and I felt I had always known him. But I can see now that this is not remotely a unique experience! Are any of our experiences ever unique?

So, possibly unparalleled by any other musician or artist of my lifetime, David Bowie got to people. A lot of people. Just a cursory glance at the internet can show you that. For everyone wants a part of him, everyone seems to have a part of him. And with all the love directed his way, it looks like we are part of him, too. We are all parts of one totality that includes David Bowie! And, therefore, it would seem, each other.

subtle impermanenceWe are all made of stardust.

None of us really belong to just one person. How can we, when we belong to everyone? And in the unbounded cosmos of time, each of us has spent lifetimes with each other. So,

Fill your heart with love today … Love will clean your mind and make it freeeee.

And at the same time:

The things that happened in the past only happened in your mind. Only in your mind.

Starman influenced my teenage years, as I described here; but clearly not only mine if you saw the Brixton mass sing-along of Starman in an impromptu celebration of their local hero.

Here is a small smattering of what people have been thinking aloud on the internet:

Soundtrack of my life

Thank you so for all the beauty, creativity and inspiration you brought into the world. You definitely provided the soundtrack to most of my teenage years and your passing is like the loss of an old friend.

It is strange to mourn for someone you never knew, but the sense of loss feels the same as if it were someone close. Somehow he weaved his way into so many people’s lives in so many ways.

So very unique. I can’t put my finger on it-but man something about him just shined.

Something is missing, something I can’t explain, as if a part of my life was ripped from me.

“His music was immortal, so we thought he was too.” That pretty much sums up my feelings for the great David Bowie…my past 40+ years of music, my hero!


This video shows that Bowie was pretty prescient, 15 years ago, on how the internet would affect the world (and how it’s a life form from outer space ;-)) Bowie was indeed a visionary. He saw the impact of the internet, especially in music and art; and he reveled in the interdependence between the artist and the audience. Perhaps this joy in connecting contributed to his alien mystique combined with his everyman approachability – you felt you could hang out with this rock god in your local pub, and indeed many people did.

As he said at the end of at least one concert:

God you are a great bunch of people, you really are. It’s been a pleasure playing for you.

He inspired and still inspires creativity. A friend of mine wrote and played music in a band for years largely because of him. Someone else just said: “Bowie’s parting album has got right into my skin. So much that it’s re-inspired me to start composing again after a long and empty void.” Stories like this are everywhere. As my talented filmmaker friend Julie said earlier today, we all have our own forms of creativity and means to connect meaningfully with others, and Bowie made it safe and possible for untold numbers of people to express themselves as they wanted to.

And I have got way too much on at the moment to find the time to write this article, but I find I have written it anyway.

Here is a lovely story, told properly and in length here, and now paraphrased probably poorly by me:

In 1989 a young student was sitting in his room feeling sorry for himself when a mummy walked into his room and asked if he knew where he might find a hotel? The answer was No.

“Oh, that’s OK,” the mummy said. “But could you at least tell me where I could get a decent cup of tea?”

I began to sob.

“No,” I cried. “We only have Bigelow!”

He placed his elegant hand on my shoulder and said, kindly:

“Hey, sad kid, it’s OK, don’t feel this way, you are a beautiful comet in the infinite universe.”

The mummy then peeled the bandages off his face, and stayed for a cup of tea. The rest, as they say, and for this author, was history. As he said:

… the little nuggets of weirdness inside us just needed a divine spark so we could become the celestial children we were always meant to be.

“I didn’t know David Bowie could die …”
David Bowie and skull
To be or not to be?

… as someone said on Facebook. And as someone else added:

I think that’s part of why his death hurts so much. Because for my generation, it is the loss of our youth. It’s a harsh reminder that for all of us time is truly short and that no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, you cannot stop its cold march forward. Someone like Bowie, who has been there through most of our lives, who seemingly goes on and on, we find is mortal after all. It gives us a reality check, it brings our lives into perspective as its shows us, with a hammer blow, that we are all mortal too.

“Look up here, I’m in heaven.”

I don't know where i'm going from hereAt the same time, I find his death to be strangely hopeful – if we transform our minds, who knows what adventures we can look forward to upon passing from this impure, often painful life. Death doesn’t have to be bad providing we go toward it with wide-open eyes, having been aware of its reality our whole life.

In a touching tribute on Facebook, Annie Lennox says:

The bejewelled remains of Major Tom lie dormant in a dust coated space suit…
It leaves me breathless.
You must see it to believe it…
He knew…
He could see through it all.

The jeweled skull in Blackstar is reminiscent of Tantric bone implements, where it symbolizes impermanence, of course, but also the transcendence of an impure body and mind (Major Tom’s?!) through the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness. The clear light of death, if transformed into the clear light of bliss, has the power to destroy the hallucinations of samsara once and for all.Tibetan jewelled skullcup

In the Lazarus video, the artist seems to retire back into a CS Lewisian wardrobe, while Bowie is transported to another realm:

This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me.

The man who fell to earth is hopefully returning to the Pure Land from whence he came. “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” Maybe he is. For he did die on Vajrayogini Day, and one of the principal Vajrayogini practices is being transported to Keajra Heaven, the “higher sky” above us; she has that power. Just as our ordinary mind can go to the moon just by thinking about it, so our un-ordinary mind Vajrayogini can go to the Pure Land just by thinking about it. We can go to the Pure Land out of an intense renunciation for the impure world of suffering, yet also remain here to help others. We can sort of be in two places at once. Be in the world, but not of it. Be practicing our spiritual path and helping others as if we have already arrived at our destination. And that feels wonderful, quite inexpressibly wonderful.

Just how that works is explained in the special powa (transference of consciousness) practice called The Uncommon Yoga of Inconceivability – a practice I love because it is mind-blowing in all the right ways. If you have a chance to attend Kadam Morten’s guided Highest Yoga Tantra retreat on this at Manjushri KMC starting next week, I really hope you take it, and discover your superhuman powers. (If you don’t have Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments yet, they are coming up in October in Canada.) From the Bowie song I listened to a thousand times aged around 14 to 16, identifying with every line (which explains a lot):

I’m not a prophet or a stone age man, just a mortal with the potential of a superman. I’m living on. ~ Quicksand

Bowie seemed quintessentially in this world but not of it, both from outer space with those eyes, and an impeccable gentleman. Whom he was or whom he was not, we may not know for some time. For, when all is said and done, who are any of us?

The unbearable lightness of being

double rainbowIn New York City, there were double rainbows photographed all over on the morning of January 10. And it turned out they coincided with Bowie’s passing. As well as with Vajrayogini self-initiation practice at KMC NYC

Bowie was interested in Tibetan Buddhism around 1965-1967, the very early days. He said of that time: “I was within a month of having my head shaved, taking my vows, and becoming a monk.” He was, he said, looking for salvation. As we know, he found another way to inspire the world instead; but you can still sense many liberation themes running through his work.

According to The New York Times, the song people are listening to most after his death is “Heroes”.

skullcup for a king
Skullcup for a king

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day.

One day at a time, maybe. King Heruka and Queen Vajrayogini can beat delusions, ordinary conceptions, and all suffering; and is this not what it really means to be a hero?

We can be heroes, forever and ever,
What d’you say?


David Bowie left Blackstar as a parting gift, just short days before he died. And everyone seems to be listening. Someone said:

Blackstar is playing on repeat in every country on the planet .. isn’t that incredible? It’s stirring, it’s sad, it’s joyous, it’s soulful, it’s haunting, it’s timeless, it’s true genius …

Bowie lazarusApparently, a black star is a transitional phase that is created when a collapsing star is close to reaching singularity, where the star’s influence becomes infinite and spacetime itself ceases to exist within it. Although the star at this point has died, it has been transformed into something else altogether and its energy will continue to be released indefinitely…

We are all the same, we are all constantly transforming into something else; and we all have infinite potential. And meanwhile almost every physical element on Earth was formed at the heart of a star.


We are pretty darned attached to our bodies, thinking “Mine!!!” and even “Me!!!” When, although we have this illusion of separateness, all that’s happening is that a little bit of stardust comes together for a while and then it all disperses, and our consciousness is once again released. Hopefully to the omniscient wisdom of the Dharmakaya, if we focus properly.

man who sold the worldBowie was always hard to pin down, never feeling quite as solid or real as other great artists. His shape-shifting and androgyny helped people let go of grasping at these fragments — these bodies, minds, and selves — as absolutes, which is the ignorance that keeps us trapped in one dimension. Omniscient wisdom sees the totality of all things existing interdependently, which allows us to fly anywhere and everywhere. And I am reminded of Buddha Tara’s excellent quote when, in a previous life, accosted by a sexist monk who condescendingly says she should pray for a male rebirth next time, she stamps her foot and says:

In this world there is no man, there is no woman.
There is no person, self, or consciousness.
Man and woman are merely imputed and have no essence.
Thus, the minds of worldly beings are mistaken.

We can all be Heruka and Vajrayogini, they are the same nature. Once Venerable Geshe-la was talking to me about the importance of female practitioners when, all of a sudden, he got up from his chair and “pretended” to be a woman. Right in front of me he transformed himself into a Dakini.

Rising from the dead

Tomorrow, 4 days after his death, I half-wonder if Bowie will arise like Lazarus and say his death was a fake, an elaborate publicity stunt?! His death may be mere appearance to mind, a fake in that respect, like all our deaths; but I don’t think Bowie was ever into stunts for their own sake – his impressive dying enterprise shows he was a genuine artist. Blackstar is what he wanted to do when he was dying, it means something.

Knowledge comes with death’s release. ~ Quicksand

I have of course no idea what his motivations in life were, but it seems he didn’t care about fame for its own sake, he even refused a CBE and a knighthood (easy to say, “Ah yes, I would refuse them too, I didn’t do all this for that!”; but would I refuse, when the invitations actually plopped through the letterbox?!)

I just read this a day after I wrote this article:

“David Bowie’s body has reportedly been privately cremated in New York following his death at the age of 69. In line with his wishes, no family or friends were present at the ceremony in the city where he had lived for much of his life.”

So, he even died in the manner of the old Yogis. All alone. And he had a private Buddhist funeral.

Frank Hatch, a local legend

David Bowie was not the only one to pass on January 10th. An old friend Frank Hatch taken Nov 13 2015of mine, Frank Hatch, died at the same time, which, knowing Frank, may be no accident, particularly as it was Vajrayogini Day too, and he liked her and Heruka a lot.

Like Bowie, you’d be forgiven for thinking Frank was supposed to be immortal. When I first met him, at Manjushri Centre about 20 years ago, he weighed about 120 pounds. He was fading away physically (never mentally!), but new drugs then surprisingly saved him. He lived with HIV for more than 20 years, only to be diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer in 2010.

Frank jumping off a rope swing with a caption
“Mol, let’s hang back from the pod so we can eddy out real quick and jump off the rope swing before anyone realizes we’re gone.”

But he kept going. Frank lived every single day to its fullest – one of the last things he did was guide a 16-day rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. I wrote this article on rebirth with Frank in mind a few years ago, when he was ambivalent about dying; but it seems he died very well when it came to it.

So to both David Bowie and Frank Hatch, I would like to say, “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too.”

Goodbye, Starmen, thank you for falling to earth, don’t go too far.

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

37 thoughts on “Ashes to ashes, dust to stardust”

  1. Dearest Luna….I just found out and i’m bawling my eyes out and screaming with joy simultaneously…..thank you…To David and all of us together..bound in boundless love…hahhahahhank

  2. A somewhat belated comment, Luna — it occurred to me as I read your post that one of the magical qualities of Bowie is that he was the “ultra cool” Dude, but at the same time, he had such a beautiful and compelling warmth. He seemed to play with many different roles and presented many different faces — but just behind that surface dazzle was his kind heart, generously sharing his gifts with all of us. Thanks so much, as always, for your thoughtful and very relevant posts.

  3. Strange how Bowie’s death has kind of unpacked a lot of emotion everywhere which had been stashed away for decades, and it’s only now his lifetime is over that it’s clear how much he was “at the centre of it all…”

  4. Thanks for this uplifting article, have not been able to listen to D.B. since his death,..too sad. I love the Uncommon yoga also, it,s so intense, I get less distracted than usual. love Tony x

  5. I’d have to say, I wouldn’t call myself a Bowie fan but I liked a lot of his stuff that I heard. On the day he died, I was surprised and a bit sad, but not much more. And then later on the radio, they played a solid half hour of his music and I listened, and it was all good until they played Sound and Vision, and then out of nowhere I burst into tears. But I knew exactly why. This song was played a lot when I was going to parties a lot, enjoying my youth without realising it. And now he was gone, and so one day will I be, and nothing can stop it. A real smack in the face from Samsara. So probably, perversely, a good thing, a close to home reminder that Samsara sucks, Death is galloping towards all of us while we’re only dancing.

  6. “…Because love’s such an old fashioned word
    And love dares you to care for
    The people on the edge of the night
    And loves dares you to change our way of caring about our selves
    This is our last dance”

  7. Thank you for writing this. I have been in a confused state since hearing of the death of Bowie. Sad and lost. Your article helped me put it in perspective.

    I first heard his music when I was 14. He helped me through a confused adolescent. He was the soundtrack of my life as the decades sped forward. Now I am 56 and I think he is helping me accept death.

    He wasn’t just a “celebrity”. My spirit connected with his through music in the most intimate way. Thank you Mr. Jones.

  8. You write beautifully. I have been so very emotional since I heard the news. I think it is in part how strongly his music evokes powerful memories of youth. I read that the earth is 4.5 billion years old and we should feel lucky that we were here at the same time as David Bowie!

  9. Thank you so much Luna – what a beautiful and insightful article. That really resonated with me having grown up with Bowie’s various influences since the ’60’s. I like millions of others feel a deep loss with his passing almost as if a family member had died; even though I never met him or saw him in the flesh. Personally I feel very fortunate to have enjoyed his presence of this Earth. I wonder who he really was but to me he was an emanated teacher to show everyone that you could be happy in yourself by pushing the boundaries of society’s accepted norms through creativity and reinvention. A peaceful and true revolutionary – RIP David Bowie – sadly missed. <3
    PS I think Blackstar is a work of genius.

  10. Beautiful. I’m so grateful you wrote this and articulated many thoughts in my mind. I posted the video of Heroes the other day on Facebook, and a Kadampa friend wrote, “is he singing about Generation Stage’? And I just sat there and watched the video and felt the most tremendous joy and inspiration fill my very being. Yes! I wrote. That’s just it! It’s perfect.

    I was also very moved by his last video – that shows him in the hospital bed – that captures the anguish. He was giving the entire planet a teaching on the realities of death. We hide it away, we don’t look. He knew that the whole world would be streaming videos of him as a young man the day after he died, and he made sure that a video showing the reality of death and aging and sickness and impermanence was also out there. By facing that video, all I could feel was intense gratefulness for Geshe Kelsang and the Kadampa lineage gurus for passing on these amazing teachings of transforming death.

    With love, Clare

    1. Beautiful comment.

      I find it inspiring that Bowie’s last actions were not hunkering down in a cosy domestic with Iman (even though she herself is a suspected Dakini with striking otherworldly beauty, like someone out of Avatar!) and holding on futilely to a waning life like so many people do. It was giving his life and body to others who will benefit long after he has gone back to the higher sky.

      I just read this:

      “David Bowie’s body has reportedly been privately cremated in New York following his death at the age of 69. In line with his wishes, no family or friends were present at the ceremony in the city where he had lived for much of his life.”

      He even died in the manner of the old Yogis. All alone.

  11. Thank you for this post Luna it’s delicious. Straight from your heart. Im lucky enough to be going on Kadam Mortens retreat on Sunday – now I’m super looking forward to it. Lots of love to you dear lady – I can’t thank you enough for your teachings and posts. Xx

    1. Out of the crown chakra into the higher sky … to experience an unbearable lightness of being. Like an out of body experience — spaced out but still able to function to help others “back on earth”. Maybe even a little bit psychedelic, but realizing that, after all, there is no need for drugs 😉

      Yes, Bowie would have liked this practice, I feel. His mind was directed to the stars.

  12. Thank you so much for taking this time out of your busy life to communicate these very beautiful and meaningful thoughts and memories you have about David Bowie. I have always liked the snippets of Bowie that I have seen/heard over the years, and respected him, and intuited that his offerings were unusually meaningful. In the first part of my life I was deeply involved in hedonistic mind-moving music and I avoided Bowie’s presentation. Then I became a Buddhist and abandoned music for a long time. Only recently have I been hearing, occasionally, songs like ‘Major Tom’ and seeing the deep Buddhist significance. I think I will dig more deeply into Bowie’s music now. Thanks again for your posting today. I will probably place Bowie on my music shrine beside Lama Leonard 🙂

    1. You might like to start with Hunky Dory 🙂 That album in particular confirmed the otherworldly dream-thoughts I was wont to think as a kid, and seems to have been a bridge between childhood and finding Dharma a year or so later. (My school friends reminded me that I had a huge poster of him, like a shrine, on my tiny study wall — yes, it has come back to me now!)

  13. In The Port of Amsterdam, late 1970’s, in a Cafe on the Achterburgwal, where Space Cadets and Yogis returning from their “Journeys to the East” would catch up, teach and discuss what they had learned from the Spiritual Guides they had met:

    I had just finished talking about Milarepa’s “Hundred Thousand Songs”, asking if anyone knew where one could find out about what were referred to then as the “Pith Instructions”, or empowerments as we now know them.

    A guy called Steve came and joined me. He had studied for a long time with his “Lama” out East. This Lama told Steve that on completing his Dharma studies he should return to the West, this was now to become the home of Dharma, no longer would it be the preserve of those living in remote monasteries and caves.

    Steve also learned that a “very High Lama” was now teaching this “Dharma for the modern age ” at a place in the English Lake District” called Manjushri Centre.

    Steve used David Bowie, who he knew, as an example of a modern day Bodhisattva. Explaining that in degenerate times, he was using song to convey meaning to the chaotic unhappiness many were experiencing. He said that also, like Milarepa, his love was so great that he was even giving his body to others to help them transform their confusion and delusions. A perfect example of how to apply Dharma in a secret and profound way.

    Steve had just come from Manjushri Centre and urged me to go there, no longer any need to go East young man! (He also warned of obstacles and dangers, but that is another story.) Later, in York, I met the “Lake District Lama’s” heart disciple, he had just been talking to David Bowie about opening a Dharma Centre for him to introduce this “Modern Buddhism” to the West.

    The connections and suspicion that I had finally found my Spiritual Guide were confirmed soon afterwards. Then, a little later, to my everlasting amazement and delight, I received Vajrayogini empowerment and afterwards teachings from a certain Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds!

    Thank you Steve and David for being the Starman’s emanations.

    Delighted to hear of the New York rainbows in your beautiful tribute, thank you Luna.

    PS. I never saw Steve again, if you are reading this Steve, I would love the chance to repay your kindness.

  14. This is really beautiful Luna – thanks for writing it! I like all of it, but loved that you wrote about his possible publicity stunt … that crossed my mind too! I agree, Blackstar is pure genius. I saw the video for “Lazurus” last Friday when it premiered and was completely blown away. It cut so deep – I couldn’t watch it twice. It takes a real genius to be able to make their death into an artistic act. I’ve been listening to “Changes” – the song is so reassuring to me. Because it was made decades ago – he surely got to spend time reflecting on impermanence! I’m sure Frank and Bowie are rocking out with Lou Reed right now (another Buddhist)!

  15. Love this, Luna! I just taught a whole class at Union Square Branch tonight based on “Quicksand”… “I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thoughts; and I ain’t got the power anymore.” He was so clearly studying/practicing Dharma when he wrote the songs on Hunky Dory! (All of them are Dharma in their way.) And I think the lines that precede the one you quoted go straight to the root delusions…”Don’t believe in yourself; don’t deceive with belief; knowledge comes with death’s release.” I can so clearly see the Buddha in Bowie! Look forward to attending some of your teachings at KMC NYC this month!

    1. Hunky Dory may indeed have been the warm-up act for me meeting Buddhism a year or two later 🙂 The lyrics made more sense to me than most things at the time.

  16. Thank you for this inspiring tribute to David and Frank. Frank was blessed to have you as a friend.

    The reason we loved Bowie was because he was so human, but he also helped us get out of our narrow minds and into space. He was a rock star, a man, a woman, a starduster, an advocate for others who were struggling, an artist, a father, a husband, and he was impishly out of control. On top of that, he knew how to make us–dance.

    1. Beautifully put.

      Your “he was a man, he was a woman” reminds me of the story of Tara that Venerable Geshe-la told in 2001:

      Countless aeons ago, in the Aeon of Variegated Light, there was a Buddha called Melodious Drum. He had one special disciple, a princess called Wisdom Moon. She possessed great merit, and was a very sincere practitioner. She was a great benefactor of Buddha and many of his disciples, and everyone rejoiced in her pure nature and pure deeds.

      One day she made extensive offerings in front of Buddha Melodious Drum and generated bodhichitta in his presence. Among those who witnessed this was a monk, who approached her later and offered the following advice:

      You are very fortunate. Today you have accumulated great merit, and made a special wish. Now to fulfil this wish you should pray to obtain a male body in your next life.

      Although she was surprised by what the monk had said, Wisdom Moon did not get angry with him. With perfect composure, she replied quietly:

      In this world there is no man, there is no woman.
      There is no person, self, or consciousness.
      Man and woman are merely imputed and have no essence.
      Thus, the minds of worldly beings are mistaken.

      The meaning of these words is that there is no inherently existent man or woman. Male and female, like person, self, consciousness, and indeed all other phenomena, are merely imputed by mind and do not exist from their own side. Not realizing this, worldly beings grasp tightly at being male or female and develop pride.

      Wisdom Moon explained to the monk that she liked being in a female body, and then in front of Buddha Melodious Drum she made the following promise:

      From now until I attain enlightenment I will always take a female body; and when I become a Buddha I will also appear in a female form.

      She then entered into meditation and attained a special concentration called ‘Rescuing all Living Beings’.

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