When Pema Chödrön—an 86-year-old best-selling Buddhist author who was mentioned in the same breath as the Dalai Lama and the late Thich Nhat Hanh as "one of the most influential voices in contemporary spirituality" by Oprah—has a forthcoming book with the word "Die" in the title, it prompts a question. Could How We Live is How We Die (Shambhala, Oct.) be her last book?

In it, she expands on the Tibetan Buddhist idea of the bardo as "a passage following our death in preceding our next life." She posits that life itself is a series of passages of bardos. "If we can learn to navigate the continual flow of transitions in our present life, we will be prepared for our death and whatever may follow, no matter what worldview we subscribe to," Chödrön writes.

So, calling it a "last book" seems improbable — and not just because Chödrön believes in reincarnation. Her scores of books and audio titles remain backlist top sellers for her primary publishers. Those are Shambhala, which released her first book, The Wisdom of No Escape, in 1991, and more than a dozen titles since, and multi-media publisher Sounds True, which lists dozens of audio and video releases and two books since 2000. Both say they have future releases in mind, drawing from decades of her talks and teachings.

Since Sam Bercholz, the founder of Shambhala Publications, first acquired The Wisdom of No Escape, on how to befriend yourself and live sanely amid a world of challenges, it has never been out of print. His son, Ivan Bercholz, executive v-p of the house, says "Pema is our bestselling author. Between her books, audio programs, and online courses, she has made the teachings of the Buddhist path accessible and relatable to millions," he says. His personal favorite is When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, originally published in 1997 and republished in an anniversary edition in 2016.

Shambhala publisher Nikko Odiseos says When Things Fall Apart, with 1.5 million copies in print, "is always one of our top five books of the year. Last year Pema titles overall were 15% of sales. Her special sauce is that her wisdom is for everybody. We hear from readers that her books saved their life. And the success of her work has allowed us to do a bunch of other important books, smaller books by others who may have a smaller audience. Because of Pema, we can afford to publish them."

Chödrön has logged difficult times of her own. Born in 1936 as Deirdre Blomfield-Brown, she often retells how by her late 30s she was a twice-divorced mother of two struggling for her spiritual footing. In How We Live is How We Die, she writes, how being abruptly dumped by her second husband turned out to be a "great gift. My only option was to go forward, with as much bravery as I could muster, into the unknown." She found her grounding in Buddhism. She became a nun, taking the name Pema Chödrön ("lamp of truth") in 1974. Among several teachers she sought out, she studied with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Naropa University. At his suggestion, she launched Gampo Abbey in 1984 in Nova Scotia to provide a monastic center for western Buddhists. She has rarely done media interviews or book promotion events, keeping her focus on her teachings and her personal retreats at the Abbey where she now spends most of her time. Consequently, she was not available to speak to PW for this story.

Editors and producers consult with her as they turn her teachings into print and audiobooks and video releases that reflect her unblinking gaze at life. When Things Fall Apart concludes: "Look at your mind. Be curious. Welcome groundlessness. Lighten up and relax. Offer chaos a cup of tea. Let go of 'us and them,' Don't turn away. Everything you do and think affects everyone else on the planet. Let the pain of the world touch you and cause your compassion to blossom. And never give up on yourself."

Those exhortations appear in many forms in other Chödrön top sellers with Shambhala: Welcoming the Unwelcome: Whole Hearted Living in a Brokenhearted World (2019); The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (2001); and Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion (2002) which concludes with her slogan, "Always maintain only a joyful mind." Books by Chödrön have been translated into 34 languages and Shambhala also publishes three Spanish editions in the U.S. market.

Most of her print and audio books include guided meditations and practices to help people embody empathy, compassion, and fearlessness. Sara Bercholz, v-p of Shambhala along with her brother Ivan, studied personally with Chödrön at Gampo Abbey, which the nun supports through a foundation based on her publishing proceeds. Sara Bercholz says, "What I remember most about being there is Pema's persistent warmth—even as she taught about the reality of things like impermanence, pain, groundlessness, it was all framed and held in compassion."

At Sounds True, where the mission is "transformational teachings for spiritual explorers," founding publisher Tami Simon began their relationship with Chödrön in 2000 with Awakening Compassion. The audio is “a gem drawn from an archive of Chödrön's teachings that had never been distributed in any meaningful way before," says associate publisher Jaime Schwalb. It introduced listeners to the practice of mind training to reframe painful experiences into steppingstones to wisdom, compassion, and fearlessness."

Chödrön's top sellers at Sounds True include Getting Unstuck: Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality (2005) and How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind, based on live recordings of her teaching. A PW reviewer wrote about the 2013 title, "Listening to this audiobook is exactly like sitting in a university classroom or actually being in a meditation class."

As Sounds True expanded from audiobooks to video and print title titles, How to Meditate became available in print as well. Another top seller available in both formats is Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown (2015), based on the commencement speech Chödrön delivered at her granddaughter's graduation from Naropa University in 2014.

Schwalb says, "Her audiobooks are beloved. She's one of our top voices at Sounds True. Cumulative sales from her go on and on as people continue to discover her uncanny ability to make esoteric teachings accessible. She makes people turn toward what is really difficult in our lives in a way that is tender and open and accepting. She is a terrific storyteller. You can hear her laughing. With so much tumult and despair in our world, her teachings are so important."

Chodron's open-hearted view of death, dying, and all the transitions of life are foreshadowed in many of her titles and talks leading up to How We Live is How We Die. In a 2015 conversation with Simon at a Los Angeles event sponsored by Sounds True and transcribed in the Buddhist magazine Lion's Roar, Chodron, then 79, said, "I’m at an age when people drop dead left and right. But death won’t seem like a tragedy to me, because I feel like I’ve learned so much from my life and it’s brought me such deep happiness."