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Presented by Jhampa Shaneman

These lectures were transcribed by T Vd Broek. Heartfelt gratitude is offered for all the hours of work spent on this Dharma activity. These talks are offered free of charge. They have been slightly edited.

Sept 4 1990
This evening we are going to talk about the art of dying. In Asia, pre-dating Tibetan Buddhism, there is a set of teachings on how death evolves, and it must be based on meditative experiences, I guess. It is on the dissolution of the rougher states of consciousness enabling the mind to separate of the body, and then the re-animation of the mind to enable it to have enough consciousness to take another rebirth and to allow a coarse or manifest level of consciousness to come.
In the Tibetan system there are recognized five elements, fire, water, earth, air, and consciousness. Death is based on what is termed the collapsing of the elements. The first element dealt with is the earth element, which means the solid aspects of the body. The dissolution or weakening of the earth element reveals the fluid element, which then looses it's power and reveals the heat element, which when it looses it's power reveals air element, and it looses it's power and the mind is revealed in it's purity.
The earth element looses it's power very slowly. With time, one grows older and looses physical power, become hunch-back, the bones become brittle, the meat on the bones becomes slack. The skin looses it's luster and texture, muscles loose tone. This is the indicator that the earth element is loosing power. In some people. the text says it can take only a few weeks or months, but generally it takes a year or two. In this way the earth element goes down.
It is also related that there are five aggregates of being, the aggregate of form, feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness. So when the earth element dissolves, the aggregate looses it's power and the physical form becomes weak. When it gets down to the last two or three hours, it says the eyes become glazed over and you loose the capacity to see things clearly. The earth element is dissolving, the form element becomes weak, eye consciousness ceases or becomes difficult and eye consciousness does not function well. It is said that there is an inner experience of a haziness which appears to mind, the experience is said to be like feeling a faint, like if you have looked at a hot road and seen heat waves coming off the road. The inner experience is that everything is getting very wavy and insecure. There is a sense of loosing everything, as mind disengages itself from the body. That is the first phase.
The water element becomes revealed. This relates to the fluids in the body which start to become less active. The mouth becomes dry, the tongue swells. The aggregate of feeling is affected and one looses feelings such as happiness, sadness, these become weak and strong emotions loose their power. As they progress into the death process, the fluids dry. The inner vision is said to be that things become smoky as if the environment was misty or smoky. Everything is getting more cloudy.
When the fire element becomes revealed, the body begins to loose it's heat. And it is said to be auspicious if the heat leaves from the feet and arms first, then slowly to the torso and head. The aggregate of perception means to discriminate about whom is whom, and at this point, the person does not discriminate who they see. The ability to identify these people is lost. As the death process continues, the capacity to understand in an intellectual manner is ceasing. Yet, awareness does not cease. One with some capacity in their meditation, although their faculties of active thinking would be slowing down and ceasing, but awareness would stay there with clarity of focus. It could be acquainted to being stoned, for those who have been stoned. You sit there in a stupor and do not discriminate objects such as cars driving by, whatever, there is no more discrimination of objects, the mind is right out of touch The inner experience is said to be like sparks off a disturbed bon fire.
It is said a meditator could meditate on these signs. Then, at the time of death one could recognize and understand what is happening to you.
The air element begins to go down, and the breath has long exhalations, short inhalations, and manifests the death rattle. They have ceased functioning on an outer level, their mind is out of their body. As the air element looses power, the breathing stops, the aggregate of volition looses its power. Normally we have an understanding of the meaning of life, as to what is to be accomplished in life. This phase of the death experience, the mind has stopped understanding or comprehending even the meaning of life. The mind is really ceasing. It is said the fifty two different levels of conceptuality such as the coarse ones of anger, and those more subtle such as understanding relationship or meaning of life, cease. At this point the rough consciousness has stopped functioning and you do not have the intellectual capacity to understand any more. You still have awareness. At this point, if you have developed meditation, your mind will become more clear and lucid although you will not have the intellectual trappings around the mind. You literally enter the experience of mind. So the breath ceases, and the air element ceases and the mind no longer has intellectual capacity.
At this point the western doctors say the body is dead. Asians feel to harm the body at this point is murder because they say the person is there, living within their body. Internally there are four more visions which happen after the breath stops. It is said there is a red element from the mother residing at the navel, and a white element from your father at your forehead. These two elements come together at the heart.
Initially the red element rises toward the level of the heart, and the dead person has a vision of red light, said to be like the red hue in the sky of a clear sunset. When that arrives at the heart, white element residing at the forehead begins to fall toward the heart and at this time there is the experience of the white vision, said to be like prior to dawn when there is a white light in a very clear sky. When these two meet, it is said they come together like two sides of a shell, at that point there is a black vision equivalent to a faint. It says the mind at that point faints to itself, looses it's consciousness. But as soon as they have settled, the fourth vision arises, said to be like the arisal of clear light, the most refined level of consciousness. At this point there is no mental faculty whatsoever, but there is clear awareness. The clear light equated to clear like space, and your mind arises only within that vision. This level of consciousness is going to be the vehicle which goes to the next lifetime. In Buddhism it is termed Buddha nature, and is the basis of each lifetime's incarnation.
On that refined state of consciousness are all the imprints of the previous lifetime in what is termed a seed form. They are not manifest, but in potential. That is why it is important, as the years go by, who you are. What you are doing is, the particular activity has not been important, but the style of activity has been imprinting you in a very subtle deep level. At that time, in the clear light level of consciousness, you have all the potential of your next lifetime, but your consciousness is in it's most refined state.
For you as a meditator, if you have been able to progress through the whole process with awareness without going unconscious, you have a direct door to enlightenment. Because, that level of consciousness and the Buddha's holy mind are exactly the same. There is no difference at that point. Just that, for we as sentient beings, we normally went unconscious about four levels before that, and we thought we were dying, and whatever our predisposition, our concepts about death have kicked in and we thought we were going into a blackness, so that is what we did. But if we held awareness, we could arrive to that level of consciousness. As a meditator, that level of consciousness is what you try to generate. If you do generate that level of consciousness, then you have actually received enlightenment. It requires a deep level of concentration and the capacity to shut down the body.
So you have gone through the eight visions, have lost the four elements. And finally, mind is encapsulated within this shell of clear light experience. If you could hold it, like the lamas who by holding their mind within that point, their body stays in equilibrium and just does not decay. For most of us, we have lost consciousness three or four visions before that. So when we go to the clear light, we are like we are asleep, we do not consciously register with it. Then these two shells slip past each other and the mind leaves the body. At that point, in the Tibetan tradition, you are dead because the mind has left the body.
And it is said that the next rebirth you take is according to the door in which you left your body. If you are taking a human rebirth, you leave from the heart level or the mouth. If you are taking an upper rebirth, you will leave from the crown of the head or the forehead. If you are taking a lower rebirth, generally you leave through the genitals, or for a hell rebirth, you leave through the anus.
The the transference of consciousness teachings, it is said you cheat death. As you start to die, you have developed through a meditation technique, and you blow your mind out of your body through the crown of you head.
At this point you are in the intermediate state. As soon as the mind leaves the body it starts to re-animate itself. So all potentiality that was in seed form in the clear light consciousness, now manifests itself. So you begin to take on the aspect of your next rebirth. If you are a generous person, you create around yourself an aura of generosity and affluence. That imbues your astral being with that quality. If you have morality, it also imbues your body. That is why it is important to be moral. Because in the intermediate state, all of what you have done in your life becomes manifest in your little aura. You create the type of creature you are in the intermediate state. So it is important to be meticulous in your karmic creation.
Because of the type of person you are, you are drawn to certain situations. If you have been good, sincere, generous and moral, you are automatically drawn to a mother and father of a similar nature. If you have a violent nature or a base sense of sexuality, you are drawn to gross people.
That covers how death happens. It's eight visions, and that will be our meditation tonight. Identify this as how your mind separates from your body. Your body has to fall away or let go of your mind to let it get out. If you have this in mind, you can question what it means to let my body die so my mind goes to the next rebirth.

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