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.
May 26 1991
Two weeks ago I introduced the subject of impermanence and personal impermanence as in being the world is impermanent. We see it all the time. The world is in the process of change. That also applies to ourselves. We are also always in the process of change. Within that, the ultimate change is to have to die in this lifetime. And to then set up the situation for the future lifetime. I brought up the point that we should try to utilize this in a positive way. Sometimes we can take death and make it negative, and put ourself in a very bad head space. Rather than that, the emphasis is on conscious awareness. And by being a conscious person, we can experience and grow. But if we loose personal awareness, instead of cultivating awareness of who we are and our state of being, and trying to be positive in a beneficial manner, we can waste a lot of time. A lot of time can go by. And we might feel we have accomplished something, but often we might feel that we have accomplished nothing. That has to deal with we have not cultivated awareness. We have done a job, but we have not been aware.
The meditation of death and impermanence is aimed at making us a very conscious entity. It is not to make us depressed, or neurotic that we run away from the world and live on the side of a mountain. Or feel that we have to give everything away. The whole point is to make us immediate. Make us in the moment. Make us conscious. So when death does come, we can feel good about ourselves. I have been a conscious person. The activities I have done I have cultivated with a sense of kindness, benefit, and such. And because we are conscious, because we have responsibility for ourselves, when our final moment comes, we can feel good about ourselves. We can say, I was a good person. I did what I needed to do. I did it well. I can say that because I developed personal responsibility. I developed self awareness.
The things which cause problems are being distracted by materiality. Spending all of our time only on material pursuits. Now in saying that I want to touch briefly on that if one works fully for the sake that one can amass a lot of money, pay one's mortgage off, and then maybe amass toys or such, that is a material life. If one works hard in one's life, has a job and does a lot of labor, if your attitude is correct, that is a spiritual activity. Most of the great saints of India were in one way or another ordinary people. Saraha was an arrow maker. He became inspired by meeting a great saint and took teachings. The teachings were not mundane in the sense of being a Buddhist monk, he was taught that he had to make his consciousness straight like the arrow. He had to learn how to gain the balance in the feathers. And he had to gain penetrative insight like in the arrow. That was his meditation. All he did was continue to make arrows, but he did it with awareness of the process of the arrow within this context or way of thinking. And he became a great saint and wrote many great songs of deep spiritual awareness. And all he did was make arrows!
You cannot say to be spiritual you must leave your ordinary life and never make anything. You can be an ordinary person who is working. The point is, you will have to die one day abut you will not have to give up everything you are doing. Rather you have to give up your ordinary attitude or careless attitude. Or, your unaware attitude. And, you cultivate an attitude of kindness, awareness, an attitude of personal responsibility. That as each moment comes, you are aware of yourself and you make conscious decisions. That is what is meant by being personally responsible.
When finally death knocks at your door, you can say I am fully here and capable of accepting you into my existence because I have always done things well. It is a type of thing that you cultivate in day to day awareness. So materiality is not the problem. It is our attitude regarding materiality, so that is what we need to change. We change that by realizing that at the time of death everything we have amassed is taken away. All that we have from our life is the way we have related to our materiality.
That means we should have a quality way of relating to materiality in the sense of, if we have materiality, use it as a vehicle for your becoming enlightened. Be a generous person. Be a person who shares and such. Or you can create an environment which is very beneficial for other people to gain some personal sense of security, to then be able to become themselves spiritual aspirants.
The second interference to being a conscious person is from our involvement with friends. We might spend a lot of energy trying to maintain our friendships. And if you think about it, today, did you at some point have to go and expend energy appeasing someone? Did you have to spend energy to be nice to someone who somehow felt that you were not nice enough? Or something like that. A lot of our energy has to be spent on balancing our relationships. Relationships are not easy to maintain. We have to give strokes to those we are around. Some people live in that sort of world totally. They totally live for their friends, the type of gossip they get, the emotional support they get from their friends. There might not appear to be anything wrong with that. But, if you look at it, you might at the end of your life given yourself for all of your friends and find at the time of death when you need help, you do not have any inner growth or stability because you have always relied on others. You have always been extroverted in that! So at the time of death you feel suffering and anxiety. You cry out! You are very sad to leave the people you need! You can even become hysterical. At the time of death you want to be a very conscious person, a very developed person.
So, we need to develop inner responsibility. That we are self sufficient. That we have clarity of mind. We know what we are doing. And although we have friends, we do not cling to them. Rather, we give good things to our friends. A T.M. friend of mine says, don't look at what you can take from a relationship, look at you can give to the relationship. And that is where it is at. If you give kindness and support to others, it is very beneficial. And when it comes to the end of your life, you can reflect and say I have done well in my life. I have given well to other people. So you can feel good about your relationships. Sure, you are going to be unhappy and going to cry and be a little depressed. That is reality. No one dies comfortably. But at least you can reflect on the fact that you did well in your life, and that you gave the best you could. That is regarding relationships with others.
The final point is our own body. And if we cling to our body, the beauty or the strength and such, it can cause problems at the end of our life because the body will be the thing which will kill you. So it is appropriate that we use our body in a positive and beneficial way, abut that we do not cling in a negative way to our body or quality of our body. I am sure body builders must become very depressed when their body looses it's power and they are left with the fact that they are crippled. And at that point they don't have what they normally rely on emotionally which is a great sense of physical ability, and then they feel very insecure.
For ourselves, if we are trying to develop conscious awareness, is that we use our body in a very positive way and do not cling to it because at the end of our life we will be betraying ourselves. We will experience that betrayal particularly at the end of our life, because at that point when we look for something to rely on, if will not be there. Because we never cultivated it. And that is the main point. You cultivate yourself as the days go by. So the real emphasis of death and impermanence is to be conscious of who you cultivate about yourself. Then when the end comes, you can feel good about the entity you became, the person you are.
Tonight I want to talk about the death process briefly. Part of the whole Buddhist approach to death is to be able to use death as a meditative experience. The basis of our practice is the Buddha nature. It is the most subtle level of our consciousness within us. And whether one terms it the Buddha nature, or the most subtle level of mind, we all have it. That level of consciousness is termed as being forever. It is not that it is the same thing, it is a consciousness, so it is an energy. But it is the most subtle thing and is always with us. For example, when you go to sleep at night, the rougher aspects of your consciousness cease to function. When you see someone asleep, you do not know what sort of mind they have inside of them. What has happened, is their mind is absorbed back to it's subtler level. And when they wake up, it manifests itself again. In that way there is continuity of mind. But at the time of death, the basis of who and what we are, sex, size, abilities, personality, cease. What does not cease is the subtle mind with the imprints of the type of person we are.
So when you die, you have an opportunity, if you develop yourself meditatively enough, to enter into a very fine level of consciousness at the time of death, free. It is just there. It happens. Your mind looses it's coarse levels of consciousness, and the subtle level of mind will basically reveal itself. That is your Buddha nature, the ultimate level of consciousness, that is enlightenment. But for all of us, and all of the sentient beings who die, most of us do the whole thing unconsciously. They don't cultivate themselves spiritually, they do not have the understanding and knowledge of what is going on. So when it happens, it either happens unconsciously like when we go to sleep at night, or if it happens, we do not recognize it for what it is, so therefore we basically loose the benefits of the experience, and when we take our next rebirth, there is no memory or blessing from being able to understand what that level of consciousness was.
So at the time of death, there are a series of experiences. It is said the earth element, which is the physical part of our body dissolves or ceases to be supportive of us. Then the water element, warmth or fire, and finally the air element cease to have the ability to support life within us.
So first the earth element ceases to support you. Initially the inability to move physically is the experience of what we have. Like our body goes like a log. And the inner experience is like being pressed down under the earth or a sense of being very under the earth or an avalanche. There is the emotional sensation of being suppressed or held. And if one does not understand what is going on, a lot of fear and anxiety develops. If one does have confidence, then the emotion may be more to unpleasant as in the body is no longer able to move, but one can go through it.
With the water element losing it's ability to support us, the outer sign is the mouth dries, the tongue swells, the fluid element is ceasing to move through the body. The inner experience is like that of mist and mirage. It is not like your eyes are seeing anything, but the inner experience is becoming hazy. they use for example, as if you looked on a hot road and see the heat waves coming up. Like that, the mind has a wavy fashion, like a mirage.
The fire element is the warmth of the body. It starts to retract from the feet, arms, head and such. The breath is getting very protracted and long exhalations, short inhalations. The warmth is starting to leave the body. YOu are almost dead at this point. It is down to the last minutes. The inner mind experience is that of sparks. It is like the sparks off a disturbed bonfire.
The outer sign of the air element ceasing is that breath stops. Finally there is the death rattle and at that time in the regular world say the person is dead. But from a Buddhist perspective, we say that no, their mind is still inside their body. They are not physically dead yet! They might have ceased to breathe, but they are still inside their body. The inner experience is like a small flame seen at a distance.
The remaining experiences are had only internally by the dying person. Outwardly everyone thinks the body is dead, cold and stiff. But the person within is still experiencing things. There are four more visions that arise, three principle ones. First, there is the experience of redness said to be like the redness of the sky at sunset. At the death time them, like that, the mind is becoming very subtle so there arises to the mind the reddish vision. The next vision, as the energy starts to compact more and more to the chest where consciousness will finally leave from, the next to arise is like the light of dawn. Dawn, when there starts to be a whitish light appearing on the horizon. That white light is then the next experience. With that ceasing, there is what is termed the blackness which is like a faint, which is brief. And normally the mind enters into a stupor or a state of unconsciousness. And from that then, it is said the energy has reached the heart, and just at moment, after the faint, there will arise the clear light consciousness.
That clear light is just that. It is fully clear. There is no color to it at all, and it is consciousness in it's most refined state. No form. No size. Just clear light consciousness, also referred to as the Buddha nature. If you, as a meditator or a person who has died, attain that level of consciousness and recognize it as your mind, with that level of realization they say you have reached enlightenment. Although you might not have in your lifetime attained enlightenment, but at that moment when you have died, can understand that level of consciousness for what it is, your mind understands itself it is said. They refer to it as the son meeting the mother. The son clear light meets the mother clear light. And like when you see your mother and recognize her, and there is that strong bonding, like this is your mother, with that sort of conscious experience, like that, when the son like clear light mind, which is your conscious ability to grasp and comprehend, meet with the clear light of the death which is like mother clear light, at that point, with that recognition, you have enlightenment. So there has to be that strong recognition of it.
Of course from there, there would be no rebirth or anything. You have attained enlightenment at that moment. And it is not an easy accomplishment so one should not think it as easily attainable. But it worthwhile presenting it. And also as a meditative process, to think of one's death, the process of death and how it will unfold.
The first vision has two aspects. One, it is referred to as being pressed under the earth, and like a mirage experience. Second vision is that of the haze, the third vision is sparks, the fourth like a small flame, the fifth is reddish, the sixth is whitish, the seventh is black, and the eighth is clear light. Those are termed the eight visions as one approaches the most subtle level of consciousness in the process of death.
When finally the mind arrives at the clear light, it will remain concentrated on that clear light for a period of time in the heart depending on the ability of one to hold it. For those who cannot hold it, it will last for a short time. They say the longest it can last for an ordinary person is three days. Then the mind leaves the body and then the consciousness start to re-manifest themselves or get coarser.
And the basis of your next rebirth is on the basis of what starts to manifest as your mind starts to re-animate itself. If you are to be born as a man or woman, at that point it will be revealed because you will take on the gender of your next rebirth. If you are to be born as a woman, you will manifest the energy body of a woman. Or, if you are to born as a man, you will manifest an energy body of a man. At that point you will have a lot of spiritual power because you are in an intermediate state and your body is one of energy. And at that time they say your ability is focused on finding a new body. And so you will look with your highly clairvoyant vision into the world and will be drawn to the next set of parents because of your karmic magnetism that you have. If you have good intentions and so on, you will be drawn to people of that nature, and so on. So with the qualifications coming together on the parents side, that they are able to conceive and such, there is the possibility for you to take rebirth. And it is said that rebirth for you happens at the time of conception. And then at the time of intercourse, it is said that you identify with the sex you are to be. And that is the general teaching.
It is said that you do not have to see the vision of a male and female having intercourse, rather, it can be just a vision of coming to a house you really like. And you enter it. They say experiences like that are also what people experience when they take rebirth.
However, it all depends on the person as to how they experience it. Then, at the actual time of intercourse and the actual inception of the sperm into the ovum, then your mind is the third facet which then binds those two and produces sentient life on a new physical plane.
All of the birth process has to rely on the death experience of a certain person who has created karma and such. So the main focus of the meditation is to become a more conscious person and participate with the activities of what we do on a day to day basis. And of course, to make that a spiritual activity or a positive beneficial activity, it requires that we participate in a positive manner, in a sense of wanting to give our best in the world or to others, and not on the basis of selfishness or greed, anger and aversion and such.
Copyright 1994 Daka's Buddhist Consulting
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