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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.

Duncan Sept 26 1993
Death meditation.
We have been dealing with personal impermanence. In becoming involved with any activity, it is always important to ask where I am coming from at this moment! What is my mind set. Because we do become what we motivate ourselves, when we come into any activity with a bad motivation or negative thoughts, until we change our attitude or position, inevitably we are going to have arguments with others or fight, or be unruly or difficult to relate to because of our hostilities. So you can say when we come into a situation it is our mind set that is going to set up how we experience that situation. So, as we have at various times opportunities to reappraise where we are coming from and what we are doing with ourselves, it is always worth while to spend a little time trying to become more in touch with a positive or open minded approach. This is saying, there is lots of potential in life. And as I go into what I am going to be involved with, if I have an open mind then there is lots of potential for growth. I can experience things. So being open minded or having a more universal attitude is very beneficial.
We all do have death waiting for us as an experience. Irrespective of how old or young we are, there is no guarantee as to whom is going to die first. It happens unpredictably. Thinking I am going to live forever is unrealistic. It is important to balance our life. We have to recognize that we are a finite being and have certain causes and conditions which fuel our existence. But if those become disrupted, then we could die!
This evenings talk is about the process that we will experience at the time of death. It has been explained by various meditators throughout the ages. It is special in the Buddhist tradition, how the death experience unfolds for us. So this evening will be a brief guided meditation to how the experience of death would be had if we had the opportunity to die in a quiet way. If we had a car accident or something very sudden, then the experiences would not be as easy to identify. But if we die quietly, then at that time we will have certain experiences arise in our mind, those which have been documented by various meditators of the past. And so if we are presented with them, we have an opportunity to not just have a big shock, we can say we are going to have this kind of experience. Then as each experience unfolds, especially as we get more and more refined levels of mind, we go back to our essence mind, then as that experience comes, we can recognize it for what it is and benefit ourselves. It is said that we have died millions of times. But it is not always certain that we can have the ability to understand the process, so we sort of die without being able to benefit ourselves.
So if we have some understanding of the experience of death, then as they unfold and we have the conscious ability to recognize them, we can benefit ourselves because as the mind pulls out the body, you have a higher state of consciousness because the body actually dampens our experience of reality. If we have a very heavy body, with a strong identity with the physical body, we don't have a lot of higher experiences or higher sensitivity. But as our body dies, our mind becomes free and it is easier to understand our body or our mind is in essence energy. As the process expands, the power of the mind becomes unleashed, you have the power and ability to perceive, clairvoyant powers come, and other things. The shame it is that it is at the time of death. Maybe you suddenly understand something you never understood before, but then your dying! So what is the use! Your are dying and it is all over! And if you are lucky you might remember that, but very often the intermediate state and then taking rebirth with smother that memory so it is gone in our future life.
The way it is described is that there is four elements to our body. The solid physical element, the water element, the heat element, and then air or energy element. These four are what we are living with right now. They are all in generally speaking, good condition. Our physical body is strong, has strength, the fluid element is in balance so we don't have problems with the water in our body. Our heat is good, so we are not in fever or experiencing chills, and of course, our breath is doing well and we are comfortable.
But at the time of death, in a gradual death process, it is said that the body is the first to loose it's power. The body would become extremely weak, and there would would be a sensation of loosing or falling into a very heavy thing where one could not lift things any more. So if one's limbs can no longer move, one feels trapped inside something like the ground. If you understand that, then you can understand my body is now letting go, it is no longer able to support me. If you don't understand it, then you might have a sensation of being drowned or trapped under earth and become very fearful. But it doesn't help you. You have the sensation but you are going to go through with it. It is not like you can get back into your body. Your body is now loosing it's physical power. So it is said that the body becomes very heavy.
As that experience grows, it is said that the eye consciousness starts to loose it's power. And like the waves of heat rising off a hot road, it is said that in your vision comes strong wavy lines as the eye consciousness is going down. But for you as a sensation, it is like the earth is moving and everything is getting very wavy. And that then, is the water element.
The water element is now loosing it's power to support us. And with that element then, you get a wavy experience. Also it is said, it becomes quite misty as if you were in a room of fog and cannot see anything any more. There is fogginess. The tongue at this point start to swell, and you have an inability to breath very well. Your breath is more extenuated, like long exhalations and short inhalations. And we are starting to move more deeply into the death experience. And the emotional experience inside, is that things are becoming very foggy and wavy and there is a lot of inability to relate to what is going on around us. The mind still have great clarity and understanding, but it is like going down inside.
With the third element, the fire element, the breath is starting to shut down. You could say the death rattle starts to happen in the throat. At this point, there is the experience of sparks as if one threw a log into a bonfire at night, and there were masses of sparks, it is said the experience for us inside is this. The outside world is ceased to appear, what we are getting is an incredible experience of sparks of energy sort of going past us or around us or through us. And the heat in our body is starting to disappear. The circulation in our feet, hands and such, is stopping. So on the outside, people around you can feel becoming very cold. Your experience is sparks!
As that becomes more deep, it is said that there arises a singular light that your mind goes toward. so it is said that from the sparks in the sky it goes to just a light and your mind is drawn to it. It is said to be similar to moving down a tunnel, that your mind is like going down a tunnel toward a light, called the single candle flame.
From there, the breath actually stops. It is said that the breathing stops and for us on the outside world, we look at the body and say the person has died now. They are no longer there. But from the Buddhist tradition, it is said that the body, although it has stopped functioning, the mind is still inside. The internal experiences are still happening. So it is important to allow the body to lie in state and not be moved for some period of time. Traditionally it is said to be three days, but in Canada it is hard to do that!
As for us as an individual on the inside, we still have a functioning mind which understands our experiencing things. And so, it has moved down a tube toward what is called a single candle flame that our mind moves towards. As that experience happens, three visions will arise to the mind. They are in the mind. At night when you dream, you are sort of close to that realm. But it has to be, is that you are really in the experience, whereas in dreaming, it is like watching it. In this sense, you try to recognize that this is the process, this is really happening, rather than being an illusion. So it is said that the first vision that arises is the white vision. It is said that the white element from the father starts to descend from the crown of the head down to the heart. It is said that the vision that arises to the mind is like very early in the morning before the sun comes up before the horizon, the sky gets a white sheen to it. For you in the death experience, what will be coming is a very clear open space with a whitish color to it. Your mind goes through or with that experience for some period of time.
The next vision to arise will be the red vision as the red element from the abdomen starts to arise up to the heart. With this, the sky becomes more reddish. It is said in the autumn in the evening time when the sun sets, if you see the evening sky, it becomes very washed with a red light. So again, in your mind, as the process of dying progresses, from the white light will come a reddish glow that will carry on for some time.
Then the mind goes into what is termed a small faint. Like sort of loosing consciousness. It is called the black appearance, although it is said to not be very long. And from there arises the final most important vision, the vision of clear light. And this is said to be the most subtle level of mind. It is your actual Buddha nature. So in your mind stream, what arises is an absolute vacuity or clarity, the clear light experience. Your Buddha nature has revealed itself in all it's nature and quality. And at that time, if you have conscious awareness still, its not easy to have it at that time because you loose awareness as experiences go through, but if you have it, at this time it is said you have non duality, non dual experience. So for experienced meditators, it is important to develop a sense or appreciation of non duality to make the mind union oneness with the experience of clear light. Not to have a sense of duality as in there is the light and then there is mine. But rather, the light and I are one.
There is a particular meditation which is I am. Where there is a non duality. There is just the experience. so it is said at this time, when the clear light arises, one's mind should identify that this is most subtle and ultimate nature. And one should allow ones mind to merge with that. If you can do that, then you have enlightenment. Then there is no more rebirths, it is finished. That is the ultimate experience. You have attained the ultimate level of mind. And what has allowed you to have it, is that you have done it consciously. If your mind has been able to cognize this is my most subtle nature, and with that cognition, it can hold it. That is the special feature of someone who develops meditation. If someone does not have meditation, they set up a duality to the experience, as in I am observing this light, this light is not me, with that you have created for yourself the energy which is going to be the cause for you to take rebirth because you do not identify with light. In the duality of self and light being held onto, therefore the mind will progress on due to the various karmas of your life which will kick back in. It is said at this point, if you have not become enlightened with the recognition of the clear light, that will be the cause of you leaving the body, and then you will into a new form for taking your new rebirth.
It is said that the new body that you assume will be in the aspect of the karmas which have pushed you to that point. If for example you have been virtuous, patient and kind, the new body having finished the clear light experienced, will be generated from those feelings. The qualities you have will manifest in a new form. In this way ,the cause to not take rebirth is to recognize the clear light experience as you, your own mind. If you do not do that, then you will be propelled beyond that and be in the intermediate state.
For those of you having tantric practice, of course if you are not able to generate the experience the clear light as being your ultimate nature, it is said that when you manifest, you should try to be identified with your deity, which is the Buddha. Having perfect quality. So that is why deity yoga is important. If you have always identified that your most inner nature is the Buddha, and you have had tantric initiations, then of course, you are always meditating yourself as having the qualities of an enlightened being, having perfect love and compassion and wisdom. If you have identified and made that very much what you aspire to and feel strongly about, then when you leave into the intermediate state, by the power of the previous lifetimes pure commitments, pure mantra recitation, and devotion, you will generate a lot of the form of an enlightened being. So there is much to be said in having a good practice in this lifetime. It will definitely affect you in the intermediate state if you have conscious awareness, you can generate yourself as the deity. If you don't, but have had a pure heart and pure devotion, you affect the next rebirth in the form that you have.
In the death experience, most of us will go right on through and take the next rebirth. We have to develop quite a lot of meditative power to stop it. A lot of prayer to be able to with hold and understand the experiences of death. But it is good to know. I cannot judge where you are, what level of experience or meditative power you have. So at that time you may have the ability to recollect these experiences. So at that time, as they unfold, you can anticipate the final arisal of clear light. And when it does come, you can say, this is my mind!
I wanted to talk about near death experiences. They talk about what they have. They say they went through a tunnel, saw a light, and then had an experience of a greater light! Sometimes the light speaks to them. There is maybe Jesus Christ or some spiritual being there. An angel or some entity that says you have to go back, your not ready to die yet! So then they come back. My own thoughts about it are, it depends on you as an individual how you set yourself up, to how death will be experienced. If you have a Christian vision of the world, very much when you go through the death experience you might find Jesus Christ waiting on the other side because of your faith. If that is the case, then from a Buddhist point of view, I would say try to recognize that Jesus Christ is your own pure heart. From a Buddhist point of view, try to actually become Jesus Christ. So when you do go through the death experience, and experience some entity on the other side, try to recognize that this entity is maybe your own pure mind. Because of the type of personality you have, you have created it as an entity you have before you. So then you say, this is God or Jesus! If you can then, try to say, this is actually me! This is my own pure mind manifesting to myself.
The main point is, as we go through the death experience which is waiting for us, it is important that we try to have some appreciation of these experiences as they come. That we have some preparation for them.

Copyright 1994  Daka's Buddhist Consulting  All Rights Reserved