Death and the Art of Dying in Tibetan Buddhism

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9780963037121: Death and the Art of Dying in Tibetan Buddhism

Milarepa, the prince of yogis used to sing: The fear of death has led me to the snowcapped mountains. On the uncertainty of the moment of my death I have meditated Thus I have reached the immortal stronghold of true essence My fear has vanished into the distance.

Later, the great sufi poet, Jalal Od-Din Rumi was to say: "Our death is our wedding with eternity."

Not so long ago Sri Ramana Maharishi, the wise man of Arunachala wrote the following in one of his rare books. Those who fear death intensely only take refuge at the feet of the Supreme Lord whom neither death nor birth can impress. Dead to themselves and to all possessions, how could the thought of death arise within them? They are immortal!

We will almost certainly never be as certain as these sublime beings. At best we will have hope and at worst we will experience the anguish of nothingness.

Death who are you? What do you have in store for us? Will you end with all encompassing darkness the fleeting moments of several decades of life? Will you open a window onto other worlds, other splendors and other hells for us? From the scientist for whom awareness and brain are irremediably linked to the sage who during this lifetime has realized immortality, there are many responses.

Buddhism asserts that beings live on eternally beyond the impermanent fluctuations of this life. Death is not a definitive end but just a passage to one of the three other states: - a rebirth in the world of human beings or in another world of the cycle of conditioned existence where a constant flow of joys and suffering goes on; - the entry into a "pure land", domain of luminous manifestation as we shall see as this book unfolds; - the flowering of the ultimate nature of being as a pure, non- dual, unlimited all-knowing and all-loving consciousness, which is called Buddhahood.

It takes an entire life of labor to prepare for these achievements. Nonetheless, when time comes, there is an "art of dying", an ars moriendi as it was said in the Middle Ages. Such will be the main thrust of this work even though a general description of death had to be provided and is contained in the first chapter. The real issue, the one from where it will be pointless to divert oneself with fine theories is as follows: how can we turn our death into a positive expansion? Such was the question we asked Bokar Rinpoche and which he answered in the precise frame of Buddhism and, more particularly, within the Tibetan tradition. Another essential issue is how can we accompany those who are leaving before us and what can we offer them by way of a pleasant journey? As curious it may seem when dealing with a subject like this, this book is intended to be more practical than philosophical. May this book ensure that our last moment is also the most beautiful.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Bokar Rinpoche was born to a nomadic family in Western Tibet in 1940. Recognized as a reincarnation by the Sixteenth Karmapa, he studied at Bokar and Tsurphu Monasteries. He left Tibet at twenty and completed two three-year retreats under the guidance of Kalu Rinpoche. A remarkable Kagyu meditation master, he teaches Vajrayana practice in Buddhist centers around the world.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

from "The Bardos of Death" The Tibetan word bardo belongs to the vocabulary of time. It designates an interval of time that has a defined beginning and end. For instance, a conference starts at a precise point in time and ends at another precise point in time, one we can locate. The time it goes on for could be called a bardo. The term does not just apply to death. It is germane to any experience or any phenomenon with defined time limits, whether its duration is long or short. The time it takes you to snap your fingers could also be defined in this way. If one were to write out a list of all bardos one would never finish. So for convenience's sake, let us limit the number of bardos to a few major categories, say two, four or six depending on the approach we use.

Let us consider the six bardos: 1- The bardo of birth to death which ceases as soon as the first signs of agony start; 2- The bardo of the dream state which is delimited by the moment we fall asleep and by the moment we wake up. 3- The bardo of meditative concentration which lasts from the beginning to the end of a meditation. The first three bardos belong to our present lifetime. 4- The bardo of the moment of death which starts when the death process begins and lasts until actual death. 5- The bardo of dharmata which starts when death occurs and lasts until the divinities appear in the post-mortem state. 6- The bardo of becoming which starts when the previous one ceases and ends when we are born. These three last bardos are the bardos of death.

The essence of the mind of all beings is what is called the essence of Awakening. From this point of view, which is that of ultimate truth, there is no bardo. We know nothing of this ultimate mode of being and that is why all sorts of illusory manifestations occur in the relative mode. Among these, there are the six bardos that cause much suffering. Buddha's teachings intend to dispel such erroneous experiences and resulting suffering.

These teachings underscore the fundamental importance of having a spiritual practice during the three bardos of this lifetime. If we now develop a firm spiritual foundation, it will be easier for us to traverse the three bardos of death.

At best, realizing the mode of being of the mind will make it ineffectual for the three bardos of death to manifest themselves. In this case, it is as if we take an elevator to reach the top floor of a building. All we need is to press the button of the floor without having to stop at all other intermediary floors. Even if we did not obtain this realization, the spiritual development acquired in this lifetime will make experiencing the three bardos of death easier and will perhaps help us recognize their real nature. In so doing we will be free of them.

The six bardos are not six domains which exist independently of ourselves. They are related to our mind that is living in a state of delusion. The six bardos manifest out of our mind, it is our mind that has the experience and it is also our mind that recognizes their false nature and liberates itself from them.

The way we experience the six bardos depends only upon our mind as they are its reflection. Consider a house composed of six rooms. The walls of each of the rooms are covered with mirrors. A man lives in this house. He is dirty, has untidy hair, wears torn clothes and is always making faces. He goes from room to room and the mirrors always reflect the same image of a dirty man with untidy hair, torn clothes and a grimacing face. Similarly, when our mind is characterized by a lot of negative karma, each of the six bardos reflects suffering. The house occupant can also be clean, well dressed and smiling. Going from room to room, he sees everywhere a clear and smiling face. The house is the same and yet there is no more ugliness, no more upsetting sights. Everything seen is a pleasant, peaceful sight. When our mind is free of negative karma and passions that disturb it, the six bardos reflect a picture that resembles us, full of peace and happiness.

Whether pleasant or not, appearances do not depend on the six rooms which are neutral. An individual fills the rooms with his own nature. In a similar way, the erroneous experiences of the six bardos do not depend on the bardos, they depend on our mind.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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