Over these 2 days, we will be learning about (and sometimes meditating on):
Our state of mind at the time of death is crucial for the next rebirth. We should aim at dying with a positive, peaceful state of mind, to ensure a good rebirth. If we die with anger, attachment or other negative, disturbing attitudes, we will probably fall into an unfortunate rebirth. To be able to keep our mind positive at the time of death, we need to start to work on our mind now : to learn how to keep our mind free from negative attitudes. By remembering death, we will remember to do this important work on our mind. And this will help us to live more peacefully and realistically.
Why are we uncomfortable about death? Some possible reasons:
In the Lam Rim (Path to Enlightenment) tradition of Tibetan Buddhism there are 2 common ways of meditating on death. The first (known as the 9-Point Meditation on Death) looks at the imminence of death and its implications for our life, to motivate us to make the best use of the time we have. The second is a simulation or rehearsal of the actual death process, in order to be prepared to die consciously and skilfully.
|Stage||Factors Dissolving||External Sign||Internal Sign|
Basic mirror-like wisdom.
|Body becomes thin, shrinks, weaker;|
Eyesight becomes unclear;
Unable to open & close eyes.
Forms become unclear.
Wisdom of equality.
|Body fluids dry up;|
Body becomes numb;
Bodily feelings cease.
Basic wisdom of analysis.
Forget life's affairs;
Inhalation weak, exhalation strong;
Can't remember names.
Compositional factors aggregate;
Tongue & body senses;
Wisdom of achieving activities.
Winds move to heart;
Body can't move;
Taste & touch cease;
Lose awareness of external activities, etc.
|Winds above heart enter into central channel.
||Mind of white appearance.
||Winds below heart enter central channel
||Mind of red increase.
||Winds gather at heart.
||Darkness, then unconsciousness
||Mind of black near-attainment.
||Winds dissolve into very subtle wind at heart.
||Clear light |
2. Live ethically
3. Cultivate a practice of meditation and/or prayer
According to Dagpo Rinpoche, the best practices to work on are taking refuge, cultivating love and compassion and bodhicitta, and developing devotion towards and following the advice of your spiritual masters. If we train ourselves in these practices starting now, it will be easier to practise them at the time of death.... Choose a practice that suits you: breathing meditation, mantra recitation, loving-kindness meditation, etc. Use your practice whenever you face problems or difficulties, then it will be easier to remember to do it when facing death.
4. Imagine and aspire for a good rebirth
Develop the aspiration for a good rebirth, either in a pure land or as a human being. Think ahead, make plans and make prayers towards this goal. If you wish for a pure-land rebirth, read sutras describing these realms and practise visualizing them. Prof. Thurman: The Buddha-land descriptions are incredibly lush and imaginatively stimulating. They open up for us the possibility of unearthly beauty and happiness. The mere reading about and imagining of these realms will open the imagination to be prepared for magnificence that might otherwise be frightening in its glory.
5. Study spiritual teachings
Learning spiritual teachings such as those given by the Buddha will help us to overcome delusions and negative behaviour, and will help us to become more wise and compassionate. Also, the more we understand reality or truth -- the nature of our life, the universe, karma, our capacity for spiritual development and how to bring it about -- the less we will be afraid of death.
6. Practice The Five Powers
(These are explained in the tradition of Thought Transformation; see the Recommended Reading list for books on Thought Transformation)
1. Overcoming our own fear and attachment
2. How to help someone who is a Buddhist
Remind the person to take refuge, encourage them to feel faith and confidence in the 3 Jewels. Encourage them to practise whatever they are familiar and comfortable with; help them to do these practices if necessary. Encourage them to not worry about their loved ones and their possessions, and to not be afraid of what lies ahead but to have faith in the 3 Jewels. Help them to cultivate positive thoughts, such as loving-kindness and compassion, and to avoid negative thoughts such as anger and attachment. Helping someone who is dying to have a peaceful and positive death is one of the greatest acts of kindness we can perform.
If possible, place images of Buddha, Kuan Yin, etc. within sight of the person. Itís good to talk to the person about impermanence and other Buddhist teachings, if they are receptive, but do not try to teach them something that would cause their mind to be confused or upset. The most important thing is to do what you can to help the person have a peaceful and positive state of mind before and during their death. You can meditate, recite prayers, etc. in the personís presence, and also dedicate prayers or ask other to dedicate prayers for the sake of the person.
3. How to help someone who is not a Buddhist
If the dying person belongs to another religion, encourage them to have faith, to pray, to have positive thoughts, etc. in accordance with their religious beliefs and practices. Donít try to impose your own beliefs or try to convert them.
If the person has no religion, but seems to be open-minded, you can try to talk about the Dharma, for example, about loving-kindness and compassion, about the truth of impermanence, about the 4 Noble Truths, etc. You can try to talk about the Buddha, taking refuge in the 3 Jewels, etc., but be sensitive -- donít be pushy, otherwise the person could become negative. If the person has no interest in religious or spiritual matters, find ways to talk to them that will help them to be free of anger, attachment, fear, etc., and to have a positive, peaceful state of mind.
4. Helping by accumulating merit
After the person has passed away, we can make prayers, offerings, liberate animals, do meditation, etc. - any virtuous activities -- and dedicate the merits for the person to have a good rebirth, and to quickly become free from cyclic existence and attain enlightenment. Itís good to use some of the personís own money to create merit, e.g. make donations to charity. Merit accumulated by family members is especially powerful and helpful. Doing virtuous actions and dedicating the merits to the deceased can help the person in the bardo (the intermediate state between death and the next life). However, once they have taken rebirth, the merit we dedicate may not help them in that life, but could help them in their subsequent rebirth, for example, shortening an unfortunate rebirth.