“There’s a thought in my mind
and there’s nothing not far behind
there’s a road there’s a path
there’s a freeway and there’s a map
There are flies and blue skies
and the just and the unjust all walk side by side”
Flies and Blue Skys, Kings X
So death is not an ending and birth is not a beginning. They are just periods of existence. You have birth for a period, life for a period and death for a period. Life is conditioned on birth, death is conditioned on life and, birth is conditioned on death. “We” exist in each state for a period, that is all.
One of the biggest problems we have in trying to understand Buddhist thought is language itself. Language has limitations. Because all words are pregnant with meanings that we assign to them, it is difficult to convey a meaning that is different or opposed to those meanings. This is why in the scriptures the Buddha often replied with silence because the question being asked was incorrect based on the limitations of language. It is also why the Zenninst prefer to practice silent meditation and look for the teaching beyond words. When it comes to names especially, we start to wrongly think that the name and the thing are one. We blur the line between the word and the “thing” that the word represents. There is not a more difficult word more pregnant with incorrect meaning then the word “self”. In the example of the Colorado River in the last post we incorrectly directly connect the name to the fixed thing, the Colorado River, as if the name is the thing itself. We make it even worse when we view the thing we are looking at (the Colorado River) as a fixed or permanent thing. There is nothing fixed or permanent about it, it is under constant change right before our eyes, so our mind gets farther and farther away from the reality of what “it” (the river) really is. It is just a mere convenience of mind. The River is dependent on its source, the lake or ocean that is feeding it, to exist in this present moment. If the source dried up the River would be nothing more than a River bed, not a River at all. It is also dependent on the lake it empties into. If the River had nothing to empty into it would become a lake, 😉 Not a river at all.
It is no different with our example of Paul. Paul likes himself, he likes himself a lot! He has been called Paul for a very long time (in fact he calls himself Paul) and has no problem with the idea that Paul is him, he is Paul. He has no reason to want to give up Paul and in fact what he really wants is to just make Paul happy. He doesn’t want Paul to change or end. Of course the problem is Paul is not what “he” is. Paul is just a name that his parents picked to call this biological entity for their own personal reasons. They could have just called him Bob. But then “he” wouldn’t be a Bob either. A Bob is not a thing, is it? We have already established that this being we have arbitrarily named or labeled Paul has no fixed parts. There is nothing in his body or mind that has remained the same since he was born. In fact there is nothing that makes up this being called Paul that has remained the same since even before he was born. It, just like everything else in the Universe has always been under constant change. It, just like everything else in the Universe is dependent all the conditions that caused it to come into being.
I have noticed an interesting thing when studying different Buddhist traditions. While they may seem like they are different on the surface if you listen closely they are really describing the same things. The terminology or way of explaining something differs but you can tell that they have come to the same truths. There are two writings on death that come from two different traditions. They are explaining what is happening to you at the time of death and what your focus should be during your last breaths. As I mentioned in one of my earlier post, “Buddha, Buddha, who’s got the Buddha?” when you look at all the different Buddhist traditions it is easily to get confused by all the trappings. We can wrongly attach importance to the different external things like ritual or types of practice. What you will see in these two writings from the different traditions is that they drop all of that and concentrate on basic Buddhist teachings such as following the breath. So in the end when it counts all the trappings are not really necessary or important. Also in the last several posts I have been focusing on Impermanence, Suffering, and Not-self as core teachings of the Buddha. You will see that these also play a central theme in these writings.
The first one is “Our real home” from the incredible Ajahn Chah, a Thai monk from the Thai forest tradition of the Theravada. The other is “The refined essence of oral instructions” from the Tibetan Guru Padmasambhava. Even though these two Buddhist teachers were separated by time, country, race, and tradition it is amazing how similar their views on death were. Ajahn Chah is giving his advice on death to an aging disciple that is in the process of dying. Padmasambhava is giving his advice to his disciple Yeshe Tsogyal, at her request, before he left her. I have to give you these writings in an abridged form focusing on the parts that go with this discussion. Otherwise for this discussion they would be too long. So since I have just captured the main points they do not read as smoothly or elegantly as they do in the original. I suggest that if you find these helpful that you seek out the original and read it as it was meant to be. Lastly while I know that this subject is not an easy one for most people please take the time to read these. The purpose is not to scare or upset anyone. If you see the truths that they contain it should help to lessen the fear.
OUR REAL HOME, AJAHN CHAH
Now you too must learn to be satisfied with the many years you’ve already depended on your body. You should feel that it is enough. You can compare it to household utensils that you have had for a long time – your cups, saucers, plates, and so on. When you first had them, they were clean and shining, but now, after using them for so long, they’re starting to wear out. Some are already broken, some have disappeared, and those that are left are deteriorating, they have no stable form, and it is their nature to be like that. Your body is the same way- -it’s been continually changing right from the day you were born, through childhood, and youth, until now it’s reached old age. You must accept that. The Buddha said that conditions (samskaras), whether they are internal conditions, bodily conditions or external conditions are not-self (Anatta), their nature is to change. Contemplate this truth until you see it clearly.
Give energy to the mind by realizing the truth of the way things are. The Lord Buddha taught that this is the nature of the body, it can’t be any other way, having been born it gets old and sick and then it dies. This is the great truth that you are presently encountering. Look at the body with wisdom and realize it.
You have been alive a long time. Your eyes have seen any number of forms and colors, your ears have heard so many sounds you have had any number of experiences. And that is all they were – just experiences.
The Buddha said that rich or poor, young or old, human or animal, no being in this world can maintain itself in any one state for long, everything experiences change and estrangement. This is a fact of life that we can do nothing to remedy. But the Buddha said that what we can do is to contemplate the body and mind so as to see their impersonality, see that neither of them is “me” or “mine”. They have no provisional reality.
Now this truth does not apply to you alone, everyone is in the same position, even the lord Buddha and his enlightened disciples. They differed from us in only one respect and that was in their acceptance of the way things are, they saw that it could be no other way.
Just take a look at the body. What sort of things do you see? Is there anything intrinsically clean there? Can you find any abiding presence? This whole body is steadily degenerating and the Buddha taught us to see that it doesn’t belong to us. It’s natural for the body to be this way, because all conditioned phenomena are subject to change. How else would you have it be? Actually there is nothing wrong with the way the body is. It’s not the body that causes suffering, it’s your wrong thinking. When you see the right wrongly, there is bound to be confusion.
Let the mind unite in a single point and let that composed mind dwell with the breath.
So let go, put down everything except the knowing. Don’t be fooled if visions or sounds arise in your mind during meditation. Put them all down. Don’t take hold of anything at all. Just stay with this non-dual awareness. Don’t worry about past or the future, just be still and you will reach the place where there’s no advancing, no retreating and no stopping, where there’s nothing to grasp at or cling to. Why? Because there’s no self, no “me” or “mine”. It’s all gone.
Realizing the Dharma, the path to freedom from the round of birth and death, is a task that we all have to do alone.
Whatever arises in your mind, be it fear of pain, fear of death, anxiety about others or whatever, say to it, “Don’t disturb me. You’re not my business anymore.
The world is the very mental state that is agitating you at this moment. “What will this person do? What will that person do? When I am dead who will look after them? How will they manage?” This is all just “the world”. Even the mere arising of a thought fearing death or pain is the world. Throw the world away, thinking you would like to go on living for a long time will make you suffer. But thinking you’d like to die right away or die very quickly isn’t right either, its suffering isn’t it. Conditions don’t belong to us; they follow their own natural laws.
Your body has followed its natural course from birth until now, it’s old and sick and you can’t forbid it from doing that, that’s the way it is. Wanting it to be different would be as foolish as wanting a duck to be a chicken. When you see that that’s impossible; that a duck has to be a duck, that chicken has to be a chicken and that our bodies have to get old and die, you will find strength and energy.
The pali word sankhara refers to this body and this mind. Sanskaras are impermanent and unstable, having come into being they disappear, having arisen they pass away and yet everyone wants them to be permanent. This is foolish. Look at the breath. Having come in, it goes out, that is its nature, that’s how it has to be.
As soon as we‘re born we are dead. Our birth and our death are just one thing. It’s like a tree: when there is a root, there must be twigs. When there twigs, there must be a root. You can’t have one without the other. It’s a little funny to see how at death people so grief-stricken and distracted, fearful and sad, and at birth how happy and delighted. It’s delusion; nobody has ever looked at this clearly. I think if you really want to cry, then it would be better to do so when someone is born. For actually birth is death, death is birth, the root is the twig, the twig is the root. If you have got to cry, cry at the root, cry at the birth. Look closely: if there is no birth, there would be no death. Can you understand this?
Even if you don’t let go, everything is starting to leave anyway. Can you see that, how all the different parts of your body are trying to slip away?
You can’t make a permanent home in Samskara, you can stay for a short while and then you have to go.
So you needn’t worry about anything because this isn’t your home, it is just a temporary shelter. Having come into this world you should contemplate its nature. Everything there is, is preparing to disappear.
Where has everything gone? This is nature, the way things are. When their time is up, conditions go their way. This world is nothing to rely on, it’s an endless round of disturbance and trouble, pleasures and pain. There’s no peace.
When you’ve contemplated things in this way, you will see Anitya, Impermanence, and Duhkha, Un-satisfactoriness. Why are things Impermanent and Unsatisfactory? It is because they’re Anatman (Anatta), Not –self.
THE REFINED ESSENCE OF ORAL INSTRUCTIONS, Padmasambhava
Although there are many key points of speech such as breath control and mantra recitation, stop speaking and rest like a mute. Everything is included in simply that. Although there are many key points of mind such as concentrating, relaxing, projecting, dissolving, and focusing inward, everything is included in simply letting it rest in its natural state, free and easy, without fabrication.
Having recognized it as such, to become certain about it, that is the view. To remain un-distracted in the state of stillness, without fabrication or fixation, that is the meditation. In that state, to be free of clinging or attachment, accepting or rejecting, hope or fear, toward any experiences of the six senses, that is the action.
At the time of dying you should practice as follows.
By earth dissolving in water, the body becomes heavy and cannot support itself. By water dissolving in fire, the mouth and nose dry up. By fire dissolving in wind, body heat disappears. By wind dissolving in consciousness, one cannot but exhale with a rattle and inhale with a gasp.
At that time, the feelings of being pressed down by a huge mountain, being trapped within darkness, or being dropped into the expanse of space occur. All these experiences are accompanied by thunderous and ringing sounds. The whole sky will be vividly bright like an unfurled brocade.
Moreover, the natural forms of your mind, the peaceful, wrathful, semi wrathful deities, and the ones with various heads fill the sky, within a dome of rainbow lights. Brandishing weapons, they will utter “Beat! beat!” “Kill! kill!” “Hung hung!” ”Phat! phat!” and other fierce sounds. In addition there will be light like a hundred thousand suns shinning at once.
At this point, know this: The feeling of being pressed down is not that of being pressed down by a mountain. It is your own elements dissolving. Don’t be afraid of that! The feeling of being trapped within darkness is not darkness. It is your five sense faculty dissolving. The feeling of being dropped into the expanse of space is not being dropped. It is your mind without support because your body and mind have separated and your breathing has stopped.
All experiences of rainbow lights are natural manifestations of your mind. All the peaceful and wrathful forms are the natural forms of your mind. All the sounds are your own sounds. All the lights are your own lights. Have no doubt about that. If you do feel doubt you will be thrown in to samsara. Having resolved this to be self-display, if you rest wide awake in luminous emptiness, then simply in that you will attain the three kayas and become enlightened.
The innate demon is your present tendency for ignorance, your doubt and hesitation. At that time, whatever fearful phenomena appear such as sounds, colors, and lights, don’t be fascinated, don’t doubt, and don’t be afraid.
At that time, it is not that one is helped by a Buddha. Your own awareness is primordially Enlightened. It is not that one is harmed by hells. Fixation being naturally purified, fear of samsara and hope for Nirvana are cut from the root.
Having attained space like dharmakaya for the benefit of oneself, you will accomplish the benefit of sentient beings as far as space pervades. Having attained sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya for the welfare of others, you will benefit sentient beings as far as your mind pervades phenomena.
Even if you have many profound teachings, without an instruction like this, you will remain far away. Since you don’t know where you may wander next, practice this with perseverance.
Although I, Padmakara, have followed many masters for three thousand six hundred years, have requested instructions, received teachings, studied and taught, meditated and practiced, I have not found any teaching more profound than this.