"Losar la tashi delek!" That is Tibetan for "Happy New Year." Today is the first day of the Lunar New Year, which corresponds closely with the new Aquarian year that began just a couple of weeks ago. To preface today's lecture I wanted to mention that, because a new year represents a new beginning, a new cycle that has begun. that is why in the West we symbolize the new year as a newborn child. But astold us in his writings:
We can learn very little from the phenomena of birth, but from death we can learn everything.
When there is a birth—for example, a new year beginning—that was only made possible by the ending of something else. The great cycle of beginning and ending is the basis of all things, on every level of nature. Everything begins and ends in great cycles, great circles or spirals. No matter where we look in nature, at any level of the universe, we find beginnings and endings. Every manifested phenomena of matter or energy has a beginning and an ending, yet also neither begins nor ends. Just as the old year has ended and a new one has begun, things continue, but changed to some degree.
That is, flowing through all beginnings and endings are great progressions or movements of energy. Those movements of energy form a continuum, a flow that has no beginning and no ending, but is a series of beginnings and endings. Our mind struggles to conceptualize the infinite, and yet time is that. It is an infinite circle. It has no beginning, it has no ending, but it is a series of beginnings and endings. That clue is at the very heart of: the comprehension or cognizance of birth and death, not only the birth and death of a physical body but birth and death of a , a planet, a universe.
For the next few lectures that I give, I am going to explore and analyze the subject of death. Death has many aspects, many facets. We will analyze and study the death of our physical bodies. I know it is an uncomfortable subject for most people, but it should not be.
In reality, for the serious Gnostic, death is the goal. Death is our crown; it is the crowning achievement of the Gnostic. That is not to say that the Gnostic seeks physical death as an escape, a way to avoid life, or that Gnostics want to rush out and be killed physically. That is not the meaning of my statement. The Gnostic works intensely to preserve life, and does everything in his or her power to protect life, including their own. All life is extremely precious. What the Gnostic aspires towards is a perfect death: a death at the right moment, at the right time, because that perfect death is the gateway to real existence.
The existence that we have now is not real, it is an illusion. What we see as existence is fundamentally mistaken. What we see, and perceive, and taste, and touch, and hear is all filtered by subjective elements in our psyche, and thus, we do not see reality. Through a perfect death, we gain perception of what is real.
The goal of the Gnostic is to achieve a perfect death and to prepare for it every day. It can be said thatis a science of training for death. It is a process of dying that initiates new levels of birth. The trajectory of our existence is thereby altered, upwards, into higher forms of life.
Death is the goal for the real Gnostic who is practicing seriously. whether that person is called Gnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or Christian is irrelevant. By Gnostic, we mean someone who is acquiring conscious spiritual experience. For that person, their spiritual process is a process of dying, not physically, but psychologically. Real spiritual work is a continual process of radical psychological death, in which all that is illusion, all that is false, dies, and what is born is truth, cognizance of what is real.
In order to begin to experience that process of death, we need to study death, we need to understand death and not avoid it. Culturally, we avoid death. The very subject of death makes most of us uncomfortable. We do our best to ignore death, to avoid it, and this is to our great detriment. This is a very significant indicator of profound ignorance, when we want to avoid the subject and topic of death. We find that this habit becomes more pronounced as we age. Amongst old people we often find the tendency to not use the word "old". They want to say "I am 80 years young!" and we smile and think it is cute, but really, it is foolish. It is an indicator that the person is not willing to recognize their achievement of being old, and also what is waiting for them, which is death. The elderly should be respected and honored for their experience and insight, and yet in modern Western culture they are not, because we do not want to face our own mortality. We avoid the elderly because we do not want to become like them. We prefer not to deal with older people, and when we do, we want to deal with them as quickly as possible and be done with it. That is why in Western culture we have the tendency to put older people somewhere where we do not have to see them all the time, and put sick people where we do not have to see them all the time. In traditional times, in ancient times, the sick and the elderly were cared for in the home, and now, we do not do that. We put them where we do not have to see them. This is a sign of our ignorance, of our aversion to reality, because we do not want to deal with the fact that we ourselves will die. We will get old, sick, and die, but want to ignore that. We have no cognizance of death, no comprehension of death, but we have a lot of ignorance of death.
The Gnostic tradition teaches and emphasizes the importance of death because of its great importance in the spiritual path. To be a truly experienced spiritual practitioner, you cannot avoid death. In fact, you have to embrace it. For the real spiritual practitioner, someone who has actually spiritual experience -in other words a true Gnostic - death ceases to be a source of fear. Contemplate that, because for most of us, death is a source of great fear and uncertainty.
We are terrified because we are ignorant of the truth. We do not know what will happen when we die, so we are very afraid. We are afraid because of our attachments. We are afraid because of pain. We do not want to lose our families and our loved ones. We do not understand what death is.
This is why we are going to teach the next few classes: to help us overcome our ignorance.
To succeed spiritually, we need to not be afraid of death but instead to look forward to it. Not to rush towards it, but to use each day to prepare for the inevitable: we will die and none of us know when.
In normal circumstances, if we knew that a big event was coming, we would prepare. If we were going to make a trip or a journey, we would do everything that needed to prepare in advance so that when the moment comes that we have to depart we are ready. And yet, who among us has prepared for death which is a great journey that everyone here will take? We are not prepared. Realis about preparing daily, being ready, so that when death arrives, we are not caught surprised, but instead we are caught aware, attentive, not avoiding it, not ignoring it but ready for it.
In this way, we can see that a prepared Gnostic, someone with real spiritual experience, sees death as an opportunity to move on to something better.
We are very attached to life, but we do not comprehend life. We are very afraid of death, but we do not comprehend death. If we comprehended life, we would understand that life, as it is now, is a stream of suffering, and if we comprehended death, we would understand that death is an opportunity to transform suffering.
Often times we see someone who is very ill and suffering intensely, and we expend great amounts of energy and effort to extend the person's life, when there are cases in which the person would be better off to die and take a new body, rather than extend their suffering for days or weeks or months or years. This is because we do not comprehend life and death. We do not understand what happens when we die, and this causes a great amount of suffering in the world, not only for the person who is ill but for the families, for the ones who are close to that person. If we understood what death really is, we would be happy for the dying one, and celebrate their opportunity to move onward.
In the Gnostic tradition - and by Gnostic tradition, I mean all those traditions in the world who acquire trueand teach true , including the traditions of , the pure traditions of in Asia, in the Aztec and Mayan traditions, in the tradition of Islam particularly related with the Sufis, in pure Christianity - death is a topic of great importance, and is celebrated, not avoided.
The image of a seated Buddha shows Padmasambhava, who is also called Guru Rinpoche. You can recognize him by his moustache, his beard, and also by his hat, red robes, and by his staff. The staff that he holds in his arm has many symbolic elements on it. At the peak is a trinity, a trident, which represents the three forces, three jewels, three bodies or Kayas. Below that, you see a skull. It is not accidental or decorative, and it is not just to scare you. It is showing the role of death in his enlightenment, in his realization. In his hand, in his lap, he holds the top of a human skull, and inside of that skull is nectar, ambrosia, amrita, the food of the Gods. That has a very rich symbolism, and is pointedly related to death, the death of the mind, the death of the "I". It is ithree transformation of life and death that we find the elixir of long life, immortality, the ambrosia of the Gods.
The next image shows a meditator in a hut or a small building that is constructed for, and with his eyes open he is observing a body being consumed by a wolf and birds. Most of us see this type of image and we feel repugnance, which is avoidance. Note that in yourself, that impulse to not look at it, to not see it. That impulse to not look at the reality of death is a sign of our aversion to death; it is a sign of our ignorance. The Gnostic needs to look squarely in the face of all experiences, and neither avoid or indulge, but instead: comprehend. This image represents the foundational teaching of all forms of Buddhism and , and that is the comprehension of the inevitability of death. This is why, in Sutrayana level instruction, the foundational level instruction, all students undergo an extended period of meditating, visualizing, imagining their own death, not just once, but every day. They daily meditate and imagine their own death. Most people when they hear about that think, "that is so morbid! Why would you do that? It's only going to make you miserable!" This is the reaction of the , the reaction of the "I", which is our obstacle to enlightenment.
The reality is: we will all will die but we do not realize it, we are not cognizant of it, we do not comprehend it. The evidence is abundant. If you knew you were going to die tonight, would your schedule change? Would your activities for the rest of the day be very different from what you originally intended? Of course, if we knew we were going to die today, we would do everything differently. That proves that we lack cognizance of death, because it is 100% possible that any or all of us could die today. No one can disagree with that. None of us know when death is coming. This building could collapse. There could be an explosion of a gas main. There could be a war, there could be a bomb, there could be a disease. There could be any number of causes which at any moment could arrive without any influence from us, without our ability to overpower it or contradict it. Death often comes like that (finger snap). The graveyards are filled with people who were very surprised by death.
If we were cognizant of our own inevitable death, our behavior would be very different. This is why it is important to study death, to meditate daily on one's death. This is not simply to meditate and think to one's self "one day I will die, so I better be a better person, spiritual, practice more." It is fine to think this way, but the actual practice is to spend time visualizing the complete death of one's body.
Take a moment now. Feel what it is to be in the body. Be cognizant that the body will die. Life will recede from it, and all of its functions will stop. Blood will stop flowing, breath will stop flowing, the brain will shut down, the organs will stop moving, and all of the heat will begin to recede towards the heart, and the body will become cold and it will never move again. Do you feel terror? Fear? This is why you need to meditate, so that the moment that your death arrives, you will not be afraid.
The instant that you die, your state of mind determines what happens to you next. If you die afraid, that fear will propel you. Listen: you do not want that. You want to die cognizant, in harmony, peacefully, with a balanced psyche, so that as you pass through the doorway of death, you can enter into a new life cognizantly.
You see, life is very complicated. Bring into your imagination now all of life. Not just your life, but all life, all that is living. Imagine all life on every level: quanta, molecules, cells, organs, organisms, families, communities, societies, cities, countries, continents, planets, solar systems, galaxies, universes. Life is huge! It is very difficult to hold that fact in one's mind - the immensity of living - of all that is alive. But you see, as complex and beautiful and terrifying as life is, it is only one side of a great coin. When you flip that coin over, that is death, and it is just as rich, complex, sophisticated, beautiful, and terrifying as life, but we completely ignore it, even though for countless ages we have passed from one side of the coin to the other.
How do we know this is true? First, some of us remember what happens between lives. But the rest do not remember. So for them, we use logical analysis. We know it is true that something exists on the other side, because we know about energy. Anyone who studied physics has heard of Einstein and the great gift that Einstein gave to us was this: energy cannot die. energy cannot be destroyed. Scientifically, this is a very profound and beautiful statement, just in terms of materialistic science, but this statement has even greater importance to your. The , the , is energy. You can test that. When you pay attention to something, you use energy. When someone pays attention to you, you can feel it, you can sense the energy. You can have all of your senses turned away from a person, but when they look at you, when they pay attention to you, you can feel it and you turn around and think, "is someone looking at me?" Everybody knows this. Everybody ha experienced that. You can sense the energy of the , the attention of that person. Now in us, our is weak and small, it does not have much strength, it is not trained, but if you train it, you can do things with it that most of us can scarcely imagine.
is an energy, and energy cannot be destroyed. What this means is that the does not die. The is an energy that changes, and it changes according to cause and effect. This is what we need to understand: how it changes, what are the causes, and what are the effects. When we say that does not die, we need to understand what that means, and how it relates to death.
There is a great teaching about death and life that can help us a lot, when we try to understand if life. If energy,, cannot die, then how does that relate to this life and previous or subsequent lives? If we can accept the scientific fact that energy cannot be destroyed, and thereby that as an energy cannot be destroyed, what happens to it when we die? What happens to it before we are born? This is what we do not know. This is why we are afraid. You can find out the answer to these questions tonight, by becoming conscious of what happens tonight. Every time you lay down to go to sleep, you "die"—that is, the same thing that happens to you when you go to sleep happens when you die. The energy of is modified. Instead of being here in the body, it goes out, and we experience what we call dreams. A certain period of time goes by during which the physical body is resting like a corpse. after a certain period of time, the is pulled back into the body. Maybe our alarm goes off, somebody wakes us, or we have a habit to get up at a certain time, the body is stirred and the comes back, and for a moment we might remember "I was at work in my dream doing this and doing that." But after a few minutes, we get up, we are active, we are doing things, and we do not remember anymore what happened in our dreams, right? Most of us remember very little of our dreams, and many of us remember nothing. That is exactly what happens when you die, except generally it is more traumatic, because generally when we die, we do not die as peacefully as when we go to sleep at night. Generally we die because of illness, because of sickness, because of pain, because of suffering, and thus, through a traumatic death our is propelled through a state of being about which we have no recollection, and then propelled again through a state of birth that is traumatic and painful, about which we have no recollection.
If you want to know what happens to you when you die, pay attention to what happens to you when you sleep at night. It is exactly the same process. The only difference is that with death the connection between theand the body is severed. In other words, your energy is extracted from the body that dies but the continues, modified by karma, cause and effect.
This is why the meditator in this painting is meditating. This is why the meditator is visualizing his death and the dismemberment of his body, in order to train histo be prepared, and to train his to not be attached to the body, and to comprehend it is reality that the body is impermanent. The body is not "me." The body is not "myself." The body is a vessel. It is like clothes. When we go buy clothes, we get very excited and attached. "Oh, I love my new shirt!" and we love it for a little while and then it gets worn out and we toss it aside and we go buy a new shirt. The same thing happens with the body. The body lasts for a while but then it gets worn out, and we need a new one. That is why we are born and die. Comprehension of that fact produces equanimity, non-attachment. This allows us to pass through these transitions or changes cognizantly, with knowledge.
This next image is a painting of a Mahasiddha, a great practitioner, named Liuppa, who is a Tibetan yogi, and it shows this yogi eating fish guts. His nickname is Gut eater or fish gut eater. We all think this is disgusting. Pay attention to that. That aversion is significant. The reason that this image was painted and the reason that this story of this meditator has come down to us over many hundreds of years is that is shows a teaching that his life represents. He wasn't eating fish guts to impress us. You know how little kids do that. 'I'll eat that disgusting thing if you give me a nickel!". That is not why he's doing this. Luippa is eating the entrails of a fish to represent the training that one needs in the mind to not be attached to any sensation but to see sensations for what they are. He was training his mind to be in equanimity, to have one taste. That is the taste of reality. To not be attached to pleasant sensation and to not avoid unpleasant sensation but to comprehend, to have no preference. That equanimity is central to the comprehension of death. We do not have that. All of us are very much conditioned, and if you want to put the more accurate word, we are caged, caged in attachment to pleasure and caged in aversion to the unpleasant sensations.
I recently had the beautiful opportunity to observe a a friend eating a fish soup; he was really enjoying the fish soup, and he ate one bite and said "I do not know what that is" so he asked a waiter and it was told it was fish guts! You should have seen the change in his face! Let me point out something that happened there. Before he knew that, he liked eating it, but that concept—"fish gut"—his mind did not like that, although his tongue did.
That is what this image is representing: this tendency that all of us have to be a victim of the mind's preferences for pleasure. For us, it may seem insignificant— what difference does it make? Why shouldn't we enjoy the pleasures of life? And then we have this dualistic game that the mind starts to play. Does this mean that I should now only seek unpleasant sensations? Should I just be eating fish guts all the time? You see, the mind gets trapped in these dualistic notions.
The answer, and the teaching represented in this painting is, to comprehend death, which is on the skull, the skulls and bones that he's dressed in, one needs to develop one taste and that is to taste all things as they are, to not have the preference, the craving and the aversion that is swing on the pendulum of ignorance. Do you see the three forces at work? Craving, aversion depend on ignorance. We suffer because we ignore the reality, thus we crave and avoid. By comprehending that craving and aversion, we can see the ignorance, and when we can see the ignorance we can acquire knowledge. We need to develop that capacity of one taste to a very powerful degree because when we face death, we will probably face it with pain, with anxiety, with the crying and moaning of our loved ones, with the tearing of our own heart because we do not want to leave our children, our parents, our spouse. It's going to happen. Notice in yourself that you want to avoid this. That aversion is ignorance, it is what's swinging the pendulum of suffering in your life. Don't avoid it, comprehend it. We will die. Prepare yourself. Start now. That training is a process of comprehending craving and aversion; understanding; not having preferences but instead resting in the midst of whatever happens and being the same.
This is whysaid we have to let ourselves be carried by the current of life. He said that, but then in another passage he said we have to swim against the current. Both are true. Going with the current of life means that we should not be focusing our attention on changing our external circumstances. That means when someone serves us a plate of food and we react with craving or we react with aversion— that is ignorance. We should instead react with gratitude and eat it, with gratitude, whether we like it or do not like it. That plate represents not just food but life—karma. Life is going to serve us a plate of bitterness, and life is going to serve us a plate of sweetness. Our reactions determines our future. We need to understand the current of energy, the continuum or flow of forces that move through us. The moment that we took birth something was put in motion, energy was put in motion.
Visualize in your mind a ball of energy, light, propelled through space. That energy, that light, is constantly changing because it is acting, and every instant it acts, it is affecting how it is propelled; its direction, its velocity, its angle. Visualize this, because this movement is your. This arrow or beam of light that is moving through space is not moving through time but instead through eternity, and it is the measurement of everything that you do. So if you can imagine that your physical body is a vessel that is energized and activated by this flow of energy, but look past the third dimension, and imagine in your mind's eye a strip of film like the old fashioned movies, and every frame of that film is an instant in time. What allows you see those frames? Light. Light passes through the film to let you see it. As you move that strip of film there is motion and you see yourself moving through life. But that strip of film has a beginning and an ending— birth to death. Every frame of that film, which is every moment of your life, represents action. Light passes through that frame of film, and the light is modified, and through that modification you see the images.
In other words, in every moment we are transforming something. As that strip of film is moved across that ray of light we have the illusion of life. We feel, and believe that we are here and now living, but it is not real. It feels real, it looks real but it is not. When you die, you will understand that. When you awaken in the Astral plane you will understand that. When you have an experience with youryou will comprehend that this life is not the real life. It is that comprehension that allows you to start to see that that film strip that is moving across that ray of light and modifying everything can be changed.
The scariest comprehension that happens when you engage in this effort is when you start to realize not only that the energy ofdoesn't die, and that we have lived before in another body, but that that previous body was pretty much the same life that we have now. I know that most of us like to think that in our previous existences we were great masters, such as Joan of Arc, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist or somebody like that, but that way of thinking is your . If you want to know who you were in your previous life, look at who you are right now, because that is who you were then, with only small differences. You were the same person inside, even if your physical appearance and were different. This fact does not feel good but it is true. That film strip gets played over and over. This is a phenomena that is called recurrence and it is a law of nature. Our psychological tendencies repeat again and again, from day to day and from existence to existence. Yet, in each existence they become more complicated. Is your life complicated now? Or passes through phases of complication? Those phases of complication were set up in your previous existences. Do you want to change your life? Then do not avoid the complications in your life. Do not avoid looking at them. Instead, comprehend them. Through that comprehension, you can stop the repetition.
This is what is represented in this image. Singhepa is another Mahasiddha. This Mahasiddha is represented with a vessel of water or liquid in his right hand and a peacock feather in his left, and on his head is a skull and a scroll, a scripture. This Mahasiddha is representing that through comprehension of death—throughor knowledge which is that scroll or scripture that he is always mindful of—comes the ability to equilibrate forces which are his two arms.
The liquid, the water, is very significant. It is also ambrosia, amrita, which is related with sexual energy but also all energy. It is knowledge; it is Mayim (literally "waters," a deep symbol) in Hebrew.
He is pouring the liquid out to a woman, a disciple. In other words, he is giving his knowledge a drop at a time to aid that disciple.
In his left hand he has a peacock feather, which he holds very gingerly in a specific Mudra or posture of his fingers. The peacock feather is a very significant symbol in all Asian traditions. In Hinduism, the peacock represents Krishna,. But in , the peacock is extremely important; the peacock, according to legend, eats poison, that is it is food, and yet look at what it does with that food. It eats poison but creates the most beautiful display of feathers on any bird. The bird is related with the mind— the capacity to fly on the winds of the mind. The peacock represents a Tantric practitioner who takes the poisons of life, the bitterness of desire— craving and aversion— and comprehends that, and transforms it into beauty, into love. This is the meaning of . It is a continuum or flow of energy that we learn to harness and transform. This is the great teaching that death gives. We learn to transform death into life.
All the Christians and Jews are waiting for resurrection, yet none of them fully comprehend that to resurrect you have to die, and that death is not physical, it is psychological. All the scriptures are totally equal in stating that no murderer can go to heaven, no adulterer can go to heaven, no fornicator can go to heaven, no thief, no liar. Yet if we honestly look into our minds, we commit all of these crimes, whether physically or mentally. How are we going to go to heaven unless those parts of us die? They do not die with physical death. Energy is not destroyed. Death does not destroy energy, it only destroys the body, and it liberates the energy in the body and that energy goes on. Death is not the end. Death is a doorway. We are ignorant to that doorway. We need to become cognizant of it.
Everything is modified by laws. Death is a law and it is modified by laws, and what happens to us at death is controlled by laws, not belief. There are millions of people who firmly, deeply believe that when they die they will go to Heaven, but they do not know what happens until it happens, and they do not come back and tell us. Look into your own life and see, does belief create? Does belief have that much power? It doesn't. What has power is action. If mere belief took us to Heaven then all the great saints and prophets from all the traditions would not have had to give us so many teachings. All they had to say was "Just believe", but they did not. The Christians think that if you believe in Jesus that is it, that is your ticket to Heaven, but there is no evidence of that. Jesus never said it.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide [is] the gate, and broad [is] the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait [is] the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. - Matthew 7
He didn't say that everybody who believes will go to heaven.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord [I believe!], shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. - Matthew 7
Likewise, in the Jewish traditions, nowhere does it say that the believer will go to Heaven. What is says is the Sadik will go, "the righteous one."
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the LORD upholdeth the righteous. - Psalm 37
Who is righteous? He who is free of sin. Who has no anger, no, no preferences for materialism, no attachment to things like gold or property but a that is completely free of attachment and focused only on God.
In Buddhism, this is taught very beautifully by a traditional story.
A man asked the Buddha, "Please, my father is dying. Can you pray for him so that hiswill go to Heaven?"
The Buddha, seeing that the young man was very emotional and attached, said, "Fetch me two jars, some rocks, some butter, some wax, and a long stick." Filled with faith, the man gathered everything. The Buddha took him to a nearby body of water, a lake or a river, and said, "Put the rocks in one vase and seal it with wax. Put the butter in the other vase and seal it with wax." The man did so. He was convinced that the Buddha was going to do a ritual to propel his father's dyingto Heaven.
The Buddha said, "Put the jars in the water" and the young man did so. The Buddha said, "Take the stick and break the jars." The young man did so and, after a moment, the butter floated to the top and floated away.
The Buddha said, "What will determine where your father goes is what is in him, what he has done. The butter rises, the rocks sink."
We need to look in our mind, what is in us. The rocks represent attachment, heaviness, density, pride, anger, resentment. The butter represents the purity ofthat is unattached, that is refined, that is light. What happens to us when we die is determined by what is in us.
The quality of that light stream of our mind is propelled through space, through eternity, by our every action. Every action modifies energy.
When we act, whether with the body, the heart or thought, with anger, we modify the light of that moment with anger, and anger does not belong to Heaven. Anger belongs in Hell, it is a hellish energy. That action of anger, that thought, that emotion or that physical action causes that energy to become trapped in complicated laws, meaning it becomes dense. Every time we persist on acting on that anger, we make it more dense. The same is true of pride. The same is true of. The same is true of envy, gluttony, laziness.
Every moment, that film strip of our life is passing by and we modify energy in every moment. That means how you will die is determined by your state of mind right now. If death comes right now, your state of mind will determine the nature of your death. Think it is impossible that you will die? Many people have just laid down and died, like that [finger snap]. That happened to my uncle. When he was a young man, he laid down and died. Nobody expected it. In my own family, every case of death was unexpected. Not one person in my family was waiting for death. All of them were caught surprised and in that surprise, that shock, the pain, the uncertainty, all of those qualities modified the.
The last moments of the dying one define their death. This is why the Gnostic trains for the perfect death; to be prepared, to be ready, so that death is not a surprise, and instead, death is a welcome doorway. This is why we train constantly in attentiveness, in "one taste."
Whatever experiences are coming to us we do not accept them or do not reject them, we comprehend them, we transform the impressions. When someone criticizes us we transform that into love. When someone praises us we transform that into love. Not taking the words personally, but instead comprehending who said it and comprehending the effect of the words on ourselves. When life gives us bitterness we do not react with aversion, but we comprehend; we receive those impressions and accept our karma. When life gives us bounty we do not become attached, instead we receive that as karma, knowing that things are always changing— today is good, tomorrow is bad.
We have to be always attentive, on the cusp of the wave receiving everything equally, with "indifference." That indifference is not the indifference of not caring, it is equanimity that cares but is not attached. It is like having a child. If you are a parent you know that sometimes your child is very happy, and gives you hugs and kisses, and the next minute the child is angry and screaming and hitting you. If you react, you make it worse. If you get angry, if you hit the child back, if you ignore the child, you make it worse. In both cases, you have to respond with equanimity and love. This is the precise attitude we need in life, whatever happens: to respond with equanimity and love.
This requires training. Not only are we learning how to transform energy in the moment and put in motion positive forces that elevate the, but we are also training ourselves so that when the moment death comes, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we are in a state of equanimity, not surprised. Not like it is sneaking up on us but we see it coming, and we see it and we smile and we accept it. That capacity is what gives us the ability to use death as a doorway and transform it, instead of dealing with death the way every other being deals with death.
In the next few lectures we are going to talk about what happens when we die. Death is complicated. It is not easy to understand because we are only going to be trying to understand it conceptually. I strongly recommend that you meditate daily on life and death. We are going to talk about a variety of practices that you can put into motion. Use them. They will bear fruit. You will understand a lot more. It is really not possible to explain death in a discourse or a book. It is like life: you have to experience it. Death cannot be comprehended through concepts. Remember the example I gave you about how complicated and expansive life is? Death is the same, very complicated, a lot happens, but we' wil try to talk about its principles.
This image is another Tibetan painting that shows couples engaged in the sexual act, and there are two separate examples here. In the clouds above, there is a being and above one of the couples is another being. This painting is showing a choice that we have about what happens to us when we die.
I know that in many spiritual theories, a lot of people now have this belief that we "choose our lives." Many people believe that when we die we go to some heavenly place and we get to choose our next life, and we may look in some mirror of existence and say "You know, I think I want to be born here and have this and that kind of life and I need these things for my." That theory is all lies. That is all fantasies invented to sell books and sell tickets to conventions. There is no evidence of that theory in any scripture anywhere in the world. We need to rely on the scriptures. We need to rely on the teachings of authentic masters, not people who are selling books or trying to get us to come to a conference.
The reality is that the passage through death to another life is extremely complicated and difficult, and if you want to know how it is, look at what happens when you sleep. If you have no cognizance of what happens to you from the moment you fall asleep to the moment you awaken in the morning, then you will also have no cognizance of what happens between lives.
If you want to determine your next existence, your next body, you need cognizance of what happens to you when you are sleeping physically, you need to be awake. If you are awakened all night, then you have a chance to be awakened after death.
It depends on how you pass through that doorway. If you pass through that doorway through a trauma, and become identified through your death, with an attachment to your family, attachment to your children, attachment to your car or the wealth that you have amassed that you are going to lose now, that attachment will determine your state as you pass through the between. This is why we have to train so hard everyday. Start now. Start now, and that way, when you are in the between, you can choose, you can have an impact. In other words, you can negotiate your karma.
You see, karma is not a fixed, mechanical law, it is negotiable, and it is negotiable precisely through action, through energy and motion. It begins by being awake. If you are asleep as ayou cannot negotiate. So when I say that you have a choice here, it is not as if someone in heaven is going to ring a bell, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! "You made it to heaven! You can choose life A or B! Which way do you want?" The state between lives is not a trip to heaven or a gameshow. Rather, it is like a choice that you have right now. The choice you have right now is to be attentive in the present moment here and now, or to drift off, fantasize, and daydream. We are making that choice in each moment.
Most of the time, we are fantasizing and daydreaming. We are tiptoeing around the garden of our psychological country, playing games in our mind with concepts and memories and wishes for the future. That is all fantasy, it is all illusion. And if you are doing that every day now, then you are doing it all night. That is why you are dreaming at work doing the same things you do during the day. That is why you are dreaming with your parents, and your kids, and your sisters and brothers. That is why you are dreaming the same dreams every night. And that is why you do not remember any of your dreams, because during the day you are incognizant, asleep, unconscious.
If you want to awakenat night when your physical body is asleep, awaken now when you are in your physical body. That constant, persistent effort to be cognizant, present here and now, will become part of how you experience night, naturally. You train yourself because the training is in the and when you start doing it at night then you have a potential to do it when you die. This is the training. We start here and now in the physical body. We extend that effort into the night time practice called Dream Yoga. I know people generally think that Dream Yoga is all about going to temples and having experiences with masters. That is part of it, but that is not the main reason for the practice of Dream Yoga. The main reason is so that you are prepared for death. So that when you are death comes you can pass through the door cognizantly, awake, and so that your , in the world of the dead, will be awake so that you can negotiate your karma.
The Buddha gave a very profound teaching about this that has been terribly misinterpreted by many people. TheShakyamuni said that it is very precious to be born as a human being, it is very rare. We should cherish this opportunity. It is as rare as this example: imagine the ocean. Picture how vast and deep the ocean is, how huge. And now imagine, out in the midst of that ocean is a little piece of thread, gold in a loop, and, by chance, a turtle rises up from the depths and just happens to put it is neck through that loop of thread. That is how the odds are stacked against what you have now— a physical body.
Some people have interpreted this to say that is it is very rare to be born as a physical body. We disagree with that. What the story illustrates is the mathematics, the odds. We are born into human physical bodies because of evolution and karma, but the odds of it in contrast to all the other existences that exist, to all the other types of bodies, to all the other lives that we've had, that is how rare it is. When you imagine how many times you were born as a mineral in a mineral body, as a plant in a plant body, as an animal in an animal body or in between states between those bodies. Millions and millions and millions of times. It's a very small window of opportunity when you are in a human body, but that is the window to reach our purpose which is to become enlightened, to realize the nature of reality.
You see, that word "realize" is to experience reality, to see it. Not theorize, not conceptualize. To see it. Cognizant. It's in a humanoid body that we have now that we can do this. This life is extremely precious but we do not have any cognizance of that. We waste so much time on stupid things: gossip, fashion, TV shows, harmful friends, wasteful activities.
The Buddha said something very profound about this. If we imagine that our life has about a hundred years, he said:
"Half of life is taken with sleep. Ten years are spent in childhood. Twenty years are lost in old age. Out of the remaining twenty years, sorrow, complaining, pain, and agitation eliminate much time, and hundreds of physical illnesses destroy much more." - Buddha
Look at the math. If you are so fortunate to live to one hundred, which is rare, half of that life is spent in sleep. That leaves fifty years.
The Buddha said ten years are spent in childhood, because you can't self-realize when you are under the age of ten unless you are already a great master. Yet really, nowadays, most of us remain totally immature until we are in our twenties. Most of us at age ten have no sense of responsibility at all. I think in Asia it is sometimes different. My spouse is Asian. By the time she was 7 or 8 years old she was cooking every day for a family of twelve, as well as doing lots of other chores, and school. I have never known of an American or European child with that much maturity and sense of responsibility. Even when they are in their twenties, they are very lazy. They do not do anything but pursue pleasure and distraction. All they want is Facebook, tv, or video games. They have no sense of responsibility; they are not mature. So we can say this ten years of childhood really nowadays is twenty. Look in your own life and you can see. When did you grow up and start taking things seriously? Probably in your twenties. So that is seventy years lost of our maximum one hundred.
Another twenty years are lost in old age. When you are old all you can deal with is getting through the day. You have all kinds of aches and pains, your mind is set, very crystallized in habits, and it is very difficult to think clearly. Thus, old age is not conducive to energetic spiritual advancement.
Thus, out of the remaining years—the Buddha said twenty years, but I think nowadays it is less than ten because of our immaturity—in which sorrow, complaining, pain and agitation eliminate a lot of time and energy. Look at your own life. How much time do you spend sad, depressed, anxious, complaining, in pain, or agitated? For some of us, this is how we live everyday. Then, the rest of the time, we are physically sick. When we are afflicted with these states, we lose all of our time and energy, thus we do not advance spiritually.
So where in that equation is there time to have psychological equanimity and practice spiritually? A few seconds? A few hours over a whole lifetime? It's not much. To cap this off, we do not know when we are going to die. We may not get one hundred years.
Do you understand what I am trying to impart to you? Get motivated. Wake up. Pay attention to the realities of life. It is not a game.
Life is not about just getting more toys and getting more possessions. To the Gnostic, life is about getting less. We all have this cultural phenomena nowadays about becoming "something more" and we get that influence as soon as we are born. Our parents want us to be doctors or great lawyers or politicians and if we get into spiritual life and we want to be a great teacher, a great master, a great writer. We want to be "more and more and more." This is all. When you become very serious about your spiritual practice, what you really need is to become less. This is why in traditional practice, people renounce everything. They gave up everything, owned nothing, and gave away anything that was given to them.
When the Tibetans were persecuted, being killed and driven out of Tibet, they were dealing with this very profoundly. I have spoken with some people who arrived in India, still very uncertain about the future because they had no place to go, they were refugees, they had nothing, everything was taken from them but were so serious about their practice that even when local Indians gave them tea—which they all love to drink tea—the Tibetans would take that tea and give it to somebody else. They owned nothing, just the clothes on their backs, but their devotion to practice was so serious they didn't even want to own the little brick of tea. They said, "No, no, no, thank you! Give it to somebody else. You have it, enjoy it. I do not want to have any attachment because I could die today. I do not want to be attached to anything because at the moment of death I do not want to be thinking 'Oh, my tea!'" But that is the way we are. We would think of insignificant, foolish things at the moment of death. All of us. How much attachment do we have? We are attached to clothes, to money, to people, to places, to things, a lot. Every one of those attachments represents the potential to corrupt our process of death.
If you want to reach a perfect death you must have attachment to nothing but God. Your attention must be fully, 100% on reaching union with clear light which is God, the Absolute. It means, in that moment, if you remember "Ah, I left my keys on the counter! I didn't pay the bill for electricity!" that will corrupt your death. I know they sound silly, but it happens. When people die, stupid things come in the mind, just like they do now.
Don't think that you will be able to control everything that is going on with you psychologically when you die. It's a very traumatic and difficult experience in most cases. You need to do a lot of preparation to not have that happen to you.
What we are trying to do in this process is to avoid what's shown in this painting of the couples having sexual union. In the quick synthesis of what happens when we die, the energy that was projected through our lifespan is a mass of cause and effect. It is energy—light,— projected through eternity, and at the moment of death that energy will pass through a transformation in order to go to another phase; it is a great cycle. That doorway is very powerfully influenced by our state of mind, by what we think and feel when we die, and this is why in the ancient traditions of preparing someone for death, the presence of relatives is very important, how that presence is managed, because if the relatives are crying "oh, he's dying, do not go!" the person who is dying will not have equilibrium, they will be disturbed. If you encounter or deal with someone who is dying, do not do that. They need love and encouragement. They need peace, they need serenity and strength, and if you are crying and attached and in pain you will corrupt their process of death. We are going to talk about that in a later lecture in detail. If you have thoughts of, at the moment you die, you are remembering your car, and you love your car, that will affect it. If you have attachment to a person, a spouse, a child, someone that you fantasized about during your life, if those things come in your mind it will affect the process of your death. If you die angry, if you die afraid, those qualities modify the velocity and function of that light stream as it passes through through the between.
That is what is represented in this painting. This, which is not developed, is a buddhata, the embryo of or Tathagatagarbha, the essence, that is why it is just a head; it is an , an "I", it is someone who is not developed, and that is being magnetically attracted to the psychological environment of this couple. It is magnetic, it is not a choice. That doesn't say "Oh they look like nice parents. I want to go live in their house." That is drawn there by magnetism, by karma. There is an affinity, energetically, karmically, between the psychological disposition of that disincarnated person and that couple so that, at the moment of conception, the bond is made and that is born into that family, by psychological affinity. This means that your family, that you have now, is rooted in this law, simple cause and effect: psychological affinity. If you observe families, you can see it. Members of families tend to have very similar psychological habits. We always think it is because they grew up together. No. They were born into it. It's karmic.
On the other hand, this painting shows another couple, and above them in the clouds is a realized being who is developed; it is a, an initiate who is in equanimity. This person is awake and can choose to be born or not because they are negotiating their karma. What that person is doing is something called "closing wombs," and that is represented in the next painting.
This is a yogi inon the process of birth. We see a child emerging from the womb of a woman. The yogi has his hand, very gently, resisting that. This is called "closing wombs." This is a Tantric teaching that we will talk about. It essentially relates to the ability of the yogi to negotiate his rebirth. He who has his eyes up, contemplating above; he is not attached, he is in equanimity, conscious, and thus, is not pulled by the magnetism of birth.
In the next few lectures we will talk in detail about all these many facets of death: physical death, mystical death, spiritual death. Death is very deep and profound, and if you are interested in learning more about this subject, meditate. You can read a lot of books if you want, but you will just get a lot of concepts from that. If you really want to know about death, meditate. Meditate every day on your own approaching death. What does that mean? How do you meditate on that? Visualize the process of death. Do not visualize a funeral and all your relatives weeping because that is only going to beef up your pride. "Oh they're going to miss me so much. I love them!" That is not the kind ofI am talking about. I am talking about meditating on what you do not want to meditate on: real death. This body that you are in now, stopping. Visualize that. Take time with it, imagine it, and watch your state of mind and how you avoid it and you do not want to deal with it, and your mind wants to be distracted and think about happy things. Concentrate. Visualize the death of your body. Visualize not only its death but its decay.
We are scarcely aware that these bodies that we have are very impermanent, and very weak, and filled with all kinds of really gross stuff. This type ofcan have a very profound impact on your . Not only will it give you great motivation to work hard, and it can give you great serenity and dispel fear, but it can also cultivate enormous compassion, because when you really comprehend that your own body is going to die, and you do not know when, very naturally you will start to realize that the same is true of everybody else, and when you look at people you will realize that they are going to die too. You will begin to think, "I should treat them well. I should treat them with love, not anger, not criticism, not sarcasm, not with cruelty the way I have been, but with great tenderness." If we knew that someone that we associate with was about to die, we would not be mean to them. We would not curse them, we would not call them names, we would not be rude, we would not ignore them. We would be very gentle, very sweet. We should be that way all the time, treating each other with a lot of compassion, patience, love. So this activity of meditating on death is not morbid, it is not gross, it is not scary. This is why said that from death we can learn everything, because we can.
Audience: If we die before we have a chance to (kill?) our egos and if we have another chance to come back, how do we store the information of the path to continue in our next life?
Instructor: We are going to talk very specifically about that in subsequent lectures, but the short answer is simply this: Our mindstream has levels of depth. What we are experiencing now in our daily life is extremely superficial: the, the intellect, and some emotional qualities. These are all extremely superficial. When we die, those aspects also die. We do not take our with us to the next life. In our next life, we make a new . That means that if we are studying religion or spirituality and we are not becoming cognizant (conscious) of that spirituality, then all that information remains superficial, and when we die we forget it all, and that is what happens to most of us. Knowledge that you have become cognizant of means that it has become part of the , it is deep and it can never be taken away no matter how many times you are born, no matter how many times you die. That knowledge is you. That knowledge cannot be taken. This can be understood when we see certain types of people who are born with certain types of knowledge. These are people that have that kind of knowledge deep inside. Sometimes it is still , very deep egos, but we have the case, for example, of certain people who have become very cognizant of spirituality and, from a very early age, show that. Very deep understanding, and that is a who has become cognizant of knowledge to that level. All of us have some of that to some degree because we all have cognizance, but of different things. If we want to keep this teaching and not forget the path in our next life, we need to become deeply cognizant of the path. That is not through memorization. It is not by wearing an outfit or going to a certain school, it is not by following somebody or believing in somebody or paying dues. It is cognizance, comprehension, being conscious, being awake, experiencing it and knowing it from experience. That does not come through belief or a theory. It comes through work. If you want that, meditate. A lot. More than you can imagine, meditate. Be very motivated, and comprehension of death is a very powerful motivator. Not for morbidity, and let me make a comment on that.
There are many people who study and teach abouton death who become very morbid, very dark. This is wrong. If you look at all these images that I showed you, none of these masters are morbid. We tend to think of on death or angels of death and we always imagine the cartoon image of an undertaker, very tall, skinny guy wearing all black, with a very pallid complexion. Angels of death or masters of death do not look like that. They are beautiful. The angels of death, who we will talk about, are beautiful. When they go to work they take on a spectral appearance, a scary appearance, but that is just their uniform, it is symbolic. But the actual being, the actual angel, is an angel with extraordinary beauty, but we have to comprehend those things not just believe them or accept them or reject them.
Audience: Does thereincarnate in parallel universes simultaneously as well?
Instructor: In essence, life is much more complicated than we can talk about in concepts. When we use the terms, , psyche, we are not really talking about a thing, but a movement, something that is alive and in motion, and something that is not three dimensional. Right now, all of us are multidimensional. We are only aware, very hazily, of the third dimension and even in that we are totally asleep and have no real cognizance of it, but in this very moment our , our matter and energy penetrates through all seven dimensions, we just have no awareness of that. So the answer is both yes and no. The is simultaneously in multiple dimensions, what you can call parallel dimensions, but we have no cognizance of it.
Audience: When we give to others, and are kind to others, and give them our possessions, is there a danger of that becoming an attachment for them? Could that hinder their work by comforting them and doing ... can that be a detriment to them in some way? Can they become attached to comforted pleasure?
Instructor: Sure, anybody can become attached to that, but what's your option? To not be compassionate or to be indifferent? We have to lead and teach by example. We have to live the best way we know how. For example, we teach, we are teaching these concepts and theories and practices for people to put them into work, to put them into effort, but the vast majority of people will not. In fact, you can safely say that the majority of people who hear these teachings will turn against them. So what is the karma for that? Who bears the karma? It is the person who reacts, not the teacher. The end result is what we have to aim for, and that end result is always determined by action not inaction. We have to always be making the effort to perceive what is the best way for me to be helpful, to relieve suffering and to help everyone, not just myself, but everyone. That cannot come through a "golden rule," to "always do A or always do B." The real answer will always be changing, always be in motion. In one moment, it is right to do what's on the left, and the next moment it would be right to do what's on the right, because things are always changing. In some moments, you need to be indifferent to a person. In other moments you need to be, what you might call negative, like strict or severe, and the next you need to be sweet, but knowing which is the right way is something only can show you through intuition, through experience. Always be on the cusp of all things. Be perceptive and open. That is how you learn when is it right and when is it not right and it will change.
Audience: If the power of imagination can materialize itself in our current reality can it be or will it be dangerous for us to meditate on death of the organs?
Instructor: Let me preface the answer that I am going to give you. There are practices, which we will probably talk about superficially, related to transference of, related to the power to move the to a new body, and similar types of activities that advanced practitioners can utilize. What those techniques demonstrate is the power of the energy of the that is put in motion.
In other words, it is possible, through certain techniques, for you to take yourout of this body and put it in another body and for this body to die. You could call that a kind of suicide or a kind of rebirth. You can call it what you will but that is a technique that exists. That demonstrates the power of the imagination, the power of the . Likewise, you can take the power of imagination, energy, and materialize things that are not physical. There are many examples of this. Alexandra David-Neel, who was a French woman who lived in Tibet, learned this technique and, working with other initiates, materialized a being that they all imagined. They created a semi-living entity but then it became a problem for them and there were consequences that we not good.
So the question is, can these exercises interfere with or harm the physical organism if we are visualizing the process of death? In certain cases yes, but I am not teaching you that. To really interfere with and harm your body, you would have to work with this practice very intensely and in combination with certain types ofand other energies. I do not think anyone here is working at that level. Working with visualization for comprehension will help you, and if you are worried about potential harm, do this practice the way you should do every practice. You first pray: "Please, my Inner God, my Inner Father, my Inner Buddha, my teach me through this practice, show me, help me comprehend, help me learn." Then engage in the practice and you will be fine. If you do this practice with the intent to stop an organ, you can, and I can show you how that works. Master taught an exercise in which you learn to slow your heart rate and you can even stop your heart. You can do that if you have that intent. However, practiced correctly, you will not die, but will enter into a kind of psychological state that is very useful.
The result of any practice is in your hands. Every practice that we give, every exercise we give can have different results depending on how you use it, most especially. The most powerful of any practice is that, and probably most of the people who use it create harm because they engage in that exercise with , not transforming, but hopefully, over time, with experience and more comprehension they stop acting from , and start to create good results. So, yes, every practice has a potential depending on how the energy is used.
Audience: How does us being conditioned to death affect us through movies, video games, cartoons?
Instructor: Our cultural perspective of death has, in my opinion, desensitized us to the reality of death so that now, in our personalities, we tend to think of death as pain free and inconsequential because we see people die on TV and in movies and in video games, and nothing ever painful happens because of that. We just say "oh, yeah they died, okay." We do not feel it. We have no comprehension of it, and yet, then, when somebody actually dies we are completely overwhelmed. We become in an altered state where we can't even deal with the reality and this shows the fundamental ignorance of our point of view of death. It lacks reality. In other cultures this is not the case. In other cultures, for example, some Asian cultures, and some South American cultures, death is part of daily life. Death is something that you see. When somebody dies you see them dead. It is not avoided, it is not hidden. Here, in the West, it is hidden, the realities of death. For example, when someone dies in the movies they always go "ahhhh!" and lay down and they're quiet. I am sorry but death is not like that. When people really die, it is excruciating to see it, to hear it. It is not like on TV. Death can be very painful and disturbing, but we have no concept of that in the West because we have been so conditioned, so programmed by the media. This is something that we need to meditate on. We need to see the realities of death.
In the Tantric tradition, this teacher Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), as part of his training spent extended periods of time meditating in carnal grounds. Carnal grounds are where dead bodies are placed, and depending on the status of the person, would be their state. The rich would have a big pile of wood and be burned rapidly by the people who worked in those places. And the people who were not so rich would have a little pile of wood and may not be completely burned so there would be leftovers from the bodies. And the poor would not be burned, they'd be eaten by animals and decayed by the elements. Padmasambhava would meditate in these places, go into the middle, sit down and contemplate death. This was not just to be "cool," like people now that think it is cool to hang out in graveyards, he did this to comprehend impermanence, death, and this is what is integral in his incredible compassion and power as a master: his comprehension of death, the observation and comprehension of that reality. To us it sounds terrible and disgusting and horrible, but it is real.
Every human body we have ever seen will die and decay, and all the fluids and the guts and the organs will be dispersed. It sounds gross but it is a fact. Moreover, when you really start to understand that, you realize how absurd it is that we are always lusting after corpses that are walking around. Really, all of us are corpses, we just do not realize it. Everybody here will be a corpse. All of us are filled with filthiness: pus, excrement, blood, urine, all kinds of fluids and tissues that smell bad, that have gross textures, and all of us are carrying it around with us all the time. Do you realize that? You realize that you are sitting in a bag of excrement? Why do we think were so great when we stink? We stink so much we have to put on perfume and bathe ourselves all the time because of the stink that exudes from our bodies. We are avoiding the truth.
Get to know the reality of this body. It is not as beautiful as you think it is, but we need it. We need it. We need it to be healthy, we need it to be strong, we need to take care of it and prepare ourselves so that when it dies we can leave it consciously, and hopefully get a better body, maybe one that doesn't smell that bad.
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