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Lions Roar : September 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 87 The Shambhala Sun invites dialogue and comment on all issues raised in the magazine; we feel that such exchange can only be helpful as Buddhism develops in the West. In his review of Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth in the July issue, David Guy wrote that he found the bardo teachings in the book difficult for him to accept and not relevant to his own practice. The author, Tulku Thondup Rinpoche, replies with this description of the book’s purpose and why the bardo teachings are important to us. WE ALL WONDER what willhappen after death,our own or a loved one’s. Actually, we’ve been through death countless times in our previous lives. Still, the thought of dying terrifies most of us. Some of us prefer to pretend it’s not going to happen. But the way to beat the enemy is to face him and turn him into an ally. That is what my new book, Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth, is about. We fear what we don’t know and can’t con- trol. But Buddhism shines a light on what happens after we die and gives us powerful meditations to transform death into an opportunity for enlightenment, or rebirth in a pure land like Sukhavati. Being reborn in these joyful lands is not the same as attaining enlightenment, but once there, enlight- enment is assured. Tibetan Buddhism is rich in knowledge about death, the bardo, and rebirth. With the exception of some tantric sources, most of this knowledge stems from Mahayana sutras. The Buddha himself taught about rebirth in the six mundane realms and the pure lands. Mahayana masters like Nagarjuna, Vasubandu, and Padmasambhava then elaborated on these teachings. So the knowledge is funda- mental to Mahayana. Many clairvoyant Tibetan adepts can also see where bardo beings take rebirth and remember their own pre-birth expe- riences. When Dodrupchen Rinpoche, my teacher, was a tod- dler, he would laughingly answer questions about Padmasambhava’s pure land, from which he had returned to take rebirth in our world. Tibet also has an amazing tradition of delogs, people who die to travel through the invisible and then return, days later, to share what they learned. Delogs can be compared to near- death experiencers, although they go far deeper into the unseen, journeying from the lowest rungs of hell to the sub- lime pure lands. Delogs detail the hell realms and what causes rebirth there only so we know to eradicate those causes from our hearts. When we leave our body at death, we enter the dreamlike bardo. We think we still have our body, but it’s just an imagined mental body, much as amputees feel the presence of their amputated limbs. In reality, we are just mind. If we could remember this, anything could be possible. Accomplished delogs describe how, by reminding themselves that they are just mind, they transform their surroundings, slip through tiny holes in rocks, or turn into an eagle soaring through the sky. With no training, however, it is hard to sustain anything in the bardo. Without the anchor of a physical body, we have lit- tle mental stability. If we think how nice it would be to be in Hawaii, Hawaii is where we will be, karma permitting. But we won’t stay long, for we will instantly go wherever our next thought takes us. If it’s “Boston in the winter,” so much for our sunny vacation! So we fall back on our mental habits. The karmic imprints of our habitual thoughts and deeds unfold as the sounds, sights, and feelings of the bardo. If we were joyous and loving in life, that translates into positive experiences and loving beings who welcome us at death and lead us to happy rebirths. If we nursed jealousy and hatred, we meet threatening, scary beings and an unhappy rebirth. The central message is that the state of our mind in life determines the nature of our experiences in death. It is a very empowering message. It means we control our destiny. If we instill the right habits in our minds now, we won’t have to worry about remembering this or that in the bardo. Right now, it is relatively easy to change our mental habits, but hard to change the structure of our lives in a sweeping way because our perception is conditioned by the strictures of our body and society. When we are freed from these at death, however, the only thing conditioning our perception will be our mental habits. So we could make radical improvements. If we trained in advanced esoteric meditation, we could become enlightened at death. If we trained to see the world as pure and sacred, everything will arise as the pure land at death and we will be there. If we cultivated compassion and devotion through prayer, then our deity will appear merely by our remembering them. Deeply devout, most delogs meet divine helpers after death. Dawa Drolma encountered White Tara blazing in a sphere of light when she died, and Tara whisked her off to a pure land. Another delog saw Padmasambhava radiating lights into her dying body through her cranial aperture even before she exited it. An open, loving mind can help us at any juncture in the bardo. Most beings arrive at a courthouse, where they perceive that they are judged. A defense attorney and prosecutor Transforming Death TULKU THONDUP replies to our review of Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth.