RELI 2732 A, March 8, 2012
Please check midterm grades, all but one or two should be up. If you wrote on February 11th, email her
directly. You cannot receive a grade for this course unless you write both exams.
Today: the approach to death and dying in Tibetan Buddhism
Within Buddhist world, Tibetan has the most distinctive theories regarding dying process and death
the Buddhism that developed in Tibet, 7th CE. Different periods in Buddhist history.
-development of scripture in Pali
-differences in doctrine, 18 sects of early Buddhism
-spread to Sri Lanka in south and Gandhara is northwest
-growth of monastic community
-spiritual ideal is the Arhat- one who achieves liberation from the wheel of life and death
-development of Mahayana scriptures in Sanskrit
-spread of Buddhism to central Asia and China
-development of the spiritual idea, the Bodhisattva, one who remains in the wheel of life until all beings
-development of another set of scriptures, Tantra
-development of a form of Buddhism called Vajrayana (the diamond vehicle)
-spread of Mahayana teaching to Korea, Japan, Tibet
-development of spiritual ideal siddha, a person who combines the Buddhist teaching of compassion and
wisdom with yogic rituals and practices that are much older than Buddhism
Social engaged Buddhism in modern tradition, including translation of texts into English.
Meditation changed as well
7CE-both a monastic form as well as a tantric form that emphasized yogic practices
in Tibet, Vajrayana Buddhism
The Tibetan book of the dead- popular texts translated in the west. They are guides to dying, and the in
between time between death and rebirth. The great liberation through hearing in the bardo (full name).
Type of text is called Bardo Thodol. Bardo means intermediate. This is read aloud to dying or dead
person. They belong to that literature TANTRA, specifically the tantra of peaceful and wrathful deities.
It is said that this text is taught by the Buddha, through the form of a deity called Vajrasattva,
transmitted through an unbroken Yogin line, until brought to Tibet by a monk, Guru Padmasambhava.
Quasi historical figure, there is evidence he went to Tibet from India, but it is vain and overladen with
gossip and stories. He is revered throughout Tibetan Buddhism. This teaching, oral, was written down
by his wife, and he buries these texts in the mountains in central Tibet. Such texts are called Terma,
treasure. They are said to be rediscovered by subsequent incarnations by the 25 disciples of Guru
Pasmasambhava. Some people can choose to reincarnate at a certain time, certain place.
Important to establish the tradition.
The guide to the person who is passing through the intermediate state, also a guide to the dying
We have to think about what death means, it does not mean the cessation of breath and heartbeat.
Death is considered the moment when the subtle consciousness separates completely from god body/
mind. Bardo is a word to consider, it generally refers to intermediate state. But from a Buddhist
perspective, it simple means an intermediate state. In which state are we? We are perpetually between
childhood and adult hood, old age and death.
There are six types of Bardo states that a person can go through.
Birth/life, dreams (deep sleep and waking), meditation (deep meditation, neither waking nor sleeping), 3
associated with dying. The main verses of the six Bardos would be spoken to the dead, and dying.
The Chikai bardo, the dying process that culminates in the moment of death.
the Chonyid Bardo, the bardo of reality as it is during which various images and lights appear to the
the Sipai bardo, the bardo of the rebirth process
The Buddhists must recognize three things:
Death is inevitable. Recognize and contemplate the inevitability. Overcome forgetfulness of death. The
idea is to recognize the impermanence and uncertainty of life. Spiritual practice, or one’s own mind, is
the only protection at death. You want to develop a mind that will be a help to you in death.
Tantric Buddhism likes the moment of death, as it is a powerful moment for liberation, and it is the best
moment to attain enlightenment. Everything is just process, no matter how solid it looks, it is always
Liberation means seeing ones true nature and its entire phenomenon’s: it appears as we can see and
touch, but that is it ultimately empty of inherit existence. There is no real existing thing that you can put
your hand on; it is seeing that all things exist by virtue of their interrelated ness. All parts of body are
related, just as all things (words on paper) are related. It is just form of energy, resulted from causes and
condition, which hold their own in destruction. (According to Buddhist perspective)
The Chikai bardo- laid out in great detail, phenomena consisting of four great elements (earth fir water
air). In the understanding:
The earth element dissolves. External-all the physical aspects of the person, body becomes wasted,
shrunken, powerless, sight becomes dim. Internal sign-mirage like images fills the mind.
The water element dissolves. External- all liquids of the body dry up, hearing becomes dim, and
sensation is going. Internal- smoke like images fill the mind.
The fire element dissolves. External- heat is going, memory fails, digestive process failing. Internal-
flashes of light, like sparks or fire flies.
The air element dissolves. External- gross inhalation and exhalation stops, person can no longer preform
any physical activity and is not conscious of external things. Internal- a flickering light like a sputtering
candle flame fills the mind.
Gross conceptual thought and emotion fade away, and they allow more subtle levels of mind to show
As conceptual thoughts dissolve, the mind if filled with a field of:
5) white light, which dissolves and the mind is filled with a field of
6) red light, which dissolves and the mind if filled with a field of
7) black light, which dissolves and the mind if filled with a field of
8) clear light of death, the subtlest level of mind.
the person then falls into a state of complete unconsciousness like deep sleep-consciousness separates
from eh physical body and after a period of time ‘awakes’ into the Chonyid Bardo-the bardo of reality as
it is. THIS is the moment of death.
This natural state of mind is within us all, it is the awareness that allows us to be aware. Awareness
shows itself, and if it is recognized, there is liberation, if not, and then you are UN liberated. It is a state
of non-duality. There is simple awareness; it is thought to last for an instant, or three days, or longer.
Dependent on the person. When the Llama is pronounced dead, they are to remain untouched until the
evidence of consciousness has left. They would be considered in meditation. It is not known until death,
if you see the clear light or not.
This clear light does not arrive just at death, it happens at all intermediate states; sleep to wake, life to
death. Many can meditate on clear light by slowing down the process in those moments (sleep to wake)
that will help to recognize at the time of death. However long it takes, the end will be shown by blood
leaking from the eyes/head. The body is now a corpse and can be cremated. When the consciousness is
separated, the person can then hear and understand with much greater clarity than in life. The gross
body mind is blocking out sounds and understanding, with the death and severance of consciousness,
you can hear.
If the clear light is not recognized, then the person falls into the state of complete unconsciousness.
After a period of time, you wake up again into a dream state, the Chonyid Bardo. At this juncture, you
can be aware of people crying, their corpse lying there, a confusing time (just as in a dream) they may
not understand that they are dreaming or that they are dead. You may not recognize you are dreaming
or dead. In the recitation of the Bardo, the llama clarifies the situation to the person, death has come be
not afraid, no use to family or body. In this state, there are many dreams and hallucination, both
peaceful and beautiful, and horrific and terrifying. The person can see Buddha’s, or monsters. It is all
one’s own protection.