The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

by Sogyal Rinpoche

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: May 01, 2024
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Discover the transformative power of Tibetan Buddhist teachings on life, death, and the nature of consciousness. Explore practical techniques to confront mortality and achieve enlightenment. Engage with thought-provoking questions for action and active recall.

What are the big ideas?

Dying as a Spiritual Opportunity

The book frames the final moments of life not just as an end but as a vital opportunity for spiritual liberation. Highlighting specific techniques and the significance of the dying process, it offers a structured approach to confront and utilize this transformative phase purposefully.

Bardos as States of Transition

The concept of 'bardos' extends beyond death, defining all states of transition as vital moments for awareness and transformation. This insight links life's everyday transitions to the profound experiences at death, widening the scope for spiritual practice.

Nature of Mind: The Ultimate Revelation

The book delves into the 'nature of mind' (Rigpa), depicting it as the essential, primordial state of awareness to be realized. It describes methods to recognize and stabilize this awareness, positioning it as the key to enlightenment and a fearless approach to death.

Life and Karma as Interconnected Fields

Life is portrayed as a field of interconnected energies conditioned by karma, emphasizing a collective and personal responsibility to purify and direct these energies through ethical living and spiritual practice, fostering positive rebirths and transformations.

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) as Teachings

The book connects traditional Buddhist bardo teachings with modern accounts of NDEs, offering insights into their transformative potential. It suggests these experiences can serve as profound spiritual teachings and validations of the interconnected nature of consciousness.

Transformative Power of Compassion

Compassion is depicted not only as a moral virtue but as a transformational force that ameliorates personal karma and aids in achieving enlightenment. The practice of Tonglen, where one breathes in suffering and breathes out healing, embodies this philosophy.

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Dying as a Spiritual Opportunity

The final moments of life present a profound spiritual opportunity. Rather than viewing death as merely an end, this book frames it as a transformative phase that can lead to liberation.

The key is to approach this transition with intention and preparation. The book outlines specific techniques and practices to help the dying confront and utilize this critical juncture. These include resting in the nature of one's mind, performing the phowa practice to transfer consciousness, and relying on the power of prayer, devotion, and the blessings of enlightened beings.

Recognizing the immense potential of the dying process is essential. Even those with significant negative karma can purify and transform their future through the right mindset and practices at the moment of death. By letting go of attachment and cultivating positive emotions, the dying can maximize this rare spiritual opportunity.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of dying as a spiritual opportunity:

  • The book states that the moment of death is "an exceptionally powerful opportunity for purifying karma." It explains that even if someone has accumulated negative karma, "if we are able really to make a change of heart at the moment of death, it can decisively influence our future and transform our karma."

  • The story of Krisha Gotami illustrates how a "close encounter with death can bring a real awakening, a transformation in our whole approach to life." After the death of her child, Krisha Gotami followed the Buddha and is said to have attained enlightenment near the end of her life.

  • The book cites research on near-death experiences, which can lead to "a reduced fear and deeper acceptance of death; an increased concern for helping others; an enhanced vision of the importance of love; less interest in materialistic pursuits; a growing belief in a spiritual dimension and the spiritual meaning of life; and, of course, a greater openness to belief in the afterlife."

  • The book emphasizes the importance of one's "state of mind at death" and how it can "improve our next birth, despite our negative karma." It explains that the "last thought and emotion that we have before we die has an extremely powerful determining effect on our immediate future."

  • The book introduces the phowa practice, a "powerful" Tibetan practice for the "transference of consciousness" at the time of death, which it states has helped "thousands of people" die "serenely."

Bardos as States of Transition

The concept of bardos is not limited to the states after death. Rather, bardos refer to all the transitional moments throughout life. These are the gaps and spaces between our normal, habitual states of mind - the periods of uncertainty, change, and potential transformation.

Bardos occur constantly, in the subtle shifts of consciousness as we fall asleep, dream, and awaken. They arise in the disorienting moments when our familiar routines or possessions are suddenly disrupted. These transitional states, though often overlooked, offer profound opportunities for insight and liberation.

Just as the bardos of death present a rare chance to recognize our deepest nature, the bardos of daily life allow us to glimpse the fluid, ever-changing essence of mind. By becoming attuned to these transitional moments, we can harness their power for spiritual growth, using each gap and shift in awareness as a gateway to greater understanding.

The bardos are not just about death, but about the very fabric of our experience. Recognizing their presence in ordinary life prepares us for the ultimate bardo at the time of death, when our most essential nature will be fully revealed. Embracing the transformative potential in all of life's transitions is the path to true freedom.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about bardos as states of transition:

  • The context explains that bardos are "continuously occurring throughout both life and death" and are "junctures when the possibility of liberation, or enlightenment, is heightened." This shows how bardos extend beyond just the state after death.

  • The context describes different bardos that occur in life, such as the "natural bardo of this life" spanning birth to death, the "bardo of sleep and dream", and the "bardo of meditation." These demonstrate how bardos refer to various transitional states in everyday life.

  • The example is given of coming home to find your door smashed and everything stolen. In that moment of shock and loss, the context explains there is a "sudden, deep stillness" and "a deep state of peace" - a bardo-like transition that offers an opportunity for insight.

  • The context states that "every moment of our experience is a bardo, as each thought and each emotion arises out of, and dies back into, the essence of mind." This further illustrates how bardos encompass the constant transitions and changes in our ordinary experience.

  • The "garuda" metaphor is used to symbolize how our "primordial nature" is already perfect, but only becomes fully revealed "at the moment when the shell cracks open" - another example of a transformative bardo.

In summary, the examples show how the concept of bardos extends far beyond just the state after death, and encompasses the transitional moments and states of consciousness that occur throughout our everyday lives. This wider understanding of bardos as vital junctures for awareness and transformation is the key insight.

Nature of Mind: The Ultimate Revelation

The nature of mind is the ultimate revelation. It is the primordial, essential state of pure awareness that lies at the core of our being. This awareness is the heart-essence of all spiritual paths, the summit of our spiritual evolution.

To realize the nature of mind is to unlock the key to enlightenment and a fearless approach to death. Through dedicated practice, one can learn to recognize and stabilize this awareness, peeling away the layers of confusion and delusion that obscure it.

The book outlines powerful methods to access this profound state. By resting in the natural great peace of the mind, one can let go of habitual anxieties and tensions, allowing thoughts and emotions to self-liberate. This cultivates the clarity, confidence and spaciousness of the nature of mind.

Mastering this practice is no easy feat - it requires the guidance of a qualified teacher and years of sustained effort. But the rewards are immense. When the nature of mind is realized, one's entire perspective transforms. All experiences are seen as the direct blessing and teaching of the enlightened state.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight on the nature of mind:

  • The introduction of the 'nature of mind' (Rigpa) by the Dzogchen master is described as a direct experience, like "suddenly holding up a mirror in which you can, for the first time, see your own face reflected." This points to Rigpa as an innate, ever-present awareness that is revealed through the master's guidance.

  • Patrul Rinpoche explains that the nature of mind is introduced "upon the very dissolution of conceptual mind." This suggests that Rigpa is the fundamental awareness that underlies and transcends conceptual thinking.

  • The "merging of minds and hearts" between the master and student during the introduction is said to result in the student having an "undeniable experience, or glimpse, of the nature of Rigpa." This highlights Rigpa as a direct, experiential realization.

  • The practices of meditation and purification are described as preparing the student to have this direct recognition of Rigpa, by "peeling away the ordinary mind" and creating the right conditions for the nature of mind to be revealed.

  • Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche states that with constant devotion to the guru, "all forms are the guru, all sounds are prayer, and all gross and subtle thoughts arise as devotion" - suggesting that Rigpa is the fundamental ground from which all experience arises.

  • The text describes Rigpa as the "primordial state, that state of total awakening that is the heart-essence of all the buddhas and all spiritual paths." This positions Rigpa as the ultimate, enlightened nature of mind.

Key terms and concepts:

  • Rigpa: The essential, primordial awareness or 'nature of mind'
  • Introduction: The direct transmission of the experience of Rigpa from the Dzogchen master to the student
  • Ground Luminosity: The fundamental, inherent nature of reality that pervades all experience
  • Path Luminosity: The recognition of the Ground Luminosity, enabled by the introduction of the master

Life and Karma as Interconnected Fields

Life is an interconnected field of energies shaped by our karma - the consequences of our actions, words, and thoughts. We have a collective and personal responsibility to purify and direct these energies through ethical living and spiritual practice. This fosters positive rebirths and transformations, ultimately leading us to enlightenment.

Our every deed, utterance, and mental state has a profound impact, rippling outward to affect the entire universe. We must recognize this profound interconnectedness and take full responsibility for ourselves. By cultivating a good heart of love and compassion, and awakening the wisdom to see the true nature of reality, we can break free from the cycle of suffering and rebirth.

The path is not easy, but the rewards are immense. Through diligent practice, we can uncover the deathless, enlightened nature of our own mind - the true refuge that nothing can destroy. This realization liberates us from fear and delusion, empowering us to live with clarity, confidence, and a spirit of joyful, carefree abandon. In this way, we become a beacon of light, helping to free all beings from the darkness of ignorance.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight of life and karma as interconnected fields:

  • The Dalai Lama emphasizes the need to develop a "sense of universal responsibility" and recognize that "individuals and nations can no longer resolve many of their problems by themselves" due to the highly interdependent nature of the world. This highlights the interconnected nature of life and the collective responsibility we all share.

  • The story of the beggar woman who offered a small lamp to Buddha is used to illustrate how even the smallest actions, when done with pure intention, can have profound effects. The lamp she offered continued burning miraculously, demonstrating how our karma and actions have real consequences throughout the universe.

  • The analogy of the glass door is used to describe the ground of the ordinary mind - a subtle barrier that obscures our true, enlightened nature. Purifying and breaking down this barrier through spiritual practice is described as the key preparation for the moment of death and liberation.

  • The explanation of rebirth as a process of conditionality, rather than a permanent soul, emphasizes how our consciousness and mind are interconnected with the material world, and how this continuity of consciousness drives the cycle of rebirth based on our karma and actions.

  • The story of Milarepa's meditation on the "deathless and unending nature of mind" exemplifies the shift in perspective that can occur when one directly realizes the changeless, enlightened nature underlying the impermanence of life.

Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) as Teachings

The book reveals how Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) can serve as powerful spiritual teachings. These profound experiences often mirror the ancient Buddhist teachings on the bardos - the transitional states of consciousness encountered during life, death, and rebirth.

NDEs can catalyze profound personal transformations. Experiencers often report reduced fear of death, increased compassion, and a deeper connection to spiritual values. This aligns with the Buddhist view that the bardos present unique opportunities for liberation and enlightenment.

By drawing parallels between NDEs and bardo teachings, the book suggests these experiences validate the interconnected nature of consciousness. They point to a continuity of awareness that transcends the boundaries of life and death. Engaging with these insights can inspire us to approach life and death with greater awareness, acceptance, and spiritual purpose.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about near-death experiences (NDEs) as spiritual teachings:

  • The book notes that "the most important aspect of the near-death experience, as reported again and again in the literature about it, is the complete transformation it often makes in the lives, attitudes, careers, and relationships of the people who have this experience." This suggests NDEs can be profoundly transformative spiritual teachings.

  • The context describes how people who have NDEs "lose their fear of death itself; they become more tolerant and loving; and they become interested in spiritual values, the 'path of wisdom,' and usually in a universal spirituality rather than the dogma of any one religion." This illustrates how NDEs can validate the interconnected nature of consciousness.

  • The book compares the "darkness and tunnel" experiences in NDEs to the "black experience of 'full attainment'" and "bliss and joy" described in Tibetan Buddhist bardo teachings. This suggests parallels between NDEs and traditional spiritual teachings.

  • A woman describes her NDE as "like being in mid-air" and "a complete blackness" with "a light at the end of the tunnel." This aligns with the bardo teachings about the "Ground Luminosity or Clear Light" that dawns at the moment of death.

  • The context notes how NDEs can lead to a "heightened sense of love, the ability to communicate love, the ability to find joy and pleasures in the smallest and most insignificant things." This illustrates the transformative spiritual insights that can arise from these experiences.

Transformative Power of Compassion

Compassion is a transformative force that can heal the mind and propel one towards enlightenment. The Buddhist practice of Tonglen exemplifies this power. In Tonglen, one consciously breathes in the suffering of others and breathes out healing and peace. This practice does not just cultivate empathy - it actively transmutes negative karma and unveils one's own enlightened nature.

Compassion is not just a moral virtue, but the natural radiance of the mind's true essence. When one rests in this state of absolute Bodhichitta, or the enlightened heart-mind, compassion becomes an inexhaustible wellspring. This compassion can then be directed outwards to benefit all beings, fueling the determination to attain full enlightenment for their sake.

The transformative potential of compassion lies in its ability to dissolve the root cause of suffering - the self-grasping ego. As one repeatedly takes on the pain of others and gives them one's own happiness, the walls of self-centeredness gradually crumble. This opens the door to realizing one's profound interconnectedness with all of life. Compassion thus reveals itself as the greatest resource and protection on the spiritual path.

Here are key examples from the context that illustrate the transformative power of compassion:

  • The artist in New York dying of AIDS initially felt his pain was "pointless and horrific", but through practicing Tonglen - taking on the suffering of others and giving them his own well-being - he experienced a "extraordinary change" where his pain became "infused with an almost glorious purpose." This transformed his dying experience.

  • When the Gyalwang Karmapa was dying, his disciple observed that despite his severe physical ailments, the Karmapa remained "humorous, playful, smiling, as if he were rejoicing at everything his body suffered." The disciple believed the Karmapa was deliberately taking on these diseases to "minimize the coming pains of war, disease, and famine" - an act of profound compassion that inspired those around him.

  • The context describes Tonglen as a practice where one "takes on the suffering and pain of others, and give them your happiness, well-being, and peace of mind." This practice is said to "transmute their suffering" and uncover, deepen, and strengthen one's own compassion.

  • The teachings compare absolute Bodhichitta, the "true heart of the enlightened mind", to an "inexhaustible treasury of generosity." Compassion is described as the "natural radiance of the nature of mind" and the "skillful means that rises from the heart of wisdom."


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" that resonated with readers.

Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is because we do not know who we are. We believe in a personal, unique, and separate identity — but if we dare to examine it, we find that this identity depends entirely on an endless collection of things to prop it up: our name, our "biography," our partners, family, home, job, friends, credit cards… It is on their fragile and transient support that we rely for our security. So when they are all taken away, will we have any idea of who we really are?

Without our familiar props, we are faced with just ourselves, a person we do not know, an unnerving stranger with whom we have been living all the time but we never really wanted to meet. Isn't that why we have tried to fill every moment of time with noise and activity, however boring or trivial, to ensure that we are never left in silence with this stranger on our own?

Our fear of death stems from uncertainty about our true identity. We rely heavily on external factors, such as relationships and possessions, to define ourselves. When these are taken away, we're left with an unfamiliar, unsettling sense of self. This unknown aspect of ourselves can be intimidating, leading us to avoid quiet moments of introspection.

We are fragmented into so many different aspects. We don´t know who we really are, or what aspects of ourselves we should identify with or believe in. So many contradictory voices, dictates, and feelings fight for control over our inner lives that we find ourselves scattered everywhere, in all directions, leaving nobody at home.

Meditation, then, is bringing the mind home.

Our inner lives are often chaotic, with multiple conflicting thoughts, emotions, and identities vying for dominance. This fragmentation can leave us feeling lost and disconnected from our true selves. Meditation offers a solution by helping us quiet the noise and gather our scattered energies, allowing us to reconnect with our authentic nature and find inner peace. Through meditation, we can cultivate a sense of unity and wholeness, bringing our minds back to a state of clarity and balance.

Above all, be at ease, be as natural and spacious as possible. Slip quietly out of the noose of your habitual anxious self, release all grasping, and relax into your true nature. Think of your ordinary emotional, thought-ridden self as a block of ice or a slab of butter left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation. Let peace work on you and enable you to gather your scattered mind into the mindfulness of Calm Abiding, and awaken in you the awareness and insight of Clear Seeing. And you will find all your negativity disarmed, your aggression dissolved, and your confusion evaporating slowly like mist into the vast and stainless sky of your absolute nature.

To find inner peace, one must let go of anxiety and relax into their true nature. Imagine your emotional self melting away like ice in the sun, freeing you from negativity and confusion. As you quiet your mind, clarity and awareness emerge, allowing you to tap into your absolute nature. In this state, all troubles dissolve, leaving only a sense of calm and freedom.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What is the spiritual significance of the final moments of life?
2. How can the right mindset and practices influence one's state at the time of death?
3. What are some specific practices mentioned for confronting death intentionally?
4. What potential changes do near-death experiences tend to bring about in individuals?
5. How can a change of heart at the moment of death influence one's karma?
6. What are bardos and how do they extend beyond the states of death?
7. How can the recognition of bardos in daily life prepare us for the ultimate bardo at the time of death?
8. What opportunities do bardos offer during transitions in daily life?
9. Explain how every moment of experience can be understood as a bardo.
10. What is referred to as the primordial, essential state of pure awareness in spiritual teachings?
11. How can one access the profound state of pure awareness according to spiritual practices?
12. What are the benefits of realizing the nature of mind?
13. What does the realization of the nature of mind imply about habitual anxieties and mental states?
14. What is required to master the practice of recognizing and stabilizing the nature of mind?
15. How can individual and collective responsibility impact the energy fields of the universe?
16. What is the significance of recognizing the interconnectedness of all beings and phenomena?
17. How does cultivating a good heart and wisdom contribute to breaking free from the cycle of suffering and rebirth?
18. What ultimate realization can liberate one from fear and delusion?
19. Describe the role of ethical living and spiritual practice in achieving enlightenment.
20. What psychological transformation do individuals often undergo following a near-death experience?
21. How do near-death experiences reflect Buddhist teachings on bardos?
22. What evidence suggests that near-death experiences can promote spiritual growth?
23. What is the Buddhist practice of Tonglen and how does it embody the power of compassion?
24. How does compassion affect the self-grasping ego and what consequences does this have on the individual's sense of interconnectedness?
25. What role does compassion play in the concept of Bodhichitta in Buddhist philosophy?
26. How does the practice of compassion lead to the realization of one's true nature and protection on the spiritual path?

Action Questions

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"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can individuals integrate spiritual practices into their daily lives to better prepare for the transition of death with intention and liberation?
2. What steps can be taken to foster a supportive community that assists others in viewing and handling death as a transformative spiritual opportunity?
3. How can you become more aware of the bardos in your daily life and use them as opportunities for personal transformation?
4. What daily practices can you adopt to deepen your awareness and understanding of your own mind?
5. How can you enhance your ethical living and spiritual practices to positively influence the energy around you and contribute to the collective good?
6. How can you incorporate the concept of living with awareness and acceptance of death into your daily routine to foster a deeper spiritual connection?
7. What changes can you make in your personal or professional life to align more closely with spiritual values inspired by transformative experiences like NDEs?
8. How can you practice compassion in your daily interactions to acknowledge and alleviate the suffering of others?
9. What are ways you can apply the practice of Tonglen in your professional or personal life to enhance your empathy and understanding towards others?

Chapter Notes

1. In the Mirror of Death

  • First Experience of Death: The author's first experience of death was witnessing the death of Samten, a personal attendant of his master. This taught the author the purpose of spiritual practice and the confidence that can arise from it.

  • Death of Lama Tseten: The death of Lama Tseten, a highly realized practitioner, demonstrated that some practitioners can conceal their spiritual mastery during their lifetime and only reveal it at the moment of death.

  • Attitudes Towards Death in the Modern World: The author observed a stark contrast between the attitudes towards death in the West and the attitudes he was brought up with in Tibet. The West tends to either deny or trivialize death, whereas the Tibetan Buddhist tradition sees death as a profound and meaningful part of the journey of life.

  • The Bardo Teachings: The Tibetan Buddhist tradition presents a comprehensive view of life and death as a continuous journey through various "bardos" or transitional states. These teachings provide a framework for understanding and preparing for the different stages of life and death.

  • Importance of Recognizing the Nature of Mind: The key to understanding life and death is the realization of the "nature of mind" - our innermost essence or true nature. Familiarizing ourselves with this during life is crucial for being able to recognize it at the moment of death and achieve liberation.

  • Meditation as the Path: Meditation is the primary means of uncovering and stabilizing the realization of the nature of mind, which is essential for navigating the journey through life and death.

  • Choosing Our Death, Choosing Our Birth: By preparing and practicing in this life, we have the possibility of choosing our death and, consequently, our next rebirth. This represents the tremendous hope and freedom that the Buddhist teachings offer.

2. Impermanence

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Certainty of Death, Uncertainty of Timing: The only certainty we have is that we will die, but the timing and manner of our death is uncertain. This uncertainty is often used as an excuse to avoid facing death directly.

  • Fear of the Unknown: We fear death because we feel it will plunge us into the unknown, where we will be lost and bewildered. This fear stems from our attachment to our familiar identity and possessions.

  • Impermanence of the Self: Our sense of a permanent, unique identity is an illusion propped up by our name, biography, relationships, and possessions. When these are taken away, we are faced with the stranger that is our true self.

  • Futility of Distraction: Many of us fill our lives with trivial activities and responsibilities to avoid confronting the reality of impermanence and our own mortality. This "active laziness" prevents us from focusing on what truly matters.

  • Importance of Facing Death: Regularly contemplating our own death and the uncertainty of its timing can help us overcome our fear of it and live with greater presence, purpose, and compassion.

  • Impermanence as the Only Constant: Everything in the universe, including our thoughts, emotions, and physical body, is in a constant state of flux. Recognizing this truth of impermanence is the only lasting refuge we have.

  • Transformation through Realizing Impermanence: Deeply integrating the understanding of impermanence can radically transform our lives, leading us to treat all beings with compassion and devote ourselves wholeheartedly to the pursuit of enlightenment.

3. Reflection and Change

  • Accepting Death: A close encounter with death, such as a near-death experience or a serious illness, can lead to a profound transformation in one's approach to life. This includes a reduced fear of death, increased concern for helping others, enhanced spiritual awareness, and less interest in material pursuits.

  • Reflection on Impermanence: Reflecting deeply on the impermanent nature of all things can lead to a shift in one's perspective, helping one to let go of fixed patterns and habitual behaviors that cause suffering. This process of "renunciation" involves both sadness and joy, as one recognizes the futility of old ways and embraces a greater vision of freedom.

  • Working with Changes: Embracing the impermanent nature of life and learning to "let go" without grasping can help one develop a more relaxed and spacious relationship with the changes and challenges that arise. This involves recognizing the interdependent nature of all phenomena and cultivating a compassionate, warrior-like spirit that is not shaken by difficulties.

  • The Message of Impermanence: Contemplating the emptiness and interdependence of all things can reveal a deeper truth about the nature of reality. This understanding can open one's heart to a warm, compassionate perspective and a sense of responsibility for one's actions and their impact on the entire universe.

  • The Changeless: Persistent reflection on impermanence can lead to the discovery of an unchanging, deathless aspect of one's own being, which is often referred to as the "nature of mind." This realization can bring a profound sense of peace, joy, and confidence, and a new understanding of one's purpose in life.

4. The Nature of Mind

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Nature of Mind: The author describes two key aspects of the mind - the ordinary, discursive mind (sem) and the essential nature of mind (Rigpa). Sem is the constantly shifting, grasping, and dualistic thinking mind, while Rigpa is the primordial, pure, and ever-present awareness that is the true nature of the mind.

  • Introduction to the Nature of Mind: The author recounts two personal experiences where his spiritual teacher, Jamyang Khyentse, introduced him to the nature of mind in a direct and profound way. This introduction requires the presence of an authentic master, the devotion of the student, and the lineage of the method.

  • Realization of the Nature of Mind: When the nature of mind is directly introduced and realized, the student recognizes the inseparability between their own mind and the master's wisdom mind. This realization leads to a profound sense of gratitude, awe, and devotion.

  • Buddha Nature: The author explains that the nature of mind, or Rigpa, is the same as the "buddha nature" - the fundamental enlightened nature that all sentient beings possess. Realizing this buddha nature is the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice.

  • Metaphor of the Sky and Clouds: The author uses the metaphor of the sky and clouds to illustrate the relationship between the ordinary mind (clouds) and the nature of mind (the sky). The sky is always pure and untainted, just as the nature of mind is always perfect, regardless of the obscurations of the ordinary mind.

5. Bringing the Mind Home

  • The Nature of Mind: The nature of mind is described as profound, tranquil, free from complexity, uncompounded luminous clarity, and beyond the mind of conceptual ideas. It is the depth of the mind of the Victorious Ones, and there is nothing to be removed or added to it.

  • The Four Faults: The four faults that prevent people from realizing the nature of mind are: (1) it is too close to be recognized, (2) it is too profound to fathom, (3) it is too easy to believe, and (4) it is too wonderful to accommodate.

  • Looking Inward: The key to realizing the nature of mind is to shift our orientation from looking outward to looking inward. This requires great subtlety and courage, as our culture has conditioned us to be addicted to looking outside ourselves.

  • Meditation as the Path: Meditation is the road to enlightenment and the greatest endeavor of this life. It is the practice of bringing the mind home, releasing, and relaxing into the nature of mind.

  • Meditation Techniques: Three effective meditation techniques are: (1) resting the mind on an object, (2) reciting a mantra, and (3) watching the breath. These methods can be combined to work on the body, speech, and mind.

  • The Mind in Meditation: In meditation, the mind should be left as it is, without effort to control or be peaceful. Thoughts and emotions are the natural expression of the mind's radiance, like waves on the ocean, and should be observed with a spacious, open, and compassionate attitude.

  • Experiences in Meditation: Both positive and negative experiences can arise during meditation, but they should be viewed as illusory and dreamlike, without attachment or aversion, as they are not realization itself.

  • Integration of Meditation: The true purpose of meditation is to integrate the calm, humor, and spacious detachment of the practice into everyday life, so that one can "eat when eating, and sleep when sleeping," with complete presence.

  • Inspiration in Practice: Meditation should be approached with resolute discipline and one-pointed devotion, but also with joy, creativity, and a sense of sacred ceremony to inspire the practice.

6. Evolution, Karma, and Rebirth

  • Reincarnation and Belief in Life After Death: Belief in reincarnation and life after death has been prevalent throughout history in various religions and cultures. Even in the early history of Christianity, the belief in reincarnation existed and persisted in various forms well into the Middle Ages.

  • Continuity of Consciousness: The Buddhist perspective on rebirth is based on the understanding of the continuity of consciousness. Consciousness is not an independent, unchanging entity, but a continuum that is subject to change and dependent on causes and conditions.

  • Karma and the Law of Cause and Effect: Karma is the law of cause and effect that governs the universe. It is the power latent within our actions, and the results our actions bring. Karma is not fatalistic or predetermined, but rather creative, as we have the ability to shape our future through our actions.

  • Motivation and the Good Heart: The intention or motivation behind our actions is more important than the scale of the actions themselves. Developing a good heart, a genuine desire for the happiness of others, is the key to creating positive karma and a better future.

  • Responsibility and Accountability: The understanding of karma and rebirth instills a sense of personal responsibility for our actions. The near-death experience reports confirm the truth of karma, as people can witness the full implications of their actions and how they have affected others.

  • Reincarnation in Tibet: The Tibetan tradition of recognizing incarnations or "tulkus" is a way to ensure the wisdom and teachings of realized masters are not lost. These incarnations are carefully trained and often demonstrate remarkable abilities, serving as examples of the richness and subtlety of this system.

  • Incarnations of Compassion: Figures like the Dalai Lama, who is revered as the incarnation of the Buddha of Infinite Compassion, are seen as embodiments of the evolutionary process of the buddhas and masters who work to liberate beings and better the world.

7. Bardos and Other Realities

  • Bardo: A Tibetan word meaning "transition" or "gap" between the completion of one situation and the onset of another. It has a much wider and deeper meaning than just the intermediate state between death and rebirth.

  • Four Bardos: The four main bardos are:

    • The "natural" bardo of this life (the entire period between birth and death)
    • The "painful" bardo of dying (from the beginning of the dying process until the end of the "inner respiration")
    • The "luminous" bardo of dharmata (the after-death experience of the radiance of the nature of mind)
    • The "karmic" bardo of becoming (the intermediate state between death and rebirth)
  • Uncertainty and Opportunity: The bardos are characterized by deep uncertainty, which creates gaps and spaces for profound transformation and insight. This uncertainty is present throughout life, not just at the time of death.

  • Moments of Transition: Moments of strong change and transition, such as the loss of possessions, can offer glimpses of the true nature of the mind. These experiences in life can prepare us for the bardos at the time of death.

  • Moment of Death: The moment of death is the supreme opportunity for liberation, as the fundamental nature of mind, the "Ground Luminosity" or "Clear Light," naturally manifests. However, this requires prior familiarity with the nature of mind through spiritual practice.

  • Correspondence between Bardos and States of Consciousness: There is a correspondence between the bardos and the states of consciousness experienced in sleep, dream, and meditation. Mastering these practices can help one recognize and navigate the bardos at the time of death.

  • Kunu Lama's Example: Kunu Lama, a highly realized master, was able to describe the bardos from his own direct experience, as if giving directions to a physical location. This demonstrates that the bardo states are contained within the mind and can be realized through spiritual practice.

8. This Life: The Natural Bardo

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Ground of the Ordinary Mind: This is the fundamental basis of our minds, a neutral state that functions as a storehouse for the imprints of our past actions and negative emotions. These imprints manifest as the circumstances and situations in our lives.

  • Karmic Vision: The way we perceive the world around us is determined by our shared karma with other beings. This "karmic vision" explains how different beings can perceive the same thing in completely different ways.

  • The Six Realms: The six realms of existence (gods, demigods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and hells) are the result of the six main negative emotions (pride, jealousy, desire, ignorance, greed, and anger). These realms exist both externally, as the worlds we project our emotions onto, and internally, as the tendencies within our own minds.

  • The Value of Human Life: Human life is considered the most valuable because it provides the awareness and intelligence necessary for spiritual transformation. The suffering inherent in the human realm is what spurs us to break out of the cycle of samsara.

  • The Doors of Perception: Our karmic vision determines how we perceive the world around us. The same substance can be perceived in completely different, even contradictory, ways by different beings. This shows that all karmic visions are ultimately illusions.

  • Three Kinds of Vision: There are three types of vision: the "impure, karmic vision" of ordinary beings, the "vision of experience" that opens to practitioners in meditation, and the "pure vision" of realized beings who perceive the world in its primordial sacredness.

9. The Spiritual Path

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Everything we see is a result of repeated solidification of our experience: Our perception of the world is not objectively real, but rather a result of lifetimes of conditioning and solidifying our experience in a certain way. As we progress spiritually, we learn to work directly with these fixed perceptions and dissolve our old concepts.

  • Karma and negative emotions obscure our true nature: Due to our karma and negative emotions, we are unable to see our own intrinsic nature and the true nature of reality. This causes us to cling to happiness and suffering as real, leading to continued rebirth and suffering.

  • The "three wisdom tools": The three tools for realizing egolessness are the wisdom of listening and hearing, the wisdom of contemplation and reflection, and the wisdom of meditation. These allow us to reawaken to our true nature.

  • Ego is the absence of true self-knowledge: Ego is the false, cobbled-together identity we cling to due to our lack of understanding of who we truly are. Ego is constantly trying to sabotage our spiritual path.

  • The importance of devotion to a spiritual teacher: Devotion to an authentic spiritual teacher is essential for realizing the truth, as the teacher embodies the blessings and wisdom of all enlightened beings. Devotion opens us to fully receive the teacher's guidance.

  • Guru Yoga practice: Guru Yoga is a powerful practice for invoking the presence of the teacher, merging one's mind with the teacher's wisdom mind, receiving their blessings and empowerment, and resting in the nature of one's own mind (Rigpa). This practice is crucial for transformation and realization.

  • The teacher as the embodiment of all buddhas: The teacher is not seen merely as a human being, but as the living embodiment of all enlightened beings. Relating to the teacher in this way allows one to receive the full blessing and transformative power of the teachings.

10 The Innermost Essence

  • Realization of the Nature of Mind: The chapter emphasizes the importance of realizing the true nature of the mind, which is the key to fearlessly facing death. Dzogchen, the most ancient and direct stream of wisdom within Buddhism, is presented as the clearest and most effective path to this realization.

  • Dzogchen: The Great Perfection: Dzogchen is not a teaching, philosophy, or technique, but the primordial state of total awakening that is the heart-essence of all spiritual paths. It is the already self-perfected state of our true nature, which needs no "perfecting".

  • The View, Meditation, and Action: The practical training of the Dzogchen path is described in terms of the View (directly seeing the absolute state), Meditation (stabilizing and deepening the View), and Action (integrating the View into one's entire reality and life).

  • The Introduction to Rigpa: The master directly introduces the student to the direct experience of the wisdom mind of the buddhas, through a powerful moment of recognition where the student's Rigpa (pure awareness) is revealed.

  • Meditation in Dzogchen: Dzogchen meditation is simply resting, undistracted, in the View. It involves recognizing thoughts and emotions as the self-radiance of Rigpa and liberating them in their very ground, rather than getting caught up in them.

  • Action in Dzogchen: As the practitioner abides in the flow of Rigpa, it permeates their everyday life and actions, leading to a deep stability, confidence, and spontaneous liberation of thoughts and emotions.

  • The Rainbow Body: Through the advanced Dzogchen practices of Trekcho and Togal, accomplished practitioners can attain the "rainbow body" or "body of light" at the time of death, where their material body dissolves into light and disappears completely.

11. Heart Advice on Helping the Dying

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Establish Unafraid, Heartfelt Communication: The most essential thing when helping the dying is to establish an unafraid, heartfelt communication with them. This allows the dying person to freely express their thoughts, fears, and emotions about dying and death.

  • Relax the Atmosphere: When first visiting a dying person, it's important to relax any tension in the atmosphere through natural and relaxed behavior. This helps the dying person feel comfortable opening up.

  • Allow Expression of Emotions: Encourage the dying person to fully express their emotions, whether it's sadness, anger, or fear. Repressing these emotions can be detrimental, so allow them to be expressed.

  • Avoid Preaching or Rescuing: Resist the temptation to preach to the dying or impose your own spiritual beliefs on them. Your role is to help them connect with their own inner strength and spirituality, not to convert them.

  • Show Unconditional Love: The dying person needs to be shown as unconditional a love as possible, free from expectations. You can cultivate this by seeing the dying person as fundamentally the same as you, with the same needs and fears.

  • Face Your Own Fears of Dying: To effectively help the dying, you must first face and accept your own fears about death. This self-awareness will make you more compassionate and skilled in supporting the dying person.

  • Help Resolve Unfinished Business: Assist the dying in resolving any unfinished business or conflicts from their past. This can involve a guided dialogue exercise to promote forgiveness and closure.

  • Give Permission to Die: Explicitly give the dying person permission to let go and die, and reassure them that their loved ones will be okay after they're gone. This can help them die more peacefully.

  • Create a Peaceful Environment: Whenever possible, help create a peaceful, familiar environment for the dying, free from medical interventions and disturbances. This supports a serene transition.

  • Provide Conscious, Loving Care: Maintain conscious, loving care and communication with the dying person until the very last moments, as they may be more aware than we realize.

12. Compassion: The Wish-Fulfilling Jewel

  • Compassion is not just a feeling, but a sustained and practical determination to alleviate the suffering of others. Compassion is often represented in Tibetan iconography as Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, with a thousand eyes to see the pain in the universe and a thousand arms to reach out and help.

  • The "logic of compassion" shows that self-grasping and self-cherishing are the root causes of all harm to ourselves and others. This self-grasping mind is our greatest enemy, and the practice of compassion, along with the wisdom of egolessness, is the most effective way to destroy it.

  • Compassion is the best protection and the source of all healing. By taking on the suffering of others with a compassionate mind, we can purify our own negative karma and even heal physical illnesses.

  • The story of Asanga demonstrates the transformative power of compassion. Asanga's genuine and heartfelt compassion for the suffering dog purified his obscurations and allowed him to receive the teachings of the Buddha Maitreya.

  • The practice of Tonglen, or "giving and receiving," is a powerful way to open one's heart and destroy the self-grasping, self-cherishing, and self-absorption of the ego. This practice can help one find the loving, expansive radiance of one's true nature and be of service to others.

13. Spiritual Help for the Dying

  • Spiritual Care for the Dying is a Fundamental Right: The author emphasizes that spiritual care for the dying should be a fundamental right in a civilized society, just as important as medical care and political liberty. However, the modern Western culture often fails to provide this essential support.

  • Presence and Compassion are Key: When caring for the dying, the author emphasizes the importance of the caregiver's presence, compassion, and authentic connection. Listening, acknowledging the dying person's experiences, and drawing out their own wisdom and spirituality are more valuable than imposing beliefs.

  • Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Helping the dying person find forgiveness, both for themselves and others, can be tremendously healing. Encouraging them to make amends and clear their heart of any hatred or grudges is an important part of the spiritual care.

  • The Power of Spiritual Practices: Introducing the dying person to a simple, meaningful spiritual practice, such as meditation or prayer, can provide great comfort and support during the dying process. The author highlights the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Phowa (transference of consciousness) as particularly powerful.

  • Dedicating Suffering for the Benefit of Others: The author suggests that the dying person can transform their suffering by dedicating it to the alleviation of suffering for all other beings. This practice of Tonglen (giving and receiving) can provide a sense of meaning and purpose to the dying process.

  • Inspiration from Great Masters: The author shares examples of how great spiritual masters, like the Karmapa, have consciously and compassionately embraced suffering to benefit others. These examples serve as inspiration for how the dying can approach their own death with dignity and purpose.

14. The Practices for Dying

  • The Importance of the Moment of Death: The moment of death is crucial, as the last thought or emotion we have before we die has a powerful determining effect on our immediate future. Our state of mind at the time of death is all-important, as it can improve our next birth despite negative karma, or have a detrimental effect even if we have used our lives well.

  • Letting Go of Attachment: The ideal way to die is by having given away everything, internally and externally, so that there is as little as possible yearning, grasping, and attachment for the mind to latch onto at the moment of death. This includes making clear plans for the distribution of one's possessions and money.

  • Entering the Clear Awareness: At the moment of death, it is essential to "enter, undistracted, into clear awareness of the teaching" by either resting in the nature of mind or evoking the heart-essence of one's practice. This can be facilitated by the presence of a qualified master or spiritual friends who can remind the dying person of the essential instructions.

  • The Three Essential Practices for Dying: The three essential practices are: 1) Resting in the nature of mind or evoking the heart-essence of one's practice, 2) The phowa practice (transference of consciousness), and 3) Relying on the power of prayer, devotion, aspiration, and the blessings of enlightened beings.

  • Phowa: The Transference of Consciousness: Phowa is a practice of yoga and meditation that has been used for centuries to help the dying and to prepare for death. It involves the transference of one's consciousness into a buddha realm, usually the pure land of Amitabha. This practice must be carried out under the guidance of a qualified master.

  • The Grace of Prayer: Dying in a state of prayer, by invoking the buddhas and one's spiritual master, is said to be enormously powerful. This can ensure a good rebirth and ultimately achieve liberation.

  • The Atmosphere for Dying: For a spiritual practitioner who is dying, the atmosphere of spiritual inspiration, trust, faith, and devotion is essential. The presence and guidance of a spiritual master or friends can create this atmosphere and remind the dying person of the essence of the teachings and their practice.

  • Realizing the Illusory Nature of the Body: Recognizing the illusory nature of the body is a profound realization that can help one let go of attachment to it at the moment of death, and achieve ultimate freedom.

15. The Process of Dying

  • Causes of Death: There are two main causes of death - untimely death and death due to the exhaustion of one's natural lifespan. Untimely death can be averted through methods for prolonging life, but when the cause is the exhaustion of the natural lifespan, there is no way to cheat death.

  • Lifespan Extension: Practitioners who have perfected advanced yoga practices can overcome the limit of their natural lifespan and actually lengthen their lives. This is done through the strength of their practice, the purity of their connection with their students, and the benefit of their work.

  • Untimely Death Avoidance: If death is threatened by an obstacle or accident, it can be more easily averted if the signs of impending death are recognized in advance. These signs include physical signs, dreams, and special investigations using shadow images.

  • Spiritual Practice and Longevity: Any spiritual practice that accumulates "merit" can help prolong life and bring good health. A good practitioner feels psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually whole, which is the greatest source of healing and protection against illness.

  • Long-Life Practices: There are specific "long-life practices" that summon life-energy from the elements and the universe through meditation and visualization. These practices strengthen and coordinate the practitioner's energy, extending their lifespan.

  • The "Painful" Bardo of Dying: The bardo of dying, between the onset of a terminal condition and the cessation of inner respiration, can be a painful experience if one is not prepared. Even for practitioners, losing the body and this life can be difficult, but understanding the meaning of death provides hope.

  • The Process of Dying: The process of dying involves the dissolution of the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space) and the five skandhas (form, feeling, perception, intellect, and consciousness) that make up our physical and mental existence.

  • Outer Dissolution: The outer dissolution involves the senses and elements dissolving in sequence, with each stage having physical and psychological effects on the dying person, reflected in external signs and inner experiences.

  • Inner Dissolution: The inner dissolution involves the gradual dissolution of increasingly subtle levels of consciousness, mirroring the process of conception in reverse. This leads to the dawning of the Ground Luminosity or Clear Light, the innermost subtle mind.

  • Practicing with the Dying Process: Practitioners can use specialized practices to work with each stage of the dissolution process, such as transforming it into a practice of guru yoga. Understanding this process can be greatly beneficial, even for non-practitioners, by providing reassurance, inspiration, and hope.

16. The Ground

  • Revelation of True Nature at Death: At the moment of death, our true nature is revealed, which has two aspects: our absolute nature and our relative nature. Our absolute nature is the primordial ground of our being, which is like a pure and cloudless sky, also known as the "Ground Luminosity" or "Clear Light."

  • Dissolution of the Body and Mind: As the body dies, the senses and subtle elements dissolve, followed by the death of the ordinary aspect of our mind, with all its negative emotions of anger, desire, and ignorance. This process allows for the revelation of our true nature.

  • Characteristics of the Ground Luminosity: The Ground Luminosity is described as "luminous emptiness, without center or circumference," and the "pure, naked Rigpa" (a term referring to our innate, primordial awareness). It is self-originated, never born, and has nothing that could cause it to die.

  • Padmasambhava's Description: Padmasambhava, a renowned Tibetan Buddhist teacher, describes the Ground Luminosity as the "self-originated Clear Light," which is the "child of Rigpa" and has "not been created by anyone." This emphasizes the inherent, uncreated nature of our true nature.

  • Importance of Recognizing True Nature: The chapter suggests that in death, we cannot escape from who or what we really are, and our true nature is revealed. This points to the importance of recognizing and understanding our absolute nature during our lifetime, rather than only at the moment of death.

17. Intrinsic Radiance

  • The Bardo of Dharmata: This is the luminous bardo that occurs after the dawning of the Ground Luminosity at the moment of death. It is a crucial stage where the practitioner has the opportunity for liberation.

  • Four Phases of the Bardo of Dharmata:

    • Luminosity: An all-pervasive landscape of vibrant, multicolored light and sound emerges.
    • Union: The luminosity manifests as the peaceful and wrathful deities of the Buddhist pantheon.
    • Wisdom: The display of the five wisdoms (mirror-like wisdom, wisdom of discernment, equalizing wisdom, all-encompassing wisdom, and all-accomplishing wisdom) arises.
    • Spontaneous Presence: A vast, all-encompassing vision of the pure realms of the buddhas and the six realms of samsaric existence is presented.
  • Recognition is Key: The key to liberation in the bardo of dharmata is the recognition that all these appearances are the spontaneous display of one's own Rigpa (the true nature of mind). Without this recognition, one is drawn towards the more familiar and comfortable appearances of the six realms, leading to continued rebirth in samsara.

  • Preparation through Practice: Practitioners of Dzogchen and Tantra, who have stabilized their recognition of the nature of mind through practices like Trekchö and Togal, or through their yidam practice, are better equipped to recognize the appearances of the bardo of dharmata and attain liberation.

  • Universality of the Bardo Experiences: The manifestations of the bardo of dharmata are said to be "spontaneously present" and not limited to any particular cultural context. They can appear in forms familiar to the practitioner, such as Christian imagery for Western practitioners.

  • Duality and Choice: The bardo of dharmata presents the practitioner with the pure energy of mind and its confusion simultaneously, prompting a choice between liberation and continued rebirth in samsara.

18. The Bardo of Becoming

  • The Bardo of Becoming: This is the third bardo, which occurs after the failure to recognize the Ground Luminosity and the bardo of dharmata. It is the intermediate state between death and the next rebirth.

  • The Mental Body: In the bardo of becoming, the mind takes on a "mental body" that has several unique characteristics - it possesses all senses, is extremely light and mobile, has enhanced awareness and rudimentary clairvoyance, and can pass through solid objects. However, it is unable to remain still due to the "karmic wind" of conceptual thinking.

  • Experiences in the Bardo: During the bardo of becoming, the deceased person relives experiences from their past life, including trying to interact with their loved ones who cannot perceive them. They are also assailed by terrifying visions and sensations created by their own negative karma and delusions.

  • Duration of the Bardo: The bardo of becoming typically lasts 49 days, with the first 21 days being the most important period for the living to assist the deceased. However, the duration can vary based on the person's karma.

  • Judgment and the Power of the Mind: In the bardo, the deceased person undergoes a "judgment" where their good and bad deeds are evaluated. However, this judgment ultimately takes place within their own mind. The extreme lightness and vulnerability of the mind in the bardo means that even a single thought can have a powerful effect, leading to either enlightenment or rebirth in a lower realm.

  • Preventing Rebirth or Choosing a Good Rebirth: The teachings provide methods to either prevent rebirth altogether by resting the mind in its true, empty nature, or to at least choose a favorable rebirth in the human realm through practices like visualizing enlightened beings. However, the person's past karma often determines the outcome.

  • Cyclical Nature of the Bardo: The bardo of becoming ends as the deceased person's mind is drawn into a new womb, reexperiencing the dissolution process and the dawning of the Ground Luminosity, signaling the beginning of a new life.

19. Helping After Death

  • Helping the Dead: There are many ways to help a person who has died, such as performing spiritual practices like the phowa, reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and doing rituals like Ne Dren and Chang Chok. These practices can help guide the consciousness of the deceased to a better rebirth.

  • Importance of the Bardo Period: The first 21 days after death, known as the bardo of becoming, are the most crucial time to perform spiritual practices for the deceased, as their consciousness is more receptive to help during this period.

  • Clairvoyance of the Dead: The deceased person's consciousness in the bardo has heightened clairvoyance, which can either cause them great suffering or benefit if their loved ones' thoughts and actions are not harmonious.

  • Purification Practices: Practices like the Purification of the Six Realms and the practice of the Hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities can help purify the deceased person's negative karma and emotions, facilitating a better rebirth.

  • Cremation Practices: In Tibetan Buddhism, the cremation process is seen as a way to purify the deceased person's negative karma, with the crematorium visualized as a mandala of deities.

  • Weekly and Annual Practices: Tibetans perform regular practices and rituals for the deceased, especially on the same day of the week as their death and on the 49th day and the annual anniversary.

  • Helping the Bereaved: Providing emotional support, encouraging the bereaved to do practices for the deceased, and helping them understand the grieving process can greatly comfort those who have lost a loved one.

  • Heart Practice: The practice of invoking Padmasambhava (or another enlightened being) and filling one's heart with the nectar of great bliss can help transform suffering and grief into compassion and wisdom.

  • Accepting and Learning from Grief: Embracing one's grief, rather than trying to avoid it, can lead to greater self-understanding and the ability to help others who are suffering.

  • Completing Unfinished Business: Visualizing the deceased person and expressing forgiveness, regret, and love can help the bereaved find closure and let go of their grief.

20. The Near-Death Experience: A Staircase to Heaven?

  • Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) Reported Throughout History: The author provides historical examples of NDEs, such as the story told by the monk Bede in the 8th century, demonstrating that these experiences have been reported across various cultures and time periods.

  • Common Patterns in NDEs: The author outlines the common phases of the "core experience" of NDEs, including an altered state of peace and well-being, an out-of-body experience, awareness of another reality, encountering a light or being of light, and a life review.

  • Transformation of NDE Experiencers: The author emphasizes that the most important aspect of NDEs is the profound transformation they often bring about in the lives, attitudes, and relationships of those who have had the experience, including a loss of fear of death, increased tolerance and love, and a focus on spiritual values.

  • Similarities and Differences with Tibetan Bardo Teachings: The author explores the parallels and distinctions between NDEs and the teachings on the bardos (intermediate states) in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, such as the experience of darkness and a tunnel, the encounter with a light, and the out-of-body experience.

  • Tibetan Concept of "Deloks": The author introduces the Tibetan concept of "deloks," individuals who have had near-death-like experiences and returned to share their messages and insights with the living, drawing further connections between NDEs and Tibetan Buddhist teachings.

  • Interpretation of NDEs: The author suggests that NDEs may represent experiences within the "natural bardo of this life," where the consciousness temporarily leaves the body but does not fully enter the bardos described in Tibetan teachings, implying that NDEs are a threshold experience rather than a complete journey through the bardos.

  • Key Messages of NDEs: The author emphasizes that the central messages of NDEs, like the teachings of Buddhism, are the importance of love, compassion, wisdom, and the understanding that life and death are ultimately rooted in the mind itself.

21. The Universal Process

  • The Extent of Suffering in Tibet: Over 1 million Tibetans out of a population of 6 million have died at the hands of the Chinese occupation. The Chinese have destroyed Tibet's vast forests, massacred its wildlife, polluted its rivers and plateaus, and obliterated the majority of its monasteries, leading to the near-extinction of the Tibetan people and their culture.

  • The Realization of Masters: Highly realized beings like Longchenpa, Jamyang Khyentse, Dudjom Rinpoche, and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche have achieved the highest realization, which grants them joy, fearlessness, freedom, and understanding of the true nature of life and death.

  • The Three Kayas: The three kayas refer to the three intrinsic aspects of our enlightened mind: the Dharmakaya (the empty, unconditioned truth), the Sambhogakaya (the dimension of complete enjoyment and spontaneous energy), and the Nirmanakaya (the dimension of ceaseless manifestation).

  • The Universal Process: The threefold process of the bardos - enfoldment, spontaneous radiance, and crystallization - is not limited to the experience of death and dying, but can be observed in various levels of consciousness, such as sleep, dreams, thoughts, emotions, and everyday life.

  • Recognizing the Nature of Mind: The key to liberation is the recognition and stabilization of Rigpa, the nature of mind, which allows one to see the true nature of thoughts, emotions, and experiences, and to dissolve them back into the primordial purity of the vast expanse of Rigpa.

  • The Bardo of Dharmata: In the bardo of dharmata, the spontaneous radiance of the nature of mind manifests as sounds, lights, and rays. The crucial recognition is that these are not external phenomena, but the wisdom energy of one's own mind, and to enter into this nondual experience is liberation.

  • Parallels with Other Spiritual Traditions: The threefold process of the bardos and the three kayas show striking parallels with the Christian vision of the Trinity, the Hindu concept of Sat-Cit-Ananda, and the scientific theories of David Bohm, suggesting a universal understanding of the nature of reality.

  • The Role of Art and Creativity: Great works of art and scientific discoveries may be expressions of the Sambhogakaya, the dimension of ceaseless, luminous, blissful energy that communicates the purity and infinite meaning of the absolute to the relative world.

  • The Importance of Transforming Consciousness: The vision of wholeness and interconnectedness presented in the bardo teachings, as well as in the ideas of David Bohm, points to the necessity of transforming individual consciousness in order to bring about a fundamental change in society and the world.

22. Servants of Peace

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Desire for a Spiritual Revolution in Death and Dying: The author wants this book to inspire a "quiet revolution" in how we view and care for the dying, and in turn, how we view and care for the living. This includes introducing an "enlightened vision of death and dying" throughout the world, at all levels of education and in the medical profession.

  • Importance of Hospice Movement: The author makes a "deep plea" to governments to generously fund and encourage the creation of hospices, as they treat the dying with the dignity they deserve.

  • Potential of Tibetan Buddhist Medical Teachings: The author wants to see serious research funding poured into the "rich, as yet far too little known body of medical revelations in Tibetan Buddhism," as they may hold healing discoveries that could alleviate the suffering of diseases.

  • Preserving and Spreading Tibetan Wisdom Traditions: The author sees the fall of Tibet in 1959 as a pivotal moment when Tibetan wisdom teachings could be shared with the West. He emphasizes the importance of preserving this living tradition and returning Tibet to the Tibetan people, as it could serve as a "sanctuary for seekers of all kinds" and the "wisdom heart of an evolving world."

  • Importance of Consistent, Dedicated Spiritual Practice: The author highlights the challenge of maintaining the "calm and steady consistency" required for spiritual realization in the modern, fast-paced world. He emphasizes the need for a "continuous transmission" and ardent, long-term practice under the guidance of a master, as opposed to "chance blessings, initiations, and occasional encounters."

  • Cultivating Bodhisattva Ideal: The author's ultimate vision is to inspire the rise of "bodhisattva lawyers, bodhisattva artists and politicians," and so on - individuals who dedicate themselves to the enlightenment of all beings through their various professions and roles in society. This "conscious evolution of humanity" is the most powerful way to transform the world.


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