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Buddhadharma : Fall 2013
FALL 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 57 by embracing every moment with mindfulness now. Replace opposition with equanimity. As Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says, when we are a dying person, we should be a dying person fully. Don’t try to be a living person when living is not what’s happening. Mindfulness is initially cultivated by practic- ing shamatha with form, or referential shamatha. This type of shamatha uses the reference of the body, the breath, or an object to steady the mind. The idea is to use a stable form—while we still have one—as a way to stabilize the mind. When physical stability disappears at death, mental sta- bility becomes our primary refuge. When we die, the anchor of the body is cut away and the mind is set free. If we’re not pre- pared for this freedom, we may panic. Imagine being tossed out of a rocket into outer space. The ensuing freak-out impels us to grasp at any- thing that can reestablish a sense of ground. Like catching ourselves just before taking a bad spill on a patch of ice, we reflexively reach out to grab on to anything that keeps us from falling. This grasping reflex can spur us to take on an unfortu- nate form—and therefore an unfortunate rebirth. The fruition of shamatha is the ability to rest your mind on any object for as long as you wish, and to do so without distraction. Wherever you plop your awareness it stays there, like a beanbag hitting the ground. Shamatha with form develops into formless shamatha. This is the ability to rest your mind on whatever arises, not just a specified form. You take off the training wheels and ride smoothly on top of anything. Formless, or nonreferential, shamatha is important because when the body drops away at death, we no longer have any stable forms upon which to place our mindfulness. There’s noth- ing steady to refer to. At this groundless point, instead of mentally thrashing about trying to find Fixating on the idea of a “good death” can paradoxically prevent one. a form to grasp, formless shamatha allows us to rest on any experience without being swept away. It’s not a problem if we don’t have a body to come back to. We simply place our mind on whatever is happening and gain stability from that. Formless shamatha is a lifesaver that keeps us from drown- ing in a bewildering ocean of experience. The simplicity of mindfulness belies its pro- fundity. It is the gateway to immortality. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “If by eternity is understood not endless temporal dura- tion but timelessness, then he lives eternally who lives in the present.” Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Padmasam- bhava agree. They taught the four ways to relate to the experience of time, emphasizing the fourth moment. The first three moments relate to the conventional experiences of past, present, and future. The fourth moment is timeless, and there- fore immortal. It’s beyond the first three. The fourth moment is the immediate experience of the bardo of dharmata, which transcends time and space. We don’t have to die to experience the deathless dharmata. It lies quietly between each thought—not just between each life. Even though it transcends the first three moments, the only way to enter the fourth moment is through the inlet of the present. Nowness, in other words, is the funnel into eternity. B.K.S. Iyengar, the modern yoga mas- ter, says, “The yogi learns to forget the past and takes no thought for the morrow. He lives in the eternal present.” If you can’t see this in the gap between your thoughts, you can get a feel for it when you’re immersed in an activity. If you’re one hundred percent present, whether it’s playing with your kids, being at a great concert, or engrossed in work, time seems to stand still. You may come out of such an experience, look at the clock, and be startled by how much time has flown by. ANDREW HOLECEK completed a traditional three-year retreat in 2003 under the direction of Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. He teaches widely on medita- tion, dream yoga, and death, and is the author of The Power and the Pain. This article is adapted from his latest book, Preparing to Die, published by Snow Lion.