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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
summer 2007| 28 |buddhadharma enough, or just enough, to get by and escape those experiences – you must go through the inter- val called the painful bardo of dying. It is said to be painful because at the time of the dissolution of the elements, when we begin to lose contact with the appearances of this life, we experience some degree of physical and psychological pain and suffering. At the time of our death, we may become over- whelmed by feelings of sadness, fear, and pain. What is the source of that pain and suffering? Its origin is our attachment – our grasping at and holding on to the appearances of this life. We are simply unwilling to let go of them, whether our attachment is to our spouse, family, home, work, wealth, or reputation. That is the primary cause for the pain of this bardo. Even now, when we reflect on death, we may feel that fear and attachment. Whenever these feelings arise, we can remind ourselves again and again that such emotions are of no help to us. If we find ourselves lingering in these states, we can recall that we are not the only ones dying. Every- one who has taken birth will die. Everyone who was born long ago has died. Everyone living in the present is dying now or will die. Everyone who will be born in the future will also die. No one is left behind to go on living. We cannot find anyone who is 2,500 years old. We might live a long time; perhaps we will live past a hundred years, but then we will be gone. If it were the case that no one but you had to die, that no one but you were to be punished by death, then of course it would be reasonable to feel sadness or fear. You could say, “Why only me?” However, even though we know this is not the case, when death approaches we continue to ask, “Why me?” and “Why now?” Since there is no one who we can tell us how long we have to live, the point is to be ready. In first aid training, we learn emergency tech- niques like CPR so that when a crisis comes, we are prepared to save someone’s life. Similarly, if we receive a call that tells us our death is approach- ing, we need to be ready with these instructions; we must be ready to use the tools in our first aid kit as effectively and as forcefully as we can. That is the whole purpose of working with the instruc- tions on the bardo. If we can let go of our attachment, then this bardo is no longer the “painful” bardo of dying. It is simply “the bardo of dying,” which we can then experience clearly. But if not, then our minds are so overwhelmed by our clinging and grasping that we miss the whole experience. We lose our oppor- tunity to notice what is actually taking place; we overlook each occurrence of the manifestation of the nature of mind. Then we are unable to take the experience of this bardo fully onto the path. In order to counteract this tendency and create a more positive situation, we can practice letting go of our attachment to this lifetime. When we look closely at our attachment, we see that it is nothing more than habituation. We have developed certain patterns that we persist in, patterns of clinging and grasping that have become so entrenched and solidified that we have ceased to notice them. Therefore, we have to reorient our- selves; we have to habituate ourselves to a new way of relating to our experience that will help undo our old patterns and extricate us from our attach- ment. The most effective means for doing this is to become habituated to the practice of mindfulness and awareness. Thus, it is important to remind ourselves repeatedly to apply this practice in every situation. We don’t wait until we are sitting on our meditation cushion. If that were the case, then a lot of time would be wasted. If we can undo our habitual clinging and attach- ment now, in this lifetime, then we can transcend the suffering of this bardo. Preparing For Death When we see that the time of our death is approach- ing, coming closer and closer, we can prepare our- selves by making the aspiration to remain calm. We can tell ourselves, “Now death is coming. It is my time to die. This is a very important moment for me.” At this point, we should focus on our inten- tion instead of thinking about things left undone or ways to extend our life. Once the moment of death has arrived for us, no matter how desperate we may be to prolong our life, nothing can be done. Nobody can alter our karma; we have no choice but to follow it. What will help us is to begin preparing for that moment now by setting a firm intention to meet our death with calmness and mindfulness. We pre- pare ourselves mentally by becoming familiar with the stages of death, and then affirming our inten- tion to remain calm and present, alert and mindful, throughout these stages. It is very important to give rise to this aspiration now and to train in it; then, at the time of death, it is essential to reaffirm that aspiration and to maintain our motivation, our one-pointed determination, to remain in a peace- ful yet alert state of mind. At the same time, we must understand that our intention will be interrupted at times by pain and fear, so it is important to reinstate our inten- tion again and again. Sometimes we think that doing something once is enough. For example, we may have taken the bodhisattva vow and gen- erated bodhichitta – the aspiration to liberate all beings – at that time. We may think that is enough, but it is not. We need to generate that aspiration every day, and not just every day, but at least three We prepare ourselves mentally by becoming familiar with the stages of death, and then affirming our intention to remain calm and present, alert and mindful, throughout these stages.