Stages of Death in Tibetan Buddhism

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Joined: Wed Oct 21, 2009 7:30 am

Stages of Death in Tibetan Buddhism

Post by phantom59 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 1:41 pm

The physiology of death revolves around changes in the winds, channels and
drops. Psychologically, due to the fact that consciousnesses of varying
grossness and subtlety depend on the winds, like a rider on a horse, their
dissolving or loss of ability to serve as bases of consciousness induces radical
changes in conscious experience.

Death begins with the sequential dissolution of the winds associated with the
four elements earth, water, fire and air. "Earth" refers to the hard factors of
the body such as bone, and the dissolution of the wind associated with it means
that that wind is no longer capable of serving as a mount or basis for
consciousness. As a consequence of its dissolution, the capacity of the wind
associated with "water" the fluid factors of the body to act as a mount for
consciousness becomes more manifest. The ceasing of this capacity in one element
and its greater manifestation in another is called "dissolution" it is not,
therefore, a case of gross earth dissolving into water.

1st Cycle : Dissolution of Earth Element
Internal Sign : Appearance of Mirages
a The body becomes very thin, limbs loose; sense that
body is sinking under the earth
b The limbs become smaller, body becomes weak and powerless
c The sight becomes unclear and dark
d One cannot open or close eyes
e The lustre of body diminishes; one's strength is consumed

2nd Cycle : Dissolution of Water Element
Internal Sign : Appearence of Smoke
a One's saliva, sweat, urine, blood and regenerative fluid dry greatly
b The body consciousness can no longer experience the three types of feelings
that accompany sense consciousnesses
c One is no longer mindful of the feelings accompanying the mental consciousness
d One no longer hears external or internal sounds
e The 'ur' sound in ears no longer arises

3rd Cycle : Dissolution of Fire Element
Internal Sign : Appearance of fireflies or sparks within smoke
a One cannot digest food or drink
b One is no longer mindful of affairs of close persons
c One can no longer remember the names of close persons
d The inhalation is weak and exhalation strong and lengthy
e One loses sense of smell

4th Cycle : Dissolution of Wind Element
Internal Sign : Appearence of sputtering butterlamp about to go out
a Inhalation and exhalation ceases as the ten winds move to heart;
b One cannot perform physical actions
c One is no longer mindful of external worldly activities, purposes and so forth
d The tongue becomes thick and short; root of tongue becomes blue
e One cannot experience taste
f One cannot experience smoothness or roughness

5th Cycle : Cessation of 80 Conceptions
Internal Sign : A burning butterlamp; then, clear vacuity filled with white
a Winds in right and left channels above heart enter central channel at top of

6th Cycle : Mind of white appearance
Internal Sign : A very clear vacuity filled with red light
a Winds in right and left channels below heart enter central channel at base of

7th Cycle : Mind of Red Increase
Internal Sign : Vacuity filled with red orange light
a Upper and lower winds gather at heart; then winds enter drop at heart

8th Cycle : Mind of black near attainment
Internal Sign : Vacuity filled with thick darkness as if fainting
a All winds dissolve into the very subtle life-bearing wind in the
indestructible drop at the heart

Since the outer breath ceased some time before in the fourth cycle, from this
point of view the point of actual death is related not to the cessation of the
outer breath but to the appearance of the mind of clear light. A person can
remain in this state of lucid vacuity for up to three days, after which if the
body has not been ravaged by illness the external sign of drops of red or white
liquid emerging from the nose and sexual organ occur, indicating the departure
of consciousness.

Other signs of the consciousness leaving the body are 1) when all heat has left
the area of the heart centre (in the centre of the chest), 2) the body starts to
smell or decompose, 3) a subtle awareness that the consciousness has left and
the body has become like 'an empty shell', 4) a slumping of the body in a
practitioner who has been sitting in meditation after the stopping of the
breath. Buddhists generally prefer that the body not be removed for disposal
before one or more of these signs occur, because until then the consciousness is
still in the body and any violent handling of it may disturb the end processes
of death. A Buddhist monk or nun or friend should ideally be called in before
the body is moved in order for the appropriate prayers and procedures to be
carried out.

Upon the inception of the fifth cycle the mind begins to dissolve, in the sense
that coarser types cease and subtler minds become manifest. First, conceptuality
ceases, dissolving into a mind of white appearance. This subtler mind, to which
only a vacuity filled by white light appears, is free from coarse conceptuality.
It, in turn, dissolves into a heightened mind of red appearance, which then
dissolves into a mind of black appearance. At this point all that appears is a
vacuity filled by blackness, during which the person eventually becomes
unconscious. In time this is cleared away, leaving a totally clear emptiness,
the mind of clear light free from the white, red and black appearances . This is
the final vision of death.

It is this great subtlety and clarity of the mind during the death process that
makes it so valuable to use for advanced meditation practices, and why such
emphasis is put on it in Buddhism. Advanced practitioners will often stay in the
clear light meditation for several days after the breathing has stopped,
engaging in these advanced meditations, and can achieve liberation at this time.

When the clear light vision ceases, the consciousness leaves the body and passes
through the other seven stages of dissolution (black near-attainment, red
increase etc.) in reverse order. As soon as this reverse process begins the
person is reborn into an intermediate state between lives, with a subtle body
that can go instantly wherever it likes, move through solid objects etc., in its
journey to the next place of rebirth.

The intermediate state can last from a moment to seven days, depending on
whether or not a suitable birthplace is found. If one is not found the being
undergoes a "small death", experiencing the eight signs of death as previously
described but very briefly. He/she then again experiences the eight signs of the
reverse process and is reborn in a second intermediate state. This can happen
for a total of seven births in the intermediate state making a total of 49 days
during which a place of rebirth must be found.

The "small death" that occurs between intermediate states or just prior to
taking rebirth is compared to experiencing the eight signs (from the mirage-like
vision to the clear light) when going into deep sleep or when coming out of a
dream. Similarly also, when entering a dream or when awakening from sleep the
eight signs of the reverse process are experienced.

At the time of death (clear light stage) the consciousness (very subtle mind)
leaves the body and the person takes the body of an intermediate state being.
They are in the form that they will take in their next life (some texts say the
previous life), but in a subtle rather than a gross form. As mentioned
previously, it can take up to forty-nine days to find a suitable place of
rebirth. This rebirth is propelled by karma and is uncontrolled. In effect the
karma of the intermediate state being matches that of its future parents. The
intermediate state being has the illusory appearance of its future parents
copulating. It is drawn to this place by the force of attraction to its parent
of the opposite sex, and it is this desire that causes the consciousness of the
intermediate state being to enter the fertilized ovum. This happens at or near
the time of conception and the new life has begun.

One will not necessarily be reborn as a human being. Buddhists describe six
realms of existence that one can be reborn into, these being the hell realms,
the preta (hungry ghost) realm, the animal realm, the human realm, the jealous
god (asura) realm and the god (sura) realms. One's experience in these
situations can range from intense suffering in the hell realms to unimaginable
pleasures in the god realms. But all of these levels of existence are regarded
as unsatisfactory by the spiritual practitioner because no matter how high one
goes within this cyclic existence, one may one day fall down again to the lower
realms of existence. So the aim of the spiritual practitioner is to develop
his/her mind to the extent where a stop is put to this uncontrolled rebirth, as
mentioned previously. The practitioner realises that all six levels of existence
are ultimately in the nature of suffering, so wishes to be free of them forever.

Posts: 1486
Joined: Wed Oct 21, 2009 7:30 am

Summary : Stages of Death in Tibetan Buddhism

Post by phantom59 » Tue Aug 16, 2011 4:29 pm

The first subtle mind of death is the mind perceiving a white appearance. When this appearance ceases, the mind has become more subtle and perceives a red appearance. This mind again becomes more subtle and transforms into the mind of black near-attainment, to which only black appears. At this stage it is as if the dying person has no memory. Since there is no physical movement, no heartbeat, and no movement in the channels, some people think that this is the end of dying; but in fact the consciousness has not yet left the body. The mind of black near-attainment transforms into the most subtle mind perceiving the clear light of death, a clear bright appearance like the light of dawn. This is the sign that the most subtle mind that resides within the indestructible drop at the heart has manifested and all other minds have ceased to manifest. Then the indestructible drop opens, and its white and red parts separate, releasing the consciousness, which immediately departs from the body. The white drop descends through the central channel to emerge through the tip of the sex organ, and the red drop ascends through the central channel to emerge through the nostrils. When this happens it is the sign that the consciousness has left the body and the process of dying has ended.

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