Talk Two - Practices and Teachings to Prepare for Death
Meditation, and the Development of Proper Perspective: Practices to Prepare You for Death
If you sincerely practice the teachings of hearing, contemplating and meditating, these teachings will lodge in your sub-conscious body-mind matrix and they will arise when you need them the most. They will come to bear when everything else falls apart. Their benefits lodge in your formless mind and this is what you can take with you when you die.
It is like installing a psychic GPS which will allow you to get oriented when you die. It can provide a very elegant and sophisticated map that can help you negotiate the territory when it unfolds at the moment of death and beyond.
Mindfulness will act as a spiritual lifeline that you can hold onto after death. Meditation facilitates having a bigger, more spacious mind. Elizabeth Namgyal, in the book “the Power of an Open Question” refers to meditation as “habituation to open-ness.” For Buddhist, open-ness in this context refers to emptiness. Habituation to space. Thrungpa Rinpoche once said that space is a Buddhist’s version of God. Mixing our mind with space.
Much of our suffering comes from our inability to accommodate experience. It is when we say no to experience. It is when there is not enough space in our minds. Contracted and self defensive minds are like a small shot glass. Think of an experience as a teaspoon of salt. If you toss that salt into the glass, it is going to profoundly effect that small bit of water. But take that same teaspoon and throw it into Lake Michigan, it will have little effect. So, that is what the spiritual path is all about; transforming your mind from a shot glass to Lake Michigan. When experiences arise in the mind of the Buddha, they are like campfire sparks in the night. They leave no trace.
Shamatha, or calm abiding meditation, is a fundamental form of mindfulness meditation. If we cultivate proficiency in this one practice alone, it will act as a spiritual lifeline that we can hold onto during the bardos, and that will guide us through their perilous straits.
Mindfulness is initially cultivated by practicing “shamatha with form,” or referential shamatha. This type of shamatha uses the reference of the body, 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 stability becomes our primary refuge.
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. Shamatha with form develops into formless shamatha. This is the ability to rest your mind on whatever arises, not just a specified form. Formless, or non-referential, 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 nothing steady to refer to. At this groundless point, instead of mentally thrashing about trying to find 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.
Despite the complexity of the bardos, the meditations which prepare us for them don’t need to be complex. Simplicity and relaxation are two key instructions for the bardos. Don’t underestimate the power of mindfulness.
The Indian master Naropa said:
“Since the consciousness [in the bardo] has no support, it is difficult to stabilize mindful intention. But if one can maintain mindfulness, traversing the path will be trouble-free. Meditating for one session in that intermediate state may be liberating.”
One of the best preparations for death is learning to accept it, and to be fully present for it. Being fully present is the essence of mindfulness. Because death isn’t comfortable, it’s difficult to be with. As Woody Allen said: “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Most of us aren’t there for our deaths, and therefore make it more difficult. To get a feel for this, recall how hard it is to be fully present when you’re sick. Most of us just want out.
In addition to meditation as being an amazing preparation for death, we can also prepare by developing perspective. Contemplating such things as:
- 108 billion people have already walked on this planet in recorded history
- Around 150,000 to 200,000 people die per day
- Around 380,000 people are born everyday.
- Every day 267 people will die and 109 will be born
These statistics and a lot more like it are on the website Poodwaddle.com
As Trungpa Rinpoche said, “The universe will not blink when you die.”
- The Milky Way galaxy has 200-600 billion other suns
- The Milky Way is but one of 100-200 billion other galaxies. (Recent research now suggests the number is actually 2 trillion. )
- 95% of the universe is still unknown to us
“Since the consciousness [in the bardo] has no support, it is difficult to stabilize mindful intention. But if one can maintain mindfulness, traversing the path will be trouble-free. Meditating for one session in that intermediate state may be liberating.” – Naropa
“I’ve never seen a hearse with a luggage rack” – A country song