How to Understand Cause and Effect

generosity

We don’t have any real way to understand direct cause and effect relationships.  And for that reason, we cannot really seem to understand how to create the causes of happiness. A good example is this: If we experience perhaps chronic poverty, we may think that the way to end this chronic poverty is to struggle against it. To work very hard at getting money any way that you can, to beg, borrow, or steal literally. To work very hard at a very high paying job in order to get money. What we won’t understand is that probably whatever we do within that realm of activity will have temporary result at best. It may work for a period of time. Then again, it may not. I know people who work hard and can’t seem to get anywhere. Or it may be that it works very well for a certain period of time. But, even while it works very well and you have money, the consciousness is such that you still feel impoverished. You can’t enjoy it. You can’t get anywhere with it. You can’t use it for any good result. It simply sits. And to all intensive purposes you are still impoverished. It’s very difficult to understand how it is that these cause and effect relationships play themselves out.

Now, according to the Buddha’s teaching, if you have a great deal of affluence at this time, if that is easy for you, then what has actually occurred is that in the past you have accumulated a great deal of merit through generosity, through generosity, through giving to others. And that is why, in this lifetime, it is easy for you to accumulate money, or easy for you to enjoy money, or easy for you to feel wealthy even if you don’t have much money. It is easy for you to feel that you have plenty, enough. That you’re just fine. Either inwardly or outwardly, you are prosperous. This is a hard lesson to take in. Because we want to feel that this personality and this lifetime was responsible for doing something in a very competent way in order to achieve these excellent results. But, according to the Buddha, in many cases prosperity is the result of generosity, in fact in all cases, prosperity is the result of generosity. And a person who is chronically impoverished is a person who has not been generous and continues to not be generous with their resources, with their time, and in their hearts. The Buddha teaches us the antidote to poverty is not getting money any way you can. But that the antidote to poverty is kindness and generosity and putting out in order to benefit others.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Examining Cause and Effect

06timewindow

How can it be that we’ve had so little result?  Well it isn’t true that we’ve had no result. We have had temporary happiness. We’ve all had that. Probably we feel pretty good right now. Probably we felt all right when we got up this morning. But we feel differently every day, and really every moment. And sometimes we are even afraid to think that we’re really happy, because we know that right behind that happiness, right behind that, is another mood change. And you know that it’s not lasting.

How we can have managed to continue in such an effortful way? How is it that we maintain this extreme effortfulness? And what’s the answer? What should we do? First of all, we have to begin to cultivate some understanding. According to the Buddha’s teaching, every condition that we experience in our lives, including the most subtle inner conditions, that is to say, our own impressions and feelings and subtle inner posturing—that very, very subtle stuff that seems so wispy, seems to change all the time with every catalyst that appears in our lives—from that kind of subtle condition to the most seemingly permanent, gross, outer condition, such as the house we live in, the nation that we live in, the community that we live in, the world that we live in, the Buddha teaches us that every one of those conditions that we experience actually arises through the interdependence of cause and effect relationships. Every condition with no exception. Even the condition of how you appear physically. Now, of course you have some control in that matter. You can diet and become thin. You can put on makeup and become better looking. You can take off makeup and become either better or worse looking depending on how well you apply makeup. You can gain weight. You can do different kinds of juggling in order to make yourself appear more attractive through wearing different clothing, or what have you. But there are some things about which it seems that we have no control. For instance, the genetic tendency of our body to be in a certain way. Some people are shorter than others; some are taller. Some have a tendency towards a more squat body form; and others have a tendency towards a very lanky body form. These things seem to be beyond our control. We can look at our parents and our grandparents, and it seems as though we have the same genetic structure as them. It seems as though we have not much control over that. But, according to the Buddha, even such things as those that appear to be handed to us from the time of our birth, even such things as genetic predisposition, these are the result of karma.

What are the conditions of living? Do we live in a beautiful house? Do we live in a happy and harmonious family situation? Do we own property? Are we impoverished? What are the conditions of our lives? It seems we have control over some of them. There are many books out now that tell us we can all become millionaires  through a certain amount of effort if you follow this very simple ten point program starting with the investment of a few thousand dollars. And for some people I’m sure that kind of program has worked. And yet, there are some conditions in our lives that are seemingly unbeatable.

For instance, what if,  personality-wise, we don’t seem to have that certain mindset that permits us to engage in that kind of activity? And then again, what if we don’t want to? Some feel chronically defeated and have always felt so, and they never take aggressive moves towards gaining whatever it is that they want. But other people seem to have to do nothing and happiness comes to them, or prosperity comes to them. There are so many conditions in our lives that seem controllable and they’re mixed in with conditions that seem uncontrollable. How are we to understand that?

Well, the Buddha teaches us that we have at best a very partial, very minimal understanding of cause and effect relationships. It’s actually quite minimal. And the reason why is that there is very little cause and effect unfolding that we can actually see. The Buddha tells us that we’ve lived many more than one lifetime. Therefore, if we’ve lived a hundred years already, we have only one tiny, tiny window of time in which to judge our experience. But that window of time actually has a very exacting beginning and a very exacting ending; and it’s very difficult to understand what has come before and what will come after. There are certain elements that we can view within that window of time, and we can gain some understanding. It has been my experience that usually as people mature and as they become older, they have gained enough life experience not to make certain kinds of mistakes again and again and again. Now, in some cases I think it might be that we’re just too tired and old to make those mistakes again and again and again. But in other cases I think there’s a true learning that has actually occurred, and I’m really not sure what the proportions are.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo.  All rights reserved

The Seven Branch Offering: Commentary by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The Seven Branch Offering

The following commentary was extracted from a teaching given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche at Kunzang Palyul Choling in 2001 on the occasion of offering the Bodhisattva Vow. To see the verses of the ceremony for the Bodhisattva Vow to which His Holiness was referring you can click here.

From Words of My Perfect Teacher:

The Vajrayana path includes many methods and is without great hardships. It is intended for those with sharp faculties. If we constantly train ourselves to accumulate merit and wisdom with a strong mind, everything that would otherwise take a whole great kalpa to accumulate through the six paramitas can be accomplished in an instant, and liberation can be attained in a single lifetime.

There can be no doubt that the single most excellent, secret and insurpassable field of merit is the vajra master. This is why the practice of accumulating merit is combined with the Guru Yoga. The seven parts of the Offering of the Seven Branches include all the innumerable methods for accumulation of merit and wisdom.

 

Prostrations:

The branch of prostrations is a remedy for arrogance.  Sometimes we have arrogance; we feel we are more qualified then the masters and teachers.  So, this is a remedy to remove the arrogance.

Offering:

After the prostrations to the Buddhas, bodhisattvas and all disciples, you now have to make offerings to them..  Imagine all the things in the universe as an offering, which is a very good offering.  All the offerings will be the sacred flowers and the sacred garlands and musical instruments, perfumes, superior parasols, superior butter lamps, superior incense. All these things will be the offering.  Just imagine you are offering them. So, this is the offering.  This is the remedy for attachment to our belongings.

Confession:

Now comes purification of negative actions.  We have to purify the negative actions by thinking negative actions are like poisons that are inside your stomach.  Also, you make a commitment that you will not do those mistakes or bad negative actions again.  Also, you think that in order to purify all the negative actions that are in this world that are done by other sentient beings, I am doing these purification prayers. This is the remedy for removing anger.

Rejoicing:

We have to rejoice in the accumulations of merits done by other beings. This is the antidote for jealousy.  Sometimes we feel jealous of other beings that practice.  In order to remove the jealousy, we have to rejoice in whatever practice they are doing.  This is the remedy for that action.

Requesting Enlightened Beings to Teach:

The next stanza is requesting the enlightened beings to teach.  We request them to teach because sometimes when they come here for the purpose of teachings, they feel kind of upset when they find the bad reactions of the people.  So they feel upset and don’t want to teach.  So we have to request them to teach.  That is how we are requesting it.

This is the remedy for ignorance, thinking the teaching is nothing, thinking the teaching will not have any result.  This chanting will remove the ignorance.

Enlightenment depends on the understanding of the teachings.  Without teachings, there is no way of getting enlightened.  But some people, those who don’t know, who aren’t in favor of the teachings, then they don’t really see the teaching as worthwhile.  They criticize the teachings and those who do the teaching.

Requesting Enlightened Beings to Remain:

The reason why enlightened beings pass away is that they want to show human beings that enlightened beings are very real and they don’t last long if we are not very careful.  So, we have to request them to remain as long as possible to turn the Wheel of the Dharma.  This is the request to remain with a long life.

This is the remedy of wrong view of Buddhas.  Some people think the Buddha is nothing, just a liar.  So, they have a lot of wrong views of Buddhas.  This way of chanting will remove the wrong view of Buddha.

Dedication:

The last one is a short form of all the seven branches of practice.  It’s an offering.  This is the dedication of the merit that you have accumulated.  You have to dedicate all the merit accumulated by other beings to other beings.  In order to get enlightened you have to dedicate the merit.

This is the remedy for doubt.  Sometimes we have doubt whether it is true or not.  This way of chanting will remove or clarify our doubt.

Four Thoughts That Turn the Mind

wheel of life 2

The following is an excerpt from “Buddha in the Palm of the Hand” Nam Chö Ngondro revealed by Terton Migyur Dorje:

PAL KUNTUZANGPO LA CHAG TSAL LO
I prostrate to the glorious Samantabhadra

DAL JOR DI NI SHIN TU NYED PAR KA
This precious human birth is extremely difficult to obtain.

CHI DANG CHI LA KYE KYANG MI TAG CHI
All things born are impermanent and must die

GE WA CHÖ LA BED NA SANGYE GYU
If one perseveres in virtuous Dharma, this is the cause for becoming Buddha.

DIG PA GANG CHE DE TA’I RIG DRUG KHYAM
Whatever negativity is produced will cause one to wander in the six realms.

YI DAG TRE KOM DÜD DRO LUN PO DANG
Hungry spirits suffer from hunger and thirst, animals from stupidity,

NYAL WA TSHA DRANG MIKYE GE NA CHI
Hell beings from heat and cold, humans from birth, old age, sickness and death,

LHA MIN THAB TSÖD LHA YI DUD NGAL YÖD
Jealous gods from warfare, and even gods (Devas) also have their own suffering.

Peerless Guru: His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

PenorRinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Love Now, Dzogchen Later”

At the same time I first got to know His Holiness and we began to actually have conversations,  I was talking a great deal to Gyaltrul Rinpoche, because I met him soon after that visit. But I remember first learning about Dzogchen, not from my teachers, but from other students, which was kind of horrible. I kept hearing the term. I questioned; I tried to find out what it was. I tried to read some books. I asked my teachers, and His Holiness particularly said, “Soon I’ll give you plenty of explanation so you will understand.” And I questioned. Actually I didn’t question His Holiness, but I questioned Gyaltrul Rinpoche, “ Why is it then that some people are talking about Dzogchen, but His Holiness seems to be holding back on Dzogchen.” And at that time Gyaltrul Rinpoche told me, “Well, you should ask him directly; but from the conversations I’ve had with him, Americans are not ready for Dzogchen. He says that they are, you know, too prideful, too arrogant. They don’t really understand the benefit. It would be like throwing something precious on the ground where it can’t be used, for instance, like a seed. You would want to throw it into fertile ground or put it into fertile ground. You wouldn’t want to put it on, you know, a highway where it’s never going to sprout.”

So that was the explanation I got, and I was satisfied with that. But then later on I kept seeing that more and more, particularly in Dudjom Rinpoche’s lineage, they were always talking about Dzogchen this and Dzogchen that. And if you didn’t know Dzogchen, they thought you were a little silly. You know, they didn’t think you were quite there. So I persisted in trying to find out. And His Holiness reiterated again and again,   “You have to get the preliminaries. You have to build a foundation. Americans are not ready.” For quite a number of years, even though His Holiness returned here many times, he did not want to give out Dzogchen. And it was like that until he set up the summer program in New York where you could go Shedra style—step by step, stage by stage, from one level to the other. When he did that, he kind of reversed his direction in a sense, because he was real hesitant to give Dzogchen and really held back for a long time. And then suddenly he was offering it; and I remember thinking, ‘Well, students will have to go stage by stage no matter what.’ You know, they’ll have to do like in India where if a student wants to go to level 3, he has to graduate from level 2. That sort of thing.

And then I heard that His Holiness had totally opened it up where he left it to the student in conference with the teacher there to decide what practice, to say what practice they had accomplished and what they had done. And if you receive Year 2 the year before, you could always go on to Year 3 unless you were having terrible obstacles. You could always go on to Year 3, and then the next. It’s kind of like the “No child left behind.” No Dharma student left behind here. I remember at that time being completely blown away by that. I was so completely blown away because it was such a reversal for him, such a change.  And I tried to seek the reason for that. His Holiness had switched his tone so thoroughly. He was saying, “Not much time left.”  And, of course, that scared me. I thought he meant for him. “No, it’s not like that,” he said. “No, not much time left for sentient beings.”

And so, that was his decision. He is peerless. There is no lama like him. There is no lama that can top him in any way. He is extraordinary. He is a living Buddha. I mean he is extremely orthodox and yet extremely flexible, an unbelievable combination,  because with orthodoxy comes dogma and rigidity. He is fully qualified and fully able to be the head of his lineage and to steer the course of this great ship, the Buddhadharma. Yet, he is completely flexible.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

Relative Bodhicitta: HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse

The following is respectfully quoted from “Enlightened Courage” by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

If I do not give away
My happiness for others’ pain,
Buddhahood will never be attained.
And even in samsara, joy will fly from me.

Enlightenment will be ours when we are able to care for others as much as we now care for ourselves, and ignore ourselves to the same extent we now ignore others. Even if we had to remain in samsara, we should be free from sorrow. For as I have said, when the great Bodhisattvas gave away their heads and limbs, they felt no sadness at the loss of them.

Once, in one of his previous lifetimes, the Buddha was a universal monarch whose custom it was to give away his wealth without regret. He refused nothing to those who came to beg from him, and his fame spread far and wide. One day, a wicked brahmin beggar came before the king and addressed him, saying, “Great king, I am ugly to look upon, while you are very handsome; please give me your head.” And the king agreed. Now his queens and ministers had been afraid that he might do this, and making hundreds of heads out of gold, silver, and precious stones, they offered them to the beggar.

“Take these heads,” they pleaded. “Do not ask the king for his.”

“Heads made of jewels are of no use to me,” the beggar replied. “I want a human head.” And he refused to take them.

Eventually they could no longer deter him from seeing the king.

The king said to him, “I have sons and daughters, queens, and a kingdom, but no attachment do I have for any of them. I will give you my head at the foot of the tsambaka tree in the garden. If I can give you my head today, I shall have completed the Bodhisattva act of giving my head for the thousandth time.”

And so, at the foot of the tree, the king took off his clothes, tied his hair to a branch, and cut off his head. At that moment, darkness covered the earth, and from the sky came the sound of the gods weeping and lamenting so loudly that even human beings could hear them. The queens, princes, and ministers all fell speechless to the ground. Then Indra, the lord of the gods, appeared and said, “O king, you are a Bodhisattva and have even given away your head, but here I have the life restoring ambrosia of the gods. Let me anoint you with it and bring you back to life.”

Now, the king was indeed a Bodhisattva, and even though his head had been cut off and sent away, his mind was still present, and he replied that he had no need of Indra’s life-restoring ambrosia, for he could replace his head simply by the force of his own prayers.

Indra begged him to do so, and the king said: “If in all those thousand acts of giving my head away beneath the tsambaka tree there was nothing but the aim of benefiting others, unstained by any trace of self seeking–if I was without resentment or regret, then may my head be once again restored. But if regrets there were, or evil thoughts, or intentions not purely for the sake of others, then may my head remain cut off.” No sooner had the king said this than there appeared on his shoulders a new head identical to the first, which had been taken away by the brahmin. Then all the queens, princes, and ministers rejoiced and administered the kingdom in accordance with the Dharma.

For those who can practice generosity like this, there is no suffering at all. Enlightened teachers, Bodhisattvas, come into the world to accomplish the welfare of beings, and even when they are ignored by people in the grip of desire, anger, and ignorance, who stir up obstacles and difficulties, the thought of giving up never occurs to them and they are totally without anger or resentment. As it is said:

To free yourself from harm
And others from their sufferings,
Give away yourself for others;
Guard others as you would protect yourself.

The Meditation Upon the Four Immeasurable

meditation

The following is respectfully quoted from “Buddha in the Palm of the Hand” Nam Chö Terma Revelation by Terton Migyur Dorje:

MA NAM KHA DANG NYAM PAI SEM CHEN THAM CHED
May all motherly sentient beings equal to space

DEWA DANG DEWAI GYU DANG DEN PAR GYUR CHIG
Achieve happiness and the causes of happiness

DUG NGAL DANG DUG NGAL GYI GYU DANG DRAL WAR GYUR CHIG
May they be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

DUG NGAL MED PAI DEWA DAM PA DANG MI DRAL WAR GYUR CHIG
May all never be separated from the sacred happiness which is sorrowless

NYER RING CHAG DANG DANG TRAL WAI TANG NYOM CHEN POI NGANG LA
And free from the partiality of attachment and aversion. May they live believing in

NEI PAR GYUR CHIG
The equality of all that lives.

Sending and Receiving:

While exhaling from both nostrils, consider that all of one’s merit and the root of all virtue

Is sent forth to all parent sentient beings who equally receive it. Meditate that all sentient beings

Experience immeasurable happiness.

Commentary on the Bodhisattva Vow: HH Penor Rinpoche – Our Kind Parents

mother and child

The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

[The second way to adjust one’s intention in order to be in harmony with the special feature of this instruction is through] developing attraction to enlightenment. According to this tradition, what leads one to develop an attraction to enlightenment is the cultivation of love for all beings, which begins by contemplating the suffering of cyclic existence and then cultivating repulsion and weariness [toward that existence].

Think about all living beings that at some time or another, throughout the course of innumerable past lifetimes, have been your own kind father or mother. Consider how a mother will anything for her child–even give her own life, without hesitation. Consider how all living beings have been that kind to you at some time in the past–not just once, but countless times, in countless different circumstances and situations over the course of countless lifetimes since beginningless time. Consider also that to not think carefully about repaying this kindness, and thereby to go through your life without the intention to truly benefit parent sentient beings, and so to actually ignore them, is truly shameless.

Many people in the West may think, “Wait a minute! My parents were not very kind to me. In fact, we are not even close, and I don’t even like them, so why should I feel that I need to repay their kindness now?” If that is what you think, then take a moment to think about how you acquired your body. Is it not due to the kindness of your parents that you have your precious human body? From the time your consciousness entered the union of your father’s seed and your mother’s egg, your mother carried you in her own body. Her body nurtured you as you grew within it. Then with pain and difficulty she gave birth to you. Her kindness did not just stop there: for many years she cared for you and lovingly fed, cleaned, clothed, and wiped you; she provided shelter and cared for you when you were sick, and thus she protected you and looked out for you constantly. If you think you don’t need to repay the kindness of your parents, just remind yourself of those events, which you were the recipient of time and time again.

If that still does not change your attitude, so that you still do not understand the kindness your parents showed you, then think about your body, the gift of your body, which is who you are; your parents gave you that. Because your parents showed you the great kindness of giving you your body, your precious life, here you are. Sure you had the causes for your precious human rebirth, but without parents you wouldn’t have your body. And if you didn’t have your body, you wouldn’t be able to receive these vows.

In our present state of ignorance, we have an inability to recognize that all beings have been our parents in the past, and we certainly don’t know what the particular situations and circumstances of those lifetimes were. Nonetheless, it is certain that we have had countless sentient beings as our parents over and over again in countless past lives. The truth is, at the present time we just do not recognize that.

Imagine you are on the bank of a river with your mother and suddenly she falls in and is being carried away by the rushing water. There you stand on the bank, watching that happen. What would you do? Would you do something to try to save her, such as throw out a rope? Or would your turn your back and walk away rather than risk your own life? Would you be concerned for her, or would your concern be only for yourself? The intention of hearers and solitary realizers can be likened to the later case, while the intention of Mahayana practitioners can be likened to the former. While it is important to develop attraction toward peace, you should never, for any reason, be attracted to the quiescence of the hearers and solitary realizers.

Transforming Appearances Into Dharma

Longchen_Rabjam

The following is respectfully quoted from “Drops of Nectar” as translated by Rigzod Editorial Committee of the Ngagyur Nyingma Institute:

Chapter II
Transforming Appearances into the Dharma

Again at this time, having brought forth strong renunciation and disenchantment with my own and other’s perceptions and the activities of this present life, I sing this song of the points of training.

On the great plane of the ground of all experience, which has no beginning and end,
An ignorant person wanders about with the feet of grasping and fixation,
Oppressed by the suffering of boundless samsara.
Mistaken one, to you I now offer this advice!

Without contemplating the suffering of cyclic existence,
Renunciation and disenchantment with it will have no time to develop;
Without contemplating the difficulty of achieving the freedoms and favors,
There will be no time for joy and inspiration in the sacred Dharma to come forth.

If you do not constantly contemplate death,
Heartfelt Dharma practice will never occur.
If you do not regard the benefits of liberation,
There will be no time of achieving unsurpassed enlightenment.

Without contemplating the causes and effects of virtue and evil,
the white and the black,
You’ll have no time to grasp what to adopt and what to abandon, what is Dharma and what is not.
Without casting off the activities of this life,
You’ll have no time to accomplish the sacred Dharma for the life to come.

If heartfelt renunciation is not born within your mind-stream
There will never be time to give up distractions and diversions.
Without toppling, down to its foundation stone, the wall of amicable relationships,
There will be no time for the mind that is too attached to others to end.

Without leaving behind all deluded activities at one go,
Although you’re busy day and night, you’ll never have time to recognize.
If you don’t always keep humbly a low position,
You’ll never have time to tame your unwholesome mindstream.

Please pursue this excellent permanent aim from today!

The first virtue is to develop the mind of renunciation and weariness,
The second virtue is to abandon concerns for this present life,
The third virtue is to maintain the examples of the holy masters.
This is upholding the permanent domain of Dharmakaya, the permanent domain of the Victorious Ones!

From the Vajra Song of Instructions for Rousing Myself (Longchen Rabjam), this completes the second chapter of transforming appearances into the Dharma. 

What is a “Good Death”

dying

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a Phowa retreat:

While there are individual experiences in the bardo of dying, let’s talk about the general ones so that we can prepare. Since we are talking about the six bardos, in general, we want to be very clear on the bardo of the moment of death, and that’s the last subject that we will cover today. It is a very, very important one, because we are all, in our way, preparing for death and we will all definitely experience death.

So, first of all, the bardo of the moment of death. We have talked about the point preceding death. Preceding death there is a period of time during which—and a person may or may not know—one has met with the conditions that will bring about the death. Now for those people who have a disease, a heart disease, or AIDS, or some disease that is degenerative or progressive in some way, the moment that the disease occurred to them was the moment that they entered into another bardo. Although it is still contained within the bardo of living, it is the bardo that preceeds death. What we’re talking about now is the actual bardo of the moment of death. That is when death is marked; it can be seen from the outside, and it actually occurs.

Before I begin I want to make something very clear. We have funny ideas about death. We have some terrible ideas about death. First of all, we’re scared to death of death. That’s the truth. I really didn’t mean to make a pun, it sort of happened that way. But we are scared of death, we are terrified of death, and it’s because we are unprepared. That’s the only reason to be afraid of death. And preparation, as it happens, will dispel the fears of death. I even think that during this week some of your fears of death may be dispelled, because you will be better prepared. But, in truth, until that time, we are terrified of death, and that is the main feeling we have about it. We do not understand death.  We think that death is a horrible, sort of killing thing that we have to go through, and that the best way to go through it is unconscious. That’s the kind of idea we have. People often will actually pray, “Let me die in my sleep. Let me die unknowing that I’m going through the death experience.” And there are other people that say, “Let me die quickly.” Well, for my money, I would like to be one of the fortunate ones who know for some period of time before their death that they have caught the cause of their death or that they have the cause of their death. For my money, that’s what I wish would happen to me if I were an ordinary sentient being. If I were in that position where I was caught in samsara—and we all feel that way, we all are—I would wish to have preparation time. I would wish to know beforehand.

Those of us who are aging gradually and staying clear and in good health through the aging process, we are fortunate, because our minds are clear; and yet we can clearly see in the mirror that we are approaching this time. Clearly we are not the same person we were ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago. Clearly that is true.  We have pictures to prove it. These people are fortunate. We are fortunate. Because seeing the evidence of death approaching, we have time to prepare. Yes, we have to experience the discomfort of knowing that death is approaching, but it’s like going into the room, turning on the light, and seeing exactly where the stuff is so you can get around it. Remember we used that analogy early today, of walking through a room with all kinds of furniture. You want to do it when the light is on; you want to know how not to stumble. So this is what we are experiencing if we can prepare for our death.

Particularly, think about the tremendous suffering of diseases like AIDS. We talk about the tremendous suffering of something like that; and the biggest and most horrible part of it is that we die younger than we would have died if we did not have the disease. And that’s how we think about it. And yet, a disease like that gives us an opportunity. In a way, it is half of a blessing. In a way, it is the quintessential suffering of cyclic existence, couldn’t be worse. It is, in a nutshell, what cyclic existence actually is when you take away the barbiturate effect that it has on us. Yet, in another way, it is a way to understand —you understand clearly as never before—that death is imminent. There is a way to understand that you could not have had any other way, and it gives us extraordinary time. It gives us an extraordinary clarity of time to be able to practice because we’re motivated. It’s just that clear. We are motivated. We know we have a date to keep. Those of us who don’t know what that date is, we’re a little more vague about this.  We don’t want to be bothered, frankly, and so we are at a disadvantage.

Less lucky is the stuff that most people pray for: a quick death. Instantaneous. “Hit me with a truck.” That kind of thing. That’s how people think, “Get it over with. Get me out of here.” And it’s because they don’t understand what death is. They do not understand that once the eyes are closed and the breath has stopped, it sounds like a pun, but basically life goes on in one form or another. One continues to continue. That is the nature of what we are. And so there is no true cessation other than the cessation of breath. To die a quick death may save a little bit of discomfort for the unprepared, but it gives us no time for preparation. Even the dissolution of the elements occurs in an untimely and hurried way so that we cannot cope with them well. So do not pray for an instant death.

Neither should you pray to die in your sleep, because it is too confusing. You are already in the sleeping bardo. The sleeping bardo has a heavier level of delusion in a way than the waking bardo, because you literally are not slowed down by the time it takes physicality to process itself. For instance, if I want to walk from here to that door it’s going to take me a certain amount of time and effort because of the physicality of the situation; but in the dream, I’m there, I’m out, I’m gone. I can go anywhere. So in a way there is even more delusion there. You do not want to die in the middle of the dream state unless your practice is so good that you would recognize the bardo even in the dream state; and that can only be hoped for if you are the kind of person who has complete control and direction over your dreams. Always. And that ain’t you. So instead, pray for a time of knowing and a time of preparation. Pray for the leisure to prepare for your death. That is the appropriate and best prayer.

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