The Art Of Dying: (Part 2) The Three Ways of Dying

Without a spiritual practice of some kind, we will have no effective way of coming to terms with the life we have led nor the challenges that our inevitable death will confront us with. If we engage in a spiritual practice beforehand, however, we can live a more meaningful life now and confront the ultimate reality of our death. We can thus meet the challenge of this inescapable time in our life with wisdom and grace.

"In brief, without being mindful of death, whatever Dharma practices you take up will merely be superficial."

- Milarepa

The mystery of death is the greatest challenge to the human mind. A challenge which gave birth to religion. Religion was not born out of a fear of death, but in the recognition of death as a transformative experience. Death is the initiator into the true nature of man's innermost being, into existence itself. It was through death that human beings became conscious of life. Death is not a negation of life, but adds a new dimension to life which raises life to a higher level of consciousness. Death is not a contradiction to life but another phase of life, like birth itself. With this knowledge we can begin to look at death as an important turning point in our life. If we examine our world's great religions (wisdom traditions) carefully, we will see that they all offer us this same important guidance.

In the end we do not want our lives to signify or mean nothing, to be all for nothing, to die for nothing, in ignorance having never given proper thought to what our life was all about. Rather, we must evolve from self, to soul, and in the end to spirit. This is ultimately, the path to what all religions teach as grace. Carl Jung once said that he never met a person in the latter part of their lives that came to him for counsel who was not concerned with matters of the spirit. Confronting one's own mortality is a catalyst for contemplation, for asking ourselves the big questions which lead to spiritual reflection. Realizing that our time is limited, we desire the unrestrained freedom which can only be achieved spiritually. Without a spiritual practice or path to follow, we limit ourselves. Without a spiritual practice or path to follow, we are bound up by the chains of fear and despair.

Conscious awareness of death is a characteristic feature of higher forms of existence, without it we ourselves become base and mundane. Aging and death serve us as the most important of teachers. They are our constant reminders of what is relevant and meaningful in this life. To the wise, they become constant reminders of our need to pay attention, be aware, keep our lives on a proper course. To stay true to ourselves and our need to keep following the spiritual path of appreciation for our life now and our future destiny. While aging challenges our beliefs, death confronts them. Ultimately, death forces us all to lay down the ego or the mundane sense of self. The illusions of self we hold onto will eventually all pass away and we will be forced to humbly accept what authentically remains, our formless presence, the very ground of our being.

"Stay in the center and embrace death with your whole heart. Embrace death with your whole heart and you shall endure forever.”

- Buddha

Ultimately, our willingness to recognize death's inevitability and importance in our lives is essential to unlocking the door to who we truly are. Recognizing the importance of death is essential to unlocking the door to a greater awareness of life, giving impetus to inner reflection. Meditating on death opens us up to ultimate truth. Death is our liberation from self reference and this liberation occurs in a much larger perspective, a greater awareness of who we actually are. Thus, the origins of religion are not based in a fear of death but in the transformational experience of death. Death is not a contradiction to life but another stage in life’s progression, like birth itself. Procreation and death are inextricably linked, bound together. In Tibetan art, Yamantaka, the black lord of death symbolically holds the wheel of life in his claws. He is animal, demon, and god. The primordial power of life in its aspects of creation and destruction.

Death awareness is the primary mover into the inner workings of our consciousness and in the choices we make as to how we choose to live our life. It does so by forcing us to confront the ever-changing nature of our world, the many layers of consciousness we experience in a lifetime, which may include the various realms, the infinitely possible planes of existence.

(Although we are using Buddhist teachings here, if we are willing to think creatively about the art of dying, we can apply these teachings to all spiritual traditions and practices in our own unique and special way.)

3 Ways Of Dying

Approaching death serenely through spiritual practice.

(Taken from the teachings of Bokar Rinpoche in his book “Death and the Art of Dying”)

  1. DYING WHILE THINKING OF THE LAND OF BLISS: Think confidently and positively about the land of bliss and the Buddha Amitabha’s willingness to help you get there.This would include the chanting of the Chenrezig Mantra at the time of death. This is the Om Mani Padme Hum chant or mantra. “Tibetan Buddhists believe that saying the mantra (prayer), Om Mani Padme Hum, out loud or silently to oneself, invokes the powerful benevolent attention and blessings of Buddha Chenrezig, the embodiment of compassion. Viewing the written form of the mantra is said to have the same effect. The Mani mantra is the most widely used of all Buddhist mantras, and open to anyone who feels inspired to practice it -- it does not require prior initiation by a lama (meditation master). The entire Dharma, the entire truth about the nature of suffering and the many ways of removing its causes, is said to be contained in these six syllables Om Mani Padme Hum. It is not necessary to fully understand the exact meaning of the mantra to receive it’s benefits but is essence.” This is what it means - “Buddha of great compassion, hold me fast in your compassion. From time without beginning, beings have wandered in samsara, undergoing unendurable suffering. They have no other protector than you. Please bless them that they may achieve the omniscient state of buddhahood. With the power of evil karma gathered from beginning-less time, sentient beings, through the force of anger, are born as hell beings and experience the suffering of heat and cold. May they all be born in your presence, perfect deity.” "The path is indicated by the next four syllables. Mani, meaning jewel, symbolizes the factors of method: (the) altruistic intention to become enlightened, compassion, and love.[…]” Karma Thubten Trinley says, "These are the six syllables which prevent rebirth into the six realms of cyclic existence. It translates literally as 'OM the jewel in the lotus HUM'. OM prevents rebirth in the god realm, MA prevents rebirth in the Asura (Titan) Realm, NI prevents rebirth in the Human realm, PA prevents rebirth in the Animal realm, ME prevents rebirth in the Hungry ghost realm, and HUM prevents rebirth in the Hell realm." (Source: Google)

  2. DYING WHILE THINKING OF SENDING AND TAKING: While dying keep in mind the practice of sending and taking; remembering that our suffering is not exclusive, everyone suffers as we do and our dying is a time to embrace the suffering of others in hopes of relieving their suffering. If through our spiritual practice we develop some awareness of the nature of the mind, It is good to keep thoughts of the blessings we've received and those we wish to share with others at the time of death, this is thinking of sending and taking and can be an actual meditative practice we can incorporate at the time of death. Breathing in, I take on a black light, the suffering of others. Breathing out, I send a white light, this is compassion, happiness and all the positive aspects of the mind.

  3. DYING WHILE REMAINING IN THE NATURE OF THE MIND: In the true nature of the mind there is no birth, no death, no fear. This is meditation on the impermanence of mind, its true nature. Death makes one aware of impermanence so consciously focusing on the impermanent nature of life at the time of death makes death more acceptable, it will not be a shock but part of life's inevitable progression, life's true essence. Meditating on death's unpredictability will free our minds from suffering and fear of death, we do this by developing a true feeling of impermanence. This conscious awareness of impermanence motivates us toward virtuous acts, our virtuousness then leads us to the true nature of our minds. This self realization grants us peace in death as in life. This is the state of mahamudra, the state of mind that surpasses death, the natural state of no death. Dying in a state of meditation with the awareness that death is simply a label for the disintegration of the body. To die without distraction within the essence of the true nature of the mind, this is the mind without illusion, this is an enlightened mind.

“You have enclosed yourself in time and space

Squeezed yourself into a span of a lifetime

And the volume of a body….

You cannot be rid of problems

Without abandoning illusions

- Nisargadatta

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Sangha Without Borders is currently physically located in London, UK