A most essential question
What convergence is there between the journey of the ascetic Tibetan yogi Milarepa and that of the little-known great French mystic of the Seventeenth Century, Madame Guyon ? between Ramana Maharshi and the famous sufi Al-Hallaj ? What is the common denominator between these extraordinary beings who, in such apparently dissimilar ways, climbed the rungs leading to the ultimate realization ? Is it not a question of the greatest importance, to conjecture about what is essential and what is of incidental value, about what is truly the core of a practice and what relates to a cultural context and epoch ?
Meditation and the after death state.
As he is ordinarily, the human being does not realize to what extent, or in what manner, life and death are closely linked. During his whole lifetime, it never occurs to him that, at each moment that passes by, he is in the process of dying. And when the ultimate moment arrives when he has to leave his body, at the beginning — as stated in various mystical treatise — he does not know that he is dead. Habit being very strong, he believes that he still inhabits his physical body.It happens so often, particularly in the West where the intellect dominates, one meets seekers who entertain the vague hope that, because they have understood intellectually what a spiritual teaching consists of, all will be well for them when they leave this world and that they will be able, without doubt, to break the circle of births and deaths and thus attain liberation.
In order to understand better what happens at the critical moment of death, when the future destiny of the deceased is at stake, it is necessary to draw a parallel between certain stages of the after-death state, as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and what occurs during meditation.The citations in the following paragraphs are quoted from the English edition translated by W.Y. Evans-Wentz and lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Oxford University Press).
At the very beginning of each one of his meditation sitting, for a very short instant, the aspirant may touch a most particular state of consciousness which gives him the impression of being simple emptiness only, but is, in reality, a state of immaculate consciousness of the highest subtlety and transparency. This state of consciousness which is so unusual and difficult to apprehend, only lasts for two or three seconds at first before being replaced by another state which, although not being his customary state of being, is, nevertheless, no more the same as what he experienced in himself initially.Failing to understand and appreciate the real value of this state of consciousness— which is so alien to him that, at first sight, it gives him the impression of being a vacuum without importance—, the seeker cannot, due to ignorance and lack of practice, find the strength to stay in it. He loses it very quickly and despite his efforts to continue to meditate, he descends to another state of consciousness which is not what he experienced in the beginning.The same phenomenon — but on an entirely different scale — arises in a human being when he leaves his body, a phenomenon of which the implications prove decisive for his future.
In other words, as explained in the Bardo Thodol (the Tibetan Book of the Dead), immediately after leaving this world, the deceased is confronted with the Supreme Consciousness in Its original purity. But, failing to apprehend It, he descends to lower and lower levels in himself until he becomes lost in a mental world which manifests itself in the form of a most impressive panorama, spreading out in front of his mind in such a spectacular way that, because of ignorance and lack of discernment, he takes it for being a reality.To be able to remain in this primordial state — which the Bardo Thodol calls either “Clear Light” or “Clear Consciousness” — represents a feat totally out of the ordinary, which can only be the result of long and persistent training, in the form of intense meditation practice as well as other concentration exercises carried out both at home and in outside active life.
It is precisely with the help of specific concentration exercises (such as those given in several of my books) which force the aspirant to remain intensely present during their execution that he can start to experience during his daily life moments of very particular self-awareness which come to him suddenly after varying lengths of time of inner absences. These moments of self-awareness are accompanied by the beginning of an inner awakening which he should try, with all his might, to prolong so that the day will eventually come when he will no longer lose it. At these moments, which will determine what his future will be, the seeker should realize that, in the same way he is faced throughout his life with choices to be made in order to be able to remain in this state of being and of consciousness which is not habitual to him, after death all incarnate beings will find themselves in a situation where decisive choices will be demanded of them.
In this regard, the Tibetan Book of the Dead continuously emphasizes that the deceased, after leaving his earthly body, will be faced, on several occasions, with two lights or two colors between which he must choose. Unfortunately, owing to ignorance and weakness, he will not be able to hold himself from turning toward that which is the duller. Thus, unless he has devoted himself to a relentless spiritual practice during his life, he will begin to descend helplessly to lower and lower levels of being and of consciousness in himself, without being able to realize what is happening to him.
In a similar way, if, during his meditation sessions, the seeker manages to be concentrated to the point that nothing exists for him other than the object of his concentration, the effacing of his ordinary individuality will be accomplished by itself without his even realizing what is happening to him. He will then be able to have a foretaste, at least to some degree, of quite another state of being which will transport him into ordinarily unknown dimensions.
Thus, when, at one of the most dramatic moments of his life, a human being starts to pray, the more his prayer is sincere and intense, the more his ordinary self gives way within him – without his even being aware of what is happening in his being.
My only prayer is to be firm in my determination to give myself completely to the Buddha’sWay, so that no doubts arise however long the road seems to be.
To be light and easy in the four parts of my body, to be strong and undismayed in body and in mind.
To drive out both depressed feelings and distractions. To be free from calamity, misfortune, harmful influences and obstructions. Not to seek the Truth outside of myself, so I may instantly enter the right way.
To be unattached to all thoughts, that I may reach the perfectly clear bright mind of Prajna Wisdom and have immediate enlightenment on the great matter of birth and death.
Thereby I receive the transmission of the deep wisdom of the Buddhas to save all sentient beings who suffer in the round of birth and death.
My further prayer is not to be extremely ill or to suffer at the time of departure. To know its coming seven days ahead so that I may quiet the mind to abandon the body and be unattached to all things at the last moment, wherein I return to the Original Mind in the realm of no birth and no death, and merge into the whole universe to manifest as all things in their true nature and, with the great wisdom of the Buddhas, to awaken all beings to the Buddha Mind.
I offer this to all Buddhas and bodhisattva-mahasattvas of the past, present and future, in the ten quarters and to the Maha Prajnaparamita.
Please put the attention on the breath for just a moment to become centred.
Take a look into your heart and see whether there is any worry, fear, grief, dislike, resentment, rejection, uneasiness, anxiety. If you find any of those, let them float away like the black clouds that they are…
Then let warmth and friendship arise in your heart for yourself, realizing that you have to be your own best friend. Surround yourself with loving thoughts for yourself and a feeling of contentment within you…
Now surround the person nearest to you in the room with loving thoughts and fill that person with peace and wish for that person’s happiness…
Now surround everyone here with loving thoughts…
Let the feeling of peacefulness extend to everyone here, and think of yourself as everyone’s good friend…
Think of your parents, whether they are still alive or not. Surround them with love. Fill them with peace and gratitude for what they have done for you, be their good friend…
Think of those people who are nearest and dearest to you. Embrace them with love, fill them with peace as a gift from you, without expecting them to return it to you…
Think of your friends. Open up your heart to them, to show them your friendship, your concern, your love, giving it to them without expecting anything in return…
Think of your neighbours who live near you, the people you meet at work, on the street, in the shops, make them all your friends; let them enter into your heart without any reservation. Show them love… .
Think of anyone for whom you have dislike or with whom you may have had an argument, who has made difficulties for you, whom you do not consider your friend. Think of that person with gratitude, as your teacher, teaching you about your own reactions. Let your heart go out to that person because he or she too has difficulties. Forgive and forget. Make him or her your friend…
Think of all those people whose lives are far more difficult than ours, who may be sick, in hospital, who may be in prison, in .an orphanage or in war-torn countries, hungry, crippled, blind, without friends or shelter, never able to hear the Dhamma. Open up your heart to all of them. Make them all your friends, show them love, wish them happiness…
Put your attention back on yourself. Feel contentment arising in you from making right effort, happiness which comes from loving and joy which comes from giving. Become aware of these feelings, experience the warmth they create in and around you…
May all beings be happy.
The thing is we say we want to be enlightened, but we don’t really. Only bits of us want to be enlightened. The ego which thinks how nice, comfortable and pleasant it would be. But to really drop everything and go for it! We could do it in a moment but we don’t do it.
And the reason is we are too lazy. We are stopped by fear and lethargy – the great inertia of the mind. The practice is there. Anyone on the Buddhist path certainly knows these things.
So how is it we’re not enlightened? We have no one to blame but ourselves. This is why we stay in Samsara because we always find excuses. Instead we should wake ourselves up. The whole Buddhist path is about waking up. Yet the desire to keep sleeping is so strong. However much we say we will awake in order to help all sentient beings we don’t really want to. We like dreaming.
TENZIN PALMO A cave in the snow p. 172
“If, by using certain exercises, the aspirant manages really to see what his eyes are looking at and really to hear what his ears are listening to, he will observe that a strange and silent inner presence, as well as consciousness of himself which is most unusual for him, will begin to manifest itself within him.
However, he will discover that he cannot, or rather, he does not want to maintain this state of consciousness which was hitherto unknown to him, because to maintain this consciousness of himself involves awakening; yet, paradoxically, despite everything he may think, he does not wish to awaken ! To awaken and, above all, to remain awake require a special and persistent effort at the beginning which one does not like to make. One prefers to sleep peacefully in oneself and daydream – which does not entail any price to pay – rather than going to the effort required for this essential awakening. Yet, without this awakening, there can be no possibility of objective and real choice for the human being. He will always be manipulated by the impulses of his mundane self and external forces, without being capable of realizing in what way he is at their mercy.”
Edward Salim Michael : Spiritual practice and inner awakening chap 10
“In reality there is only one truth and mystics of all ages have always found the same truth. There is universal consciousness and that can be experienced in meditation — the infinity of consciousness. (..)
Universal consciousness is not buddhist, but infinite. The infinity of space is not buddhist, but just infinity. ”
Ayya Khéma Walking on lotus Flowers from Martine Batchelor p 46
The techniques employed in Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam have precisely one determining common point. Whether it is prayers, mantras, strict meditation, visualization, koans, all these means have the same end: to free the practicing individual from his preoccupations and customary daydreaming to bring him into the present in a sufficiently intense and prolonged manner, so that a transcendent state of order which Christians call God, the Hindus Self, and the Buddhists his Buddha Nature, may reveal itself to him.
Comprehension and expression of this experience which transcends the realm of the senses will depend on its intensity as well as the religious and cultural conditioning of the practicing individual. The more exalted the experience is, the more his expression will be identical to all epochs and in all countries; the less profound the experience, the more it risks being misinterpreted and reinforcing dogmas and beliefs.
« Each concert is a mystical experience, an ecstasy… it’s a form of grace »
Herbert von Karajan
An audience invariably makes great demands on an artist’s attention—demands that are generally beyond the capacity of the ordinary person—yet these demands create in the artist a certain tension that brings a special inner state with a very particular kind of force and energy that are not customary to him but which (apart from being the requisite “fire” giving life to his talents) help make him intensely vigilant and conscious of what he is doing. All this goes largely to free him from his habitual way of sensing himself and allows another aspect of his nature to rise to the surface of his being, elevating him and giving him the different taste and feeling of himself he needs—and which he intuitively values deeply.
Later, he is mysteriously impelled to want to find this heightened inner state and feeling of himself—the true source of which he is ignorant—again and again. It seems to him that he can only get it through repeatedly seeking and accepting the challenge of confronting this gigantic outer witness, the spectators in the auditorium, for the sake of the sensation it evokes in him each time he has the opportunity to perform in front of them.
The deeper the state of presence and concentration an artist is capable of mustering and maintaining in himself while on stage, the more he will be able to get away from himself; and the more he is able to get away from himself, the greater his art will be—for, without his consciously knowing it, something higher in him will at that moment come to the foreground of his being and work through him.
After he has mastered his craft, it is only in the degree that the artist can become distant from himself, forgetting his private self and becoming sufficiently free within (to permit another aspect of his nature to take over), that his artistic creation or performance will stand the test of the truth it seeks to express and have the power to elevate both himself and his audience, exalting and inspiring them both.
Edward Salim MICHAEL
The Law of attention – Chapter 47
One should recall that the primary goal of spiritual practice must be to recognize in meditation another state of being and consciousness which is independent from the tangible world and which can be found after death.
One will then realize that it is possible to exist without the support of a body and one will no longer have the same apprehension about losing one’s earthly envelope.
One makes excuses for oneself; lack of time in particular, is often mentioned; a pretext which does not hold up to examination because, if one wanted, judicious choice would eliminate, in favor of meditation, a great deal of secondary activities which are intrusive or pointless.
These activities, on reflection, may be seen as such… but one continues to do them nonetheless.
And so one sees some people who are accurately informed about Buddhism, who know well the need to unite morality, wisdom and mediation, smugly observing the rules of correct behavior, cultivating their intelligence by reading books and who nevertheless neatly refrain from practicing meditation.”
Jean Pierre Schnetzler
My hopes rose high, and I thought my evil days were at an end. I stood waiting for alms to be given unasked and for wealth to be scattered on all sides in the dust.
The chariot stopped where I stood. Your glance fell on me, and you came down with a smile. I felt that the luck of my life had come at last. Then all of a sudden you held out your right hand, saying, “What have you to give me?”
Ah, what a kingly jest was it to open your palm to a beggar to beg!
I was confused and stood undecided, and then from my wallet I slowly took out the least little grain of corn and gave it to you.
How great was my surprise when at the day’s end, I emptied my bag on the floor only to find a least little grain of gold among the poor heap!
I bitterly wept and wished that I had the heart to give you my all!