The 2nd of the 4 Revolutions in Outlook: Death & Impermanence

B. Alan Wallace, 10 Apr 2020

Lama Alan said he won’t be surprised if he doesn’t include any new information for you in this session. While this topic of death and impermanence may be familiar to you, it often does not change our view of reality. That is it does not sink in to our view, meditation and action. We know that all conditioned phenomena are conditioned and arise from causes and conditions such as from a plant to the billion-fold galaxies. These things we know, but it is an inconvenient truth that we don’t want to face. If we faced it, there are sacrifices that we might have to make that we don’t want to because we are comfortable in the status quo. So therefore, instead of having to fundamentally and radically changing our way of life, it is easier to say ‘yes, yes, we’ve got this, I understand impermanence.’ In terms of my own experience, I still tend to view that which is always in a state of flux, like my age, as being unchanging. While I am always constantly changing, aging and will one day die. The Buddha’s observation is just true. Our view is that that which is always in a state of flux is unchanging. This is a delusion. We think that when our finances, our health and so on are going well that they will always bring felicity and when they are not going well we think our life will always be negative toward us. We prioritise our pursuit of hedonia. We equate a good life with the acquisition of wealth, health and external things. We think everything is stable and that death is for other people. We can radically change our view.

Meditation starts at 35:50 minutes

Notes: four themes of impermanence are: 1. All that is born dies. 2. All that comes together parts. 3. All that is acquired is lost. 4. All that goes up goes down.

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Good morning. This morning I’d like to turn to the second of the Four Revolutions in Outlook. Death and impermanence. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised, if I don’t impart any new information to you at all this morning, that you didn’t already know. And then, one might ask then, why do you continue talking? If it’s just a repetition, if it’s all so familiar. Well it is familiar, but it is one of those very good instances of something we know and we believe, but in many cases for many of us it doesn’t really get into the way we view reality. So that theme earlier: view, meditation, way of life, the view, the view of the great perfection, the view of the Four Noble Truths, view, the Madhyamaka view, the Middle Way view. These are not simply ideas, or beliefs, or thoughts. When they become our view, it is actually how we see things. How we conceive things. And so we all know, all conditioned phenomena, all things that arise in dependence upon causes and conditions, we are pretty clear about this, that they are always subject to change and that which is born, whether it’s a plant, whether it’s a human being, an animal, speaking a bit more metaphorically, a planet is born, comes into existence, or a galaxy, or a universe for that matter. That that, which comes into existence, then sooner or later it passes. We’re pretty familiar with that, right? We’re familiar with the fact that we’re all going to die, who doesn’t believe that? And we also know death can come at any time, who doesn’t know that? But these are the cases of inconvenient truths, like Al Gore said of global climate change. It is a truth, but it’s not a truth that we really want to face. It is not a truth we want to assimilate and actually view reality incorporating that truth. Because it might force us to make sacrifices we just don’t want to make. And so better say yeah, I believe it, I know. But in the meantime I have other things to attend to. And I don’t want to make sacrifices. And I’m kinda comfortable in the status quo, and it’s very uncomfortable to shift that, to question that, to change the way I’m viewing reality and thereby, heaven forbid, having to change my priorities fundamentally, radically.

[03:07] And then of course, I’ll have to put that into practice and change my way of life. Years ago, about 40 years ago, no, more than that, when I was living in a monastery in Switzerland under Geshe Rabten’s guidance, I knew a woman, whose husband was a distinguished psychologist at University of Geneva. And she was very keen on Geshe Rabten’s teachings, they were brilliant, they were clear, rational, really grounded in experience. Brilliant teacher. And he taught at length about the nature of the mind, mental factors, wholesome and unwholesome, mental afflictions and so forth, really brilliant. He’s teaching, he’s passing on brilliant teachings, and he did so brilliantly, with great clarity, extraordinary teacher. And I had the great privilege for years of serving as his primary interpreter. And so this woman spoke to her husband, distinguished full professor of psychology, and said, you know, l really encourage you to come and listen to this Tibetan Lama, he’s got a lot of very interesting, very profound things to say about the nature of the mind. And her husband so candidly, so honestly replied: I don’t really want to. I’m not going to. ‘Cause I’m afraid, if I listen to him then I’d really have to change my own view about the nature of mind and my way of life. So – no, thanks. He can make me really uncomfortable.’

The Buddha’s teachings do really make us uncomfortable. So many inconvenient truths like oh, like the reality of suffering. And like the reality: it doesn’t end at death. And the reality of impermanence. I don’t know any wisdom tradition, certainly not any so-called religion, that emphasizes the reality, the significance, the repercussions, implications of impermanence and death more than the Buddhadharma, and it’s all the way through: from the Shravakayana right through Dzogchen. It’s not news. But then, we can each ask ourselves, I’m not gonna tell you what you think or how you view reality, how would I know. There’re many of you, I’m not gonna be so presumptuous. But I can speak in terms of my own experience, do I still sense a tendency to view that, which is always in a state of flux, as being more stable than it is? If somebody tells me, who hasn’t seen me for a few years, and says: “Oh Alan, you haven’t changed a bit!” Or: “You look even younger than you were before!” Does that stir, like, a little smile? Oh, thank you! [laughing] You’ve just corroborated my delusion of thinking I’m unchanging! That really feels good. So, thank you for supporting in my illusion, that I’m not always changing and in constant process of decay. And I could die at any moment. I really like what you said, ‘cause I really much prefer that to reality. [laughing] I sense it. Wouldn’t I like to look young? Kind of. I’d like to deceive people to think I’m not as old as I am, kind of, but not really. I don’t like fooling people.

[06:32] The general tendency, according to teachings of Buddha, his observation, his insight, I think it’s just flat out true, is we tend to see that, view, view that, which is always in a state of flux as being more stable than it is. Our health, the absence of a pandemic, the presence of a pandemic, the economy, our own financial situation, our relationships. We want to feel secure, we want to feel safe. And we can feel safe, if we think things will pretty much stay as they are, if they’re already okay. The downside of that, is when things are not okay. Then it’s very easy to flip into kind of a… bipolar oscillation. When things are okay - they’ll always be okay, when things are not okay - they’ll always be not okay. Flip-flop, flip-flop. Between elation rooted in non-reality, depression rooted in non-reality. And frankly, insofar as, and again, I’m not dividing people into two different groups, it’s insofar as, smooth spectrum, we orient our lives towards, we prioritize the pursuit of hedonia, every kind of happiness that we can get by means of wealth, by means of having influence, by means of having reputation, the respect, the love of others, insofar as we’re kind of banking on, were equating the good life with the life in the pursuit of, and the acquisition of hedonia, then the reality of impermanence and death is just a nightmare. It is the most inconvenient of all truths. Because whatever, and there are four themes here, I’ll put them in the notes just to refresh your memory, four themes of impermanence, that are highlighted in Buddhadharma. But there’s nothing Buddhist about them, they’re either true or false, you check it out. Everything that is born – dies. Whether it’s a galaxy, or a virus, or a person, or a plant - anything that comes into existence, passes out of existence. And that’s our loved ones, that’s ourselves. That death is not the antithesis of life. It is not the tragic end of life. It’s that, without which life couldn’t even be there in the first place. There is no life without birth.

[09:08] So to regard death as an enemy is like regarding the sunset as an enemy. Or night as an enemy. Or the end of a novel as an enemy. Doesn’t make any sense. But insofar as, again a smooth spectrum, that we’re really seeking our happiness, and our security, our joy, satisfaction outside – hedonia, then impermanence is just a dark specter, something to push off, to suppress, to ignore. Pretend as if it’s not there. And we’re pretty good at it.

But then, it’s inauthentic. Whatever happiness we derive by pretending as if things are more stable than they are, more enduring than they are, and that death is for other people, you know, old people, sick people. Then whatever pleasure we get out of that delusional way of viewing reality, it’s just that, in no way sustainable. It’s just a bubble, like, they often give this example in Buddhist teachings, like a bubble that arises on the surface of the water. It just can pop at any time. And when we find ourselves surprised, when, for example, a loved one, who is in the prime of youth, middle-age, excellent health and so forth, and then suddenly dies. Because of unforeseen abnormality in the heart, or it’s a stroke, or it’s an accident. Don’t we tend to be shocked? But I saw him just yesterday. I saw him just a week ago. He sent me an email… We’re startled, as if this is just not the way things should be. Or kind of concerned. Something’s ajar, something’s amiss, this isn’t the way things should be, of course, this is the way things are! And what isn’t the way things are, is believing otherwise.

I really feel the only way we can integrate this fully, gladly, accepting this wholeheartedly, viewing all composite phenomena as always subject to change. That which is born – dies. The only way we can view that, utterly assimilate it, I think, is utterly shifting our priorities over to eudemonia, genuine well-being rooted in ethics, rooted in the cultivation of the mind, rooted in knowing reality as it is. And if those are our priorities, then we can say, okay impermanence and death, you can come in now. I think I can deal with you now.

But if we’re banking on, investing on, betting our lives on samsara turning out well: finding the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect job, the perfect place to live, the perfect health and so forth, I don’t think we’ll ever get to impermanence and death. I think our priorities will just say: no, thank you. That’s way too inconvenient a truth for me to want to deal with. And I’m gonna pretend that’s for other people. Then we’re living in a fantasy world.

[12:32] So over and over again I come to a conclusion, the Buddhadharma, the Buddha’s own teachings right on through Dzogchen, they’re just telling us: get real, get real! Pay close attention to what’s actually happening, right down to your Buddha Nature. And let whatever sense of well-being and security arise from that, and not the fantasy world, that materialists, hedonists, consumerists live in. As if that’s the key to happiness, as if that’s realistic. So the first of the four aphorisms is: all that is born - dies. All that comes together, whether it’s people or anything else, meeting, wherever there’s meeting there’s parting, whatever’s acquired, whether it’s tangible things, like a child or a spouse, or material goods, or more intangible things like reputation, status, prestige, power. Whatever we acquire is going to be lost. As one Theravada meditation teacher said: whenever we grasp onto anything, thinking, this is where my happiness lies, now I’ve got, it whatever it is, now I’ve got, we cling, we crave for it and then, if we’re lucky – we think we’re lucky - then we get it and we hold on, we hold on for dear life, as we’re holding on for dear life with what we think we’ve acquired, that now would give us a sense of security, happiness, joy, fulfilment, we’re holding, and he says now only one of two things that’s gonna happen, there’s only two ways this plays out: one is the thing we’re holding onto disappears; the other one is - we disappear. There is no door number three. That’s it. So whatever we acquire will be lost.

And whatever goes up, when we ascend into greater wealth, higher status, something higher, better, above others and so forth, whatever goes up – goes down. You’ve got a high status – you’re gonna lose it. Great power – you’re gonna lose it. Whatever goes up – goes down, sounds rather Newtonian. And so, can we deal with that, can we view that, again there’s no news here, but can we completely assimilate these simple truths and still be happy? And I would say, for the hedonists, for the materialist, it’s just a matter of priorities, again, it’s not another group of people, I probably have some strain of a materialist in me, maybe that’s why I keep kicking it so hard, because I don’t like it in me… we can’t deal with it. Just can’t deal with it. It takes all the joy out. If you entered in a relationship and you know this relationship may evolve and maybe will even last for a long time, it may be very fulfilling, and it’s gonna end. And if you’re attached to that relationship thinking, that’s the source of my happiness, the longer it was and the better it was, the more devastated you will be when it ends. Do you want to hold that thought, when you’re starting a new relationship? A friendship, a romantic relationship, you have kids, do you want to bear that in mind? Don’t think so.

[15:40] So sometimes priorities prevent us from embracing an authentic view of reality. So we need to get our priorities straight: reality-based eudemonia, rather than ever so fleeting, stimuli-based hedonia. And then we can actually be open to and totally assimilate. And we come to this term “revolution in perspective”. Instead of thinking that I, well, I’m almost 70 but I got good genes, my dad’s still alive, my mother lived until 88, I’ve got good genes, I got good health. Last time I saw a doctor he said I’m in good shape. So therefore, I’m definitely gonna be around for a few decades. How could I not be, I’ve got good genes, and a doctor said that I’m okay. Until… until I’m not. Can we deal with that? The fact that not only will we be dead… I encountered that so closely, when I was 23 years old, I’ve told this story many times, monk in a monastery in India, my 3rd case of hepatitis, I was at death’s door, it was very obvious to me and everybody else around me. It was so close. About three nights I thought I had a 50-50 chance of getting through the night, I think that was realistic. And it just struck me, I was in a room with two other guys, we’re all cramped into this little monastery, 30 of us, I was the only Westerner. And I just thought, I can be dead tomorrow. They’ll take out my body, they’ll probably burn it. And then my room will be, my bed will be empty. But not for long, somebody’s gonna fill it. And they’ll miss me for a while, they’ll think about me for a while. My… my family will miss me for a while. And everything will go on without me. My bed will be filled with somebody else, the teaching will go on, the debating will go on, everything will go on. And my parents and my family, they’ll get over it, and life will go on, except for, I won’t be here. I won’t be anywhere at all. And I won’t live in other people’s memories. Memories are memories, people aren’t memories. Memories aren’t people. You don’t live in somebody else’s memories, what if they forget you, do you die then? That’s poetic cotton candy. Oh, you’ll live on in our memories. No, you won’t. Memories live on in memories, until we forget. And then they’re not even memories. That’s the way it is. Can we live with that? Can we view reality in that way? Can we absorb those four truths of impermanence and maintain, as Atisha said, a constant sense of well-being? Yeah, we can. But there’s only one way, and I’ll say, only one way. There is only one way, and that’s Dharma. But I’m not referring to Buddhadharma, I’m not even referring to religion, or particular philosophy, or particular branch of science. Dharma is a way of viewing reality and living in accordance with reality, that gives rise to a genuine sense of well-being, that is sustainable. That can endure, not statically, but continue to evolve, and shift, and grow, and mature over time. So this is why we meditate on death and impermanence. Our own death, others’ death, the reality of death being, that we will all die, we know that, but have we really taken that in? The reality that any of us, whether you’re an embryo in your mother’s womb or you are suffering final stages of terminal cancer, anyone, you’re young or old, anyone can die at any time. Flat out truth. Let’s never be surprised when that happens. It’s always true, it has always been true. Why don’t we just accept that? Well we can, if we’re practicing Dharma. And then, the third question in the classic meditations on death and impermanence is, in the light of death, the reality of death, the reality that death could come at any time, I may not get through this Dharma talk, I could keel over with a stroke, who says that can’t happen? In the face of death, as I experienced that, when I was 23, it seemed like death is so close I could click… reach, stick out my finger and punch him in the belly. Hello, Lord of Death, I see you. You see me too, don’t you? In the face of death, when you’re right there on the cusp of seeing the final moments of your life vanish, what now is of value… to you? Your legacy, your inheritance you’re leaving to other people, what you’ve done in the world, that can benefit other people. Can be, sure. But what’s of benefit to you now? When death is within arm’s reach. What’s of value now? And the simple fact is, all of hedonia is worth nothing at all. And all that you’ve acquired: the body, your human mind, arising in dependence upon human brain, that all’s gonna turn into nothing. You’re gonna lose it all in one fell swoop. All at once. So if we’ve been leading our lives oriented towards hedonia, death is gonna be the worst day of our lives. Because on other occasions we may lose our money, we may lose a loved one, we may lose our health, maybe reputation, maybe we can get them back, maybe not.

[21:12] But boy, when death comes, you just lose everything all at once. And you’ll never get it back. The worst day of your life, right? Or does it have to be? The reality of death, the reality that death can come at anytime, that’s not a matter of choice. But what is of value, when we’re in those last moments of our life, or right now, when we’re using our imagination to look ahead, I will come, that day will come, when I am facing my last day. I don’t have to wait until the end to ask that question, I can ask it right now. That’s how the story turns out. I’ll lose everything that I’ve acquired. Everything tangible I will lose. Intangible – reputation - I will lose. Dead people don’t have reputations. And I won’t just be dead, I’ll be somebody else. And Alan Wallace, if people will still talk about Alan Wallace, in whatever way after I’m dead, there’ll be no longer a referent of that person. That human being, male, American-born does not exist anywhere in the universe. My stream of consciousness continues on, the substrate consciousness, but that’s not Alan Wallace. It’s not human, it’s not male and it will reform in another embodiment. But that reputation will belong to somebody else. I like to think that, if I were to come back as a human being, and he, Alan Wallace had a big reputation, I might be jealous of him. [laughter] Oh, why did he get so much reputation, why did he accomplish so much?! Could be. So really, this is talking about view. And the answer to the question, this is not one of those unanswerable questions, not a rhetorical question, there’s a real answer. There’s only one thing that is of value, regardless of the worldview, believe what you like. Reality is the way it is; it doesn’t really matter what you think about it. You can think whatever you like about what happens at death, but there is something that’s true. And frankly, the evidence is overwhelming, consciousness, like matter and energy, space and time doesn’t just go poof, and turn into nothing. That’s just not natural! Consciousness continues. The memories, the imprints, that you stored in your consciousness from your conduct, from your decisions, your choices, the quality of your life, quality of your mind - that continues. It’s stored in that continuum; it is not an anonymous continuum. It’s heavily conditioned. What’s the value then? When that’s all that remains, and your human mind – gone. Your speech – gone. Body - no longer a body, it’s decaying matter. It’s not a body anymore just… smelly matter.

[24:15] Dharma, it’s really simple. Dharma. The virtue we’ve cultivated, the ethics we’ve lived by, the quality of mind that we’ve cultivated, that will be stored in imprints, karmic momentum - that will carry on. What is the value, the virtue we’ve done, the insights we’ve gained, the maturation we have cultivated - that will be of value. But if that’s all that will be of value when we’re at death’s door, that’s all that really is of value now. And whatever acquisitions, hedonic pleasures and so forth we gain can be valuable. Wealth can be valuable, reputation can be valuable, having influence can be valuable - in the service of Dharma. And if it is not in the service of Dharma, it just fades into insignificance. And then into nothing. So I’d like to end with two quotes before we go to the meditation. Little juicy ones that I tucked out of Western civilization. One is Mark Twain; you’ve heard it before. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. [laughter] The Buddha might’ve said that on a very lighthearted day. But it’s true, isn’t it? We don’t get replays of the same old thing, the same old argument, the same old, same old. They’re never exactly the same, because everything else in reality is shifted, so the whole of reality would have to re-play if any part of it would replay and be exactly the same. But that never happens, but does it rhyme? Do we often behave in very similar ways to the past? Do politicians behave, does the economy behave, do human societies, do they often behave in ways very similar to the past? And when we observe other people’s behavior or political parties, societies and so forth… rhyming, doing very similar things, then it’s easy to blur that over and say, same thing. They’re just repeating themselves. As if reality is a broken record. But it never really is. But it can sure look like it. It doesn’t repeat itself. Samsara doesn’t repeat itself. You never have the same birth again, you never have the same aging process, you never have the same sickness and you’ll never have the same death. But samsara rhymes. Birth, aging, sickness and death - it certainly does rhyme. And if we look at the those, who have found the Path and proceed along the Path, in the Buddhist tradition, the Hindu tradition, the Christian tradition, those who’ve achieved profound spiritual maturation, deep humility, unconditional love, imperturbability, genuine sustainable well-being, a sense of reverence and devotion, of altruism and compassion. They’re not replicas of each other. The Christian saints and the Hindu swamis, and the Buddhist yogis, and the Taoist masters and so forth, none of them are replicas of anybody else. But they certainly do rhyme. They sing in harmony. We can be part of that harmony. We can rhyme, ourselves, up to the path and along the path.

Never the same, always changing. But in evermore magnificent melody of our own spiritual maturation, culminating in the grand finale of awakening itself.

[28:15] And one more quote before we end. This is from the philosopher George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Those two go nice together. Quite a famous quote, that’s the accurate one. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It’s one of the great tragedies of samsara, and there’s no one to blame, the Buddha didn’t do it, God didn’t do it, nobody did it to us. It’s just like, you know, Newton’s laws of mechanics, I mean, that’s just the way things are. But it’s awfully sad. And that is, when we die and we enter into this transitional phase rather rapidly, we enter into a state of amnesia. Plato himself, following the footsteps of Socrates and going back to Pythagoras, in his Republic Plato said, that when we die we go into a kind of a sleep of amnesia. And then, for the ordinary person, who is not a philosopher, the ordinary person having throughout life so clung to and identified with the body goes through the amnesia of this transitional period, he didn’t call it the bardo, the sleep, loses memory of the past, you can’t remember who you were. But then you feel this impetus, this drive to be embodied again. So says Plato. And then you do. The research done at the University of Virginia, they corroborate that, the accounts of children who not only recall past life, but actually among them there are those, who recall what they experienced after they were dead and before they were born in this life, same thing that Plato said. That craving, that yearning to be re-embodied. But of course as soon as you do, you become amnesiac, you forget who you were. And when you’re born, as a young child, most of us have forgotten the bardo, most of us have forgotten our past lives. But a rare few here and there, it’s always been going on in history, for whatever reasons that I can’t explain, do recall. And many cases of recollections of past life are veridical. They couldn’t have known it in any other way. And among them there are those, who recall what occurred in the transitional phase, what they went through, what they experienced, and lo and behold, in the Pali Canon the Buddha did speak about the antarabhava, which is in Tibetan called bardo, which is that transitional phase after death, prior to rebirth. They said the same thing, same thing. The amnesia and then that yearning… that yearning to get locked in again, to find a body you can identify with. When it’s found scientifically, and it’s an ancient philosophical truth, and it has been corroborated thousands of times in Buddhism and other contemplative traditions, you might just want to wake up and sell and see…whoa. What’s the competition? And the competition is just faith-based materialism. Not having a clue where consciousness originates from, not knowing what it is, how interfaces with the body, not being able to define it or measure it, and, therefore, totally clueless about what happens at death, but covering that over with illusions of knowledge. That’s just fraudulent. So we have the experience of contemplatives and research scientists and insights of philosophers for thousands of years versus faith-based ignorance. Materialism is really quite sad, it’s so pathetic. I’m surprised anybody really believes it, but it’s got great marketing.

[31:51] But it is so sad, that as, Plato said, as these researchers have found from their research in Virginia, and the Buddhists have found, that all the mistakes we’ve made in our past lives, and the lessons we’ve learned we forget in the bardo. Almost everybody does. Unless we’re lucid. And then we’re born, most of us with no memories, and we have forgotten the past, so then we are condemned to repeat it. The same hedonic craving, the same attachment, the same delusion, the same hostility, and aversion. And that’s just the great tragedy of samsara. If only we could learn and in every way and every… in every way from lifetime to lifetime become wiser and more knowledgeable. And we’d simply ascend the Path by remembering all of our mistakes and successes from the past. I wish that was the case. It’s a happy idea with no basis in reality at all. So that means, I guess, we just have to make do with what we can remember in this life. And just integrate it like never before. So that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, even if we can’t remember the past, we can remember other people’s pasts. That we can learn from. And there are universal truths in existence, in human existence. Hedonia doesn’t turn out well. As William James said of materialism, scientific materialism always ends in tragedy. Materialism always ends in tragedy, hedonism always ends in tragedy. Consumerism ends in, well, what we’re doing to the world right now, destroying it, our own home. So we can learn, and this is the glory of the human mind. We can learn from other people’s experience. Whether they lived 2000 years ago, or whether they’re still alive, we can learn from their experience, their insights. We can learn from the great contemplatives of the past, their profound and often replicating discoveries. And we can take all that wisdom of lineage, as in the lineage of Dudjom Lingpa, the lineage of Buddhism, the multiple lineages within Christianity, and we can learn from that as if born anew, as if this were our first lifetime, we can take all that wisdom and bring it here, and assimilate it and live in this lifetime as we’ve never lived before in the past. And we have the possibility, as I mentioned yesterday, of course, speaking for those of us following this path, we have the possibility in this in this lifetime of doing something we’ve never ever done in any preceding lifetime: enter the Path of irreversible transformation, proceed along that path, come to know who we are. Fully awaken to the nature of reality. And all the glorious, magnificent, inconceivable potentials of primordial consciousness. So let’s meditate. Let’s have one session. And see if we can shift our view, making a revolution of turning utterly away from the unrealistic marginalization or simply ignorance of death and impermanence, to joyfully assimilating that and viewing reality in that way every moment of every day. And finding that for one, whose life is in rooted in eudemonia, oriented towards Dharma, reality is in fact user-friendly. It turns out quite magnificently. Reality rises up to meet us. But we have to dance with it. And that’s dancing the dance of Dharma.

Please find a comfortable position.

[35:52 Beginning chime]

I’d like to begin this session by reciting in Tibetan just once first the verse of refuge and bodhichitta, then the Seven-line prayer to Padmasambhava. Invite the Guru to the crown of the head, imagine the Guru’s body, speech, and mind merging with our own. And then we’ll begin the main practice. This time in Tibetan.



And settle your body in its natural state, relaxed, still, and vigilant. Utterly relax into your respiration, letting it flow unimpededly and effortlessly.

And then, with a fundamental sense of release, releasing your identification with all that is actually not you or yours, but we mistakenly view as such, releasing all grasping, releasing all reification, releasing all thoughts. Let your awareness come to rest in its own naked purity. Rest in that stillness. That is what remains, when grasping ceases. And as you can see for yourself: you’re awake, you’re wide-awake, your awareness is illuminating all manner of experiences and appearances. It is luminous. So by resting in the sense of ease, of stillness and clarity of your own awareness let your mind, the busyness, the activities, the motions of the mind settle in their natural state. Rest in that stillness in the midst of movements of the mind.

And rest in that flow of awareness, that simple, unadorned, unelaborated awareness. The continuum of which flowed prior to the formation, the birth of your body in this lifetime, is conditioned by your body and many other things during the course of this lifetime, and, when this life comes to an end, that pure stream of consciousness will continue, no longer conditioned by this body, left behind as a mindless corpse. Rest in that flow of awareness, without beginning or end.

Then, to your best approximation, view this existence, this embodiment, this life and the world as you know it in this life, view this from the perspective of this pure stream of consciousness, your substrate consciousness, that has seen it all before, how samsara rhymes. From this discerning awareness of this subtle continuum of mental consciousness view this life in this world as you know it, as if from outside. And see from this wise and discerning perspective, how you yourself throughout the whole course of this life have been constantly in a state of flux, your body, your mind. And all the world around you. All in a flux. And even in the course of your life thus far, how many people that you know and you do not know, how many people have passed away? And they are nowhere to be seen. Humans, animals. How many new ones have come into existence? How many relationships formed and dissolved? How many things, relationships, intangibles have been acquired and lost?

With the power of your imagination view the entirety of this life, its beginning, its interim and its end, as if from outside. And observing, how steadily, how irreversibly, inexorably from day-to-day, moment-to-moment you are moving towards, this person that you’re observing, is moving towards his or her own death. Not knowing when. Just knowing that we’re always moving closer.

Can you see how the reality of change, of flux, of impermanence, of death in and of itself is neither suffering, nor unsatisfying? It is simply what it is. But there’s nothing intrinsically unpleasant or fearful, or unsatisfying about it - it is what it is. But wherever there’s clinging, there’s grasping, there’s attachment, it always ends in tragedy. The timeless truth: samsara doesn’t turn out well. And it keeps repeating, and repeating, and repeating. If not the same - it certainly rhymes.

The Buddha himself said, of all the observations we can make of the nature of reality, what’s going on, the one observation, that has the greatest impact on our lives, our priorities, our way of viewing reality is the insight into the reality of impermanence. There for all to see, but which we so often ignore. From this bird’s eye view, so to speak, looking at the whole of our lives, doesn’t it become so obvious, that any type of attachment itself is literally delusional? The only thing that makes sense is Dharma. And everything that contributes to, helps to support Dharma. It is our only refuge in this world of change.

Our only true refuge throughout the course of life, the only refuge when we are facing the end of the life. Since we have this wonderful intelligence, our memory, our imagination, to look into the reality of possibilities, of what will come in the future, which is not yet actual, or actualized, let us now squarely face the reality of our own death. The day that will come, just hasn’t come quite yet. On the one hand, an inevitable reality; on the other hand, so full of possibilities. The possibility of dying with grief and anguish, and fear, and sense of loss, and tragedy, surrounded by weeping relatives and loved ones, the worst day of our lives. That’s a possibility. Why choose that one?

There’s a possibility of devoting ourselves to virtue, avoiding non-virtue, avoiding violence, living by the principle of benevolence. With whatever worldview, leading a good life, a virtuous life. There’re many who’ve done it. And the observation made in the Buddhist tradition is: those who really devote themselves to such a life, they have very good reason to die fearlessly. Not because they persuaded themselves that death is termination, it’s just a big sleep, and die fearlessly in that way, rooted in delusion. And then utterly shocked when they find out that that belief was untrue. But those who live with reality, consciousness continues, and we are shaping our future with the way we lead our lives. And such people, it has been found, when they do come to the portal of death, this great transition, they know they’ve lived well, the conscience is clear, they prepared well and they can die fearlessly. With a reality-based fearlessness.

There are those who devote themselves even more deeply to the Path. Cultivating their minds, transforming, developing their minds. The single-pointed dedication to the pursuit of liberation, releasing the attachment to “I” and “mine”, attachment, identification with the body, the mind, they make this a life’s pursuit. And it has been found, observed many-many times, that, when such people, who are so profoundly devoted to the Path of liberation, when they die, they die with utter calm. Not only fearlessness, but a serenity. As one old monk in Thailand commented to his young comrade, when he was on the verge of death, he spoke to him in a gentle voice and said “the Lord of death is looking for me, but he can’t find me.” And the young monk was by his side and said, oh Banthe, you are indeed about to die, the Lord of death will find you, thinking the old man was in denial. And the old monk replied with even greater gentleness, serenity: “The Lord of death is looking for me, but he can’t find me.” And he passed away in utter serenity. For he had not identified with anything that died.

And it’s been observed countless times in the Buddhist tradition for those devoted to the Bodhisattva way of life, cherishing others more than themselves. Out of great compassion seeking perfect awakening in order to be of greatest possible benefit to the world. A life utterly oriented around altruism, to service to all the world. And it’s been found, when such people, when facing death, with their bodies worn out by old age, or terminally injured by accident or illness, no longer serviceable, the body is damaged beyond repair, or just worn out. And they face death. It’s been found again and again that such people face death with… with joy. A life well-lived, a life to celebrate in retrospect. And now, not having identified with the body or mind, but recognizing this body has served its purpose, is worn out, then joyfully releasing it. Knowing, there is better to come. By the power of their prayers, their virtue, their compassion and wisdom. This was but one step on the Path to awakening, and the next step will be closer to awakening. And joyfully they depart this life. In joyful anticipation of what is to come.

There are those, who’ve achieved shamatha, who’ve lucidly dwelt in the continuum of the substrate consciousness. And they approach death, they rest in that substrate consciousness, as they watch their experience of the world vanish, as their senses shut down. They lose experience of the body; their mind shuts down as it settles in its natural state for the last time in this lifetime. And they dwell lucidly right through the dying process to its end. When there nothing remains, but the substrate, that space of awareness and the substrate consciousness. Luminous, blissful, and still. They have come to know death and it is blissful. And for those, who have cut through, cut through the substrate consciousness to identify pristine awareness, now the greatest celebration. Death also is a transition, and the dawn breaks, the Mother Clear Light appears to you, you identify, you crawl onto her lap. And you dwell in timeless pristine awareness. This was the greatest day of your life. Why not choose that?

How we die is for us to choose.

[59:43 closing chime]

Dedication Prayer


Olaso. I’ll see you this afternoon.

Transcribed by Sophia Saurina

Revised by Kriss Sprinkle

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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