VajraYana – 101
For Audio: Mind and Life 2007 at Dharamsala H.H. the Dalai Lama with various scientist
H.H. the Dalai lama said " Very important to practice Channel /chakra visualization (TsaLungThikley) at young age. We[monk] postpone it. It is a mistake, I think " .
He also said “One who can go through dissolution stages and reach Clear-Light but come back to is definitely a Liberated Yogi”.
There are three consciousness according to Buddhism; Gross, Subtle (རང་བཞིན་གནས་སྐབས) and the most Subtle. Gross and subtle consciousness depend on Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Namshe (རྣམ་ཤེས) as energy and brain as its base (རྟེན).
Dissolution Stages(Ref: Tibetan original text click here
Nagarjuna listed 80 waning phases of consciousness which depends on activity of the physical brain. After the dissolution of the 80th (རང་བཞིན་བརྒྱད་བཅུ།)phase, physical brain is dead. Individual is now clinically declared dead however for a Buddhist dying process not yet complete. There are still four more waning phases to complete. These last four phase of dissolution happens at the most subtle consciousness (if it can be called that…brain is dead). An accomplished meditator can prolong these last four stages for a longer period of time such as 21 days or more. For an uninitiated person it may last few hours or less. Regardless who you are the last four phase is encountered by all living beings at the time of the death.
These last four phases- Namkha(space- ནམ་མཁའ་་་་སྣང་བའི་གནས་སྐབས ) – has Clear-Light as it’s base(རྟེན) instead of physical Brain which is now dead.
Eight Stages of Dissolution at the time of death are:
a) Four (gross) physical or sensory level; it is the last four phase of the 80 and brain cease to work at the fourth phase.
b) Four most subtle or mind-only(སྣང་བ) phases(སྣང་བའི་གནས་སྐབས); Four Empty begins. This is not the philosophical emptiness talked about in Madhyamika;( སྟོང་པ་བཞི། ་་་འདིར་གཞན་སྟོང་བཤད།)
Although word Appearance (Mind-Eye) is used here to make it meaningful yet in reality all the five senses have ceased to function especially during the latter part of the dissolution but still something is registered in the brain. Following Appearances can still be registered at the subtlest level (Pure Energy) and can be directed, at will, by the accomplished Yogis.
A ) Four Sensory Level dissolution stages are:
1) Mirage/Water like Appearance:
The earth element degenerates and dissolves into the water element. “Water element as a base for consciousness becomes more enhanced. Your sight becomes weak and unclear; you can no longer open and close your eyes. You may have a sense of sinking into the earth or mud; you may even call out “hold me up!” or attempt to struggle upward, but it is important not to fight; remain calm within virtuous attitude. What you see in your mind looks like a mirage.” Wrote Dalai Lama. །དེ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ནང་རྟགས་སུ་སྨིག་རྒྱུ་ལྟ་བུ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་སོས་ཀའི་དུས་སུ་བྱེ་མ་ལ་ཉི་འོད་ཕོག་པ་ན་ཆུར་སྣང་བ་ལྟ་བུ་སྔོ་མེར་བའི་སྣང་བ་འབྱུང་ངོ་།
2) Smoke-like Appearance:
Water element degenerates and dissolves into the fire element. At this phase, feelings of pleasure and pain cease; noise and sound can no longer bother you; usual hum in the ear too is gone. Puff of smoke or room filled with thin smoke or smoke bellowing from chimney appears in your mind. Some texts describe full-moon as an external sign. 33 hatred conceptual thoughts ceases. Gradually above appearance dissolves into vast expanse. དེ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ནང་རྟགས་སུ་དུ་བ་ལྟ་བུ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་དུ་བ་འཁྲིགས་པའི་དཀྱིལ་ནས་དུར་ཁུང་ནས་དུ་བ་འབྱུང་བ་ལྟ་བུ་སྔོ་ཕོད་ཕོད་པ་ལྟ་བུའི་སྣང་བ་འཆར་རོ །
3) Spark or Fireflies like Appearance :
The Fire element degenerates and dissolves into the wind element. Shortness of breath begins- exhalation is longer then the inhalation. You do not remember names of relatives and friends. Body heat dissipates; dissipation that starts from foot to heart is considered good. Mind-eye(appearance) can see something similar to Fireflies or sparks in the sooth on the bottom of the metal pan. Some text describe Sunshine day as an external sign. 40 attachment conceptual thoughts cease. །དེ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ནང་རྟགས་སུ་མཁའ་སྣང་ལྟ་བུ་ཞེས་ཀྱང་བྱ། སྲིན་བུ་མེ་ཁྱེར་ལྟ་བུ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་དུད་ཁུང་ནས་དུ་བ་སྔོ་ཕོད་ཕོད་པ་འབྱུང་བ་ལྟ་བུའི་གསེབ་ནས་མེ་སྟག་དམར་ཚིག་ཚིག་པ་ལྟ་བུའམ། ཡོས་རྔོས་པའི་སླ་ངའི་རྒྱབ་ཀྱི་དྲེག་པ་ལ་མེ་སྟག་དམར་ཡལ་ཡལ་འོང་བ་ལྟ་བུའི་སྣང་བ་འབྱུང་ངོ་།
4) Light of a Butter-lamp in an earthen pot
Coarser wind element degenerates and dissolves into consciousness. The tongue becomes thick. The breathing from the nostrils ceases. However, Tibetan Buddhism believes that subtler level of wind is still active. Therefore, for a Tibetan Buddhist, dying process is not yet complete. Mind-eye, without the physical sensory present, can see a Flame of a Candle (butter lamp) or flickering light of the Candle or Candle in an earthen pot.
Dalai lama wrote, “At first light flicker as if wax or butter is almost consumed. Then when the winds on which the mental conception ride begin to collapse, the flame’s appearance becomes steady.”
Some text describe external sign, of this phase, as pitch dark illuminated by solar eclipse( ནག་ལམ་སྒྲ་གཅན།). All physical connection to this mundane life now ceased. 7 delusional conceptual thoughts cease. Medical science declare, at this phase, clinically dead. །དེ་རྣམས་ཀྱི་ནང་རྟགས་སུ་མར་མེ་འབར་བ་ལྟ་བུ་ཞེས་བྱ་བ་མར་མེ་ཟད་ཀར་རྩེ་མོ་ཏ་ལ་ལ་འགྲོ་བ་ལྟ་བུའི་སྣང་བ་འབྱུང་ངོ་།
Learning above four phases of dying process can be helpful to anyone to prepare for a meaningful death without any Buddhist background. Dying need not be a lonely journey.
Next four phases of the dying are according to GuyaSamaja (Buddhist text) text- some insignificant variations may be found in other text or Tibetan Buddhist sects/Lineages.
Imaginary three energy Channels and various Chakras, according to Tibetan Buddhism, presents inside our human body are briefly discussed here.
The three Channels are visualized as a drinking-straw but very flexible and transparent. The Central Channel begins midway point between the eye-brows and side channels start at the nostrils. All three channels curve up to the crown and then run down the length of the body just in front of the spine. For the purpose of Tumo(fire yoga) central channel ends about four fingers width below the navel. Two side channels are slightly smaller in diameter than the central channel but bit longer and they curve up into the bottom of the central channel at the navel (four finger-widths below the navel) where we bring the winds into the central channel during the meditation. Central channel is blue [Deity Heruka is blue] on the outside and red [fire is red] on the inside. Right channel is red and left channel is white in color.
These 3 channels are very close to each other and knotted at the Crown (wheel of great bliss;32 petals), throat(wheel of enjoyment; 16 petals), heart(wheel of phenomena;8 petals) and Navel(wheel of sustaining bliss;32 petals). They are also called Chakras or wheels. These four Chakras are sufficient for Tumo yoga.
Other Chakras that are not utilized in following dying phases are Chakra at the mid of eye brows(16 petals), Chakra at Solar Plexus(wheel of emanation;64 petals) and Chakra at tip of the sexual organ(16 petals). This Seven Chakras system is according to Je Tsongkhapa.
Beside above 4 Chakara System for Tumo, there is yet another 5 Chakara System. Fifth Chakra is at the base of the sex organ which is effectively employed for oscillation of “Thigley”; Thigley is moved within Dhahuti from this spot to the crown and from crown to this spot. For this purpose Central Channel (DhahuTi ) is slightly bent at the crown to stop “Thigley” from over shooting the crown Chakra by accident and moving out of the body. Although Tibetan yogi would say Channel, Wind and Thigley but in practice it is Channel, Thigley, Wind(Vase breathing) and Tumo(heat energy) in that order.
For more on Channels and Chakras click here click here
B) Four Mind-Level Stages of dissolution are:
Note: Empty, here, refers to devoid of obstruction or void. It is not the philosophical emptiness but actual space(གཞན་སྟོང་།)
5) White Appearance/first Empty/Empty; དེ་ལ་སྣང་བ་དང་སྟོང་པ་ཞེས་བྱའོ
When all eighty (33+40+7; see above) grosser level of conceptual thoughts dissolve or cease, the first of three subtler level of mind emerges; a vivid white appearance that dawns of its own accord. Mind-eye sees a clear Autumn sky without any dust or mist (སྟོན་གནམ་དྲི་མ་མེད་པ།); a moon-lit night without the moon. It(appearance) is also called “empty” because it is beyond or besides 80 conceptions. Some text describes external sign as early morning light. ( སྐྱ་རེངས་ཤར་བ།). དེ་སྣང་བ་ལ་ཐིམ་པའི་སྣང་བ་རང་དུས་ཀྱི་རྟགས་ནི་སྟོན་གྱི་ནམ་མཁའ་གཡའ་དག་པའི་ཚེ་མཚན་མོ་ཟླ་བ་ཤར་བའི་འོད་ཀྱིས་ཁྱབ་པའི་ནམ་མཁའ་ལྟ་བུ་ཤིན་ཏུ་དྭངས་ཤིང་སྟོང་སང་ངེ་བ་ལ་འོད་ཀྱི་སྣང་བ་དཀར་པོའི་རྣམ་པ་ཞིག་འཆར་ལ།
According to Dalai lama, “The winds in the right and the left channels above the heart enters the central channel through its opening at the top of the head-crown. Due to this, the knot of channels at the crown loosened. This in turn, causes the white-drop [karma: father essence] that dwell at the top of the head and has nature of water to move downward; when it arrives at the top of the six fold knot of right and left channel at the heart, the vivid white appearance dawns.”
6) Red-Increase Appearance/Second Empty/Very-Empty; །དེ་ལ་སྣང་བ་མཆེད་པ་དང་ཤིན་ཏུ་སྟོང་པ་ཟེར་རོ།
Dalai Lama wrote, “When the mind of white appearances and its wind dissolves into the mind of increase-of-appearance, a vivid red-orange appearance dawns of its own accord. This is an even brighter openness, like an autumn sky with dust and clouds pervaded by red-orange light; nothing else appears to this mind. This state is called “increase of appearance” because an appearance like every vivid sunlight appears but again there is no such light shining from outside. This state is also called “very empty” because it is beyond the mind of appearance and wind on which it rides.
Physically, the winds in the right and left channels below the heart enter the central channel through its lower opening at the base of the spine or sexual organ. Due to this the knots of the channel wheels in the sexual organ and at the navel loosen. This causes the red-drop(shaped like a small vertical line) in the middle of the channel wheel, at the navel, move upward. As it moves to just below the knot of right and left channel at the heart, the red-orange increase-of-appearance dawns. “
Some text describes above phase as; white Appearance fades and red haze pervade. This Appearance is stronger or more empty or vacuum. སྟོན་གནམ་གཡའ་དག་ལ་ཉིད་འོད་ཀྱིས་ཁྱབ་པ་ལྟ་བུ་སྔར་ལས་ཀྱང་ཆེས་དྭངས་པའི་སྟོང་སང་ངེ་བ་དམར་པོའམ་དམར་སེར་གྱི་སྣང་བ་འཆར་ལ།
7) Black-Near Attainment Appearance/Third Empty/Great Empty; །དེ་ལ་ཉེར་ཐོབ་དང་སྟོང་པ་ཆེན་པོ་ཞེས་བྱའོ
Dalai lama wrote, “When the mind of red-orange increase-of-appearance and its wind dissolve into the mind-of-near-attainment, a vivid black appearance dawns of its own accord. Now it is like an autumn sky free from dust and clouds and pervaded by thick darkness that falls right after dusk. Nothing else appears to this mind. During the first part of the mind of black near-attainment, you are still aware, but in the later part you become unconscious in a very thick darkness like fainting. This phase is called “near attainment” because it is close to manifestation of the mind of clear light. It is also called “greatly empty” because it is beyond the mind of increase of appearance and the wind on which it rides. སྟོང་སང་ནག་ལམ་པའི་སྣང་བ་འཆར་ལ།
Physically, the upper and lower winds inside the central channel gather at the heart, loosening the six-fold knot of right and left channels. At this point, the white drop originating at the top of the head further descends, and the red-drop originating at the navel further ascends, with both entering into the middle of the indestructible drop at the heart. When these two meet, the vivid black appearance dawns.”
8) Clear Light Appearance/Fourth Empty/Total Empty; དེ་ལ་འཆི་བ་འོད་གསལ་དང་ཐམས་ཅད་སྟོང་པ་ཞེས་བྱ་སྟེ། འཆི་བ་དངོས་དེ་ཡིན་ནོ།
Note: According to some authors, Clear-light is wrong English translation. It should be Light only. In Tibetan འོད་གསལ་ has two meanings: a) Register b) clear. It is register.
I quote H.H. the Dalai lama, “The mind becomes even more subtle than it is during the unconscious second part of the mind of black near-attainment; the movement of wind becomes weaker, and the state of the subtlest mind arrives. At this point unconsciousness is cleared away, and the mind of clear light, the subtlest of all minds, non-conceptual and totally non dualistic, is manifest. At this juncture all conceptual activity has ceased and the three “polluting conditions” – the white, red, and black appearances, or moon, sun and darkness, which prevent the emergence of sky’s natural color –have dissolved. A very clear openness dawns. Like an autumn sky at dawn, before sunrise, free from any sullying factors, nothing else appears. This deepest consciousness is called the “fundamental innate mind of clear light” and “all empty” because it is beyond the eighty conceptions and the three subtle minds.
Physically, the white and red drops dissolves into the indestructible at the heart- the white dissolving into its white top and red dissolving into its red bottom. Thereupon, the winds inside the central channel dissolves into the very subtle life-bearing wind. This causes the very subtle wind and the mind of clear light to manifest. སྟོན་གྱི་ནམ་མཁའ་གཡའ་དག་པ་ལ་ཟླ་འོད་ཉིད་འོད་མུན་པ་སྟེ་སློད་བྱེད་ཀྱི་རྐྱེན་གསུམ་དང་བྲལ་བའི་ཐོ་རེངས་ཀྱི་ནམ་མཁའི་རང་མདོག་ཇི་ལྟ་བ་བཞིན་སྟོང་སང་ཤིན་ཏུ་དྭངས་པའི་སྣང་བ་སྟོང་ཉིད་མངོན་སུམ་དུ་རྟོགས་པའི་མཉམ་གཞག་གི་སྣང་བ་འདྲ་བ་ཞིག་འཆར་རོ།
For most people death occurs when the subtlest level of mind manifests. The most subtle consciousness usually remains in the body for three days, unless the body has been ravaged by disease, in which case it might not remain even a day. For a capable practitioner, this is a valuable opportunity for practice. Those who are conscious of the mind of clear light can remain in this state for longer periods and, depending on previous training can even use it to realize the truth of the emptiness of inherent existence of all phenomena, including cyclic existence and nirvana.”
Until clear light leaves(manifest) the body, Tibetan Buddhist, do not consider a person dead.
*There is a similarity between the Total Empty Appearance (7th Appearance above) and a Deep Meditative State.
ThugDam/ThukDham , in Tibetan, is a state of physical body after being declared clinically dead but before “clear light” leaves the body. Some Tibetan yogis had remained in ThugDham for 3 weeks.
Clear Light or Luminosity: འོད་གསལ།
According to DzogChen (རྫོགས་ཆེན།) there are two different types of Clear Light or Luminosity. First Clear Light or Luminosity is the one that meditators experience while in Meditation equipoise. It is often referred to as “Son Luminosity” or “Path Luminosity” or Simile Luminosity( ལམ་གྱི་འོད་གསལ།).
Second Luminosity comes into play at the time of the death. It is called “Mother Luminosity or Clear Light (
གཞིའི་འོད་གསལ།)”. This Mother Clear Light is experienced by all sentient beings, briefly, at the time of their death.
H. H. the Dalai lama wrote on page 164 “The meeting of the mother and child Clear Lights is not actually
meeting of two entities, rather the mother Clear Light of death, which dawns due to karma, turns into
spiritual consciousness the child Clear Light.”
* TsaLungThikley practice is essential to direct and control these Appearances. If that is not within your
reach, then following are recommended but not a substitute.
* Strong(Deep) devotion can help surge this ascend.
* Phowa practice.
* Yidam Pride practice too can help but be careful with such Pride. It can be tainted with anger, envy, desire
All above must be accompanied by philosophical Emptiness that things do not exist as we perceive. They
are empty of inherent existence. This is crucial.
Dream Yoga is helpful to gauge or experience, at least 1 and 2 stages of dissolution, while one is asleep.
Difficulty is how to remain aware of a dream state yet in sleep. Trick is, before going to bed remind oneself that you have to catch the dream. However, if one puts too much stress on the task of being able to catch the dream, you will not get a sleep. Therefore stress on “catching the dream” is applied with some balance. If it is too weak, you will sleep without being able to catch the dream.
An accomplished Meditator can go through above phases of dissolution of death and yet can come back to life. Anyone who can perform such a feat is fit to be called “Enlightened in one life time”…H.H. the Dalai Lama; Go here for youtube link
Some Meditators employ their Dream-State to go through above phases of Death- lucid Dream. They
visualize how the mother(Clear Light) looks like when you meet her eventually otherwise you may not
recognize her at all when she pass you by.
Practice, Practice and Practice. Best time in NOW. Find a qualified teacher and recognize your Mother
This is a peep into VajraYana Buddhism. Initiation cum Empowerment is mandatory to practice Yidam(Deity).
One of my Guru told me that initiation is like a Visa. You may have the Air Ticket but still visa is required to
board the plane. Guru-Chela bond must be impeccable for initiation to be successful. Although H.H. the
Dalai Lama gives teaching without condition to all(public) but when it comes to initiation he explicitly ask
those who practice Dhoegyal not to attend.
1 Subtle Consciousness as per GoyaSamaJa text (not Clear Light) are said to happen in following
circumstances: Death, Deep sleep beyond dreams, fainting, sneezing, orgasm and yawning. Awareness is
2 People under general Anesthesia do not go through normal dissolution stages. It is confirmed by H.H. the
Dalai Lama when he was under general Anesthesia during Gallstone surgery and others whom he knew
3 Indo-Tibetan Buddhism:
It is now accepted within Buddhist intellectual to refer to Tibetan Buddhism as Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. Tibet
brought Buddhism from India and especially from Nalanda University and kept it alive when India lost it. So
there is no Tibetan Buddhism but Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.
1 The three kayas of the ground
2 Advice on Dying & Living a Better Life by H.H. the Dalai Lama; Translated and Edited and Jeffrey
3 Good life, Good Death by Rinpoche Nawang Gehlek forwarded by H.H. the Dalai Lama
4 Mind and Life XIV; H.H. the Dalai Lama , Dharamsala, 2007, 3rd day Afternoon session;
5 MindLife XVII,2009, H.H. the Dalai Lama, India.