A conversation on death and the deathless.
Questioner 2. What happens when we die? What happens to perception?
Traktung Rinpoche: The Dharmakaya is the Always, the Sambogakaya is the Always (awareness in its essence and awareness in its luminous bliss filled clarity). The changeable nirmanakaya depends on many things according to the beings or Buddhas who it is manifesting as. The Unborn mystery has as one of its aspects the quality of knowningness, awareness. When there is nothing to be aware of can e say it is awareness – or is awareness the activity, the nature of Nothingness. When anything is there is awareness. Consciousness is the modified stepped down version of this clear light awareness as it is channeled via the six senses – 5 sense consciousnesses and mental consciousness. You think of being conscious or unconscious but awareness is beyond these. You tend to lose the knower within the known. You are addicted, fixated, obsessed with the known and so you miss the knower altogether. The knower, who knows even what you call consciousness and unconsciousness, even deep sleep, is the intrinsic ever-wakeful awareness
Questioner 3. What do you mean deep sleep? In deep sleep there is an absence of any knower at all.
Traktung Rinpoche: Exactly wrong. In deep sleep there is a purity of the knower alone.
Q3. If that were the case then I would know this and know myself in deep sleep.
Traktung Rinpoche: You do. You are self-existent self-knowingness in deep sleep.
Q3. This is not my experience.
Traktung Rinpoche: You do not remember. Upon awakening the change of state is so shocking that you forget. This is not an uncommon experience. Often in the slip between dream and waking one second you remember the dream and then you do not. When anyone changes states radically there is a tendency to forget, be unable to carry the information over. From the purity of the knower in the deep sleep state there is more than a change of state because in that deep sleep there is no state and no information. What you are really addicted to in essence is “content” – information, You are utterly ignorant of yourself and only know the things of knowing while losing the knowingness itself. You are perfectly aware in deep sleep and after death but the medium of that awareness is radically different.
Q2. So in death?
Traktung Rinpoche: In death the elements of the body dissolve and they are witnessed dissolving all the way up to and including the consciousness aggregate. When this final one dissolves there is only the clear light of uncontrived, unborn natural great awareness – for a split second.
Q2. And then?
Traktung Rinpoche: And then you have a universe of dream like phenomena and you are again lost in the perception and perceiver and perceived game.
Q1. Where does this “phenomena” come from?
Traktung Rinpoche: (waving his arm about the room) Where does this phenomena come from – same place.
Q3. But at most those after death bardos must be psychic realms not actual physical realms.
Traktung Rinpoche: (laughing hard) Exactly. As I said, same as this!
Q1. Recently I read --- a famous Tibetan Lama --- say in a conversation with western scientists and psychologists that various realms, god realms and hell realms, did not have to be thought of as “actual places” but as psychological descriptions.
Traktung Rinpoche: And what did he say about this place, this human realm, this earth and sky, trees, and water, beings and airplanes.
Q1. He didn’t say anything.
Traktung Rinpoche: Yes, I suspected as much, he is very politic, circumspect. He swishes to not scare you. If he says those are not “real places” then you feel happy because Buddhist don’t have to be like crazy Christians believing the bible literally but so as not to make you to uncomfortable he left out the punch line. ---- pause ----
Q3. Which is?
Traktung Rinpoche: This place to is no more real! This place to is a psychological description. This place is a psychic event and no more. When westerners tend to speak of this they want to feel those realms – gods, hells, - are not meant to be considered real while holding fully onto the notion This is a real place. That misses the teaching entirely.
Q3. So when you die. Perception …..?
Traktung Rinpoche: Awareness simply continues. When the consciousness aggregate dissolves into clear light awareness the moving aspect of that Nothingness – the radiance – radiates and according to karmas, habits of mind, dreams are generated and you live in these as real experiences. Eventually this tendency solidifies into a seemingly consistent dream like realm such as this human one and you are “born” within it.
In other words your mind’s habits determine the quality of your experience. As always.
Q1. What about one, immersed in freedom, as you call it?
Traktung Rinpoche: Such a one never dies. How can they die? They no longer live convicted of the accusation of having been born.
Q3. They appear to die.
Traktung Rinpoche: The body of the one you identify as them dies but they are not fooled by this identification, as you are.
Q3. And perception?
Traktung Rinpoche: There is awareness’ activity – awareness of the mysterious great awareness’ empty and luminous aspects and the playful frolic of these twos inseparability cavorting as what you would call appearances. So I guess there is what you call perception while the utter recognition that this perception is 1. Empty, according to second turning view. It is empty of implying any actual perceiver. 2. It is the luminous non-dual play of wisdom beyond even perception. A solid mass of non-solidity awareness/appearance/emptiness.
Q1. Does someone who perceives in this way perceive their past lives?
Traktung Rinpoche: (laughing hard) They do not even perceive this life!
Q1. They do not know of past lives? It is said the Buddha knew all his past lives.
Traktung Rinpoche: When there is no acceptance of the false knowledge you call birth or death then where will be all this mass of other knowledge you speak of. Ok, ok…… there is a thread of interdependence which moved through countless so called lives as the continuity of consciousness. Consciousness has continuity across lives and there is this thread which is called a person across lives. But when there is wakefulness this is just dream stuff. Out of compassion that dream stuff might appear again and again as a new thread or responsiveness across lives and this thread in one tradition is called a “tulku which is Tibetan for “nirmanakaya” – the enlightened aspect of appearance. If it somehow benefited something then that body thread ‘s mind might “know” of its past lives.
Better than all such conceptualization is to empty mind of this clap trap. If it is benefit to know such things it is benefit in order to get people to truly practice the way! Meditate on the luminous sublime wisdom as yidam and let mind go where no mind goes a la la…..