Transference of consciousness at the time of death

I want to tell you a story. Not one that I’ve told very often.

AvalokiteshvaraI moved to Florida in November 1999, into an apartment with N, my then partner. The same month a couple moved into the apartment next door, Cheryl and Bob, who hailed from the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. We didn’t seem to have anything in common, but for whatever reason we all liked each other. Bob called us “the beautiful people.” And one day as I was watching him drink at some kind of social event, a strong sense washed over me, “I am supposed to be protecting him.”

I assumed this meant that at some point he’d get into Buddhism or meditation. Seemed to me that this was going to take a very long time as he was not remotely interested. But, hey, I could be patient. And I started to keep him in my prayers.

One evening the four of us went to a movie, the Green Mile. Bob became very agitated at the (admittedly disturbing) execution scenes, and several times fled the auditorium to smoke in the foyer. He said afterwards he didn’t know why he found it all so terrifying, he was used enough to violent movies.

Two days later, around 7am, we found a note pushed under our door. It said, simply:

“It is 5am. Bob has had a brain hemorrhage. Please come to Sarasota Memorial Hospital. I don’t know where to turn.”

Our friend Losang was staying with us at the time, so all three of us rushed over there.

We arrived at intensive care to a surreal encounter – Cheryl was hastening towards us with a face blotchy and red from tears, but right behind her walked Bob, who seemed completely fine …

We must have looked startled, for she quickly said, “This isn’t Bob. This is his twin brother Rick.”

Rick, a long-distance truck driver, could not bear to be in the same room as his brother. So Losang sat and talked with him in the waiting room. He helped him a lot that day.

When N and I entered Bob’s room, he was lying in bed with a huge blown-out bandaged head. As I greeted him, to everyone’s surprise he raised up from the pillow in my direction, as if trying to hear me.

So I guessed that he must still be able to hear things, even though he was supposedly in a deep coma.

WhatWillYouExperienceN sat quietly by his bed meditating and praying, and I sat the other side talking to Bob about going to the Pure Land. I asked Cheryl if he believed in Jesus and, hearing that he did, I guided him through a visualization of Jesus sitting above him and how he was going to Jesus’s heart through the crown of his head. I talked about heaven and what it was going to be like for him there. I basically guided him in the Buddhist transference of consciousness to a Pure Land (Tibetan: powa) practice, but using Jesus instead of Compassion Buddha Avalokiteshvara.

Cheryl was listening but still deeply distraught. So, leaving N by Bob’s bedside, I accompanied her outside for her cigarette break to encourage her that this was Bob’s time and it was important he didn’t see her upset. She could help him enormously, but she had to be strong and peaceful. Her own time for grief could come later. I explained about transference of consciousness, even though we’d never had a spiritual conversation before in our life, and described how she could help him do it. I suggested she tell him how much love there was all around him from holy beings and from her, and that she describe heaven for him, including all the things he loved seeing and doing. He need have no fear because he was going straight to Jesus’s heart, and from now on would always be happy and safe.

Bless Cheryl, for she listened attentively, and then did exactly this, talking to Bob tirelessly and with deep love for all the remaining hours of his life. The three of us had to leave for work, but we left her there at Bob’s bedside, and eight hours later he peacefully passed away. By all accounts, the room felt utterly blessed.

Rick was distraught, but Cheryl felt strangely okay, as if Bob had not really left. One day she saw white light at the end of her bed. She often felt as though he was communicating with her and trying to let her know that he was alright. This presence went on for a few weeks until, one day, her curiosity drove her to consult a medium. She said this was a first for her, doing something like this, for she had not previously given a lot of thought to life after death. Though I suspect she was always a deep thinker.

The medium was told nothing about Bob’s death nor about me. But this is what happened.

“I am hearing from someone called Bob, do you know him?” Cheryl nodded yes. “He is telling me something that I don’t understand, something about a sister. Shall I just repeat what he’s saying?” Cheryl nodded yes again.

“When Bob was dying, you were with him in the hospital. And there was a woman there you were close to, was it a sister? You both were helping him, telling him what to do. And he wants you to know something …

It worked.”

Cheryl is not given to drama and hyperbole. When she told me this afterwards, it was plain as day that Bob had made it to the Pure Land. Bob also went onto say that we had done everything right, that he was in a pure beautiful place, happy, with no more suffering. He said Cheryl need never worry about him again, and he thanked us both.

Present day

book-Living-Meaningfully-Dying-Joyfully-frntCheryl has gotten even kinder and more spiritual over the years. And this month, February 2018, she has just helped another fiancé, Mike, through the death process. (Perhaps this is why I’m finally sharing Bob’s story.) She wrote to me today of her own memories of those last hours with Bob, which she says she understands better now:

“In hindsight, I came into acceptance of his pending death, which helped his soul complete his transition journey in a peaceful, loving way. I was happy for him to release his body to rebirth to pure spirit … I think we have to put our own grief or situation aside and remember that this can be a wondrous and beautiful time for them. You can choose to be a part of that journey in a loving and peaceful manner.”

As for Mike’s death, she says:

“I am much more present today than I was all those years ago with Bob. I will share what happened with you soon. When I am very low and grieving, I go back to that experience because there was no sadness during that time … only peace and pure unconditional love.”

Please pray for Mike. And for everyone else who is dying (all of us). When the time comes, may we all have someone who can leave their own grief aside and help us die peacefully. May everyone have powa done for them.

It makes all the difference.

Helping each other to die well

Ever since that day in 1999, not surprisingly, I have had a lot of faith both in the importance of helping someone die well if possible, and, regardless of how people die, in the astonishing power of powa practice. I hope this has increased your confidence in all this too, because, as my teacher Geshe Kelsang has said, there is nothing kinder we can do for humans or for animals than to help them reach the Pure Land when they die.

You can find out more about transference of consciousness — as well as other ways to understand and transform your own and others’ death — in the book Living Meaningfully, Dying Joyfully.

 

Turn on, tune in, drop out

Turn on the faith, tune in to the blessings, and drop out of samsara (i.e. life characterized by delusions). This is the final article on the subject of blessings — the rest you can find here.

Love is all you need

Blessings are inseparable from love as they are the nature of the clear light mind of bliss and in Tantra this bliss is the same as love and compassion. It is not too hard to understand that, for what happier mind is there than unconditional love?

Indeed, love and compassion are just the other side of the coin from the wisdom realizing lack of inherent, or independent, existence. Cherishing others arises naturally from the wisdom understanding the interdependence of all phenomena, our utter interconnectedness. Holy beings cannot help but love us unconditionally, it is their nature; and I believe the utter joy that my grandfather felt came from the love.

blessed squirrel?!

The more frequently we tune into enlightened beings’ love, the quicker we can develop. Interestingly, studies show that when human beings feel they are receiving love, and even when animals feel they are receiving love, their full potential to learn is activated. I’m not the only one to have noticed that if you give an animal a lot of love, you get  far more out of her; she is more engaged and intelligent. So if we are feeling the love of the Buddhas and other holy beings and bathing in it, our full potential for love (and wisdom) will also be sparked.

“I am not worthy!”

We have to understand and believe that the holy beings love us. (This includes any holy being — the Buddhas, Jesus, God, or whomever you have faith in). It doesn’t really work if we are projecting judgmental, critical, hard-hearted characteristics onto holy beings, due to our own lack of self-worth or useless feelings of unloveability, unworthiness or guilt. This is facing North. My teacher Geshe Kelsang says:

For example, even if the sun is shining in the sky, if our door is facing North the sun will not come in. This is not the sun’s fault; this is the house’s fault! Similarly, even if Buddhas are ready to bestow blessings, the liberating path, if we are facing the opposite direction, this is our fault, not Buddha’s fault. We need to face them and make a relationship or connection through developing faith and devotion and making requests. Between us we will then receive protection from them.

When we feel holy beings’ love flowing into us, it is not hard to then pass that on to our family, friends and other living beings, for we feel, rightly, that there is infinite love to go around. It pours out of us. Geshe Kelsang wrote a beautiful praise to Buddha Shakyamuni called Liberating Prayer, which includes these words:

Please nourish me with your goodness,
That I in turn may nourish all beings
With an unceasing banquet of delight.

Blessings, like atmosphere, are everywhere

Most people would agree that the atmosphere in a war zone is less conducive to peace than the atmosphere in a temple or cathedral. Many things are invisible and even undetectable by physical means, but nonetheless exist: sorrow, pain, hope, for instance; or an atmosphere of tension or distrust in a room. We feel blessings in our heart as a sort of glow, like feeling the sun on our skin – a source of energy that we might never fully understand until we’re enlightened, but that is still there.

Gravity is there and we are all entirely affected by it, although apart from theoretical physicists not many of us actually understand it. Blessings exist too, an invisible force that cannot be seen or tasted but is still capable of drawing us into its orbit. In fact, blessings are enlightened mind and we are already in their orbit, we just haven’t necessarily tuned in with faith yet.

Turn on the radio receiver of faith
Turn on the faith, tune into the blessings, drop out of samsara

In this article, I likened faith to a radio receiver — radio waves are always playing around us but whether or not we hear the music depends on whether or not we turn on the radio. Same thing for blessings.

Actually, faith is not that mysterious either. If we understand the three types of faith – believing, admiring and wishing – we can see that faith is not a bolt from the blue or blind, but something we can cultivate like any other positive state of mind. (But, if you do go ahead and cultivate it, make sure you can handle all the blissings that are going to come your way!)

Your turn

Since this article, I have written eight more on blessings (one is actually by a guest writer); they can all be found here. Now I’m sure everyone, including me, would love to hear more from other people! Please leave your comments in the box below.

Please share these articles with anyone who might want more blessings in their life.

What is the root of all evil according to Buddha?!

Synopsis

Buddha said that the root of all our negative minds — all our so-called “delusions” or unpeaceful, uncontrolled minds — is self-grasping ignorance. We are grasping very tightly at an exaggerated sense of self — an I or me that is independent, real. Due to this we naturally develop a grossly overrated, over the top, overweening sense of our own importance, a delusion called “self-cherishing”. Due to this, we naturally develop all the other delusions such as anger and attachment. Due to this, we naturally do negative actions. Due to this, we suffer!

I find this to be an immensely encouraging summary of our human condition. We are not evil at heart, just ignorant, and ignorance can be overcome. We can tackle it in ourselves and forgive it in others. I think that Jesus understood that we are not evil, just ignorant, when he cried out on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Rewind

So, let’s rewind to the starting point. We grasp at a real or inherently existent me or I all the time, but sometimes it is more obvious to see how — when we are afraid or embarrassed, for example. Geshe Kelsang gives the example of being about to fall off a cliff. We are not thinking “Aarrghhh, my body is about to fall!” or “Aarrghhh, my mind is about to fall!” – just “Aarrghhh, I am about to fall”. We have a visceral non-analytical grasping at a me or self that appears solid, real and graspable, and we are terrified for it. (If we had the time and mental space to analyze, we’d see that this I we’re grasping is independent, different from our body and mind, and existent from its own side. But self-grasping doesn’t analyze, it just grasps, and strongly at times like this…!)

Here’s another example. Imagine for a moment that you are attending a large meditation class, and at the beginning the organizer says: “Please remember to switch off your cell phones.” But you forget, and just as it becomes all quiet and peaceful, your cell phone goes off. Loudly. And it’s one of those really funky theme tunes that you chose late one night and never got round to switching back. And then what happens is a sense of “UH OH!”

Check what’s going on now. You have a powerful sense of me or I, don’t you? “My cell phone’s ringing! Everyone is looking at me! I look like such an idiot!” Within that embarrassment is a strong sense of me or I as unrelated to, or distinct from, everybody else in the room. You feel rather estranged from them at this point, don’t you? They’re over there looking at me, I’m over here. I’m really me, this is the real me here, and they’re really other. And there’s a gap between us, there’s some alienation there, some estrangement, I am all alone in here. “Help me out!” Maybe you give the friend you came with a little embarrassed smile, mentally beseeching, “Maybe you can help me out here, I’m feeling out on a limb, share the burden …”

Does a scenario like this one ring any bells?! We are experiencing a sense of isolation, grasping at a self that is independent and unrelated to others, and feeling that it is the real, the only — the one and only — ME.

Stand up the real me

Who is the real me? We always think it’s us, don’t we? “I’m the real me, everybody else is other. Everyone other than me may think they’re me, but I’m me.” That attitude is actually almost as familiar to us as breathing, but the fact of the matter is that it’s basically nonsense.

We’re not the only me. In fact, I don’t know where you are right now but my guess is that there’s probably a lot of me’s around you, each one of them with a perfect right to call themselves “me” for they’re just as much me as you are. We have a strong sense of self-importance, that our happiness matters and so on, and where is that coming from?  If we check very carefully, we can see that it’s because we believe that our me is more real and therefore more important than others’ me! Strip away all the rationalizations and we end up with: “It is of the most crucial importance that I am happy and not sad because I am me.” 

But that mind is an ignorant mind. This may or may not come as a surprise, but you are actually not more real and important than me! Or anybody else. Not even close. In fact, what grounds do we actually have for thinking that we are more real and important than others? Do we have any grounds?

“Hands up who thinks I’m most important”

If we really were more real and important than others, don’t you think there’d be at least a few other people who agree with us about that? Maybe I should put up a Facebook poll to ask that very question: who is the most important person reading this page?! Whose happiness and suffering matters most? I think it would be a fairly divided poll. I don’t think we’re going to get a whole lot of consensus on that question.

Continued in this article … meanwhile, your turn. Have you ever had a scary or embarrassing experience where you notice at the time or in retrospect that you are/were grasping at ME really tightly?! What did that feel like?