There were a thousand people at the recent Kadampa Buddhist Festival in Mexico, all receiving Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments and commentary. There will be several thousand more attending Heruka and Vajrayogini empowerments this Summer in England. This may be just the beginning. And, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I think this development might indicate a coming paradigm shift for much of modern humanity. 😁
In my defense …. there’s loads of hyperbole around these days anyway, only most of it is painting the picture of a dystopian future for us all. There are many articles around, such as this one, bemoaning the moral decay of civilization and politics, the rise of nationalism and “strong men”, the destruction of our planet, and more. And the more of this stuff I read, the more I feel that Buddhism can help in these times, that Tantra gives us mighty tools for helping.
Point is, there is no inherently existent world. There is no fixed future – the future doesn’t even exist, all we have is our thoughts and imaginations about the future. These can change. We need to choose what we focus on – so that we can bring that out of ourselves and others.
In this article, a guest author talks about how wisdom and compassion are needed in modern society to bring about the real shift that is necessary to empower us all.
Tantra is the embodiment of that wisdom and compassion, it gives it vision and life. A paradigm shift is defined as:
An important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way.
If there are thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of human beings practicing Buddhist Tantra, the world has no choice but to change for the better. And we seem to be heading in that direction.
I don’t think for a moment that 7 billion human beings are about to become Buddhist, let alone start practicing Tantra, in the next few years. But I do think that millions may, and, given that the wisdom of Tantra tears down the illusions of samsara and builds Pure Lands in the here and now, this will surely make the biggest impact not just on them but on everyone around them.
There are good people everywhere with big hearts, in all faiths and walks of life — beautiful people making a difference. As Tantric practitioners, we can help them.
Escape to reality
Buddhist Tantra is far from escapist, far from make-believe. At the moment we are hallucinating ourselves, the world, and everything and everyone else – projecting a “real” world outside the mind and then reacting as if it was actually there. Samsara is the make-believe. Tantra sees through the hallucinations. It escapes TO reality, rather than from reality.
So, I’d like to continue sharing ways I make Tantra practical.
Let’s say we have now generated ourselves as Heruka or Vajrayogini in the way described in this article — using as our basis of imputation to begin with a positive mind that is not hard for us to generate. If we are in our meditation session, this is now our jumping off point for going deep.
Then what do we do?
Well, one thing I like to do after thinking “I am Vajrayogini” is to check what’s happening in my mind, like if there are any delusions coming up. Then I find it incredibly helpful to deal with those delusions in the space of bliss and emptiness.
In Sutra we are taught not to dwell on our faults nor identify with them, and in Tantra we take this to its logical conclusion and do it in a supercharged way. Check out this section from How to Solve Our Human Problems:
Normally our need to escape from unpleasant feelings is so urgent that we do not give ourself the time to discover where these feelings actually come from. …. In reality, the painful feelings that arise on such occasions are not intolerable. They are only feelings, a few moments of bad weather in the mind, with no power to cause us any lasting harm… Just as there is room in the sky for a thunderstorm, so there is room in the vast space of our mind for a few painful feelings.
That’s just from a Sutra point of view. If we apply this to Tantra and understand that the space or sky of the mind is bliss and emptiness, then our bad weather delusions become utterly manageable, even if they feel really painful.
So, for example, rather than grappling with attachment or anger like a dog with a bone, we self-generate first and then look at those unpleasant feelings that are arising like clouds. Is it possible to have some unhappy feelings and be happy at the same time?! Yes, providing we are not identifying “Me” with those cloud-like feelings but instead with the blissful, spacious sky.
Painful feelings can only arise and remain in our mind because of our present self-grasping … we strongly feel “I am hurt” or “MY feelings are hurt.” The intensity of our suffering is in direct proportion to the intensity of our self-grasping.
So, if we look at our delusions from our perspective of being bliss and emptiness, they can seem weirdly fascinating, but we are neither threatened nor scared by them. We are not bogged down by them. We are not them. We have the space to look at them and understand how to work with them, and then it is easy to apply any antidote of Sutra and Tantra — all within that context of being very light and free and confident.
Whatever painful feelings arise, we can see that they’re not able to harm us in any way, any more than weather can destroy the sky; and, sooner or later we’ll see that they are just aspects of clear light.
First we should know that in ultimate truth there are no impure things, no samsara, no suffering, and no mistaken appearance; everything is completely pure in the nature of definitive Heruka, emptiness inseparable from the clear light of bliss. Impure things are only the creation of the ignorance of self-grasping and therefore actually do not exist.
As promised in the last article on Tantra, I’m now going to share a little of what I like to do on a daily basis. Please don’t take my word for any of what I’m about to say – once you have your empowerments, you need to read the commentary to the practice, The New Guide to Dakini Land, yourselves! But in the hopes that some of this might help some of you, here goes …
Yes, as I said here, in general we self-generate as Vajrayogini (and/or Heruka) in dependence upon renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom. We can deepen our familiarity with this over time – getting a feeling for how transcendent it is to be a Buddha, so that we can come back to this when we forget.
But … we don’t have to wait to perfect all these minds before we practice self-generation or every time we practice self-generation. Self-generation need not always be the culmination of all our other meditations — it can also function as a jumping off point. (As I explained here, it can be useful to meditate backwards … )
So, whether I am about to meditate on the stages of the path (Lamrim) or on Tantra, I jump straight in as Vajrayogini. I base this self-generation on renunciation, bodhichitta, feeling the Spiritual Guide in my heart, compassion for someone, or anything else — whatever you love about Dharma, start there. I don’t think it really matters which positive mind we start with — you can evoke some familiar happy mind, starting where you are, as it were (explained more here). And then use that as your basis for thinking, “This is me; I’m Vajrayogini”.
I find that instantly the blessings are there, the positive mind becomes far more powerful, and I’m in flow. (It works even better if I think, “I am Guru Vajrayogini”, that is, one with my Spiritual Guide.)
Whenever our mind is peaceful, we are already connected to Guru Buddha’s blessings. So it’s not that much of a stretch to impute ourselves on that.
Blessings lift our awareness and make us happy, and believing we are a Buddha is a quick way to get them. It’s hard sometimes these days to stay peaceful and positive for even an hour without feeling tuned into some kind of blessings. As it says in Essence of Vajrayana:
In these impure times it is only through receiving the blessings of the enlightened beings that we can maintain the mental peace that is the root of our daily happiness.
Then, for example, if I want to meditate on love or compassion, it is within that context that I go on to deepen this. It is not that I am clinging tightly to “I am Vajrayogini, I am Vajrayogini” so much as not approaching my meditation as an ordinary, limited being, with an unbridgeable gap between a rigid immovable unloving state of mind and the blissful fluid universal love I am aiming for.
In that space that opens up, in that flow of blessings, there is so much more room for Dharma minds, all Dharma minds; and then it’s much easier to gain deep, blissful, sustained feelings for all the Lamrim and Tantra.
If instead we are supposing, “I have to work myself up to generating myself as Vajrayogini — I have to have perfect renunciation, bodhichitta, and wisdom, not to mention get through every practice in the sadhana, before I can authentically be Vajrayogini,” then I think we rarely get there. We probably never even get started, to be honest.
I am a great believer in finding time for a daily Tantric sadhana, btw, long or short depending on time and inclination, and especially in spending quality time dissolving everything into the clear light. But there’s a reason why most sadhanas start with instantaneous self-generation.
As Buddha said:
All phenomena are mere name.
We are not inherently anybody or anything — there is no self to be found behind the name or label. And names have power. “I am Luna” brings up various associations, for example, that free me up to write this blog. “I am mere appearance not other than the emptiness of all phenomena” sets me free. “I am Vajrayogini” brings up enormously positive, light, and blissful connotations.
As soon as we think, “I am Vajrayogini,” then the basis of imputation for ourselves has changed because we have changed the imputed object.
For example, I was asking a monk called Chodor, whose name means “Vajradhara”, if he felt different when he was given that name. “Yes”, he said, “Instantly”. The moment he got his new name he felt a shift. This didn’t mean that he was real Vajradhara — rather that the space and possibility and connotation opened up so that he could flow toward being Vajradhara rather than struggling for many years with no Vajradhara qualities.
Tantra is about bringing the result into the path, so there’s no way around it; we jump in.
I would submit we jump in as often as possible, both in and out of meditation. Switch from the Samsara channel to the Pure Land channel. And then ignore the temptation to switch back just in case we might be missing something — we’re not. There’s nothing on at all.
Changing the trajectory of our lives
We have to change the narrative of who we are if we are to overcome the inertia to escape from samsara. That is, we cannot keep identifying ourselves as an ordinary samsaric being and then expect to ever be a pure being.
Normally we abide with the self we normally perceive – impoverished, exhausted, isolated, deprived, insecure, in pain, worried, overwhelmed, stressed, bitter, or angry (just for starters) … and we cherish this self and protect it at all costs. All our thoughts are wrapped around this self, off in the hallucination …
That’s enough – we need to think, “I don’t want to do this anymore!” We cannot make samsara work. It’s always frustrating – every step we take gives rise to some inconvenience. We’re so used to it, we think it is normal. A mildly disturbing day is seen as a “good day.” Self-grasping disturbs our inner peace all the time. Even our happiness is inadequate, a changing suffering. We do not want to fully accept that samsara is miserable so we tend to be ½ in and ½ out. We need to leave samsara, also, so we know how to get other people out of it.
We need to switch channels. We need to go to the Pure Land and stay there.
We need vision
There is a question posed in the Tantras that we answer on the occasion of receiving empowerments:
Who are you and what do you seek?
This shows the need for bringing the result into the path, identifying right now with who we want to be and what we really want out of life. This is based on the wisdom understanding that we are not inherently anyone and so can be anyone (as explained more here)
It is worth really thinking through each day who we want to be and what we really want. Everything depends on this – what we do all day, what delusions we have or don’t have. Samsara doesn’t deliver the goods. Wouldn’t it be incredible to have renunciation, bodhichitta, wisdom, and spontaneous great bliss instead?
The answer we give on this occasion is:
I am a fortunate one seeking great bliss.
A “fortunate one” (in Tibetan “Kelsang”) means a Bodhisattva. So, we are identifying with – or thinking “I AM” — a Bodhisattva seeking the great bliss that is the quick path to enlightenment.
Please note that the answer is not: “I am a hopelessly inadequate one seeking some vague sense of peace if at all possible, though knowing my luck it probably isn’t …”
We need that divine pride, that self-confidence, if we are to conquer our discouragement and other delusions – we have to feel stronger than them or they will continue to trample on us.
On this point, next time you have a delusion, check who you think you are at that time and as a result what you think you need. Chances are you are identifying with being an ordinary being in samsara who really needs things like jobs, money, relationships, and reputation to go well. For example, “I can’t be happy if I’m not coupled up; I’ll just be lonely my whole life!” Or “I need to accomplish something in my career or I’m just a failure!” Or the guilty, “I’m such a good for nothing son/partner/parent/person.” Or thinking we actually are this meaty body, “I’m so fat and ugly and getting stiffer every year!” etc, etc.
If we are identifying as Vajrayogini or Heruka, with built-in renunciation, compassion, and wisdom, these concerns are no longer an issue and so we drop our delusions with respect to them. We love everyone and are surrounded by Dakas and Dakinis, so there is no basis for loneliness. Far from being a failure, we are spontaneously benefiting all living beings. Far from being fat, ugly, or uncomfortable, we are blissful Deities made of wisdom light, transcending samsara and lifting everyone else out as well. And so on. Switch channels from ordinariness to pure view … and see why Buddha has always wanted to introduce us to this incredible spiritual technology.
As the Tantric Master Geshe Kelsang Gyatso puts it:
When we cling to being an ordinary person, thinking “I am Peter”, “I am Sarah”, etc, we are developing ordinary conceptions. Because we cling to an ordinary identity, if someone attacks us we feel fear, or if we run out of money we become anxious. If instead of clinging to an ordinary identity we were to overcome ordinary conceptions by developing the divine pride of being Heruka or Vajrayogini, we would not develop fear, anxiety, or any other negative state of mind. How can anyone harm Heruka? How can Vajrayogini run out of money? ~ Tantric Grounds and Paths page 14.
More coming up soon on how Tantra helps us to destroy our everyday delusions. Meantime I hope you’re enjoying these articles and, if you don’t have them already, might be inspired to receive empowerments soon … 😇❤️😊
Vajrayogini is a female enlightened Deity of Highest Yoga Tantra who is the manifestation of the wisdom of all the Buddhas. By engaging in the Tantric practice of Vajrayogini under the guidance of a qualified Spiritual Guide, sincere practitioners can completely purify their body, speech, and mind and attain the state of full enlightenment.
I didn’t make that up — I just got it from the back cover of The New Guide to Dakini Land. It seems like a good time to talk about Buddha Vajrayogini and Buddha Heruka seeing as thousands of people are about to receive these Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments in Mexico and/or are intent on doing so in England this summer. If you have these empowerments already, or are getting them soon, please read on. Otherwise, you may prefer to wait.
Bringing the result into the path
In Tantra, we bring the result of our future spiritual practice into the present by generating ourselves as a Deity, ie, a Tantric Buddha or enlightened being. This is based on renunciation, bodhichitta, and the wisdom realizing emptiness, all explained in Buddha’s Sutra teachings. These so-called “three principal aspects of the path” are said to be like the runway, and Tantra the airplane that flies us non-stop from samsara to the city of enlightenment.
I want to be free right now
In general, therefore, we generate ourself as a Buddha out of renunciation. For as long as we impute ourselves upon, or identify with, a samsaric body and mind, thinking “me” — which we don’t need to do, by the way, if we understand that self is mere name with nothing behind it — we have no choice but to inhabit all the sufferings thrown up by a meaty body and a deluded mind.
So what is it like to be a Buddha instead? To have a body made of wisdom light instead of this painful crunchy old bag of bones? To have an omniscient blissful loving mind completely free from ignorance, mistaken perceptions, and suffering?
I want others to be free right now
And we self-generate as a Buddha especially out of compassion. We cannot bear kind living beings to suffer for even one more day — dawdling along the spiritual path is not an option. So we have to get enlightened, and quickly. We are thinking, “I can do this. I am already arising as a Buddha in an enlightened Pure Land, with pure enjoyments, helping all living beings.”
As soon as we can already imagine doing this, that is the point when it starts becoming a reality. And everything is speeded up. We can go around all day blasting blessings from our heart, giving everyone peace and bliss.
I can do it right now
And we CAN self-generate to become the embodiment of renunciation, bodhichitta, and all other good qualities because everything lacks existence from its own side and is mere projection of the mind. We dissolve ourselves and all other phenomena into the clear light of bliss and emptiness — the mere absence of all the things we normally perceive — and, like a rainbow appearing in an empty sky, arise from that as a Buddha in a Pure Land full of pure beings and enjoyments.
Our main basis of imputation for “me” is bliss mixed inseparably with the mere absence of all the things we normally see — the absence of all those real things that usually draw us in, bog us down, and make us develop self-grasping and other delusions. We are now vast, omniscient, and effortlessly all-compassionate, able to emanate or appear whatever people need whenever and wherever they need it.
So this is what we are aiming for! This is what it will be like to be a Buddha. So this is who we imagine we are now.
Everything is imagination
As I explain more in this article, this so called “correct imagination” is based on the wisdom realizing that nothing is fixed, everything is mere imputation or conceptual label. It is just as “realistic,” indeed far more so, than the limited, hallucinatory sense of self projected and fixed by the ignorance of our self-grasping. It also works a great deal better. Regarding ourselves as stuck, ordinary, useless, and suffering keeps us exactly that way, whereas every moment of regarding ourselves as free, enlightened, powerful, and blissful draws us into liberation and enlightenment for our own and others’ sake.
Self-generation is not as hard as you may think
By the way, generating or identifying ourselves as Vajrayogini or Heruka is not as hard as we sometimes make out. And far from being abstract, irrelevant to “real life”, or fantastical, it is an immensely practical and realistic way to overcome daily run-of-the-mill delusions and effortlessly help others.
In degenerate times, when discouragement and low self-image abound, I think the practice of Tantra is essential not just for attaining enlightenment but for making any real headway against our delusions and sustaining the energy and confidence needed to help others.
So I plan to share some tips and tricks on this shortly 😊 Starting with this.
I want to tell you a story. Not one that I’ve told very often.
I 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.
N 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 …
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.
Cheryl 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.
I seem to be here again at the Denver DMV. I thought I’d left this grimy place forever, but here I am back all over again. “Weren’t you here just the other day”? asked the man who failed me in my first test and whom I’d never felt the great urge to see again. But our karma was clearly not done. At any rate, he was a good deal more friendly this time (so I discover he is not in fact an inherently nerve-wracking smile-less robot). He was curious as to all the details of the theft of the spanking new Colorado driving license (amongst other things) that was bringing me to his desk.
I have learned many lessons from this, as it happens, which all goes to show that difficulties can be our best spiritual teachers, as explained in the Lojong teachings. I thought I’d divide this into Sutra and Tantra lessons learned. It’s a long post, sorry in advance!
Sutra lessons learned
I must have stolen in the past, and this is not even the first theft I’ve had. There were some curious incidents growing up where thieves would break into my parents’ house but only steal MY stuff. They broke in in Guyana and stole only my treasured radio. They broke in in Singapore and took a stereo my parents had literally just given me. They broke in in London and took just my relatively worthless jewelry. And when I was a supposedly innocent five-year-old, they stole the shipment of my toys alone when we were moving from Sri Lanka back to England. Yikes. This may be a good sign that my parents are as honest as the day is long, but me?!? This karmic mirror reminds me to check whether I am still being dishonest in any areas of my life.
Never safe in samsara
Another lesson bought home is that while I am in samsara, I am not safe. A good friend shared his experience of being robbed (he managed to have not just one but two MacBook Airs stolen in 1 day):
I don’t know how you are experiencing this, but for me it was very unsettling. I felt extremely vulnerable, exposed, and violated, while simultaneously holding compassion for the perpetrator, and praying for his delusions to be removed.
Nothing is truly mine, certainly not lastingly mine. In samsara, the end of collection is dispersion, and our karma to have stuff comes to an end. This samsaric entropy is also the second law of thermodynamics, I discovered the other day:
There is a natural tendency of any isolated system to degenerate into a more disordered state.
My appearances of a shiny new iPhone 5S, driver’s license, and handy credit cards, all contained in a beautiful new turquoise wallet, came to an abrupt dissolution on Sunday morning. All our karmic projectionscome to an end whether we want them to or not. And then other karmic projections come up, ones we don’t want, eg, having to sort out things we thought were already sorted rather than doing the other more fun things we had planned.
We only have so many appearances to mind left before we die.
And due to self-grasping we feel the loss, we feel vulnerable and violated as my friend pointed out. I’ll not deny that I had some attachment to my phone (not least as my mother had given it to me at Xmas). So my first reaction was some numbness – things seemed to slow down as I searched the pockets of everything I was wearing and looked in every room, and then did the same again, just in case. That sinking feeling, “It’s gone, it’s really gone.”
I bow down to that compassion for living beings
Who from first conceiving ‘I’ with respect to the self,
Then thinking ‘This is mine’ and generating attachment for things,
Are without self-control like the spinning of a well. ~ Ocean of Nectar, page 25
This feeling of discombobulation was useful for showing my permanent-grasping at myself and my infrastructure, instead of recognizing at all times that it is as insubstantial and fleeting as last night’s dream.
I could not help but feel compassion though because I got into my nice borrowed car and went to my nice house and was able to have some nice lunch and call everyone I needed to, while meantime the perpetrator rather pathetically managed to spend all of $10.12 just getting something to eat at a 7/11 at 1.20pm EST before I closed my cards down. I may not be very rich, but I do have more than $10.12 in my account, so he could at least have treated himself to a swanky restaurant. He also got a $4 drink at Starbucks at 6.30pm with my Starbucks card, and there was a little cash in there too. (This knowledge courtesy of Find my iPhone.) It is doubtful that he (or she) has anywhere great to live, if anywhere at all; and he is clearly hungry and/or desperate enough to sneak into an unknown basement and grab what he can and get out before he is caught. And I am not oblivious to the utter privilege of having these things to lose in the first place, so lucky even compared with most human beings, including him.
The police detective called me today, two days later, offered to meet me in the parking lot if my phone shows up online again, for a “civil standby”. But I have already given the phone away, though it is useless to the thief because it is locked – not even the FBI could break in, not even with a law suit against Apple.
(Last year, J, in Florida at the time, had her iPhone stolen and F and I, in New York, watched the dot zooming down I275, reporting coordinates to J and her sister, who were in hot pursuit. Forty miles later, the phone ended up in a theater parking lot, beeping away inside a black jalopy; and they waited until the thieves came out of their movie and were obliged by the police to open their car and hand over the phone. Not sure what the moral of that tale is, but it was surprisingly exciting at the time, like an OJ Simpson redux. (OK, now I have to tell you my true OJ Simpson story for I can’t imagine getting another chance. I was at Miami airport with N. early one morning, who asked if I would go over and “get us a couple of OJs” while he watched the luggage. And guess who was standing next to me at the same counter. No, I’m not kidding. Mere name, eh. And he had a beautiful blonde with him, for whom I felt a little nervous.)
I gave the stuff away so that the thief would not get the complete action of stealing. He (or she) will still incur some negative karma if he had a deluded intention, but I thought I could offset it. It can’t be offset completely as not even Buddhas can do that – if they could, it’d be impossible to create negative karma with respect to Buddhas.
After the theft, I came back to the 2 cats I am babysitting who, for some reason, were in a very demanding mood, jumping all over me and making a lot of noise while I was trying to call the bank etc. It crossed my mind to get irritated with them, but then I remembered that although they may not give a monkeys about my human problems, in fact the cat problems they have are far, far, far worse.
So I feel luckier than the perpetrator for many reasons, but mainly because he may well not have access to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, whereas I do. As another good friend JS messaged me yesterday, after her camera equipment worth 10,000 quid was stolen from right inside her own house:
There is a huge back story to people’s crime. I want to ask him questions like when did he decide this was the route to take, does he still want to carry on, what did he want to be when he was a kid … does he think it’s possible to change his life …. That’s what I will be putting in my “victim’s” statement, but who is the real victim? I have Geshe-la in my life and the Dharma, I gave up any thoughts of my possessions being important … the victim to me seems like the burglar, he has no Dharma to help him.
My theft is not really different to a theft in a dream. Overall, this has made me more determined than ever to bring an end to my own and others’ samsaric hallucinations while I still have the chance. The compassion that wants to overcome this root cause of suffering is called compassion observing the unobservable, you can read about it in Ocean of Nectar. Samsara sucks, samsara sucks for everyone, but luckily samsara is not real.
Death is on its way
It can be useful to imagine losing one thing at a time to get our heads and hearts around the fact that the entire infrastructure of our life is going to collapse. This includes the people we adore, not just our shiny gadgets. As this inevitability could be just around the corner, this is, as JS put it:
Good practice for death, when I won’t be able to take anything with me. It’s always good to see where one is at with our possessions so I thank him for that.
The kindness of others
I feel almost fraudulent to be writing this, this theft was such a small fry incident in the grand scheme of things, yet people have been astonishingly generous.
A Bodhisattva immediately, and I mean immediately, the moment he saw my stuff had been stolen, said, “Oh, this iPhone I have is spare, you can have it!” Then he wiped his phone clean and gave it to me, along with his phone number, before I had a chance to protest. And he did this utterly convincingly, not even with the slightest hesitation like the one I had when I gave my actually totally spare iPhone 4 away just last week. He reminds me of that quote from Ocean of Nectar:
If from hearing and contemplating the word ‘Give’,
The Conquerors’ Son develops a bliss
The like of which is not aroused in the Able Ones through experiencing peace,
What can be said about giving everything? ~ Ocean of Nectar page 69
Giving does feel pretty good when we manage to pull it off without any regret – the day before this theft I had given a jacket (left here by a Buddhist monk) to a homeless man in Cheesman Park. Long story, but it felt great to see Michael pull it over his skinny shoulders on a freezing day.
But the person who helped me is in a class of his own – he even went so far as to thank me for allowing him to help me. As if he meant it! Which I do believe he did. And I have to add that this same nameless (for his own sake) person said the other day just after I passed my test, “Oh, this car I have is spare, you can borrow it indefinitely!” (Naturally I am now waiting for his spare house and his spare cash.)
There are emanations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in our midst whatever we want to call them – angels, saints, or just very kind people. Maybe they don’t appear so often to a very cynical mind, but they are still there, trying to help, waiting for the first moment they can dive in there. They may appear as the regular folks around us – nurses, neighbors, co-workers, homeless people, family members, strangers at bus stops – but as a Buddha’s job description is to emanate whatever people need, it’s cool not to succumb to ordinary appearances.
Tantric lessons learned
When we realize that we are completely empty of inherent existence, our possessions are completely empty, and our relationship with our possessions is completely empty (the so-called “three spheres”), we can see that we already have everything we need inside us. Why? Because everything is merely projection of our own minds.
I’m going to get a bit philosophical and Tantric for a moment …
Nothing is inherently anything. If we understand this, we can say “This is not that”, about everything, and this truth frees us up. For example, “This is not Denver” frees me up to think “This is Heruka’s Pure Land”. “This is not an annoying co-worker” frees me up to think “This is an emanation of Buddha.” “These are not my possessions” frees me up to give my iPhone away happily.
Bounty of the Dharmakaya
I find myself comparing this “loss” to what I like to call “the bounty of the Dharmakaya“. Within the bliss and emptiness of the Dharmakaya (or Truth Body), everything exists and everything is possible. The divinity is there as you are mixed with the Truth Body of every Buddha. You can manifest anything out of that.
Buddha Heruka and Buddha Vajrayogini, for example, are simply the bounty and infinite good qualities of the Dharmakaya appearing – their symbolism includes absolutely everything good about Buddhahood. So when we focus on them, our bliss and good qualities and so on increase – we are able to itemize, focus on, and identify with them, and gain a greater understanding and experience of the Dharmakaya. And vice versa.
This is why these meditative practices of pure appearance, introduced by enlightened beings, are so important; and why focusing on bliss and emptiness alone, though it is the essence and truth, make it harder or perhaps even impossible to manifest the creative elements of the Dharmakaya and gain full enlightenment for the sake of all other beings.
Bliss and emptiness can appear in any form whatsoever, of course, but we may as well embrace the blissful forms of the Buddhas and their Pure Lands. Why go to the trouble of inventing the appearance of infinite good qualities, imagining how they might show themselves, when generations of enlightened beings have already shown them to us?! Why wish for mundane or ordinary good things to happen when we can set our imaginations free to have the glorious body, enjoyments, environments, and deeds of Buddha Heruka and Buddha Vajrayogini?! Their reality, as evinced in everything about the way they appear, is wild and free and blissful and compassionate already. It is a blessed and powerful expression of the completely pure mind of bliss and emptiness.
Point here being that I can and already do have anything I want within the Pure Land of Heruka and Vajrayogini, so why bother about the loss of a few ordinary appearances to an ordinary mind? Why not just stay in the Pure Land full time instead?
A similar point could be made about making mandala offerings, the offerings of entire pure universes. I can offer countless iPhones appearing from the pure mind of bliss and emptiness on behalf of me and everyone else. And these offerings will result in the appearances of bliss-inducing iPhones sooner or later …
Okay, enough of that for now, I can see my Dad shaking his head. Your comments are most welcome in the comments section below.
I should not have been surprised, I suppose, but when David Bowie died I quickly realized that it wasn’t just me who felt so connected to him.
People reported being “devastated”. One old school friend of mine cried all day. Another whom I’d called on urgent business on Skype just stared at me blankly and said he was in shock. This kind of thing has been happening all over the world these past few days!
I had a dream about him a long time ago that’s remained with me my whole life – he was a fellow Buddhist in my dream, and a deep friend, and I felt I had always known him. But I can see now that this is not remotely a unique experience! Are any of our experiences ever unique?
So, possibly unparalleled by any other musician or artist of my lifetime, David Bowie got to people. A lot of people. Just a cursory glance at the internet can show you that. For everyone wants a part of him, everyone seems to have a part of him. And with all the love directed his way, it looks like we are part of him, too. We are all parts of one totality that includes David Bowie! And, therefore, it would seem, each other.
We are all made of stardust.
None of us really belong to just one person. How can we, when we belong to everyone? And in the unbounded cosmos of time, each of us has spent lifetimes with each other. So,
Fill your heart with love today … Love will clean your mind and make it freeeee.
And at the same time:
The things that happened in the past only happened in your mind. Only in your mind.
Starman influenced my teenage years, as I described here; but clearly not only mine if you saw the Brixton mass sing-along of Starman in an impromptu celebration of their local hero.
Here is a small smattering of what people have been thinking aloud on the internet:
Soundtrack of my life
Thank you so for all the beauty, creativity and inspiration you brought into the world. You definitely provided the soundtrack to most of my teenage years and your passing is like the loss of an old friend.
It is strange to mourn for someone you never knew, but the sense of loss feels the same as if it were someone close. Somehow he weaved his way into so many people’s lives in so many ways.
So very unique. I can’t put my finger on it-but man something about him just shined.
Something is missing, something I can’t explain, as if a part of my life was ripped from me.
“His music was immortal, so we thought he was too.” That pretty much sums up my feelings for the great David Bowie…my past 40+ years of music, my hero!
This video shows that Bowie was pretty prescient, 15 years ago, on how the internet would affect the world (and how it’s a life form from outer space ;-)) Bowie was indeed a visionary. He saw the impact of the internet, especially in music and art; and he reveled in the interdependence between the artist and the audience. Perhaps this joy in connecting contributed to his alien mystique combined with his everyman approachability – you felt you could hang out with this rock god in your local pub, and indeed many people did.
As he said at the end of at least one concert:
God you are a great bunch of people, you really are. It’s been a pleasure playing for you.
He inspired and still inspires creativity. A friend of mine wrote and played music in a band for years largely because of him. Someone else just said: “Bowie’s parting album has got right into my skin. So much that it’s re-inspired me to start composing again after a long and empty void.” Stories like this are everywhere. As my talented filmmaker friend Julie said earlier today, we all have our own forms of creativity and means to connect meaningfully with others, and Bowie made it safe and possible for untold numbers of people to express themselves as they wanted to.
And I have got way too much on at the moment to find the time to write this article, but I find I have written it anyway.
Here is a lovely story, told properly and in length here, and now paraphrased probably poorly by me:
In 1989 a young student was sitting in his room feeling sorry for himself when a mummy walked into his room and asked if he knew where he might find a hotel? The answer was No.
“Oh, that’s OK,” the mummy said. “But could you at least tell me where I could get a decent cup of tea?”
I began to sob.
“No,” I cried. “We only have Bigelow!”
He placed his elegant hand on my shoulder and said, kindly:
“Hey, sad kid, it’s OK, don’t feel this way, you are a beautiful comet in the infinite universe.”
The mummy then peeled the bandages off his face, and stayed for a cup of tea. The rest, as they say, and for this author, was history. As he said:
… the little nuggets of weirdness inside us just needed a divine spark so we could become the celestial children we were always meant to be.
“I didn’t know David Bowie could die …”
… as someone said on Facebook. And as someone else added:
I think that’s part of why his death hurts so much. Because for my generation, it is the loss of our youth. It’s a harsh reminder that for all of us time is truly short and that no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, you cannot stop its cold march forward. Someone like Bowie, who has been there through most of our lives, who seemingly goes on and on, we find is mortal after all. It gives us a reality check, it brings our lives into perspective as its shows us, with a hammer blow, that we are all mortal too.
“Look up here, I’m in heaven.”
At the same time, I find his death to be strangely hopeful – if we transform our minds, who knows what adventures we can look forward to upon passing from this impure, often painful life. Death doesn’t have to be bad providing we go toward it with wide-open eyes, having been aware of its reality our whole life.
In a touching tribute on Facebook, Annie Lennox says:
The bejewelled remains of Major Tom lie dormant in a dust coated space suit…
It leaves me breathless.
You must see it to believe it…
He could see through it all.
The jeweled skull in Blackstar is reminiscent of Tantric bone implements, where it symbolizes impermanence, of course, but also the transcendence of an impure body and mind (Major Tom’s?!) through the exalted wisdom of bliss and emptiness. The clear light of death, if transformed into the clear light of bliss, has the power to destroy the hallucinations of samsara once and for all.
In the Lazarus video, the artist seems to retire back into a CS Lewisian wardrobe, while Bowie is transported to another realm:
This way or no way
You know, I’ll be free
Just like that bluebird
Now ain’t that just like me.
The man who fell to earth is hopefully returning to the Pure Land from whence he came. “Look up here, I’m in heaven.” Maybe he is. For he did die on Vajrayogini Day, and one of the principal Vajrayogini practices is being transported to Keajra Heaven, the “higher sky” above us; she has that power. Just as our ordinary mind can go to the moon just by thinking about it, so our un-ordinary mind Vajrayogini can go to the Pure Land just by thinking about it. We can go to the Pure Land out of an intense renunciation for the impure world of suffering, yet also remain here to help others. We can sort of be in two places at once. Be in the world, but not of it. Be practicing our spiritual path and helping others as if we have already arrived at our destination. And that feels wonderful, quite inexpressibly wonderful.
Just how that works is explained in the special powa (transference of consciousness) practice called The Uncommon Yoga of Inconceivability – a practice I love because it is mind-blowing in all the right ways. If you have a chance to attend Kadam Morten’s guided Highest Yoga Tantra retreat on this at Manjushri KMC starting next week, I really hope you take it, and discover your superhuman powers. (If you don’t have Highest Yoga Tantra empowerments yet, they are coming up in October in Canada.) From the Bowie song I listened to a thousand times aged around 14 to 16, identifying with every line (which explains a lot):
I’m not a prophet or a stone age man, just a mortal with the potential of a superman. I’m living on. ~ Quicksand
Bowie seemed quintessentially in this world but not of it, both from outer space with those eyes, and an impeccable gentleman. Whom he was or whom he was not, we may not know for some time. For, when all is said and done, who are any of us?
The unbearable lightness of being
In New York City, there were double rainbows photographed all over on the morning of January 10. And it turned out they coincided with Bowie’s passing. As well as with Vajrayogini self-initiation practice at KMC NYC …
Bowie was interested in Tibetan Buddhism around 1965-1967, the very early days. He said of that time: “I was within a month of having my head shaved, taking my vows, and becoming a monk.” He was, he said, looking for salvation. As we know, he found another way to inspire the world instead; but you can still sense many liberation themes running through his work.
According to The New York Times, the song people are listening to most after his death is “Heroes”.
I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing, will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day.
One day at a time, maybe. King Heruka and Queen Vajrayogini can beat delusions, ordinary conceptions, and all suffering; and is this not what it really means to be a hero?
We can be heroes, forever and ever,
What d’you say?
David Bowie left Blackstar as a parting gift, just short days before he died. And everyone seems to be listening. Someone said:
Blackstar is playing on repeat in every country on the planet .. isn’t that incredible? It’s stirring, it’s sad, it’s joyous, it’s soulful, it’s haunting, it’s timeless, it’s true genius …
Apparently, a black star is a transitional phase that is created when a collapsing star is close to reaching singularity, where the star’s influence becomes infinite and spacetime itself ceases to exist within it. Although the star at this point has died, it has been transformed into something else altogether and its energy will continue to be released indefinitely…
We are all the same, we are all constantly transforming into something else; and we all have infinite potential. And meanwhile almost every physical element on Earth was formed at the heart of a star.
We are pretty darned attached to our bodies, thinking “Mine!!!” and even “Me!!!” When, although we have this illusion of separateness, all that’s happening is that a little bit of stardust comes together for a while and then it all disperses, and our consciousness is once again released. Hopefully to the omniscient wisdom of the Dharmakaya, if we focus properly.
Bowie was always hard to pin down, never feeling quite as solid or real as other great artists. His shape-shifting and androgyny helped people let go of grasping at these fragments — these bodies, minds, and selves — as absolutes, which is the ignorance that keeps us trapped in one dimension. Omniscient wisdom sees the totality of all things existing interdependently, which allows us to fly anywhere and everywhere. And I am reminded of Buddha Tara’s excellent quote when, in a previous life, accosted by a sexist monk who condescendingly says she should pray for a male rebirth next time, she stamps her foot and says:
In this world there is no man, there is no woman.
There is no person, self, or consciousness.
Man and woman are merely imputed and have no essence.
Thus, the minds of worldly beings are mistaken.
We can all be Heruka and Vajrayogini, they are the same nature. Once Venerable Geshe-la was talking to me about the importance of female practitioners when, all of a sudden, he got up from his chair and “pretended” to be a woman. Right in front of me he transformed himself into a Dakini.
Rising from the dead
Tomorrow, 4 days after his death, I half-wonder if Bowie will arise like Lazarus and say his death was a fake, an elaborate publicity stunt?! His death may be mere appearance to mind, a fake in that respect, like all our deaths; but I don’t think Bowie was ever into stunts for their own sake – his impressive dying enterprise shows he was a genuine artist. Blackstar is what he wanted to do when he was dying, it means something.
Knowledge comes with death’s release. ~ Quicksand
I have of course no idea what his motivations in life were, but it seems he didn’t care about fame for its own sake, he even refused a CBE and a knighthood (easy to say, “Ah yes, I would refuse them too, I didn’t do all this for that!”; but would I refuse, when the invitations actually plopped through the letterbox?!)
I just read this a day after I wrote this article:
“David Bowie’s body has reportedly been privately cremated in New York following his death at the age of 69. In line with his wishes, no family or friends were present at the ceremony in the city where he had lived for much of his life.”
So, he even died in the manner of the old Yogis. All alone.
Frank Hatch, a local legend
David Bowie was not the only one to pass on January 10th. An old friend of mine, Frank Hatch, died at the same time, which, knowing Frank, may be no accident, particularly as it was Vajrayogini Day too, and he liked her and Heruka a lot.
Like Bowie, you’d be forgiven for thinking Frank was supposed to be immortal. When I first met him, at Manjushri Centre about 20 years ago, he weighed about 120 pounds. He was fading away physically (never mentally!), but new drugs then surprisingly saved him. He lived with HIV for more than 20 years, only to be diagnosed with late-stage prostate cancer in 2010.
But he kept going. Frank lived every single day to its fullest – one of the last things he did was guide a 16-day rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. I wrote this article on rebirth with Frank in mind a few years ago, when he was ambivalent about dying; but it seems he died very well when it came to it.
So to both David Bowie and Frank Hatch, I would like to say, “I’m happy, hope you’re happy too.”
Goodbye, Starmen, thank you for falling to earth, don’t go too far.
Scanning the magazine rack at LaGuardia, wondering whether I could be bothered to buy anything to read, I spotted Newsweek’s announcement: “Heaven is Real.” I snapped it up. This out of left field article was too tempting a contrast to the politicking of this election season, and the general Us and Them unrest around the world. Judging by the thousands of comments online, the article is provoking strong reactions, as I daresay Newsweek predicted it would. For some, it is a breakthrough – an eminent man of science, brain science no less, saying that he now has proof of heaven (the name of his book) and the existence of consciousness beyond the brain. For others, it is annoyingly unscientific; the guy was clearly tripping out and has no proof whatsoever of anything, and they are cancelling their subscription forthwith. Here’s an example:
“It’s all a bunch of anecdotal malarkey. The only difference between this article and all the same BS I’ve heard from other people that believe in mythological deities is that this guy used the word “cortex” more frequently.”
For me, I read it on the plane above the clouds, and found it both fascinating and utterly unsurprising. I couldn’t help scribbling in the margins of my magazine, as Buddha had a great deal to say on the subject of the nature and types of consciousness and its relationship to the body, the survival of consciousness after death, the existence of different realms and what and where these are, the existence of divine beings and what and where these are, the ontological status of ourselves and our world, and so on. He taught all these to show that there is a path to freedom and happiness, and, like everything else, it begins and ends in the mind.
By relaying some of my scribbles here, I’m hoping to provoke your thoughts and experiences on the subject in the comments below, as I can be by no means exhaustive on the subject (exhausting, maybe! It has ended up longer than I anticipated! I’m now realizing it was an ambitious topic for one blog post, so I’m breaking it into 2 parts …)
In 2008 the neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander contracted a rare bacterial meningitis and his entire cortex shut down.
“For seven days I lay in a deep coma, my body unresponsive, my higher-order brain functions totally offline…. There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in a coma, my mind—my conscious, inner self—was alive and well.”
He then describes journey full of very peaceful, non-dualistic, and cosmic appearances, the like of which he cannot recall ever experiencing before.
“According to current medical understanding of the brain and mind, there is absolutely no way that I could have experienced even a dim and limited consciousness during my time in the coma, much less the hyper-vivid and completely coherent odyssey I underwent.”
I suppose I want to look at this from two angles – from the point of view of the object, or what is appearing to the mind, and from the point of view of the subject, the mind itself.
So, is heaven real?
That depends on what we mean by real. (And, I guess, what we mean by heaven!) Perhaps it’s better to ask “Does heaven exist?” It is not real in the sense that it is findable or inherently existent, independent of the mind. We cannot go visit it some place outside the mind. But appearances of peace, goodness, and bliss etc do exist as projections of a peaceful, good, and blissful mind.
Some terminology: in Buddhism we talk about six realms of samsara, and the highest of these are the god realms, sometimes called heavenly realms. We can create the necessary concentration and good or virtuous karma to be reborn as a god (though it is in point of fact more useful from a spiritual point of view to be reborn as a human.) If we are reborn as a god, although we have some lovely heavenly experiences while the rebirth lasts, we are not permanently free from suffering, and will once again take rebirth in painful realms.
Pure Lands exist outside of samsara and are not subject to samsara’s rules. Once we have purified our mind sufficiently, we are permanently free because we no longer have the delusions and negative karma that throw up our suffering. I wrote an article about Pure Lands here.
However, both the god realms and the Pure Lands are equally projections of mind, like illusions, like dreams. So is our current life, for that matter.
I came across this expression once, and have found it very helpful:
I am not in the world; the world is in me.
I add to that the fact that I too do not exist from my own side, any more than the world does.
Heaven and hell worldwide
A majority of cultures and religions have concepts of heaven and hell. Is this all a bizarre coincidence? Or could there be something to it? Dr. Alexander is by no means the first person to have had this kind of blissful experience–while awake, or dreaming, or having a near-death experience–or the first person to talk about it. He says himself:
“I’m not the first person to have discovered evidence that consciousness exists beyond the body. Brief, wonderful glimpses of this realm are as old as human history.”
Skeptics may put these experiences and resultant beliefs down to a massive collective hallucination. In a way they are right, because all of us are always hallucinating to a greater or lesser extent for as long as things keep appearing to exist from their own side, independent of our mind, and especially when we grasp at those appearances as reality. But whose hallucination is more “accurate” or non-deceptive – someone experiencing an ordinary, mundane world full of problems and a crunchy sense of duality, or someone experiencing heavenly beings, love, and communion?
My grandfather was a skeptical man of science too until he had some experiences that changed everything for him. I wrote about that here. Someone very close to both me and my grandfather emailed me a fortnight ago about her cataract operation:
“During the op it was v. beautiful as I think I was in heaven – I was in the most beautiful white, silver coloured clouds floating in eternity, quite amazing. It was either heaven or it might have been Mars as I had heard on the radio on Monday that US scientists have sent some scientific equipment into space to land on Mars for a breakthrough research project.”
After we have had such experiences, we can conceive of them in different ways, depending on our belief systems, backgrounds, and so on. As Mike Hume said on Facebook about Dr. A:
“He is seemingly interpreting his experiences from a Christian perspective, despite the fact that he has stated he has never really believed in God. I guess this isn’t surprising, though. I think if he had investigated other ideas and concepts of mind and consciousness he might have interpreted it differently.”
But if we have these experiences and appearances, it shows they are possible, doesn’t it?! If these three people’s stream of consciousness is capable of experiencing such joy and peace once, who is to say they do not have the potential for experiencing something similar for a very long period of time again in the future, even forever? And would that not be some kind of heaven?
We also have the potential or karma for a great deal more suffering, which we need to take steps to purify and remove. A friend messaged me on Facebook:
“I worked in hospice during my graduate studies and there was more than one person who had horrible, horrible appearances at the approach of death. One elderly woman had burning bedsores and hallucinations, and she kept screaming for Grandmother to put out the fire on her body shortly before she went unconscious before death. I prayed hard for her not to die with that mind and take rebirth in a hell realm. So looking at the two sides of people’s experiences I find hope AND a cautionary tale.”
If people ask for physical, scientific proof of heaven (or hell), they may not get it, as science does not use the right tools for measuring the dimension of non-physical mind, and in fact has a self-confessed “problem” over what consciousness even is. Particle physics is now pointing the way to a non-objective universe, however, some modern scientists agreeing that there may be no objectively testable universe.
Jason Mandella says on Facebook:
“Science can assert that consciousness is merely a product of activity in the brain, and it can measure and predict that brain activity accurately with various instruments and practices. But it cannot “explain” lived, conscious experience: what is the nature of it? As Michael, Duane and Pawo are suggesting, Buddhist practice starts from the lived experience of consciousness. Living meditation masters from Buddha to now, present instructions which can be practiced by us. We verify from our own experience if what is being presented is true. That sounds like a science of consciousness to me. Does it need to be validated by conventional science if its working? Not that I have gotten much further than setting up the laboratory; but I have a little faith and some good reasons–like any scientist.”
Clearly, it is hard to do any fact-checking on Newsweek’s article! I don’t think Dr. A’s experience proves that heaven exists objectively. It doesn’t prove any universal truth “out there”. Dr.’s experience was subjective. Kelsang Lekpa says on Facebook, and I agree:
“His spiritual experience doesn’t prove one bit that an actual physical heaven or hell – exactly as he describes it – exists outside of his brain, after death.”
“If I dream of unicorns, does it make them real?”
But what his experience does indicate is that anything can appear to mind.
It is subjective – would I have those exact experiences in similar circumstances? Probably not. My thoughts might not even be blissful to begin with – if negative karma is ripening, I could experience hell. My appearances will depend on my own thoughts and karma — I will project a different movie, which may or may not share some of the same elements. Appearances are infinite. Due to emptiness, anything can appear. If everything is a projection of mind, and nothing exists objectively or from its own side, it stands to reason that we can project anything, and we do. We have already had infinite projections in life after life since beginningless time (there is no beginning or end to our consciousness.)
When I read this, it reminded me that there are different levels of consciousness and that what we experience depends entirely upon our own mind; in fact experience IS mind. The Mahayana Buddhist goal is to remove all delusions and dualistic appearances from the mind through wisdom and perfect all good qualities through compassion. My wisdom and compassion already exist as part of my Buddha nature, I feel that my main job in life is just to increase these each day until I attain enlightenment. Unlike the random, chance encounter Dr. A had with his own potential for peace and bliss, not easily replicable unless he contracts meningitis again, through spiritual practices we will one day be able to experience bliss continuously at will, and appear or project whatever we want to our minds. If we are prepared to put in the time and training, these results are replicable, and have been replicated by countless meditators including Buddha and many of his followers.
As Robert Thomas said on Facebook:
“For me this account, whilst meaningful for the individual concerned, and others, adds nothing by way of proof. Even the Prof’s conviction that all this occurred whilst his cerebral cortex was inactive is impossible to verify. I prefer to rely on the accounts and insights of accomplished mind trainers who approach the more and more subtle levels of consciousness whilst maintaining mindfulness and clear discrimination.”
And as Mike Hume put it:
“I hope that I can have similarly vivid experiences through meditation, rather than having to nearly die.”
If you asked me to replicate the results of an experiment proving the existence of quarks, say, I would be hard put to do it as I do not have anywhere near the necessary training or experience. Similarly, without the necessary mental training and experience it is hard for each of us individually to replicate the results of generating at will a blissful, non-dual mind mixed inseparably with the ultimate nature of phenomena to prove that it exists. But I trust quantum physicists that quarks exist and have a function in my universe, and I also trust Buddha and his followers that these profound states of mind exist and have a function in my universe.
(In the mind of bliss and emptiness, we can find true commonality (as opposed to objectivity). But that can be left for another discussion on another day.)