Dzogchen Ponlop
(Snow Lion)
If you are planning to die anytime soon, there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that you will be relieved of having to live through any more elections, pay any more taxes, or listen to any more rants from the fundamentalists on the things you want to do in the comfort of your bedroom. Also, no more calls at dinnertime trying to sell you a cruise to the Barbados.

The bad news is that, according to Dzogchen Ponlop, you're going to have to do a hell of a lot of homework to prepare for your departure (or better, your round-trip). "It is important to remember that although our mind is presently connected to this body, it is only a temporary guest," he says, wisely.

Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on your mindset), when you die you just keep on being you ... for better or for worse. All your thoughts, plans, ideas, hates, loves, prejudices, prickles and neuroticisms pass along right with you. Not to the grave, but floating around in whatever space you choose to pass your entr'acte.

The appropriate word is "bardo." It's the in-between state. In the death bardo --- which lasts (accounts differ) some forty-nine days --- there is nowhere we can go to hide from the mind. Whatever you think, there you are. Right now, comes a thought, "the thought dissolves... and you are still sitting in the same chair."

    In the bardo after death, when our mind jumps from one thought to the next, we go along with it ... As soon as we think about New Pork City, we are there. [This is rich. I wrote "New York City." The Great and Universal Editor of Truth transcribed it differently. It's good enough to stand.]

    If we think about Beijing, then we are there. There are no obstructions of any kind to our travels ... Whatever comes to our mind, whether it is the thought of a person or the image of a place, appears before us at once.

In the other bardos, "there is no anchor to hold our minds stable --- apart from the equanimity of mind we have developed previously through meditation practice."

    Such instability can be a fearful experience, compounded by the arising of our emotions. We are not only groundless, but we also react to our shifting environment with fluctuating emotions.

§     §     §

Mind Beyond Death can be tough going. There are passages that defy comprehension: "The bare experience of passion is simply the 'isness' quality that is left when we look at passion without concepts." Or, "Form is emptiness; emptiness is form. Emptiness is no other than form; form is no other than emptiness."

At the same time, the writing can be inspired. The most important time for our holy work, says the writer, is when we have "hit rock bottom."

    There is a sense of hopelessness and fearlessness at the same time ... it is a wonderful time for our practice because there is nothing to lose.

And: "The way to meet death fully is to die every day, to every moment, to everything; to our thoughts, to our agony, to our emotions, to our loving relationships --- even to our joy. We cannot meet death if we don't die every day!"

    We will be able to take death as a path. We will be able to see death as a dream. If we gain mastery over the mind of dreams, then we will also have mastery over the mind of death.

Ponlop is more nonjudgmental than most. In typical Buddhist writings, anger is condemned as a "klesha." In Mind Beyond Death, he opines, "There is no need to liberate anger from being anger, and change it into something we think of as pleasant or positive."

    What we call "anger" has in fact never been anger; its fresh and vividly arising energy has never been bound by our concept of anger.

"When we recognize this --- the natural process of liberation --- then we will find a complete and deep sense of peace."

§     §     §

Many years ago, I had a chance to meet Barry Corbet. He was one of the most original thinkers and writers on the literature of disability. He was also a committed Buddhist. Just before he died, I interviewed him for New Mobility magazine.

At that particular point --- he was dying, for Christ's sake --- I was a little reluctant to ask about the future (how do you talk about death to one who is almost there?) ... but, as always, he was gracious, and open, so, near the end of the interview, the end of his time on in earth, I asked him about the ultimate ... the Big One.

"Death," he said, "is the dream at the end of time."

Those exact words appear here in the chapter "The Bardo of Dream." A welcome reminder from an old friend of the past.

The editors offer the idea that Mind Beyond Death can be read in conjunction with The Tibetan Book of the Dead. But my take on it is that Ponlop's book stands on its own. Who else has written so elegantly that at the time of death, we may find ourselves enlightened, but the "groundlessness" may confuse us such that "we may even forget ... that we have died?"

--- L. W. Milam
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