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Dzogchen for Dying, After Death and Rebirth
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Dzogchen for Dying, After Death and Rebirth
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Dzogchen Meditation
The Inevitability of Death
Death is an inevitable part of life. We begin to die as soon as we are born. We can choose to ignore this unpleasant fact, busying ourselves with the tasks of present day life—focusing on making money, succeeding in our career or profession, distracting ourselves with entertainments like films, video games, pop music, and TV—until death inevitably come to us. Or we can face our our inevitable fate and prepare ourselves for it now in our present life.
With the decline of conventional religion and of religious values during the last three hundred years in the West and with the triumph of materialistic science and its marvelous technology, people have tended to push the existential fact of death out of their daily consciousness, as if they would live forever. Increasingly, old people and the dying are hidden from view—ware-housing them in old people’s retirement homes or in sanitized hospital wards.
Yes, violence and death are relentless depicted in films, on TV, and in video games, but these events no longer feel real and we have become desensitized to them. They are more like events depicted in cartoons. They do not touch us at the existential level. We repress the thought of our own mortality, that death will come to us personally, until it is too late, whether death from accident or from a terminal illness. Yet, the inevitability of our own death is real and actual and ever-present. No amount of wishful thinking or distraction with entertainments will make it go away. In denying to ourselves that we will eventually die, we deny part of ourselves, our shadow side. Death’s inevitability is ever a part of our life here and now and it will follow us as relentlessly as the shadow follows the body. Our modern secular society and scientific rationalistic culture does not prepare us for death. We have lost touch with the ars moriendi, the art of dying.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Now, with the advent of this new millennium, at a time of globalization and intercultural encounters and the general spreading of the modern world-view throughout the populations of our planet, we may look at how other cultures and religious traditions approach the existential fact of our mortality. Since 1927, translations of the famous Tibetan Book of the Dead have appeared in various Western languages. This text especially attracted the attention of the great Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung who wrote his own commentary to it. Since that time a number of more accurate translations have appeared. But this fourteenth century text, known is Tibetan as the Bardo Thodol, “the Liberation through Hearing while in the Bardo”, is only one among a large number of Tibetan texts dealing with dying and the after-death experience known as the Bardo. The guided meditation presented here was inspired by the meditation practice presented by the eighteenth century Tibetan master Jigmed Lingpa in his famous meditation instruction manual entitled the Triyik Yeshe Lama. This meditation was extracted by German psychotherapist and health practitioner Dorothea Mihm from my larger work, “The Bardo Project: Meditations for Dying, After-death, and Rebirth,” and recorded by her in German and English on CD. Ms. Mihm is well known in Frankfurt for her work with the dying.

The meditation draws on a number of different source texts. Basically, in the Tibetan tradition there are two approaches to the process of dying and the after-death experience. First, there is the system found in the Buddhist Tantras, in particular the Guhyasamaja Tantra. And second, there is the system found in the texts dealing with Dzogchen meditation, which represents the basic approach of the two older Tibetan schools, the Nyingmapa and the Bonpo. However, the differences are more a matter of emphasis than substance. There is no fundamental contradiction. Both systems are combined here in this meditation practice serving as a preparation for the process of dying.

The description of the process of dying and the after-death experience differ somewhat from the usual accounts of Western near-death experiences. But near-death experiences and out-of-the-body experiences are not exactly the same as dying, despite certain apparent similarities. The Tibetan also have numerous accounts of near-death experiences known as Delok, “passing away and returning,” but these descriptions, usually written by Tibetan women, are substantially different from the usual Western descriptions. Here we should take into account cultural differences in terms of dying and after-death. This is not surprising since the deceased consciousness, loosing its physical embodiment and external senses, finds itself inhabiting the landscape of its own psyche. The shallower depths of this psyche are much shaped by the individual’s personal history and cultural milieu.

We could say that the Bardo experience is part of the collective psyche of humanity and is located within the atmosphere of psychic energy surrounded our planet earth. This realm of the unconscious psyche, is not simply filled with white lights and angels. The shadows are also there. The shadows we deny in ourselves and push out of sight will most surely meet us face to face in the Bardo, as much as our relatives and spiritual guides.