THE HANDBOOK FOR LIFE'S JOURNEY

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For those who place sole emphasis on the cultivation of bodhicitta in their lifetimes, the pertinent advice for them when approaching death is to rely on the five powers to navigate their passage to the next life.

The power of sowing virtue

This is to sow the seeds of virtue before the moment of death. To be specific, one must first cut attachment to all possessions and then offer them to the Three Jewels. In doing so, one can also choose to give more to certain virtuous deeds which one considers capable of gathering the most merit. For instance, if one believes liberating living beings to be the most excellent act of virtue, one may offer one-third or a quarter of all properties to the Three Jewels and the rest to freeing lives; or, if one believes offering to the Sangha to be the most meritorious, one can offer most of one’s assets to the Sangha, leaving a small portion for other purposes. As exact allocations of assets are not provided in the sutras, the examples here are for reference only.

The power of aspiration

This is to generate aspiration. If at the time there is still enough strength, one should practice the Seven Branches, including visualization and chanting the prayer. If unable to do so, one should contemplate this way: With all the roots of virtue accumulated over past-present-future lives, may I never forget bodhicitta and be able to cultivate bodhicitta in all future lives. Furthermore, may I have the chance to encounter admirable friends of Mahayana life after life. Then, pray to the guru and the Three Jewels for blessings to have these wishes come true. To wish wholeheartedly in such ways signifies the power of aspiration.

The power of refutation

This is to refute self-grasping. Here it refers not to grasping of the inherent existence of self or phenomena but refuting selfishness arising from such grasping. The key is to abolish this selfishness.

The way is to recognize clearly the cause of one's suffering in countless lifetimes is selfishness. That includes suffering of death in this life as well as innumerable such suffering over previous lifetimes. In the context of relative truth, selfishness is a mistaken concept; in the ultimate truth, there is neither self nor life or death. Therefore, we must resolutely put an end to all those notions born of selfishness, such as "I want", "I hate", "I like", "I ..." and so forth.

The power of induction

This is a kind of intention and aspiration as well. For instance, if one wants to get up at five o'clock in the next morning, one must make resolute decision to wake up at that time when going to bed. Once the decision is made, one will naturally wake up on time even without the help of an alarm clock. Similarly, Arhats also rely on the power of induction when getting ready to enter into the state of cessation of feelings and perceptions (nirodha-samāpatti). For example, if planning to stay in the state of cessation for five days and emerge on the sixth day, one must make firm this intention before sitting down to meditate. Otherwise, as no thought will arise once entering the state of cessation, it will be impossible to emerge from samadhi on the sixth day without invoking the power of induction in advance. This is a very important point to note.

When death is near, the function of the power of induction is to strengthen the determination to never abandon or forget to practice both aspiration and application bodhicitta from the time of dying, through the bardo state and until all lifetimes to come. To uphold such formidable resolution is the power of induction.

The power of cultivation

If one is proficient in the practice of aspiration and application bodhicitta when alive and undertakes to practice the same at the time of death, the practice will strengthen in power and guide one through the end of life.

How to conduct the practice at this time is also crucial. If one is able to sit up, adopt the seven-point posture of Vairocana; if not, lie on the right side of the body, hold the cheek with the right hand, then press the right nostril with the right little finger and breathe out through the left nostril. Meanwhile, cultivate loving-kindness and compassion, practice exchanging oneself for others by using the breathing method and so forth. Furthermore, one should know that all internal and external phenomena, either of samsara or nirvana, are manifestations of mind; and that the nature of mind has always been emptiness, devoid of any mental construct, since time immemorial. Once realized, rest the mind in this state of emptiness and wait for the breathing to stop. If breathing continues, repeat this practice once and again until it stops. This is the pith instruction for cultivating bodhicitta at the time of dying.

In Bardo Tödröl, such instruction for cultivating bodhicitta is also said to be the best practice, among many others, for the dying. Most of us are already in the process of generating bodhicitta; in case we don’t get the chance to practice generation and completion stages before we die, it is good enough to be able to die while cultivating bodhicitta this way. Actually, this is quite a unique instruction for practicing bodhicitta when death is near.

Our revered master H. H. Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche chose to go to Amitabha's pure land. Naturally, as followers, we should do likewise. If Pure Land practice has been undertaken on a regular basis, we will know what direction to take when facing death; without any preparation in advance when alive, we are likely to panic and not know what course to follow at the moment of death. Therefore, we should never underestimate the importance of both the practice and the pith instruction in end-of-life teachings.