We think that we are the body. We identify with it in almost every way. We spend inordinate amounts of time, energy, and money to keep it fed, rested, beautiful, clean, healthy and so on. Is there anything we would not do to make this body more at ease, more comfortable, more attractive? Yet every single one of us knows that one day this body will dissolve into the elements from which it originally arose. Everything that is born into this world will one day die. Is there any great figure in all the history of past aeons who did not die to this world, sooner or later?
Yet we seldom really give much attention to this fact. Life swallows us up with its distractions and fascinations. By focussing all of our attention on the shifting shadows of this life we constantly fail to notice what is unshifting, stable and ever-present. Yet, there are those who have solved the mystery of our existence and who live and move in this world fundamentally unfettered by the physical body and all that concerns it. They are the authentic teachers in this world; they live beyond the strictures of religious ideologies and dogmas.
We may or may not have the karma to meet with such as they, in this lifetime, but we should, at least, know that they exist and that all of us have the potential to be as they are. They are as lighthouses, as beacons of hope in a shifting landscape filled with danger. We need to know that there is so much more to who and what we really are and they come into this world to help us to realize that. Essentially they are our inspiration and our hope.
The following is an excerpt from the book: Who Lives? Who Dies?
Early one morning I woke to the sound of thunder. It was a humid pre-monsoon dawn in Boudhanath, Kathmandu. The year was 1991. I bathed, dressed and had a light breakfast, then made my way along the lanes and pathways from the room where I was staying to the monastery of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, which was nearby. I knew that something special would be happening that morning in Rinpoche’s room and I was determined not to miss it. I reached the temple and quickly skirted the Mani wheels as I headed clockwise around the main building to the back entrance.
Once inside I was able to dart swiftly up the stairway to the third level where Khyentse Rinpoche had been staying the last several weeks and was just in time to slip inside the door before it was carefully and resolutely bolted from the inside. I was one of the very last arrivals, all others were already inside and seated quietly on the floor. The room was full but not overcrowded. Only a selection of tulkus, lamas and a handful of Western students were there.
The atmosphere was charged, not only with the gathering of focused and largely influential attendees, but, also by the approaching storm which filled the room with flashes of lightning and claps of thunder. Storms were a common afternoon occurrence at this time of the year in Nepal, but only rarely did they take place in the early morning hours.
I had heard the day before that Tulku Urgyen, a great Dzogchen master, would be offering a special long life empowerment to Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a contemporary and also a great Dzogchen practitioner, who had not been well for some time. Although I had received this particular blessing already numerous times before, to be present when two such illustrious masters were coming together and under such deliciously secretive circumstances, was not something to be missed. I quickly found a place to sit at the back of the gathering so that I could take in all the proceedings while leaning comfortably against the outer wall. The supplication chanting had begun.
Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche had already completed all of the preliminary preparations for the empowerment and a number of ministering attendant lamas were officiating near the mandala and ritual objects which had been carefully laid out and arranged. As soon as these prayers had been offered in unison by all those present, Tulku Urgyen launched into the main part of the ceremony.
Few people knew that this empowerment was taking place and the whole thing had been kept very hush, hush with only certain close students in the know. If it had not been kept secret there would have been throngs of devotees hoping to attend and the sheer numbers would have made the event untenable.
All proceeded smoothly until I suddenly noticed that Tulku Urgyen had stopped reciting the prayers and was doubled over on the cushion just in front of Khyentse Rinpoche.
One of his long-time Western students from Germany, a qualified doctor, who had been attending Urgyen Rinpoche for some years, was present and swiftly flew to his side. A ripple of surprise and alarm passed through and around the room, all eyes were glued to the drama unfolding at the front.
It so happened that at the moment of recitation of a certain part of the empowerment Tulku Urgyen had suffered a heart attack. Khyentse Rinpoche who was sitting right in front of him had been reading a small text while all this was going on and quietly looked up. He made some comment and then continued on with his reading. Before long, Tulku Urgyen, with the help of one of his several sons, sat up again and continued on with the empowerment to its conclusion. It was all carried forward in such a manner that anyone not alert might have completely missed what had just taken place.
However, the irony of that morning was not lost on many of those who were present. In the dynamically charged atmosphere, it was a moment few of us were likely to easily forget. Death had come knocking at the door of the lama who was bestowing the long life empowerment. Khyentse Rinpoche had acknowledged what was happening and then continued on with his reading as though it were the most ordinary of day-to-day occurrences.
The ceremony was completed without further mishap. All were given the blessing and sent on their way. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche lived on for many more years and Khyentse Rinpoche passed away within three months. Both of these masters were fully accomplished in the Dzogchen view and all of us present that eventful morning were in awe of their realization. Neither lama feared death or life, having gone courageously beyond both, and reached stability in the natural state.
None can predict or interpret the dance and play of the forces that rule our lives. We may forget to acknowledge the extraordinary mystery of that which powers this whole display of being born, living out the allotment of our days and then undergoing all the stages of physical dissolution, but whether it is acknowledged or not, it is played out relentlessly.
From the standpoint of realized beings’ such as our two distinguished lamas at the centre of this event; nothing happened because their reality was based on something so much larger; something un-shifting, unchanging and unfathomable. We all witnessed the manner in which neither master took this incident personally, or was even particularly concerned by it. They simply noted what was happening and continued on, just as they did with everything else that came their way.
Having a view as wide as the sky, what is there to fear in the passing events which occur throughout life? That which is unshakeable, unchanging and eternal is our basic, inmost nature. In abiding in this state a realised being is able to pass through all the fluctuations of transitory events while remaining completely unaffected by them and in so doing, point clearly, un-mistakenly and powerfully towards that which is our natural inheritance.
What is the moral of this story, you might ask? Once one crosses, for good, the threshold of recognition of one’s inmost, true nature, one transcends forever, the limitations of the mind, which is chained to the relative world and its conception of life and death.
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