For the dying process to not be painful and confusing, there must be preparation. Though we apply this common sense in most every area, death must be approached as natural, not eschewed as distasteful taboo. Masters of meditation experience death’s transition as a mere change of clothes, and have described it as best they can, motivated by great compassion. Yet crossing over is a solo journey, one we must each traverse alone.
The word root guru has a sacred meaning, that my teachers define in a very specific way: the person who not only tries, but succeeds in bringing about a complete change in your mind to such an extend that the grip of duality is loosened and that the nature of mind is totally laid bare in its naked state and can be accessed whenever remembered for the rest of your life. Perhaps the meditator only finds out many years later who the primary guru was.
Living in a world focused on what is outside us, and not looking within, we are taught from a young age that we need to become something more than we are right now. We are encouraged to always be doing: we must learn; we must buy; we must acquire and achieve. And for absolute certain we must become better than we are right now just sitting here doing nothing. The Buddha taught the opposite. He said that by learning to let the mind be, just as it is right now, all our good qualities can unfold from within.
We may like to think that we know what the mind is – we speak of it so casually, but how well do we really know this mind of ours? For some of us at times, our inner state can change, and moods can appear as if out of nowhere, but is it destined to be as random as that? What control can we have over our own experience? When it comes to the mind, I’m thinking now, some things should not be a complete mystery.
At the onset of the after-death experience, phenomena have no structure and no recognizable features whatsoever, but are a tremendous display, the ultimate acid trip. It’s unlike wide open space on a cloudless day: something happens within that space, called sounds, colors and lights. The sounds are, Tulku Urgyen said, like 100.000 simultaneous thunder cracks, from all directions, above, below, everywhere. The colors are all colors of the rainbow, but much more intense than we normally see in this life. The rays of light are like sharp needles or swords, piercing through everything.
We have the incredibly great fortune to have encountered the precious teachings of the Buddha as well as living teachers who offer us the opportunity to study those teachings and assist us in training in them. Such a situation is a source of rejoicing that fills my heart with gratitude. It doesn’t matter that the path is long and difficult; it is the journey itself that is important.
We trade one rigid, constricting way of being for another rigid, constricting way of being. And because we call the new way spiritual practice, we may tell ourselves and others that this is great, this is better, this is how and who we want to be in our practice and in our life.
We usually find our orientation exclusively among designations and objects, considering that as reality, but eventually discover that such interaction doesn’t hold the key to real realization. It is the greatest paradox, because it is the mystery itself, as if moving, dancing, projecting light through a liquid. There is nothing that we have ever known, or ever been that is other that this mystery.
Where despair feels like surrender, compassion has no quit in it. The doubting mind is also closely tied to fear, and it is a small and contracted state, but the mind of compassion is broad and clear and fearless. It imagines great things, such as clean water, and people being fed and housed, and gets to work to get them done.
People go on retreat because it enables them to have insight, and access to inner resources, of creativity, intelligence and love that they can’t reach as easily at home. This has proven itself from generation to generation, and in every culture where Buddhism has become established. When on retreat, we ‘dig a channel to the ocean’, so to speak, and then our daily practice is a matter of keeping this channel open, and drawing forth resources we all have available to use in our daily life, relationships, and social work.