The Chakras at Death

At the moment of death the lama will say, “You are now experiencing the mother light; between your consciousness and universal consciousness, no obstruction.  Try to hold that …”   But you’ve missed it. 

   So you have started at the top and, being unable to hold, you’ve come down, now to ajna, Cakra 6.  The lama will now say, “Try to bring into your consciousness the image of the lord that has been of your worship throughout your lifetime.”  This may be any god, so long as that god has been understood to be the supreme image of the powers of the energizing energies of the universe as they have operated in your lifetime.  It may be a Buddha image of one or another, as we’ll see, or it may be one of the Hindu gods.  It may be some notion of Allah.  It may be Yahweh.  Any deity that’s been your top deity, this is the place to contemplate it.  He’s second.  He’s not top, he’s second.  If you can’t hold to that, there comes a very interesting series of experiences at Cakra 5, the next cakra. 

   There are two stages here.  Before your ego has solidified, you are open to the radiance, in descending series of those five Buddhas that represent the center and the four directions.  They will be experienced in sequence: first, the Buddha of the center, and then the Buddhas of the east, south, west, and north.  If none of these radiances has been able to hold you, but you have been frightened of all, it’s because you are still holding much too tightly to your ego.  These same five Buddhas will then turn into their wrathful aspect.  They will seem horrific.  They will seem terrifying.  They will be there to smash your ego with terror.  If this doesn’t work, we come down still another stage – we’re still at Cakra 5 – and there comes what is called the knowledge-holding aspect of these duties. 

   Some people are unable to experience radiance, but they can listen to a lecture.  I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, “An American, if he was given a chance to choose between going to heaven and hearing a lecture about heaven, he’d go to the lecture.”  So you’re unable to experience heaven, but perhaps you’ll take a lecture about it.  Maybe that’ll save you.

   Down to this point you have been beyond the level of fear of death.  That comes at the heart cakra, Cakra 4.  And now you come into that place of the upward and downward pointed triangles – the place of decision and choice.  This is a critical one.  The lama will be telling you where you are on the way down and what to hold to and to try to do it; and here you are disintegrating, trying to have this realization that will release you from another birth. 

    Finally we get down to Cakra 3.  Now come the terrors of death.  Before this, death has been the ornament of life, which it is.  Life without death in it is no life at all.  It’s just a fixture.  But it’s the process of death in you that is life, the burning.  Down to here death has been celebrated; everyone is saying, “Kill, kill, kill!  Oh wow, isn’t this wonderful!”  And then down here it all changes.  This is the moment of decision, a moment of great terror.  And the lama will say, “Do not be afraid.  These powers that are tearing you apart are just figments of your own imagination.  They are in the field of time, figments.  Hold.  There’s nothing to lose.  There’s nothing to do.  Hold the stillpoint without moving.”  But you’ve lost it.  Great cliffs close behind you.  You are now caught in the descent through the last three cakras.  But I don’t want to give away the whole story, so let’s start our passage.   (Much continued, but indirectly - DS)   TMTT 174

So to begins again, a person is about to die. The local lama has his hand on the pulse.  At the moment of death he says, “You are now beholding the mother light.”  That is absolute Brahma, undifferentiated consciousness; that’s what we’re intending all the way here.  You may speak of it as the void, you may speak of it as the abyss, you may speak of it as mother light.  It is that which transcends all cogitations.  There are no words for it.  So he will say, “Hold.”  If you can’t, you slip down now from Cakra 7 to 6 and he asks you to bring to consciousness the image of the lord that you have chosen for your life contemplation. 

   We’re now going to descend to Cakra 5, the throat cakra, where you encounter the benevolent manifestations of the five meditation Buddhas.  First, at the center, there appears the bliss-bestowing Buddha, Vairochana, the “Sun Buddha,” seated in meditation at the immovable spot of illumination, doing nothing.  There is such bliss as you are afraid to accept.  The pig of ignorance has been slain; the teaching has been communicated to the disciples.  The Buddha in teaching posture represents doing something to help you.  You haven’t got there, you haven’t reached the top, but you are pretty close.  A word of instruction may suddenly do it for you. 

   If you allow the vision of Vairochana to fade, then from the east appears Akshobhya, meaning “can’t be moved.”  He’s at the immovable spot.  He has illumination, so the tempter cannot move him.  In his hand he will have the thunderbolt, the vajra, and he will be embracing his shakti Mamaki – that is, “turning about” his energy, his shakti, to the aim of illumination.  Your vice is your virtue.  The quality here is tenacity, and the negative aspect of tenacity is stubbornness.  If your virtue is stubbornness, hold it, don’t lose it.  This is one of the problems of renovating one’s character.  

this sentence should be put in 2 places)   The psychological problem in the play Equus, which the psychiatrist realized, was that in “healing” his patient, he had deprived him of his God.  I think it’s Nietzsche who said, “Be careful, lest in casting out your devil, you cast out the best thing that’s in you.”  Many people who have been psychoanalyzed are like filleted fish.  Their character is gone. 

   If you are nasty, be nasty, but turn around the energy, the shakti, If stubbornness is all you’ve got and you haven’t turned it around, you will be reborn in the realm of the stubborn.  That’s hell.  Hell is the place of people who are stubborn about their individuations and about what those individuations mean to them, their personalities, their wishes, their notions of good and evil, and so forth.  So this is your virtue and your vice. 

   Fudo, the Japanese God of Wisdom, is Akshobhya in the aspect of “immovable in fire.”  The picture in the New York Times of the Vietnamese monk who set himself on fire was a picture of Fudo.  There he was seated, immovable in fire.  If he had moved, he would have lost his merit.  The point is, he transcended his body so he could do a think like that.  It’s impudence to do that when you can’t do that.  

   If you are holding onto the thunderbolt of illumination, responding to Vairochana’s teaching, and you are still to be reborn, you will be reborn in heaven.  If you are stuck with your stubbornness, you will be reborn in heaven.  If you are stuck with your stubbornness, you will be reborn in hell.  The Buddha sits immovable, in the earth-touching posture, at that moment when life is speaking to him in its loudest voice, and he is deaf to it.  He is going to the father – to the crucifixion. 

   If this opportunity fades, there arises from the south the most charming of these Buddhas, Ratsambhava, “born of a jewel.”  Embraced by his shakti “Buddha Eyes,” his quality is beauty.  And what’s the vice?  Pride.  If you’re pride is in your beauty, hold to it, but turn it abour, so that the beauty that you are proud of is your spiritual beauty.  Then you will cultivated that.  Do not get rid of your vice.  If it’s pride, make the pride work to your illumination, not to your degradation.  That’s all there is to this.  If you are reborn under the sign of this deity, you will have a human rebirth.  So now we have had three of the realms of rebirth – heaven, hell, and human.  The Lord of the South is boon-bestowing, generous.  The proud and the beautiful are generous. 

   If the vision of this saving Buddha pair fades, from the west arises the favorite Buddha of the Far East, Amida.  In Sanskrit, he’s Amitabha – a-mita means “immeasurable”; abha is “radiance” – the Buddha of Immeasurable Radiance.  There’s a legend associated with his name.  When he was on the very threshold of illumination he made a vow.  “I will not accept illumination for myself unless, through my illumination, I can bring to illumination and release all beings who pay me worship, who honor my name.” 

    So when he achieved illumination, there appeared before him a great lake, a lake of bliss, and on the lake were lotuses.  Anyone who has during his lifetime paide devotion to Amida will not be committed to another life-time but will be reborn on a lutus in Amida’s lake in sukhavati, the “Land of Bliss.”  If the person was not even close to illumination at the point of death, he’ll be reborn in a closed lotus floating on waters of five colors, the colors of the five elements.  And as the waters ripple, he’ll hear, “All is impermanent; all is without self.”  And around the lake will be jeweled trees, with jeweled birds singing, “All is impermanent; all is without self.”  And musical instruments in the air will be playing, “All is impermanent; all is without self.”  Meanwhile the radiance of the Buddha himself, like the setting sun on the western horizon, will be penetrating the petals.  Finally, the person will get the message, the petals will open, and there he will be, sitting as a Buddha in meditation, floating on the lotus pond.  And presently in his meditation he will dissolve into a rapture and transcendence. 

    Amitabha is the Buddha whose lieutenant is Avalokitshevara and whose incarnation on earth, then, is in the Dalai Lama.  Embraced by his shakti, known as the “Woman in White,” his quality is mercy, compassion.  And what do you suppose the vice would be?  Attachment – attachment to that being for whom you feel love.  If you die with that attachment you will be reborn in the world of the hungry ghosts.  They have ravenous bellies and pinpoint mouths, so they can never eat what they desire. 

   If Amitabha and his shakti fade, the fourth of the surrounding Buddhas appears from the north, the ominous direction.  His name is Amoghasiddhi, “He who will not be turned from the achievement of his aim.”  Siddhi is “aim,” or “achievement.”  Amogha is “not to be distracted from it.”

   The virtue here is tenacity of purpose, not simply holding to where you are but holding with conscious intention.  The negative aspect is belligerence, and if you die in this context, you will be reborn in the realm o the antigods, the demons, the fighting gods. 

   What has happened is, as we’ve come down we’ve lost, as it were, the vajra that Akshobhya had in his hand, and now we’re in quest of it.  So there’s a descending series here.  This is the great Tibetan representation of the vajra with the yin-yang in the center.  There is a Chinese and Hindu combination here. 

    Still at cakra 5, we descend another step to encounter a great mandala of dancers, the Knowledge-Holding Deities.  They are having a bll.  I think of it as a kind of college prom.  They are shouting, “Death! Death!  Death!”; waving banners made of flayed human skins; and blowing trumptets made of human thigh bones.  Death is the ornament of life.  They are not afraid of death.  They are right on the edge, still experiencing the excitement of dying. 

   The mandala is a terrific affair.  The gods that were formerly benevolent – Vairochana, Akshobhya, and so forth – are dancing with female figures known as Dakinis, sort of space fairies.  I once saw on Forty-second Street an advertisement for the movie Firewoman from Outer Space.  That’s what we’ve got here.  In one hand is a flaying knife with a thunderbolt handle.  There is a staff with heads on it and a thunderbolt, and necklace of skulls.  Such is the kind that you meet at these parties.  The lion-headed Dakini, Sima-dakini, tramples the mere animal nature.  In fact, every time one accepts a partner like that, one has trampled on one’s own animal nature.  Compassion has taken over.  The great one is Sarva-Buddha Dakini, a kind of fairy goddess, of all the Buddhas.  And what does she drink from?  The top of a skull.  And what does she drink?  Blood.  She wears a kilt made of carved human bones and carries a thunderbolt flaying knife. 

   The inspiration for many of these images is Kali, the Hindu goddess of the same power.  She has been taken over in the Buddha system by these Dakinis, the partners in this dance.  Death is being celebrated at this stage.  You are dancing in partnership with Lady Death, and you don’t mind.  But if you die caught up in the dance, instead of in its significance, you will be reborn as an animal. 

   Then comes the deities in their ferocious aspects, their wrathful aspects.  The lama at the bedside will say, “The deities will be coming to you, every hair on their heads radiant with fire, and they will be making strange sounds: ‘kla, kla, kla.’  Do not be terrified.  These are but the violent aspect of your own consciousness.”  Your whole being is terror and fright, but the lama will be saying, “Do not be terrified, do not move.”  This is the second temptation of the Buddha, the temptation of fear and terror.  “Be calm.”

   One remains calm by holding to Yama-Antaka, that aspect of the powers that kills in you the fear of death.  Yama is the Lord Death, the first man who dies.  Antaka means “end” – the ender of the fear of death, the ender of the Lord Death.  He is surrounded by various powers.  There is a female who is a convert to Buddhism, and she goes out to convert everybody else.  Like all converts she is a little bit insecure and wants to reassure herself by converting everyone else.  People who would not submit, she flahed.  Her name is Lhamo.  The first person she could not convert, and so flayed, was her own son.  In one representation she is in such a fury that you can’t even see her.  The peacock-feathered parasol is her sign.  There is a violent aspect – of the power to break the ego. 

   So we’ve come down now, from the top through Cakra 6 to Cakra 5, where the syllable is ham, and now we’re coming down to Cakra 4, at the level of the heart, where the syllable is yam, and you see the two triangles.  This is the place of decision.  If you don’t sign out here, you’re going to come down the rest of the way.  This is the place of the moon.  The moon is both body and light, and so you are below this level.  Now are you going to identify with the body, the vehicle, or are you going to identify with the light? 

    You’ll see the lunar horns and monster buffalo face of Yama.  The lama will be saying, “You have come to the realm of the Lord Death, the judge of the dead.  His minions will come at you, and they will tear you apart.”

   Here is a tanka representing this realm where the Lord Death presides over people being judged.  All of this now, is what has come upon you.  At the weighing scales, good deeds are weighed against bad deeds, and then people are assigned to the different worlds.  You can see the hell-tortures: people being chopped to pieces, other being dragged to a freezing hell, some who are boiling.   Notice the book, and what happens to monks who skip passages in their prayers.  The fellow with the heavy rock on his back is a person who likes to kill insects.  There are more horrific scenes of subtle terrors, but the lama will be saying, “Do not be afraid.” 

   I thought about this when I read of the gross terrors – the actual torture scenes – that had occurred in Tibet in 1959.  Monks were being torn apart sometimes for as long as seven days, without being killed.  Thousands of other monks were killed, just as when the Muslims came into north India.  Monasteries around Lhasa that had six or eight thousand monks were wiped out.  And I thought, if a monk there, having all this happen, could think, “Nothin is happening, it’s merely the field of time, the stillpoint is here,” then he would achieve illumination.

   When Mansur al-Hallaj, the great Sufi mystic, was about to be tortured and crucified as Jesus was, he is said to have uttered this prayer, “O Lord, if you had revealed to them what you have revealed to me, they would not be doing this to me.  If you had not revealed to me what you have, this would not be happening to me.  O Lord, praise to thee and thy works.”  That’s big stuff.  Hallaj is also reported to have said, “The function of the orthodox community is to give the mystic his desire.”  That’s a good way – a heroic way – to think about it. 

   So we’re in the realm of the Lord Judge of the Dead, the bull with the moon horns, and the terrors.  If we can get past this, we are released.  If we can’t, there closes behind us a great cliff, and the sublime is no longer ours.  And we hear noises, the noises of the world.  Sometimes when you hear these noises, try not to think of what is being said, but of what is talking.  What is talking is ignorance, lust, and malice.  The world as it’s experienced by people who are still in fear of the Lord Death is a world of the first three cakras: ignorance, lust, and malice.  The great cliff is the boundary beyond which we do not see because we are in fear of the Lord of Death. 

   So, we’ve slipped.  We’re on the last three cakras now.  At Cakra 3, you begin to see couples embracing.  And the lama at your side will be saying, “Try not to get between them.”  So we’ve come to the level of Dr. Freud.  Below here, we’ve already gotten between them and we’re going to be born, either as male or as female.  If we are born male, we will find ourselves hating our father and loving our mother.  If we are born female, it will be the other way around.  The Oedipus and the Electra complexes. 

   And so, the final job of the lama is to get you born into a decent environment, where you have a chance to receive Buddhist instructions for another lifetime, and to save you from birth, let’s say, in the egg of a flea, the womb of a mouse, or something like that.  All of these are possibilities.

   Then you are born, a frightened, terrified little thing, who’s just had a great fight through the birth canal.  And your eyes open to the surfaces of things, for you have been through the whole inward mystery and have forgotten it. 

   Plato, in the Timaeus, says, “The only thing one can do for another is reintroduce him to those forms of the spirit, the memory of which was lost at birth.”  But how we do this is the problem.

   In a mandala made by one of Jung’s patients, you have the six worlds, and in the middle she is shown reading – undoubtedly reading Jung.  I thought this was a very interesting mandala, particularly because of the reading aspect. 

   This is Pancaksara, the patroness of books, coming to illumination through reading scriptures.  When you have been led by scripture not to fear death anymore, that world which seemed such a horror is transformed into a world of Buddha consciousness – Buddha everywhere.  It’s through scripture that one has been led to this.  Now this figure, Pancaksara, is an Idam, which means “chosen deity” – the deity that you yourself have chosen – istadevata, the “wished for deity.” 

   This is a very sophisticated idea.  Such a deity has no existence.  It’s a picture.  It’s to put in your mind the idea of a deity, and it will achieve life insofar as you make this your deity.  This deity then becomes the guide of your life.

   I speak first of Pancaksara, the deity of reading and scripture, because it happens to be my idam.  Everything I know I have gotten from reading.  When I meet Buddhas and yogis and whatnot I interpret them in terms of my reading.  I put this idam right on the face of the Buddha himself.  This is what holds me. 

   Other people will have other istadevatas, other chosen deities, but stick to your chosen deity.  It’s your way, and the whole Buddha world will come to your knowledge through whatever your deity is. 

   Kalacakra is another istadevata or idam.  Kalacakra means “the wheel of time.”  Everything is Buddha.  This is the world which, when you are in fear of death, is such a horrible place.  But no horror can survive the radiance of these knowledges that come. 

   I once had a tanka of Sakra Samvararaja, the All-Embracing Lord, hanging in the foyer in my apartment.  I was helping a Tibetan monk write his autobiography, and as he walked out of the apartment he saw the tanka and said, “Why that’s the istadevata of my monastery.”  So an idam can be not simply a personal choice, but the power informing the exercises of an entire monastery.  This is the most sophisticated notion of deity anywhere that I know of, this notion of a chosen deity that is going to be your guide. 

   And so with this idea, we come to the conclusion of this story of how the Lord, with his shakti turned about, comes to transcendence – becomes the Buddha, immovable, teaching the world.  TMTT 188