Recently, many disciples had this query, “Guru, it is always said that the moment of death is very important, if one has not perfected the practice of virtue, at the point of death, when a negative thought arises, one will be dragged down by the negative thought, is that true?”
We need to know, in many teachings, the entire process of Dharma practice is called “Transference” while the moment of one’s breath stopping at the point of death is termed “Conclusion”. How should this be understood?
1, What is Transference and Conclusion?
What does Transference refer to? For instance, the power of the positive deeds performed during our lives is for the sake of gradually propelling us towards rebirth in the western pureland of Sukhavati, this is termed as Transference. The moment we stop breathing when we die is designated as Conclusion.
For example, those disciples present here have created much positive deeds since their entry into Buddhism, such as: with their speech, reciting mantras, scriptures; with their body, doing prostrations, walking meditation and sitting-meditation and so forth. These common positive actions are specified as Transference. The moment of death is specified as Conclusion
2. A positive or negative rebirth depends on Conclusion
As all sentient beings have a seven-fold increment in their clarity when they are on the verge of dying, therefore if they had a very strong force of practice in their lives, there is a definite chance of attaining Buddhahood. However, if in their lives, they had merely relied on the body or speech to fabricate, and were not able to subdue their kleshas (mental afflictions), even if they had created much positive karmas, but due to the strength of it not being very significant, then at the moment of death, there is still a possibility of many desires, aversions, or ignorance and such mental defilements surfacing and causing one to wander in the lower realms.
Like some students who have recited many heart-mantras, done a large number of prostrations and even having performed offerings and charity that are not inconsiderable. They all feel that their own powers of Transference should be quite great. Here we will not discredit the merits of these virtuous acts of body and speech but if one does not now rely on the maturing oral instructions, and Guru Yoga guided practice to subdue one’s mind, merely hinging one’s hopes on the power (of Transference) from the past, it is not quite realistic to expect that at the moment (of death), one’s mind will give rise to a good experience. At the point of death, there are numerous pains and sufferings, due to one’s lack of diligence in one’s life, one does not possess a very good recognition of impermanence. At this time if the kleshas of desire, anger or delusion arise, one will definitely be led by the mental afflictions to fall into the three lower realms. But as to the length of time spent suffering in the lower realms, that will be decided by the factor of Transference. If one’s past accumulated force of Transference is huge, then at the point of death, due to one negative thought, falling into the hell is definite, however due to the power of Transference, the time spent dwelling in the hell-realm will not be too long. Therefore, we have always been emphasizing that we should do practice all the time, at every moment.
Even a pureland practitioner has to achieve the state of one-pointed mind without any distraction. When supplicating Amitabha Buddha, at every moment he has to be in a state where the mind is inseparable from Amitabha Buddha’s image. During recitation, he has to constantly be sustaining the state where the mantra recited is inseparable from his mind. If he cannot accomplish this, then if he gives rise to one negative thought at the point of death, he will be drawn by that thought into the three negative realms. Therefore if Transference and Conclusion cannot both be directed positively then it is very difficult to guarantee that the practitioner will be able to take rebirth in Amitabha pureland in the future.
Conversely, if Transference is negative, but one is able to give rise to a positive thought at the point of dying, then one will definitely go to the Western pureland of Sukhavati. However, in the past, some people who lacked understanding explained it in this way, “although one is able to go to Sukhavati, but due to Transference from the past being negative, the deceased will still fall from Sukhavati.” At that time, I was also quite perplexed but I thought that if one who had managed to attain a rebirth in Sukhavati could still regress and fall, then does that mean that even Buddha Amitabha can show the appearance of falling into the hell realms? This is not too possible. Later I asked Guru (Achuk Lama Rinpoche), Guru said, “Of course it is not like this. Amitabha Buddha is liberation by sight. When one takes rebirth in Sukhavati, upon seeing Buddha Amitabha, all the past Transference of negative karma are instantly exhausted. Also when listening to the teachings of Buddha Amitabha, one can rely on this power to destroy all kleshas. After having practised for five hundred years in the nirmanakaya purelands of the five Dhyani Buddhas, one can attain Buddhahood in that life. ” Thus, the last breath at the point of death — the moment of Conclusion is critical! Very critical! It is better to understand these principles well, even though they are theoretical but they have great meaning.
3. Only long-term diligent practice ensures a positive Conclusion
I think that those disciples present may feel that, “I now have some experiences in my meditation, when death arrives, if I can abide in these experiences, I may have some confidence to gain accomplishment.” However, the question now is to turn around and ask yourself, when you die, how are you going to have confidence that you will be able to rest in this experience to pass away from this world and expire your last breath? Especially at the time of death, during the external disintegration when the five sense organs cease, the four elements are dissolving into themselves, there are many sufferings. If in this life one has not developed a thorough recognition of all the phenomenon in this world and has not given rise to good experience in meditation, we will develop many thoughts at this juncture like, ‘what should I do about my family?’, ‘how about the things I left behind?’, ‘would other people take my possessions away and use it themselves in a few days time’, etc. Therefore the time of death is acutely unpleasant in this manner. For Transference and Conclusion to be positive, one must exert in Dharma practice over a long period of time.
We should abide by these principles whether during meditation or post-meditation, even in our sleep, we should visualise thus. If we are able to do this, when we pass away, we will have full confidence to take rebirth in Amitabha’s pureland. In the past, I once admired and praised an old monk. When he was in a serious state of illness, on the brink of dying, even lacking the strength of voice to speak clearly, I said by his ear, “Whether you live or die, visualise the Guru and practise the Guru’s pith instructions, this is what we should do.” He replied that since the moment his sickness worsened, the Guru has always been by his side, the Guru’s pith instructions were even clearer to his mind than in the past . When he said this, I knew that this old monk was a Buddha when he was alive and when he dies, he will also be Buddha. To be able to achieve this, we must diligently do practice, or else it is very difficult to utilise the moment of death.
4. How an aged-practitioner whose four elements have deteriorated should practice
Disciples who are gathered here may know many old people in their hometowns, who, due to the decline of their four elements and having had little connection with the Dharma in the past, are not able to understand much Dharma and are not conversant with many terminologies. At this moment, how should they proceed? One should teach them according to their capacities, for instance, explaining how to supplicate Buddha Amitabha, how to practise the Forceful Prayer To Take Rebirth in Pureland, how to recite Amitabha’s heart mantra, how to visualise Buddha Amitabha, etc. The most important thing is to entrench them in constant practice, to ensure that their Conclusion is positive.
5. What to do at the point of death?
We already know that the moment of Conclusion is very critical and important. So how should we go about dealing with that moment? In the teachings of Powa, it is taught, at the point of death, if one is able to, we should offer all our possessions to the Triple Gem; but if one is unable to do it, for instance when sickness has suddenly aggravated, then one should mentally offer all of one’s possessions and wealth to the Triple Gems. If we visualise in this way, we will not be clinging or attached to these things. The goal is to cease all kleshas such as desire, aversion and ignorance at the moment of Conclusion, creating the force for taking rebirth in the pure-land of Sukhavati. This knowledge is necessary.
What is the purpose of us discussing these points? It is for us to treasure our time and diligently practise Dharma. All the students here have to face the greatest suffering in the whole world when we die. No-one can escape this. In order to face this moment without encountering suffering, we need to make preparations in advance. You must remember this– to practise diligently is the best preparation! This is the only way to not let ourselves down.