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Essays listed in chronological order starting with most recent. For archives, please see previous volumes below.
  • Writer's pictureRudy Bauer

Death and Deathlessness

Rudolph Bauer, Ph.D. Author, Tom Walsh, LCSW-C, Editor

First I would like to describe a dream I had a few years ago. I am sitting in the meditation center and I hear and see Swami Muktananda speaking to someone behind a screen. The sound is of two old men speaking about death.  The voice of the other old person behind the screen sounded so familiar but I could not place the voice in those moments. Swami Muktananda is saying that in the mind and through the mind alone death is impossible; the abyss can not be crossed by mind alone. Then the other voice behind the screen describes how thin the veil is between this earth realm and the realm beyond death…the deathless realm. And both are laughing about how close, how unimaginably close, the two dimensions are.   When I woke up I naturally was happy to have such dream. Later in the morning I began seeing clients. Around noon I received a phone call telling me that Lama Kungsang Dechin Lingpa had died during the night. It was his voice that was behind the screen.

Also regarding death, I did an experimental study on death awareness and identity development. The first result of the study was that those at the both extremes, that is, those who had a highly developed identity and those who had the least developed identity were consciously aware of death. The great in between or normal population was statistically much less aware of death than those at the extremes of high or low identity development. Moreover the religious believers had less fear of death than the non-believers.  I then tested everyone’s unconscious fear of death utilizing a classic word association test and measuring the physiological response delay. The results were that everyone, both believers and non-believers was terrified and had annihilation and death anxiety.

I would like to use phenomenology of awareness and Dzogchen meditation understanding in the deepening of our understanding of the death and deathless states of primordial awareness. Longchenpa writes “there is this atomic nucleus of radiant light lying at the heart of all living beings.” This enlightened nucleus is the primordial ground of awareness, the primordial ground of all that is. So what he is saying that, in Dzogchen understanding there is within your heart, primordial awareness itself; that you are primordial awareness itself.  That your very subjectivity is primordial awareness itself….that openness that you are is awareness itself. So in becoming aware of your awareness you experience primordial awareness itself…the primordial ground of being itself.

He goes further and describes that this primordial awareness in its unmanifest dimension is called the dharmakaya, or the primordial ground. This primordial ground is pure potential, pure possiblizing. And in its unmanifest state, it is devoid of actualized concrete forms. It is completely indestructible and continues throughout all living beings, including everything in the universe and the universe itself. It’s called vajra kumara, which means unborn and undying, ever youthful.  From this view everything is alive, everything is anima or psyche…and most amazingly this primordial ground of awareness manifests the world and all the infinite forms…and most amazingly, it manifests in you as your mind and body and even your unfolding circumstances.  But most essentially, most purely, it manifests as your own innermost awareness, as your inner self. 

So suspend the mind just for a moment and focus within.  This pure primordial ground resides within our hearts and with its “presenting“. With its “presenting “ pervading the body in the wonderful network of luminous channels and fields (spheres), of the archetypical energies and qualities that we consider as deities and dakinis.  Every instant we are re-enacting the cosmic drama of self recognition or lack of self recognition (aware of awareness or unaware of awareness) BOTH WITHIN ourselves and within others (or to use the language of Swami Muktananda: god dwells within you as you…and see god in each other). Our very subjectivity is the manifestation of the primordial ground; our very most inner self, inner most awareness is the manifestation of the primordial luminous ground. The ground is presencing within you as your awareness, as the openness that you are. Directly…unmediated…nakedly.

Ground presencing means the appearance within the ground, the lightening up of the ground, the radiance of the ground of primordial awareness, primordial openness. Cosmically, the radiance of primordial awareness is the light of ground manifesting infinite forms and infinite presences, as infinite singularities. This radiance, which is bodhichitta the great compassion, begins as unimpeded light flowing forth from the ground and within the ground as the archetypical elements.  Then this sambogkaya dimension of the archetypical energies and forms is elaborated as deities. And then, within that dimension, the field manifests the dimension of us…this world, the world of flesh, the world of desire, human awareness.

This primordial light evolves into dualistic forms, congealed light, congealed light matter, and dualistic experience -- light encapsulated as earth, wind, fire and space: luminous flesh, luminous body and luminous awareness in singularity. Awakened awareness with awakened phenomena within. This drama of self-awareness, of self-presencing, is the core dynamic of the universe. This gnosis, this jnana, this intelligence, this knowningness of radiant light, the entire spectrum of psychic activity and material dynamics reflect the various high energy vibrations that congeal and become dimmed.

The entire universe is thoroughly intelligent, the anima-mystic universe, the universe as psyche.  You and I are psyche; we are in psyche, the world as psyche.

It is true that circumstances may be dimmed, that the mind may be dimmed and that the body may be dimmed, all as obscured contained light.  But subjectivity, the innermost awareness is light, pure light, unobscured light.  Microcosmically, primordial awareness (the ground is) in you -- essentially, indestructibly in you as your very awareness, your singular subjectivity. As Husserl the great phenomenologist would say:  What is the wonder of all wonders?  Pure awareness.  And the doorway is my own subjectivity.

16. The grounds utter emptiness which is best described as openness of pure potential is in perfect oneness with the luminous radiant light energy. This emptiness or openness or potential space is inherently dyanamic and luminous, luminous in its manifestation. Its very essence is purity, its luminousity is spontaneous presence, and its nature is compassion which is pervasive and is creative resonance, transmission.

17. This ground of being is brilliant shining knowingness. And so this self organizing gnosis is at the cosmic level the source of the infinite star systems and parallel universes. At the micro cosmic levels the subtle energy structures and most of all, the peculiar personal world of the self conscious beings that are ourselves. All this is compassionate resonance, compassionate manifestation…time itself is compassion manifesting. All experience is the expression of compassion, all happiness, all agony, all love and hatred …everything is the manifestation of  the radiance, every experience is the manifestation of divinity. So the unfolding of your life, just as it is, is the map or realization.

Timeless awareness manifesting time. Timeless awareness in time and time in timeless awareness. Non duality manifesting duality, and non duality within duality, and duality within non duality.  Knowing this is the essence of meditative practice. In the dimension of primordial ground (dharmakaya) the field remains as virtual reality, reality as potential. The self contained potential devoid of actualization, devoid of exteriorization. It is like a spiritual body contained within a vase. The entire universe is enfolded within it. Then the vase breaks opens and the worlds manifest: the world as archetypical, symbolic energies, vortexual energies, then the world as nirmakaya the world as us as earth.  Multidimensional existence.  The field of primordial awareness is multidimensional.

There is a master named Karmaya who comments that the Dzogchen tantras very rarely if at all invoke the understanding of emptiness or sunyata as non self existence…non self. These non self theories are at times misleading because their understanding of emptiness lacks the dynamic reality of primordial awareness as luminous openness, radiance, purity and the cosmic resonance of compassion.  Purity is the essence of the ground. Original purity is simultaneous with spontaneous presence.  The internal radiance or the pure potential or the virtual reality gives rise to the actualization of infinite forms and infinite persons, all in singularity.

The light energy presences itself in you and me both as the congealed materiality of light, and as the adamantine awareness.. this adamantine awareness is the who in the mind and body, the who in me and in the who in you…this world of “whos“.  We are in Whoville, Doctor Seuss is my guru. So death happens, yes it does, death happens. And so the mind begins to dissolve and the body dissolves, and the circumstances dissolve.  What remains, what remains?  The who remains .. primordial awareness, as you as a who. This who remains..this who  has a history of incarnations,  incarnating as you….at this time…the different times, epochs.  This unfolding “who” has different names and forms, different minds and bodies. You may be Harriet now, but in another incarnation this who was Joan, or George.  All these incarnations leave traces, the traces of manifestations of thewho, the very same who. The yogis call these traces the allayic field…the traces  are divinity as much as the who is divinity, as much as the primordial ground is divinity.

The who remains..the who that remains at the moment of death is the vajra kumara as a “who” unborn, undying, deathless. The “who” as the deathless state of pure awareness, pure, openness, light, energy, resonance…with singular traces of the narratives of various incarnations.

And so the ground meets the ground, the essence is becoming what we are,[ ah am ah], I am becoming what I am.  The ground becomes the ground, oneness, complete oneness, experiential oneness.

Much is possible in this extended moment, in this bardo of transitional  space....but to understand this transitional place from the Dzogchen viewpoint, you must forget about simplistic causal explanations or juridical explanations, or karmic explanations, which are ultimately simplistic  understanding of causality…ping pong ball causality, ultimately a caste system frame of reference.

Rather, the unfolding and unformulated potentiality of the who becomes further and deeper the who is the who of primordial ground awareness ..and so the unfolding can lead who into  reincarnating  on earth, or incarnating  in the celestial realms or the who simply being in total oneness with the ground never to incarnate again.  The singular who becomes what it is. Actually whatever dimension you is in, it is all the same; it is completely equal as it is all divinity.. it is all primordial awareness with different nuances, different faces.

Once I had friend who very ill who asked me about good skillful means to die. And so I asked Namkai Norbu, who was my Dzogchen teacher, about the  Powa practice wherein one practices  leaving through the  head.  He laughed and said you have to be in great condition to do that sort of gymnastic and it is not really the path of Dzogchen. He suggested simply using the heart essence mantra AH…the sound of primordial awareness.

So for about one year, every day, my friend and I would hold awareness together.  We would extend the field to each and co-emergently we became better and better at being in the light. And at the moment of his death, he was initially unconscious. Then he opened his eyes and began exhaling the mantra AH, AH.  Then he looked at each individual in the room, with a smile.  His head went back and everyone saw this luminous light arise from within, and go up and out of his body. His teenage son said, “Awesome”.   And it was awesome. EMAHO! Beyond words and letters there is a transmission that does not belong to any tradition, it is the very nature of human awareness itself, and that is the Buddha.

Om Ah Hum Bodhichitta Maha Sukha Jhana Dhatu Ah.

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