Death & Dying

Minds of Death

A virtuous mind at death is like water – it nourishes the virtuous potentialities that remain like dry seeds within our field-like consciousness.

The minds we have when we are dying are of two types, gross and subtle. Whereas the gross minds of death can be virtuous, non-virtuous, or neutral, for ordinary beings the subtle minds of death are only neutral. When we are dying, if our last gross mind is virtuous it will cause the good potentialities carried in our mind to ripen as a virtuous mental action that will lead us directly to higher rebirth as a human or a god. A virtuous mind at death is like water – it nourishes the virtuous potentialities that remain like dry seeds within our field-like consciousness. If two kinds of seed, barley seeds and wheat seeds, are sown in a field, but only the wheat seeds are watered, these will be certain to ripen first. In a similar way, while we still carry both virtuous and non-virtuous potentialities within our mind, a virtuous mind at the time of death will ensure that our virtuous potentialities are the ones that will ripen. This holds even if we have led an immoral life and committed many non-virtuous actions. However, we do not thereby escape the effects of all our non-virtuous deeds. If we take a human rebirth our life may be afflicted with great suffering or our life span may be short. If we do not purify our negative karma we shall eventually experience the fully ripened effect of our actions by taking rebirth in the lower realms.

The effects of our present spiritual practice will be happiness in the future.

Effects of Actions

Sometimes people who have no interest in spiritual practice and who lead careless, immoral lives enjoy better conditions and greater worldly success than people who are practising Dharma. Observing this, we may sometimes feel discouraged and think `What is the point of practising Dharma? Other people are not even trying to lead good lives but good things just fall into their laps, whereas although I practise diligently I seem to experience only hardship for all my pains.’ If we start to think like this it is because we are viewing only the present situation and have not fully understood how actions and their effects follow in succession. If we are now experiencing difficulties, these are the effects of our past actions. They are not the effects of our present spiritual practice, for the effects of our present spiritual practice will be happiness in the future. In the same way, the good fortune of people who are not interested in spiritual practice is the effect of merit they created in the past and is not a result of their present life style. Whatever harmful actions they commit in this life will bring hardships in the future.

We can also see how we can be of great benefit to others when they are dying, by encouraging them to develop a positive mind.

Our Last Mind

When we die, if our last gross mind is non-virtuous it will cause the bad potentialities we carry in our mind to ripen as a non-virtuous mental action, and this will lead us directly to a lower rebirth. From this we can see how important it is to develop a happy and virtuous state of mind at the time of death. We can also see how we can be of great benefit to others when they are dying, by encouraging them to develop a positive mind and creating for them conditions that will help them to generate good thoughts. In this way we can bring measureless benefit to our friends and relatives, even if they have no interest in Dharma. One of the greatest acts of kindness that we can show someone else is to help them to die peacefully and with a virtuous mind, for if in this way they attain a happy rebirth they will have attained the same result as someone who has successfully practised powa.

When the gross minds of death have ceased and the mind becomes the subtle mind of death, there are no gross feelings – pleasant, painful, or neutral – and no gross discriminations. Since for ordinary beings the subtle minds of death are neutral, these are powerless to induce virtuous minds.

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All quotations from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso's books copyright The New Kadampa Tradition - International Buddhist Union, all rights reserved worldwide. For more information on Geshe Kelsang's books visit Tharpa Publications.