Death & Dying

The Stages of Death

When we have experienced the distant signs of death, the close signs of death will occur.

When we have experienced the distant signs of death, the close signs of death will occur. First the earth element of the body dissolves. The external sign of this dissolution is that the body becomes thin; and the internal sign is a mirage-like appearance to the mind. Next, the water element dissolves. The external sign is that the mouth and tongue become very dry, and the liquids of the body, such as urine, blood, and sperm, decrease; and the internal sign is a smoke-like appearance to the mind. Next the fire element dissolves. The external sign of this dissolution is reduced warmth of the body and coldness in the area around the navel, the centre of the body’s heat; and the internal sign is a sparkling-fireflies-like appearance. Next the wind element dissolves. The external sign is reduced power of movement due to the decreasing power of the winds that flow through the channels of the body and cause us to generate gross minds; and the internal sign is a candle-flame-like appearance. The mind perceiving this appearance is the last gross mind of death.

The first subtle mind of death is the mind perceiving a white appearance.

Subtle Minds of Death

The first subtle mind of death is the mind perceiving a white appearance. When this appearance ceases, the mind has become more subtle and perceives a red appearance. This mind again becomes more subtle and transforms into the mind of black near-attainment, to which only black appears. At this stage it is as if the dying person has no memory. Since there is no physical movement, no heartbeat, and no movement in the channels, some people think that this is the end of dying; but in fact the consciousness has not yet left the body. The mind of black near-attainment transforms into the most subtle mind perceiving the clear light of death, a clear bright appearance like the light of dawn. This is the sign that the most subtle mind that resides within the indestructible drop at the heart has manifested and all other minds have ceased to manifest. Then the indestructible drop opens, and its white and red parts separate, releasing the consciousness, which immediately departs from the body. The white drop descends through the central channel to emerge through the tip of the sex organ, and the red drop ascends through the central channel to emerge through the nostrils. When this happens it is the sign that the consciousness has left the body and the process of dying has ended.

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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.