E-letter No. 31: October 2005

By Lama Thubten Yeshe
London, England 1982 (Archive #323)
Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Lama Yeshe, Lake Arrowhead, 1975. Photo: Carol Royce-Wilder.

Dear Friends,

Once more, thank you so much for subscribing to the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive e-letter, which brings you news from the Archive and a short, previously-unpublished teaching by Lama Yeshe or Lama Zopa Rinpoche each month. Please pass it on to your friends and any Dharma e-lists that you might belong to—we’d love more people to read it. Thank you so much.

Last year many, many of you took us up on our request for you to recite the great Sanghata Sutra, with excellent results. So we’re happy to report that there’s now a Web site for this wonderful sutra: www.sanghatasutra.net. Please check it out. Feel free to recite it whenever and as much as you like and dedicate it to whatever great outcome you’d like to see happen.

We’re happy to announce some new stuff on our website. Unless you’re in retreat in a cave somewhere, you’ve probably heard of podcasts…an extremely easy way to listen to various things on your computer or mp3 player. Of course, the best thing you could be listening to is Dharma teachings, and that’s where we come in! Check out our podcasts page for information about how to subscribe to our podcasts. We plan to release a new podcast each month.

Our most recent addition to the website is Pabongka Rinpoche's Heart-Spoon [now revised and renamed The Heart's Utmost Need], a concise and powerful teaching on impermanence. We’ve also added many new advices to Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s online Advice Book, especially in the "Spiritual Practice" and "Misfortune" sections. If you have been reading the Advice Book regularly, you can see what's new this month by going to our Advanced Search page and search the Advice Book section for the phrase "Oct. 2005".

If you’re a benefactor of the LYWA you should have received, or will soon receive, depending on where you live, our new book Teachings from Tibet. If you haven’t and would like to see what’s in it, you can read it on line. And if you’d like information on becoming an Archive benefactor, please see here.

In the meantime, we continue to work on more publications. Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s The Joy of Compassion is being designed and Geshe Jampa Tegchok’s seven-point mind training commentary is about to be. And we’re putting the finishing touches on Lama Yeshe’s The Essence of Tibetan Buddhism before sending it off to be reprinted.

At present we have about 330,000 free books in print, thanks to the inspiring generosity of our members and benefactors. Our immediate goal is a million free books in print…we’re gradually getting there. Please help by sponsoring a book or making a donation of any amount. If you’d like more information, please let us know.

This time our new teaching is by Lama Yeshe. We were going to continue with Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s amazing teaching on emptiness from Australia last year but will do so later. In the meantime, please enjoy the wisdom of Lama Yeshe.

Thank you so much,

Much love

Nick Ribush

Transference of Consciousness at the Time of Death

Lama Yeshe at Lake Arrowhead, California, in 1975, with a younger and more venerable Dr. Nick.  Photo: Carol Royce-Wilder. Tonight I’m supposed to talk about the transference of consciousness according to the experience of Himalayan yogis. However, this method that I’m going to describe comes from the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha; it’s not something made up by Tibetan monks. Lord Buddha gave this teaching to his disciples, they transmitted it orally to their own disciples, and in this manner the lineage of this method came down through the ages to be practiced in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

So, who needs to do this practice and what are its benefits?

First of all, from the Buddhist point of view, human life and death are equally important events. To our way of thinking there’s no reason for us to consider life to be important and death to be bad, unimportant. Both are important.

Just as most people want to have a happy, joyful life, in the same way Himalayan yogis want to have a happy death. They don’t want disastrous, unhappy, confused deaths.

Of course, those who attain enlightenment in their lifetime don’t need transference of consciousness, but those who don’t get enlightened in this life and need another in which to do so do.

However, we do have to separate from our consciousness at the time of death, but when the conditions at that time are overwhelming because of disease or simply wrong thinking, with craving, grasping and attachment—there are many different disastrous ways of dying—we need a method to help us overcome them. So what accomplished yogis do to ensure a perfect death before such terrible conditions arise is to practice transference of consciousness.

We ordinary beings seem to be stuck to our bodies because of sense gravitation attachment with no way out. You can call it karma, you can call it life force, you can give any kind of reason for this, but through training, yogis have learned to facilitate the transferring of their consciousness from their sense gravitation bodies and are therefore free from the fear of dying a disastrous death. They have a great feeling of freedom, knowing that whenever the need arises they can transfer their consciousness by using the meditation techniques they have practiced.

This is not just philosophical talk. Many Tibetan monks and meditators can do this. When the time comes they can utilize this kind of method. For example, I heard that when the Chinese conquered Tibet in 1959, many ordinary monks happily transferred their consciousness and left their lives because they felt they would no longer have the freedom to exercise their religious faith. These are true facts. It’s very useful to be able to do this.

The reason why I think it’s important for the Western world to know about this kind of thing is because the West has neglected the mind and the human ability to utilize the consciousness in such a way through being too preoccupied with material things. Therefore I feel it’s a good thing to introduce to you the fact that human beings have the power to eliminate disastrous life situations, sense gravitation attachment and the fear of death because they have the potential to become buddha.

So we should not feel that we’re stuck somewhere and cannot do anything. We’re capable of freeing ourselves from any suffering or confused situation. But the important thing to realize is that the source of all our happiness, misery, fear and confusion is our mind, not our physical body. Therefore we should investigate and come to know the characteristic nature of our own consciousness. This is the way to free ourselves from all fear.

Now, when it comes to actually transferring our consciousness we have to choose the right time. It’s dangerous to do it at the improper time because then we’re just killing ourselves, which is definitely not allowed. So the teachings give specific times to practice transference of consciousness, which we determine by scientifically checking the signs of impending death before the actual time comes.

These signs can be internal or external and are explained in detail in the texts. However, when these signs come indicating that death is imminent, there are also things we can do to change that situation. We all know that to some extent we can change circumstances. For instance, when our life energy starts to run out, when our life force weakens, there are ways we can reactivate the energy in our nervous system. Tibetan Buddhism does contain methods for prolonging life and averting impending death but since this is an introductory talk I’m not going to go into the details here.

Anyway, when you detect the signs and reach the point where you know that death is certain, at that time you employ the techniques for transferring your consciousness.

To be continued in the next e-letter.

Lama Yeshe gave this teaching at St. John’s Church, London, 18 September 1982. It was excerpted and edited from the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive by Nicholas Ribush. We are in the process of producing a DVD of this teaching.