Death and Immortality

Raghavan Iyer – USA

[From Hermes, December 1975.]

The crucial insight that we gain from Tibetan teaching is that immortality is not something to be achieved or won, not a prize to be awarded to a favored few. Immortality is nothing but another aspect of mortality. Even now we either live immortally or live mortally. We either die every moment or we live and thirst, depending on whether we are focused upon the nirvanic or upon the samsaric aspect of embodied consciousness. If we are constantly able to sift the meaning of experiences and to see our formal vestures for what they are and pass from one plane of perception to another, then indeed it may be possible, when blessed with the vision of clear, pure light – the great vision of sunyata – to enter straightaway into that vesture which enables us to remain free from the compulsion of return to earthly life. But this cannot happen unless it flows naturally out of the line of life's meditation. It cannot happen all of a sudden. It is not some kind of special dispensation. It is itself a product of the working of Karma.

Beings who have undergone this condition of final illumination have either chosen to remain immortal but in the Dharmakaya vesture, unrelated to manifested beings and humanity, or they have chosen the Nirmanakaya vesture and deliberately chosen to enter into relationships with human beings. These Nirmanakayas ceaselessly point to the basic truths concerning the meaning of death and the perpetual possibility of immortality. They teach men that within themselves they are Buddhas without knowing it. Now, the Prajnaparamita states that the Buddhas are themselves only personifications and therefore they could become illusions for us. What is it that we are going to meditate upon when we consider the immortals? Are we going to think of them as glorified physical personalities, archangels in radiant raiment, somehow idealized and more beautiful but related to our own physical conception of physical life? Or are we going to think of them as minds, a great gathering of extraordinary and powerful minds who collectively constitute the great mind of the universe? Or are we going to look upon them simply as beings who have become aware of their true Buddha nature and have therefore become instruments for the working of consciousness, instruments that will be helpful and unifying, because that is the nature of consciousness, whereas the nature of form is divisive.

Thus the whole doctrine, even of the Lha, those gods seemingly tucked away in a limbo, refers to beings who not merely work in relation to the world but also by their ceaseless collective ideation maintain in the world the force of the Buddha nature. The Buddha nature is not some abstract principle. It is actually embodied in the collective consciousness of such beings perpetually in the universe. We come to see that the various phases in the process of the concretization of the universe from an absolute realm, through archetypes, through individualized forms of thought, and ultimately to material forms, that this whole process is re-enacted in the bardo state, between death and rebirth. A great reenactment has taken place. Who knows what reenactment takes place within the embryo especially during the first seven months in the mother's womb? Science and medicine know almost nothing about what happens then or why. These are the great mysteries connected with the primal facts of birth and death. If we can consider that there is available in Buddhist teaching the knowledge that there is regular re-enactment of a continuous cosmic process before the eye of the soul, then we can see that enlightenment is not the great terminus to a laborious and boring process of striving, but a ceaseless opportunity which inheres in this very world of woe and delusion, which we call samsara, and to which we cling like blind men, knowing only life but knowing not Life and afraid of death.


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