Much of our Dharma practice is aimed at the moment of our death. The quality of the mind we have at the time of our death determines our next rebirth. If we have a virtuous mind at the time of our death, we will be reborn in a fortunate realm. If we have a negative mind, we will be reborn in the unfortunate realms. If we succeed in having a pure mind, we will be reborn in the pure land. We need to use our life to prepare for this moment. One very effective way of doing this is to view each evening as a practice run of the end of our life. Preparing for bed and preparing to die are very similar in that in both experiences our winds gather inwards and our mind becomes increasingly subtle. In many respects, the only difference between the death process and the process of going to sleep is when we die the karmic connection between our body and mind ceases. If we use every night of our life as preparation and practice of the moment of our death, there is a very real possibility that we will be able to do it right when it counts.
The most important condition we need at the time of our death is a pure mind. To generate a pure mind, we first need a happy mind, then a virtuous mind, and then finally a pure mind. So we can view our evening and going to bed process according to these three stages.
First, for a happy mind. The key here is to learn to be able to laugh at our samsara. We know our renunciation is qualified when “samsara makes us laugh.” Normally, during the day, we are stressed out. But as we approach our evening (let’s say, after the kids go to bed or we are done with our daily work), we should take the time to reflect upon our day and our life and have a good laugh. For us, every evening we usually first talk about our day and what happened. The goal of these conversations is to see the events of our day in perspective and to be able to laugh at them. For example, Claudine the other day found herself about to throw an ice scraper at an Audi which was blocking her stupidly on the road. You gotta laugh at the image of that! We also watch, as part of our evening routine, the Colbert Report and the Daily Show with John Stewart. These shows are political satire about what is going on in politics and in the world. We always have a good laugh and this helps us let go and have a happy mind.
The second stage is to generate a virtuous mind. Here the main idea is to work on generating our bodhichitta. Between when we are done laughing at our Samsara but before we are ready to actually go to sleep, our primary goal should be to work on cultivating our bodhichitta for the following day. We can view each new day as our next life. In many respects, this is true. We first review our day and think about what it is that we learned and then we think about what we want to do differently the next day so we live each day (life) at least slightly better than the previous day. We improve ourselves so that we can better serve others. So we need to think about those beings in our life that we serve, our family, our friends, our colleagues, our clients, etc., and we think about how we can improve ourselves to be able to better serve them. If we conceive of our next day as our next life, then it will simultaneously make each day more pure and make the prospect of death less dramatic.
The third stage is when we finally decide to fall asleep. On the basis of laughing at our samsara and wishing to improve ourselves, we then think that now we are really going to die. The more real we make it, the more effective it will be. We let go of this world and generate the wish to go to the pure land. The most important internal condition of the time of our death is the recognition that our Spiritual Guide is with us. He has promised that he will “be there” at the moment of our death, and we make daily dedications to this effect. He is wherever we recall him to be, so if we believe he is with us, he will be. If he is there, he will bless our mind and guide us through the death process. If we can maintain no other recognitions, just maintain the firm belief that he is with you, protecting you and guiding you every step of the way.
We then do our self-generation, imagining we are in the pure land as the Yidam. Then, we go into the indestructible drop at our heart, and from there we try go into the Dharmakaya and fall alseep in the clear light emptiness of the Dharmakaya. We recognize the Dharmakaya as the ocean of our mind completely purified and stilled in clear light emptiness. We recognize it as the same nature as the omniscient mind of our Spiritual Guide, who is in fact the synthesis of all the Buddhas, and in that space we maintain the wish to be reborn in the pure land while maintaining the appearance and recognition of the Dharmakaya. Then we fall alseep.
Even if we wake up in the same world as the day before, we should consider each new day to be a new life. We resolve what we are going to do differently this new day, often recalling what we realized the night before, and then we go through the day trying to put into practice our resolution from the previous night. If we can combine our morning meditation with this previous resolution, it is particularly powerful. But sometimes during the night in our dreams we will realize new things. So we should feel free to meditate on or practice any new resolutions we gained during the night.
If we practice in this way every night of our life, when it comes time for us to die, we will have great capacity to do the same thing. Then we will be able to die without regrets, with a happy, virtuous and pure mind, and on that basis go to the pure land. How wonderful!