Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t be choked with unimaginable terror

(4.24) Having understood this,
If out of ignorance I remain indolent,
Then, when the time comes for me to die,
I shall be choked with unimaginable terror.

(4.25) If my body will burn for a very long time
In the unbearable fires of hell,
Then, without doubt, my mind will be consumed
By the raging fires of regret.

In Buddhism, the time of our death is the most important moment of our lives.  In many ways, we can say that all of our trainings in life are really preparations for the moment of death.  The reason why the moment of death is so important is the quality of mind we have at the time of our death determines the quality of our next rebirth.  The reason for this is simple:  each mind we generate activates a karmic seed which ripens in the next moment.  The karma activated at the time of death ripens in the first moment of our next life, indeed it determines what that next life will be.  Due to the total absorption of the inner winds during the death process, the mind of death activates what is called “throwing karma.”  This is also known as the “ripened effect” of our actions.  If we die with a negative mind, it will activate negative throwing karma throwing us into a lower rebirth.  We can say that throwing karma is the substantial cause of our life, and the other types of karmic effects are the circumstances we will experience in a given life.

We have received Dharma teachings.  We have received sacred spiritual vows on our mental continuum.  We have received many empowerments into the precious tantric teachings.  We have been given everything we need to enter, progress along and complete the spiritual path.  Those who choose to take full advantage of this spiritual opportunity will approach death in the same way we do when embarking upon a long vacation.  We are excited about the adventure that awaits and we know we have prepared everything well.  Those who waste their life following their delusions and squandering the spiritual opportunities they have been given will realize – too late – that their time is now up and they have little to nothing to show from their time here on earth.  Such people die full of regrets.

When Dharma teachings refer to “dying full of regrets” the meaning here is not the regret we generate in  purification practice, but rather a deluded form of self-guilt of having completely wasted our precious spiritual opportunity and now we realize, too late, that we are bound for the lower realms and there is nothing we can do to stop it.  Our mind is seized by self-hatred and panic, activating negative throwing karma, casting us down into the lower realms.

In popular culture and movies, we are told when we die our “life flashes before our eyes.”  This is actually true, from a certain point of view.  The teachings on the 12 dependent related links explain that at the time of our death we will experience two death-specific delusions, namely dependent-related craving and dependent-related grasping.  Practically speaking, dependent-related craving is at the time of death we will feel a sudden surge of craving for all of our strongest objects of attachment in life.  Essentially all of our unresolved attachments – be it or chocolate, sex, a good reputation, whatever – will come flaring up in a sudden blast.  If we have not worked to let go of our attachments in life, we will develop a strong desire for these things combined with a knowledge that we will never have them again.  If in life we respond to our frustrated attachments with delusion and negativity, odds are we will do the same at the time of death. Deluded, negative minds activate deluded, negative karma.

Practically speaking, dependent-related grasping is a strong grasping at our self and body at the time of death.  We realize our life and body are about to be ripped away from us permanently, and we grasp desperately trying to hold on to them.  Think of the panic people feel when they have trouble breathing.  Now imagine it really is the end and you can no longer breathe.  Think of the grasping we feel when we fear our life is in danger from some criminal or terrorist.  Now imagine it is the actual time of death and you know there is no turning back.  If in life we respond with delusions and negativity when things are taken away from us, odds are we will do the same at the time of death.  Deluded, negative minds activate deluded negative karma.

In many ways, I think the regret experienced by Dharma practitioners at having wasted their life must be far worse than that of non-practitioners.  Most people are completely ignorant of what is spiritually achievable in this life, but we know exactly what is possible.  Most people know nothing about the lower realms, but we know they are waiting for us.  We might then wrongly conclude, “well maybe it is better to not know then,” but being an ostrich is no strategy for avoiding lower rebirth.  It is not easy to confront the horror of samsaric existence.  It all seems so exaggerated or so far removed from our daily experience, that we kid ourselves into thinking it’s all just a bunch of superstition, or in any case it is too depressing to think about so better to change the subject.  But we’ve done the contemplations, we know it’s all a karmic dream, we know it is all empty, we know how karma works, we know the arguments establishing past and future lives.  In short, we know better.

So we have a choice:  face the horror now, and do what it takes to avoid it.  Or face the horror at the time of death and fall in utter panic.  Time to choose.

One thought on “Modern Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:  Don’t be choked with unimaginable terror

  1. Recite Lama Tsongkhapa’s Prayer for Rebirth in Sukhavati everyday as the final dedication in our sadhana. According to Lama Tsongkhapa, rebirth in pureland will then be very easily attained. This is better than starting in samsara as a human because there is no guarantee we will be interested in Dharma again.

    by Je Tsong Khapa
    written in 1395

    Whose outstanding deeds give endless glory to beings
    Whose mere remembrance banishes the terror of the Lord of Death
    Who considers every living being as his child with constant love
    I salute Amitayus, Boundless Life, the Teacher of Gods and Humans!
    Out of love, I will articulate as best I can
    This prayer for rebirth in the Sukhavati heaven
    Supreme realm highly, excellently praised
    Numerous times by the Lord of Sages.
    The state of good and evil obscured by the fog of nescience,
    Life of ascendance deprived by the weapon of hatred,
    Bound in the prison of samsara by chains of lust and craving,
    Swept into the ocean of existence by the rivers of evolution,
    Tossed by the many billows of miseries of sickness and decay,
    Crushed by the burdens of unwanted sufferings,
    Mangled in the jaws of the intolerable sharks of the Lord of Death,
    This is my cry of torment, I who am unprotected.
    If I reverently invoke the Lord as witness to my prayer,
    Amitabha, Boundless Light, Leader, sole friend of the destitude,
    And the Bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara
    And Mahasthamaprapta, with their retinues,
    Who have never failed the promise of their conception of
    the supreme spirit,
    For our sakes, throughout limitless aeons,
    Like the king of birds swooping through the sky,
    May they come here by their love and their miraculous power!
    Depending on the power of the combined focusing of the oceans of
    the two stores gathered by myself and others in past, present, and
    future, as I approach the time of death, may I behold directly the
    Leader Amitabha surrounded by His retinue such as the two powerful
    Sons, and may I feel intense faith directedto the Victor with His
    May I be free of sufferings of torment and being cut off, and may I
    remember without forgetting my faith and its objects, and so at the
    moment after death, relying on the miraculous advent of the eight
    Bodhisattvas to show me the proper path to go to Sukhavati, may I
    be reborn on a jeweled lotus in the Sukhavati universe just as a
    person with acute faculties in the Mahayana genealogy!
    From the moment of rebirth there, may I attain retentions, samadhis,
    the unconditional spirit of enlightenment, the inexhaustible eloquence,
    and the limitless store of such excellences, and, pleasing the Unexcelled
    Teacher Amitabha and the other Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the ten directions,
    may I truly be favored with the Holy Teachings of the Mahayana!
    May I understand their import correctly, and then in each instant
    going without hindrance by magic power to the superlative Buddha
    may I completely fulfill all the energetic deeds of the Bodhisattvas!
    Then even though being born in a pure universe, still, motivated by
    the most intense love, may I mainly proceed to the impure universes
    by means of unhindered magical powers, and depending on teaching
    each living being the Dharma according to his special lot, may I be
    able to establish him on the pure path praised by the Victor!
    And by quickly accomplishing those miraculous deeds, may I easily attain the exaltation of Buddhahood for the sake of the infinite beings!
    When the creative energy of life is released,
    May I behold clearly before my eyes,
    Amitabha surrounded by His oceanic hosts,
    And may my being be filled with faith and compassion!
    From the moment when the visions of the Bardo arise,
    May the eight Bodhisattvas show the unerring path,
    And, being born in Sukhavati, thence by emanations,
    May I lead all beings of the impure worlds!
    And in all lives before attaining such supreme exaltation, may I
    attain only that embodiment fit to practice the perfect learning,
    and meditating on the verbal and realizational Teachings of the Victor!
    May such embodiments not lack the ornaments of the seven excellences of ascendant status!
    And in all those situations, may I attain the memory of lives that remembers accurately all former lives!
    And in all those lives, may I experience the hollowness in all
    existences and be motivated by thoughts captivated by the excellence
    of liberation, and may I renounce the world in the religious
    discipline well taught by the Lord!
    Having renounced, may I discover the great spirit of enlightenment
    by ultimately accomplishing the deeds of morality,
    untainted by even the smallest transgressions,
    and may I become like an unshakable monk!
    Further, in all those lives, understanding the processes of defilement
    and purification accurately, may I attain the perfect retentions which
    retain without forgetting all the words and meanimgs of the Teachings,
    the factors of perfection!
    May I attain the unimpeded pure eloquence that teaches others what
    I have understood myself! Further, in all those lives may I never
    lack attainment of the doors of samadhis such as the “Hero’s March”,
    the eyes such as the physical eye, and the superknowledges such as
    the knowledge of feats of magic!
    May I attain the clear wisdom that can distinguish without confusion
    precisely the subtlest of the subtle facets of defilement and purification!
    May I quickly attain the wisdom that can completely cease at the
    moment of arisal all non-understanding, misunderstanding, and
    doubting considerations!
    May I attain the profound wisdom that mysteriously penetrates the
    words and meanings of the Scriptures whose measure cannot be taken
    by any other!
    In short, may I become like the Holy Manjughosha who consummates
    all the deeds of the Bodhisattvas through his wisdom of skill in
    liberative technique which discerns the words and meanings of the
    teachings, a wisdom free of all the faults of pretended wisdom!
    Thus having easily found the deep, swift, clear, and great wisdom,
    may I attain transcendent skill in explanation, argument and
    composition concerning all the Victor’s teachings, which are,
    respectively, the factors of sustaining the fortunate, chastizing
    the false philosophers, and gladdening the wise!
    Further, in all lives stopping all attitudes that behold my own purposes
    most important and all feelings of laziness and discouragement about the
    energetic deeds of the Bodhisattvas, while reaching the ultimate of the
    supreme powerful heart that undertakes the purposes of others, may I
    become like the Holy Avalokiteshvara, who consummates all Bodhisattva
    deeds through the spirit of enlightenment which is skill in liberative
    Further, may I reach the ultimate in the deeds of the Bodhisattva by
    competent skill in liberative technique in conquering all demons,
    fundamentalists, and antagonists, while I am engaged in the purposes
    of myself and others, becoming like the Holy Lord of the Esoteric,
    In all my lives, may I find the great enlightenment through the massive
    effort that never deviates an instant from the moment of the spiritual
    conception to perfect the Bodhisattva deeds whose energy abandons all
    laziness, and may I become like the incomparable King of the Shakyas!
    May I become in all my lives like the Buddha Medicine-King, Bhaishajya
    Guru, able to heal all pains of body, speech, and mind, just by having
    His name pronounced, by conquering all ills of mind and body that
    obstruct the achievement of enlightenment!
    May I become in all my lives like the Victor Amitayus able to overcome
    all untimely deaths just by having His name pronounced, having reached
    the ultimate in voluntary control of the lifespan!
    When an obstacle to life is approaching, may I behold my refuge
    Amitayus’ manifestation of the vision of His body which conforms
    to the Discipline by means of His four activities, and may all
    such obstacles be eradicated the moment I see that body!
    As for that manifestation of the vision of His body according to the
    Discipline, may I recognize it as the protector Amitayus and generate
    a firm and non-artificial faith, and by the power of that, may I never
    fail to have the Victors Amitayus work openly as my spiritual friend
    in all my lives!
    Furthermore, may the full-fledged spiritual friends of the Mahayana,
    the root of all mundane and transcendent virtues, be pleased with me
    and look after me throughout all of my lives!
    While he looks after me, may I attain unbreakable faith in that
    spiritual friend and may I only please him through all doors of
    May I not bring about even an instant of his displeasure!
    May I be not incompletely instructed by all the advice and instructions
    of the spiritual friend!
    May I be able to understand correctly all the meanings of those teachings
    and to perfect them through practice!
    May I not go under the influence of the non-spiritual and sinful friends even for an instant!
    In all my lives, may I realize faith of confidence in the effects of
    evolution, the mind of renunciation, the spirit of enlightenment, and
    the perfected view, and may I enter uninterruptedly the experience of
    Whatever root of virtue I have made through my physical, verbal, and
    mental actions throughout all my lives, may it all serve as the cause
    of only the purposes of others and the pure enlightenment!

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