THE ART OF DYING
Dr. Tin Htut, Sheffield, U.K., 22-05-99
There is life after death and if one does not want a rebirth in a nether world, there are means to help one keep a balanced and a right thought at the moment of death. The cuticitta, death-consciousness is linked directly with the patisatti citta, rebirth-linking consciousness and the condition of the former thought directly influences the successive rebirth. Therefore, it is very important to have the right thought at the verge of death.
It may be relatively difficult to keep a balanced and right mind at such a stressful moment. The usual fetters that drag one to the nether worlds are Loba, attachment or clinging to any animate or inanimate object; Dosa, any degree of anger or anxiety and Moha, a deluded mind. One must try to free these fetters from the Cuticitta and unless one has trained oneself how to focus the mind and keep it balanced by practising Vipassana meditation, it may be a difficult sojourn. However, one is not totally helpless if one has not practised enough Vipassana meditation in the past. If there is time to prepare oneself with these helpful hints, one may be able to pave the way to a good destination.
The last sensation that one can perceive before dying is said to be the sounds in the environment, provided one is not short of hearing. This knowledge can be made use to avoid any sound that may attract or distract a dying persons attention which can promote the fetters associated with the last thought. Instead, sounds that would soothe the mind of a dying person should be made available at the death-bed. These sounds should be chantings of either Parittas, Suttas or a recording of ones meritorious deeds during the lifetime. If these aides are not available one can recite or reflect in the mind the qualities of the Buddha (Buddhanussati) or just Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta, the three reflections of repent. This little help may salvage a dying person from a rebirth in a nether world.
To be more secure, one should practise Vipassana meditation while there was time and try to achieve a basic insight-knowledge that would prevent one from such bad destinations. It is not difficult, as one may imagine, to obtain a short term guarantee for a safe rebirth. The insight-knowledge (Udayabbaya nana) that is equivalent to the understanding of a Sula Sotapanna, a very basic stage of enlightenment may not be far-fetched if the right practice is made with enough effort.
1.Sila, morality. It is very important to take the five precepts (abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, telling lies and taking intoxicants) and keep them as much as possible at all times. It is the foundation for a higher level of cleansing the mind and body.
2. Protection during meditation. One must take refuge in the Buddha and His Arahat disciples as a meditator is prone to be disturbed by the evil force when a higher level of insight-knowledge is approaching. One must also have a teacher of the right calibre to be successful in ones objective.
3. Samadhi, the right concentration. It is usual for a meditator to experience difficulty in keeping the mind on one meditation object. It depends to some extent upon ones Paramis, the fulfilments in the past existences for the success in keeping one-pointedness of the mind. If one had practised Samatha meditation in the past lives, it is relatively easy to get Samadhi. If not, it is the first step to overcome the barrier to obtain the insight knowledge.
4. There are a few hints to help keeping the mind on one point. If the usual method of contemplation of the mind on the movement of the abdomen or on the touch of air to the nostrils does not work, one may find it useful to count breaths in a succession of tens, or may even hold the breath for a short duration before each phase of respiration. There are other helpful hints like reciting in the mind each phase of the movement of the abdomen, plus noting the touch of the bottom to the floor or the touch of air to the nostrils during respiration. The aim is to keep the mind occupied at all times in order not to let thoughts come into the mind. One needs to nurture and develop the Samadhi for a couple of minutes until the mind becomes tranquil and calm.
5. Continuous awareness, Satipatthana. When one can focus the mind on one object without any difficulty one needs to move forward to keep track of all sensations that are developing. The awareness must now be extended to all sensations which will become meditation objects. One should be aware of all sensations, both external and internal including tactile, heat, pain, smell, sounds and thoughts as they occur.
6. Try to note every sensation that is occurring at the present moment. One must keep the mind at the present and stop taking the mind either to the past or to the future. This is very important in developing and maintaining the Samadhi. When a sensation occurs in any part of the body or in the mind try to note it, but without interpreting it further. When there is no sensation focus the mind on the primary object which may be the breath or the abdomen.
7. Switching over to Vipassana. The observance of any sensation as it occurs without interpretation and reacting to it is the essence of Vipassana. The primary object of contemplation can be either the touch of breath or the movement of the abdomen, but it must be versatile and flexible. When a sensation occurs anywhere in the body or in the mind move your attention to it. It will become the primary object and the next sensation will then become a secondary object of meditation. Note every sensation as it is without interpretation or reaction and without any reflection at this stage. Try to note its beginning and its end as much as possible keeping continuous awareness. This the first step of Vipassana meditation.
8. Development of insight, Panna. It is helpful to know and get acquainted with the theory, and logic of the levels of insight-wisdom to obtain Sutamaya panna by learning (theory) and Cintamaya panna, by thinking or reasoning (logic). However, Bhavanamaya panna, the knowledge gained through the exercise of mind development by Vipassana meditation and Abhinna panna, knowledge gained through the acquisition of supreme wisdom will have to be developed if one wants to be sure of a rebirth in a good destination. The levels of insight-wisdom may be elaborated into fourteen to sixteen. Out of these, the first three levels can be obtained within a week, according to the late Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, if one practises the right method with a strenuous effort. The Sayadaw mentioned that the meditator who attained this insight level was bound to become an Ariya, the Noble One in a few days if the person persisted in the effort.
(1) Nama-rupa pariccheda nana, differentiation of the known (corporeality/ body) and the knowing (consciousness/ mind).
(2) Sammasana nana, the knowledge of cause and effect of all phenomena and the law of dependent origination, Paticcasamuppada.
(3) Udayabbaya nana, insight into the arising and dissolution of all phenomena at every moment when the concentration is strong and continuous.
(4) Bhanga nana, insight into the complete dissolution of both Rupa and Nama.
(5) Bhaya nana, fear on the instability of the corporeality and mind.
(6) Adinava nana, awareness of the defects of the corporeality and mind.
(7) Nibbida nana, weariness of the body and mind.
(8) Muccitukamyata nana, the desire to repudiate/ disown Nama-Rupa and existence.
(9) Patisankhara nana , the understanding that time has come to work for full realisation of deliverance based on contemplation of impermanence.
(10) Sankha-rupekkha nana , equanimity to all phenomena
(11) Anuloma nana, adaptation-knowledge
(12) Gotrabhu nana , maturity-knowledge
(13) Magga nana, Sotapatti path-knowledge
(14) Phala nana, Sotapatti-fruition
It is said that one can reach the stage of Maha Sotapanna (a higher grade stream-winner) if one practices diligently with a strenuous effort within a period of a month or so when the Mahasi method of Vipassana meditation is followed. It emphasises on the continuous awareness of all activities with three reflections of Anicca (instability, insubstantiality), Dukkha (suffering, impermanence) and Anatta (absence of ego-entity, self). This will give a full guarantee for a rebirth in good destinations for a maximum of seven existences and will acquire full enlightenment and permanent liberation from the rounds of rebirth and suffering.
A lesser assurance that will guarantee a rebirth in good destinations for the immediate rebirth is to reach the level of insight-wisdom that is attributable to Sula Sotapanna (a lesser grade stream-winner). It can be obtained within 3-15 days depending upon the intelligence, effort and Paramis or fulfilments. Five elements of effort are required viz. faith, health, sincerity, energy and insight for this objective. The following hints on the practice of Vipassana meditation may be helpful for one to attain this stage.
a) Focus your attention on the abdomen movements until a calm mind is achieved. This may take about a minute or so depending upon your mental condition and the environment.
b) Bring your attention to the touch of incoming air at the nostrils and follow the air to your abdomen.
c) Hold your breath for a second and then follow abdomen your attention from the abdomen to the nostrils. Maintain this awareness for few minutes and Samadhi will develop.
d) Next, try to note the mind before you inhale or exhale and follow your breath from nostrils to abdomen and vice versa. Note that you need to have a desire to breathe in or breathe out before each phase. Continue practise this for a while until your Samadhi is strengthened further.
e) Always try to keep the mind at the present and it will help you build your Samadhi. If you notice that your mind flutters, dont panic, but try to hold the breath a bit longer before you proceed with the awareness of breathing.
f) When the Samadhi is strong enough you will need to proceed with the reflection of Nama and Rupa. As the air touches the nostrils try to reflect that it is matter (Vayo) touching the nostrils which is also a congregate of matter (Rupa). This is to understand corporeality.
g) The sensation felt at the tip is the Nama or consciousness which is separate from the Rupa. Similarly, when the abdomen is moved try to differentiate Rupa from Nama and continue this reflection for few minutes until you are aware that which is Nama and which is Rupa. Then you will reach the first level of insight-wisdom.
h) Next, try to reflect that the abdomen swells when air is moved in and flattens when air is expelled. Similarly, you feel a cold sensation when the incoming air touches the nostrils or a warm sensation when the exhaled breath passes through the nostril. When you can grasp that the movement of the abdomen is dependent upon the air flow and the sensation that you feel is due to air movement, you will come to know the cause and effect. Without the cause there is no effect and the knowledge of Paticcasamuppada will be eventually built into your mind. This is the second level of insight-wisdom.
i) Afterwards, bring your awareness onto the touch of breath again and try to notice that matter (air) touches matter (nostrils). Likewise, try to watch the abdomen movements and reflect that it is matter that is moving. When you have contemplated this object of meditation for a while you will reflect that the corporeality is Rupa, a compound of matter formed together to give you an illusion, an impression of your body parts as wholeness or entirety. If you can overcome this conditioned idea (Pannatti) and reflect the object as a mass of matter in the Paramatta sense, you will understand it as the Rupakkhandha.
j) Then note the sensation developed at the point of contact. It is the cognitive part of the mind that is perceiving the sensation. In reality, it is the Vedanakkhandha.
When matter is analysed and broken down into its components, the idea of materiality usually disappears. Some may consider that Anatta nana is established at this stage, but, this casual knowledge cannot lead one to be convinced of insubstantiality of mind. One can still cling to the idea of ego-entity in the spiritual sense.
One can contemplate on two or more phenomena of seeing, hearing, smelling, thinking etc. that may appear to occur simultaneously. These phenomena occur rapidly giving the impression of continuity and solidity due to the law of Kicca ghana and Aramana ghana. You must now confine yourself to only one phenomenon, hearing for instance, and must contemplate to be able to appreciate the fact that what you heard a moment ago is not the same as that you are hearing now. Try to reflect and understand that the sound (meditation object) is dissolving at the very moment of meditation while a new sound is arising which will also dissolve eventually. Try to reflect and understand that all processes and phenomena are not attributable to an individual, but just the manifestations of various aspects of the phenomenon. This way of thinking virtually destroys the notion of solidity and leads one to the knowledge of Anatta.
Meditation on the five aggregates with due regard to the Three Marks of Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta can eradicate all tendencies to defilements, Anusaya kilesas. But even then it can hardly do away with that kind of disposition inherent in the concept of continuity called Santana-nusaya. Only Noble Path, Ariya magga , can wipe it out and hence, the saying that Sotapatti magga, stream-winning path, can break the rocks of defilements.
The defilements regarding the view of individuality, Sakkaya ditthi, and doubts, Vicikiccha, are overcome when the stage of Sotapatti magga is reached. False religious practices, Silabbataparamasa, that pave the way to the nether world are completely destroyed. A Sotapanna is firmly established in the faith of the Triple Gems, namely, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and becomes unshakable. When all doubts about the Triple Gems are dispelled, the person develops confidence in the practice of Sila, Samadhi and Panna. A Sotapanna is free from the craving that is strong enough to consign him to the lower worlds.
Sula Sotapanna, a lesser grade, can be achieved when a meditator has practised Vipassana meditation with effort and perseverance. The person should understand the first three levels of insight-wisdom with Vipassana nana. One can be judged for oneself if this stage has been reached or not by the hallmarks (Nimitta) of the Udayabbaya nana. This stage may be revealed by extra-ordinary experiences know as the defilements of insight (Upakkilesa). The meditator who is in the Udayabbaya nana will experience either lights and colours, or various degrees of thrills, joy, ecstasy and rapture while the person is in deep meditation, but remaining alert at all the time. The memory power and perceptions are also very much developed at this stage. This level can be obtained within a week of intensive practice of Vipassana meditation that is suitable for the person. If this stage is reached, the person is guaranteed for a good rebirth, at least for the near future.
A Maha Sotapanna, a higher grade, will never be reborn in the nether world. This stage can only be reached when the person has apprehended the Sotapatti magga and phala which may take a month of intensive practice in a Vipassana camp.
May everybody be free from Avijja and Vicikiccha
Tin Htut, Sheffield, 22 May 1999
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