Winter: Season of Descent Esoteric Thoughts on the Death Process and the Transmutation of the Five Elements in Chinese Medicine and Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhist theory recognizes an energetically based body through which "wind" or Qi and "drops" or Vital Essence moves. This subtly body contains 72,000 passageways for these winds and droplets travel and one essential focus of Dharma/Buddhist practice is to remove obscuration from these channels via the yogic manipulation of breath, visualization and mantra. The basic idea is that it is our attachment to conceptual reality or dualistic thinking that creates knots in these pathways and leads to suffering be it physical, mental or spiritual. It is the work of a practitioner to loosen these energetic knots and by doing so completely, stabilizing an experience of pure awareness or enlightenment.
According to this system of thought, it is, I believe, the actual moment of death which serves as the groundwork for manifesting the highest state of consciousness. A mental state referred to as the "Clear Light" occurs at the moment the Five Elements: Fire, Earth, Metal, Water and Wood dissolve into the bodies central channel in the form of a red drop created at the navel and a white drop at the crown. These two droplets then travel simultaneously toward the center of the body and converge at the heart manifesting the greatest possibility for awakening the mind. It is my understanding that all meditation practice is fundamentally a preparation for this moment. In Magic and Mystery in Tibet, Alexandra David-Neel discusses these kinds of practices. When these drops reach the heart chakra and meet the "indestructible drop" or ethereal soul (Hun) in Chinese, they then travel together carrying the very subtle mind and wind to the next incarnation. The bliss of the drops flowing in the central channel is said to be one hundred times greater than that of any physical sensation, there fore, meditation practices incorporating sexual passion have been regarded as essential in preparing for death and liberation simultaneously. Also, falling asleep is another opportunity to practice preparing for death as there is a "natural light" experience right before dreaming.
In Buddhist philosophy, the after death states are basically divided into three categories. The first stage is the actual process of dying, the dissolution of the elements and the possible Clear Light experience. If one does not liberate at this phase, the Intermediate period manifests with visions of deities, first peaceful then wrathful, followed by an experience of assessment. If one has no training with these kinds of images, other more familiar images may be witnessed or some combination of sounds, lights and rays can be experienced. The kinds of unpleasant, wrathful experiences will be directly related to where and how one is attached in this life. Another way to look at it would be in terms of ones Five Element imbalance and which kinds of energetic habits have consistently manifested in ones life...they will continue to appear after death. For example, if anger, a Wood imbalance has been the primary emotion of a lifetime, then anger, in an energetic form will be prevalent in the afterlife. In the third stage, the consciousness descends and selects a new body to be born into. Interestingly, in the Tibetan system, one has the potential to immediately experiences the highest state of consciousness and then as the time after death increases, consciousness progressively contracts until one finally takes rebirth. In the Judeo-Christian belief system, the soul slowly ascends after death, gradually passing several tests until one is approved or not, to enter the "kingdom of God". It is so interesting that the two traditions are completely opposite! Ultimately, the transformation into a complete light body appears to be the sign of pure awakening as this was experienced and witnessed for both Jesus and many great Buddhist practitioners. May we all encourage for ourselves and others the "Light" within the dark places of our hearts!