At a recent retreat, one of the meditation practices that Geshe Michael has been teaching students is to imagine going through the stages of death and learning how to meditate on emptiness at a very crucial moment during that process as a method of seeing emptiness directly and reaching the essence body of a Buddha.
A student recently asked for further detail regarding four important steps for meditating on emptiness during this crucial moment of the death process. He gives a very beautiful answer drawing from Pabongka Rinpoche’s commentary on the practice of the Angel of Diamond (Vajrayogini), called The Heart Essence of the Angels. This practice has three important elements:
1. Using death as a path to the Dharma Body (chiwa chukuy lamkyer)
2. Using the state between death and rebirth (the bardo) as a path to the Paradise Body (bardo longkuy lamkyer)
3. Using rebirth as a path to the Body of Emanation (kyewa trulkuy lamkyer)
All together, these three are known as ʺusing normal events as a path to the three holy bodies,ʺ or kusum lamkyer.
And during the first of these three elements, “using death as a path to the Dharma Body”, there are four special steps to meditate on emptiness. Candy’s question was regarding these four steps. Here is some more information from Pabongka Rinpoche’s commentary called The Heart Essence of the Angels, which provides some additional clarity to meditate properly on these four necessary steps:
“1) …the world, all the beings in it, and your own body are all withdrawn, in stages; they are wiped into emptiness, so that what appears to your perceptions is sheer emptiness.
2) The object that your perceptions grasp is emptiness, the fact that no thing in the universe has a single atom of natural existence: the object of correct view as you meditate on it at this point, which is only to the extent that you understand it so far.
3) Now the state of mind grasping the emptiness we’ve just described is not just any old one; rather, your mind, which is the subject holding that object, takes on the quality of great joy.
4) This wisdom, this inseparable combination of joy and emptiness, now becomes what you will call “me”. And now you feel a supreme confidence, you think to yourself, I AM my own mind, which has now taken on the nature of the Dharma body; in short, I AM the Dharma Body, the Great Joy at the end of the path, at the time the result of our practice has come.
All of this, then, is just a brief practice of using death as a path to the Dharma body; and it includes all four of the necessary features.”
Pabongka Rinpoche gives two systems of kusum lamkyer, or the practice of using normal events of the circle of suffering as a path to the three bodies — a regular way and a real way. The first, the regular or artificial, is a practice of pretending. On a daily basis in meditation, you are reviewing your death, the in-between state called bardo, and rebirth; and pretend to transform them into other experiences and into a direct perception of emptiness.
It is only by familiarizing ourselves with these steps that we can then be ready, for one day all that pretending will certainly become real, and we will have an opportunity to actually transform these natural events into a path to become a Buddha.
In the same text, Pabongka Rinpoche gives a beautiful metaphor for this process:
“The hunk of clay that was meant to be made into a jar represents the three normal processes of every regular life: the birth, death, and state between birth and death that make up our experience of the great circle. Deciding not to slap together the jar stands for not just letting birth, death, and the state between these two to happen the way they would have. Using the clay instead for the exquisite form of an Buddha means using those three normal events as a path to the three bodies, and changing them into the three Bodies of a Buddha. This is the real way that we purify the three.”
It’s like taking a piece of clay which ordinarily it gets made into a pot or another object. Here you take the same substances and form it into a Buddha. It is exactly the same substance — a mental image which is being created by our karmic seeds. every time we go through this death process it could be transformed into something different — it could be going into a direct perception of emptiness. You aren’t anything “out there”, we have mental images to work with and unconsciously make our world over and over, from moment-to-moment. Try taking control and making something else. Nothing is there in and of itself, just old karmic seeds which can be transformed.