BUDDHA NATURE.COM Songs and Meditations of the Tibetan Dhyani Buddhas

The Vajra Dakini

The Geography of Death

The denial of death in the modern world is also a denial of transcendence. For science, death is an enemy- the ending of human life and creativity. For the fundamentalists, it is the call to extreme [or violent] behavior to dramatize their commitment, for they know that their thoughts are not worthy of God. Though faith is glorified, it is not really trusted. Nobody ever has enough of it. There are claims that make it seem almost universal, but really it is a scarce commodity. Death is a test and life is the time to cram for it. For the secularists, death is sleep and the negation of earthly life with nothing to take its place.

All of these understandings of death are limited - souls go to the place of death but then expect to stay there into eternity - perhaps with a god escort. But death involves travel, as does transcendent meditation. The greater the emphasis on the material world, the less emphasis there is on the places the soul may go after death.

The landscape of death resembles an airport at night - there are many distant lights in the darkness but their role is not explained. The soul finds itself out on the grass surrounded by runways. There are signals all around, but the individual cannot interpret them. And the soul is surrounded by the winds of flight, the karmic winds that determine the soul's travel and next incarnation.

Whether the soul is on the lawn of the domestic or international flights is determined by karma, which weighs down the soul during its movement at death. Heavy karma, brings immediate reincarnation in unfortunate lives and unpleasant forms, and drops the person in the domestic area. So many poor choices were made, so much unnecessary suffering inflicted on others, that there is no chance for leisure travel or exploration. The mistakes must be atoned for as soon as possible, and the obligations fulfilled.

But for souls with less karmic obligation, the international terminal is not a terminal but a stopover. When the soul is not weighed down by obligation, there is more leisure time. One may call over a guide or even a travel agent, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various destinations.

Each culture has metaphors that work as living symbols in the afterlife. For some people, death is a caravanserai where groups of travelers meet and then journey. For some, it is an ocean where swimmers meet in their travels. There are inns, stables, and intermediate worlds. In the modern world, we have ports of call for ships, railroads, and bus stations. But I think the most apt metaphor is an airport.

For the unschooled traveler, it is a vast and chaotic darkness, with colored lights near and far, and no visible signs. But for one that knows the floor plan [and layout], it is clear and well organized.

At the domestic terminal, there is rapid transfer of souls based largely on heaviness and darkness of karma. Incarnation is based on viscosity and density. There are paths to incarnation from hundreds of levels - we could even say they are based on degrees of impurity. In the vast waves of souls, some rise and some fall, and at the end are thrown forth according to their karmic placement. It is an automatic process though there are guardians [to correct problems] in case of errors. The round of birth and death is fast in the realms of obligation and punishment.

The international terminal is less pressured and there are choices of destinations. Were one to look past the darkness [of the airport at night], the airport would appear as a great cosmic mandala with universes upon universes circling and spiraling. Here, will and intention can have as much influence as karma, and the soul has choice as well as necessity. Meditation upon mantras, visualizations, and calling upon guides and deities can determine one's afterlife - or at least influence it. It depends on the weight of karma as to whether the person can follow his or her will.

The mandala shifts through time and space. It is the transformer of souls. There are many paths to the spiritual worlds.


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