A New Zealand TV station filmed this short feature about a Tibetan monk who passed away and was in what they called "death meditation". They were stunned that even 20 days after his death, the body of the monk remained intact; with no smell, supple skin, no chemicals, no embalming done, no deterioration, no decay etc...
To many, this was unbelievable and simply impossible. However, to Buddhists, it is definitely viable. Watching this documentary was hardly surprising to me. In fact, most Tibetan spiritual masters or high lamas pass away into Nirvana in similar circumstances.
What is this that the film called the "death meditation"? As Tibetan Buddhists, we know it is called "thugdam" or "clear-light meditation". Whenever a highly realised monk passes away, he will enter the state of clear-light meditation. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, "At the time of death, the heart beat stops, brain is dead, breathing stops. But the subtle level of consciousness of the mind is still there". During this state (which can last for a few days or weeks), the spiritual master has the ability to transfer their consciousness into the next life. Usually these masters choose to take rebirth as a human in their next life again and again, in order to turn the wheel of Dharma. Even though they are already enlightened beings, they choose to reincarnate, come back to expound the Buddhadharma, and to benefit sentient beings, because this is what great masters do.
The high lama can be in thugdam as long as they choose, and he chooses when his subtle consciousness leaves the body, the people around know, because there is sometimes sight of blood or passing of liquid from the body. Then that is when the Sangha prepares him for cremation in the fire pyre stupa. The lama is dressed in Sambhogakaya robes (Sambhogakaya symbolises the totally unconditioned quality of enlightened mind). A few days after the cremation, the fire pyre will be opened to uncover what precious relics the lama has left behind.
|The highly realised lama / Rinpoche who passed away|
|Monks conducting prayers while the high lama is in thugdam|
|The dead lama is dressed in his Sambhoghakaya robes before cremation|
Buddhists believe the mental and physical states have equal claim on reality and that the mind is separate from brain, while neuro-scientists says the functioning of mind depends n the brain. While His Holiness admires Science, he has even went as far to say that he is prepared to change the Buddhist doctrine should Science be able to prove it to be false. There has been about 40 reported cases of high lamas who went into thugdam in the past 50 years.
This is just another reminder for myself that if we practise well, we can aspire to and achieve the same level of attainment as the spiritual masters. If we train well, by conditioning our mind and our subtle level of consciousness, our spiritual achievement can definitely determine where we take our next rebirth (in the higher realms), and ultimately, Enlightenment.
Watch the above amazing video clip. I have blogged about this amazing phenomena in a series of entries last year in April 2010 when one of my gurus, His Holiness Kyabje Lati Rinpoche, passed into Nirvana. Read about it here.