Stripping away Masks
If in daily life we embark
upon an enterprise, we usually prepare for it. Death is no different.
The reason should be apparent by now: the mind that experiences dying
is a continuation of the mind that is reading these words. Unless we
have the aid of an accomplished lama, no external force is going to
manifest magically and whisk us away into a heaven world when we die.
it is the same mind, and therefore the same me, it is not the
superficial daily me. It is the total me and includes the hidden,
subjective, repressed and unfaced aspects of my stream of
consciousness. All these will manifest and predominate in the death
experience. The superficial, socialised, intellectual and conceptual
aspects will shatter, disintegrate and dissolve.
all the mirrors and smoke, lies, pretences, ideas and images we have
woven into our personality will fall away to reveal the deeper truth of
what we really are. That is what we will experience. It is a theme used
by some novelists who like to put their characters into traumatic
situations where their normal controls and supports are removed. This
strips away a person's masks and reveals the first underlying layer of
'truth', which is usually different from the one presented to the
world. It is an appealing theme, because at heart most of us want to be
real, get in touch with our inner reality, and equally be in touch with
others in a way that is more genuine, true and meaningful. But we
usually don't want to face all that this involves, such as accepting
and coming to terms with our shadows.
So much alienation in our
so-called civilised societies is caused by the psychological isolation
of individuals. People create and crouch behind their images of
themselves, thinking that this will lead to happiness. It doesn't. It
leads instead to loneliness, isolation, alienation and misery. People
get out of touch with themselves and cannot get in touch with others.
So relationships at all levels become shallow, meaningless,
unfulfilling. Life becomes the same.
Death changes this. What
disintegrates along with the death of the body is this superficial
world mind. When we are dying we experience what we are, completely and
directly. Dream gives us hints of how this will be, because in dream
the underlying energies seep through into the dream state, usually
making enigmatic but true statements about the deeper state of the mind.
how does one prepare if so much of the mind is beyond the reach of our
daily, conscious experience? There are ways, which I propose to
explain. But first the overriding principle needs to be understood.
personalities are expressions of deep, underlying tendencies. Some are
hidden, usually because we prefer not to acknowledge or know about
them. Others peep through and surprise us in undefended moments, and
others may be reasonably familiar to us on a day-to-day basis.
example, we may be profoundly insecure, needy, grasping and greedy.
This is a common complex that rules the lives of most people who are
driven to acquisitiveness. They won't acknowledge these aspects and
seek to conceal them from themselves and from others. The superficial
personality might be quite jolly and seem happy, an appearance that can
be maintained while external conditions remain favourable. But if
things go badly wrong - for example, if the persons wealth, possessions
or relationships are threatened - a complete change of personality
could well manifest. This could take the form of uncharacteristically
violent, ruthless or destructive behaviour that might even surprise the
What is the source of this Jekyll and Hyde
change? Simply the underlying and hidden state of the person's mind.
All that varies from person to person is the degree of denial and
repression, or the amount of understanding and insight present in the
These underlying tendencies, like the skeleton of the
psychological entity, are not all negative: some are positive and
others neutral. They give it shape and form and thus largely determine
the way it is. If we continue the analogy, the mind that presents
itself to the world is very close to being cosmetic. It concerns itself
with image, overt behaviour and survival within its environment. The
average person thinks this mind is important, is 'me', and identifies
with it. But the deeper layers of the mind are more powerful and real,
real in the sense of being truer expressions of the person's energy
system rather than pretences.
While we are alive we cling to
this shallow mind and generally ignore, repress or try to escape from
the deeper layers, particularly the negative aspects. This is why so
few people grow or mature psychologically or spiritually. The power and
strength needed for growth lies within these depths. By blocking access
because we fear the negative component, or our deeper divine component
(as discussed in Jung's understanding of 'shadow' in Chapter 9), we
block the totality and become superficial, shallow people, cut off from
our deeper potential.
When we die, the truth will out because
the shallow mind disintegrates. The deeper tendencies are then
experienced directly and determine the quality of our experiences in
the death bardos. This is a crucial factor to understand because it
contains the key to all death training.
However we train, the
focus must be on getting into touch with and changing the underlying
tendencies. In particular we need to face, come to terms with and
integrate negative predispositions. In addition, we need to bring
positive tendencies into focus, strengthen them and finally take the
mind beyond opposites altogether, through purification and awakening of
the enlightened potential.
IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING
is training so important? Because all forms of training are designed to
affect more than just the superficial mind of this life; that is the
rational, cognitive, intellectual mind to which we humans attach so
much importance. Some people feel that spiritual training, in order to
be worthwhile, should be something exotic, secret, or special. If you
are one of those you will be disappointed because training is to do
with your immediate day-to-day life situation; the way you live each
day as an ordinary person.
WHAT EFFECT DOES TRAINING HAVE?
mind can easily be changed, and in fact is changing all the time: just
think of the typical fluctuations of thought, feeling, opinions and
ideas we go through in the course of a day.
We can decide with this
mind that we want to be one way or another. Many people make New Year's
resolutions: 'I will give up smoking, drinking ... I will be less angry
and impatient ... I will be kinder and more polite to strangers ../
Almost invariably these resolutions are broken before the first day of
the New Year is out. Why? Simply because there is a deeper level of the
mind that is stronger and more set in its direction than the
superficial mind, and this deeper level has not participated in the
This deeper level is the mind of habitual
tendencies, which we have cultivated and developed over billions of
lifetimes of thinking and reacting egocentrically. So deep and powerful
are these tendencies that they have become instinctual. They naturally
and automatically come into play and determine how we think, feel and
behave. We cannot change this mind simply by taking on new ideas or
even beliefs. Something more has to be done, involving several factors:
First, we become aware of and acknowledge the existence of the
underlying or habitual tendencies. We must accept and come to terms
with them. This step is difficult for many people because it challenges
or contradicts their self-image. Most self-images contain a good dose
of lies we have told ourselves about ourselves. When we start being
honest with ourselves we are forced to acknowledge the lies, let go of
them and face the unsavoury realities behind them. This means coming to
terms with ourselves as we really are, instead of as we have pretended
we are. We humans are all a mixture of positive, neutral and negative
mind-states. They arise in our minds not only as a consequence of
conditioning in this life, but also because of the aeons of
conditioning that created our habitual tendencies. There is no point in
trying to pretend that negative tendencies are not present.
the first step is to face and come to terms with ourselves as we are at
this moment, and let go of self-blame and perfectionism. Unless we do
this, we can do nothing to bring about change in our minds.
we embark upon some form of training that is going to penetrate and
impact upon the habitual tendencies that have the status of instinctual
thought/feeling responses. Cognitive, intellectual, rational methods
(like brainwashing, analysis, acquiring new beliefs) have little or no
effect on this level. We need something deeper.
We need to
invoke counter-forces that already exist in the mind and naturally
operate at the same or deeper levels as the habitual tendencies.
process begins with training in mindfulness, which is a faculty that
lies more or less dormant in every human mind. Because it has been left
dormant, its power and force are not known to us.
As we train in
mindfulness, many profound changes begin to take place naturally within
the depths of our mind, because this faculty is an expression of our
enlightened wisdom nature, which naturally dispels negativity and
ignorance when it begins to stir. Just as light dispels darkness.
The development of mindfulness operates as an antidote to the habitual tendencies.
note what is happening. We are not mindfully formulating conceptual
countermeasures to defeat the habitual tendencies. Rather, an
unconscious process stirs and comes into being as a consequence of our
training in mindfulness. Changes and insights spontaneously arise,
sometimes in surprising or unexpected ways or areas of the mind.
Mindfulness does not invoke in us a process over which we have rational
control. Rather, it awakens deeper wisdom energy beyond our
comprehension, and this energy progressively takes over. Increasingly
there is a sense of being witness to the unfolding of a deeper,
seemingly autonomous process.
This training in mindfulness is the ground that enables all other forms of training to be effective.
third step is to strengthen the liberating forces within the mind while
simultaneously weakening the mind's tendency to grasp. Any training
that develops compassion and altruism will do this. All the training
methods presented here fall into these categories.
training methods are expressed in conceptual forms - for example, I
have used words to describe how you do them, and you use words to get
them going in your mind - they are not used as means of directly
attacking specific mind states. If we did this we would be working at a
superficial level. What we are doing instead is using the training
methods to awaken and strengthen the manifestation of the enlightened
qualities within. As these are strengthened they automatically weaken
egocentric grasping and enhance compassion.
These changes have
many beneficial effects in life, and constitute the path to
enlightenment. More important from the perspective of death training,
they enormously enhance the chances of liberation in the death bardos,
where the mind we experience is a much more immediate and direct
expression of the habitual tendencies. The superficial mind is no more.
In a certain sense we are another person in the bardo: the person who
arises directly out of and faithfully reflects, the karmic stream or
Once we understand this, it becomes easier
to undertake and sustain the long and sometimes seemingly unrewarding
training. We learn to look beyond the superficial short-term rewards to
the deeper purpose of freeing ourselves forever from the wheel of
endless births, deaths and sufferings.