The-Tibetan-Book-of-Living-and-Dying

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The-Tibetan-Book-of-Living-and-Dying

336 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYINGhours, and their major function is to act as messengersbetween the living and the dead.THE MESSAGE OF THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCEAs we have seen, there are significant similarities betweenthe near-death experience and the bardo teachings; there arealso significant differences. The greatest difference, of course,is the fact that the near-death experiencers do not die, whereasthe teachings describe what happens to people as they die,after actual physical death, and as they take rebirth. The factthat the near-death experiencers do not go further on the journeyinto death—some of them are only "dead" for oneminute—must go some way to explaining at least the possibilityfor disparities between the two accounts.Some writers have suggested the near-death experienceexpresses the stages of the dissolution process in the bardo ofdying. It is premature, I feel, to try to link the near-deathexperience too precisely with the bardo descriptions, becausethe person who has survived the near-death experience hasonly been—literally—"near death." I explained to my masterDilgo Khyentse Rinpoche the nature of the near-death experience,and he called it a phenomenon that belongs to the naturalbardo of this life, because the consciousness merely leavesthe body of the person who has "died," and wanders temporarilyin various realms.Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche implied that the near-death experiencersare experiencing their clinical death within the naturalbardo of this life. Perhaps they are standing on the thresholdof the bardos, but they have not actually entered into themand returned. Whatever they experience, they are still in thenatural bardo of this life. Is their experience of the light similarto the dawning of the Ground Luminosity? Could it be thatjust before its vast sun rises, they catch a strong glimpse of thefirst rays of dawn?Whatever the ultimate meaning of the details of the neardeathexperience, I remain extremely moved by the manyaccounts I have heard or read, and struck especially by someof the attitudes that flow from these experiences, attitudesthat mirror so richly the Buddhist view of life. Two I havealready spoken of: the profound transformation and spiritualawakening that takes place in those who have been throughthis experience; and the implications for our lives of the life-

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