Recognition Is the Key to Enlightenment – Easy Death – Chapter 24


Part III: Beyond the Traditional Wisdom on Death


Recognition Is the Key to Enlightenment

a talk by Da Free John

November 26, 1980

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: While alive we suffer the obstructions that lie between us and Enlightenment or God-Realization. We cannot recognize the conditions that are arising and we are manipulated by them. Although we try to work with the process of living in order to realize life as a creative struggle, it is our status in the moment of death that determines the complex of phenomenal existence after death and until rebirth.

DEVOTEE: It seems everyone must cut through the same limitations in order to surrender to the process of existence.

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: The ultimate spiritual process is the same, but peoples tendencies are different. Because you are a different person from the person sitting next to you, the phenomena that arise for you after death will be different from those of your neighbor. The spiritual process is an essential science, a basic process that can be engaged by any being. Thus, the spiritual process is the same for all beings. But the tendencies that produce phenomena, even though they play upon the same universal structures, are unique to every individual.

DEVOTEE: Master, the Tibetan scripture on the six Yogas of Naropa, which is very similar to the Tibetan Book of the Dead , describes the bardo state as an opportunity for attaining Enlightenment. If you have been trained spiritually and if you have practiced during your lifetime, then the consciousness of the bardo state after death provides a vehicle for transformation.

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: As this life does! This experience is a bardo state. This moment is an illusion of consciousness. The disposition we suffer or enjoy while alive is the disposition we bring to the bardo realms. We must rightly conceive of this life as a bardo realm, as a state of phenomenal awareness conditioned by our disposition, and, through profound participation in the spiritual process, we must transform our habit of associating with arising phenomena.

DEVOTEE: Is the Clear Light described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead the same as the “dharmakaya” or realm of Perfect Enlightenment?

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: Yes, the Clear Light is the dharmakaya. From the Tibetan point of view, at death one loses ones relationship to the gross physical realm, or the “nirmanakaya,” and enters the realm of energies, or “sambhogakaya,” the realm of psychic forces, energies, and apparitions, in which the being no longer has the capacity for the visibility and self-fixation of nirmanakaya. Having lost ones embodiment, one tends to wander in the bardos of the sambhogakaya, unless by recognizing those phenomena one transcends them. Just as, through the mechanics of death, the being is separated from the nirmanakaya or physically manifest state, the being must also break through the barriers of psychic possibility or the world of dreams in order to realize the ultimate Condition of phenomena.

DEVOTEE: I see now why the Tibetan tradition describes so many bardos. The being must transcend all the forms of manifestation, gross and subtle.

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: Yes. One can visualize beings and environments in the after-death state that are very much like those in the nirmanakaya, or the ordinary gross state. Likewise, one may encounter all kinds of higher beings, more and more glorious realms, or terrifying realms, hellish realms, terrible apparitions, and fierce, devouring, angry beings that seem to control your fate. You can feel threatened, you can feel as if you are in hell, or you can feel as if you are in heaven. The tendencies in the being accumulated through habit association, habit energy, or desire determine the phenomena that arise after death. Although the Tibetan Book of the Dead describes all these phenomena, it fundamentally offers a philosophy of transcending phenomena altogether, including the phenomena of the nirmanakaya or waking state.

DEVOTEE: If I understand it rightly, the Tibetan tradition holds that at the point of death, regardless of the state of being or realization, every being enjoys a moment, an instant, of the light of the dharmakaya.

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: Every being enjoys it now! The Buddha nature, the dharmakaya, Brahman, the power of Brahman, the Great One, the Divine, is absolutely obvious in this moment, at death, and in every moment after death. In every moment of phenomenal existence, that fundamental Condition is tacitly obvious. Reflecting and reacting to psycho-physical phenomena, with which we are associated, we tend to animate a superficial consciousness. In every moment we are tacitly inhering in the dharmakaya, or the fundamental Reality, the Nirvanic Reality, the Buddha-Nature, Brahman, but we do not recognize phenomena to the point of Realizing our inherence in that egoless, absolute Reality.

DEVOTEE: The traditions lead you to believe that you will enjoy a glimpse of Reality in the moment of death.

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: Recognition is possible in the midst of any sudden transformation of your habitually fixed state. The moment of death is such an opportunity, although somewhat glamorized, but the same opportunity is also available in the waking state. Therefore, it is recommended that beings strive for Enlightenment while alive, not just grasp the opportunity at death.

Your capacity to recognize phenomena and inhere in the Divine Transcendental Reality must develop while you are alive, because the same mechanics that are effective in life are effective after death, and your ability to transcend them after death will not be greater than that which you enjoyed in life. You must generate a profound capacity to go beyond phenomena regardless of what arises. Merely because something different from your experience in life may happen at death does not mean that you will suddenly develop the capacity for transcendence. In fact, you will not. You will have no more ability than you have now.

Like all beings you are called to the Dharma or the Way of recognition of all phenomena while you are alive, so that when death comes, as it inevitably does, you will demonstrate the capacity for transcendence in that event. You must become capable of this process while alive, however, because in the process of changing phenomenal circumstances, that capacity will not be generated spontaneously for you. You will suffer the same limitations of attention that you suffered while you were alive. Furthermore, after death the powers that control attention seem much more profound than they do in life.

DEVOTEE: The text on the six Yogas of Naropa mentions that if you do not grasp Enlightenment while alive, you will not be able to “hold on” or practice at the point of death. You will be shocked by the dropping of the nirmanakaya.

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: Attention moves and is fixed by tendency until we can recognize and transcend the habit of attention itself, the habit energy associated with consciousness. The business of life is to realize the process of recognition whereby we transcend the habit energy of attention. This is also our business after death.

While we are alive, phenomena impress us very directly, but our attention tends to be superficially associated with them, and we do not recognize them as they truly are. Just so, we also fail to recognize phenomena after death, when we have lost the environment of the nirmanakaya, the physical embodiment that controls attention. After death the realm of subtlety and energy controls attention. Our condition of existence is still fundamentally the same, however, because attention is still controlled by phenomena, although then they are more subtle than the gross phenomena of life.

Enlightenment or the spiritual process is the recognition of phenomena or the phenomenal energies that control and manipulate attention. If you can begin to recognize the process of identification whereby you determine an independent, egoic self-sense, then while alive you may realize the dharmakaya, the Divine Truth, or That which becomes radiant throughout the whole of your existence. Likewise, after death you will enjoy the capacity to recognize phenomena and pass through them, transcend them, be Happy, and be Enlightened, or pass directly into the Samadhi of ultimate Realization, even though phenomena may continue to arise.

Once Enlightened, you may be reintroduced into the stream of phenomena to serve some higher, radiant, Enlightened purpose. You may be reborn to fulfill the Law of that Dimension of our existence that is beyond the repetitions created by fear and reactivity, the Law that is the fundamental force inherent in existence and that produces all phenomena out of Enlightened Fullness. Such a rebirth, so-called, is different from the rebirth of the ordinary being conditioned by reactivity and self-possession, because of the Enlightened capacity to recognize phenomena. This capacity for recognition accounts for the spiritual differences among beings in life and after death and between death and rebirth. Apart from that Enlightened disposition, however, our experiencing and perceiving are conditioned by the habits of attention, the cause-and-effect, action-reaction processes that arise when we do not recognize phenomena but rather allow phenomena to determine our destiny.

The fact that we are apparently embodied or that attention is distracted in perception and conception is not the problem. The problem, if we can call it a problem at all, is that we do not recognize these phenomenal states. We do not realize the Condition in which they are arising, and we do not transcend the conventions that they impose upon us. It is not that we must rid ourselves of all phenomenal states and realize the zero of a false nirvana. Rather, we must recognize what arises and radiate the power of the Transcendental Reality, or the dharmakaya, or the free energy of the sambhogakaya, into the play of manifestation. Then existence becomes radiant, transfigured, a truly spiritual manifestation.

Whether one Realizes the Spiritual Reality or not, the play of manifestation is a process of cycles of birth, then death, then after-death, then reintegration with phenomena and rebirth. Enlightenment does not prohibit such transformations of attention. Enlightenment is the force of the recognition of those transformations, which are not created by the Divine Nature or the very Divine or the Buddha Nature or the dharmakaya at all, but spontaneously continue without cause. Nothing inherent in the phenomena of existence should cause us to try to bring them to an end. Rather, we should relate to them through Enlightened recognition.

If we are incapable of recognizing phenomena, then we are limited to the game of cause and effect or its opposite, the negative reaction of reducing ourselves to zero or no-experience. Both illusions-the self-indulgent, egoic exploitation of phenomena and the false nirvana-are false paths, paths of fear and bewilderment. Enlightenment is recognition, inherent transcendence, whereby even this dimension of Reality becomes an Enlightened force that associates us with all the ultimately positive qualities of relationship.

DEVOTEE: Master, somehow I had understood Realization of the Clear Light to be a terminal, ultimate, and absolute event.

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: This conception of zero is common to Western consciousness. It is because of this and other like structures of consciousness that Westerners find it difficult to understand Buddhist texts on such states as Shunyata (“emptiness”), or the void, or Nirvana. The tendency of Westerners to associate such conceptions with the zero of nothingness undermines the paradoxical suggestion in Buddhist literature of the identity or equation of Nirvana and samsara. Realization is utterly coincident with phenomenal existence, and it is not at all coincident with the motive of dissociation or separation from phenomena.

This life, this world, this experience, is the Clear Light. If you cannot recognize it as such in Truth, then you are only associated with phenomenal conditions themselves, and with the pattern of arising experience. Thus, you can conceive of Liberation only as separation from this experience. But when you recognize this experience, then the paradoxical equation between the Clear Light of Nirvana and the multiplicity and complexity of samsara is evident. That Nirvana and samsara are the same is obvious, but it is also a paradox. It cannot be explained, because its Truth is coincident with this present experience, not something else to which we can point and refer.

The process whereby Enlightenment is achieved or Realized is the same in every moment of this pattern of arising! It is always a matter of recognizing phenomena as nothing but modifications of what the Buddhists call the Mind, or Fundamental Reality, and what I call the Radiant Transcendental Being. Whatever arises has neither independent significance nor necessity and is fundamentally transparent in the moment of recognition.

Enlightenment is associated with recognition whatever the phenomena, whether gross or abstract or subtle, and whether arising in life or after death. What arises after death is subtle or abstract. The forms that typically arise in ordinary life are gross forms, but during our lifetime we may also encounter subtle and abstract experiences, which must also be recognized. Such subtle experiences are not the signs of Realization or Enlightenment. They are characteristics or attributes of consciousness. The fact that we can attain a state of subtle awareness, therefore, does not signify that we are Enlightened or exalted to a great spiritual plane.

Very often, the capacity for subtle or abstract vision is regarded by practitioners of yoga to be an end in itself. I have criticized traditions that value abstract and subtle visions of light or some Divine Being in some other world. To regard the having of subtle visions (that is, phenomena not associated with gross manifestation to be Enlightenment is precisely the illusion that must be overcome from the point of view of the highest teachings.

To regard any phenomenon as exclusively Divine or Illumined or Enlightened is the illusion. While we are alive we associate happiness and pleasure with what we desire. We do not therefore recognize the things we desire but rather let them determine our experience. Likewise, after death or in meditative states we are similarly attracted to subtle and abstract visions, and we take similar pleasure in them.

The phenomena that may arise after death and in meditation, like those that may arise during outward, waking life, have nothing whatsoever to do with Enlightenment. They are demonstrations of our possibility for experience and knowledge, and they must be recognized rather than held on to. To cling to an abstract form of light is ultimately no different from clinging to some person in the waking state, or to some environment, some pattern of associations in the gross state or of visions or apparitions in subtle worlds. All clinging to phenomena is egoic and self-possessed, creating forms of confinement and illusion that prevent us from recognizing the true nature or Condition of phenomena. Enlightenment or God-Realization is the Realization of ecstasy, or self-transcendence, based on the recognition of all phenomena, whether gross or subtle or abstract.

All phenomenal appearances are dependent on the same psycho-physical, egoic structure. Thus, the same problem, so-called, faces us in death that faces us in life. We are attracted to or repelled by what arises, reacting either positively or negatively to phenomena. This principle is true in the waking state while we are alive. It is true in dreams. It is true after death. It is true in all the categories of our possibility during life and after death. Truth is always associated with the recognition that phenomena are nothing other than non-binding modifications of the fundamental Reality, the Radiant Transcendental Consciousness or Being.

When this is tacitly realized to be true, when we can therefore recognize whatever phenomena arise, then we exist in the state of Enlightenment, fundamentally free. Whatever arises is not binding in any ultimate sense. We remain radiant, or the fundamental Reality remains Radiant, even in the face of what arises. But if we do not enjoy this capacity for recognition, then phenomena themselves are our limit, a process of changes that transform and control attention and produce binding effects.

In recognition there is no bondage, but apart from recognition of phenomena-pleasurable or painful-there is only bondage. This has been the fundamental and highest Teaching since ancient times, and it is the same Teaching that you consider with me.

DEVOTEE: Master, when I took certain drugs before I came here, I experienced the phenomena of the red light and the white light described in the traditions. Is that vision a simulation of the death experience?

MASTER DA FREE JOHN: Yes. Death removes you from the setting of gross phenomenal states of perception and conception and associates you with subtler ones. Hallucinogenic drugs in effect associate you with phenomena similar to those that arise after death. Under the influence of the drug you may not tend to experience such phenomena with the same clarity as you will after death, partly because the return of bodily states is imminent. The necessity to transcend phenomena is therefore not so urgent, since you will return to your so-called normal state eventually. Nevertheless, one can experience through the use of drugs the same subtle, abstract phenomena that one can experience after death.

Likewise, through techniques of meditation and the force of uncommon experiences one can withdraw from the perception and conception of gross conventional reality and its relations and associate with abstractions of light and sound or with subtle, visionary apparitions of energy that have discrete individuality. Such subtle and abstract phenomena may arise through meditation, shocks, drugs, death-any one of many disturbances to our conventional state of gross perception can regenerate or awaken us to the perception of these phenomena. They are not, however, identical to the Mystery or the Great Affair, because merely to have these perceptions is not to transcend them, not to be Enlightened. To take a drug does not yield any great capacity for recognition. Neither does conventional meditation or the shocks of life.

If your entire attention is reduced, or expanded, to the perception of a radiant spot or a great field of light, you can realize the experience to be not fundamentally different from the ordinary experience of the waking state in which you are seeing others and environments. In The Knee of Listening I have described this recognition or realization in my own case. I experienced all kinds of great yogic phenomena, but always there came the tacit recognition that having a subtle, mystical vision was not fundamentally different from perceiving in the ordinary way. Nothing different happened in meditation from what happened in ordinary awareness. The features of the phenomenal appearance changed, but the fundamental pattern or structure of awareness of phenomena was the same in the abstract and subtle states of awareness as in the gross states of awareness. Nothing was changed fundamentally by changing the features of the objects of awareness.

This recognition made it tacitly clear that Realization has nothing whatever to do with the changes of experience that can be attained by any means. God-Realization is the recognition of the habit of association with phenomena. In the course of my own spiritual practice, therefore, this disposition of recognition became primary and ultimately consequential, and all the other media or means of attaining experiences became unimportant.

Thus, in the history of my Teaching Work with people I have constantly criticized that disposition in us that is fascinated with the possibility of an alternative reality or the possibility of subtle or abstract phenomena. Nevertheless, in the Way that I Teach, we do not prevent such phenomena. In fact, in the devotional and meditative exercises that we engage, all kinds of gross or subtle or abstract phenomena may arise. All of you can report such experiences.

The spiritual process is not a means for attaining those experiences, but it is the process that can, that must, go on in the midst of those experiences. If now, presently, the experience arising is essentially the pattern of gross awareness, or gross phenomenal existence, you must recognize that. If now you are having a vision of a subtle being or subtle environments, the Spiritual Master in a form of light, heavenly worlds, gods, goddesses, you must recognize that. If now you are seeing white light, yellow light, blue light, a spot, a field of light, radiance, you must recognize that. To recognize all phenomena, all experience, is the Teaching.

We must recognize that whatever is arising, even this moment of gross perception, is a non-binding modification of the Radiant Transcendental Reality, what is called the Buddha Nature, or Nirvana, or Brahman, or Parabrahman, or Very God, or the Ultimate Divine, or the Truth. Whatever the name given to the Ultimate Realization, it is That which must be Realized on the basis of the recognition of whatever is arising. Therefore, it is not necessary to achieve an alternative reality or an alternative state of experience in order to be Happy or to realize the Truth. Rather, Happiness or the realization of Truth is a matter of recognizing whatever happens to be arising.


Death is Not Your Concern

Attention, Death and Realization

Transcending the Cosmic Mandala

Recognition is the Key to Enlightenment

Leela – Near Death