Q1. Regarding organ donation at thetime of death or in accidents; for example, donating our eyes, kidneys, etc., what is your comment on this act of kindness considering that we should not touch the body at this critical time?
A1. Donating organs to others after death is a great act of a Bodhisattva. The thought and execution of such an act can overrule every prohibition mentioned in some teachings. Some Vajrayana teachings refer to one's body as a mandala of deities, and thus one should not harm the body as it creates negative consequences. However, prior to his enlightenment, the Buddha had given up his lives so many times for others. With such sacrifice, he accumulated so many merits that normally would require many kalpas to gain. So, such a Bodhisattva’s act of donating organs after death can be very great and thus, should be encouraged. The motivation behind the organ donation is also important. With correct and genuine motivation along with pure compassion, organ donations after death or even when one is alive is an immense act of great kindness that few attempt to do. It also takes a lot of courage to donate organs to another person.
Q2. Most Vajrayana practitioners know the importance of bardo practice. However, it takes time and effort to do the exact practice; therefore most of them learn only the recitation of the mantra. Is there any simple and easy way for the bardo practice, so that when death strikes, we can eliminate fears arising in bardo?
A2. The Bardo is known as the intermediate stage in English. It is the transient ‘in-between’ stage after death and before the next rebirth. That period is usually the most important moment and from there, the next rebirth develops. How one is able to handle Bardo is very much related to our present lifestyle. During our lifetime, we need to realize that every teaching and practice are of utmost importance and with that, right thoughts and good habitual patterns develop. It is also important to learn and contemplate on the Bardo teachings very often until we are so familiarize with it that even when hundreds of dogs chase after us, their ferocious barks do not distract us and we remain aware of the Bardo teachings. If one reaches that standard of Bardo practice, one will not even bring to mind the suffering of death or the fearful experience within the Bardo. It is like knowing your emergency exit route so well that you know where to head for in the event of any mishaps such as fire or natural disaster.
Q3. We have some basic knowledge of bardo and also understand the importance of the practice itself. But due to time constraint, most of us focus only on our yidam practice. Does yidam practice help at the time of death? After death in the bardo, will our consciousness be able to receive guidance from the Yidam?
A3. Yidam practices are important in our life as we develop ourselves to the state of enlightenment accordingly to the Vajrayana methods of practice. The figure of Yidam is just a symbolic aspect for leading the person from the conceptual state to the non-conceptual state, bearing in mind the essence of the Yidam is the ultimate essence of our mind nature. So Yidam practice is an entire set of steps merging our duality conceptual state to the non-dual state of Enlightenment. “Yid” means mind and “Dam” means commitment or bound. Through the methods of creation process, merging the duality concept of self and others into the completion stage of non-conceptual.
If one could practice yidam in the proper manner of developing creation and completion, definitely it is no different from the practice of Bardo training. Even within the Bardo, when one sees the form of Yidam, it is also a reflection of one’s own nature of mind in duality manner. And if that could be transformed into the non-duality state within our mind nature, then one will be liberated from the shackles of samsara.
Q4. Amitabha is usually visualized in golden colour in the Mahayana sutra and during chanting/singing praises of Him. In Vajrayana, Amitabha is visualized in red colour. For a practitioner who knows
both practices, at the time of death, will the colour appear according to his thoughts at that moment with no differentiation of colours or confusion?
A4. In the Tibetan version of the Amitabha Buddha sutra, it describes the Amitabha Buddha in the colour of ruby red. Actually, Amitabha's Nirmanakaya can manifest various forms and colours, so there is no fixed appearance. What we know of Amitabha Buddha’s appearance are from the handful of sutras or tantras that are currently available in this world. There are millions of tantras and teachings that unfortunately are not made available during this degeneration time. Just like Avalokiteshvara who has so many manifestations, every practice of Vajrayana has many different methods that lead a person smoothly towards liberation and enlightenment.
At the time of death, one may see Amitabha Buddha but not in the exact depiction as recorded in many written texts and Thangka art. The seeing of Amitabha Buddha can be interpreted as recognizing the true nature of Buddha Amitabha. So it does not make much difference whether one visualizes Buddha Amitabha’s colour as red or gold as long as the practice is done correctly.
Q5. Can Rinpoche explain the significance and the use of Dharani blanket forthe deceased?
A5. These are the methods introduced by some realized Masters from the past and they do benefit the deceased to connect with Mantra and Mandala of Buddhas. The Tantras mentioned the enormous power of Mantras and Names of Buddhas, which some of them are described as liberation upon seeing, contacting, hearing or recollecting. Thus a blanket with those mantras written on it will liberate the deceased by contacting it with the deceased’s body.By Shangpa Rinpoche