Q: Earlier on you talked about seeing ourselves as emptiness, energy, and form. How does energy fit in with the death of the body?
NN: Energy is intangible manifestation. It is the subtle body of consciousness. When physical form dies, we experience the energy of being more potently and vividly than usual, and this can be a frightening experience if we have no view to allow us to understand it.
If mind is like a wild elephant, we experience this as the turmoil of consciousness without physicality. Bardo can be something of a nightmare experience. Even if we see pleasant images, we still may feel lost, confused, and desperate for form.
Q: What about killing yourself to experience death?
NN: What do you think?
Q: [Laughter] I know it’s not a good idea – it was just something that occurred to me.
NN: Always worth asking [laughs]. Suicide is a highly negative act if you have not practised sufficiently to have gained control of the death process. There were Lamas in Tibet who committed suicide through phowa3 because they knew that death by execution or through torture would not enable them to maintain awareness of the death process. If we cannot experience awareness in the dream state, then it is unlikely that we will experience awareness in the bardo state. If we cannot maintain awareness into sleep, through dreaming, and into waking, then we stand little chance of maintaining awareness through the more profound experience of death, bardo, and birth. For those of us who have not developed such practice, the state of mind at the moment of death is important. Dying with a happy mind is beneficial.
Q: Is that like if you go to sleep after an argument, still feeling all cross and churned up, you might have nightmares or at least unsettled sleep?
NN: Yes, that’s right. The best way to ensure a happy mind at death is to have a happy mind all the time, as we don’t know when death will occur.
3. Phowa (’pho ba) (Tibetan): transference of consciousness.