After struggling for awhile trying to decide what to write for
my new article, I've decided to write about something very real
and current in my life. My eighty-year-old mother died on July 1st.
Being a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner, I have a little familiarity
with the practice of "phowa," or transference of consciousness (at
the time of death). In essence, this practice involves visualizing
the recently deceased person's consciousness becoming completely
liberated, free, and totally enlightened.
My mother was a wonderful woman, filled with enormous love. But
while alive she certainly did not recognize the nature of her mind.
She created for herself enormous suffering because she didn't understand
her mind. Just like most of us.
After she died, I would notice that every now and then, when I
would imagine my mother, I would be subtly and unconsciously imagining
her to be this confused person wandering through "the bardo," or
the gap between this life and the next. I then realized that by
conjuring her up in this way, I was solidifying who I thought my
mother's infinite hologram might be at that moment. But I would
immediately justify concretizing her in this way by thinking "but
she in all certainty IS probably wandering confused in the bardo,
not recognizing the dreamlike nature of her situation, and thinking
that what she was experiencing was objectively real." And a part
of me was convinced that this was "objective reality."
What was objectively real; who IS my mother, right now? Now that
she has passed away, is she enlightened or is she wandering confused
through the bardo, terrified at her mind's own projections, as if
lost in a nightmare? And even further, if I'm imagining her to have
become fully enlightened, who am I imagining has become fully enlightened?
Is it an entity, a being, a self? If I'm imagining her to be wandering
in the bardo, is it a person, or a personality, or for that matter,
any reference point whatsoever, that I am imagining to be wandering
in the bardo?
Upon contemplating who my mother now was in all this, I began to
realize that how I was "dreaming her up" was nothing other than
a mirrored reflection of my own state of consciousness. If I was
imagining my mother wandering through the bardo in terror, who was
at that moment the one who was lost in the bardo but myself! And
if I was truly seeing my mother as attaining complete realization,
who was that a reflection of but my own state of mind? It's like
for the last 42 years I've had a dream that included my mother,
and when I now reflect upon this 42-year dream, it is very much
like I am contemplating a dream I had last night. My experience
right at this moment, though, is that I have woken up out of that
dream and am in a new dream, or a new scene in the play, where my
mother has exited stage left.
When I contemplate my mother as a dream character in this dream
that I have now awakened from, it is clear that she was an emanation
of what I call the deeper, dreaming Self, or Godessence. I realize
that we both played roles in each other's dream dramas, and were
ultimately nothing other than perfect wisdom displays in each other's
What does it mean to imagine that my mother has become fully liberated,
enlightened and free? Is there a particular person, or entity, that
I am imagining has "become" enlightened? As I snap out of the habitual,
asleep imagination that there's a separate self called my mother
who needs to or has become enlightened, I recognize, of course,
that she's always been enlightened, due to no help from me whatsoever.
I realize that enlightenment has always been her true essential
nature, and that she could never possibly be anything other than
enlightened, for all this time she has always been nothing other
than a wisdom display, an emanation of the One. For who was my mother?
And who is that a reflection of?
An artist and healer, Paul Levy is in private practice, helping
people who are spiritually awakening. He is the coordinator of the
Portland PadmaSambhava Buddhist Center. He will be teaching on "lucid
dreaming and beyond" at the New Renaissance Bookshop on September
17th and 18th. He can be reached at (503) 234-6480.