Natural Liberation through Recognition of the Visual Indications and Signs of Death
Since the human body is regarded as an abode of deities, it is the responsibility of the practitioner to protect the body from the causes of harm, disease and premature death and to foster the conditions which support an active and unencumbered life up to the natural exhaustion of the lifespan.
This chapter describes six categories of signs indicative of the time of death, together with a variety of techniques for purposefully eliciting specific indications of death. Also described, in the section titled ‘Signs of Extremely Near Death’, are the experiential and outer signs that occur during the process of dying. Lastly, the signs that are indicative of the nature of the future rebirth, which occur at or after death, are described.
This chapter and the following chapter: Natural Liberation of Fear through the Ritual Deception of Death are inextricably interlinked. Should the predictive signs described in this chapter definitively arise, then it is expected that the appropriate practices described in the following chapter: Natural Liberation of Fear through the Ritual Decep-tion of Death should be undertaken without delay.
The sophisticated description of the process of dying, contained in the section ‘Signs of Extremely Near Death’, concurs with the understanding of the process of death commonly found in classical Buddhist literature.* This section forms a component of the Liberation by Hearing (Chapter n) and it is a vital aspect of the guidance to be given by a qualified spiritual teacher at the time of death.
The predictive signs of death, however, are more idiosyncratic and show influences from Tibetan folklore and traditional medicine. Further, in terms of the predictive signs of death, it is said that the subtler signs described here can only be accurately recognised by those who are continuously engaged in meditative practice.
The elicitation and analysis of the predictive signs is not a common practice today, except, in the case of certain signs, in the context of traditional medicine. Nonetheless, this text demonstrates a powerful sensitivity to impermanence and a sustained sensitivity to one’s immediate experience.
Herein is contained the Natural Liberation through [Recognition of] the Visual Indications and Signs of Death,1 an extract from the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities: A Profound Sacred Teaching, [entitled] Natural Liberation through [Recognition of] Enlightened Intention.2
I bow down to the naturally radiant Peaceful and Wrathful Deities,
[Manifestations of] the three buddha-bodies!
This natural liberation3 through [the recognition of] signs Which is a technique for analysing [the onset of] death Is presented as a supporting text to the Natural Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States?
Study it repeatedly, O Child of Buddha Nature.
Alas! This illusory and feeble aggregate of form, Created from compounded past actions and conditions,
Like [the flame of] a butter lamp blowing in the wind, cannot last for ever.4
Nothing at all exists which is not subject to the conditioning of death,
And indeed, since it is uncertain when death will occur,
One should constantly be cognisant of the signs of [impending] death,
And strive after [the accumulation of] virtue.
There are two [primary] conditions responsible for the death of human beings:
[First] untimely death and [second] death due to the [natural] exhaustion of the lifespan.5
Untimely or sudden death may be averted,
By successful application of the Ritual Deception of Death,6
But death due to the [natural] exhaustion of the lifespan
Is like the burning out of a butter lamp,
So there is no way of averting this through ‘ritual deception’,
And thus, [if this is indicated], one should make preparations to depart.
In either case, [however], it is most important to engage in the following analysis.
This teaching [on the visual indications and signs of death]
Is presented in terms of six general topics, namely:
External, internal, and secret signs of death,
Signs of remote death, signs of near death,
And, lastly, miscellaneous signs of death.
When investigating [the time of] death,
First one should make offerings
To the [visualised] assemblies of spiritual teachers, meditational deities and dakinls,
And please the protectors of the [sacred] teachings with torma-offerings.
Then, one should present feast-offerings to one’s fellow practitioners,
And also engage in charitable acts.
Then, [the signs of] death should be examined in the following way.
EXTERNAL SIGNS OF DEATH
First, when the examination of external [signs] is made,
It is the bodily characteristics that should be investigated,
Because the signs of death will arise in relation to these [characteristics].
The body is composed of the four elements,
Thus tb following portents of its demise
Will arise prior [to the time of death]:
Loss of appetite, dullness of the sense faculties,
A feeling of anger which consumes body, speech and mind,
Distracted or depressed thoughts,
Disturbed dreams, character changes, and fading complexion.
These are the portents [indicating] that life[-threatening] hindrances may arise.
More particularly, there are the following specifically physical signs of death:7
If the fingernails and toenails become bloodless or lustreless,
[This indicates] death after nine months, less half a day.
If the cornea of the eyes begin to cloud over, [This indicates] death after five months.
If the hair on the nape of the neck grows upwards, [This indicates] death after three months.
[Then again, more generally], if one urinates, defecates and sneezes simultaneously,
This too is an indication of death.
Also, if one’s urine falls in two forks,
If one’s muscles become utterly loose and flabby,
If faeces are excreted and semen ejaculated simultaneously,
If one’s body odour changes dramatically,
If one’s conduct changes dramatically,
If one blushes little and one’s complexion becomes pallid,
If the tone of one’s voice becomes thin, and one’s eyes become sunken,
If the space above the bridge of the nose becomes exfoliated,
If the eyes do not clearly perceive forms, Or else if they perceive incorrectly, and so forth,
If [the ears] do not hear, or else hear incorrectly,
If [the nose] does not smell, or else smells incorrectly,
If [the tongue] does not taste, or else tastes incorrectly,
If the point between the eyebrows is effaced,
Or evaporation ceases from the crown of the head,
These [signs] may all indicate that one has fallen into the hands of the Lord of Death.8
Furthermore, while in good health,
[The following technique for eliciting indications can also be applied]:
If, when the [closed] eyes are pressed with the fingers,
The [minute] circles of light which appear
Are absent from the lower part of the left eye,
[This indicates that] one may die after six months,
But if they are absent from the upper part [of that eye],
One may die after three months.
If these [same circles] are absent from the direction of the [left] nostril,
[This indicates that] one may die after one month.
If they are absent from the direction of the [left] ear,
[This indicates that] one may die after two months.
[Resuming this process, focusing on the right eye]:
If [the circles] are absent from the lower part of the right eye,
One should know that one may die after ten days.
If they are absent from the upper part [of the right eye],
[This indicates that] one may die after five days.
If they are absent from the direction of the [right] ear,
[This indicates that one may die] after three days;
And if they are absent from the direction of the [right] nostril,
One should know that one may die after two days, even if one is not sick.
Secondly, if when the ears are cupped with the fingers,
No humming sound is heard throughout an entire day,9
One should know that one might die after six years.
If it is absent for two days,
One may die after six years less two months.
Similarly, for each additional day [that the sound is absent],
[This indicates that] one may die, decrementally, after three fewer months.
That is, if [the sound] is absent for a third or fourth day,
Death may come after three [or six] fewer months, respectively.
It has also been said that the number of days [indicated] might not necessarily be definite.
There are also other [external] signs of death, such as:
If one feels [continuously] angry and short-tempered,
If one feels fearful, wherever one may be,
If one’s positive perspective, devotion, and similar qualities ebb away,
If one feels aversion towards saintly beings,
If one feels depressed, wherever one may be, and [constantly] wishes to go [elsewhere],
If one wishes to be separated from sympathetic Buddhist companions,
If one delights in the social diversions and distracting activities of cyclic existence,
Or if one feels excessive attachment, aversion, pride, or envy,
These may all indicate that one has fallen into the hands of the Lord of Death.
These, [the above], are called ‘the external signs of death’,
Which, it is said, can be averted by the ritual deception of death.
The techniques, by which they are averted, should be studied,
By referring to the Ritual Deception of Death [chapter, which follows].
INTERNAL SIGNS OF DEATH
The investigation of the internal signs of death Comprises the examination of vital breath and the examination of dreams.
Examination of the Vital Breath10
Around the time of the [vernal or autumnal] equinox,
At daybreak on the first day [of the lunar month],
One should sit upright, with the body in the seven-point posture of Vairocana.
Then, one should observe the vital breath, and note from which [nostril] this emerges.
If, at this time, the vital breath is moving through the left
Then, for a period of three days, the breath will continue to move exclusively through the left nostril,
But then on the fourth day it will change,
And proceed to move through the right nostril for three days.
Thus it will alternate in this way every three days between the two nostrils.
[Observe this process and] count the number of days diligently, and do not make a mistake.
If no error is made [in the counting], and if the breath moves successively in this way,
And then begins to move erratically after one and a half months,
It is said that one may die after [a further] six months.
If the breath begins to move erratically after one month,
It is said that severe misfortunes may occur.
If it begins to move erratically after two weeks,
[It is said that] serious illness may occur.
If it moves erratically after five days,11
[It is said that] slander and calumny may occur.
If [the breath] does not alternate [from one nostril to the other] over a ten-day period,
Then, as soon as it does change, one may die.
If it moves simultaneously through both nostrils and the mouth,
[This indicates that] one may die after half a day.
And if it ceases to move through the nose and instead moves only through the mouth,
It is said that one will die immediately.
Examination of the Signs of Death which Occur in Dreams12
[First, one should know that] those dreams which occur in the late evening or around midnight are unreliable,
But if one dreams between dawn and daybreak that:
One is riding a cat or a white monkey with a red face,
While moving further and further towards the east,
It is said that this is a sign of death caused by king spirits.13
If one dreams of riding a tiger, fox, or corpse,
Or of riding a buffalo, pig, camel, or donkey,
While moving further and further towards the south,
This is a sign of death [indicating that] one has fallen into the hands of Yama.
Furthermore, if one dreams of eating faeces, Of wearing black clothes of yak hair, while plunging downwards,
Of being trapped in a wicker-basket or snare,
Of being bound with iron chains,
Or of copulating repeatedly with a black figure or animal,
These are [also] signs [which are indicative] of death.
If one dreams of being disembowelled by a fierce black woman,
And that one’s entrails are spilling out,
Or that a black man arrives, wielding an iron mace,
And coming into one’s presence, he tells you to depart,
Or [if one dreams] that one is being dragged along by a black rope attached to the neck,
Or that one is inside a lofty red-coloured castle,
Surrounded by a moat and perimeter wall,
Or [if one dreams] of being decapitated and having one’s head carried off by another,
Or of being surrounded by crows, anguished spirits, or villains,
Or of being willingly led away, or leaving [home] in a bridal procession,
Of being naked, with one’s hair cut off and beard shaved,
Of constantly associating with friends who have died,
Of being dragged along by a crowd of dead people,
Of jumping into water, sinking into mud, or being swallowed by fish,
Of entering a womb and falling asleep,
Of being overcome in a battle, in which the other side is victorious,
Of wearing red clothing, and being adorned with red garlands,
Of repeatedly picking red flowers,
Of climbing a mountain of red shellac,
Of having one’s head wrapped in a red silk turban,
Of twigs growing on the crown of your head, and birds nesting there,
Of falling asleep repeatedly in a terrifying charnel ground,
Of being old, and carrying a heavy burden,
Of the sun and moon falling to the plains, leaving one shrouded in darkness,
Of jumping headlong into a pit,
Of dancing together with a host of ogres,
Or setting out, thinking one will roam to unfamiliar distant lands, never to return –
If such dreams and others like them occur when one is not sick, they are indefinite [with respect to the time of death],
And one may be released [from their indications] by means of the [appropriate] ritual service.
If, however, such dreams continually recur,
[This indicates that] one will die within a year.
If one should dream of the sun and moon being eclipsed,
Falling to the plains, or repeatedly setting,
One’s father, mother, or teacher may die,
And it is said that if they are sick at the time,
Their death will be inevitable.
The above are called the ‘internal signs of death’,
Which are slightly more difficult [to avert]
Through ritual deception than the aforementioned [external signs].
SECRET SIGNS OF DEATH
The secret signs of death will [now] be described.
When the external and internal signs of death occur,
They can be averted by repeatedly performing the Ritual Deception of Death.
If, however, the external and internal signs are not [successfully] reversed,
One should then examine the secret signs in the following way:
Having first generated the mind [aspiring] to supreme enlightenment,14
And then taken refuge and offered prayers,
One should examine, on the morning of the first day of the month,
The flow of one’s semen or menstrual blood.
It is said that if the semen of a man is blackish yellow,
Or if the menstrual blood of a woman is whitish,
Death may occur after two months.
If the semen of a man is reddish,
He may die or be subjected to slander after six months.
However, if its [natural] whiteness is undiminished,
[This indicates that] there is no obstacle [to life],
And [the semen] should be inhaled through the nose, while it is still warm.
This is itself a rite associated with the Ritual Deception of Death.
Furthermore, if semen flows without any [blissful] sensation,
And it is interspersed with quicksilver-like globules, the size of sesame seeds,
It is said that one will die [imminently].
If the flow of a woman’s menstrual blood is unceasing,
And if at that time she dreams she is picking red flowers,
[This indicates that] death will [soon] follow.
Moreover, if a man has continual spermatorrhoea,
Even when not engaged in sexual intercourse,
It is said that he may die after four months.
If a black mole suddenly appears for the first time,
At the orifice of the glans penis,
Or if one has an undistracted and constant [sexual] desire, thinking only of women,
And one allows one’s commitments in respect of the third empowerment to degenerate,15
These are not only signs of death,
But also omens that one will later proceed to [rebirth in] the indestructible hells.
[Therefore], if one does not confess [and repair] these [degenerations] fully,
One will experience the fierce sufferings of the hells.
In order for the confession to be effective, however,
You should perform the ritual deception pertaining to the secret [signs of] death,
Yet [death] will be harder to deceive than in the two preceding categories.
The above are called the ‘secret signs of death’.
SIGNS OF REMOTE DEATH
The examination of the signs of death when it is [still] years or months away
Should be made by scrutinising the ‘shadow of one’s lifespan’,
Optically projected onto the sky, in the way described below.
[These indications may show that] one will die, or that one will not die,
And that the averting [of death] will be possible, or impossible.16
[To begin], offerings should be made to the spiritual teacher, and the Three Precious Jewels,
Tormtf-offerings should be presented to the dakinls and protectors of the [sacred] teachings;
And then, after going for refuge and offering prayers,
The examination should be made [as follows]:
In an isolated and delightful place,
In the morning or afternoon of the first day of the month,
Or in the evening or at dawn of the fifteenth day,17
When the sky is clear and there is no wind,
One should sit naked in a comfortable spot,
And there, after praying fervently,
One should repeat the following mantra one hundred times:
OM AYUSE SAMHARAKESVARE HUM PHAT18
Then, standing up, naked, one should bow down seven times
To each of the gods of the [ten] directions,
And then, directly stretching out one’s four limbs,
While holding in one’s hand a rosary or suitable symbolic hand-implement,19
One should inscribe the letter A on the heart of one’s shadow.20
[Next], without blinking, one should gaze fixedly at the letter A [drawn] at the heart [of the shadow],
And focus one’s awareness upon [the letter A].
Then, once the eyes have grown numb [through strain],
One should look up into the centre of the cloudless sky,
At which time one’s own form should become visible in the sky.
One should then know that if the head and body of this [reflected image] are intact, and [the image] is pale in colour,
This is an auspicious sign that there will be no obstacles and that one will not die [imminently].
If one’s reflected image is not visible in the sky,
[First], perform the rite for affirmation of vows,
And, while sitting in the ‘indestructible cross-legged posture’,
With the hands in the ‘gesture of meditative equipoise’,21
Look [for the image again], in the above manner.
If [one’s reflected image] still does not appear,
It may not be significant, as it may have been obscured by
clouds or atmospheric winds,
In which case, the examination should be postponed until the sky is clear.
[When the reflected image does become visible, however,]
Its examination entails three considerations: of completeness, shape, and colour.
First, the completeness [of the reflected image] should be examined as follows:
When [assessing] the completeness of the image
In relation to the number of years [one is yet to live],
If the hand-held implement is missing,
This [indication] is called the ‘separation from the deity on whom one has relied’,22
And it indicates that one’s life may end in seven years’ time.
If the right hand is missing,
[This indicates that] one may die after five years.
If the left hand is missing,
[This indicates that] one may die after three years.
If the right leg is missing below the knee,
One may die after two years.
If the left leg is missing,
[This indicates that] one may die after one year.
Next, when [assessing] the completeness [of the image]
In relation to the number of months [one is yet to live]:
If the right part of the head is missing,
One may die after nine months.
If the left part of the head is missing,
One may die after seven months.
If the head is missing above the neck,
One may die after five months.
If the head and the neck are both missing,
One may die after three months.
If the upper trunk is missing,
One may die after two months.
If the lower trunk is missing,
One may die after one month.
Next, when [assessing] the completeness [of the image]
In relation to the number of days [one is yet to live]:
If the right side of the body is missing,
One may die in twenty-nine days.
If the left side [of the body] is missing,
One may die in twenty-one days.
Second, the [overall] shape [of the image] should be examined as follows:
If [the image] is square, one may die after five months.
If it is round, one may die after four months.
If it is semicircular, one may die after three months,
And if it is oblong, one may die after two months.
In all these cases, death may be averted by ritual deception.
However, if it is triangular, one will die after one month.
If it resembles a bundled corpse, one will die after half a month.
If it is upside down,23 one will die after ten days.
In these last three cases, death cannot be averted and is absolutely inevitable.
Third, the colour [of the image] should be examined as follows:
If it is white in colour, and fades from the centre,
This is a sign that one has displeased serpentine water spirits, king spirits, and gods.
If it is black in colour, and fades from the right,
This is a sign that one has been overwhelmed by beguiling forces and imprecatory female spirits.
If it is red in colour, and fades from the left,
This is a sign that one has been seized by martial haunting spirits, and by one’s own lifelong companion gods,
Or else that one will encounter woundings and diseases.
If it is yellow in colour, and fades from the head,
This is a sign that one has been seized by serpentine water spirits, king spirits and bewitchers.
If it is blue in colour, and fades from the legs,
This is a sign that one has been seized by serpentine water spirits and lake-dwelling medicinal spirits.
If it is hazy and diffuse,
This is a sign that one has been seized by imprecatory female spirits and the acolytes of Yama.
If it appears yellowish and uneven,
[This is a sign that one has been seized] by the spirit lords of the soil.
If it is garish, irregular, and variegated,
[This indicates that] one has been seized by the eight classes of spirits,
Comprising the diverse beguiling forces of death.
All these are [the signs] recognised with respect to the colours [of the reflected image].
When any of the above signs of death occur,
One should persevere with [the practices set down in] the Ritual Deception of Death,
And then re-examine [the image], in the manner described above.
If the limbs are complete,
[Death] may be ritually deceived.
But if the ritual deception of death fails to be effective, even after being applied three times,
This is a sign that the time has come for one’s life to end.
Therefore, those of highest [potential] should maintain the view,
Which accords with the profound abiding nature [of reality],24
Those of average [potential] should meditate on the meditational deity, according to the generation and perfection stages,
And those of lowest [potential] should persevere with the accumulation [of merit].
The above is the analysis of the reflected image in the sky.
SIGNS OF NEAR DEATH
The analysis of the signs of near death is now presented.
The examination of [the signs] described so far should be made when one is in good health,
For [at that time] there are [still] many possibilities [for recovery], because the signs of a remote death can be ritually deceived.
Here, however, with regard to a sick person,
The signs indicative of [near] death arise as follows:
If one’s gums grow grimy and black,
This is called the ‘gathering of the personal demons of the elements’,
And it indicates that one may die after nine days.
If the nostrils sag inwards and deflate,
This is called the ‘blockage of the passageway of the vital breath’,
And it indicates that one may die after nine days.
If the limbs are subject to repeated fits of expansion and contraction,
This is called the ‘scaling of the mountain of the elements’,
And it indicates that one may die after five days.
If the eyes stare fixedly, without blinking,
This is called the ‘escape of the mother-like vital breath’,25
And it indicates that one may die after three days.
If the cheeks sag inwards,
This is called the ‘rupture of the edge of the earth element’,
And it indicates that one may die at daybreak, ten days later.
If breathing is repeatedly agitated,
This is called the ‘collision of vital energy and mind’,
And it indicates that one may die after six days.26
If the tip of the nose inclines to the right or left,
This is called the ‘cutting off of the bridge of the nose’,
And it indicates that one may die after seven days.
If tears flow uncontrollably from the eyes,
This is called the ‘impediment’,
And it indicates that one may die after five days.
If the right or left cheek sags inwards,
This is called the ‘cutting off of the intervening muscle’,
And it indicates that [one may die] after one day.
If the upper and lower teeth become locked,
This is called the ‘blockage of the path of the elements’,
And it indicates that one may die after two and a half days.
If a black spot appears on the tongue,
It is certain that one will die after two days.
If the ears lie flat against the head,
This is called the ‘blockage of the stairway of the ears’,
And it indicates that one may die within half a day.
If the xiphoid of the chest sags inward,
This is called the ‘rupture of the support of the water element’,
And it indicates that one may die after two weeks.
If the hands shake for a prolonged time, when standing or sitting,
One should know that one may quickly die.
Other signs of [near] death should also be examined in the following way:
At noon one should face towards the south,
Placing the elbows on the knees,
Whereupon, lifting up one’s hand,
One should place [the wrist] at the point between the eyebrows,
And focus both eyes upon one’s hand.
[The image of the arm] will appear very thin, and if it then vanishes,
This is called the ‘severing of the bond between atmosphere and earth’,
And it indicates that one may die after nineteen days.
[OR else, one should position oneself at sunrise] with a pool or pond to the east,
And stand up and gaze at the surface of a wall towards the west.
Two superimposed shadows will appear, one above the other,
And if the upper shadow disappears,
This is called the ‘fall of a rider on a white lioness from the slopes of Mount Sumeru’,
And it indicates that one may die after fifteen and a half days.
[Alternatively, one should examine irregularities in one’s urine specimen]:27
In the morning after a night when one has not engaged in sexual intercourse,
Drunk alcohol, or talked excessively,
One should fill a clay container with one’s [first] urine, at sunrise, and examine it.
If [the urine] has a bluish or reddish vapour which then disappears,
This is called the ‘vanishing of the froth of the ocean’,
And it indicates that one will certainly die after nine days.
If the vapour is blackish and putrid,
[This indicates that] one will die after one day.
If the vapour is red and spotted, one may die after nine [days].
[Alternatively], one should defecate at sunrise,
And if no vapour arises from [the faeces],
This is called the ‘ceasing of monks’ smoke in the cities of the earth element’,
And it indicates that one may die after nine days.
[Further], if, when the [closed] eyes are pressed, no circles of light appear,
This is called the ‘setting of the unchanging sun at the summit of Mount Sumeru’,28
And it indicates that one may die after three or seven days.
[Further] if, when the ears are cupped with the fingers,
The humming sound which is [normally] present is absent,
This is called the ‘interruption of the natural sound of the dakinls from within
Mount Sumeru’,29And it indicates that one may die after seven or thirteen days.
[Alternatively], on a morning when the sun is shining,
One should turn one’s back to the sun,
And if no evaporation [is seen to] rise from the crown of one’s shadow,
This is called the ‘rupturing of the Wish-granting Tree from the Summit of Mount Sumeru’,30
And it indicates that one may die after five days.
[Also], if a single tuft of hair exceptionally rises upwards from the posterior fontanelles,
This is called ‘the black lord of death, one-legged Yavati, arising as an enemy against the Wish-granting Tree’,31
And it indicates that one may die after seven days.
Whichever of these [signs of] death occur,
They indicate the specific time-frame [of impending death].
Therefore, upon the occurrence of such [signs], the Ritual Deception of Death should be performed three times.
If this is carried out [successfully], untimely death will be averted.
One should [therefore] exert oneself and persevere in [applying] the practical instructions,
As [taught] in the Natural Liberation of Fear through the Ritual Deception of Death.
But if the ritual deception does not take effect,
Despite being performed on three occasions,
Death is definite, for one’s lifespan is at its end.
MISCELLANEOUS SIGNS OF DEATH32
Here follows the presentation of the miscellaneous signs of death.
Regardless of whether one is sick or healthy,
If one cannot see the point of the nose with the eyes,
One may die after five months.
If one cannot see the tip of one’s own tongue,
One may die after three days even if one is not sick.
If, when one gazes at the surface of a clear mirror,
One cannot see with one’s left eye, one may die after seven months.
[Usually], when one breathes into the palm of one’s own hand [from close by], it will feel warm,
And when one does so [from a distance] it will feel cold,
But if these [sensations] are reversed,
One should know that one might die after ten days.
If, when one looks for one’s reflection in a vessel filled with water,
No reflections, images, or the like, are apparent,
This too is a sign of death.
If, when bathing, water does not cling to the area around the heart,
Or if the water dries out [quickly] around the heart, this may indicate death.
It is [also] said that if no sound is emitted when one snaps the fingers, this may indicate death;
And if the anklebones protrude from the legs,
It is said that one may die after one month.
[Furthermore], it is said that if one leaves no footprints in soft
earth, this may indicate death,
And if one becomes weaker after having eaten nutritious food,
And if one’s shadow changes [its shape unnaturally], this too may indicate death.
When lice and nits [suddenly] gather or leave, this may indicate death.
If a former temperament, peaceful or wrathful, is reversed,
And if a former pattern of behaviour, good or bad, changes,
These too are signs indicative of a person’s death.
If one’s image reflected in water or in a mirror lacks a head or limbs,
This too may be a sign of death.
If there is a retraction of the penis and protrusion of the testicles, or vice versa,
If a previously unheard pulmonary wheezing sound occurs,
And if one cannot sense the smell of a dying butter lamp,
These are said to be signs that one will certainly die [imminently].
In addition to such signs, the following may also occur:
A turbid confusion and darkening of normal consciousness,
A loss of one’s former appetite,
Embarrassment and incapacity in undertaking virtuous acts,
A [restless] urge to leave, and an inability to stay in one place,
Discomfort in bed and inability to fall asleep,
Recurring amnesia and disorientation, Recurring memories of one’s former
kindred, and the desire to be with them [again],
Death wishes and the desire to commit suicide,
The desire to roam and travel alone, without companions,
Inertia, faintheartedness, and character changes,
Poor physique and the convergence of many different illnesses,
Dreams which are disturbed and recurringly negative,
The welling up of powerful mental anxiety,
Impious behaviour, which does not avoid the five poisonous, dissonant mental states,
Lack of clarity and loss of faith in the [sublime] instructions,
And incontinence or constant secretion of generative fluids.
Such are the [miscellaneous] signs that death is near.
Examine and scrutinise them with awareness!
Then, [if the time of death has arrived],
The transference of consciousness should be performed!33
SIGNS OF EXTREMELY NEAR DEATH
Now follows the presentation of the signs of extremely near death:
The five sense faculties dissolve sequentially,
And as a sign of this [imminent] demise of the sense faculties,
One will be unable to digest food and drink, and one may vomit.
Bodily warmth will diminish, the neck will not support the head,
And one will feel that the head is sinking downwards.
Then the five elements will dissolve as follows:34
The internal earth element comprises flesh and bone.
As an indication of its dissolution into the external earth element,
The body will grow heavy, and its skin will sag towards the ground,
Whereupon, as an internal sign, one will feel that the body is sinking into the earth.
Because the energy of earth will have dissolved into water,
One will be incapable [of supporting] one’s physical form.
Bodily strength will slip away, and consciousness will become clouded.35
The internal water element comprises blood and serum. As an indication of its dissolution into the external water element,
Saliva and nasal mucus will be secreted,
While the throat and the tongue will become dry.
Because the energy of water will have dissolved into fire,
The warmth of the body will slip away,
And consciousness will oscillate between clarity and dullness.36
The internal fire element comprises warmth.
As an indication of its dissolution into the external fire element,
The eyes will roll upwards, and one will no longer recognise people.
Because the energy of fire will have dissolved into wind,
The warmth [of the body] will converge.37
The internal wind element comprises breath.
As an indication of its dissolution into the external wind element,
The breath will become wheezy, and the limbs will quiver.
As an internal indication, consciousness will become turbulent,
While mirage-like flashing and fleeting [visions] will arise,
And [concurrently] all lice and nits will leave the body.38
[Then], the red ‘generative essence’ derived from one’s mother will rise upwards,
And the phenomenon called ‘redness’ will occur,
Wherein all appearances are suffused by redness.
At that point, appearances will dissolve into the ‘[subtle mental consciousness of] increasing [redness]’,
And the forty patterns of conceptual thought that originate from attachment will cease.39
[Then], the white ‘generative essence’ derived from one’s father will fall downward,
And the phenomenon called ‘whiteness’ will occur,
Wherein all appearances are suffused by whiteness.
At that point, the ‘increasing [redness]’ will dissolve into the ‘[subtle mind of] attainment’,
And the thirty-three patterns of conceptual thought that originate from aversion will cease.
[During this process, each exhalation of] breath will become increasingly protracted,
While all the blood of the body will converge in the ‘life channel’,40
And then a single drop of blood will form at the heart-centre.
In this way, the phenomenon called ‘blackness’ will occur,
Engulfing the suffocating mind in blackness,
And one will experience the sensation of falling into darkness, as if into an abyss.
At that point, ‘attainment’ will dissolve into the ‘[subtle mind of] near attainment’,
And the seven patterns of conceptual thought that originate from delusion will cease.
[During this process], the mouth will open, and the eyes will roll upwards,
[Exposing] their pale underside.
External appearances [will fade], as during the setting of the sun,
And [finally] the sense faculties, memory, and perceptions will all cease,
Whereupon, all [external] appearances will be absorbed into blackness.
At that point, the [exhaled] breath will extend [from the body] by a cubit,
And [all] internal appearances will [also] come to resemble darkness.
Then, the blood in the heart will form two drops, The head will stoop,
And the [exhaled] breath will extend [from the body] by an arrow-length.
Following this, the blood in the centre of the heart will form three drops,
And, with HIKA-like gasps, the [exhaled] breath will extend [from the body] by a double arm-span.41
[Then], the external breath will cease, and, engulfed by blackness, one will become unconscious.
Then, the white and red ‘generative essences’ will meet together at the heart,
And, as this occurs, one will swoon into a state of blissfulness.
Thus, consciousness dissolves into inner radiance,42
Engendering the experience of the ‘coemergent delight’.
[At this point], awareness dissolves into actual reality, at the centre of the heart, [like the meeting of] mother and child.43
[It is at this time that] the inner breath will [also] cease,44
And the vital energy and mind will rest in the central channel.
[At this moment], the inner radiance of the ground dawns
upon all sentient beings,
And, in the case of a few yogins who have achieved realisation,
At this moment, the inner radiance of the path meets [the inner radiance of the ground],45
Like a [meeting of] a mother and child,
And [thus, now], instantaneously, in an ascending and core-penetrating manner,
These [yogins] will actualise the uncreated Buddha-body of Reality,
And through the Buddha-bodies of Perfect Resource and Emanation,
They will perform inestimable actions for the sake of all beings.
[Thus], the three buddha-bodies will be spontaneously present,
And buddhahood will have been attained.
Because of this, one should understand the significance of obtaining a human body,
And cherish the experiential cultivation of the profound [sacred] teachings.
For, even though the genuine inner radiance [of the ground] will [always] arise [at the moment of death],
In the case of all beings who have not [already] realised the [inner radiance of the path],
It will not be recognised.
The [past] births that one has assumed and left behind are countless and infinite,
And, although the inner radiance has indeed arisen an indescribable [number of times],
It has been obscured [again and again] by the dense [fog of] coemergent ignorance,
And [thereby], one has come to wander endlessly through cyclic existence.
This is why it is important to achieve such a secure level [of realisation in this life].
At the moment, [as described above], when the outer breath is about to cease,
Signs will also occur [which indicate] the place of subsequent rebirth.
If [when dying] the right hand quivers, one talks nonsensically, And bodily warmth recedes from under the right armpit,
[This indicates that] one will be born as an antigod.
If nasal mucous and vital wind flow through the left nostril,
And bodily warmth recedes from the left eye,
[This indicates that] one will be born as a human being.
If animal sounds are emitted from the mouth, urine is secreted from the urethra,
And bodily warmth recedes from the genitals,
[This indicates that] one will be born as an animal.
If the skin turns yellowish and lustreless,
And there is salivation, accompanied by sensations of hunger,
While reproductive fluid is secreted,
[This indicates that] one will be reborn as an anguished spirit.
If the right leg shakes, defecation takes place,
Anger is felt, and bodily warmth recedes from the soles of the feet,
It is said that this person will be born in the hells.
If one experiences intense pride, bodily warmth recedes from the ears,
And consciousness is emitted via the ears,
[This indicates that] one will be born as a yaksa.46
If good circumstances prevail [at the time of death],
And if there is minimal impairment of the vital organs, and clear mindfulness,
And if one’s spiritual teacher and fellow practitioners gather together, with an inspired perspective,
And if serum and other signs appear at the crown of the head,
And consciousness is transferred from the crown of the head,
Then, it is said that one will achieve liberation, or take birth among the higher realms.47
Therefore, it is most important [to create] the right circumstances at the time of death.
Furthermore, there are indications and signs of a higher or lower rebirth
That arise after the death of a sentient being.
These relate to changes occurring in the sky, which should be examined over [an appropriate] number of days:
If the sky turns dark brown, or vaporous [clouds] well up,
Or if there are winds, chilling breezes, blizzards and so forth,
All these are indications that the [deceased] will be born among the hell realms.
If a lustreless mist hangs in the sky, and the sun and moon fade,
If there is no wind or breeze, and the sun is obscured,
Or if there are traces of rain, or else if it rains in the evening,
All these are indications that the [deceased] will be born among the realms of anguished spirits.
If the sky turns brownish, and there is unbroken black cloud,
Or if there is a mist and an unpleasantly brown sky,
All these are indications that the [deceased] will be born among the animal realms.
If the clouds in the sky turn yellowish black and assume terrifying forms,
And hurtle fiercely back and forth, driven by the wind, Or if there is thunder and lightning, and the sun and moon become invisible,
All these are indications that the [deceased] will be born among the antigod realms.
If the sky is bright and the sun and moon are clearly visible,
[Or the atmosphere is] utterly clear, without wind or breeze,
All these are indications that the [deceased] will be born among the god realms.
If the sky is bright and clear, and fine white silken clouds appear,
Or if the sun and moon are encircled by aureoles of light,
All these are the indications that the [deceased] will be born among the human realms.
Whichever of the above indications arise,
They signify that the [deceased] will be born in one or other of the six [mundane] realms.
These [signs] will occur either two, three, or seven days after death,
As it is explained in the Tantra of the Cremation of Corpses.48
The indications that one has attained the three buddha-bodies with a pure rebirth,
Or that one has attained liberation in the manner of the sky-farers,
Are explained in the Tantra of the Cremation of Corpses, and in the Liberation by Wearing.49
One should therefore consult these sources in detail.
Since living beings do not know when they will die,
These signs of death should be looked for again and again.
When the signs occur, indicating that one is certainly to die,
Then one should renounce whatever possessions one has,
And clearly call to mind the spiritual teacher,
One’s fellow practitioners, assembled around one, and the oral teachings.
Especially, one should prepare to apply the transference [of consciousness],50
And listen to and reflect on the teaching of the Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States.51
[However], when the external, internal, and secret signs of death do occur,
If one does not perform the Ritual Deception of Death,52
One will incur the downfall of abandoning the assemblies of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities,
Who are the Conquerors, present within one’s own body.53
As a result, one’s commitments will degenerate, and one will proceed to the hells.
It is said that this is even more negative than the [five] inexpiable crimes.
Therefore one should diligently persevere in the practices of the Ritual Deception of Death.
[Furthermore], if consciousness is transferred [too soon],
When [only] one or other of the external or internal signs of death is present,
This is called the ‘slaying of the deities’.
One must not allow this to occur, because the downfall will be extremely great.
But if all the signs of death are completely present, and cannot be averted,
Then, and only then, should one apply the instructions of consciousness transference.
It is said, in the tantras, with regard to the advantages of the timely application of consciousness transference,
That even one who has committed an inexpiable crime
Will proceed to higher rebirths and blissful states,
And can attain liberation, [through the timely application of the instructions on transference].
EMA! I have here presented the Natural Liberation through [Recognition of] the Visual Indications and Signs of Death,
Which is a supporting text to the teaching on the Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States,
An extract from the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities: A Profound Sacred Teaching, [entitled] Natural Liberation through [Recognition of] Enlightened Intention.
O yogins of posterity, comprehend this as it is!
SAMAYA! rgya rgya rgyal
May [this teaching] be encountered by fortunate beings,
Who possess a [positive] residue of past actions,
And who are intelligent, faithful, persevering, and compassionate.
May [the activities associated with this teaching],
The Natural Liberation through [Recognition of] the Visual Indications and Signs of Death, never be exhausted
Until cyclic existence has been emptied!
This is a treasure-teaching revealed by the accomplished master Karma Lingpa. May virtue prevail!