Recently, I stumbled upon a fascinating piece in Andrew’s book, Preparing to Die, that left me wondering why such a pivotal practice isn’t more commonly emphasized for those embarking on the Buddhist path. The book delves into the preparation for sudden, unexpected death, highlighting an intriguing approach that seems fundamental yet is not widely discussed.
The essence lies in the mantra “OM MANI PADME HUM”, often associated with Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion. The book suggests that in the face of imminent death, such as in an accident, one should shift their awareness to the crown of their head and recite this powerful mantra. This act, likened to an emergency spiritual transition (phowa), is said to close off the paths to the six realms of samsara and open the gateway to purer realms.
The book emphasizes the importance of integrating this mantra into our daily lives. It suggests that we build a habit of reciting the mantra during life’s ‘small deaths’ – those moments of fear, loss, or shock, like receiving distressing news or facing a personal crisis or IMO, even just walking around. Turning this into a habitual response, the mantra becomes deeply ingrained in our consciousness.
The main idea is that if this habit is well-established, it will naturally arise during the Bardo, the intermediate state after death and before rebirth.
As the Dalai Lama points out, these aren’t just words to be recited mindlessly. Engaging deeply with the meaning of the mantra is crucial (a new practicing student would easily take this to heart). This seems particularly significant for beginners on the Buddhist path. Focusing entirely on understanding and internalizing this mantra, and establishing it as a habitual response, seems vital. Not only does it prepare us for sudden or natural death, but it also guides us to the potential of rebirth in a pure land. There, it is said, one can accelerate their journey towards enlightenment, which is not just a personal achievement but a boon to every sentient being in the cosmos.
Such a practice, considering its dramatic implications, seems like it should be a cornerstone of Buddhist teaching, especially for those just starting their journey.