The five strengths; the way you behave matters.
Power of the Virtuous Seeds
These same five powers we have been discussing, (though in a different order), will also help us achieve bodhichitta at the time of death.
The first of the five powers is the power of virtuous seeds. When we know we are going to die, the first thing we do is to give up all our possessions. We should rid ourselves of any attachment or clinging we have to our worldly things and give them with a happy mind to whomever they can most help, thinking: "May these be used by this person." We should do this without any attachment, thinking: "Because I was attached to many different things, the disturbing emotions of passion, attachment, ignorance, and so on, have arisen. Now I need to be rid of all these things, and so I give them without any attachment at all for whatever purpose they can best be used."
Power of Aspiration
Second is the strength of aspiration. The particular aspiration here is: "In this life and in all following lives, may I not succumb to the tendency of treasuring myself as more important than others. May self-cherishing diminish. May I promote again and again loving-kindness and compassion." We can make this aspiration right now, but it is especially important to make when the signs of death begin to appear. We know that there isn't much time left so our sincerity increases and deepens. It is especially important to make that aspiration at this time.
Here we think: "Whatever virtue I have of body, speech and mind, may I, who have practiced mind training in this lifetime, not be separated from it in the intermediate state or in the next lifetime. May I continue to practice bodhichitta and may I not forget the teachings. In the next life may I meet with the teacher who taught me these precious things."
We pray to the lama and the Three Jewels to grant their blessings so that all of this may come about.
Power of Remorse
Third is the power of remorse. The time of death is not an easy one, because we experience a great deal of physical discomfort and pain as well as mental anguish and unhappiness. Rather than feeling despair, we should identify the main cause of our suffering as ego-clinging and make up our mind that at this point: "I will try my best not to create the causes of the negative emotions and karma created out of self-cherishing. I will really try my best to diminish ego clinging from now on into all following lives."
Understanding that we should not commit what causes suffering again in the future is the strength of remorse.
At the time of death we think: "Now I am at the time of death and am experiencing suffering. The cause is attachment to myself as being precious. In reality, there is no ultimate self; the mind is not solid and real and, therefore, there is nothing that actually dies. The suffering I am now experiencing comes from clinging to the idea of myself as precious. It is this that I must destroy."
Power of Goodwill
The fourth power, goodwill, is the most important at the time of death. Whether we are in the bardo or whether we are already in the next life, what is always of greatest benefit is loving-kindness and compassion--treasuring others more than ourselves. This attitude always brings benefit. Understanding this, we should make up our mind very firmly and sincerely: "At all times and in all places I will place special energy in bringing forth the qualities of loving-kindness, compassion, and the vow of a bodhisattva." If we have already trained ourselves in thinking like this now, then it will come back at the time of death, in the bardo state, and in future lives as well. But especially at the time of death, whatever comes to mind is much more acute and we really mean it at that time. Sincerity is much deeper at the time of death, so at that time we should especially take the vow of always placing special emphasis on loving-kindness and compassion.
At this time we pray: "May my bodhichitta increase at the time of experiencing the pain of passing away. May it also increase during the intermediate state between lifetimes, and may I experience it during the next lifetime. May I never be separated from this precious twofold bodhichitta."
The twofold bodhichitta comprises relative and ultimate bodhichitta. It is crucial to have a strong determination to engender bodhichitta at this time.
Power of Familiarization
The fifth power of growing familiar must be practiced while we are alive. We make ourselves more and more habituated to reducing self-cherishing and increasing loving- kindness and compassion. Some practitioners die while in sitting meditation. If we cannot do that, we can die in the reclining position. The Buddha died in the position called "the reclining lion," where we place the right shoulder on the ground, one hand to the cheek, lying comfortably on our side. As we die, we gently let our attention remain in loving- kindness and compassion, making the strong wish to be of benefit to all living beings, (relative bodhichitta) or to understand that all phenomena are just mind, like dreams, like magical illusions, like a mirage (ultimate bodhichitta). Passing away like this has tremendous benefit, not only at that particular time but also for future lives. This is the outcome of the fifth power of familiarization.
The second half of this instruction is, "the way you behave matters." It is very important how we actually pass away. Jamgon Kongtrul wrote in his commentary, "There are many instructions for practitioners on how to die, but this particular one, which utilizes the fivefold strength at the time of death is most wonderful." He praised it as being of special importance for practitioners to acquaint themselves with this way of passing.
At the time of death, we use the power of familiarization or habituation by thinking: "I have practiced bodhichitta and will not forget it, no matter what suffering I am currently experiencing. I will continue to practice bodhichitta during the suffering I am experiencing now, during the intermediate state, and in the next lifetime, I will not forget it."
It is very important that we make a great effort to practice bodhichitta now because when we are in the midst of sickness and suffering it is not easy to follow through. We have to rely on the force of familiarity to maintain our resolve during trying circumstances.
To be more specific: there are some methods we can physically invoke to help the practice. It is said that the very best thing we can do is sit in the sevenfold posture of Vairocana. If that is not possible, we should lie down on our right side with our right hand on our right cheek, blocking the right nostril. This is because the winds of karma go through the right subtle channel and right nostril. The wisdom air moves through the left subtle channel, which is why the left nostril is kept open. With the air moving through that nostril, we meditate on sending and taking as much as we are able. These are the oral instructions of the Kadampa masters.