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Craving and clinging at the time of death

Craving and clinging at the time of death

Part of a series of teachings on a set of verses from the text Wisdom of the Kadam Masters.

Wisdom of the Kadam Masters: Craving and clinging at the time of death (download)

To continue a little bit more on craving and clinging as forms of attachment in the line,

The best sign of higher attainment is a decrease in your attachment.

In the 12 links of dependent origination, normally craving comes after feeling and clinging comes after craving. The reason that feeling precedes craving is because we have a pleasant feeling so we crave to have more of it, not be separated from it. We have an unpleasant feeling and then we crave to be free of it. That’s just talking about in our daily lives.

I also wanted to mention a little bit about the translation terms. Everybody seems to agree that taṇhā, the one that is translated as “craving,” can also be translated as “thirst.” That’s literal translation. You’re thirsting for something. Craving. Aren’t you? You’re thirsting. It has that literal translation.

And then “clinging”, upādāna, some people translate it as “grasping.” However, I think that’s quite confusing because we also have the grasping at true existence. So in the Theravada they translate upādāna as “clinging” and I think that works better because in the Tibetan sometimes they’ll translate upādāna as grasping, and then they’ll talk about the appropriated aggregates, translating upādāna as “appropriated.” Like the “I” appropriates the aggregates, the “I” takes the aggregates. Appropriate is kind of a neutral word, it doesn’t have a lot of intensity, “the ‘I’ appropriates the aggregates.” If you use “clinging” then it’s the “clung to” aggregates. Which to me really emphasizes exactly what we’re doing. “The clung to aggregates.” We are stuck on these polluted aggregates and don’t want to be separated from them. To me being able to translate it as “clung to” has a lot more impact than “appropriated.” So that’s why I shifted over, also how the Theravadans usually translate that one.

Anyway, that’s just a little bit of an aside, because translation terms can make a difference.

At the time of death craving and clinging arise very strongly in all beings who have not realized emptiness directly. Even on path of accumulation, path of preparation, craving and clinging arise at the time of death. What are we craving and clinging for? Aggregates. Because aggregates are the basis of designation of the self. Without the aggregates, we are lost.

At the time of death the craving…. At first we seem to crave for our present aggregates. We don’t want to be separated from them. Our present identity, our wealth, our status, the people we care about, our body. There’s very strong craving at the time of death. And when it becomes apparent that we’re going to lose this set of aggregates the craving shifts over to, well, I’ve got to have the next set of aggregates. And then clinging is an increase of that craving. “I want a body a body and mind, I want a body and mind.” Intense kind of clinging to that. And those two together–the craving and the clinging–are what fertilize the karmic seed (or seeds, depends) that are going to ripen and produce the next life. So one point at which the series of 12 links can be cut is between feeling and craving. In our daily lives, we can cut the creation of polluted karma by just experiencing the feelings but without craving (to have more of the good ones or to be free of the unpleasant ones). And at the time of death, we can cut cyclic existence at that point between feeling and craving by not craving the aggregates. It’s like, “time to go, bye bye.” And aspiring for rebirth in the pure land or whatever it is. So it’s really important at the time of death to lessen our craving and clinging, or to shift them towards something virtuous. The danger happens at the time of death when all these different visions occur is that the mind can crave and cling for something that is really bad, and then we wind up in an unfortunate realm because a seed of negative karma has ripened. So quite important at that time to keep the mind virtuous, and when craving and clinging arise direct them towards a precious human life or rebirth in the pure land, or whatever. And then, of course, the ultimate thing is to realize emptiness directly, at which point the craving and clinging don’t occur.

[In response to audience] Craving and clinging, in us ordinary beings, will definitely occur. Yes.

[In response to audience] That can help us, but also not just the feelings–because craving and clinging at death can arise just for the aggregates themselves, or for our identities, or whatever it is. So to really see the disadvantages of holding onto those things.

[In response to audience] Right. The aryas have feelings, but they don’t crave the feelings.

The stream-enterers and the once-returners would have unpleasant feelings, but I think once you get to non-returner then I don’t think so. But that’s for the hearers and solitary realizers. We’re talking about aryas here. Yes.

[In response to audience] Anything you do in the Six-Session Guru Yoga you dedicate for rebirth in Shambhala, in King of Prayers it’s in Sukhavati….

This has always been a dilemma I’ve had, too, so I’m sharing it with you. Because also, they say, when you die try and meditate (if you’re doing transforming death, bardo, and rebirth into the path) try and meditate on that when you’re dying. But do you do that, or do aspire for rebirth in Sukhavati?

I was reading the teachings of one geshe about the pure lands and his recommendation was really put the mind on the pure land, in the sense that really unless we have very strong understanding of emptiness actually transforming death, bardo, and rebirth at the time of death is going to be extremely difficult.

This geshe in particular, he favored the rebirth, you know, because he was saying for us ordinary beings it’s a more protected situation, where you don’t create so much negative karma like you do here. On the other hand, if you’re born with a precious human life there’s more opportunity to practice tantra. But are we really ready for it?

One thing His Holiness doesn’t advocate is all this attention on powa, powa, powa as if you can do what you want and then at the time of death practice powa and transfer your consciousness to the pure land. Because if you haven’t created much good karma, that’s not going to happen and having other people do powa, unless they have strong realizations, is not going to do much good.

[In response to audience] Amitabha pure land is one that’s very easy to go to because you don’t have to be an arya, and Akshobya’s pure land also is recommended, you don’t have to be an arya for that one either. So those two are the primary ones. Amitabha happens to be really popular. It’s kind of like Cancun, you know? Everybody knows about it, everybody wants to go there. But no hurricanes. [laughter]

But Rinpoche’s advice is very good, to make that a daily thing and dedicate for that daily.

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.