Death is one of the most important happenings in our life. We will all face death, no matter who we are. We know this and yet somehow we forget. Perhaps it is because of our fear of the unknown that we often pretend that death does not exist. But, according to the Buddhist teachings, death is an opportunity. It is the moment when we can be in our true nature—the clear light state of mind.
Death is not only something that happens on the outside (people see us as dead), but it is also something that happens on the inside. It is an experience of the body and mind. Buddhism explains this experience exactly. The elements that compose our body and mind dissolve into each other one by one. Each dissolution produces a particular mental state. This may seem very foreign, but in fact we experience this every 24 hours. This is called the “little death” and it happens when we fall asleep. The way that we fall asleep is exactly the way that we will die. We can use the little death to train ourselves and learn to navigate this experience. This is how we prepare for a fearless death.
If we can learn how to recognize and abide in the clear light state of mind that happens at death, it will have a profound impact on our next life. In the state between life and death, called Bardo, all kinds of things can appear and provoke our emotions. This is exactly like a dream. It is not real, but it feels real and it creates real reactions in us. We must learn to recognize this dream and maintain a calm, clear mind, for this is when it matters most.