Crossing the Ocean of Life and Death
- From TBN, issue 449
- Guru's Talk: Crossing the Ocean of Life and Death
- By Living Buddha Lian-sheng, Sheng-yen Lu
- Translated By Cheng Yew Chung
To my knowledge, a practitioner
must attain Self-Realization and gain mastery over life and death
before he is considered to have crossed the ocean of life and death.
These departed souls are completely purified, and in the view of
Tantrayana, they have transformed their consciousness into wisdom.
The wisdom attained is known as the Root Wisdom and the individual
is said to have accomplished Buddhahood within this present lifetime.
The cultivation as practised by the Scriptural School to attain
Self-Realization and gain self-mastery over life and death hinges
on the Path of Liberation and the Path of Enlightenment (Bodhi)
of the Three Vehicles. This journey takes one through the stage
of Arhat to the ten stages of Bodhisattva, covering the fifty-two
stages to Buddhahood, finally entering into the stages of Buddha-Enlightenment
and Wonderful-Enlightenment before attaining the fruition of Buddhahood.
I feel that the forty-nine days of the Bardo [i.e., the first forty-nine
days after one's death] is crucial, as one can take full advantage
of this period in the Bardo stage to cross easily over the ocean
of life and death. If an individual is not able to take advantage
of this phase, he may have to face karmic obstacles which arise
and deviate him toward the six realms of reincarnation.
I thus feel that the Bardo realm is an important station, not to
During this period, one would go through these stages:
Soul leaving the body.
Completely moving out of the physical body.
The appearance of the inherent pure consciousness.
The appearance of the Bardo states (the entanglement of karmic illusions).
The appearance of the respective stages of the six realms of reincarnation.
(End of the Bardo state).
These experiences are very much similar to the dream state. Unless
one is enlightened to gain self-mastery, most souls in the Bardo
state dwell in confusion, absorbed in illusionary thoughts and attachment.
Some souls in the Bardo state are unaware that they are dead, and
when they finally realize it, a great desire to regain a new body
arises and they may be drawn to rebirth in any of the six realms.
Most people will behave in this fashion. It is extremely difficult
to maintain a clear mind. This is because "what you sow, so shall
To attain Self-Realization and gain self-mastery to cross the ocean
of life and death, a way is revealed through the following Zen story.
A monk by the name of Mei An Miguang once asked the Zen Master Dahui
Yuguang, "I cannot attain the ultimate realization. Where does my
Dahui replied, "Your illness is certainly grave, and no physicians
can cure you. Why? Others die and therefore can no longer live.
But you are still alive and have not faced death. Yet to reach the
Land of Great Bliss, you must experience death once before you can
ever hope to reach it."
This "death experience"
is a journey I have taken.
When I put on the "spiritual travel shoes" given by Guan Yin Bodhisattva,
the four elements of earth, wind, fire and water within me disintegrated,
splitting my skull into eight pieces, revealing the True Buddha.
Then I died. Naturally this "death experience" was not an actual
death event; rather, it spelled the death of all worries, all sense
of self-perception and attachment.
Emotional afflictions, self-perception, and self-attachment arise
from false perception and sensory awareness, the absence of which
allows the complete revelation of the True Identity, True Self,
True Reality, and True Buddha. This explains the "death experience."
Similarly, when an individual resides in the Bardo, the physical
self is considered dead. If the soul can remove all emotional afflictions,
all sense of self-perception and self-attachment, it would be a
cause for celebration.
When the soul immerses in the primordial Buddha Light, this light
within naturally illuminates. How does one explain this? It is simply
due to the absence of emotional afflictions, self-perception, and
self-attachment that reveals the intrinsic presence of the Buddha
Nature, which you are [otherwise] unaware of.
This is known as Tantra, Zen, Prana, Consciousness Only, the Middle
In the past I often said, "Remove self-attachment. Detach! Detach!
Detach! When perception and sense awareness disappear, the indestructible
True Reality shall reveal itself. This is the best opportunity to
attain Self-Realization and self-mastery over life and death."
Dwelling in the Bardo state promises the best opportunity. Hence,
we should awaken souls in the Bardo state in this manner:
Lotus practitioner! You have been wandering in the six realms of
reincarnation since time immemorial, suffering countless times of
life and death in the ocean of suffering till this present day.
Aren't such attachments, such afflictions, such ignorance overwhelming?
Now that you are free from the physical body, you must therefore
free yourself from ignorance, from worries, from self-opinion, from
self-perception, and from sensory awareness.
Once you leave behind
all forms of self-attachment, you shall be liberated from all that
binds you. Lotus practitioner! You must do as instructed and seek
rebirth in the Maha Twin Lotus Ponds of the Pure Land of Ultimate
Bliss and be born from its lotus.
What constitutes self-attachment? It is the 'I', including such
things as status, wealth, spouse, children and grandchildren, sexual
Once a soul in the Bardo state is freed from self-attachment, it
shall be free from all entanglements. This is because the individual
is bound by whatever his thoughts may manifest, thus forever preventing
him from crossing the ocean of life and death. The Lotus practitioner
must feel tired of remaining in the six realms of reincarnation
and recognize that these realms are nothing but suffering, emptiness,
impermanence, and non-existence of the ego self.
As such, the soul should move without distraction toward the Other
Shore, in the direction of the Western Paradise, the Pure Land of
the Maha Twin Lotus Ponds, toward the Pure Land of Joy and Bliss,
toward the Eastern Pure Land of Lapis Jewel Light.......
Such sacred grounds are where saints would dwell. These Pure Lands
are free from the contamination of the five impurities.
Our spiritual duty towards souls in the Bardo state is to awaken
them. It is crucial that these souls stay in meditative stability
and focus on Emptiness.
It is important to be freed from self-attachment. It is crucial
that one understand that all doctrines are illusionary. It is essential
to remain unmovable and keep the mind away from distraction. Hence,
it is vital to take refuge in the Guru, the Buddha, the Dharma,
and the Sangha. Chanting the Buddha epithet is essential, just as
it is important to chant the mantra.
Transfer your consciousness to the purity of the Buddha Land! Be
liberated and attain Buddhahood! Abide in the birthless and deathless
realm of the Dharma body! Dwell in the fruition of non-birth and
You are thus the Compassionate One!