[Buddha-l] Abhidharma vindicated once again

Dan Lusthaus vasubandhu at earthlink.net
Sun Mar 6 18:23:18 MST 2011


> As for your answer to my second question - whether the state of 'tukdam'
> could be compared to the state of 'nirodha-samapatti' - it is rather
> cryptic, don't you agree ?

What is the "it of that last part? Nirodha-samapatti? Tukdam? My reply?

> To be honest, I expected some kind of affirmative answer to my question,
>[...]But a negative answer would have been just as welcome.
> Could you give it another try, please ?

I gave my honest answer. "another try?" Is this like poking the oracle, so 
if a different answer spills out the second time.

The sources for Tibetan practices and spins on Buddhist theory and practice 
are complex, and not something I claim any expertise in whatsover. What 
little I know of tukdam, it serves a very different function -- it is a 
special meditative condition that certain very adept practitioners engage in 
AFTER death, its significance being that instead of continuing to be 
recycled through the bardos and eventual rebirth, one exits by a sidedoor 
into a great light (which frightens less prepared mortals), or at least gets 
to bathe in the Dharmakaya for awhile.

Rigpa Wiki gives this concise account:

Tukdam (Wyl. thugs dam) is an honorific term for meditative practice and 
experience that is frequently used to refer to the period following the 
death of a great master, during which time they are absorbed in luminosity. 
As Sogyal Rinpoche describes it in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

    A realized practitioner continues to abide by the recognition of the 
nature of mind at the moment of death, and awakens into the Ground 
Luminosity when it manifests. He or she may even remain in that state for a 
number of days. Some practitioners and masters die sitting upright in that 
state for a number of days. Some practitioners and masters die sitting 
upright in meditation posture, and others in the "posture of the sleeping 
lion." Besides their perfect poise, there will be other signs that show they 
are resting in the state of the Ground Luminosity: There is still a certain 
color and glow in their face, the nose does not sink inward, the skin 
remains soft and flexible, the body does not become stiff, the eyes are said 
to keep a soft and compassionate glow, and there is still a warmth at the 
heart. Great care is taken that the master's body is not touched, and 
silence is maintained until he or she has arisen from this state of 


Here, from "A Journal by Tulku Jigme Rinpoche", and excerpt from "The 
Passing of a Great Master, His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche" concerning 

7- 12 February
As I have mentioned in my previous letter, when a great master passes away, 
their tukdam experience is resting in the clear light of the dharmakaya, the 
clear light awareness of the ground of being (zhi'i osal). A realized master 
such as His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche, who is master of masters of 
the heads of all schools including His Holiness Dalai Lama, remains in the 
state of dharmakaya, Buddhahood, resting in the nature of reality, dharmata. 
A master may remain in this state for a few days or longer, prior to 
manifesting sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya enlightened emanations for the 
benefit of sentient beings

His Holiness Sakya Trizin and H.E. Luding Khenchen Rinpoche made 
arrangements to allow Chogye Rinpoche to remain in tukdam as long as he 
wishes with no disturbances. Rinpoche rested for 2 weeks in the tukdam 
state. Some of the high lamas regularly checked Rinpoche's body for signs of 
the completion of Rinpoche's tukdam practice. There was not the slightest 
scent of decay in Rinpoche's room, nor any signs of any fluids or anything 
leaving Rinpoche's body. Rinpoche's skin looked fresh, with his normal 
complexion as though he were still alive. I had a special privilege to be in 
the same room doing my guru yoga practices.

Chogye Rinpoche remained sitting upright in meditation, with his head 
leaning slightly forward and his eyes closed. Many people have commented 
that this is quite amazing from the scientific point of view.

On February 6, 2007, His Eminence completed his tukdam. H.E. Luding Khenchen 
Rinpoche and Khenpo Appey Rinpoche examined the body of His Eminence 
throughout the morning of Feb. 6, and reported all their findings to H.H. 
Sakya Trizin Rinpoche by telephone.

There was no scent of decay in the room, nor any appearance of fluids 
leaving Rinpoche's body.  The high lamas commented that upon close 
examination during the hours of Tuesday morning, there was some subtle but 
noticeable change in Rinpoche's complexion and skin tone, that his fingers 
had become smaller, and that there was no longer any warmth concentrated 
around Rinpoche's heart region, as there had been up to that point.

Here's another account, this time of the passing of Kyabje Tulku Urgyen 

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche passed away quite suddenly, but after he died he 
remained in tukdam for quite a while, longer than the sun was in the sky. 
There are many different levels of tukdam. Some practitioners can remain in 
tukdam due to their training in mundane shamatha and vipashyana; some due to 
proficiency in the visualization practices of the development stage. The 
length the tukdam lasts also varies; some may last for a month, some for a 
few weeks, and others a couple of days. Our Rinpoche remained for just over 
a day. The end of the tukdam was quite amazing; we saw the two types of 
bodhichitta liquid, both white and red, flow out of his nostrils, something 
that is said not to happen to just anyone. I felt it was quite 
extraordinary. Red drops, deep red like blood, appeared from the left 
nostril, and totally clear liquid, but unlike mucous, came out of the right 
one. The tantric root texts explain that the red and white bodhichitta will 
appear from the nostrils of great masters to mark the conclusion of the 
tukdam and this is what happened.

This strikes me as a posthumous honoric that is bestowed on certain 
individuals who were impressive and considered accomplished in life. Since 
such individuals cannot report such posthumous experiences themselves (they 
stay dead), the "verification" comes from external body signs, like rosy 
cheeks, dying in an upright position with a calm demeanor on one's face, 
absence of decay and smell, liquids of certain colors dripping from their 
nostrils... hardly objective evidence of what sort of meditative state the 
non-body might be undergoing much less what destination it is heading for.** 
In any case, what little description we get of the appearance of those in 
nirodha-samapatti in the classical sources (who are acknowledged to have 
undergone that "attainment" *because* they return to consious life) is the 
opposite of "a certain color and glow in their face," etc. -- rather they 
are ashen and virtually corpse-like. The conceptual framework for tukdam is 
bardo theory (phases between death and the next life), but the Theravadins, 
who do accept nirodha-samapatti, reject "intermediate existence" (= bardo) 
theory, so these things can (and usually do) operate in entirely different 
conceptual and doctrinal frameworks.

Overlap might be things like: both tend to be in upright seated position *as 
if* meditating. Both are considered to be in a liminal state in some sense 
conceptually located between life and death.

It's not inconceivable that someone at sometime drew some comparisons, or 
imagined some connections between these two liminal notions (or notions of 
liminality), but each serves a different doctrinal function, and each 
involves very different stipulations and outcomes. One easily imagines the 
Tibetan and East Asian sources for such practices deriving from something 
other than vague and by the time Buddhism settles into Tibet largely 
theoretical discussions of nirodha-samapatti.

So, Herman, still not a simple "yes" or "no," but perhaps a bit more to chew 


** Such deaths are well known elsewhere in the Buddhist world. In China or 
Japan, for instance, those who die in this way, tend to be treated as 
mummies, though they usually are buried for 40 days or so and then redug up, 
and if still perfectly preserved, placed in a niche of honor on display --  
two of the more famous cases being the 6th Chan patriarch, Huineng

and the prominent Ming Dynasty monk, Hanshan Deqing,

both on display (with a third "mummy" nicknamed Abbot Dantian) at Nanhuasi 
(Southern Flower Temple), in Guangdong province, often considered the Sixth 
Patriarch's temple
scroll WAY Down for the mummies.

For the three is ready-to-revere form:

For a history and overview of such "whole-body relics" by Justin Ritzinger 
and Marcus Bingenheimer, see the PDF

Naïve-adherent alert! If you don't like having illusions challenged, don't 
read the next part:

It is well known in the East Asian tradition that such bodies are quickly 
treated AT THEIR DEATH, so that they will be preserved, exhibit no signs of 
decay, smell, etc., though the exact formula and procedure for this form of 
embalming remains a trade secret. The Tibetans, who also apparently have 
their share of such mummies, are in on the secret. I am not, so don't ask. I 
can imagine that the Tibetans got it from the Chinese (as they got much more 
of their Buddhism from China over the centuries than the myth of the Lhasa 
Debates makes permissible to imagine), but not vice versa (e.g., Huineng 
died long before Buddhism, much less mummies, were established in Tibet). 
Nirodha-samapatti is usually NOT part of the discussion.

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