One of the most wonderful teachings of Padmasambhava, the Lotus Born, Guru Rinpoche was written down by the Lady Tsogyal — from a request she made just as the master was about to leave — and she, herself, was worried about death. Although she was a accomplished Dakini, she requested:
“This old woman has no confidence about the time of death. So I beseech you to kindly give me an instruction condensing all teachings into one, which is concise and easy to practice.”
Out of his bountiful kindness and love, Guru Rinpoche taught her, delivering one of the most wonderful and concise oral teaching, now known as:
The Refined Essence of Oral Instructions
Although this teaching is a concise teaching focused on “the time of death” and therefore clearly for advanced students — particularly with its focus on the true nature of reality, of emptiness, of the disolution and death process and completion — the teaching itself is resoundingly inspirational. We can imagine Lady Tosgyal, about to be separated from her beloved teacher — having been with her master since the age of eight — having doubts, and then, the serene Guru emphasizing the essence of practice.
Lady Tsogyal’s Plea
This oral teaching, and the Lady’s hearfelt plea, resonates with both beginning and senior Tibetan Buddhist students: if the great Lady can have doubts — despite years of accomplishments — then we need not feel embarrrassed to ask questions of our teachers at all stages of our learning. We need not feel bad about going back to our notes and videos of past retreats; we should not worry if our question seems too basic.
The Lotus Born, kindly instructing even the most accomplished Lady in the basics, is an example for us all. In Tibetan Buddhism, teachers always invite questions.
When the great master was about to leave Tibet, the Lady implored:
“Oh, Great Master! You are leaving to tame the rakshas. I am left behind here in Tibet. Although I have served you for a long time, master, this old woman has no confidence about the time of death. So I beseech you to kindly give me an instruction condensing all teachings into one, which is concise and easy to practice.”
Although every teaching of Padmasambhava, the second Buddha, the Lotus Born is precious, this concise teaching is a wonderful “refresher” for all devoted practitioners.
Guru Rinpoche’s Concise Instructions
The great master replied:
“Devoted one with a faithful and virtuous mind, listen to me. Although there are many profound key points of body, rest free and relaxed as you feel comfortable. Everything is included in simply that.
Although there are many key points of speech such as breath control and mantra recitation, stop speaking and rest like a mute. Everything is included in simply that. Although there are many key points of mind such as concentrating, relaxing, projecting, dissolving, and focusing inward, everything is included in simply letting it rest in its natural state, free and easy, without fabrication.
The mind doesn’t remain quietly in that state. If one wonders, Is it nothing?, like haze in the heat of the sun, it still shimmers and flashes forth. But if one wonders, Is it something? it has no color or shape to identify it but is utterly empty and completely awake—that is the nature of your mind.
Having recognized it as such, to become certain about it, that is the view. To remain undistracted in the state of stillness, without fabrication or fixation, that is the meditation. In that state, to be free from clinging or attachment, accepting or rejecting, hope or fear, toward any of the experiences of the six senses, that is the action.
Whatever doubt or hesitation occurs, supplicate your master. Don’t remain in places of ordinary people; practice in seclusion. Give up your clinging to whatever you are most attached to as well as to whomever you have the strongest bond with in this life, and practice. Like that, although your body remains in human form, your mind is equal to the buddhas’.
At the time of dying, you should practice as follows. By earth dissolving in water, the body becomes heavy and cannot support itself. By water dissolving in fire, the mouth and nose dry up. By fire dissolving in wind, body heat disappears. By wind dissolving in consciousness, one cannot but exhale with a rattle and inhale with a gasp.
At that time, the feelings of being pressed down by a huge mountain, being trapped within darkness, or being dropped into the expanse of space occur. All these experiences are accompanied by thunderous and ringing sounds. The whole sky will be vividly bright like an unfurled brocade.
Moreover, the natural forms of your mind, the peaceful, wrathful, semiwrathful deities, and the ones with various heads fill the sky, within a dome of rainbow lights. Brandishing weapons, they will utter “Beat! beat!” “Kill! kill!” “Hung! Hung!” “Phat! phat!” and other fierce sounds. In addition, there will be light like a hundred thousand suns shining at once.
At this time, your innate deity will remind you of awareness, saying, Don’t be distracted! Don’t be distracted! Your innate demon will disturb all your experiences, make them collapse, and utter sharp and fierce sounds and confuse you.
At this point, know this: The feeling of being pressed down is not that of being pressed by a mountain. It is your own elements dissolving. Don’t be afraid of that! The feeling of being trapped within darkness is not a darkness. It is your five sense faculties dissolving. The feeling of being dropped into the expanse of space is not being dropped. It is your mind without support because your body and mind have separated and your breathing has stopped.
All experiences of rainbow lights are the natural manifestations of your mind. All the peaceful and wrathful forms are the natural forms of your mind. All sounds are your own sounds. All lights are your own lights. Have no doubt about that. If you do feel doubt, you will be thrown into samsara. Having resolved this to be self-display, if you rest wide awake in luminous emptiness, then simply in that you will attain the three kayas and become enlightened. Even if you are cast into samsara, you won’t go there.
The innate deity is your present taking hold of your mind with undistracted mindfulness. From this moment, it is very important to be without any hope and fear, clinging and fixation, toward the objects of your six sense faculties as well as toward fascination, happiness, and sorrow. From now on, if you attain stability, you will be able to assume your natural state in the bardo and become enlightened. Therefore, the most vital point is to sustain your practice undistractedly from this very moment.
The innate demon is your present tendency for ignorance, your doubt and hesitation. At that time, whatever fearful phenomena appear such as sounds, colors, and lights, don’t be fascinated, don’t doubt, and don’t be afraid. If you fall into doubt for even a moment, you will wander in samsara, so gain complete stability.
At this point, the womb entrances appear as celestial palaces. Don’t be attracted to them. Be certain of that! Be free from hope and fear! I swear there is no doubt that you will then become enlightened without taking further rebirths.
At that time, it is not that one is helped by a buddha. Your own awareness is primordially enlightened. It is not that one is harmed by the hells. Fixation being naturally purified, fear of samsara and hope for nirvana are cut from the root.
Becoming enlightened can be compared to water cleared of sediments, gold cleansed of impurities, or the sky cleared of clouds.
Having attained spacelike dharmakaya for the benefit of oneself, you will accomplish the benefit of sentient beings as far as space pervades. Having attained sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya for the welfare of others, you will benefit sentient beings as far as your mind pervades phenomena.
If this instruction is given three times to even a great sinner such as one who has killed his own father and mother, he will not fall into samsara even if thrown there. There is no doubt about becoming enlightened.
Even if you have many other profound teachings, without an instruction like this, you remain far away. Since you don’t know where you may wander next, practice this with perseverance.
You should give this oral instruction to recipients who have great faith, strong diligence, and are intelligent, who always remember their teacher, who have confidence in the oral instructions, who exert themselves in the practice, who are stable-minded and able to give up concerns for this world. Give them this with the master’s seal of entrustment, the yidam’s seal of secrecy, and the dakini’s seal of entrustment.
Although I, Padmakara, have followed many masters for three thousand six hundred years, have requested instructions, received teachings, studied and taught, meditated and practiced, I have not found any teaching more profound than this.
I am going to tame the rakshas. You should practice like this. Mother, you will become enlightened in the celestial realm. Therefore persevere in this instruction.”
Having spoken, Guru Rinpoche mounted the rays of the sun and departed for the land of the rakshas. Following that, Lady Tsogyal attained liberation. She committed this teaching to writing and concealed it as a profound treasure. She made this aspiration: In the future, may it be given to Guru Dorje Lingpa. May it then benefit many beings. This completes the Sacred Refined Essence Instruction, the reply to questions on self-liberation at the moment of death and in the bardo.
SAMAYA. SEAL, SEAL, SEAL.
Other features on Guru Rinpoche
- Special Feature: The Quantum Buddha Guru Rinpoche: the Second Buddha who turned the Vajrayana Wheel of Dharma: extensive commentary on mantras and practice
- Padmasambhava, the Lotus Born: “giving up idling and laziness” the importance of practicing incessantly and the path to self-discipline ; as recorded by Lady Tsogyal
- The tens of Padmasambhava: ten foundations of secret mantra; ten faults of being unsuccessful in Dharma practice; ten key points for practicing. Guru Rinpoche teaches Lady Tsogyal
- Padmasambhava: The Eight Great Qualities of Taking Refuge; Taking Refuge in the Three Precious Jewels, the Defining Practice of Buddhism, and How it Can Rescue Us From All Dangers.
 From Dakini Teachings by Padmasambhava Guru Rinpoche. (p. 153). Rangjung Yeshe Publications. Kindle Edition.
Please support the "Spread the Dharma" mission as one of our heroic Dharma Supporting Members, or with a one-time donation.
Dharma by Email
Supporting Member Content
Please Help Support the “Spread the Dharma” Mission!
Be a part of the noble mission as a supporting member or a patron, or a volunteer contributor of content.
The power of Dharma to help sentient beings, in part, lies in ensuring access to Buddha’s precious Dharma — the mission of Buddha Weekly. We can’t do it without you!
A non-profit association since 2007, Buddha Weekly published many feature articles, videos, and, podcasts. Please consider supporting the mission to preserve and “Spread the Dharma." Your support as either a patron or a supporting member helps defray the high costs of producing quality Dharma content. Thank you! Learn more here, or become one of our super karma heroes on Patreon.
Other Popular Stories
The Three Svabhāva and The Five Dharmas: important core concepts from the Laṅkāvātara Sutra — full English Sutra at end of commentary
Wheel of Dharma: Why Prayer Wheels May be the Ideal Buddhist Practice for Busy People; Benefits to Self and Sentient Beings: What the Teachers Say
Transforming demons; “Get thee behind me Mara!”: how Buddhism exorcises demons; transformation but no destruction
Meditation retreat today is vital and precious and helps us have direct experience of “One Mind, One Body”: teacher Theodore Tsaousidis
A Bee’s View of Buddha Dharma: “caring for bees” is a noble karmic act of the Pāramitā (Perfection) of Metta (loving kindness)
Lighting the inner fire: subtle body as the path to Enlightenment — the five chakras, three channels and two drops of Tantric Buddhism and their practice
Drumming for Mindfulness — a simple way to calm the mind, remove stress and heal. Studies show drum meditation supports treatments of cancer, Parkinsons and depression.
June 20, 2022: “This Week I’m Thankful For…”: Saga Dawa, H.H. Dalai Lama, neighbors who care, a cancer breakthrough, forests and fungi…
Author | Buddha Weekly
Josephine Nolan is an editor and contributing feature writer for several online publications, including EDI Weekly and Buddha Weekly.