What are yogis doing when they meditate after they stop breathing?

May 8, 2023



Dear Venerable,


I hope you are well.


I understand that for ordinary people it can take up to three days for the person’s mind to leave their body after they stop breathing and that it’s good to do prayers for them during that time to help them get a good rebirth.


But in the case of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who’s a higher being, why would his mind remain in his body? You don’t need to say prayers for him. 


How are these not two conflicting ways to approach the death process? If it’s the case that a higher being can control the departure of the consciousness, why would they choose to spend a few extra days in that body?


I don’t mean to sound insensitive, I am interested in the death process.


Much love,




Dear V, 


In general, what we all need to do on our path to enlightenment, what the path actually consists of, is to gradually lessen the delusions and grow the virtues until eventually we’ve achieved Buddhahood: the state of the eradication of all delusions and the perfection of all virtue and wisdom.


The quickest way to eventually realize emptiness, cut the root of samsara, and gain the various realizations, is with a subtle level of mind in single-pointed concentration – in fact, we can’t get far without that.


And the subtlest and therefore most capable and powerful level of mind comes naturally at the end of the death process.


Ordinary people are not conscious of it, of course, but the high beings such as Rinpoche are totally in control. They’ve spent their lives training their minds to get to these subtler states. Rinpoche talks about this in the chapter called “Death is What the Yogis Have Been Waiting For” in How to Face Death Without Fear. 


So what the realized yogis are doing by staying in their body after they’ve stopped breathing is, basically, meditating: removing the various obstacles to liberation and omniscience.


Some yogis stay in meditation for days, weeks; Lama Yeshe stayed in meditation for five days. 


For Rinpoche, it seemed that he stopped his meditation after a couple of days. Rinpoche would either have taken rebirth already, having chosen where he wanted to be reborn, or he is in a pure land.


So let’s ask him to return quickly to us! You can recite the wonderful prayer written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama – 


Peerless Teacher and assembly of children of the victorious ones, śrāvakas, pratyekabuddhas;

Victorious Lozang, father and sons, together with your lineage;

All the objects of refuge of the infinite lands—

Please now bestow the virtue and goodness to accomplish this prayer. 


In holding and spreading the Muni’s (thub) precious and complete teachings (ten)

Through explanation and practice,

You wore the armor of patience (zopa) that is never discouraged,

Incomparable venerable guru, to you I make request.


Sole gateway through which all benefit and happiness emerge,

While striving exclusively for the welfare

Of the Victorious One’s teachings and mother living beings

You suddenly departed to peace – such a great loss!


Nevertheless, through the undeceiving truth 

Of the blessings of the ocean of the Three Jewels

And the great waves of the mind-generation of the children of the victorious ones,

May the smile of a new reincarnation swiftly beam in glory for fortunate disciples.




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