THE STAGES OF DISSOLUTION
AT THE END OF LIFE
An Excerpt from Teachings
by HH Dudjom Rinpoche, Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje
Translated by Lama John Ross
The following account of the progressive stages of the dissolution of the elements and the subsequent occurrence of the three appearances at the time of death is excerpted from a commentary on the practice of the transference composed by Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje.
“For whatever being, when ones karma is exhausted, one dies. The warmth recedes from the extremity of the body, and the warmth of the heart rises. The power of the channels in the four extremities is interrupted. Inhalation and exhalation becomes very faint and then even though one makes great effort it is not possible to breath. At this point the outer breath has ceased, but the inner breath has not yet ceased. This is not the time for quavering longing for ones aggregates or for wringing ones hands. With your lips at the ear of the one who is dying, call their name in a loud voice and tell them three times, "You are dying." Then explain to them as follows:
"The appearances of your life have finished. The appearances of your next life have not yet begun. You are in the intermediate state of the actual nature. Recognize it!
"Now at the time of your death, (1) as the aggregate of form dissolves you feel feeble and your strength is exhausted. (2) As the mirror-like primal-knowing dissolves, your mind becomes unclear and obscured. (3) As the earth element dissolves, your body becomes dry and rigid. (4) As the power of vision dissolves, your sight becomes unclear. (5) As the physical basis dissolves, the lustre of your body fades. (6) As the aggregate of feeling dissolves, your sense of touch diminishes. (7) As the equalizing primal-knowing dissolves, you lose awareness of the three feelings.  (8) As the water element dissolves, your body's moisture such as saliva and so forth dries up. (9) As the power of hearing dissolves, inner and outer sounds become unclear. (10) As the voice dissolves, your voice becomes inaudible. (11) As the aggregate of perception dissolves, you lose awareness of other beings. (12) As the discriminating primal-knowing dissolves, you no longer recall close relationships. (13) As the fire element dissolves, you can no longer digest food. (14) As the power of smell dissolves, your upper winds become sluggish. (15) As the sense of smell dissolves, there is no more sensation of smell. (16) As the aggregate of conception dissolves, all that you are to do cannot even be entered into. (17) As the all-accomplishing primal-knowing dissolves, you lose awareness of doing and needing. (18) As the wind element dissolves, your wind leaves its natural pathways. (19) As the power of taste dissolves, your tongue feels short and thick. (20) As taste dissolves, you no longer experience the six flavors. These are the twenty gross dissolutions.
"Then the manner of dissolution of the subtle inner elements is as follows: As earth dissolves into water, the outer sign is that your body lacks the power to move or to grip. You feel as if you are sinking into the ground and ask to be lifted up. The inner sign is that consciousness becomes clouded and a sort of hazy, wavering experience arises. As water dissolves into fire, the outer sign is that your saliva, nasal mucus and so forth dry up. The inner sign is that your awareness quavers like a mirage and becomes unstable. As fire dissolves into wind, the outer sign is that the warmth of your body diminishes and recedes from the extremities.  The inner sign is an experience of clarity like the flickering of fire flies. As wind dissolves into consciousness, the outer sign is that your breathing becomes longer and it becomes difficult for you to inhale. After inhaling just slightly you require great effort to inhale any further. The inner sign is an experience of clarity like a butter lamp unshaken by the wind. That is the manner of dissolution of the subtle elements.
"Then the occurrence of appearance, increase and near-attainment are as follows: When consciousness dissolves into appearance, there is an experience of whiteness like moonlight in a cloudless sky. The thirty-three concepts that arise from aggression and aversion cease. When appearance dissolves into increase, there is an experience of redness like the sky at sunrise. The forty concepts that arise from desire and attachment cease. When increase dissolves into near-attainment, there is an experience of blackness like pure sky pervaded by darkness. Mindfulness diminishes and one enters a dark and unaware state. The seven concepts that arise from ignorance cease.
"Then as this unawareness is purified, there arises a stainlessness like the morning sky, like a sky free from the corrupting circumstances of moonlight, sunlight and darkness. This is the luminosity of death, the actual basis. Recognize it and remain in equipoise. As to the manner of recognition, for an experienced practitioner of the kind who remains in meditation, at this time according to ones own practice one should make the recognition and rest in it.
"For ordinary individuals this time is not really an intermediate state. They are not able to transform karma and subsequent appearances have not yet arisen. This is the time that the appearances of this life disappear. This is the conducive time at which the transference can be easily accomplished. If one delays after this time, then during the second intermediate state as subsequent appearances progressively arise one comes under the power of karma and conducive circumstances for accomplishing the transference diminish. Thus it is extremely important to practice the transference at this time.”
This was excerpted from A Chariot Bound for the Pure Realm of Bliss: Becoming Buddha Without Meditation, the Instructions for the Transference from the Profound Secret Heart Drop of the Dakinis by Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje. Translation © 2014 by John N. Ross.
 The three feelings are: happiness, suffering and indifference.
 There is a copying error at this point in the original Tibetan text. “Water dissolves into Fire” is repeated instead of “Fire dissolves into Wind” (which is what has been rendered in translation). See vol. 13, p.434, line 6 of the collected works of Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche (hand-calligraphed photo offset edition published in New Delhi).