Laurie Anderson leads a meditation on death and rebirth, guiding you through the Buddhist understanding of death, the bardo, and a joyous rebirth. These tracks come from Songs from the Bardo, an album inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Meditating on death is a powerful Buddhist practice that enhances gratitude, helps you embrace impermanence, and increases mindfulness.
Laurie Anderson is one of our greatest living artists. Her work includes spoken word and performance, top-charting albums and music videos, digital art, film, virtual reality, and the invention of ingenious instruments like the tape bow violin and the talking stick. She’s won the Grammy Award and many other honors, and is currently the subject of a fantastic solo show at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.
The time of death
Laurie Anderson: Awakened one, do not let your thoughts wander.
Having arrived at the time of death, think of nothing but the awakened heart, Bodhicitta, love, and compassion; and attain perfect enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, as limitless as space.
Recognize the luminosity of death as the dharmakāya, your own, absolute Buddha nature.
Now the sign of earth is dissolving into water. Water into fire. Fire into air. Air into consciousness.
Awakened one, when your body and mind separate, the luminosity will appear pure and clear, with terrifying brightness. It is hard to discern, shimmering like a mirage on a plane in spring.
Do not be afraid of it. Do not be bewildered.
This is the natural radiance of your own dharmatā, pure emptiness in which there is no essential substance, quality, or color whatsoever.
Therefore, recognize it.
Awakened one, a great roar of thunder will come from within the night, like a thousand thunderclaps simultaneously. Do not be afraid of it. Do not be bewildered.
This is the natural sound of your own dharmatā.
Therefore, recognize it.
Listen. Now the pure luminosity of death is dawning upon you. Recognize it. At this moment, your state of mind is, by nature, pure emptiness without any substance, quality, or color whatsoever.
This is the dharmatā samantabhadri, the all good mother.
Your mind is also unobstructed, pure, and vibrant. This mind is the male Buddha. Samantabhadra the all good father.
Your mind, whose nature is emptiness, and your mind, which is unobstructed, pure, and vibrant, are inseparable.
This itself is the dharmakāya of the Buddha, your absolute Buddha nature. This mind of yours, its inseparable clarity and emptiness in the form of a great mass of light. It has no birth. No death. It is the Buddha of unchanging night.
Awakened one, listen without distraction. Now what is called death has arrived.
Awakened one, with a body like this, you will see your home and family.
As though you were meeting them in a dream, but although you speak to them, you will get no reply.
You will see your relatives and family weeping. So you will think, I am dead.
What shall I do? And you will feel intense pain. Like the pain of a fish rolling in a hot sand.
But now suffering is no use, even though you were attached to your relatives and family, it is no use. So, do not be attached, invoke the lord of great compassion and there will be no suffering or fear.
Since your mind is separated from your body, you cannot settle down. You feel angry and cold and consciousness becomes airy, speeding, swaying, and impermanent.
You will think, So, I am dead, what shall I do now? And you will feel intense and boundless pain.
Do not occupy yourself with all kinds of thoughts, but rest your mind. In its basic state.
But since you are a mental body, you cannot die. And even though your body is cut into pieces, you will recover. You are really the natural form of emptiness. So there is no need to fear. The lords of death are the natural form of emptiness, your own confused projections and you, are emptiness, a mental body of unconscious tendencies.
Emptiness cannot harm emptiness and external lords of death, gods, evil spirits, demons, and so on, have no reality apart from your own confused projections.
So, recognize this.
At this moment, recognize everything as the bardo.
Awakened one, see in this way, without distraction.
As soon as you recognize, you will attain complete enlightenment in the four kayas.
Do not be distracted. This is the dividing line. Where Buddhas and sentient beings are separated. It is said of this moment, in an instant, they are separated. In an instant, complete enlightenment.
If you have not recognized what has gone before, all the signs of the country and place where you’re going to be born will appear. So listen without distraction.
Now you are wandering in the bardo of becoming. If you look into water, you will not see your reflection and your body has no shadow.
There is no material, body of flesh, and blood.
These are signs of the mental body wandering in the bardo of becoming. So now you must concentrate your mind: pointedly, without distraction.
Awakened one, you who are now dead. Listen.
If the womb entrance has not been closed, the time has come to take a body. Give up attachment and yearning for the relatives and friends, sons and daughters you have left behind. They cannot help you.
Call on the name of the three jewels and take refuge in them.
You should bless the womb you are entering as a palace of the gods and invoke the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Especially the lord of great compassion.
Having arrived at the time of birth, think of nothing but the awakened heart, Bodhicitta, love, and compassion.
And attain perfect enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, as limitless as space.
To learn more about Laurie Anderson, visit her website at laurieanderson.com. You can listen to the whole Songs from the Bardo Album on the label’s website or your favorite streaming service. If you want to learn more about the bardo, Robert Thurman’s translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead was an inspiration for Laurie’s album.
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