Thursday, 24 July 2014

How We Sleep

Snow Lion News Letter NY USA Volume 21, Number 2 Spring 2007

How We Sleep 

by Geshe Gedun Tharchin

       Sleep is simply for sustaining the body for the benefit of all sentient beings, inherent to which is the intention of bodhicitta. May I suggest that you sleep in the following position: use the right hand as a pillow under your cheek while lying on the right side of your body, which is said to be the correct position for humans. It is said that the position of the deva is to lie on the back with the body facing upwards. When you sleep with the front of the body flat down that is the position of animals. 
       When you sleep like a deva too much light envelops the body and when you sleep flat down on your body it leads to obscuration. If you sleep in a human position you have access to clear light. It's best to face towards the north with your head eastwards. If your bed is not placed in the room to make this possible imagine yourself sleeping in the correct position. It is easy. The perfect human sleep position is adopted by lions that possess nobility in the hierarchy of beings. Is this not true?
       In Tibetan society many monks die while sitting in meditation. Yet the best practitioners die in a lion position that is more difficult. It is rare that a Lama can die in the position of a lion. Buddha passed away in this manner. Many Buddha images represent him in a lion's position on dying, referred to as a state of Mahaparinirvana Buddha. The Tibetan scholar, Gedun Choephel (1903-1951), was a unique and one the most high ranking scholars in Tibetan history. He said: "In Sri Lanka you find many Mahaparinirvana Buddha statues, which is not the case in Tibet as Tibetans believe that images of the dying Buddha have negative connotations or bring misfortune." The scholar made jokes and criticised the Tibetan tradition of always portraying images of the Buddha sitting. Perhaps Tibetans think that Buddha is always meditating and does not die or lie down? 
       But I personally feel that the Mahaparinirvana Buddha image is very important in order to remember the concept of impermanence, that is, even Buddha had to pass away. He is not eternal. It is useful to look at dying or sleeping images of Buddha in order to recall some dharmic principles. Moreover such positions are also positions of meditation.I always think that sleeping is in a way a "small death." 
       Hence every night we face a small death; all these small deaths train us for the "big death," and we thereby gain knowledge of how to die. The process of falling to sleep involves experiencing the senses in a similar manner to during the dying process. Thus every night allows us to learn how to deal with death.  

. .Ven. Gedun Tharchin, a Lharampa Geshe from Ganden Monastic University, gave this brief teaching on sleep at the LamRim Institute, Rome.