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Geshe Dakpa Topgyal: Rebirth
Dateline: Columbia: March 2, 2001


Rebirth is the process of coming back into a new body and a new life.
Both rebirth and reincarnation are the process of coming back, but the
words cannot be used interchangeably. In rebirth, an ordinary human
being is forced to return to samsara. In reincarnation, a choice is made
to come back for a specific reason and purpose.
In Tibet you can meet reincarnated lamas. They have come back mainly to
serve others; they have made an unbreakable promise to do so.
Even among Tibetans it’s difficult to understand or believe in life
after death. The process does not have to do with the physical body, but
the mind or consciousness. If we believe the mind is energy, we can’t
possibly believe in rebirth or life after death. That’s because the body
is the source of energy, and at death, when bodily functions end, the
energy ceases.
While Christians believe in a life after death – heaven or hell –
Buddhists believe in a series of lives.

The three levels of consciousness:

It is difficult to understand rebirth or reincarnation if you don’t
understand the nature of mind or consciousness. The mind, according to
Buddhism, has three levels: gross, subtle and very subtle.
The gross mind relies on the body’s functions. When something goes
wrong with the body, that dysfunction may affect the mind (e.g. strokes
or brain injuries). When the body stops, the gross mind stops.
The subtle mind’s existence is only partly tied to the functions of the
body. The subtle mind continues from life to life, but does not carry
all the information necessary.
The subtle mind is not considered an entirely safe container or "Swiss
bank" for all the information that travels from life to life. The subtle
mind can be influenced by external factors.
The very subtle mind is the "clear light of mind." It has nothing to do
with body functions. However, it remains inactive during our lives, its
latent potential activated at death. When the functions of the gross
mind stop because the body’s functions have stopped, at the last stage
of physical death (near black attainment), the clear light of mind
The very subtle mind cannot be affected by external factors. It safely
carries information from the past to the present and from the present to
the future.

Further explanation:

We can use reasoning to understand the possibility of rebirth or
reincarnation by understanding the essence of mind or consciousness,
which may momentarily change but does not lose its essence.
First, we know a cause must arise before existence. What is that cause:
material or immaterial?
If we believe consciousness is a material substance, we must ask if a
material substance produces or causes mind or consciousness. Then we
must divide the material cause in two, the substantial cause and the
contributing cause or cooperating force.
Consider a mango, which is a material substance. The substantial
material cause would be the mango seed in soil; contributing material
causes would be heat, fertilizer, and moisture.
The material cause itself turns into its effect. The mango seed becomes
the mango.
Or consider a gold ring. When a gold ring is made from gold, the gold
metal is the substantial material cause of the forthcoming gold ring. A
jeweler can turn gold into a gold ring without changing the essence of
the gold. The cause itself turns into its effect.
Now, consider consciousness again. If the cause of very subtle
consciousness is material, then we would have a substantial material
cause of consciousness and a contributing material cause. The
substantial material cause would have to turn into consciousness without
changing its essence. Why? Because the cause turns into its effect; the
essence is unchanging.
According to Buddhists’ understanding then, consciousness is not
material. Why? Because it’s impossible for a material thing to turn into
mind or consciousness without changing its essence.
The uniting of sperm and egg don’t qualify. The sperm and egg serve as
substantial cause of the gross body and mind, not of very subtle
consciousness. The bardo being, when it finds its new body, has a strong
influence on the united sperm and egg, but is not the cause of very
subtle consciousness, either.

Further distinguishing subtle and very subtle consciousness:

Our five senses arise when we come into contact with objects and
stimuli. Beneath each of the five senses is a consciousness through
which information goes to the subtle consciousness and is stored. The
subtle consciousness serves as a conduit of information from the five
senses to the very subtle consciousness.
The subtle consciousness has some sense of "I" and "you." The very
subtle consciousness has no "I," no duality.
The subtle consciousness is not entirely reliable as a container of
information as consciousness moves from life to life, while the very
subtle consciousness is reliable.
It is necessary to understand the very subtle mind to understand karma.
The essential nature of the very subtle consciousness is not different
from one person to another. However, each person’s karmic information,
carried by the very subtle consciousness, is different.
Modern science, when it talks about mind or memory, talks about the
grosser levels of mind, neurons, cells, chemistry, not very subtle
Very subtle consciousness goes life to life, life to life without
changing its essence, going from past to present to future without
changing its essence. We are not talking here about a physical location,
but movement through time.

Activating clear light of mind, or very subtle consciousness, through

Through meditation the clear light of mind can be activated and
experienced, through gaining control of the body functions, stopping
gross mind and its thoughts. When conceptual thoughts cease during
meditation, the mind returns to its natural state, unbiased, neither
attracted nor repulsed by anything. Once we have that meditation
experience, once we have that control of our mind, we can use special
techniques to activate very subtle consciousness. If we understand clear
light of mind, we can understand rebirth or reincarnation.
In meditative equipose, we learn to remain in clear light of mind. We
can become one with clear light of mind and share very subtle
consciousness temporarily. But at the end of meditation, we return to