Significance of Thukdam for Humanity

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On May 5th 2021, His holiness the Dalai Lama held a virtual conference with Russian neuroscientists who had been studying the phenomenon of thukdam at Buddhist monasteries in India for several years. In August 2020, IANS had reported on Tibetan Buddhist scholar in Taiwan in the state of thukdam after being declared clinically dead on July 14.

The Tibetan word, “thukdam” refers to a Buddhist meditative practice in which an accomplished meditator is absorbed in the process of inner dissolution of the five principal elements and consciousness back into the primordial light after clinical death.

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The five principal elements are: Prithvi, Jal, Agni, Vayu, Akash (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space-Consciousness, Energy). Taiittiriya Upanishad discusses the five principal elements. There is a temple dedicated to each of the five principal elements in South India.

His Holiness explained, “When an ordinary person dies, there is a dissolution of the five principal elements (at the moment of clinical death). My senior tutor, Ling Rinpoché, remained in thukdam for 13 days, Recently, a monk at Kirti Monastery remained in this state for 37 days.”

“This is an observable reality, which we need to be able to explain. Since the body of a person going through this process can remain warm, it may be that the earth, water and fire elements remained (even after clinical death).”

Russian scientists examined 104 monks in meditation, and they observed a monk in thukdam for 37 days at the Gyutö Monastery. A forensic physician examined the physical body at various states after death, The scientists noted that the body of a person in thukdam was in a quite different state from the body of someone undergoing the ordinary process of death. They said this was the first scientific evidence of the phenomena.

Light on fundamentals

His Holiness observed, consciousness has no beginning and no end. The universe may end one day, but consciousness is forever.

What does this mean, and how does it make any sense?

In 2014, modern physics discovered that the universe cam into existence pursuant to a Big Bang event some 13.8 bullion years ago when it was an incredibly small (about the size of 10-33 cm in diameter), unbelievably hot and immensely dense energy phase. So, on the one side of this energy phase is the ever expanding universe, but on the other side, there is absolutely nothing, a void.

No product of reason can explain how nothing can create something physical, the energy phase of the Big Bang. The only logical explanation is that consciousness by its own desire created the energy phase of the Big Bang.

So, consciousness was there even before the creation of the universe, and will remain even if, or when, the universe comes to an end.

Consciousness and energy are intricately linked. Where there is consciousness, there is energy. Said Paratpara Shiva (Void, nothingness, potentially, consciousness) in a Puranic story eons ago, “Adyashakti (primordial energy) is incomplete without me, and I am like a corpse without her.”

We come from the source, and we should want to return to the source. Through the process of thukdam, the accomplished meditator is on his journey home. A warm body is an indication that energy and consciousness and present during thukdam many days after clinical death. See this video clip of a Thai Buddhist monk leaving his body consciously in about six minutes.

Thukdam for a Pathway to Peace

The scientists asked His Holiness, what value could the study of thukdam bring to humanity? His Holiness replied, never mind about reaching enlightenment, all seven billion people today need peace of mind. We need to understand the workings of the mind and the system of emotions.

So, His Holiness is alluding that the accomplishments of the meditator in thukdam are worthy of pursuit by the rest of us, in our own lifetime. Here is how.

Everyone strives for just one thing throughout life: happiness, but since all emotions invariably come as a pair of opposites, what we are really searching for is blissfulness, happiness under all circumstances. Blissfulness is Satchitananda in Sanskrit.

Unfortunately, we are either searching for the wrong thing, or we are going about it the wrong way, creating problems for ourselves and for others.

My previous article in India currents explained that much of the world swears by reason, but Satchitananda requires transcending reason to the domain of consciousness, and internal excellence, or equivalently, emotional excellence, is the bridge to get there.

Unfortunately, the pursuit for higher levels of motional excellence is not an intellectual exercise. The required positive changes have to come about from within.

Furthermore, the know-how of the domain of reason can only deliver limited success in many situations. For real progress, it is necessary to enjoin these efforts with a pursuit for higher levels of emotional excellence to bring about positive changes from within, and this is possible with meditation. The accomplished meditator in thukdam proves the hypothesis.

Even limited progress will bring a myriad of benefits. Having a device to estimate emotions will instill a sense of confidence that the practice of meditation is working.

Russian scientist, Dr. Konstantin Korotkov, has developed a device called Bio-Well that can estimate emotions. Here, a harmless electrical current is applied to the fingertips of both hands, one at a time, and the finger’s response to this electrical stimulus is a burst of photons that are captured and analyzed with software to estimate the emotional state of the subject. The measurement is painless, noninvasive, and takes only a few minutes.

The GDV technology upon which Bio-Well is based, is registered with the FDA, EU, and Russian. Ministry of health. For a demonstration of how the measurement is made, see this short video clip.

The stress parameter ranges from 0 to 10. The higher the parameter, the higher the stress. Negative emotions elevate stress, positive emotions do not.

Unlike a human being, the metal cylinder glow is unaffected by external circumstances. It would be interesting to contemplate what the image of an accomplished meditator in, or not yet in, thukdam might reveal.

In Closing

The ideas and concepts presented here are a subset of a scientific framework for external and internal excellence. Presentations on the framework have been made in several countries including the Office of the Indian Prime Minister in New Delhi and the Parliament of Peru in Lima always to enthusiastic audiences.

Buddhist monks and yogis are masters of the practices of internal/emotional excellence. Still, they need to be aware of the scientific framework for external excellence. At the prodding of His Holiness, Buddhist monasteries have introduced science in their curriculum, but there is a compelling need to also introduce statistics and six sigma, the scientific methodology for the pursuit of external excellence and to understand the link of internal/emotional excellence to the performance in the external world.

His Holiness has prodded Indians to learn about ancient Indian wisdom, and I might add, it is neither wise to belittle it, nor to make wild claims that cannot be corroborated. The world should be grateful to His Holiness and the Russian scientists for making their interaction public.

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