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The Five Elements

As we lie on our deathbed, what emotional, physical and mental experiences would we go through? The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes them in detail. Let’s have an overview.

As previously seen, all these experiences are controlled by the vajra nadi and so they will come in waves, i.e. come, go and come again with the intensity increasing each time. Further, as the moment of death approaches, the gap between the two waves will decrease.

The Tibetans say we are structured in the five elements and as death approaches, these five elements withdraw the binding they give to our body-brain system.

The first to go is the earth element and the immediate feeling is a loss of solidity and support. We may be sleeping on a bed but we will feel as if the support has been withdrawn. Because these experiences will come in waves, the feeling of support will return after the wave has passed. We may have an inner feeling that the solidity of the body is dissolving. Momentarily, we will lose our sense of smell.

The next to leave is the water element and we will feel that the juices of our body are drying up. We will get hot flushes. It is these juices which allow us to enjoy life and we could be overcome by a feeling of meaninglessness. Suddenly, the sense of taste would have gone.

Next, the fire element will withdraw. This element gives us sight and we may be swept by momentary blindness. Our loved ones may be at our bedside but suddenly we will be unable to see them. We will start feeling cold, as if heat has left the body. Then the wind element goes and we lose the sense of touch. We cannot feel anything and have a deep empty feeling inside

At the same time, certain feelings will get magnified. Say, we have complained a lot in life. Then all the complaining comes together - just as many flowers make a drop of perfume - and we get an expanded feeling of it.

Finally, the sky (akash) element leaves and we lose the sense of hearing.

If we understand all these symptoms, then at the point of death, we can detach our consciousness from them. Then they will not affect us and we can embrace death in a different way.