He died in ecstasy.
It happened in this way:
It was a cold, snowy January afternoon in 1971. I was visiting my dear friend Paulino at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. He was making a valiant attempt to recover from a third surgical procedure designed to halt internal bleeding. His doctor had told me that the extreme gravity of Paulino’s condition following the second operation would ordinarily have precluded any further surgery. But Paulino was young. The doctors were also young and they had come to care deeply about this gentle, kindly man. Because of his obvious interest in others and his compassion for them it was natural to care about him.
Earlier, just before entering the Intensive Care Unit I had been stopped by a hospital worker who was cleaning the floor. Although I had never seen him before he seemed to know, through some kind of hospital grapevine, I suppose, that I was going to visit Paulino and that I had some acquaintance with the Spanish language for he took a folded paper from his pocket and in halting English asked me to read the prayer written thereon to Paulino. It was a Catholic prayer, in Spanish, for the desperately ill. “Read it mucho”, he implored.
“From the floor cleaner to the physicians”, I thought. Easy to see why. He was the kindest man I knew. He was a man of good heart, and, as Shakespeare pointed out, “A good heart is the sun and the moon.” More than one person, including myself, had warmed his hands in the fire of Paulino’s warm heart.
For those of us who were privileged to know him, his acts of kindness were legendary. After working hard for a whole year he gave up a much-needed two week vacation to support a friend undergoing great tribulation. And when another friend committed herself to a mental hospital, it was Paulino, and only Paulino, who provided tickets to ballet and other artistic performances and escorted her to these events whenever her doctor permitted outings from the hospital.
In matters great and small, he was a true friend: kind, dependable, quietly cheerful, and committed — in short, a real human being.
And now, sitting at his bedside in the Intensive Care Unit, having just read the Spanish prayer for him, I had an intuitive flash that Paulino would not recover from this third operation. He would be dead within twenty-four hours. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind about it. A short time later I took my leave promising to return again in the evening.
As I drove home I was filled with an intense desire to help Paulino in his perilous condition. But, like untold numbers of people before me, I had no idea how to do that.
I owed Paulino a great spiritual debt. When in 1965, an elderly friend told me I had been deeply involved in the spiritual journey for many lifetimes and that it was time for me to actively resume the journey by initiating a meditation practice, I was less than enthusiastic.
“Exactly what would this meditation consist of?” I asked.
“You’re asking me? You have done this, and taught this for many lifetimes! Choose a time of day when you are usually free and meditate faithfully each day at that time. If you do this, the ancients will speak to you.”
“The ‘ancients’ will speak to me?” I asked skeptically. “You mean I’ll hear voices?”, my tone of voice indicating my amused disbelief.
“No. You’ll not hear voices. But there are treasures reposing in a deep layer of your mind. Meditation will release these treasures in the form of thoughts or images of an order unlike the great mass of thoughts and images constantly arising.”
I was later to learn that the eighth level of consciousness, called the “storehouse consciousness” contains all our lives, everything we’ve known or done, or been. But at the time I tended to pooh-pooh this whole exchange. When I told Paulino about it, however, he begged me not to dismiss it as just so much nonsense.
“In my heart I feel she is right about you, Patricia. Please try. You are always reading and reading, searching for truth. Perhaps this is your way. What has all the reading done for you? Please try.”
So, because of Paulino’s daily nagging I began my meditation practice without a teacher, without a group because they weren’t to be found in Boston in 1965.
What I did find, ultimately, was a human being’s true direction:
1.) To become clear and 2.) To help all beings who suffer. Thanks to Paulino’s nagging, I had found my way.
Following his second operation Paulino was eager to see me.
“I had a great experience when they were administering the anesthesia, “he said, “I can only now remember that it was concerned with great space, and that you must promise you’ll never stop meditating, for now I know it leads to the only reality. If I live through this illness I will join you in meditation practice. And, oh, I saw that sometime in the future you will have a large house on a hill where people will come to study something connected with meditation with you. I will be there too, running the ‘back of the house’.”
And now, Paulino was dying. There was only the wrenching thought; “A dear friend whom I love is dying. If only there were something I could do to help.”
At the time I was living in a Marlborough Street townhouse with my husband and our twenty-month-old daughter. It was also my place of work where I taught over a dozen Yoga classes each week, supervised other classes and conducted a teacher training program. We also provided opportunities for students to practice meditation and to attend introductory classes in Sanskrit and Tibetan languages.
Arriving home from my visit with Paulino, I fed my daughter, handed her over to my husband when he arrived home from our Cambridge bookstore and then taught the six o’clock Yoga class. Throughout these activities my mind was haunted with the question, “What can I do to help Paulino?”
At seven thirty the members of our meditation group arrived for evening practice. I told them of my visit with Paulino, the certitude I had concerning his imminent death and the great desire to help him.
“Strangely”, I said, “two thoughts have appeared in my mind again and again since leaving Paulino. I assume these thoughts are based on my reading. I don’t know from my own experience if they are true or not. The first thought is that sacred teachings are transmitted in three ways and from highest to lowest they are: through mind-to-mind transmission; secondly, through mudra, or silent symbolic gesture; and finally, through ordinary verbal communication.
The second thought, also based on what I have read, is that mantra is the embodiment in sound of a quality of enlightened mind. For example, the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum is the sound embodiment of Great Compassion.
Again, I have no personal experience of this, but since these thoughts, and only these thoughts, have been pressing urgently on my consciousness in these last hours, it has occurred to me that we might recite the Great Compassionate mantra together for twenty minutes, then silently for twenty minutes. We could offer this mantra aloud for Paulino’s benefit. Perhaps, in some way unknown to us, help would come to Paul in one of the three ways described above as a result of our efforts.”
The group agreed and so, for the first time in this lifetime, I intoned the Om Mani Padme Hum aloud with the others. After reciting the mantra in this way for twenty minutes I rang the meditation bell and announced that we would now continue reciting the mantra silently.
I sat on my meditation cushion with closed eyes, silently reciting the mantra over and over with all the single-mindedness I could muster, when all of a sudden, in my inner field of vision, a great golden Buddha flashed, then dissolved. Immediately after I found myself looking at a long single file of people from all ages and cultures, male and female, old and young, in appropriate ethnic and period dress. The last person in the file was Paulino, as he looked in this lifetime, with his right arm thrown up over his head, he face contorted in agony. In some mysterious, unexplainable way I was given to know that I was seeing Paulino in all his lifetimes. Then this image also dissolved.
I had not time to recover from these extraordinary visual flashes when the Clear Light Meditation for the Dying appeared in my mind, line after line, full blown and complete, with the natural power and authority of thunder reverberating in great space. This same quality of immense authority then underlined the thought that I was to use this practice with Paulino this very night.
The entire sequence of events took less than a minute. Opening my eyes I looked around the room. My fellow meditators were all sitting quietly, apparently engrossed in the silent recitation of the mantra. Struck by the great force of this unexpected mental event, I was unable to return to the mantra. I simply sat quietly until twenty minutes had elapsed, then rang the bell signaling the end of the meditation.
There was a little flurry of talk concerning the relative merits of mantra meditation versus focusing the attention exclusively on each exhalation, the practice which most of the group were engaged in under the tutelage of the
Tibetan Buddhist Lama Trungpa Rinpoche. Most seemed to prefer the meditation on the breath and none reported any unusual occurrence. I did not share my own experience with them at that time.
Upon leaving many of the group expressed the wish that our efforts would benefit my dying friend Paulino in some way.
I went to my room and wrote out the Clear Light Meditation for the Dying. It seemed to be engraved on my mind, line for line, so there was no problem with remembering it.
THE CLEAR LIGHT MEDITATION FOR THE DYING
A vast, boundless ocean of Light.
An infinite ocean of radiant light.
The Light is everywhere.
All is Light
There is only the Light.
It is Light exhaling into Light.
Dissolving into the Great Light.
Merging with the Great Light.
Reunion with the Great Light.
Reunion with the vast, boundless ocean of Light.
My husband and I then left our sleeping daughter in the care of one of the students who lived with us. On the drive to the hospital I recounted to him the highly unusual meditative experience I had just had and asked what he thought of it.
“Well, Patricia, you know that Rinpoche is constantly stressing the seeing of what is. Seeing things as they really are. Not looking for visions and such”, he replied.
“I know that very well”, I said. But I was not ‘looking for visions and such’. These things simply happened!” I was a bit annoyed.
Noticing that he asked, “What do I know about such things? You’ll have to discuss it with Rinpoche when he visits next week.”
The introduction of Trungpa Rinpoche’s name into the conversation suddenly reminded me of a private interview, which he had granted me shortly after his arrival in the United States in 1970. At the very beginning of the interview Rinpoche had asked me to recount all of the experiences which I had had during this lifetime which could be subsumed under the label ‘spiritual’.
In response to his request, I included the two following experiences, each of which occurred in 1965 in the first month of attempting to establish a meditation practice.
Having been nagged by Paulino into trying this course of action, I found no difficulty in assuming correct posture; a sofa cushion placed on the floor provided a sturdy, comfortable meditation seat. But what to do? The first day’s session was spent in bewildered confusion. The ten-minute time limit which I had set for myself felt like ten hours.
Since I was completely on my own, I decided on the second day that I would assume the posture, close my eyes and await some kind of inspiration.
In my inner field of vision I seemed to see a small black dot. I decided to simply focus all my attention on that small black dot. This seemed to go well. I had stumbled on something.
As I relaxed with the black dot meditation in the next four days, thoughts seemed to fade off and I found myself sitting for fifteen or twenty minutes, without having planned to do so.
By the end of the first week a new feature was spontaneously introduced; as I contemplated the black dot it was suddenly transformed into a single eye. Although startled, I continued focusing on this single, unblinking eye which gravely regarded me.
When I told Paulino about the eye, he said, “ Ah, Patricia, see what happens when you meditate! The eye of God!”
“ Well,” I replied dryly, “I seriously doubt if it’s the ‘eye of God’. But is an interesting development. I wonder if it will appear again.”
It did; every day. Now, as soon as I sat in meditation, the single eye appeared and I found myself sitting for twenty-five or thirty minutes. At the end of the second week, in the longest sitting to date, I was just about to withdraw from the meditation, when a further development occurred:
The single eye, which heretofore had seemed to hover immediately before me in inner space, was suddenly and spontaneously moved back into the farthest reaches of great space. Although an infinity of space separated us, I could still clearly see the details of the single eye. As I continued to focus on it, a tear appeared in the inner corner of the eye and then started moving slowly toward me over the vast expanse. As I watched the tear moving toward me through billions of miles of great space, it suddenly was transformed into a white pearl whereupon its speed was greatly accelerated. It headed toward me with breathtaking momentum and as it came to a stop just before me, exploded into a perfect white lotus! The lotus immediately dissolved, leaving me with an image- less clear space. Even the tiny black dot was gone.
Awed at the power, grandeur and exquisite beauty of the experience, I nonetheless feel a small shiver of apprehensiveness shoot through me; is this what meditation was all about – seeing things that aren’t really there?
In the days and weeks which followed, however, it seemed that my concern was unfounded. The black dot remained only a black dot and the single eye never again appeared.
The second ‘experience’ occurred at the end of the first month. At this point I was sitting at least one hour each day, and one evening, while waiting for Paulino to come by and escort me to dinner, I decided to sit again until his arrival. I sat in meditation a second hour, during which time day had turned into night. When I arose from the sitting I walked through the dark Beacon Street apartment to my bedroom where I looked out the window at the buildings of Massachusetts Institute of Technology across the Charles River.
My attention was drawn upward and, in the dark night sky over M.I.T., I saw an enormous human heart, miles in circumference, glowing in ruby toned translucence with a dazzling turquoise colored aura radiating outward in all directions. Utterly transfixed, my own heart beating wildly, I wondered, is this an hallucination heralding madness, or is this a wondrous, mysterious event signifying only goodness in this world of suffering? Completely undone by the great heart, I lay on my bed for a while, strangely peaceful and calm, considering what I had just seen. After a while I opened my eyes, and there, on the ceiling of my room, was the glowing ruby heart with the turquoise aura, this time the size of my fist. I peacefully contemplated the heart until the door buzzer sounded, signaling Paulino’s late arrival.
My meditation practice following the vision of the great heart settled into the more common mode of watching the rising thoughts and emotions, slowly developing precision and awareness. It was to continue this way for many, many years.
Rinpoche had listened to my account with what appeared to be very great interest.
“These experiences are important for two reasons,” he began. “The first is that these experiences tell me, or any other authentic meditation master, exactly where you are on your spiritual journey, and, as a consequence, how we can best help you. I’m not talking about just this lifetime,” Rinpoche went on. “ I’m talking about the total journey – all your lifetimes! The second reason why these experiences are so important is that they are a message to you, to be decoded by you if you practice sufficiently. So, the point seems to be never to stop practicing meditation.”
I had not stopped and now, six years after the great heart, this unusual experience bringing assistance to the dying Paulino.
Arriving at the hospital, we proceeded directly to the Intensive Care Unit, the door to which had a single, porthole window. Richard looked through the window, gasped, then looked at me with a strange expression.
“I know just what you’re seeing in there”, I said, quietly.” Paul is lying there with his right arm flung over his head, his face contorted in agony. Isn’t that right?”
“Yes”, he replied. “Patricia, you have seen truly.”
“Yes.” And a great confidence in the meditative experience of that evening welled up in me and continues unabated to the present moment.
Richard looked through the window again and reported that five doctors and a nurse surrounded Paulino. The nurse noticed him and joined us in the anteroom.
“As you can see”, she said, “Paulino’s situation is very grave. I’m afraid you won’t be able to visit him this evening.”
“We appreciate that it is very grave”, I replied. “We also appreciate that it is his life, his death, He should have his say in the matter. Would you please be so kind as to ask his primary doctor to inquire of Paulino if he would want me to stand at the foot of the bed and talk to him quietly while the doctors do whatever they have to do. Paulino must be terrified. As his best friend, I know I can help to reduce the great anxiety he must be feeling.”
After consulting the doctor the nurse returned to invite me to join them. My husband left to go home to our daughter and I took my place at the foot of Paulino’s bed.
He stared at me with desperate, exhausted red eyes, his breathing rapid and shallow.
His doctor looked up at me. “We had been transfusing into his right arm but about an hour ago he started flinging that arm up over his head. As you can see he’s still doing that. So we’ve had to transfuse into the other arm.”
The doctor’s statement was additional corroborative proof that I had seen truly and I silently vowed to do my very best for Paulino.
Paulino had made his home in Boston following his flight from Castro’s Cuba. Although he was fluent in English I decided to communicate with him in Spanish, the language of his youth, his family, his native land.
“You understand that the situation is very critical?” I asked. He nodded his assent. “Then, please, Paulino,” I beseeched. “Please close your eyes and just listen to my voice. Forget the doctors, forget everything. Just listen”, I stressed. “It is very important!”
He closed his eyes and I recited the Clear Light Meditation for the Dying softly and clearly. I repeated it again and again and was gratified to see his breath slow down a bit and his facial muscles relax somewhat out of the agonized terror I had seen upon entering the room.
When the doctors had concluded their work with Paulino, his physician asked if I would be willing to stay the night, alternating in twenty-minute shifts with one of the young doctors who would also remain to handle any emergency which might arise.
Of course I agreed, and during each of my twenty-minute shifts during that long night I would return again and again to The Clear Light Meditation for the Dying. Occasionally I would refer to some happy event we had shared during our years of close friendship and then assure him I would share this with him as well.
The alternate twenty-minute periods were spent in silent meditation or in reciting the Invocation of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on his behalf.
At about 4:00 AM he silently indicated a wish for paper and pen. When the nurse brought the items to him, he wept when he discovered he didn’t have strength enough to even hold the pen. Tears streamed down his face.
“You wanted to write something to me?” I asked, softly.
He nodded, miserable.
“Heart-to-heart is infinitely more important than head-to-head”, I assured
him. “We don’t need the words.” He seemed to brighten.
“Paulino, I must go home to nurse my daughter. After that I’ll take her to my Mother-in-law. I’ll return to you after that”, I promised, absolutely confident that he would still be alive. He seemed to share that confidence and wordlessly acquiesced.
When I returned, the day shift nurse informed me that the doctors had met again at 6:00 AM and unanimously agreed that it was impossible to stop the internal bleeding. They had tried their best to keep him alive, but to no avail. It was clearly the end for him.
“Paulino was first sedated and then all life support systems removed”, the nurse continued. “He is in there slowly bleeding to death. If I read you correctly, you want to be in there with him till the end.”
“I’ll draw a curtain round you. Just remember that there are four other very sick people in the Intensive Care Unit as well.”
“Please be assured that I’ll not disturb anyone.” I replied.
She led me to Paulino, placed a chair next to the bed, pulled white curtains around us and left.
We were alone, to share the last steps of Paulino Garcia y Fernandez’s journey through this lifetime.
Taking my seat I looked at him carefully. His eyes were closed, his breath fast but regular.
I intoned The Clear Light Meditation for the Dying first in Spanish, then in English, then in Spanish again.
Un vasto e ilimitado océano de Luz.
Un océano infinito de luz radiante.
La Luz está en todas partes.
Todo es luz
Solo está la Luz.
Es Luz exhalando a la Luz.
Disolverse en la Gran Luz.
Fusionando con la Gran Luz.
Reunión con la Gran Luz.
Reunión con el vasto e ilimitado océano de Luz.
Continuing on in this way, alternating languages, I observed a change in
Paulino’s breathing; the inhalations were becoming very short, the exhalations longer and singularly forceful, the whole breathing cycle taking on a laboring quality.
After some two hours had passed, I thought how wonderful it would be if Paulino’s eyes were to open and we could have one last visual exchange. “Stop thinking about yourself”, I chided. “The only important thing here is Paulino’s state of mind. Just continue!”
Following this directive, I continued reciting the Meditation and a short time later was surprised to see his eyes open. My heart leaped in delight. My wish would be granted after all!
But what was occurring within Paulino’s consciousness was of a far greater order. As his eyes opened wider and wider he seemed to be looking out into great space. A smile appeared, then grew wider and wider, his whole countenance taking on a radiance, a look of purest ecstasy as if he were beholding the ultimate perfection of the universe.
My whole being felt as though I had been plugged into a high voltage socket, every cell in my body tingling and dancing. And with this came the realization that Paulino was experiencing the Great Light of death, becoming one with it. He remained in this glorious, exalted state for some minutes, during which time I pointed out that he was experiencing the great light of his own true nature. Other than that one statement, I simply sat there swept into the perfection of the supreme experience of Paulino’s life.
Ten minutes later the nurse entered, looked at Paulino and said, “Any minute now.” I knew she was referring to the moment of death and replied, “It already occurred.”
“Ah, I didn’t know if you had realized it”, she said. “I must go and inform his doctor.” She looked around the cubicle, saw Paulino’s bloodstained crucifix and said, “We both know Paulino would want you to have this. If there is anything else here which you would like to keep, put it in your purse while I’m gone, for once the doctor arrives, no one is allowed to touch anything.”
She soon returned with the doctor as well as a social worker who invited me for tea. Sitting with her in the hospital cafeteria I was still filled with Paulino’s ecstatic joy. She said, “I expected to find you broken-up and grieving and weeping over your friend’s death, but I find you in a wonderful state. How is that?” She seemed very puzzled.
“It was a beautiful death”, I said simply. I couldn’t say more at the moment so I thanked her for the tea and left.
The next day, after putting my child down for her nap, I went into the meditation room and sat on my cushion. My attempt to meditate was interrupted by a forceful thought: “Don’t ever worry or grieve for Paulino. He’s in a wondrous state. As for you, you have many fears. If you will continue unswervingly in your practice, these fears will all dissolve.” This thought contained great force and authority and I wondered from whence these qualities issued. I would discuss this with my meditation master Trungpa Rinpoche.
I wondered what Rinpoche’s reaction would be to the story of Paulino’s death.