A brief study of terminology related to the process of dying:


"Subsidence phases / stages". The technical name for the process of re-absorption of the elements and winds and consciousness that beings experience at the time of death. Often called "the stages of dissolution", although it is not a dissolution but a subsiding of these things back again into the basis from which they came, luminosity.

The entire death process occurs in eight, main steps - གནས་སྐབས་བརྒྱད།: 

            - The first seven steps are called subsidence phase. The seven subsidence phases occur in two main steps: 

                                    1) འབྱུང་བྱུང་བ་ཐིམ་རིམ། - "the subsidence phase of the elements"; and 

                                    2) སྣང་མཆེད་ཐོབ་པའི་སྣང་བ་གསུམ། - "the three appearances—appearance, flaring, and close-to-the-end". When the re-absorption is complete, luminosity appears and that is the final point of death.

            - The last step does not belong to the subsidence phases; it is the actual point of death and is marked by the emergence of the luminosity of death.


"The three appearances of appearance, flaring, and penultimate" 

There are two main parts to the ཐིམ་རིམ། - re-absorption that beings experience at the time of death. 

The second part consists of the experience of three coloured spaces. They appear consecutively and are called: 

            1) སྣང་བ། - "appearance"; 

            2) མཆེད་པ། - "flaring" -> The dying person is conscious only of a spaciousness filled with red colour, like space struck by sunlight, hence the name. It corresponds to the re-absorption of the red element which relates to the dynamic dimension of emptiness. The red element is a maintained as a droplet in the navel chakra during life. At this point it separates and travels up to the heart centre, where it will later join with the white element. The period during which the red element is released and travels to the heart centre is called the path of redness

            3) ཉེར་ཐོབ། - "penultimate"

 They correspond to the re-absorption of the white element, the red element, and the final meeting and absorption of the two at the heart centre.

 When the dying person enters any of these stages, they experience only space filled with white, red, or blackness respectively. Therefore, the person is said to have entered the 

དཀར་ལམ -  whiteness, དམར་ལམ། - redness, and ནག་ལམ། - blackness respectively.


ཐིམ་ལུགས་རྣམ་པ་བརྒྱད། - The eight types of absorption". 

The eight ways that a deity is re-absorbed after it has been produced. 

Note that this emphasises the idea of re-absorption, not merely dissolution. They are: 

  • 1.ཐུགས་རྗེ་ལ་ཐིམ་པ།- "absorption into compassionate activity"; 
  • 2.ཡེ་ཤེས་ལ་ཐིམ་པ།- absorption into wisdom";
  • 3.འོད་ལ་ཐིམ་ཨ།- "absorption into light";
  • 4.སྐུ་ལ་ཐིམ་པ- "absorption into body";
  • 5.གཉིས་མེད་ལ་ཐིམ་པ།- "absorption into non-duality"
  • 6.མཐའ་གྲོལ་ལ་ཐིམ་པ། - "absorption into final liberation";
  • 7.དག་པ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་ངོ་བོ་ཀ་དག་ལ་ཐིམ་པ།- "absorption into purity, into alpha purity the essence of wisdom";
  • 8.མ་དག་པ་འཁོར་བའི་སྒོ་དག་པ་ཡེ་ཤེས་ཀྱི་སྒོ་ལ་ཐིམ་པ། - "absorption into pure door of the impurity of saṃsāra, into the door of wisdom". 


"The eight situations | circumstances" in Vajrayana. The death of a person is a process that has eight, consecutive, main periods of experience. These eight situations of the death process are, in order: 

                        1-4) are the dissolution of the four elements in order ས། - "earth", ཆུ། - "water", མེ། - "fire", and རླུང་། - "air"; 

                        5-7) are the three successive appearances of consciousness dissolving in order དཀར་ལམ། - "the whiteness", དམར་ལམ། - "the redness", and ནག་ལམ། - "the blackness";

                         8) སྣང་བ། - appearance meaning the emergence of luminosity.

 ཐིམ་རིམ། - "the subsidence phases” - The first seven stated above: 

There are two main subsidence phases:

  • ཉེར་ཐོབ།- “Penultimate". In the death process, (See above: "The three appearances of Appearance, Flaring, and Penultimate”), the dying person experiences this as a deep, thick darkness. The white element and red element have detached from their residences during life and come to the heart-centre in the previous two phases. At this point, the two elements join and are absorbed into the heart centre. The period during which they join and are absorbed is called the black path. The ཉེར་ཐོབ།- “Penultimate" phase gets its name because it is the very final step of all the steps of re-absorption and is followed immediately by the appearance of luminosity, which is actual death. It is therefore called the next-to-final step before the "attainment" of luminosity.
  • བཙན་ས་།Most generally meaning a place in which one is in command, the position of power, and in which one cannot be harmed or affected by whatever events occur. In Great Completion literature it is used to refer to one's own seat of power, which is the natural refuge of one's own, གཤིས། - innate disposition; in this place, one cannot be harmed by the discursive thoughts of dualistic mind. E.g., གཤིས་ནམ་མཁའ་ལྟ་བུར་བཙན་ས་ཟུང། - “Assume your natural seat, beyond harm, in the basic