The Auspicious Sign Of The Facial Appearance As If Alive
Question: What happens to the consciousness upon death?
Answer: When death occurs, the consciousness is disconnected from the body. However, the consciousness of the average person with average good and evil karma will not depart from the body immediately.
This is due to lifelong habitual attachment to the body, perhaps uncertain of where to go, and when yet to connect to the Buddha. Thus, the person’s consciousness can still effect changes in the body, including its facial expression.
Question: Does the auspicious sign (瑞相) of the ‘facial appearance as if alive’ (面相如生) manifest when there is  ‘rebirth in Pure Land (净土) when alive’ (活着往生), or when there is  ‘rebirth in Pure Land after death’ (死后往生)?
Answer: On auspicious signs, that is a simpler yet obvious one. While it can also represent having attained a good rebirth in general, if it manifests after offering of guidance (开示) and support-chanting (助念), it should represent having attained the best rebirth – in Pure Land, with the auspicious cause (因) of that done aligning with the sign as its auspicious effect (果).
Without mindfulness of Buddha (念佛), it is extremely difficult for the average person to depart with this sign, as dying for the average person is a process with increasing pain and suffering till death occurs, thereupon with the last unhappy or ambiguous expression ‘transfixed’.
The auspicious sign can manifest in both cases mentioned above ( and ). The ideal is of course  rebirth in Pure Land when alive – with the expression of the dying becoming increasingly peaceful, until expiry of the body when the consciousness departs (神识), BEFORE death, without any deathly or ghastly appearance arising. Once the consciousness departs, the body automatically shuts down, thus having death.
The final expression is the ‘peak’, as if sleeping peacefully, still alive, looking better than alive, perhaps ample with the glow of healthy rosiness, majestic, younger and in the prime. Once agape eyes and mouths can close naturally too, without frowns and such, with a gentle but definite smile instead. This auspicious sign can be seen upon death. It is naturally sustained until cremation or burial, without embalmment, reshaping or make-up.
The second case of  rebirth in Pure Land AFTER death – is first with the expression of the dying becoming that of a deceased person naturally, perhaps pale, grey or dark, with the expression frozen tightly, perhaps contorted uneasily or in agony. This is also the far opposite of the auspicious sign ‘with the body and mind gentle and soft’ (身心柔软), which expresses physical peace and mental bliss (安乐) upon connection to Āmítuófó’s (阿弥陀佛) light of blessings.
With (continual) offering of post-death guidance and support-chanting received and heeded by consciousness of the deceased still abiding in the body, the expression then transforms from the deathly inauspicious to the clearly auspicious described in . Thus, the blissful expression at the end of support-chanting is the ‘happy ending’, a sign that there is connection to the Buddha.
The change in expression can occur within as short as minutes) or within hours, depending on how soon the deceased connects to the Buddha with sincere mindfulness, and how well the deceased was guided and supported. This is a reason why there should be ample time offering pre to post-death guidance and support-chanting, ideally with the post-death practice between three to eight, or even more hours. A recommended system to use is at https://purelanders.com/wake.
It should be noted that having disconnected from pain and discomfort sustained by sickness of the body BEFORE death, it can be easier for the then less disturbed consciousness to pay attention to the guidance and support-chanting AFTER death. This is another good reason to have the post-death practice above.
The fact that the expression can transform from sheer agony to utter peace in the midst of mindfulness of Buddha, when alive and even after death, when rigor mortis (i.e. natural stiffening) should set in quickly, is proof of the great efficacy of mindfulness of Buddha. This auspicious sign also offers great comfort to witnessing survivors.
The Three Great Essentials When Approaching Death
The Auspicious Sign Of The Body And Mind Being Gentle And Soft
How To Know If The Deceased Has Reached Pure Land
15 Auspicious Signs
(How To Seek Advice For Difficult Decisions?)
Must There Be A Specific Auspicious Sign To Know The Departed Is Born In Pure Land?
Verse On Being Without Destruction