Monday, December 12, 2016

THE TIBETAN BOOK of the DEAD (BARDO THODOL): Scott's Interpretation & Much More

The Tibetan Book of the Dead ranks among the world's great literature for understanding the afterlife. I have personally met some of the great Tibetan Buddhist Masters, and I am very impressed with their compassion, wisdom and knowledge.

Mankind has had a fascination with what happens after our physical bodies have ceased to function. Whether we are interred in mausoleums or pyramids, buried in graves or consumed by fire, all of us hope there's something after the efforts of this life.

The age-old question remains: What happens to us when we die? Every major religion teaches us that we are transients on this planet earth.

The Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, attributed to Padmasambhava, is one of the important texts in human history. It is a guide for people going through the dying process so they can find their way to a higher rebirth and eventually to nirvana.

What is the Bardo?

From Wikipedia: Used loosely, the term "bardo" refers to the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to
Tibetan tradition, after death and before one's next birth, when one's consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena.

These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is
spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one's previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality, while for others it can become a place of danger as the karmically created hallucinations can impel one into a less than desirable rebirth. - from Wikipedia

Average, ordinary people have no knowledge of what occurs after the body's death, and so the advice of these great Buddhist saints is invaluable. If everyone already knows what happens in the afterlife, then why even speculate on what happens after death?

If the masses could PROVE what happens after death, I would certainly pay attention to these people. Today's technology (and yesterday's technology) cannot prove in any empirical way exactly what happens in the afterlife. Tens of BILLIONS of people have lived and died on this sordid planet, yet not a single person has proven reincarnation to be a myth.

The point is this: The afterlife is a little understood phenomenon, so why not practice these bardo teachings instead of making Himalayan blunders in the bardo?

Furthermore, thousands (probably millions) of people have been declared clinically dead, only to come back to life and describe seeing a great white light and other phenomena.

Therefore, various religions have expounded in some detail about what happens to believers and non believers after their body dies. Again, these teachings are based on the experiences of highly enlightened beings, experiences which the average, ordinary person cannot comprehend.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is about ostensibly guiding a dying person through the death-trip by talking them through it, sort of like an air traffic controller. The text is primarily meant to be recited at the side of the deceased person's body. But a careful study of the text reveals that people can retain much of this information by reciting these teachings while they are very much alive. The main point is to recite these bardo teachings while still alive and also have them recited while your body is dead.

Students of The Tibetan Book of the Dead already know the great importance of reading 
this text to the dead and dying. Therefore, this essay is primarily focused on the value of reciting this text while a person is very much ALIVE. These bardo teachings inform us that simply hearing the names of the 100 Peaceful and Wrathful deities even once, confers a major blessing.

According to the Bardo Thodol teachings, many experiences occur in the bardo, and some of them are quite frightening. Various brilliant lights will appear, deities and other beings appear, and loud noises are common. Typically, these sights and sounds become overwhelming to the newly deceased person's consciousness, so bardo instructions can be extremely valuable.

From the book "Tibetan Book of the Dead" - by W.Y. Evans - Wentz:

Although the Bardo Thodol is at the present time widely used in Tibet as a breviary, and read or recited on the occasion of death; one should not forget that it was originally conceived as a guide not only for the dead and dying, but for the living as well.

The Bardo Thodol is addressed not only to those who see their lives ending, or who are very near death, but to those who still have years of incarnate life before them. 

Kevin Williams writes in his blog: There are many similarities to the teachings of the afterlife as revealed by the Tibetan Book of the Dead and Near Death Experiences. In the NDE, the mind is momentarily released from the body, and goes through a number of experiences akin to those of the mental body in the "bardo of becoming."

NDEs frequently begin with an
out-of-body experience: people can see their own body, as well as the environment around them. This corresponds with what the Tibetan Book of the Dead describes. In the bardo of becoming, the dead are able to see and hear their living relatives, but are unable, sometimes frustratingly, to communicate with them. The mental body in the bardo of becoming is described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead as being "like a body of the golden age," and as having almost supernatural mobility and clairvoyance.

In the Tibetan teachings, the mental body in the bardo of becoming
meets other beings in the bardo. Similarly, NDE experiencers are often able to converse with others who have died.

In the bardo of becoming, as well as many other kinds of visions, the mental body will see visions and signs of
different realms. A small percentage of those who have survived an NDE describe visions of inner worlds, paradises, and cities of light with transcendental music.

The most astounding similarity is the encounter with the
Being of Light, or the "Clear Light" as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. According to the Tibetan teachings, at the moment of death, the Clear Light dawns in all its splendor before the dying person. It says:

"Oh son/daughter of an enlightened family ... your Rigpa is inseparable luminosity and emptiness and dwells as a great expanse of light; beyond birth or death, it is, in fact, the Buddha of Unchanging Light."


The Tibetan Book of the Dead emphasizes certain points:

Reciting aspiration prayers (to Vairocana, Amitabha, Chenrezig, Ratnasambhava,
Vajrasattva) with fervent devotion and meditating on the Peaceful and Wrathful deities leaves strong karmic imprints in the mind. These karmic imprints can ripen in the Bardo, leading to rebirth in a pure land, or at least a higher rebirth.

Also, reading the chapter "The Great Liberation by Hearing" is extremely valuable. This I noticed in the teachings: Recognizing the brilliant lights in the bardo as your own meditational deities is essential. These are the brilliant, dazzling lights of Vairocana, Aksobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, and Amoghasiddhi. Avoid looking at the dull lights in the Bardo (intermediate state) because dull lights lead to inferior rebirths.

Many wrathful deities such as the blood - drinking Herukas will appear in the bardo. Do NOT be afraid of them! Recognize these Herukas to be your own meditational deities! The text informs living persons to praise the Herukas, make offerings to them and visualize them; basically familiarize your mind with them in a positive way.

Here' a quote from the text: "The crucial point is that those in this world who have (prior to death), meditated on the formal description of these blood - drinking Buddha - bodies, and who also made offerings and praises to them, or at the very least, have simply seen their painted and sculpted images, may recognize the forms that arise here and attain liberation."

According to the Bardo Thodol, upon dying the dead are “presented with a series of opportunities for recognizing the actual “truth” (de-bzhin-nyid) of that moment”. Following one’s death the mind is separated from the body for 49 days and the dead are confronted with bardo visions of many wrathful deities. If the person is able to distinguish these visions as simply “mental projections reflective of the previous life’s thoughts and deeds then it is said that Buddhahood will be attained." If the person cannot make this distinction then he is led to an eventual rebirth and consequently further suffering in cyclic existence (“samsara”).

The Tibetan classic "The Book of Kadam" states: Furthermore, you will see many deities, such as Buddha Vairocana. If you do not recognize them, this will engender suffering; if you do recognize them, the attainments are great. One will see incalculable peaceful and wrathful deities. One who is familiar with them will recognize these deities.
And the deities will relate joyfully as an ally and refuge.

When seeing incalculable wrathful deities in forms that are most terrifying, those with bad propensities think: Alas! Enemies are after me. They conceive that which is excellent in a distorted fashion; they confuse the source of refuge for their enemy. If you recognize them, birth in the lower realms is impossible. Those who are unpracticed are let down on account of their confusion. - from the Book of Kadam

The Tibetan Book of the Dead relates that on the fourth day, Amitabha will dawn before you, embraced by his consort Pandaravasini. A red light, radiant, clear, bright and dazzling will emanate from the heart of Amitabha and his consort. It will shine piercingly before you at the level of your heart with such brilliance that your eyes cannot bear it. Do not be afraid! Be drawn to the brilliant red light with longing devotion! Also, a dull yellow light indicative of the realm of anguished spirits will dawn before you and touch your heart. Do not delight in the dull yellow light! Do NOT become attached to it and do not cling to it! Be devoted to the bright, dazzling red light.

Bardo Tulku Rinpoche states: In general, the opportunity for liberation in this bardo consists of not being overwhelmed by the brilliance and majesty of the display, and especially recognizing that all of this light and all of these deities are nothing other than the display of your own awareness. In brief, it means recognizing that these are simply the display of the inherent qualities of your own buddha nature. They are not in any way external to yourself.

Thrangu Rinpoche teaches: Yet other people may have the impression that they do not particularly need to train for the bardo, that if they practice Dharma they will be fine. Or they might think that the bardo is something scary, something bad, and so they don’t want to think about it. But both these approaches are wrong. The appearances of the bardo are fleeting, so we need to train in them before they appear in order to utilize them. If we develop the capability to deal with them while alive, then we will recognize even the bad and scary things we encounter in that state as fleeting appearances. This will stop us from being afraid. If we train to recognize appearances, we may even be able to attain the ultimate siddhi (‘accomplishment’) in the bardo. Even if we do not attain this ultimate goal, we will at least be able to take a good birth.

Lord Buddha and the great practitioners who appeared after him have given us instructions on how to deal with the bardo. They explained the appearances that will arise and the way we should apply ourselves when they do. Having these instructions means that when the time comes, we can follow them and by recognizing what is happening to us, we can ensure we have a good birth and not a bad one. If we don’t have this knowledge and haven’t put it into practice, we may become confused by the imagery we experience in the bardo and fall into a bad realm, where we will experience a great deal of suffering. If we are familiar with what we are going to experience, however, we will know how to steer ourselves towards a good birth. This is why it’s very important to listen to and reflect on these teachings. By doing this, we will remember them throughout our lifetimes and be prepared for death.

From Lodo Rinpoche: According to the pandit Atisha and also Ma Chik Labkyi Drolma, at the moment you see the form of your next rebirth, you will also see certain wrathful and peaceful deities. If you can recognize these deities at that moment, you will become inseparable from them and attain enlightenment. All this depends on your meditation and on your Dharma practice.

Lama Zopa Rinpoche states: In short, not a single person has realized that there is no such thing as reincarnation. Some people have such an assumption, but they have no direct realization. On the other hand, there are numberless persons, even just ordinary human beings, who have definitely realized the certainty of reincarnation.

The great Tibetan Buddhist master Kalu Rinpoche relates in his book "Luminous Mind" that the impressions on our mind determine our death and bardo experience. Our prayers and wishes made during our lifetime which have saturated our mind can quickly lead our mind to a pure land and free us from samsara.

The great Tibetan Buddhist master Kalu Rinpoche advises us to recite mantras and make heartfelt prayers and wishes to be reborn in Sukhavati (the pure land of Chenrezig and Amitabha). In the bardo of becoming, there is no physical body because the mental body has the power to move like thought and by the power of wishes generated by ourselves, Amitabha and Chenrezig, we can make a connection that leads our mind to Sukhavati where we can become enlightened and free ourselves from samsara.

From Kalu Rinpoche: If we regularly utter sincere prayers to be reborn in Sukhavati, we carry with us the aspiration to go there when we die. This aspiration will act on our mind, becoming the means for being reborn there and for achieving liberation more quickly than if we had traveled by plane or rocket!

Visit Kalu Rinpoche:

In his book "Bardo Teachings: The Way of Death & Rebirth," Lama Lodo, a disciple of Kalu Rinpoche, teaches:

The activity of Amitabha Buddha is such that if we pray to him with devotion and recite his mantra, then by the power of this prayer we will be reborn in Dewachen, the western paradise of great blessings.

If you have not achieved high states of meditation, but have a great deal of devotion and compassion you still may be able to gain enlightenment in the bardo.

The sound that you will hear from the 58 wrathful deities, "HUNG ! PHAT!", is like that of a thousand thunders. If you have had some experience in meditation upon such wrathful deities you will recognize the sound and the deities and you will not be afraid. In this way you will realize the nature of these deities and will therefore gain enlightenment.

If you do not have the experience of meditation upon the wrathful deities, you should at least have read the Bardo Thodol concerning the true nature of these deities; because of this you may be able to recognize them and react accordingly - from Lama Lodo

From the book "Tibetan Book of the Dead" - by W.Y. Evans - Wentz:

Do not be fond of the dull white light of the devas. Do not be attached to it. Instead, look at the bright blue light in deep faith. Pray earnestly to Vairocana and recite the aspirational prayer.

Because of the power of bad karma, the glorious blue light of the Wisdom of the Dharma - Dhatu will produce in you fear and terror, and you will wish to flee from it. You will develop a fondness for the dull white light of the devas. At this stage, you must not be awed by the divine blue light which will appear shining, dazzling, and glorious. Be drawn to the brilliant blue light of Vairocana and his consort.

The Peaceful Deities are the first to appear in the bardo. But, with all the karmic impulses active in the bardo, the deceased can fall back into samsara, and even attain a lower rebirth. Basically, in the bardo, the first experiences are happier than the later experiences.

Each person's after - death experiences, as the Bardo Thodol teaching implies, are entirely dependent upon his or her own mental content. What a person witnesses in the bardo is due entirely to his own mental content. There are no visions of gods or demons, or heavens or hells, other than those of the hallucinatory karmic thought forms which compose the dead person's consciousness. - by W.Y. Evans - Wentz 

In his spiritual classic and international masterpiece "The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying," Sogyal Rinpoche describes the similarities between the bardo and near - death experiences:

There are also certain fascinating similarities between the near - death experiences and its results, and mystical states and altered states of consciousness. For example, a number of paranormal phenomena have been reported by the near - death experiencers. Some have precognitive or prophetic planetary visions or "life previews," that turn out to be uncannily accurate; after the near - death experience, some report experiences of what appears to be the energy of kundalini, Others find they have real and amazing powers of clairvoyance, or psychic or physical healing.

Many of those who have come near death speak in a personal, undeniably eloquent way of the beauty, love, peace, bliss and wisdom of what they have experienced. To me this sounds like they have had certain glimpses of the radiance of the nature of mind, and it is hardly surprising that such glimpses should have resulted in true spiritual transformation, again and again.

So in this bardo, whenever you can suddenly retrieve your awareness, even for a moment, immediately recall your connection with spiritual practice, remember your master or Buddha, and invoke them with all your strength.

If in life you have developed the natural reflex of praying whenever things become difficult or critical, or slip beyond your control, then instantly you will be able to invoke or call to mind an enlightened being, such as Buddha or Padmasambhava, Tara or Avalakitesvara, Christ or the Virgin Mary. If you are able to invoke them fervently with one - pointed devotion, and with all your heart, then through the power of their blessing, your mind will be liberated into the space of their wisdom mind. Prayer in this life may seem sometimes to bring little result, but its effects in the bardo are unprecedentedly powerful.

Think how almost impossible it is to remember something like a prayer in a dream or nightmare, how impotent and powerless we feel in them; in the bardo of becoming it is just as hard, if not harder, to collect our thoughts at all. - from "The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying"

Buddhism can be practiced in many different ways. In summary, there are 3 main methods: meditation, contemplation, and reciting Buddha's name. Many monasteries practice both meditation and chanting as there is much merit in these practices.

Tibetan Buddhism has produced a panoply of great saints who have mastered their own karma. They have assiduously mastered their own thoughts, emotions and karmic destinies and gained amazing insights into the afterlife.

- by Scott Palczak (Scott Lane)


What is death? Western science thinks of it as a moment of flatline, a shutting down of the life processes. To some people, death symbolizes final rest and absolute peace. Tibetans, however, believe that this is a narrow, incorrect perspective. People who have been revived from death often report having profound experiences, such as seeing a white light or reviewing their life in a flash. Tibetans take this as evidence that consciousness continues after death. They have developed a science of death, exploring inner consciousness just as scientists explore the outer world.

Tibetans view birth, life, and death as an ongoing continuum. Life is a between the time between birth and death. The cycle continues after death with a between period lasting from death to rebirth.

This continuum is very real to Tibetans, and they offer an a interesting argument to justify their position. Few of us have any memory of our birth. Yet we are all absolutely certain that we were born. Similarly few of us remember our rebirth. So why are we so certain that we have not been reborn? Just because we do not remember the time between death and rebirth is not proof that these periods do not exist.


BARDO THODOL: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Bardo Thodol (Tibetan: བར་དོ་ཐོས་གྲོལ, Wylie: bar do thos grol), Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State, is a text from a larger corpus of teachings, the Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones,[1][note 1] revealed by Karma Lingpa (1326–1386). It is the best-known work of Nyingma literature,[3] and is known in the West as the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

The Tibetan text describes, and is intended to guide one through, the experiences that the consciousness has after death, in the
bardo, the interval between death and the next rebirth. The text also includes chapters on the signs of death and rituals to undertake when death is closing in or has taken place.



Page 213) Any virtuous deed that you perform whether mental or physical in nature - while you are alive and especially while you are on your deathbed - will greatly benefit your future life. Rites such as purification, merit making, empowerments, and dedications are important to practice before death, but also after death.


In order to make your present life, your future after death journey, and your rebirth free from difficulties and obstacles, it is extremely important to purify your negative karmic effects from the past.

All the ills of your life and future lives are the products of negative karmic causality. Only by purifying those afflicting karmic causes can you improve your life. Through purification, you nullify your misdeeds and their effects.

Any variety of positive actions or exercises can be effective as the means of purification. Purification practices include meditations on the Buddhas and prayers for the benefit of all mother - beings. They may entail saying prayers and practicing any meditations for purification from the depth of your heart.

Merit Making

In order to enjoy a peaceful and happy life and rebirths, it is essential to cultivate merits and cultivate positive qualities. Whatever happiness and peace you are enjoying today is the direct result of your meritorious behavior in the past. To further improve your future life, you must continue to make more merits by performing virtuous deeds.

Any positive deeds or service will work as the means of making merit. You could accumulate merits by saying prayers and doing meditations. You could make merits by serving the poor, making offerings for religious projects, saving and ransoming lives (as by buying and freeing domestic animals), building and repairing temples and religious monuments, and sponsoring or performing prayers and meditations with love, respect, and devotion.


Empowerments or initiations are highly effective as the means of purification of the ill effects of misdeeds, reinforcement of past virtuous deeds, reminders of past spiritual experiences and attainments, showing the path to liberation or pure lands, introduction to the buddhas and pure lands, bestowal of the blessings of the buddhas, and awakening the primordial wisdom, or buddhahood, of the recipient.

THE LAWUDO LAMA: Stories of Reincarnation from the Mount Everest region

Lama Zopa Rinpoche is one the outstanding Tibetan Buddhist masters and he had this to say about karma and reincarnation:

According to the teachings of the Buddha, the extremely subtle mind is located in the heart. Because of this, the negative emotions such as anger, desire, jealousy, pride and so forth arise from the heart and not from the brain. So we can see that our ordinary daily experience is in harmony with what the Buddha taught.

The yogis who practice the meditations of the completion stage of tantra undergo experiences similar to those that take place during the death process. Using the methods of the highest tantras, they are able to achieve the unification of the clear light and illusory body and use this realization as a weapon to purify ordinary death, intermediate state (bardo), and rebirth and actualize the resultant dharmakaya, sambhogakaya, and nirmanakaya. These meditators are able to use the subtle body to visit pure lands, make offerings to the buddhas, and receive teachings; they can then reenter their old body and perform ordinary activities just as before.

Introduction: According to Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the main purpose of writing the biography of holy beings is to inspire others to follow their example. When our mind is weak and invaded by desire for worldly life, reading how great beings past and present have practiced Dharma helps to revive our courage, inspiration, and devotion. By developing faith and admiration toward them, we will be inspired to practice Dharma as they have done. Just by hearing about the wondrous deeds of the buddhas and bodhisattvas, we purify negative imprints in in our mind and develop a strong wish to devote our life to following their example to the best of our ability. Therefore, it is extremely important to hear, read and reflect upon the lives of highly realized beings.

Buddhist texts explain that at the time of death, beings are tortured by their own past actions and experience all kinds of terrifying visions. For instance, those who have killed many humans or animals have the experience of being attacked by the beings they have killed and they die with great fear. In Dharamsala, a Tibetan man who had been a butcher could see sheep and goats attacking him, but those around him could do nothing to help. Actually, no external beings are attacking the dying person, but their own negative karma creates all those terrifying mental projections. And these are just the visions before death; the actual experience of being reborn in the lower realms is far more frightening.

Even though intellectually you do not believe in future lives, at the time of death you have the intuitive feeling that you may have wasted your life and that some very heavy things are going to happen. So, if you sincerely check your heart, the answer about reincarnation is: not sure.

These questions are very important. You may not accept reincarnation because it is not your experience to remember past lives, but that is just fooling yourself. If that were the case, what about the things you did in this life that you don't remember? Would you say that you did not do those things? As a child you did many things that you do not remember now. You do not remember coming out of your mother's womb, but you have been told that you were born from her and you believe it. Using the same logic, you should not believe that either.

Some people argue that since the body disappears after death, reincarnation is not possible. This is a misunderstanding based on the lack of differentiation between body and mind. The body has form - color and shape - where as the mind is a formless phenomenon that has the ability to know objects and whose nature is clarity. What goes on to the next life is the mind, not the body; the body does not reincarnate.

In short, not a single person has realized that there is no such thing as reincarnation. Some people have such an assumption, but they have no direct realization. On the other hand, there are numberless persons, even just ordinary human beings, who have definitely realized the certainty of reincarnation.


The recognition of tulkus (literally, "emanation bodies") seems to be a special feature of Tibetan Buddhism. The first official recognition of a tulku took place in Tibet in 1288, when the Third Karmapa Ranjung Dorje (1284-1339) was recognized and enthroned as the reincarnation of Karma Pakshi (1204-83), who in turn was the tulku of Dusum Khyenpa (1110-93).

A tulku can be defined as a being who has achieved a certain level of spiritual development and power and has consciously chosen to take rebirth in order to benefit beings.

Despite their presumed spiritual achievements, tulkus have to undergo their education all over again. Most of them are able to learn much faster than ordinary children, and they usually show a maturity of character and kindness and concern for others that are absent in most children

According to Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, highly realized beings are endowed with power, wisdom, and compassion, and are able to transmit their wisdom to others. According to the Buddhist scriptures, bodhisattvas on the first level have the ability to manifest hundreds of versions of their own bodies. It can happen that a bodhisattva emanates another being to continue his or her work even before passing away.

In such circumstances, according to Denma Locho Rinpoche, it is very important that others be informed about the appointed successor. This is a difficult topic that even learned Tibetan Lamas find hard to understand. They all agree however, that highly realized bodhisattvas have the power to do almost anything they wish, and that their actions can be beyond the comprehension of ordinary beings.

There are many examples of holy beings manifesting more than one emanation simultaneously. For instance, shortly before his death, the great yogi Milarepa (1040 -1123) manifested various bodies in different places. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo (1820 - 92) manifested five different tulkus, Dudjom Rinpoche (1904 - 87) was born before the death of his predecessor (Dudjom Lingpa, 1835 - 1904), and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche was born 21/2 years before the Lawudo Lama Kunzang Yeshe passed away.

- from THE LAWUDO LAMA: Stories of Reincarnation from the Mount Everest region


From "Rest for the Fortunate" - by Bardor Tulku Rinpoche

(Rinchen Publications, 2004)

The text on which this present teaching is based is called A Supplement to the Profound Meaning of Liberation Through Hearing, which is a part of the Cycle of Dispelling All Obstacles, the Accomplishment of the Heart of the Guru. Most of the text was composed by the terton Chokgyur Dechen Lingpa, and the quotations were composed by Guru Rinpoche himself.

The first thing we must understand about the view of dying and death presented here is that everything we experience or acquire during our lives, everything that appears to us, and everything that apparently exists surrounding us — no matter how wonderful, vivid, or abundant it may be — is utterly impermanent.

When something changes from being what it is into being something else, or when it is destroyed or lost in some way, it vanishes as completely as the contents of last night’s dream. Just as you can never recover the images of a previous night’s dream, once something has been destroyed or changed, it is gone. Nothing that is composite (meaning that it results from the coming together of various causes and conditions) is beyond that. Nothing that is composite is permanent, nor can it remain unchanging.

Therefore, everything that we experience during our lives — including our very lives themselves — and everything that we have built up, will at some point be lost. Nothing is beyond what are called the four ends. The four ends are that: (1) all births must end in death; (2) all gatherings must end in separation; (3) all accumulation must end in dispersal; and (4) all creation must end in destruction. Whatever we have around us, and whatever we possess during our lives, we are definitely going to lose. Of all the things to which we become attached during our lives, that to which we are the most attached is, ironically, that which is most fragile—our life itself. The life of any being—especially someone of our species, because humans have a very uncertain life span—is as transitory as a flash of lightning in the midst of the night. It is as fragile as a candle flame in a strong wind. It is as unstable as a bubble that appears on the surface of the water. Like these analogies, a human life is very brief and fragile.

What we call death is when this fragility, this impermanence of human life, finally manifests for us. It means leaving this world and going to our next form of existence. The first thing that needs to be understood about death is that although we become very concerned about death when it happens to us, we are by no means the only person to whom death has happened. Death happens continually to all human beings and to all beings in general. Once any being has been born in any form of existence, it is absolutely certain that this being is going to die once again at some point in time. If you look at it from that point of view—that death is the natural result or completion of the process of birth — you can see that there is no reason to be so unhappy about the idea or the fact of death.

Rather than being so unhappy or obsessively fearful about the prospect of death that you cannot even think about it, it would be better to focus one-pointedly in supplication of the sources of refuge—your teachers, the Three Jewels, and so on, those to whom you look for assistance—in order to go through the process of dying and death in the most positive way you can.

The second point that needs to be emphasized in the beginning is that, not only are you impermanent, but everything you have accumulated during your life will be lost when you die.

Bardo Teachings of Guru Rinpoche; page 1

All of the things you have accumulated, and all of the people to whom you are attached, will be lost to you when you die. You will never see them again in that form and they will not accompany you through the process of death. They can accompany you up to the moment of your death, but once you die, you are alone. You are going through the process completely alone.

Your possessions in particular cannot help you through the process of dying, and possessions most certainly cannot help you after you are dead. In fact, not only do they not help you, but they can cause you problems. This is the case because all of the things that you did in order to acquire those possessions, and all of the attachment that you have for those possessions and for everything you are leaving behind, can agitate you so much that it can make the process of death—and therefore the subsequent rebirth—much worse than it need be.

Bardo of Dharmata: The Peaceful and Wrathful Deities

The second bardo, the bardo of dharmata, consists of the experience of what is called "spontaneous presence." This is the spontaneous expression of the qualities of the ground, in the form of the peaceful and wrathful deities, light, rays of light, and so on. It is the display of the goodness of the ground itself, manifesting in this form.

In general, the opportunity for liberation in this bardo consists of not being overwhelmed by the brilliance and majesty of the display, and especially recognizing that all of this light and all of these deities are nothing other than the display of your own awareness. In brief, it means recognizing that these are simply the display of the inherent qualities of your own buddha nature. They are not in any way external to yourself.

If in the second bardo, you can recognize the appearances that occur as the display of your own mind and rest calmly in that recognition, then you will attain liberation in the sambhogakaya. In the first bardo, the opportunity is for liberation in the dharmakaya. In the second bardo the opportunity is for liberation in the sambhogakaya. This is explained in more detail in the words of Guru Rinpoche:

The first experience of death is the experience of the ground clear light, and if you do not recognize that awareness—because the ground clear light is your own fundamental awareness—then for a period of seven days after that, you start to experience certain visions or appearances.

Throughout this period of the bardo of dharmata, everything that you see, everything that appears to you, is like rainbow light, which is to say that it is brilliant five-colored light and rays of light. Amongst this light and rays of light are spheres or droplets of brilliant five-colored light. Within these you see the forms of various deities.

All of this—the five-colored light, the rays of light, the droplets and so on—are the display of the five buddha families, that is to say, the five buddhas. They arise as a display before you because they are aspects of your own buddha nature. They are inherent within you. The wisdom, the inherent or innate wisdom of your own buddha nature, manifests at this point, apparently external to yourself. During your life, these things are within you. They are within your channels, winds, and drops. Normally you do not experience them directly.


SUBTLE MIND & the BARDO - from Kadampa Master Geshe  Kelsang  Gyatso

The mind is neither physical, nor a by-product of purely physical processes, but a formless continuum that is a separate entity from the body. When the body disintegrates at death, the mind does not cease. Although our superficial conscious mind ceases, it does so by dissolving into a deeper level of consciousness, called "the very subtle mind." The continuum of our very subtle mind has no beginning and no end, and it is this mind which, when completely purified, transforms into the omniscient mind of a Buddha.

Every action we perform leaves an imprint, or potential, on our very subtle mind, and each karmic potential eventually gives rise to its own effect. Our mind is like a field, and performing actions is like sowing seeds in that field. Positive or virtuous actions sow the seeds of future happiness, and negative or non-virtuous actions sow the seeds of future suffering. This definite relationship between actions and their effects – virtue causing happiness and non-virtue causing suffering – is known as the "law of karma." An understanding of the law of karma is the basis of Buddhist morality.

After we die our very subtle mind leaves our body and enters the intermediate state, or "bardo" in Tibetan. In this subtle dream-like state we experience many different visions that arise from the karmic potentials that were activated at the time of our death. These visions may be pleasant or terrifying depending on the karma that ripens. Once these karmic seeds have fully ripened they impel us to take rebirth without choice.

It is important to understand that as ordinary samsaric beings we do not choose our rebirth but are reborn solely in accordance with our karma. If good karma ripens we are reborn in a fortunate state, either as a human or a god, but if negative karma ripens we are reborn in a lower state, as an animal, a hungry ghost, or a hell being. It is as if we are blown to our future lives by the winds of our karma, sometimes ending up in higher rebirths, sometimes in lower rebirths.




AMITABHA BUDDHA & the BARDO - by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo

GOLDEN LIGHT SUTRA : Oral Transmission by Lama Zopa Rinpoche


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