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THE BARDO


                        An Oral Teaching by


                  The Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche




                             Translated by



                          J. Douglas Rhoton




  Copyright . 1982 by Jetsun Sakya Center for Buddhist Studies and
Meditator, Inc.

   All rights reserved.
   I’ve been asked to speak today on the doctrine of the after death
experience which is known in Tibetan as the Bardo. I realize that
this is considered to be something of a special Buddhist doctrine.
First of all I would like to put it in its perspective. Lord Buddha, in
his effort to communicate the teachings of Enlightenment to
beings, taught countless doctrines. It is said that there are 84,000
articles of doctrine expounded by Lord Buddha and that all 84,000
can be assumed into the first teachings he ever gave. That teaching
is known as the Four Noble Truths. These four truths are: the truth
of suffering, of the causes of suffering, of the cessation of
suffering, and of the path. These four truths are the quintessence of
all the manifold teachings, doctrines and expositions of Dharma
ever given by Lord Buddha.

    To review them briefly ... the first, the truth of suffering, refers
to the pervasivesness of dissatisfaction, of unrest, of mental and
physical ‘die-case’, all of which is due to the erroneous belief in a
self. When unenlightened minds fall into the error of a belief in a
self and go to act on that belief, the mind becomes governed by
mental defilements such as desire, aversion, and delusion. Through
these mental poisons, as they are called, beings take action. These
actions compel them to take rebirth in one or another state of
existence upon the round of existence. Briefly this describes both
the fact of suffering that beings generate and experience as well as
the cause of that unhappiness which is rooted in a mistaken belie f
in a self when, in fact, there is nothing... no object of knowledge
...that corresponds to that erroneous belief. Lord Buddha then
taught the path which leads to liberation. The path consists in
training the body, the speech, and the mind in wholesome ac tions
that lead to eventual liberation from not only the experience of
pain but also the causes of pain. This path leads to the truth of the
cessation of suffering or Nirvana. this is liberation f rom all
suffering and its causes.

   The teachings on the Bardo also can be correlated to the Four
Noble Truths expounded by Lord Buddha. The various fears, the
frightening appearances, the illusory experience that consciousness
encounters in the after death state can be said to correspond to the
first of the Four Noble Truths, the truth of suffering. These
appearances and the reactions to them that one subjectively
undergoes can be said to have originated in the mental defilements
such as the passions of desire, hatred, delusion, pride and the rest

                                Page 1 of 7
as well as from one’s own karmic actions, be they good bad or
indifferent.

   In this way they correspond to the second truth, the truth of the
cause of suffering. To repeat that, the suffering of the experiences
of the Bardo also arise from karma and karmic activity and mental
defilements. Thus they correspond to the truth of the cause of
suffering. If one has been fortunate enough to have received the
right instructions for meditation, preparation and practice for the
after death experiences, those instructions and that meditative
preparation and practice can be equated with the third truth, the
truth of the path. Finally, if one is also able to practice effectively
during the Bardo, recognize those experiences and appearances for
what they are, put them on the path and win (through the
realization of oneself) that consciousness corresponding to the
Sambhogakaya, one can attain Buddhahood right through that
Bardo experience. That realization of Buddhahood during the
Bardo state corresponds to the fourth and final Noble Truth, the
truth of cessation or liberation from suffering.

   Now we should try to ascertain the historical source of those
special teachings which are known as Bardo doctrine. We know
that there are references to the Bardo state, the antarabhave as it is
known in Sanskrit, in various Indian texts. We find these primarily
in    the   Abhidharma      itself   and    its   commentary, the
Abhidharmasamuccaya, as well as in certain of the tantras which
belong to the later propagation, the sarma propagation, such as
Chakrasamvara, the Hevajra Tantra and several others. But
generally speaking we can say that teachings on the Bardo can be
divided into two distinct Tibetan traditions : those of the ea rly
propagation or Nyingma, and those of the later propagation. These
teachings on the Bardo also vary in that while some of them speak
of six Bardo states, others speak of four or even three Bardos. For
example, Jetsun Milarepa spoke of six Bardo states. Tlis is also
true of the Book of the Dead, well known to Westerners.

  I realize that the Tibetan Book of the Dead has achieved a
certain amount of fame among Western Buddhists. It follows the
Nyingma tradition and is similar to another Kagyu tradition bas ed
                                Page 2 of 7
upon a text written by Tashi Tseringma, a great yogi. Both texts
speak of six Bardo states. However the six states that both discuss
can also be subsumed into the more standard four Bardo states
described in sarma tantric literature. These four are: the birth place
Bardo, the Bardo of the death experience, the reality Bardo, and the
Bardo of becoming which is also called the Bardo of Karmic
propensities. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead which has been
translated into English and the other text by Tashi Ts eringma there
are two other Bardos which are called the dream Bardo and the
Bardo of meditative absorption, the samten Bardo. These two can,
as we said, be subsumed into the first four.

   Etymologically the word Bardo means the interval between two
points. Generally when we say the word Bardo, we think of it as
referring to that state in which consciousness finds itself between
death and rebirth. Really we are, right now, in this present life also
involved in the Bardo. We are undergoing the Bardo of experie nce
or the interval between our last birth and our future death. This is
the birth place Bardo. Many of us might not have known that.... it
isn’t a very popular way of looking at our present life.

   It’s not surprising that we don’t recognize the present l ife as a
Bardo... after all, we are the ones in the habit of believing very
firmly in a self when actually no self exists and in seeing things as
substantial and real when they aren’t. So it is hardly surprising that
we do not recognize our present human life as being part of the
Bardo cycle. Now, understanding that this is the case, we should
consider what to do about it. What would be appropriate practice at
this stage of the Bardo? First we should be diligent in making the
most of the opportunity. We ca do this by learning the Dharma,
through receiving instructions from qualified teachers, seeking
tantric empowerments and guidance and instructions in meditation
(also under qualified teachers), and constantly exercising our
minds in mindfulness and recollection that “These are the teachings
of Buddhism which I have heard. These are the instructions that my
guru has given me for meditation. This is my trusted preceptor.
These are his teachings. This is my Yidam (my chosen deity) on
whom I am meditating.” Further we should develop ourselves in
constantly reminding ourselves that all sounds should be heard as
                               Page 3 of 7
the deity’s mantra, all thoughts that arise (good, bad and
indifferent) should be seen as manifestations of his transcendent
wisdom, and all forms should be viewed as the deity’s form. If we
train ourselves in these practices in this lifetime, our chances of
being prepared for the Bardo of becoming, the post-death
experience,a re very good. Also our chances of recognizing and of
knowing what should be done in that Bardo preceding and then
immediately following death, wherein the Bardo of the clear light
of reality shines forth, are much better. Further, even if one should
find oneself in the Bardo of becoming, one’s chances of
recognizing the situation and dealing with it appropriately are
much enhanced.

   The second Bardo is that of the death experience. It is also
called the unhappy Bardo because, at the time death occurs and one
is wrenched away from the affairs of this world into a very
uncertain insecure state of consciousness, great fear as well as
uncertainty, anxiety and apprehension arises for those persons who
in their lives had unfortunately committed many unwholesome
actions. For those beings, however, who had devoted themselves to
wholesome ways of conduct, the process is not so terrifying.
Whereas a sinful mind would be greeted, for instance, by wrathful
deities and terrifying apparitions, a virtuous mind would find itself
welcomed by the benign experience of the person’s own Yidam or
protector deities in their benign aspect. It would be a time of great
joy....even enthusiasm...for such a person. But the process of death
itself comes about when a person’s life force separates from the
physical body. There are four elements from which the human
organism has arisen. At the time of death the elements of earth,
water, fire and air begin to become absorbed one into the other, or
so it appears to the subjective consciousness undergoing the
experience of death.

  Death itself is usually accompanied by physical debility, pain
and helplessness to check the process by medicine or prayers or
any other means. It is also accompanied by great mental anxiety,
confusion and remorse. For these reasons the subjective experience
seems to be accompanied by terrifying apparitions and frightful
sounds, a din so noisy in fact that the consciousness finally just
                               Page 4 of 7
swoons away and becomes unconscious for a brief time. Generally
this is the way it happens for unprepared beings.

   Again, as we said, those who are prepared for the Bardo know
how to recognize these possesses as they occur and are more or less
ready. Here we can see the great value of such preparations as
meditation and instruction for practice in the preceding birth place
Bardo in helping one’s consciousness with each experience as it
arises.

   However the process of death might appear subjectively, from a
tantric point of view, what is happening is the red element and the
white element which are contained within one’s body are merging
or coming together. The red element is to have been acquired from
one’s mother and the white form one’ father. The red element is
said to reside in the region of the navel while the white is found at
the crown of one’s head. During the process of death, when the
mind is separating from the body, the red element begins to rise up
from the navel toward the heart. When that happens, one perceives
everything as if it were roseate or as if the sun were shining. One
becomes aware of the colour red and everything seems tinged with
red. As the white element begins to descend from the crown of the
head toward the heart, one similarly perceives everything as being
white or as if the moon were shining. These two processes are
called the red path and the white path. When these two meet in the
heart region, they are called the blackout because here the two have
met and merged and one has lost consciousness and entered into a
swoon. At that instant of their merging all thought constructs, all
attachment and aversion and delusion, all desire anger and
ignorance, are checked for a while. Then one enters the next Bardo,
the Bardo of the clear light of reality. Here one subjectively
perceives the clear light of reality which may also be called
ultimate reality. Beings who are unprepared and fail to recognize it
for what it is immediately fall unconscious. For a good meditator
who has spent a long time in right meditation, however, this
experience is a very propitious one. If he does recognize the clear
light of reality for what it is, he at once awakens into B uddhahood.
But if a being, either through ignorance or for want of sufficient
preparation for the clear light experience, falls to recognize this
                               Page 5 of 7
state for what it is, he passes on into the third Bardo: the Bardo of
becoming, which is also called the Bardo of karmic propensities.

   Almost as if one were suddenly awakened, one next becomes
aware of many apparitions as decide in the Book of the Dead.
There appear apparitions of various deities, the herukas in their
wrathful aspect. Their wrathful forms are so terrifying that it is
very very difficult to be truly in possession of one’s senses and to
recognize them for what they are, let alone to have the courage to
pray to them. They are extremely fierce and terrifying. Some are as
large as mountains and those who are small are of human size.
They are of such wrathful aspect that it is very hard for a being to
recognize them as emanations or projections of his mind. It often
happens that beings pass on here also. If they can recognize these
apparitions of deities for what they are, they pass immediately into
one of the pure Buddha realms. If however this opportunity is
missed, one next becomes aware of the presence of the various
Dhyani Buddhas, the Buddha Amitabha and others. These Buddhas
appear to one with such tremendous luster that one has difficulty
gazing upon them in their radiance.

   Simultaneously, there appear to one other dimmer lights which
are much softer, more inviting, and easier to look at. Often a being
will choose to turn toward the dimmer of the lights and away from
the brilliant manifestation of the Dhyani Buddhas. If he does this,
he will move towards rebirth in one of the realms of worldly
existence. Here are examples. If he turns toward the dimmer white
light, he will be reborn among the celestials. Moving toward the
black light results in rebirth in the hells and the red light, the realm
of hungry ghosts.

   In the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the various
apparitions are said to appear to the consciousness on the first,
second or seventh day. It speaks of different apparitions or
phenomena as coming on successive days. But it should be
understood that it is not speaking of human days of twenty -four
hours but rather of meditative days periods of time. They may be,
for a good meditator, of considerable length of time and much time
might be spent in each of these various stages of the process. If a
                                Page 6 of 7
person, however, is unprepared for the experience, they may be of
very short duration..... so short, in fact, that one hardly knows what
has happened. From here we pass into the next Bardo state.

   In the fourth Bardo, the Bardo of becoming, one is now aware
that one is in the Bardo and one has separated from the former
physical existence and identity. One is faced with the prospects of
rebirth. Those whose unfortunate minds are governed by
unwholesome propensities and sinful inclinations now are filled
with great anxiety and apprehension about their lot in this state and
about where they are headed. they are now quite clear about what it
was they should have been doing. At this time great regret and
great remorse for the bad karma they have accumulated arises.
They feel themselves bereft of any hope and are quite helpless due
to what are known as the winds of karma which are now propelling
them along (due to the strength of their karmic inclinations) toward
one rebirth or another. Now they begin to have visions of various
places of rebirth. If, for example, he feels himself drawn toward an
iron house, then that being is on his way to rebirth i n the hells.
Should he fancy himself entering a clump of grass, a thatched hut
or some sort of foliage or vegetation, he is headed for animal
rebirth. If his vision is one of soldiers marching and he moves to
join them, he will be reborn among the titans. But if he sees
himself entering a very fine mansion, his rebirth will be among the
gods or humans.

   This has been a very brief description of the four Bardo states. It
should be stressed that the experience throughout this after death
state is very intense because one is no longer encumbered by the
faculties of sense organs, by the distractions of this world, or by
deluded notions of the self in a worldly context. All of these
distractions that diminish our awareness of our experience are gone
and the Bardo appears very stark, intense and clear. One’s mind is
also, of course, highly concentrated and sensitive to the entire
process. Because this is so, if one has the advantage of meditative
experience in preparation for the Bardo, it is much easier to
respond in a dharmic and meditative and concentrative way and
thus to act upon the instructions that one has learned in preparation
for the Bardo.
                               Page 7 of 7
This is why I have in my own practice throughout my life tried
to concentrate on and to teach the meditation of the Bodhisattva of
Great Compassion, Avalokiteshvara. I teach it to all my students
because it does provide the most excellent preparation for the
Bardo through its twin processes: the process of creation including
visualization, and the process of completion or learning the
meditation upon the nature of the mind. I also stress reinforcing
that daily practice of meditation with the non-sessional practice in
which one tries to recollect all things as manifestations of the
deity’s body, voice and mind and diligently to turn all the
experiences of this life, however mundane they appear, into the
path of meditation of great compassion. I feel quite confident that
this is the best way to prepare for those four states of the Bardo. I
am confident in the blessings of the Bodhisattva of Great
Compassion. I am very happy to have had this opportunity to share
with you this brief outline of the Bardo doctrine.




                       Question & Answer

Q1: What is the nature of the preparation for the Bardo and the
    clear light Bardo? Is it mainly a practice we do in this life or
    are there specific instructions which would be possible to
    remember as we are experiencing the Bardo?

A1: Generally speaking, the practices described during the lecture,
    for example meditation upon one’s deity and other regular
    meditations are sufficient. There are particular practices such
    as the six yogas which are taught by the Sakya order and are
    also found in the teachings of the other Tibetan orders. They
    are the dream yoga, the yoga of transference of consciou sness,
    the heat yoga, and so on. These are also quite good and helpful.
    If you have received those instructions and the appropriate
    major initiations which accompany them, it is very good if you
    wish to practice them also. if you haven’t received those

                               Page 8 of 7
instructions and their initiations and wish to do so, that is
   something you might consider.

Q2: The Tibetan Book of the Dead gives very specific instructions
    for dealing with someone who has just died. The body is not to
    be moved, etc. This may not be possible in the settings where
    beings are not aware of the teachings such as modern hospitals.
    With that in mind how should one do for someone who is dying
    or has just died?

A2: In accord with the beliefs about the after death state Tibetan
    Buddhists have the custom of not disposing of the body for a
    number of days...three to seven days at the most. The reason
    for this is that since Tibetans are loath to take the life of any
    living being, they want to be sure, first of all, that the
    consciousness will not return and the body revive. It is known
    that among meditators it sometimes happens that, at the time of
    what appears to others as his death, he enters into a state of
    deep meditative absorption from which he might possibly
    return. Or in any case he might not be fully dead. So until it is
    quite certain that he has absolutely parted with his body and
    entered into the Bardo, Tibetans want to be very careful in
    disposing of the body. For non-meditators however it usually
    happens that the consciousness parts from the body almost
    immediately, even with the last breath that is exhaled. Here
    there is a total separation of body and mind and that concern
    does not apply. but even then usually for three days the corpse
    is kept in the house. During that time blessings and pray ers are
    invoked to help the departed consciousness. the name of the
    Buddha is recited over and over in the presence of the corpse,
    prayers for his guidance and auspicious rebirth or liberation are
    recited again and again. In these ways efforts are made to help
    the being through the traumatic experiences in the Bardo states.
    Where it is possible among non-Buddhists or in a non-Buddhist
    environment to observe any of those, of course, it is desirable.
    At least from our point of view any or all should be practi ced.

Q3: What happens to someone who dies abruptly without warning
    and with no chance to prepare for the Bardo?
                               Page 9 of 7
A3: Any of us can be hit by a car suddenly but it still remains the
    case that a person who has prepared himself for the Bardo will
    not find himself at a loss, whenever and however the
    experience arises.

Q4: Rinpoche mentioned that throughout the after death experience
    there is what you termed an intense texture to the
    phenomenological thing there. Would Rinpoche tell us if there
    is any way we could acquaint ourselves with this sensitive state
    before leaving our bodies at death? Are there any gaps or
    anything we could refer ourselves to? Would Rinpoche shed
    some light on this?

A4: There too, meditation is the answer because it is still the mind
    whether it is an allegedly more intense or less intense
    experience in this life or in the post-death experience. It is still
    mind which undergoes the experience. So the more you
    meditate and learn right meditation in this life, the more you
    will be prepared for any eventuality in the Bardo. As we
    mentioned earlier, this present state is also a Bardo.

Q5: What can we do to be able to recognize the clear light
    experience when it dawns ?

A5: Again, you should meditate very diligently and should daily
    practice the stages of meditation, first concentration and then
    insight meditation. If you do these, you ill proceed with no
    problem and will be quite prepared for the dawning of the clear
    light.

Q6: Does Rinpoche recognize psychedelic experiences as being
    analogus to or at least capable of producing Bardo experiences
    ?


                        ***      ***           ***


                                Page 10 of 7
This discourse was delivered by the Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche
at the request of Jetsun Sakya Center on 19 November 1977 at the
American Buddhist Academy in New York City. It was translated by
Ngawang Sonam Tenzin, transcribed by the American Buddhist
Kunga Tendzin and prepared for publication by Dechen Zangmo.




                            Page 11 of 7

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Bardo teaching-dezhung rinpoche

  • 1. THE BARDO An Oral Teaching by The Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche Translated by J. Douglas Rhoton Copyright . 1982 by Jetsun Sakya Center for Buddhist Studies and Meditator, Inc. All rights reserved. I’ve been asked to speak today on the doctrine of the after death experience which is known in Tibetan as the Bardo. I realize that this is considered to be something of a special Buddhist doctrine. First of all I would like to put it in its perspective. Lord Buddha, in
  • 2. his effort to communicate the teachings of Enlightenment to beings, taught countless doctrines. It is said that there are 84,000 articles of doctrine expounded by Lord Buddha and that all 84,000 can be assumed into the first teachings he ever gave. That teaching is known as the Four Noble Truths. These four truths are: the truth of suffering, of the causes of suffering, of the cessation of suffering, and of the path. These four truths are the quintessence of all the manifold teachings, doctrines and expositions of Dharma ever given by Lord Buddha. To review them briefly ... the first, the truth of suffering, refers to the pervasivesness of dissatisfaction, of unrest, of mental and physical ‘die-case’, all of which is due to the erroneous belief in a self. When unenlightened minds fall into the error of a belief in a self and go to act on that belief, the mind becomes governed by mental defilements such as desire, aversion, and delusion. Through these mental poisons, as they are called, beings take action. These actions compel them to take rebirth in one or another state of existence upon the round of existence. Briefly this describes both the fact of suffering that beings generate and experience as well as the cause of that unhappiness which is rooted in a mistaken belie f in a self when, in fact, there is nothing... no object of knowledge ...that corresponds to that erroneous belief. Lord Buddha then taught the path which leads to liberation. The path consists in training the body, the speech, and the mind in wholesome ac tions that lead to eventual liberation from not only the experience of pain but also the causes of pain. This path leads to the truth of the cessation of suffering or Nirvana. this is liberation f rom all suffering and its causes. The teachings on the Bardo also can be correlated to the Four Noble Truths expounded by Lord Buddha. The various fears, the frightening appearances, the illusory experience that consciousness encounters in the after death state can be said to correspond to the first of the Four Noble Truths, the truth of suffering. These appearances and the reactions to them that one subjectively undergoes can be said to have originated in the mental defilements such as the passions of desire, hatred, delusion, pride and the rest Page 1 of 7
  • 3. as well as from one’s own karmic actions, be they good bad or indifferent. In this way they correspond to the second truth, the truth of the cause of suffering. To repeat that, the suffering of the experiences of the Bardo also arise from karma and karmic activity and mental defilements. Thus they correspond to the truth of the cause of suffering. If one has been fortunate enough to have received the right instructions for meditation, preparation and practice for the after death experiences, those instructions and that meditative preparation and practice can be equated with the third truth, the truth of the path. Finally, if one is also able to practice effectively during the Bardo, recognize those experiences and appearances for what they are, put them on the path and win (through the realization of oneself) that consciousness corresponding to the Sambhogakaya, one can attain Buddhahood right through that Bardo experience. That realization of Buddhahood during the Bardo state corresponds to the fourth and final Noble Truth, the truth of cessation or liberation from suffering. Now we should try to ascertain the historical source of those special teachings which are known as Bardo doctrine. We know that there are references to the Bardo state, the antarabhave as it is known in Sanskrit, in various Indian texts. We find these primarily in the Abhidharma itself and its commentary, the Abhidharmasamuccaya, as well as in certain of the tantras which belong to the later propagation, the sarma propagation, such as Chakrasamvara, the Hevajra Tantra and several others. But generally speaking we can say that teachings on the Bardo can be divided into two distinct Tibetan traditions : those of the ea rly propagation or Nyingma, and those of the later propagation. These teachings on the Bardo also vary in that while some of them speak of six Bardo states, others speak of four or even three Bardos. For example, Jetsun Milarepa spoke of six Bardo states. Tlis is also true of the Book of the Dead, well known to Westerners. I realize that the Tibetan Book of the Dead has achieved a certain amount of fame among Western Buddhists. It follows the Nyingma tradition and is similar to another Kagyu tradition bas ed Page 2 of 7
  • 4. upon a text written by Tashi Tseringma, a great yogi. Both texts speak of six Bardo states. However the six states that both discuss can also be subsumed into the more standard four Bardo states described in sarma tantric literature. These four are: the birth place Bardo, the Bardo of the death experience, the reality Bardo, and the Bardo of becoming which is also called the Bardo of Karmic propensities. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead which has been translated into English and the other text by Tashi Ts eringma there are two other Bardos which are called the dream Bardo and the Bardo of meditative absorption, the samten Bardo. These two can, as we said, be subsumed into the first four. Etymologically the word Bardo means the interval between two points. Generally when we say the word Bardo, we think of it as referring to that state in which consciousness finds itself between death and rebirth. Really we are, right now, in this present life also involved in the Bardo. We are undergoing the Bardo of experie nce or the interval between our last birth and our future death. This is the birth place Bardo. Many of us might not have known that.... it isn’t a very popular way of looking at our present life. It’s not surprising that we don’t recognize the present l ife as a Bardo... after all, we are the ones in the habit of believing very firmly in a self when actually no self exists and in seeing things as substantial and real when they aren’t. So it is hardly surprising that we do not recognize our present human life as being part of the Bardo cycle. Now, understanding that this is the case, we should consider what to do about it. What would be appropriate practice at this stage of the Bardo? First we should be diligent in making the most of the opportunity. We ca do this by learning the Dharma, through receiving instructions from qualified teachers, seeking tantric empowerments and guidance and instructions in meditation (also under qualified teachers), and constantly exercising our minds in mindfulness and recollection that “These are the teachings of Buddhism which I have heard. These are the instructions that my guru has given me for meditation. This is my trusted preceptor. These are his teachings. This is my Yidam (my chosen deity) on whom I am meditating.” Further we should develop ourselves in constantly reminding ourselves that all sounds should be heard as Page 3 of 7
  • 5. the deity’s mantra, all thoughts that arise (good, bad and indifferent) should be seen as manifestations of his transcendent wisdom, and all forms should be viewed as the deity’s form. If we train ourselves in these practices in this lifetime, our chances of being prepared for the Bardo of becoming, the post-death experience,a re very good. Also our chances of recognizing and of knowing what should be done in that Bardo preceding and then immediately following death, wherein the Bardo of the clear light of reality shines forth, are much better. Further, even if one should find oneself in the Bardo of becoming, one’s chances of recognizing the situation and dealing with it appropriately are much enhanced. The second Bardo is that of the death experience. It is also called the unhappy Bardo because, at the time death occurs and one is wrenched away from the affairs of this world into a very uncertain insecure state of consciousness, great fear as well as uncertainty, anxiety and apprehension arises for those persons who in their lives had unfortunately committed many unwholesome actions. For those beings, however, who had devoted themselves to wholesome ways of conduct, the process is not so terrifying. Whereas a sinful mind would be greeted, for instance, by wrathful deities and terrifying apparitions, a virtuous mind would find itself welcomed by the benign experience of the person’s own Yidam or protector deities in their benign aspect. It would be a time of great joy....even enthusiasm...for such a person. But the process of death itself comes about when a person’s life force separates from the physical body. There are four elements from which the human organism has arisen. At the time of death the elements of earth, water, fire and air begin to become absorbed one into the other, or so it appears to the subjective consciousness undergoing the experience of death. Death itself is usually accompanied by physical debility, pain and helplessness to check the process by medicine or prayers or any other means. It is also accompanied by great mental anxiety, confusion and remorse. For these reasons the subjective experience seems to be accompanied by terrifying apparitions and frightful sounds, a din so noisy in fact that the consciousness finally just Page 4 of 7
  • 6. swoons away and becomes unconscious for a brief time. Generally this is the way it happens for unprepared beings. Again, as we said, those who are prepared for the Bardo know how to recognize these possesses as they occur and are more or less ready. Here we can see the great value of such preparations as meditation and instruction for practice in the preceding birth place Bardo in helping one’s consciousness with each experience as it arises. However the process of death might appear subjectively, from a tantric point of view, what is happening is the red element and the white element which are contained within one’s body are merging or coming together. The red element is to have been acquired from one’s mother and the white form one’ father. The red element is said to reside in the region of the navel while the white is found at the crown of one’s head. During the process of death, when the mind is separating from the body, the red element begins to rise up from the navel toward the heart. When that happens, one perceives everything as if it were roseate or as if the sun were shining. One becomes aware of the colour red and everything seems tinged with red. As the white element begins to descend from the crown of the head toward the heart, one similarly perceives everything as being white or as if the moon were shining. These two processes are called the red path and the white path. When these two meet in the heart region, they are called the blackout because here the two have met and merged and one has lost consciousness and entered into a swoon. At that instant of their merging all thought constructs, all attachment and aversion and delusion, all desire anger and ignorance, are checked for a while. Then one enters the next Bardo, the Bardo of the clear light of reality. Here one subjectively perceives the clear light of reality which may also be called ultimate reality. Beings who are unprepared and fail to recognize it for what it is immediately fall unconscious. For a good meditator who has spent a long time in right meditation, however, this experience is a very propitious one. If he does recognize the clear light of reality for what it is, he at once awakens into B uddhahood. But if a being, either through ignorance or for want of sufficient preparation for the clear light experience, falls to recognize this Page 5 of 7
  • 7. state for what it is, he passes on into the third Bardo: the Bardo of becoming, which is also called the Bardo of karmic propensities. Almost as if one were suddenly awakened, one next becomes aware of many apparitions as decide in the Book of the Dead. There appear apparitions of various deities, the herukas in their wrathful aspect. Their wrathful forms are so terrifying that it is very very difficult to be truly in possession of one’s senses and to recognize them for what they are, let alone to have the courage to pray to them. They are extremely fierce and terrifying. Some are as large as mountains and those who are small are of human size. They are of such wrathful aspect that it is very hard for a being to recognize them as emanations or projections of his mind. It often happens that beings pass on here also. If they can recognize these apparitions of deities for what they are, they pass immediately into one of the pure Buddha realms. If however this opportunity is missed, one next becomes aware of the presence of the various Dhyani Buddhas, the Buddha Amitabha and others. These Buddhas appear to one with such tremendous luster that one has difficulty gazing upon them in their radiance. Simultaneously, there appear to one other dimmer lights which are much softer, more inviting, and easier to look at. Often a being will choose to turn toward the dimmer of the lights and away from the brilliant manifestation of the Dhyani Buddhas. If he does this, he will move towards rebirth in one of the realms of worldly existence. Here are examples. If he turns toward the dimmer white light, he will be reborn among the celestials. Moving toward the black light results in rebirth in the hells and the red light, the realm of hungry ghosts. In the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the various apparitions are said to appear to the consciousness on the first, second or seventh day. It speaks of different apparitions or phenomena as coming on successive days. But it should be understood that it is not speaking of human days of twenty -four hours but rather of meditative days periods of time. They may be, for a good meditator, of considerable length of time and much time might be spent in each of these various stages of the process. If a Page 6 of 7
  • 8. person, however, is unprepared for the experience, they may be of very short duration..... so short, in fact, that one hardly knows what has happened. From here we pass into the next Bardo state. In the fourth Bardo, the Bardo of becoming, one is now aware that one is in the Bardo and one has separated from the former physical existence and identity. One is faced with the prospects of rebirth. Those whose unfortunate minds are governed by unwholesome propensities and sinful inclinations now are filled with great anxiety and apprehension about their lot in this state and about where they are headed. they are now quite clear about what it was they should have been doing. At this time great regret and great remorse for the bad karma they have accumulated arises. They feel themselves bereft of any hope and are quite helpless due to what are known as the winds of karma which are now propelling them along (due to the strength of their karmic inclinations) toward one rebirth or another. Now they begin to have visions of various places of rebirth. If, for example, he feels himself drawn toward an iron house, then that being is on his way to rebirth i n the hells. Should he fancy himself entering a clump of grass, a thatched hut or some sort of foliage or vegetation, he is headed for animal rebirth. If his vision is one of soldiers marching and he moves to join them, he will be reborn among the titans. But if he sees himself entering a very fine mansion, his rebirth will be among the gods or humans. This has been a very brief description of the four Bardo states. It should be stressed that the experience throughout this after death state is very intense because one is no longer encumbered by the faculties of sense organs, by the distractions of this world, or by deluded notions of the self in a worldly context. All of these distractions that diminish our awareness of our experience are gone and the Bardo appears very stark, intense and clear. One’s mind is also, of course, highly concentrated and sensitive to the entire process. Because this is so, if one has the advantage of meditative experience in preparation for the Bardo, it is much easier to respond in a dharmic and meditative and concentrative way and thus to act upon the instructions that one has learned in preparation for the Bardo. Page 7 of 7
  • 9. This is why I have in my own practice throughout my life tried to concentrate on and to teach the meditation of the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion, Avalokiteshvara. I teach it to all my students because it does provide the most excellent preparation for the Bardo through its twin processes: the process of creation including visualization, and the process of completion or learning the meditation upon the nature of the mind. I also stress reinforcing that daily practice of meditation with the non-sessional practice in which one tries to recollect all things as manifestations of the deity’s body, voice and mind and diligently to turn all the experiences of this life, however mundane they appear, into the path of meditation of great compassion. I feel quite confident that this is the best way to prepare for those four states of the Bardo. I am confident in the blessings of the Bodhisattva of Great Compassion. I am very happy to have had this opportunity to share with you this brief outline of the Bardo doctrine. Question & Answer Q1: What is the nature of the preparation for the Bardo and the clear light Bardo? Is it mainly a practice we do in this life or are there specific instructions which would be possible to remember as we are experiencing the Bardo? A1: Generally speaking, the practices described during the lecture, for example meditation upon one’s deity and other regular meditations are sufficient. There are particular practices such as the six yogas which are taught by the Sakya order and are also found in the teachings of the other Tibetan orders. They are the dream yoga, the yoga of transference of consciou sness, the heat yoga, and so on. These are also quite good and helpful. If you have received those instructions and the appropriate major initiations which accompany them, it is very good if you wish to practice them also. if you haven’t received those Page 8 of 7
  • 10. instructions and their initiations and wish to do so, that is something you might consider. Q2: The Tibetan Book of the Dead gives very specific instructions for dealing with someone who has just died. The body is not to be moved, etc. This may not be possible in the settings where beings are not aware of the teachings such as modern hospitals. With that in mind how should one do for someone who is dying or has just died? A2: In accord with the beliefs about the after death state Tibetan Buddhists have the custom of not disposing of the body for a number of days...three to seven days at the most. The reason for this is that since Tibetans are loath to take the life of any living being, they want to be sure, first of all, that the consciousness will not return and the body revive. It is known that among meditators it sometimes happens that, at the time of what appears to others as his death, he enters into a state of deep meditative absorption from which he might possibly return. Or in any case he might not be fully dead. So until it is quite certain that he has absolutely parted with his body and entered into the Bardo, Tibetans want to be very careful in disposing of the body. For non-meditators however it usually happens that the consciousness parts from the body almost immediately, even with the last breath that is exhaled. Here there is a total separation of body and mind and that concern does not apply. but even then usually for three days the corpse is kept in the house. During that time blessings and pray ers are invoked to help the departed consciousness. the name of the Buddha is recited over and over in the presence of the corpse, prayers for his guidance and auspicious rebirth or liberation are recited again and again. In these ways efforts are made to help the being through the traumatic experiences in the Bardo states. Where it is possible among non-Buddhists or in a non-Buddhist environment to observe any of those, of course, it is desirable. At least from our point of view any or all should be practi ced. Q3: What happens to someone who dies abruptly without warning and with no chance to prepare for the Bardo? Page 9 of 7
  • 11. A3: Any of us can be hit by a car suddenly but it still remains the case that a person who has prepared himself for the Bardo will not find himself at a loss, whenever and however the experience arises. Q4: Rinpoche mentioned that throughout the after death experience there is what you termed an intense texture to the phenomenological thing there. Would Rinpoche tell us if there is any way we could acquaint ourselves with this sensitive state before leaving our bodies at death? Are there any gaps or anything we could refer ourselves to? Would Rinpoche shed some light on this? A4: There too, meditation is the answer because it is still the mind whether it is an allegedly more intense or less intense experience in this life or in the post-death experience. It is still mind which undergoes the experience. So the more you meditate and learn right meditation in this life, the more you will be prepared for any eventuality in the Bardo. As we mentioned earlier, this present state is also a Bardo. Q5: What can we do to be able to recognize the clear light experience when it dawns ? A5: Again, you should meditate very diligently and should daily practice the stages of meditation, first concentration and then insight meditation. If you do these, you ill proceed with no problem and will be quite prepared for the dawning of the clear light. Q6: Does Rinpoche recognize psychedelic experiences as being analogus to or at least capable of producing Bardo experiences ? *** *** *** Page 10 of 7
  • 12. This discourse was delivered by the Venerable Dezhung Rinpoche at the request of Jetsun Sakya Center on 19 November 1977 at the American Buddhist Academy in New York City. It was translated by Ngawang Sonam Tenzin, transcribed by the American Buddhist Kunga Tendzin and prepared for publication by Dechen Zangmo. Page 11 of 7