Bardo: life after death
The doctrine of death and rebirth, Bardo todrol, was born in Tibetan Buddhism. The information about it is presented in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Death is not the end, but the birth is not the beginning. Death means that the higher self “I” leaves the gross body.
However, in a cyclic process of life-death-rebirth, there are four main types of Bardo, i.e transitional states of consciousness according to some schools in Tibet.
1. The first type of these states is Bardo of Birth, this is what we call life. It is also called Bardo of Life.
Now we are born and live in the world of humans. Our individual karma, that is, the actions that we commit during our present lifetime will determine the kind of world we will be reborn in our next lifetime.
Within Bardo of life we can distinguish three types of consciousness state: Bardo of sleeping state, Bardo of awaken state, and Bardo of meditative state.
2. Bardo of Death is a state that lasts from the beginning of dying until the separation of the soul from the body.
Just before the death, the senses stop working, and this is a sign of entering into the Bardo of dying. First, we no longer hear, then no longer see, then subsequently the sense of smell disappears, then the taste and the touch.
After that, while we are still alive, our body begins to break down into four basic elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Wind. Upon the completion of this process we are considered dead.
However, after the death, the soul for a short time still remains in the heart center. It stays there until the process of elimination of ties with this life ends. To do this, the pure white light is coming down from the top, in Tibetan dkar lam, White Light. This pure white light, symbolizing the seed of the farther, is coming from the head center to the heart center.
Then, from the navel rises the dark red energy, in Tibetan dmar lam, red, blood, this is also a required experience at death time. This red symbolizes the mother’s menstrual blood, and black admixture in a dark-red light expresses worldly desires. Both white light and the dark-red energies are absorbed into the heart center. In this way, the karma related to the physical body decays to its original elements.
But besides this karma related to genes, the soul from birth has its karma created in past lives, and it affects a person in this lifetime. At the moment of death, in Bardo that karma is also broken down to basic elements. This is the last step that needs to be taken to move to the next transition state. From Heaven there comes a pure black light in Tibetan nag lam, black light. Black symbolizes the contaminated karma of world of humans. This light is also absorbed by the heart center.
Thus, when all the karma of a person breaks down into its fundamental elements, the connection with this world is cut off.
While still being in the Bardo of death, the soul will see another transparent blinding light. This is a clear light of Dharmata. After death the soul can sink into a state of meditation just as it practiced it during its life. It is important to maintain the awareness at the time of your death.
In practice only a high-level practitioner is able to unite with it and enter at the same time into the World Without Form. Such a person must achieve perfection in the correct practice of mind control before the death.
That’s why in the Buddhist monasteries the monks often say, “That’s when it’s time to die, then we’ll see what a great practitioner you are.” The good qualities of man are naturally exposed in the process of dying or death, as well as negative ones. It is believed that death is a golden time for this practice.
In the majority of cases this intense beautiful light in Bardo of death is shocking souls, it scares them, causing a coma and total lost of consciousness and awareness. When consciousness is returned back to them, they see already deities of the Bardo, peaceful or wrathful. Or they slip unconsciously into the next Bardo – Bardo of becoming.
All of the problems experienced in the Bardo of becoming and then in the next life are coming from one thing: at the time of our lives, we did not recognize our original nature, our divine, enlightened essence. Not recognizing our basic nature, when it is exposed in the radiant Bardo Dharmata, with all its manifestations of sounds, colors, light, and peace as well as terrible deities, we fall into the horror and lose the consciousness.
Trying to escape from these impressive and extraordinary manifestations we finally get to the karmic Bardo of becoming. This tendency to avoid recognition of nature of our consciousness and hide from its clear manifestations in the salvation of dualism, this is the reason that pushes us to new rebirth in one of the six realms of samsara.
Meanwhile, if the mind is not lost, but the soul is not able to unite with the first light, and thus enter into the World Without Form, after a while another translucent silvery white light begins to shine. If you manage to unite with this second brilliant light, i.e “jump” into it, you will be able to enter the World of Form and find realization in the measurement sambhogakaya Buddha (Sanskrit sambhogakaya – body of bliss).
This world is made of the finest substances, their food there is light, clothing is also made of light. But for the non-practicing souls, this light is too bright, and they get scared. In order to enter this world one needs to have a great spiritual merit.
Finally, when the silver-white light is fading, there is one more bright light that illuminates the soul of the deceased. It is a beautiful red-purple color. Merged with this light, the soul is reincarnated in nirmanakaya (Sanskrit nirmaakaya – body incarnation, the phenomenal body). People who nurture in their souls holy love and those that have a lot of love for all living beings during their lifetime after death can enter into this light.
3. Dharmata Bardo is an intermediate state of the true nature of mind and phenomena.
One hundred peaceful and wrathful deities of the Bardo will come before the soul of the deceased in the Bardo period of Dharmata. In the “Bardo Todrol” it is stated that all the images of peaceful or wrathful deities, as well as rainbow-colored light that appear at this time, are void, intangible, they arise from one’s own mind, from the energy of their own state of knowledge.
So do not be afraid of the horrific manifestations, “emptiness can not destroy the emptiness.” You have to properly recognize them as a manifestation of your own essence and free yourself from fear and confusion.
Those who have learned during the life of the true nature of self-consciousness, who during their life were contemplating those peaceful and wrathful deities and have an appropriate experience, will be very strong, when the clear light of Bardo of death will shine for them. That is why it is so important to practice while being alive.
Bardo of Ddharmata lasts until the moment of gaining the mental body of Bardo of becoming.
4. Bardo of becoming is an intermediate state, lasting from gaining mental body of Bardo of becoming until entering the mother’s womb, or to another type of gaining physical shell at time of birth.
Mental body in Bardo of becoming is different from the mental body in Bardo of Dharmata. It looks like a body in a former life. This shows the process of restoring the karmic inclinations of the soul. Because of past tendencies and habits an illusory body like before appears .
However, this body is divine, and therefore has some miraculous powers: in its motion it does not encounter obstacles, it has ability to shine because it is composed of hyperfine luminous matter. It is fully equipped with all the feelings that go beyond the physical senses.
At this time, a soul can go to the house where it lived until death, meet relatives and friends, try to talk to them. But not having received a reply from them, it will become aware of its death: “I am dead. What do I do?” Because of the strong attachment the soul is overwhelmed with grief and anguish.
In the Tibetan book of Dead it says: “Even if you enter nine times to your own corpse, the winter will freeze it or it will be exposed to summer degradation, and maybe your relatives will burn it or bury it in the grave, or give it to the birds and the beasts of the field, because a lot of time has passed while you were in Bardo of Dharmata.
So you will not find any place where you are able to enter. You will come into a deep despair, you will feel yourself stifled by rocks and stones. This suffering is called the Bardo of becoming. ”
In the Bardo of becoming the tendency to degenerate into a particular world is already determined at the time. Our actions in the past life karma formed a rebirth, and now the karmic wind inevitably is carrying the soul to its next birth destination. As if during a violent storm, a soul without any merit from past life is rushed in an unknown direction among shadowy and frightening visions.
“This state of Bardo lasts up to forty-nine days but it also depends on karma.”
You will find yourself in a terrible, unbearable storm, with some force pushing you from behind. Do not be afraid of it, because it is your own illusory manifestation. In front of you will see a thick darkness, terrible, unbearable, with terrible slogans: “Hit!” “Kill”. Do not be afraid of them. Those who did a great evil, as a result of their karma will see a lot of demons, eating their flash, carrying various weapons, emitting war cries and shouts “kill! Hit”.
The soul will feel that it is hunted by different terrible beasts that are following it in snow, rain, darkness and storm. You’ll hear how the mountains break down , see lakes overflowing, flames of fire spread out and violent winds. In horror, you will rush wherever you can, but before you there will appear chasms white, red and black, deep and scary, and you will almost fall into them.
Know that these are not actually chasms, those chasms are anger, attachment and ignorance, it’s the abyss to cross. Know now that this is Bardo of becoming, and ask the Lord of Great Compassion not to let you be casted away into the lower worlds!” Pronounce your prayers with all your passion – do not forget this when you are there!
Those who have accumulated merit, who did good deeds will experience perfect joy.
Those who have not done any good or evil, that is indifferent and ignorant, will not experience any pleasure or pain – only ignorance and indifference will be unfolded before them.
The Worlds in Bardo of Birth
When the soul is drawn into one of the Bardo visions and finds a new birth in one of these worlds, it goes to Bardo of birth. In the case of a person’s birth, in most cases, the soul observes the vision of sexual intercourse, unconsciously jumps into the vision, and then finds itself in the mother’s womb.
Since the first days after the death, the worlds are gradually deteriorating. The world of humans appears on the forty-third day, sometime on forty-fifth day there is the world of animals, and in the last forty-ninth day, there is a world of hell.
Depending on its karma a soul can find itself in any of the six worlds within the kamaloka, i.e the world of passions or feelings.
- world of hell
- world of animals
- world of hungry spirits
- world of humans
- world of envy spirits
- world of devas
What are the trends for being reborn in these worlds?
The world of hell is composed of hatred, cruelty, and murder. It is a world in which there is nothing but pain and suffering. There are three categories of hells, hot hell, cold hell, and hell of pain.
Hot hell is the hell based on malice. It is a world in which a strong hatred is accumulated , it is the world of terrible heat and pain.
Cold hell is created from heartlessness. In this hell the souls are experiencing terrible suffering because of the extreme cold.
In the hell of pain are the people who do not have a well-formed hatred or heartlessness, but those who by murdering many living beings ensure their existence. They suffer from severe pain caused to them with sharp tools or weapons. When we kill someone or hurt someone, the vibration of pain is deposited in us in the form of karmic information. And this karma sooner or later must return to us.
The world of animals is ignorance. Animals by nature seek only the pleasures. Thus, there is a great danger for those who like to entertain only, and who seeks only for pleasure. They form the tendency to be reborn as animals in the next life.
The world of hungry spirits is created by greed and the desire of the sole possession. Those who are greedy and seeks only to possess, do not want to share with those who really need it, form the karma for their reincarnation in this world.
The world of humans is created by affection and attachments.
The world of envy spirits Asura is based on jealousy and a feeling of rivalry towards those who are above them, or to those who occupy a privileged position.
The world of devas welcomes souls without any contamination inherent, those who make virtuous deeds, that form factors of Heaven. Here souls experience divine bliss and pleasure until the end their divine karma.
However, it should be mentioned that in the middle of this divine dimension, there is one beautiful world, which brings together practitioners and bodhisattvas who have attained a single return. And this is a pure world of the future Maitreya. Those who in life cultivated wonderful state of mind and holy love can be reincarnated in this world.
Choxie Nima Rinpoche
Translated by E. Baldaeva