by His Eminence Nubpa Konchok Tenzin Rinpoche
Translated by Lama Nyandak
June 30, 2011
Today we are going to discuss the intermediate state between birth and rebirth (to next life) called bardo teaching. Regardless of whether an individual has religious faith or not, the stages of bardo apply to each and every sentient being. However, the bardo teaching is only taught by the Buddhists. Within the Buddhist teachings, you will find that Vajrayana teachings cover more on purification and there are many detailed teachings on the bardo, both in long and short versions. According to the Kagyu-pa tradition, the bardo teaching can be found in the Six Yoga of Naropa teaching whereas according to the Nyingma-pa tradition, it can be found in the hearing liberation text which is called the Tibetan Book of Death. There are also explanations and teachings on bardo given by the great yogi Milarepa. Among the many different explanations and interpretations on the bardo teaching, today’s bardo teaching is based on the teaching of Rinzin Jigme Lingpa.
According to Rinzin Jigme Lingpa’s bardo teaching, there are four stages of bardo state. Out of the four stages of bardo, the first one is the bardo of natural birth and existence which covers from the moment you are born to the moment you die. Second stage of bardo is called the bardo of death. After we know that death is certain, the stages of dissolution of the four elements begin until finally our breath ceases. After one stops breathing, one will faint and become unconscious. After that, one will regain consciousness again which is called bardo of realty (dharmadhatu) and at that time, pure perception starts to occur in one’s consciousness. The forth one is bardo of existence. In that process, all the impure conceptions start to occur and from that point onward, one starts to find a new life and new body for the consciousness.
Throughout all of these stages of bardo, one has possibility and opportunity to liberate oneself to the state of enlightenment. However, that kind of liberation can take place only if we have good foundation of practice during the bardo of natural birth and existence. How can we establish a good foundation so that we can have the opportunity to liberate ourselves in the next stage? When we obtain this precious human life while we are alive, we should find an authentic spiritual master and we should receive proper instructions from the spiritual master. After that, you must develop a sense of genuine renunciation and bodhicitta (the altruistic intention to attain enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings). These are the foundation for us to liberate in the state of bardo. After we are able to develop renunciation and bodhicitta, according to sutrayana, we have to practice the six perfections/paramitas – generosity, moral ethics, patience, perseverance, concentration and wisdom. Then according to the Vajrayana tradition or the secret mantra tradition, from the authentic spiritual master, you should receive the liberation instructions and the ripening initiations. After that, you have to apply yourself to the generation stage and the completion stage of the practice.
According to the Buddhist understanding and perspective of the existence of our own life, our body is composed of four elements – earth, water, wind and fire elements In addition to that, there are space and consciousness. Altogether, our human body is composed of six elements. When the process of death takes place in our life, it is said that earth element dissolves into water element etc, which means that the ability and potential of the elements are not functioning well. The earth element starts dissolving means that the ability and potential of the earth element is not functioning well. The outer sign is that body becomes thin and limbs become loose and there is a sense that the body is sinking under the earch and one cannot move at all. The inner sign of that is that you see mirage. When the potential of the water element starts to decrease, the outer sign is that you cannot control your mouth saliva and nose mucus. They come out automatically. The inner sign is that you cannot see clearly as if it is smoky or foggy. When the potential of the fire element starts to decrease, the outer sign is that the heat of the body starts to degenerate and the inner sign of the body is that you see firebugs in the night time. When the potential of the wind element starts to degenerate, the outer sign is that you are able to breathe out but not able to breathe in. The inner sign is as if the delicate lamp is blown by the wind. At that time, your eyes start to gaze slightly upward and widely open. At that point, the outer breath/energy of the body has already stopped but the inner breath is still within the body itself. This is the point when the dying person receives Phowa practice either by the individual himself/herself who has been practicing Phowa while alive or by another person who has Phowa practice. It is also said that this is the point when one can help the dying person by chanting Buddha’s name right next to his/her ears or by reciting the mantras.
Next comes three processes. First is the process of white appearance. Our body is formed by the semen of the father and the blood of the mother. When the potential of father’s semen dissolves, from your central channel, the white bindu starts to drop down until it touches the heart level, then you see that everything is white just like a moon (being white) has been arisen in the sky. At that time, your afflicted emotions start to degenerate and afflicted emotion of anger ceases to exist. Second is red appearance. When the blood from your mother moves from navel level upward via the central channel of your body until the heart center, then you will have vision of the sun (being red) which is very bright has arisen. At that point, the afflicted emotion of attachment ceases to exist from our mind. When these white and red color appearances come and join together and with the present of our consciousness, we will have a complete black-out. This is the third process. At that point, ignorance will cease to exist. There will be complete darkness and we become unconscious. There will be no outer appearance at all. After that you start to regain consciousness and you will see brightness just like sun rises in the morning. That is the point where the state of our mind is free from subject and object dualistic idea. Our mind is the union of emptiness and clarity. At that point, if we has good practice on mahamudra or whatever practice we may have when we are alive, it will merge together with our practice, the basic luminosity nature of the mind comes together. This is the point where we can liberate ourselves into the state of dharmakaya. This is called the dharmakaya liberation in the bardo of death. Whether we will be able to liberate ourselves depends completely on the practice that we have done when we are alive. The period of time, the gap in between, when we are going to have this experience in the bardo of death is not very long and the duration depends completely on our practice. For example, while you are alive, if your practice goes on around 10 minutes or 15 minutes or whatever length of time it may be and during which you are able to maintain your mind in the state which is free from any kind of concept at all, then it will be that length of time that you are going to experience in the bardo state. Individuals who are not really familiar with the Dharma practice or who have not received any instructions on the bardo teachings, the instance that they stay in the bardo is very short, momentary just like one instance of lightening. At that point, individual will not be able to recognize that. Of course, the basic foundation of luminosity occurs to each and every individual; however, not each and every individual recognizes this clear light.
If you is not able to liberate in the bardo of death, after that, you will start to have new appearance. The new appearance will be in form of light or rainbow. When the appearance is getting grosser and grosser, all the appearances will appear to you in form of deities. It is said that on the first day, we will have the appearance of Vairoyana and on the second day, the appearance of Amitabha and so on. Day after day, all the five Buddha families will appear to you one by one. After all the appearances of the peaceful deities, next, you are going to have appearances of wrathful deities. At that point, if you have deity practices while you are alive, when peaceful and wrathful deities appear to you and if you are able to recognize your personal deity whatever you are used to practice, you can be liberated. You will be able to understand that the deity is the manifestation of your own mind. If you are able to understand in this way, you can be liberated in the sambogakaya state of Buddhahood. It is said that if one has been practicing and have seen the peaceful and wrathful deity images when one is alive, it would be very beneficial and helpful to one at that point. Simultaneously at that point, different sounds appear, the sound of mantras such as HUNG, PHAT can be heard. Individuals who are not familiar with those practices, instead of recognizing the deities as the nature of their own mind, they will be terrified with those sounds HUNG PHAT sounds of the mantras. Generally speaking, at that stage, we do not really have the substantial or tangible body; rather we only have the mental body. Even though one does not have a tangible body and that one understand that one cannot be harmed by anyone physically, but since one is not familiar with the practice of Dharma, one will be terrified. Individuals, who are familiar with the practices and have visualized themselves as deities when they are alive, when they start having the perception of having a mental body, if they immediately recall the visualization of the deity that they have been practicing, they can be liberated in the sambogakaya body. It is called sambogakaya liberation. While we are alive, there are practices that we visualize ourselves as the deity. The crucial point is that at the stage of bardo, we can be liberated in the sambogakaya body. This is called the bardo of dharmadatu or the bardo of reality. The reason it is called the bardo of dharmadhatu or the bardo of realty is that everything appears in that state is nothing but the manifestation of dharmadhatu or the manifestation of the reality itself.
If we are not liberated through practices, our mental appearance will at a grosser and grosser level, and after that, we have a feeling of having a physical body. According to our mental disposition and the imprints from the past, we will try to have a body, the body that we wish for. This is called the bardo of existence. It is said that at that point, if individuals who are wandering in the bardo state has contaminated clairvoyance and miracle power and so on, since at that point, they do not have any physical/tangible body, wherever they think of, they will be there right the way. They can see all other people but nobody can see them. They can see the close ones and love ones and relatives. When they see that the close ones and love ones are crying for them, they will feel very sad. The beings in the bardo of existence only hope to get a new body. Every seven days, they will have opportunity to have a new body. Every seven days, they will be able to recall and experience the cause of death and the death itself, in this way they will have to suffer every seven days. Because of the lack of knowledge of this in our day to day life, there are people committing suicide not realizing that their suffering will not end by committing suicide. Rather, they have to suffer again and again every seven days of whatever the cause of death and the pain that has gone through during death. They have to experience those pain and suffering again and again. This is something that we have to understand. Because of the knowledge that the death people will obtain a new body every seven days, in Tibet, there is a tradition of performing lots of ritual ceremonies for the death person every seven days so that they can find a new body sooner.
In the bardo of existence, if you are familiar with the practice of Phowa, you can use it at this point – whatever Buddha’s pure land that you are aspired to be reborn to, you focus on that and you can eject your consciousness to the pureland of the Buddha. According to the Vajrayana tradition, every practitioner must have a personal deity. The reason is that in the bardo state, you will be able to see your personal deity. For example, if your personal deity is Avalokiteshvara, Buddha of Compassion, if you are familiar with Avalokiteshvara, you will be able to see him in the bardo state. It is said that no matter what, you will definitely see your personal deity in the bardo state. If you are able to recognize your personal deity, you can be reborn in that particular deity’s pureland. This is the point where you can choose your next life. In order to choose a better reborn next life, we need to do practice in this life. Therefore, in this life, we need to reduce our attachment and anger. With attachment and anger, we will be reborn as an ordinary person, for example, if we have too much attachment to our father, we will be reborn as female. If we have too much attachment to the mother, we will be reborn as male.
Generally speaking, samsara is divided into three realms – desire realm, form realm and formless realm. If they are going to be reborn in the desire realm, they have a tendency to have clinging to the flowers, birds, beautiful mountains, lakes and so on. Those who are going to be reborn in the form realm, they have a tendency to have clinging to lights. Those who are going to be reborn in the formless realm, their mind is completely blank (empty).
Those individuals who created lots of negative karma, in the bardo state, they will be terrified as if there were lots of harmful enemies coming towards them and they are chased by wild animals and so on. They are terrified by themselves because of the negative patterns that imprint in their own mind. One of the important things is that all appearances are nothing but the appearance or the manifestation of our own mind. If you are able to understand that whatever appears to you is the deluded state of the mind, so whatever terrifying or beautiful things appear towards us, if you see that those are nothing but the appearance of your own nature of the mind, you will not be harmed, you will be protected. In the Buddhist teachings, it is said that we should always view phenomena as dream like nature and illusion like nature. If you get used to such practices and get used to dream like nature and illusion like nature, in the bardo state, whatever things appear to you, you will be able to see it as dream like nature and illusion like nature and you will not be harmed..
Of course, when we talk about the stages of bardo and the dissolution stage of our death, it is like telling the story and listening to the story of bardo; but if you try to understand more closely in our day to day life, every night when we sleep, the process of getting to sleep everyday itself, dissolution stage also takes place there. In the Six Yoga of Naropa practice, there is one practice called the clear light practice. Clear light practice is done when you sleep. After you fall into sleep and when you are in deep sleep, you try to have a clear light state during the deep sleep. If you have these practices, it will be very easy for you to recognize the clear light in the bardo state. In the Six Yoga of Naropa, there is mentioning of dream yoga and illusory yoga practice. In the dream yoga practice, you are going to try to find out your own dream. When you have dream, you try to recognize that that is a dream. If you are able to understand that dream is a dream, it will help you not to develop attachment when there is wonderful dream. You will not evoke anger if you understand that dream is dream if the dream is a bad one. The result of that kind of practice, you can apply it in the bardo state. In the bardo state, whether it is good or bad, if you are able to see everything as dream like nature, you will not able to develop attachment to the appearance that appears to you.
If you have good practice of Phowa (the practice of transference of consciousness to the pureland of Buddha) and when you are about to die and if you know for sure you are going to die, at that point, if you are able to use the Phowa practice, you do not have to go through all the suffering mentioned in the bardo state. You will be liberated before you go through the bardo state. Even if you are not able to apply that in that state, you can at least make sure that you can apply Phowa in the bardo of existence. Even though you are not familiar with Dharma practice but if you follow the Buddhist Path and in your mind, you remember that the Three Jewels – Buddha, Dharma and Sangha is your protector, and if you have single-minded faith to the three Jewels and you do aspiration prayer, you will have better rebirth in your next life. It is said that one should take refuge in the Three Jewels. One of the benefits of taking refuge is that if one remembers Three Jewels during bardo, in that way, one will not be reborn into the lower realms. For the superior practitioners, they remain happy when sickness occurs to them and remain delightful when death comes. They accept death without fear.
We have the bardo of natural birth and existence. After that there are three bardo states. And in each of the bardo state, we have the opportunity to liberate ourselves. First is bardo of death through the dharmakaya liberation. Second is the bardo of dharmadhatu through sambogayaka liberation. During the bardo of existence, you can liberate yourself through nirmanakaya body of Buddha or Phowa. Even though there are three possibilities to liberate yourself, however, if you do not have good practice when you are now alive in the bardo of natural birth and existence, you will not be able to apply these possibilities to liberation.
Question: if someone has bad karma, can it takes more than 49 days for one to be reborn, for example, one year?
Answer: Those who have created bad karma, it may take longer time. However, those individuals who have created the heaviest karma such as heinous crimes, right after the stop of their breath, they will be reborn in hell realm straight the way. Generally, within 49 days, an individual will take rebirth and have a new body. Not everybody needs to take 49 days, some can be faster.
Question: In certain situation, even long after 49 days, human beings can communicate with the deceased person’s sprit. If they are really reborn within 49 days, how can one communicate with the deceased person if the deceased person has already reborn? The second question is what happens to people who do not have any religion? Where do they go? The third question, on my way to this Dharma teaching, I was in car accident and experienced the most dangerous passage in my life. How can we view karma like this, that is, when you go to the Dharma teaching and still you face obstacle?
Answer: Regarding communication with some spirit, the spirit has already reborn as a being, for example, hungry ghost being or ghost being. So even though the being does not have a tangible body, it has a spirit so the being can communicate.
The answer to the second question is Buddhist or not Buddhist goes through the same processes. When we talk about all these different appearances, these appearances appear through the essence of our own mind or the Buddha nature. Buddha nature pervades to every being, Buddhist or not. The basic essence of our Buddha nature is the same. If you can study more on the Tibetan Book of Death which talks about stages of different bardo, it will be very helpful for you.
The answer to your third question is mindfulness.
Question: You mentioned that when a person die, it is beneficial to recite the name of the Buddha or mantras close to that person’s ears. But if that person is deaf, he/she cannot hear the mantra, how can that person get benefit?
Answer: At that point, even though the individual cannot hear the sound, but when you recite the mantra or name of the Buddha and blow the air to that individual, he/she can still benefit from that. If he/she can see, you can show the image of the Buddha around his/her eyes so that he/she gets inspiration and develops faith to the Buddha, thus can get benefit from that.
Question: How did these detailed descriptions on the death processes and stages come about? Did someone remember the experience and write it down from memory or how?
Answer: Actually all of us have gone through the bardo many times. It is just that we do not remember it. Earlier, I have mentioned that bardo state is very much like the dream state and if you can recognize your dream, then you know what to do in the bardo state. There is one text composed by Lord Jigten Sumgön on bardo, it is beneficial if we can practice that.
Question: There are more and more people in this planet thus there are more and more consciousnesses. Where do they come from? What are they made of?
Answer: It is not that there are more and more new consciousnesses that come to the Earth. It is said that there are so many consciousnesses being stuck in the bardo state in form of spirits. So, whenever they have a chance, they will be reborn as human.
Question: Is it possible that there are bodies on other planet than Earth?
Answer: It is possible.
Question: In which state is most common or easiest to be liberated?
Answer: The best possibility to get liberated is in the bardo of death. The main practice of the bardo of death is the mind nature practice like the practice of Mahamudra or Great Perfection in which you always try to understand the true nature of your mind.
Question: Mani-retreat is coming up and is there any benefit for me to join the retreat?
Answer: Whether you can go through the bardo state in an easy way or not depends completely on our practice while we are alive. For example we will recite the Mani-mantra in the Mani-retreat and during the recitation of the Mani-mantra, our three doors – body, speech and mind will be focusing on the body speech and mind of the Buddha of compassionate Avalokiteshvara – your body is visualized as the body of Avalokiteshvara, speech is reciting the mani-mantra and mind generates loving kindness and compassion to all sentient beings. Through that, you will receive the blessings of Avalokiteshvara. Also when you are familiar with the practice of Avalokiteshvara, in the bardo state, you will be able to see Avalokiteshvara face to face and there is a possibility to be liberated or take rebirth in the pureland of Avalokiteshvara. This is how we can understand the benefit of the three days upcoming Mani-retreat.
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|May all sentient beings gain the flavor of supreme knowledge,|
|that the unexcelled joy of truth fill their minds and bodies;|
|May all sentient beings obtain all the excellent flavors of nonattachment,|
|and not be addicted to mundane tastes, but always diligently cultivate and practice all aspects of Buddhahood;|
|May all sentient beings gain the flavor of one truth|
|and realize that all Buddha teachings are without difference;|
Last updated on 2012-09-23.