The Tibetan Book Of The Dead
read by Richard Gere
All appearances are products of the mind: we dream up appearances and need to recognise that they are merely projections of our own mental predisposition. Our culture and understanding will both have an influence on that which is said to happen after death: the Tibetan Book of the Dead offers us some valuable, detailed insight, and it’s up to the reader to decide its value. I can say, from personal experience, that being too eclectic doesn’t provide any real foundation or guidance.
Note: the word ‘bardo’ means ‘gap’ or ‘between’.
THE SIX BARDOS
Now when the bardo of birth is dawning upon me
I will abandon laziness for which life has no time,
Enter undistracted the path of study, reflection and meditation
Making projections and mind the path and realise the three kayas;
Now that I have once attained a human body
There is no time for the mind to wonder.
“The bardo of this life, the bardo of birth:
Co-existent with arising and birth is passing and death. On the subtle level everything is constantly momentarily arising and passing – moments, thoughts, emotions, events. On a more gross level, all the necessary conditions and circumstance come together for us to be born – conception and the accumulation of the five kinds of elements: earth, water, fire, wind and space. Since the moment we were born we are passing, our life moves towards completion then disappears. The idea of 70 or 80 years seems like a long time, but in terms of the universe it is very short. On the macrocosmic level is the arising and passing of planets and stars which support our life, which will also eventually disintegrate.
Now when the bardo of dreams is dawning upon me
I will abandon the corpse-like sleep of careless ignorance,
And let my thoughts enter their natural state without distraction;
Controlling and transforming dreams in luminosity,
I will not sleep like any animal
But unify completely sleep and practice.
“The bardo of dreams:
The whole of cyclic existence is like a big dream – our ignorance is like sleeping and we are dreaming, but we take it so seriously. We grasp after all these things we see as real and this is where our suffering comes from. Our sleeping dreams reflect what is happening in our lives which is why we need to take our daytime practice seriously and continue being mindful and aware when going to sleep. If we do this, then when we die, it is the continuation of the nature of our mind. Our child luminosity will dissolve into the ground luminosity and we will be enlightened in the dharmakaya form.
Now when the bardo of Samadhi-meditation dawns upon me
I will abandon the crowd of distractions and confusions
And rest in the boundless state without grasping or disturbance,
Firm in the two practices; visualisation and completion.
At this time of meditation, one-pointed, free from activity,
I will not fall into the power of confused emotions.
“The bardo of meditation:
Here we are talking about purifying our mind of the cloud of disturbing thoughts and emotions, not by force but by resting in our natural mind, dharmakaya. Meditation isn’t something solid, or a place to go. It just means being aware in the present moment in a simple way and letting things be, which is actually quite difficult. Bardo literally means ‘between’, and in between the subsiding of one thought and the arising of the next, that is the bardo of Samadhi.
Now when the bardo of the moment before death dawns upon me
I will abandon all grasping, yearning and attachment,
Enter undistracted into clear awareness of the teaching
And eject my consciousness into the space of unborn mind;
As I leave this compound body of flesh and blood
I will know it to be a transitory illusion.
“The bardo of the moment before death:
All our elements dissolve back to the external world – earth, water, fire ,then air, as we stop breathing. At that point, the inner dissolution begins. We can have many different experiences here, depending on the kind of life we have led. The important thing is to know, in the confusion of what is happening, that everything we see is a projection of ourselves, and that it is a vision of the bardo. In order to be able to do that, it is important to practice now. There is a glimpse of ground luminosity – if we can recognise this from the stability of our practice then there is an opportunity to achieve realisation.
Now when the bardo of dharmata dawns upon me
I will abandon all thoughts of fear and terror,
I will recognise whatever appears as my own projection
And know it to be a vision of the bardo;
Now that I have reached this crucial point
I will not fear the peaceful and wrathful ones, my own projection.
“The bardo of dharmata:
What happens now depends on individual circumstances. For a normal person dying peacefully, this can last for a few days and we may not be aware we have died. The important thing is how we are programming ourselves in our lifetime, so that we can remain calm and clear and aware of what is happening. We should remember our teacher and any deity we feel a connection with.
Now when the bardo of becoming dawns upon me
I will concentrate my mind one-pointedly
And strive to prolong the results of good karma,
Close the womb-entrance and think of resistance;
This is the time when perseverance and pure thought are needed,
Abandon jealousy and meditate on the guru with his consort.
“The bardo of becoming:
This can last 7 weeks and again, what happens depends on our karma and mind training. Pure perception and sacred outlook are needed here if we are not to get carried away by anger and jealousy which could lead to a birth in the lower realms. We are at the mercy of karmic winds and look for refuge wherever we can which leads to conception outside our control. If we can maintain our awareness there may be the opportunity to chose our rebirth in auspicious circumstances in the aspiration to help sentient beings.”