Bardo Teachings
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Based on the Bardo Teachings of Rigzin Jigme Lingpa

As you begin to listen to these teachings, I would like you to first consider all parent sentient beings who are innumerable in number and vast as the space itself.  In order to establish each and everyone of them in a state of liberation free from suffering, it is for this purpose that you should aspire to listen the teachings with every intention to implement them into your life so you can help to assist in the liberation of all sentient beings from suffering. This is what we call the generation of awakened mind or Bodhicitta, the altruistic attitude – compassion for all living beings. So please listen with this compassionate motivation.

We all have to die. When we leave we can’t take anything with us; we can’t even take our body with us – but what goes with us when we pass from this life is our consciousness. It’s simply a change in phenomena like when we fall asleep at night and enter the dream state. When the consciousness leaves the body it wanders on to its next mental experience, wandering into its next lifetime. The body ceases to exist – it’s a corporeal entity. It dissolves back into the elements, the speech dissolves, but the mind is an empty form. The mind never dies, the mind is eternal. From beginningless time until now our consciousness has been entering into different states of rebirth throughout the 6 classes of beings revolving in and out of this round of cyclic existence but never once remaining in a state of rebirth permanently.

Buddha Shakyamuni, due to his compassion, came into this world and he presented in this world 84,000 categories of teachings – these are all teachings which teach the path which leads to liberation but to condense them into the essence, the essence of the Buddha’s message is to never intentionally harm any other living being and to try to generate the Bodhicitta or awakened mind of altruism for all beings who live. And to do one’s best to free oneself and all beings from permanent suffering, so peace and happiness may be achieved.

Examining your motivation is extremely important and it’s very important that you have a virtuous intention, that your thoughts are turned towards that which is wholesome. That which is unwholesome or non-virtuous is motivated by attachment, aggression or delusion; these are called the three poisons. They must be abandoned. In order to be able to really accumulate virtue depends solely on one’s motivation. This is according to the path of Bodhisattvas; in addition to that on the path of secret mantra or Vajrayana, not only does one need to have this altruistic attitude but also one needs to have pure view or a sacred outlook towards one’s environment, teacher, fellow companions and so forth.

When we think about generating a virtuous intention the way that is done according to the Buddhist teachings is to consider that from time immemorial until now all living beings have at one time or another been our own father and mother.  This shows us that all living beings have shown us incredible kindness in the past. And yet all of these parent sentient beings only wish to be happy.

There is not a single living being who wishes to be unhappy. Yet failing to understand how to accumulate the causes which produce happiness and virtue, parent sentient beings continue to produce the causes which produce unhappiness and suffering. They have failed to recognize how they can abandon these negative causes – they simply do not know and so they continue to accumulate karmic causes, which produce the unwanted result, which is suffering. So what they wish for, what they want and what they actually receive is contradictory. It is quite a futile predicament in terms of lack of awareness.

When we see and feel this predicament, tremendous compassion should well up within us and we should have a very strong feeling that we want to accomplish the spiritual path so we can free all sentient beings from their suffering and eventually be able to place them in the state of liberation where they are ultimately and permanently free from suffering. This is the kind of commitment we should give rise to and this is considered to be a virtuous intention. This intention is also in accordance with the path of sutra. Of the two categories of Buddha’s teaching this is in accordance with sutra and is a basic practice for tantra. In addition in practicing tantra one also gives rise to the sacred outlook or pure view, which was mentioned earlier. 

Both sutric and tantric paths are spiritual paths that are practiced for the same purpose – to remove obscurations and to accumulate the two types of merit – ordinary and wisdom merit. Both paths lead to liberation from suffering. However the path of mantra has many more methods than the path of sutra and those methods are said to be less difficult, less time-consuming, less demanding. The methods that are found on the path of mantra produce the result of liberation much more swiftly than the methods found on the path of sutra.  This is the one defining factor that sets the two paths apart and it means that the mantra path is superior to the sutra path but it demands that the practitioner have very keen and sharp sensibilities and capabilities. Only a person who is very sharp and diligent will be able to employ these methods to reach liberation very swiftly.

The Bardo or intermediate state between death and rebirth is a state when the consciousness is separated from the body and is traveling and searching for a body and having innumerable experiences, which is somewhat like wandering in the dream state when we fall asleep at night. Wandering is a good term for it, not really having any particular direction. The term is good also because it implies that the consciousness is impelled by the winds of its karma. For most beings that means suffering.

History Of Tibetan Buddhism

In the 8th century, during the construction of Tibet’s first Buddhist monastery, the Tibetan emperor Trisong Detsen faced opposition from his ministers as well as from the elemental forces of the land itself. Santarakshita, a Buddhist pandit from India, advised the king to summon a renowned Tantric sage named Padmasambhava: “In order to subdue the savage spirits of Tibet you should invite a Tantric master named Padmasambhava who is at present the most powerful in the world.” At a remote Himalayan pass where he met the delegation sent by the king, Padmasambhava, “The Lotus Born”, scattered the emissaries’ offering of gold across the earth and said: “Everything I perceive is already gold.” In this way it is said, Padmasambhava paved the way for the Tantric injunction to experience all appearances as innately pure. As the Second Dalai Lama wrote in the Transmission of the wisdom Dakini:

“All things in Samsaric existence
Which are colored by attachment and aversion
Should be recognized as only provisionally real;
Then all places are seen as a land of gold.”

Although Buddhist teachings had been brought to Tibet by Indian monks in the preceding century, the philosophical subtleties of the Sutras had had little sway over the Tibetans’ taste for mystical power.

Padmasambhava’s journey to the Land of Snows marked a great transition in Tibet’s history, transforming it from a warlike culture whose empire spread across Central Asia to one in which the same conquering spirit was redirected towards the “Citadel of Enlightened Mind”. Padmasambhava’s doctrines of inner transformation gave birth to a civilization in which the Buddhist ideals of wisdom and compassion produced masterpieces of art and literature as well as lavish ceremonies that bestowed the fruits of spiritual practice on a lay population, which largely supported the emerging monastic communities.

In his secret instructions to the king, Padmasambhava transmitted the view of the inner Tantric tradition, beyond the formulations of conventional religion: “Your Majesty.... Gain certainty in the fact that since the very beginning your own mind is the awakened state of Buddhahood. Gain certainty in the fact that all phenomena are, in essence, the magical display of mind. Gain certainty in the fact that the final goal is already present within you and is not to be sought elsewhere.... Unless you experience the innate nature of phenomena and mind as beyond thought and conception, [you will suffer when] your kingdom and worldly power, which are as insubstantial as a rainbow, fade and vanish. “

The Dharma King Trisong Detsong was the foremost of Padmasambhava’s twenty-five disciples. The Tibetan monarch had invited the “precious master” to Tibet to oversee the construction of Tibet’s first monastery. Samye’s design was based on the mandala-like conception of the Buddhist universe. In his pith instructions to the Tibetan king, Padmasambhava stated as follows: “Listen your Majesty! … The difference between Buddhas and ordinary beings…is nothing other than realizing or not realizing [the nature of] mind. The substance of the awakened state, of Buddha, is present within you, but you don’t recognize it… When mind looks into itself, it finds no place from where it arises, remains, or goes to.  There is no explanation of ‘this is how it is’. ‘Mind’ has neither outside nor inside. It does not have someone that looks; neither is it in the act of looking. It is experienced as a great original wakefulness without center or edge, an immense all-pervasiveness that is primordially empty and free. This original wakefulness is intrinsic and self-existing. It is present within you from the very beginning.”

Padmasambhava transmitted the innermost Tantric teachings to the Tibetan king as well as to twenty-four other “heart disciple.” As lamas explain, the miracles demonstrated by Padmasambhava and his disciples converted the minds of Tibetans from a sense of limitation to one of unbounded possibility; “subduing”, as Trungpa Rinpoche wrote, “the psychic energies of a country that was infested with primitive beliefs concerning ego and god.” Trungpa referred to Padmasambhava’s methods as “crazy wisdom” and his main function as destroying “delusive theistic spiritual structures”: “The belief in self and god as separate and the notion of trying to reach higher realms all had to be destroyed.... Unless these dualistic notions are destroyed, there is no starting point for giving birth to Tantra.”

Through Tantric practices, the Buddhist Siddhas became masters over appearances. ‘With unimpeded perception, they recognized the transparency (zangthal) of all phenomena and left their imprints in rocks to prove it. Foremost among Padmasambhava’s disciples was the youthful Tibetan queen, Yeshe Tsogyal. Revered as a dakini in human form, Yeshe Tsogyal, “Royal Lake of Supreme Awareness”, attained highest realization in a remote ice-bound cave through practising tummo, the yoga of mystic heat. She became a great teacher and the author of several versions of Padmasambhava’s life story and teachings. Many of these she concealed in rocks to be discovered by future generations. Among these were the Bardo Teachings discovered by Karma Lingpa around the 14th century.

I’m am not saying that here in the West there is no one who can ever discover or reveal a treasure. I’m not saying this, because in fact, amongst us we just never know who is a realized one, who is a Bodhisattva. There are Bodhisattvas all around us and amongst us, and so it is very very possible, it is totally possible, that some of us here may in fact be able to carry on this tradition, to understand the deeper meaning of the teachings and of the treasures

Bardo Thodol, which is “liberation through hearing in the intermediate period,” is in fact a part of this ter tradition. And, you should note here, that in this tradition of Tantrayana Buddhism one works with mandalas, and the mandalas are either peaceful or wrathful, showing these two kinds of qualities. In fact there are four qualities that are activated and dealt with in Tantric practice. These four are peace, expanse, power and wrath, But the mandalas always show either peace or wrath; the other two qualities, expanse and power, are within the peace and wrath. When we actually study this root text I will be able to show you and tell you how these mandalas will arise and do arise in the intermediate period.

There is a source where these peaceful and wrathful mandalas, which appear, have come from. There is an origin. And there cannot be an origin without a place of absorption as well. And so we will take a look at this.

Buddhism’s final conquest of ignorance, greed and aggression is symbolized by the pig, rooster and snake. As the Dalai Lama said: “The vision of the Buddhist Tantras is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.... On the level of emotion and awareness of our fundamental nature, we have progressed very little.... Buddhism is not about faith in a transcendent deity or higher being, but about thoroughly investigating the nature of our minds and emotions... and discovering the way things truly exist.... The essence of Buddhism is about transformation within our innermost being.”

It is held that one can penetrate the veils of obscured vision and attain enlightenment in a single lifetime or a matter of years. Tantra bases its doctrines not on the rejection of agitated mental states, but on journey to enlightenment. From the perspective of Tantra, however, these three aspects are, in essence, inseparable. Through the visual manifestation of the interpenetrating and transformative energies that, in Tantric thought, are the ineffable reality at the heart of the human condition, liberation can be achieved.

The Buddhas Samantabhadra and Vajrasattva are symbols of the absolute and relative aspects of Buddhist cosmology. Samantabhadra’s sky-blue body signifies the “unobstructed, sparkling, pure and vibrant nature of the mind” in union with primordial emptiness — the female Buddha Samantabhadri from whom he is never separate.

Vajrasattva, a self-reflection of this dynamic, enlightened essence, holds a bell and vajra signifying the indivisibility of emptiness and appearance.  Vajrasattva is not outside, but within.... The expression of awareness as unobstructed perception, the very essence of the passions spontaneously freed. This is the true Buddha Vajrasattva.”

“Directly seeing into the essence of reality, the conceptual mind is like a bird caught in a snare. It will no longer be drawn into cyclic existence.... Like someone struck by disease, the mind is freed of all pretence and attachments....

As the Dzogchen master, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, explained: “When we attain the fearless confidence that Buddhas are reflections of our own wisdom mind, there is no difference between outer and inner phenomena and no division between external and internal deity, since mind is free of all duality.”

Tibetans’ believe that during the process of rebirth and conception a bardo being is drawn to the energy field of an amorous couple and seeks incarnation through the woman’s “womb door”.

The primal force of human sexuality, which transcends the conceptual mind and creates new life, is the foundation for Tantric practices that rely on the “red and white” essences within the practitioner’s body to generate the “blissful body of awakened mind”. As His Holiness stated: “In the view of Tantra, the body’s vital energies are the vehicles of the mind. When the vital energies are pure and subtle, one’s state of mind will be accordingly affected. By transforming these bodily energies we transform the state of consciousness.”

Although the enlightened continuum is present from the beginning it is largely unrecognized.

Tantra never turns from the creative energies of mind and body, but seeks to harness and explore their power to bring greater awareness into the often unconscious, instinctive aspects of existence.

Tantra is often described using the analogy of the loom; the warp and woof referring to the interpenetration of Nirvana and Samsara, the sacred and the mudane, while the world is described as a tapestry of dreams.  As the 2nd Dalai Lama wrote: All things that exist are interdependent. The fabric of existence is by nature Void. Cultivate this vision; and be aware of the world as illusory, like the creation of a magician.”

“Every human activity can be integrated into the path of Enlightenment . . . without stopping one’s usual livlihood or altering one’s way of life, inner transformation can definitely take place. Once this occurs, activities which ordinarily might appear negative or contrary to Dharma . . . can become part of the path to Buddhahood.”
-- His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

In the Tantras there are practices called sadhanas. They are practices such as the developing stage practices that use many visualizations and develop much imagery. The basic meaning behind this is to rid oneself of the habitual tendencies for any of these four kinds of rebirth. So the practice actually prepares the mind for the bardo experience where the rebirth actually takes place.

The Tantra and the practices of the developing stages are really specifically for this purpose. This is called “kye rim” in Tibetan and it means developing stage practices on the Tantric path. These practices are related to the birth bardo because they actually purify the negative tendencies for rebirth by any of the four ways – because these four ways of being born channel one into transmigratory existence.

These developing stage practices actually involve dealing with the very same procedure, which occurs not only prior to conception, but also at conception itself.

For example: the union of the blood and the sperm, and then each month in the womb of the mother: the first month up to the fifth where the five major winds are developed, and then from the fifth month to the ninth and into the tenth when the baby is born and takes its first breath. Like this when one practices the Tantras, one practices and prepares for all of these cycles which will be occurring again and again in the future until they are purified and can be done with control rather than out of control.

In Tantra we relate to deities, like you see in the tangkas, the deities, these celestial bodies, the way the Buddha looks, peaceful and wrathful deities. In fact the practice involves nothing other than the way we grew up. It is simply a matter of perfecting this process, which we grew up from, but totally unknowingly, in ignorance and confusion. And so, we again re-conceive ourselves, are reborn.

Our many, many vast amounts of disturbed thought patterns, our mental conceptions, our phenomena, is called “the all pervasive foundation of phenomena,” and this pertains not only to samsara or cyclic existence, but also to that which we call nirvana, or enlightenment. Samsara and nirvana have one basic foundation. It is said that this is the basic foundation from the beginning of time, from beginningless time.

There is one foundation, the foundation of all phenomena, which pervades samsara and nirvana. This foundation is given two names: one of them relates to nirvana, and this is “the foundation of phenomena which has been so from beginningless time.” The other name relates to samsara. Samsara is “the various habits, habitual instincts, and neurotic tendencies which are a part of this foundation in phenomena.” This means that what we call virtue and non-virtue, good and bad, positivity and negativity, and all of our labels and dualism in daily life is the one foundation, pervading both samsara and nirvana, but given two names. It is simply our perception that determines whether we experience this foundation as Samsara or Nirvana.

When we speak about the bardo, or intermediate period, when we speak about the appearance of the peaceful mandala and the appearance of the wrathful mandala, we’re speaking about the foundation of all phenomena, of all perception.

The shidro are the forty-two peaceful and fifty-eight wrathful deities that manifest in the Bardo — the interim state between death and rebirth. These deities are not self-existing entities, but archetypal expressions of the thoughts and emotions that direct our Samsaric lives. When purified and transformed, these energies residing in the heart and brain are experienced as the radiant essence of thoughts and emotions that are themselves enlightened awareness. In the intermediary state and in the Tantric yogas that simulate the after-death experience, the practitioner learns to recognize these peaceful and wrathful forms as emanations of the psyche, often manifesting as lights, spheres and animal-headed demons and dakinis. As the Bardo Thödol, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, states: “Recognize these forms as nothing other than your own mind.... Merge with them inseparably and be liberated into the Clear Light.”

When a Buddhist takes traditional refuge as a lay Buddhist, and takes the vows, the vows involve words which says” From now until I attain Buddhahood,” which means liberation from cyclic existence. “Until I achieve that state of enlightenment, I go for refuge to the source, the object of refuge, which is the Buddha, his teachings, and the many pure practitioners, the Sangha, the fellow practitioners upon the path.” Until one is liberated from the bonds of cyclic existence, from karma, from the laws of cause and effect then, one goes for, refuge. And so, in this respect, it doesn’t matter which of the six realms of cyclic existence one is born into. One still is going to take refuge until one is out of existence.

This Bardo we are in is called the Rangshin or natural bardo, spontaneous bardo; it’s a temporary state, an intermediate period, a state of impermanence. Perhaps if we take look and make use of this spontaneous, natural bardo, then this would be of the greatest benefit for us.

There are four ways that conception and birth can occur. There is birth in a womb, birth in an egg, birth occurring through the fusion of heat and moisture, and spontaneous or miraculous birth. Womb and egg birth we understand; Tibetans believe that many insects since beginningless time have been born through the fusion of heat and moisture. Spontaneous birth takes place in two of the six realms. One of these two is in the god’s realm, a place of rebirth that is considered to be very heavenly and celestial. Birth here is always spontaneous and many times occurs from the center of a flower. The other is the hell realm. When one is born here it is also spontaneous.

In order to be reborn, there has to be a cause. Without a cause there is no rebirth. Positive and negative, virtue and non-virtue makes the cause that result in these four kinds of birth, or in any of these six realms of transmigratory existence.  It is by the power of the cause that one experiences the result of rebirth.

We go through the processes in the womb and on through life, to the time of death and the dissolution of the elements. So when one is practicing the Tantras one is perfecting, or getting to know, what we have not known before about this world.

The dream state is a very important state to make use of when one prepares for the moment of death. When one is going into the state of sleep, when one is dreaming, it is exactly the same process as occurs at the time of death, when slowly one’s mental capacities, capabilities, outwardly cease. Then one is really not aware of what is going on outside of oneself. But the mind, of course, is still very very active. It is the same at the time of death, at the bardo of the moment of death, which is called the Chi-ka Bardo.

There is no one who died, or who went into sleep who is able to see or hear. These things are cut off. The outer sense fields cease, they stop, and the order in which they cease is always the same.

In the Tantric practices, just as there are developing stage practices, where one works to purify the processes of birth, there are also completion stage practices, which are always practiced along with the developing stage practices.

The completion stage practices involve absorption, dissolution. And here one is actually purifying the process of the moment of death and the process of entering into sleep. Because of these practices, we become more aware of what is going on at this time. The actual processes of falling off to sleep are the same as in the moment of death.

When we pronounce the person dying, when we say, “He is dead”, when the outer air is no longer there, the outer breath ceases; the consciousness falls into a faint-like state. And here, there is a blank period, which is like a faint. It’s the period of the outer breath having ceased before the next series of phenomena begins to arise in the bardo.

Directly following death is “the bardo of the ultimate truth experience.”  It is the same as when you fall off to sleep. When you fall to sleep there is a blank period before you begin to dream, which is again the arising of phenomena. If we can truly study this and become aware of it, we will be aware of it not only when we go to sleep now, but later when we die.

There are many practitioners who are highly experienced from having heard the teachings and practiced them in this lifetime. When they die they are fully aware of this process, and are even aware right up to the moment before consciousness falls into a faint. And there are even those who are aware throughout the period that they are in the bardo of ultimate truth. For practitioners who are highly experienced, rather than being in a state of ignorance, in a faint-like state where there is no conscious experience whatsoever, they are in the state of the ultimate truth bardo. And here there is dexterity, there is clarity to this state, and it is like a clear light. It begins to shine. Practitioners here achieve the state of ultimate liberation in the first appearance of clear light in the bardo of ultimate truth. This is where they achieve Buddhahood, or enlightenment.

This moment is the most ignorant, unaware point for the dying person out of control. They just faint, and then they go on. What carries them on are the habitual tendencies. Whatever motivations set the stage for their conceptualized “reality” in this life creates the stage for the phenomena, which will arise when they die. First the phenomena will be peaceful. There will be a series of peaceful appearances, the peaceful mandalas, and then the wrathful mandalas. It is like this when we go off into dreams. It’s totally out of control. Whatever is in your mind – it could have been there from way in the past or now in the present. Whatever it is, it arises and many times it is very very uncomfortable for you.

Dreams only arise and occur, in most cases, because of habit and habitual tendencies. And these habits have cause and result: in the dream one dream leads to another. So it is in the bardo, that whatever you have caused, the phenomena that arises will be the result, of what you’ve caused. If you have had a peaceful pleasing life there will be pleasing appearances. If there has been a lot of negativity that you have caused in your life, the appearances will be extremely negative in the bardo.

One might think then, is it possible to change that which has already happened for which there must be a result. Yes, of course, you can change it. These practices are for that reason. The point is, it’s through practice of the Tantras, and the developing stage and completion stage practices, that one can actually change the bardo experience into a very positive one.

The Chu-nyid Bardo or Bardo of Ultimate Truth Experience is the bardo where the ordinary person, out of control falls into a faint, like a blank state or empty space, before the first period of phenomenon arise. Now here, if someone has received teachings from a qualified teacher, has practiced them and realized them, such a person in this period his intelligence becomes 7x stronger in the bardo. The intelligence and mental capacity is 7x greater than it is for us now, in this waking “reality”. So here, the practitioner really could understand the true nature of this reality that transcends this life, and this is why it’s called the ultimate truth bardo. Here one is able to have the enlightened experience.

In the beginning of this teaching we spoke about the foundation of all phenomena. This is actually the highest sense of it: the chu-nyid bardo, the bardo of the ultimate truth. There is no one who does not go through it, as it is the essence period between death and rebirth. It is the period when phenomena, the foundation of all appearances, of all phenomena, of all conceptualization, are at its purest level. Right here, there is no distinction between samsara and nirvana. And yet, due to habits, people usually miss it; it usually passes them by.

When we practice the completion stages in the Tantric practices we work with this period, the ultimate truth bardo. It is called the Completion Stage Practices but it is really the practice of the Chu-Nyid Bardo. And the way one practices is simply sort of mimicking. You are trying to prepare to be able to recognize this period.

The Bardo Thodol

This teaching today begins, of course, with Padmasambhava. But, it’s part of the great mind treasure of Longchenpa and it was written down by his heart disciple, Rigzin Jigme Lingpa. Jigme Lingpa was one of the greatest Mahasiddhas of all time and was a disciple of Padmasambhava.

Karma Lingpa was the great treasure discoverer who discovered all the major volumes on the bardo teachings. And these are the teachings that you find in Evans-Wentz’s translation of the Bardo Thodol, and also in the recent translation, which was done by Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. These teachings, all of them, are only from Karma Lingpa. I should not to say only. This is exceptional. It is incredible. It is the purely real tradition and teaching. Therefore I wanted to teach this, which to my knowledge has not yet been published, and is also a very sophisticated condensation of the entire bardo experience.

Rigzin Jigme Lingpa, this great master of the bardo practices was not a direct disciple of Longchenpa in the flesh, but he was a disciple by way of receiving Longchenpa’s direct blessing and spiritual transmission.

In Tibet, Jigme Lingpa one summer went out for a vacation, for enjoyment, with a group of his disciples. They went off to a place where they rested and began to set things up for making tea. They noticed they were close to a structure which contained within it many woodblocks and statues and prayer wheels, etc. In Tibet there is a wooden block, which is carved out in the form of and you put clay in it and it makes statue impressions. Many of these were inside the structure. The inside of this structure which was filled with these blocks and statues and you could see a small piece of a Tibetan book sticking out of a pile of objects. Tibetan books are long in shape. Jigme Lingpa told one of his students to go over and bring that book out. The disciple brought it back; Jigme Lingpa opened it up and it was all the teachings of Longchenpa. Then Jigme Lingpa told the disciples to go back into the dwelling and bring out the rest of the books that were in there underneath all the other objects piled there. And they said, “No, no, there was nothing else. We only saw this one” and Jigme Lingpa said, “No there is more, go and get them”. So they went back and they had to take almost everything out, and they looked around and found six other volumes that they brought back to Jigme Lingpa. This made seven books that they found. The books were perfectly intact. They were a tiny bit moldy at the edges, but otherwise all of the teachings inside were clear. Jigme Lingpa took all of these volumes back to his place and he read them slowly and carefully.

After reading all of the teachings of Longchenpa, he developed inconceivable faith and devotion for Longchenpa. He was overwhelmed. He went off into the forest of Chimpu and he spent three years practicing that which he had read. All of the teachings he contemplated upon, he practiced and he meditated and he received the visionary experience where Longchenpa came to him in visions. He received the realizations. The first time that Longchenpa appeared to him while he was in the forest, Jigme Lingpa had an incredible amount of faith and devotion for him, but at that time Jigme Lingpa did not completely comprehend all of the teachings. The second time that Longchenpa appeared, Jigme Lingpa received a deeper realiza¬tion of all of the teachings and was able to comprehend in a deeper way the quality. The third time that Longchenpa appeared, which was during the third year, he spoke to Jigme Lingpa for the first time, He taught him everything in the seven books which are called “The Seven Treasures of Longchenpa and contain all of the works of the Longchen Nyingthig tradition. At this time, Jigme Lingpa’s mind and Longchenpa’s mind became inseparable. They joined and there was no distinction. Jigme Lingpa received the full transmission and full realization. He took essence of these seven great works and condensed all the essential meaning down into one book. This book that he wrote is called the “Yeshe Lama.”

This text known as Yeshe Lama deals with three discussions and they are in Tibetan trekchod, toegyal, and bardo.

The essential Dzogchen practice, “like mind looking into mind”, is Trekchö, or “cutting through”, in which the state of Rigpa, or primal awareness, arises inseparably from experiences of emptiness, clarity and bliss. As His Holiness stated: “The distinction of Dzogchen is that the ultimate, inner¬most subtle consciousness can be realized without suppressing ordinary sensory or cognitive activity. Even when ‘negative’ emotions such as anger or desire arise ... the mind does not identify with them but remains in the very subtle nature of Rigpa … which simultaneously perceives both relative and ultimate truth.”35

In Dzogchen, the practice of Trekchö is the primary means for cutting through the deluded perceptions that obscure awareness 0f the mind’s primordial purity (kadak). As His Holiness explained: “Through Trekchö the wisdom aspect [of the mind] naturally increases to the point where one experiences spontaneous manifestations of Rigpa, or the subtle mind of Clear Light.” As His Holiness warns, however: “an intellectual understanding of Rigpa and one based on experience should never be mistaken for the same thing.”

The trekchod is an entire teaching on the meaning of sunyata, the voidness. And the toegyal is an entire teaching on the meaning of appearance or phenomena, that which arises from within the sphere of emptiness, from within the sphere of sunyata. There are many practices that one does in order to realize these two states in a pure way. We will not go into these.

In Dzogchen, the ultimate nature of spontaneously existing sounds, rays and lights is actualized through the methods of Togal.

“Togal visions are the spontaneous, natural appearances of Dharmakaya, the mind of the Buddha  .... They are not created or products of the imagination. Through deep meditation these appearances arise spontaneously- as reflections of the subtle mind and subtle aspects of the five elements.
--His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama explains that: “Togal visions arise as luminous reflections of the mind’s innermost nature. When we no longer grasp at the ‘I’ which perceives or the appearances themselves, all deluded perceptions are naturally liberated.” In the context of Togal, all appearances arise through the eyes, the “gates of wisdom”, as direct manifestations of a unified visionary field where, as His Holiness stated: “objects of perception no longer appear as independent and autonomous entities.”

As Thinley Norbu Rinpoche writes: “When the divisions between subject and object and between one sense and another vanish, the light of enlightened mind shines everywhere limitlessly.”

“Through the Dzogchen practice of thekchod (cutting through) one develops the mind of a Buddha. Through Togal, practicing with light, one creates the body of a Buddha . . . [in which] all impure or conditioned elements dissolve into five-colored rainbow light, or subtle illusory body.”
--His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

“The Rainbow Body (ja-lu) is the manifest body of Buddhahood … in which all [aspects of] the body, speech, and mind are completely purified of karmic traces.” Even if only understood metaphorically, the dissolution into a body of light points to our essential condition that within us are the elements that connect us with all things and all other beings in the universe. When the adept’s body releases into the pure radiant, light body, the 18th-century master, Jigme Lingpa, clarifies that, “like mist dissolving in the sky [the yogi or yogini] enters into the inner ultimate sphere. Thereby until Samsara has ceased, he acts for others through enlightened activities.”46 As the Buddha said, however: “Though I reveal the path of Liberation. Liberation itself depends on you.”

In the teachings of Jigme Lingpa there are four divisions instead of the six commonly known bardos. The dream bardo is encompassed within the Rangshin or Natural Bardo and the Concentration Bardo is encompassed within the Chu-Nyid Bardo (the bardo following the Bardo of Dying).

The first is the natural or spontaneous bardo, the Rangshin Bardo. The second is the Chi-ka Bardo, the bardo at the moment of death. The third is the Chu-nyid Bardo, the Bardo of the Ultimate Truth Experience. And the fourth is the Sid-pa Bardo, the Bardo of re-entrance into Transmigratory Experience, seeking a form and taking rebirth.

Rangshin (Natural) Bardo

All sentient beings in the six rounds of transmigratory existence have a foundational consciousness. This is the base of their existence. This consciousness is grounded in the elements.  From many past lifetimes, many deluded habits and instincts have been impressed upon this foundational consciousness. Due to this, the seed of the deluded instinct continues to be planted. All sentient beings have this foundational consciousness. And yet the karmas, or these negative impressions planted and impressed upon the consciousness, are different for each and every one of us.

This karma, cause and effect, works in such a way that if one accumulates positive causes, the result will be positive. If one’s causes are negative, the result will be negative. Very simply, if one creates virtue, the result will be happiness and peace. If one creates non-virtue, the result will be suffering, disturbed emotions, turbulence, etc. Then, there is also a place that is somewhere in between, a more neutral sort of experience as well. Karmas are various; they are variegated depending on sentient beings’ past impressions and instincts. Where the seed will be flung to and where it will take root depends on karma.

There are six realms of experience that the foundational consciousness of all sentient beings must be born into as long as they are still in trans¬migratory existence. The lowest is called the hell realm. It is a mental experience, hell-like in nature. Up from this is the hungry ghost realm, then the animal realm, the human realm, the jealous gods’ realm, and the gods’ realm, These are the six realms in which beings in transmigratory existence must reside, depending on their various karmas.

If one causes non-virtue through the door of intense anger and hatred, the seed is usually flung into the hell realm. Rebirth takes place there. If one’s causes are more by way of intense desire, then one’s resulting rebirth will be in the hungry ghost realm. And so it goes that, depending upon the poisons and negative habits that one is most involved with, the result will be in one or the other of the six realms, each of the six realms having their own particular karmic sufferings and environment which relate to negativity.

There must always be a potential for the seed to be flung, and for it to take root in one of the six realms. There must be this potential, which is the creation of the habitual instincts. These tendencies create the potential that results in rebirth in a particular kind of environment. The root of all of this is ignorance, simple delusion, a state of unknowing. This state is due mostly to the dual mind, where the mind as subject relates to an object and sees external phenomena as being different from internal phenomena, and one sets things up in such a way that they are actually viewed ignorantly.

Also, it should be noted that there is never the creation of a cause without a result that fits the cause. The cause and result will never oppose each other. Whatever is caused, the result must be experienced. This is the law of cause and effect; this is called karma. Past habits create the potential for future rebirth in one of the six realms of transmigratory existence. And the environment, whether it is suffering or happiness, must be experienced to the fullest. To give an example of another way that this is experienced in terms of the perspective of beings in the different realms or karmic environments is that one sentient being will experience a substance in his realm totally differently from the way a being in another realm will experience that substance.

Take the example of water, we human beings see and use water as water. A god or a being in that realm will see the same substance as amrita, or nectar. An animal will see the same substance not as pure clean water, but just as something to drink. A hungry ghost will see this substance as pus, and a hell being will see water as molten lava. The substance doesn’t change, the mind changes. The phenomena of beings in their particular karmic environment are going to be the result of what they have caused in the past. We must keep in mind that as long as the being is in the state of samsaric, transmigratory existence, then that which is viewed is viewed through the eye of ignorance. In all cases, the samsaric being will perceive the substance as truly existing, when in fact it does not truly exist.

In the text there is a quote from the Bodhicaryavatara. The Buddha has taught that in the hell realm the foundation of the earth is made of molten lava and that the heat that is experienced there is truly incredible, intense, etc. But all of this pain and suffering that goes on in this environ¬ment is merely a description of the phenomenal experience that the consciousness alone experiences. In fact, there is no such environment. It is a mental environment, a mental experience.

In our state of ignorance, the intrinsic nature of the five skandhas or aggregates that make up our being is obscured. Thus, rather than seeing the five wisdoms and the five perfect beings that we possess, due to our ignorance they manifest as the five skandhas. Our innate pure nature unobscured, is the five Buddha families; this intrinsic nature obscured manifests in the five poisons. Our true nature is obscured and defiled due to karmic habits and tendencies that have been created over a very long period of time, up to the present time.

We are not able to experience these pure beings, which are in fact our own being, because the view is obscured. It is like a cloud over the sun at the present moment. We are in a state of ig¬norance. So the five aggregates obscure the five perfect beings, thus our phenomena are obscured. Our five elements and our six sense fields, in their pure state, the pure experience that we could be having are also obscured in our present state. Because of this, we are not able to perceive and understand the clear light, which is the state of pure awareness. This clear light arises at the moment just after death.

Our karmic afflictions and our delusions are obscuring the experience of the ultimate truth, which is an experience that we could have right at the present moment. But we do not. It is obscured due to karma and due to delusions. Because we are in this state of obscurity, we think when we exper¬ience some temporary bliss or happiness that it really is true happiness. We think that an experience truly existed, exists and will exist again. Just as with suffering, we relate to it as really, truly occurring. This is where we are mistaken, but yet we are in this place where we relate to a phenomenal experience in our state of delusion as being true. It is this very condition and this very reaction (that we believe all of our experiences in this temporary state, be they happy or negative, really exist) that carries on, is what guides us into later lifetimes in the same situation in later lifetimes. The tendency, the habit, gets greater and greater and stronger. It is like pent-up negativity, karmic afflictions and all of these things become the obscurations, and the obscurations obscure the pure phenomena; obscure what could be the recognition of the five pure beings, what could be the pure recognition of our five elements, of our six sense fields, of our karma and of our state of delusion. It just continues to become more and more obscured. Therefore, we need to change the situation. We need to turn it around. We need to get out of it.

This state that we are presently in is totally inappropriate. It is something that a human being is hardly worthy of. It’s unsuitable. Therefore, we need to employ the method, which turns it around. We are talking about turning around the natural bardo and getting to know it, to really understand this state of natural existence, of existing with phenomena naturally. Here a mental examination needs to be applied. We need to check up thoroughly.

To give an example of what it should be like, one kind of bird is said to be the most intelligent of all birds. When this bird decides to build a nest for his family, then the bird checks the environment very carefully and checks every aspect of it thoroughly for days and days. When the decision is made, the bird builds the nest and from that moment on, there is no hesitation or doubt that the place is not safe or that any obstruction will occur. The bird lives there with total peace of mind, with no fear. 

Similarly, at the present time, we need to rely upon hearing the truth of our situation, and then use contemplation and meditation, in order to clarify the state of darkness and ignorance that we now reside in. This state that we are in is a very narrow, dangerous passage. It is the narrow passage of the natural bardo that we do not understand. We need a guide, a guide who takes us through this narrow passage so that we can turn the state of ignorance into a state of full awareness of our phenomena and of the foundation of our phenomenal existence.

Without hearing the teaching, without listening to the truth, you would be like someone trying to climb a rocky mountain with no hands. Without listening and really contemplating, you would be like someone who gets about three-quarters of the way up and then falls into a deep ravine and can’t get out. If you have no foundation for your thought-patterns, then you aren’t going to get anywhere.

In Buddhist thought, it is essential that these three hearing, contemplation, and meditation work together hand in hand. We can’t have one without the other. All three must be there. I don’t really need to tell all of you this because you are educated people and you’ve been brought up with the kind of education where you must first study, hear the discourse, think about it, and then perhaps meditate on it, which is a state of deeper contemplation about the real meaning of what you have been learning. You must memorize it and store it. It must be kept carefully; you must not forget it. You must have a keen memory and you must be able to make use of it at a later time.

Supposing eight or ten years from now, if you haven’t kept what you learned carefully in your mind, you will forget it and perhaps when you really need to use it, it will no longer be with you. But these days it’s even more of a disadvantage because these times are said to be the Kali Yuga.

The Kali Yuga is a decline in the light on, which particularly means that the spiritual teachings’ are slowly but absolutely vanishing. They are becoming very degenerate, polluted and watered-down. In this time, it is very, very difficult for positive concepts to take root and to spread forth. All the more reason that it is important that if one is so fortunate to have the opportunity to receive the transmission, one should keep it very carefully and secure it.

Not too long in the past, in Tibet particularly, the conditions were very conducive for spiritual practice and mental development, to the point where, in one lifetime, liberation was achieved. Liberation in the natural bardo means naturally, in one’s waking state. The way that this occurred was a combination of the positive karma of beings, the conditions being positively mature, the intense compassion of the masters who had already achieved the state of liberation from transmigratory existence, and their kindness’ and compassion to re-enter the world solely for the purpose of guiding matured beings and taking on disciples who were worthy. The environment, the place was also very conducive to the study and practice without too many obstacles. So these three in conjunction: positive teacher, positive disciple, and positive place, created a condition where liberation was achieved in one short lifetime for many practitioners in Tibet.

These days it is very, very difficult. Initially, it is difficult if not almost impossible to find someone whose karma is matured to the point where he can receive the transmission from a liberated master. So, for the first connection to take place, it is extremely difficult and highly unlikely. This is due to an abundance of disturbed, neurotic thought patterns and conditions that permeate the entire environment of one’s lifestyle. For someone to cut through, even one tiny negativity is extremely difficult and hardly even possible. It is important for us ordinary human beings, at this time, to remain in a state of impartiality where we have neither strong attractions nor strong aversions so we can calm our neurotic conceptions to a certain degree, so that we can be somewhat pacified.

Particularly those who follow the Tibetan Buddhist path and traditions, should refrain from sectarianism and thoughts that one lineage is better than another, being partial toward one and having aversion or negativity toward another. This is very detrimental, this sectarianism, for spiritual growth,

The tradition of Longchenpa, which is the heart essence of Padmasambhava and these bardo teachings have reached a point where they are at a very low ebb, and we are fortunate to find even some disciples who have some fervent regard and some interest in the teaching. It is very difficult to find disciples who not only have this regard, but who will actually practice and make use of it to the point where they perfect it.

We are in a time when it is very difficult for the teaching really to benefit human beings. This is because this teaching is the peak of the tantras; it is the highest teaching. The student who practices it must be the most qualified, of the highest mental capabilities. It is essential that the process of hearing the teaching, contemplation and meditation - that these three be intact, and also that the disciple be someone who is extremely wise, and who can exercise a great degree of wisdom and intellectual ability in a supreme way, because if this is not the case, then it will not be possible for the teachings to be understood.

It is very important to go through this process of examination: where you listen carefully to the teaching, examine the teacher, contemplate the teachings, question and meditate, and then slowly you are able to internalize the information. If you make a mistake on the spiritual path, then you are going to harm yourself not only in this lifetime, but in future lifetimes as well.

The author Jigme Lingpa said that at this time of the five dreg or at this low decline in the light aeon where the doctrine of the Buddhist teaching is on the decline due to rampant misconceptions and ignorance, he would reveal his teaching out of intense compassion and love and concern for those matured disciples, and the teaching is the essence of the mind.

Five Dreg
1.impurity of life span;
2.impurity of view;
3.impurity of conflicting emotions;
4.impurity of sentient beings, and;
5.impurity of our present age.

Chi-Ka Bardo

The second bardo to be taught here is the chi-ka bardo, which is the bardo of the moment of death.

We human beings have one thing in common. Whether someone is rich or poor, whether someone’s a beggar, ugly, handsome, pretty, smart, or dumb we are all going to die one day. In this way we all have the same thing in common. Our life is impermanent. No matter how endowed we may seem to be, whether we can go all around here and there with such a rich, wonder¬ful lifetime, it will come to an end. There is no doubt that this will come to an end for everyone. So we are like tourists, We can just call ourselves tourists or visitors or guests in this particular phenomenal environment, because we’re not going to be here for very long.

Birth itself insinuates death. Along with any birth in transmigratory existence there is a hook, the hook of death right there with it all the time. Not only that, we don’t even know when death will occur.

The fact that you were born just means that you will die sometime, and yet you don’t even know when. We make such a big deal about our young children and babies who grow up and get prettier each year. We celebrate their birthdays, the fact that they are getting older, but what are we celebrating? We’re celebrating the fact that they are getting closer to death, that their life is exhausting itself.

What matters is that you are going to die and you are aware of it. One thing that you should really be aware of is that when the time for your death comes, it doesn’t matter what doctor comes there. It doesn’t matter if you get the best doctor in your whole city to come there. It wouldn’t matter if the Buddha Shakyamuni himself were to appear, or how high the lama may be. When the time for death comes, it comes, period. You are going to die and nothing stops it. This is what you prepare yourself for. You are aware that there is no other method that can be employed, that death is death and there comes a time where nothing can help to stop that condition. Even the Buddha himself must die.

If your mind is filled with fear and paranoia, even if you have all the bardo teachings, you’re not going to retain then or remember them at the crucial moment. You should try and be rid of these fears and you should be fully aware of what’s occurring, of the process that’s taking place. You should enter into a state of total concentration upon that.

Suppose you are dying by some external influence, supposing you have been shot, in a car accident, or whatever, that some illness has touched you suddenly, or that there’s been some accident.

Death is actually pronounced when the inner breath exits from the physical body. At that time, there is a noise that is made, when the final breath goes out. It is like a great gasp, and at that point, we pronounce the being to be dead.

It is this time, this moment of death, the chi-ka bardo that we must understand very clearly. This is usually a time when people are pretty unclear and here we must be very clear. An example is given of a pretty young girl who looks at herself in the mirror with great intensity of interest. The reflection is extremely important to her as she focuses on her own pleasing appearance. It is at this moment that you should be able really to see your condition clearly and deal with it. At this time, one must remember and retain the teachings of the oral transmission, the bardo teachings that were given to you by your spiritual master in your lifetime.


Here we begin a discussion of phowa, which is a method by which one is able to transfer one’s consciousness at the moment of death, directly to a higher state of awareness.

Phowa means transference of consciousness at the moment of death, at the moment of the death, the chi-ka bardo. If you receive the teachings from a qualified master in this present lifetime, and if you practice and become adept in the practice of phowa, then when the time comes for you to die, you can just apply the practice and become directly liberated and you will not need to travel on through the bardo. There will be no bardo for such a person who becomes an adept practitioner of phowa. Liberation will occur at the moment of death. The consciousness will exit your form and will just be liberated spontaneously. It’s best if you could at the time that you’re dying, if you could be so fortunate to be in the presence of the spiritual master so that he could help you. But it’s also very possible that if you are a good practitioner yourself, you can do it all alone, and you don’t need any help.

In Tibet it was a very common thing for a dying person to call for a lama or a high teacher to come and do the phowa for him at the moment of death, at this moment of the Chi-ka bardo, so that there might be a chance for liberation to occur before having to enter into the bardo phenomenal experiences that arise. Almost everyone, if they were so fortunate, would call for the presence of a master to come to their bedside.

When you practice phowa you must have a mental object of refuge, which you imagine your consciousness to be exiting towards. This mental object which becomes a visualization, is visualized either on the top of your head, on the crown of your head about an arrow’s length up, or in a space in front of you. You must also visualize yourself not in your ordinary corporal form as you know yourself, but in the body or the being of an illusory deity, preferably a female like the dakinis that we’ve seen pictures of, whose bodies are red. You must imagine yourself to be an illusory being. And you must have an object of refuge, like the Buddha Amitabha, and/or a heavenly abode or a Buddhafield, a state of pure enlightened awareness, which is the refuge that your consciousness is exiting to. You must also very carefully be able to visualize the psychic energy channels within your being. There is a central energy channel, which is highly important to deal with. You must come to know this channel as the path that the consciousness runs through and exits from. You must know the subtleness and the ability of the energy channel in your being and the motion of the consciousness. You must have a pure visualization of yourself as the illusory deity and you mast have a refuge object that you are exiting toward.

Further, there is another method that can be practiced at the moment of death. This method is one that has the power and potential to unite your consciousness and the realization of primordial awareness. Here, when you are about to die, you must lie down in what is called the lion’s posture. This is a posture where you lie on pour right side, with your right hand under your head and your left arm down your left side, lying on top of your left side. Make your body straight. It is important, too, that your eyes look straight out into space, with a mind centered on pure awareness. If person can remain in that posture with the vision in pure concentration, there is no doubt that liberation will be achieved. You’ll just go out and be liberated.

However, it’s not as easy as it might sound. You can’t just lie there and space out and expect to become a Buddha. There is a certain degree of practice, virtue and purity that is demanded and involved, not to mention intense concentration. It is really important that this posture be main¬tained. There is a tendency at the moment of death for a certain degree of thrashing around to occur. The body is uncomfortable.

This motion disturbs thought patterns and conceptions, and so the straight lion’s posture is important. Also important is the ability to concentrate on just the pure awareness of the consciousness and phenomena, not following after any thoughts, not creating any new thoughts, not holding any thoughts and not following after them. Just let your mind rest in a state of pure awareness.

If you can get in touch with this state, then there is no doubt you will be liberated.

While we’re still alive and we have an opportunity to practice, it is extremely important to do so. You have met with the teachings, a very profound method by which to achieve liberation at the moment of death. The way to practice is to realize or be aware that the mind when it is in its pure state is similar to the sky that has no clouds in it - pure, deep blue sky.

Lion Posture:

If you can lie down and practice, lie down on your right side and get into a lion’s posture and just gaze up into the sky. Concentrate and try not to follow any thoughts. Keep your mind clean, clear and calm. Then imagine that you are dying. You don’t have to be ashamed; you don’t have to be afraid. It’s no big deal to die. Don’t make it into a big deal. Just imagine that you are dying, that the time has come. Imagine that you’re just passing on into a state of nirvana, a state of liberation from this wheel of cyclic existence. If you can practice in this way, you send forth your breath, Imagine it to be the last breath that goes out, and just concentrate on the sky and the ultimate truth.

Your mind is clear and calm and pure. When the Buddha-state arises, you enter into a state of nirvana. Practice like this over and over, and if you can really become adapt in this practice, if it becomes a pure habit for you, this is an extremely effective and quick path to liberation.

Reviving the Consciousness:

Following this method, there is another method taught in the text. It is related to phowa, the transference of consciousness. It is a method, which is somewhat like the modern method of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But it is an ancient method employed by Buddhists in Tibet to animate the dead person again. These days this lineage is virtually broken. It is no longer made use of in almost all cases. This is because it became dangerous through misuse. In ancient India powerful yogis would enter the body of a dead person and misuse the energy. Due to misuse of power, it is no longer practiced. Yet I am still mentioning it here as a possibility.

Prior to this practice, one must be able to practice phowa very adeptly. This means that you should have full control of your consciousness, of the energy or the air, and the ability of the consciousness to ride upon the wind, or air. Initially, you imagine that your consciousness exits your being through the central energy channel and enters into the heart of Amitabha Buddha (Amitabha Buddha is the symbolic Buddha who resides in the Western realm.) Your consciousness has left your body and has entered into the heart of realization, the heart of the enlightened one. Thus you yourself become enlightened from samsaric existence. You visualize your consciousness to be riding upon air. The form that you visualize is a seed syllable, either the letter AH or the letter HRI that are Sanskrit syllables.

Visualize your consciousness centered in your heart chakra, and to be in the form of the seed syllable Ah, white in color. Resting above the crown of your head is either the Buddha Amitabha or your root teacher. Here you make the sound HIK sharply. You make this sound 21 times, and you imagine that your consciousness rides on the wind straight up the central energy channel out the crown of your head and into the heart of your master, who is the realized one. Lose all self-generated perception of phenomena, and concentrate solely on this process occurring. If you practice this successfully, then at the time of death, the chi-ka bardo, you will have no need to go through the stages of absorption. You will be directly, immediately enlightened. You will achieve a state of liberation. You will not need to ask for the help of anyone else. On your own power and energy, you will go out and leave transmigratory existence forever. So here, you could call yourself a Bodhisattva.

It is important to have your lama with you at the moment of death, if you can, to employ any of these methods to help you. If you can’t have your lama or teacher there, then the second best would be to have a very qualified disciple there. Preferably the disciple would be someone who is able to uphold all of the tantric vows and words of honor very purely, someone who has never broken his vows, someone who has pure karma and does not have negative tendencies. This person would be the one who speaks to you, the dying person. This person would call out your name; they would remind you that the moment of your death had approached.

You can imagine that you are doing this for a dying person. You call out their name to them, speaking directly into their ear. You say, “So-and-so, now the time of your death has come. This is not a pretend time. This is the real time, and in fact it is the moment when you will be able to realize your own spontaneous and natural primordial awareness, your own pure awareness, your own Buddha-nature. It is a time where you can rest with this realization without any external distractions. Make use of this time. Ultimately, if you can catch this moment in all of its purity, then the best thing will be that right now, you will achieve liberation. This is the perfect moment for liberation to occur.

But if you are unable to recognize and rest upon this state of pure awareness at the moment of death, you should visualize in the center of your heart the white letter AH. This is your consciousness. You should visualize your consciousness inside this Ah, traveling straight up and out of your central energy channel, out through the crown of your head, and straight like an arrow, you should imagine it to shoot out about the length of one geographical mile, and go into the pure realm of enlightened awareness.

In this place of pure enlightened awareness which has been pure from the beginning of time, all obscurations, all defilements will be removed and you will achieve liberation. You will have the power to understand. At this time, if all conditions are perfect for you, you will become liberated in the state of pure awareness, which is the state of purity, which has been so from beginningless time. But if you are unable to be liberated, then you will travel on into the bardo of ultimate truth, the chu-nyid bardo. Here, you will have to understand and recognize the various appearances that will arise before you. At that moment, in the chu-nyid bardo, the moment following death, you will also be able to be fully liberated in the sphere of ultimate truth that is no different than what would have recognized previously in the chi-ka bardo, the bardo of the moment of death. It is just another opportunity to be aware of your own pure awareness.”

Here, you repeat this whole procedure, from the beginning of calling out the name of the dying person, at least three times. If you could repeat it 100 times, that would be very appropriate. You who are the person repeating this to the dying person, you the helper, the nurse or doctor or whatever you want to call yourself. It is very important that you remain in a very calm state, in a very passive state, that you enter a state of concentration to the best of your ability. This is a state where you see yourself and the dying person as being inseparable so that the dying person can feel your energy and relate to it. In this way, the transmission can come from you into his mind.

This teaching right here, is be repeated in the ear of the dying person, has come from the tradition of Dzogchen, the Great Completion tradition of the Nyingma tantric Buddhism. It is a supreme method to employ at the moment of death. Even though you may be one who has been fortunate to have received the teaching, or one who is fortunate to have a helper there repeating the teachings in your ear at the time of your death, even then, maybe you will be unable to remain in a state of concentration. Most of us fall into this category because we are ordinary human beings and these practices are very difficult for nest of us to actually do.

The Dissolution of the Elements:

We go on into the discussion of the unfolding process. It is a process that is out of control of anything but just the natural dissolution, the natural absorption of the elements, of the airs and that which has kept the consciousness in the corporal body on this planet, Earth. But here, in the bardo teachings, there are slight differences according to various texts, concerning exactly how the five elements dissolve into one another at this moment, but the differences are not important.

At this moment, the five elements dissolve. That which is called the five-space elements dissolve, and the five life forces dissolves. The twenty branch airs also dissolve when the consciousness begins to exit the corporal form.

The first element that dissolves or disappears is the element Earth. When the element Earth dissolves back into its place of origination, the result is that the body becomes very heavy and the dying person cannot get up or lift limbs up. Everything becomes very, very heavy and one is not able to go about any longer.

Then the element water dissolves and disappears and the mouth and the nose particularly begin to drip. Mucous and all fluid substances, out of control, drip out.

Then the element fire arises and dissolves. When the element fire dissolves, the mouth and nostrils becomes very, very dry. It just dries up, and then slowly, from the edge of the body inward, all of the heat exits. What’s occurring here is that the power of the five elements is decreasing incredibly. The actual element hasn’t completely disappeared, but all of the power that we know, its function, ceases.

The next element to dissolve is the element air or wind. When this occurs, then the breath becomes frantic and the dying person begins to pant very rapidly, very short, little breaths. The air exits from all of the limbs of the body so they are no longer supple or pliable. The eyes also turn upward. They begin to roll up.

These signs of the dissolution of the five elements occur to each and every human being without exception. This is a fact and they occur in this order. The result of the dissolution is always the same. When this process begins, then there is no turning back to life. This person is definitely dying.

The reason why the physical body finally perishes is that the powers of the elements begin to subside. For example, if we lose a finger, the power or sensation that the finger once possessed has been withdrawn into the body. When the powers of the elements have fully dissolved, the body dies and starts to decompose.

Five Winds or Energies
(taken from the Bardo Guidebook by Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche):

The body possesses five main pranas or winds, as well as the different wheels or chakras in which these winds move. At death these pranas begin to disinte¬grate, one after the other. This process is accompa¬nied by certain outer, inner and secret experiences.

One of the five main winds is called the equal-abiding wind. When that ceases to function, one is unable to digest food. At this time one can only drink liquids. The warmth in one’s body also starts to dis¬appear. This means that the body heat withdraws from the feet and the hands and one gradually be¬comes colder and colder until finally, warmth re¬mains only in the heart. Even though the feet and arms might be cold, as long as one’s heart remains warm, one has not yet died. When the heart grows cold then this life is over.

“The disappearance of the life-upholding wind makes one’s mind unclear and confused. When the life-wind begins to disappear one starts to have different kinds of hallucinations and to feel ner¬vous and frightened. One is extremely uncomfort¬able. This can also happen during normal life when extra wind enters into the subtle nadi at one’s heart. Tibetan doctors call this nying-lung meaning heart wind. It tends to make people neurotic or fearful.

When the downward-moving wind begins to dis¬appear, normal automatic body functions such as control over urination and defecation become difficult. One can no longer choose when to let go or not let go. This can be quite unpleasant.

“The disappearance of the upward-moving wind,” another of the five main pranas, “makes one unable to swallow any food or drink.” It becomes very diffi¬cult to consume liquids and one is short of breath. When people are about to die the breathing grows irregular and shallow. Exhalations are very long but it is difficult to inhale. A gasp or rattle, like a very short breath, develops.

When the pervading wind that gives the muscles power to move disappears, one’s body becomes like a corpse even though one has not yet died. One cannot even lift an arm, and eventually not even one finger. One’s body is paralyzed.

“The beginning of the destruction of the nadi wheels is the disintegration of the nadi wheel of the navel. After that, step by step, the disappearance of the supporting wind makes the earth element dis¬solve into the water element”. The supporting wind is that which creates physical vigor. Its disap¬pearance is the first step in the dissolution of the el¬ements and is accompanied by outer, inner and se¬cret signs. The outer sign is the loss of physical strength. One becomes very heavy and cannot move. The neck can no longer support the head. The legs can no longer support the body. The hand can no longer hold a plate of food, and the skin loses color and radiance. The face becomes pale and takes on an ugly, moldy, colorless texture. Stains collect on the teeth. One cannot contain saliva and nasal mucus drips out. Another sign is that the nostrils draw in¬ward and the face takes on a hollow appearance. The eyes that usually have some shine become lackluster.

The inner signs concern one’s state of mind. The dying person becomes dull and feels mentally heavy and obscured. Thinking that this is caused by physi¬cal circumstances, he asks people, “Please take the blankets off. Remove some of my clothes. Lift me up a little.” He feels as if he is sinking into the earth.

In short, the dying person grows pale and feels great anxiety. His voice changes and talking is diffi¬cult. His eyes lose focus and roll back in his head, showing the whites. People present start to feel uncomfortable just looking at his face.

Practitioners watch for the secret signs, the visual experiences resembling smoke, mirages, fireflies and so on, and pay close attention to them, whereas ordi¬nary people will not even notice. Although the secret signs of luminosity are vague, like a mirage, a prac¬titioner will recognize them. Focusing on the practice in which he has trained during this life, he will now be able to progress.

The next nadi-wheel to disintegrate is that of the heart chakra. At the same time the radiance-produc¬ing wind makes the water element dissolve into the fire element. The outer signs of this are that one’s mouth and tongue become dry. The mouth becomes clogged and the lips become pale, white and shrunken. Usually when we stick out our tongue we can see the tip, but now that is impossible. Normally when we raise our hand in front of our face we can see a portion of our wrist, but at this time we will unable to see that. At this point death is quite near.

“The inner signs are that one is bewildered and has various visions”. One’s mind becomes very unclear and hazy. Sometimes one recognizes the people around one, but sometimes one blacks out and is unaware of what is going on. One feels “I am still alive,” but in the very next moment everything is vague and hazy.

The various hallucinations are in accordance with one’s basic character: evil-minded people will per¬ceive terrifying visions and become frightened, while practitioners who have better karma and a purer frame of mind might have very delightful visions. They might see beautiful scenery or their root teacher might appear before them as if in person and confer upon them the four empowerments so that they attain realization. Actually, this point indicates what kind of practitioner one has been during the bardo of this life.

To fully comprehend these experiences one needs to become familiar with the terms appearance, increase and attainment, which are usually called the three experiences of whiteness, redness and blackness. A practitioner should know what these experiences actually are. Whiteness or appearance is due to the descent of the white element, obtained from one’s father at the moment of conception. At that time there is a white, shimmering light like moonshine. The outer sign is similar to the moon descending or rising. The inner sign is that one’s consciousness feels hazy like a mirage. This should be acknowledged as the experi¬ence of whiteness.

The experience of redness involving the ascent of the red element obtained from one’s mother at con¬ception is like sunshine in a place filled with dust so that the sun appears very red. The outer sign is a red sun either rising or setting. The inner sign is scintillating sparks that appear and disappear like fireflies. The experience of blackness is like the darkness of the night sky. At this point, one’s con¬sciousness alternates between being clear and hazy.1

The three experiences, appearance, increase and attainment initially take place when the consciousness is conceived, as the egg of our mother unites with the sperm of our father. When passing away, these are the last three experiences that occur before the consciousness detaches itself from the physical body. At this moment, we should recognize the essential nature of these experiences. When we fail to recog¬nize their essence, their manifestations are the three poisons, attachment, anger and delusion, through which we fall unconscious and take rebirth.2

Moreover, the nature of the five poisons in their pure aspect is actually the five wisdoms. In essence, the white element can be equated with mirror-like wisdom. The red element can be equated with the wisdom of equality. The consciousness is accompa¬nied by the movement of prana or wind, which, in essence, is the discriminating wisdom. All of these can be combined into one entity, the all-accomplishing wisdom. The complete body created through that is the dharmadhatu wisdom.

Lacking understanding of this, consciousness takes on a physical form and enters another impure re¬birth in samsaric existence. But with understanding, one takes pure rebirth within the manifestation of the five wisdoms and gains liberation. To realize the pure aspect of things is the main objective of Vajrayana.

According to the oral instructions of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche: “The dissolution of the elements is before the real death takes place. There are gross, subtle and very subtle dissolution stages. The gross ones are felt by everybody. It is before the breathing stops, the dis¬solution of the five elements. First the earth element starts to disin¬tegrate. One feels very heavy. That’s when people say “Please lift me up, raise me up. I feel like I’m sinking.” When the water element dissolves then one feels very cold and says, “Please warm me up. It’s too cold in here. When the fire element dissolves one feels very thirsty and wants water, one’s lips are drying up. When the wind el¬ement dissolves one feels as if one is floating at the brink of an abyss, not anchored anywhere. When consciousness dissolves into space it means that everything grows very big and completely ungrounded. The outer breath has stopped but the inner breathing is still taking place.

“The subtle dissolution stage is the three experiences of appearance, increase and attainment. They occur after the outer breathing stops. The inner breathing, the inner circulation of prana hasn’t ceased yet. For most people it doesn’t take very long; it’s just one, two, three. The redness experience is like the redness of a setting sun spreading throughout one’s vision. The whiteness is like moonlight and the blackness is like everything going completely dark. At the moment when the white and red elements converge in the heart center, the unity of bliss and emptiness, either one goes unconscious, or if one is a practitioner who has familiarity with the state of rigpa, there is the fourth moment of the ground luminosity of full attainment, which is the same as primordial purity. The rigpa is not unconscious, but for people not familiar with the state of rigpa then there is nothing but a blackout. For the yogi who has some stability in rigpa there is the great possibility of enlightenment right there. The fourth moment, the ground luminosity, is the same as primordial purity, dhar¬makaya. Attaining stability in that very moment is complete enlight¬enment.”
(Extracted from Repeating the Words of the Buddha, forthcoming from Rangjung Yeshe Publications).

Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche continues: “The crucial point in the con¬text of the two elements converging in the heart center, is the expe¬rience of the fourth moment, rigpa. The experience of the white and red elements joining together is the same experience that grabbed the consciousness out of the bardo and into this life to begin with. It occurred when one was conceived into the womb at the time that the mother and father’s red and white elements joined together. In that moment of bliss-emptiness the consciousness faints and is then con¬ceived. Therefore it’s extremely important to not fall oblivious and to remain detached.” (From Repeating the Words of the Buddha.)

Continuing with teachings of Jigme Lingpa:

At this time, awareness is in the heart chakra. One is unable to speak. One is unable to remember. The mind becomes very, very dull. At this time, the energy or the wind, and the consciousness have really begun to separate. The consciousness or awareness is now centered in the heart chakra and the airs, the winds, have exited. Life means the union of wind and consciousness, these two being inseparable. When they separate, life ceases. One goes one way and the other goes the other way. When the breath goes out the mouth, through the windpipe, it comes out and is gone. It’s not going to come back at this moment. Because the energy or this wind and the consciousness have now separated, the consciousness or the mind and the intrinsic awareness, which is like the wind, have become opposed to each other. They have gone in separate directions and the person dies, The Tibetans say that right here is where death occurs. It is the separation of consciousness and energy, or you could say consciousness and primordial awareness.

Now the person is dead and this is the appropriate time to use the practice, which is similar to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, although what we are speaking of is not the modern emergency method, but an ancient method of reviving consciousness. As the helper of the dying person, you put your mouth on his mouth, and your two nostrils as close as you can to the dying person’s nostrils, and you breathe in strongly three times. The first time that you send air into his three holes, you visualize the air going in the form of white light, which is like the syllable OM. The second time you breathe air into him, you visualize the air to be red and in the form of the syllable AH. The third time, you visualize the color blue, the air is the color blue, and in the form of the syllable HUNG. The third time that you breathe into his holes, you also try to ascertain a sense of sunyata awareness, the voidness awareness and the color blue goes in. Following this, which would be the fourth time, following the initial three visualizations with the air, then you make the sound, recite the syllable HUNG with great force you say it, sound it, and of course the air comes with it, and you shoot this sound right in through the dying person’s mouth. You should imagine that this syllable HUNG captures the consciousness and revitalizes it. When this is done effectively, when it works, the dying person will again open his eyes. The eyes will shoot open and he will be reawakened, alert once more.

If the dying person has been adept in the practice of togyal, which I explained a little earlier, then he can employ this at the time of death. This is not a teaching that we will go into here. But it is a practice where one comes to know phenomena by way of molecules and atoms, and works with the little molecules in the atmosphere. One works through the channel of the eyesight, the wisdom eye.

You would press your thumbs on his eyelids. If this is effective, he will have an experience, which comes to someone who has practiced togyal. For example, if you press down on your eyelids, there will be one round circle that appears there. That will be your experience when you press down. It’s almost like the size of your eyeball, but it’s like a big molecule. This way of assisting the dying person has something to do with this appearance.

You go on to repeat the following phrases to the dying person. Again you call out his name and you call to him in a very endearing way, which would be most pleasing for him to hear. You tell him that now this is the moment of the appearance of the clear light, that the clear light of the bardo is shining for him, and that he must attempt to recognize this clear light.

You go on to say to the dying person: “at this point in the bardo, your body has separated from your consciousness and therefore you are no longer afflicted by the ordinary entrances of body, speech, and mind as you used to know when you were in your gross corporal form, You are without these rough obscurations. In this state which is the beginning of the clear light of the chu-nyid bardo; the ultimate truth bardo there will be sound; shining, blazing, brilliant lights will appear as phenomena for you. And you should know this appearance, which will be very great and expansive and overwhelming to be none other than your own phenomenon. It has no other origination”.

Actually, if we really do understand this appearance of the clear light of the chu-nyid bardo, then this is the place of liberation, this is where liberation occurs. The appearance of the clear light at this time is like the sun, for example, which is brilliant; it is overwhelming. And yet, if there is any dual reaction or concept in the bardo, it will be misunderstood, and the consciousness will wander on in a state of ignorance and misunderstanding. But if you can just go into the appearance, and see it as the spontaneous appearance of your own pure awareness liberation is achieved.

Then you go on to ask them, “Did you see the appearance of the clear light? Do you remember the teachings that you had in your lifetime”? In this way you question them. If the resuscitation has been successful, the person will either make a little noise or gesture. If you do get this positive reaction, you would get a straw or pipe arid stick it in their ear, and continue to speak with them through this straw.

You go on to say, calling out the person’s name, “So-and-so, you really are without your corporal form. There’s no need for any inkling towards attachment to what you used to know and relate to, be it your own flesh, your blood, your relations or any possessions. No longer do these material aspects of the human realm burden you. Now, in the chu-nyid bardo, the bardo of ultimate truth, the sound, the brilliant light that will appear before you also is nothing to react against, or be terrified of. There is no purpose behind any kind of reaction. What you should focus on solely is that the appearance is the appearance of your own phenomena and is coming from no other source. It is not outside of you. It is your own appearance; it is your mind. The appearance and your mind are inseparable and so you should not wander or follow any other disturbed thought patterns.”

You go on to say, “If you are unable to rest with the truth of this experience, then you should begin to remember the teachings that you have had on the pure Buddha realm known as Dewachen, this realm which is an enlightened environment. You should remember the qualities of enlightened awareness. If you pray and have fervent regard and faith and devotion toward the Buddha Amitabha who resides in this realm, the realm of Great Bliss, Dewachen, then there will be no doubt that he will greet you at this point in the bardo,”

If you were not a Buddhist, perhaps it would be appropriate to remember whatever source of refuge that you relate to and have fervent regard for. I am not able to say that this is 100% accurate, because this isn’t actually a part of the teaching. For, example, when you are working with dying people, and if the one who is dying has no faith at all in Buddhism or in any spiritual path, and in fact has aversion toward it, which is the case with many people, then you have got to apply some skillful method because you should never frighten this person or make him more paranoid than he already is. So it wouldn’t be appropriate to mention Jesus’ name, or God or Buddha at this point.

Of course, if you are a Buddhist, you remember your teacher or whichever emanation of enlightened awareness, whichever Buddha it is that you relate to, remember and make prayers to have the enlightened experience at this moment.

All of the teaching here about what you are supposed to say to the dying person would be ideal to begin the dialogue at the moment that the stages of absorption begin. You can repeat the dialogue again and again, as many times as necessary, depending upon how slowly the person is dying or how quickly. What is going to be the same is the way that the process occurs; the time is going to be different. It’s important, too, that you always maintain a very peaceful sort of disposition yourself and that your speech is pleasing, that you are not scolding or using some harsh tone. Make your speech as pleasing and soft and nice as you possibly can.

I think it would be appropriate to mention the name of the Buddha Amitabha at this point, to people who are really paranoid and have no spiritual path or any focus for their refuge, because at this point in time, it’s pretty serious for this kind of person, and he is in fact looking for a source of refuge, looking for help. The dying person might be open to re1ate to the image or the name of the Buddha at this time. Therefore, it would be very skillful to do this. Because at this point in time, such a person who in his lifetime was probably extremely prideful, extremely jealous and paranoid, just now has lost these tendencies because he is helpless. If you are able to help guide this human being who is dying, then it is extremely beneficial, and in most cases the being you are helping will not fall into lower realms of existence due to your help at this crucial time.

Particularly in this environment there are many human beings who have never heard of these kinds of teachings before, who have never met with the Dharma or the Buddhist teaching at all. So, there is another method that can be employed here at this time for such people who really are removed from spiritual awareness, or for others who are dying.

You apply this method when the outer breath ceases, but when the consciousness is still in the corpse. You sit next to the corpse, the dying person, and you visualize in his heart a white letter AH. You put your mouth right on the crown of his head, right over the crown. You recite the sound AH. You sing this sound in a very pleasing way, as many times as the person is years old. So if he is 20, you make 20 recitations, if he is 50, 50, etc. If you don’t know what age the person is, you may go ahead and recite as many times as you feel inclined to. While you are reciting the recitations, the sign that it has been effective and helpful is that from the point where your mouth is on the crown of the dying person, steam will begin to come out. Continue to recite the AH 21 times. Actually, as many times as you recite it, it would be beneficial. It doesn’t have to be just 21, but it says 21 in the text.

If you are a great high lama or an advanced practitioner, then you will definitely be able to guide his consciousness to rebirth in higher realms. At least he will not have to be reborn in the lower realms in that following lifetime.

Then at this time, all of the blood from the capillaries and veins in the body is rushing toward the central life channel. The way that the blood physically contracts and cones together in the central life channel is in three convulsions. The blood and the air work together. First one exhales with quite a long exhala¬tion as the blood rushes in. Then it gets shorter and then just a little bit shorter when the blood no longer is out in the body and has come all the way into the central channel.

With each of the three convulsions that the blood rushes in, the dying person makes a sound when the breath goes out, one, two, three, and then no more. (Remember that before the air went out, the energy exited and this was the exit of the outer breath, but still the consciousness is inside of the heart chakra, the central energy channel. It is still there.) With the third exhale there is no longer any air or energy in the body. At this time, the consciousness definitely falls into a faint and the inner air leaves the body. Now both outer and inner have stopped. This faint-like state is very, very deep and so the person who now is dead has no recollection at this time at all. This happens with the third convulsion of exhaling breath.

The first time when all of the energy and blood rush into the life channel, the eyes roll back further and they become very pale and so does the mouth. The air goes out about the length of a cubit. During the second convulsion, the head drops down and the air goes out about one arrow’s length into space, With the third, final convulsion, a sound is made that resembles “uuk”. The air goes out about an arm’s span into space. At this point the chu-nyid bardo actually begins.

Chu-Nyid Bardo

Here we begin with the third bardo, the bardo of ultimate truth, chu-nyid bardo. At this point, the consciousness has dropped this heap of aggregates that it has always carried around up until this point. This heap of aggregates was the source of ego grasping and self-cherishing and all other dual misconceptions. This has dropped away. It is no longer with the consciousness.

The chu-nyid bardo is like the sun. Its actual nature is like the sun or a mother. The appearance in the chu-nyid bardo is the appearance of ultimate truth and should be recognized as having come from one’s own mind and is only like the rays of the sun in the way that they come forth from the sun, the source. It’s like the rays of the sun that come from the sun, are part of the sun, and yet are illuminating.

Similarly a child who sits on its mother’s lap - the child came from the mother. So the relationship between mother and child, son or daughter, that relationship is very, very deep. It is naturally deep because the child has come from the mother. Supposing there is a herd of 200 goats. The small kid will go straight to its mother, will be able to single out its mother from amongst all the goats. There is no doubt who its mother is.

In the chu-nyid bardo, this appearance of ultimate truth is clear light. If you can understand it to be no different from this, the relationship between mother and child, the appearance of the bardo’s source is your own awareness. It would be very beneficial to understand it in this way.

Buddhists always pay great respect to one’s parents and consider the kindness of the father and mother to be supreme. This is because through them one was able to achieve the precious human body, which is a supreme rebirth with the possibility to achieve liberation. Even animals appreciate this kindness, the kindness of one’s parents.

The foundational consciousness, which we’ve spoken about, this foundational consciousness, has in fact been enlightened from beginningless time. The true nature of it is perfectly pure and is Buddha-nature. We all have this foundational consciousness. We haven’t acquired it from any other source; it is just what we have.  It doesn’t matter what spiritual tradition you’re from. It doesn’t matter if you are even from one. You certainly don’t have to be a Buddhist. It doesn’t even matter if you are an animal. You have this pure foundational consciousness; you have this Buddha-nature, which is a purity that has been there from beginningless time. It is the essence of your nature. This is nothing to be too surprised about because you all have it. No one is different. So because this is the foundation of our consciousness, we are able to achieve liberation in the future. Without this, there would be no possibility. It is because we have this, that there is the possibility. When we understand our own true nature, then we have understood sunyata, the ultimate truth.

Perfection of this understanding is called trekchod as I explained earlier. When this is understood we can then take it a step even further and we meditate upon the appearance of this sunyata awareness, because the foundational consciousness also gives rise to phenomena, which is very clear when perceived purely. This appearance of sunyata is the meditation, the appearance of phenomena, and this is called togyal. Here the togyal, the appearance of pure awareness is like the child, and the pure awareness itself is like the mother.

In the bardo of ultimate truth, we have to understand that the actual nature of the appearance is like the sun and the appearance of this nature is like the rays of the sun. The appearance that arises has not come from outside of oneself. It is the dexterity, the clarity of one’s own ultimate nature appearing. It is important to understand this.

You don’t need to realize this only in the bardo. If you can realize it now, you will be enlightened in this very lifetime and then you don’t have to go through the stages of absorption and the bardo. You’ll just be enlightened.

This awareness is particularly known to those who practice the secret or tantric path. It is known to be the experience of these practitioners. It occurs at this time when the consciousness is separate from the corporal body form, when the stages of absorption have been completed. At this point in the bardo, the foundational consciousness dissolves or absorbs into space. The ultimate truth is then understood, when there is no longer any other appearance but that of space.

The space that appears, one can say, is pure and still like the sky in autumn, pristine clear. It is not moving in this direction or in that direction. There are no thoughts and conceptions at all. The foundational consciousness has dissolved into space and one is aware of ultimate truth at this time, if all elements are perfect. One should rest one’s mind completely in the state of ultimate truth awareness, without moving in any other direction because at this point it is much easier to do, as one has dropped all attachments, obscur¬ations and afflictions. One is separate from these tendencies. There is just the experience of the ultimate truth that arises. The consciousness in the bardo now should remain on this experience without changing.

This experience is called the foundational liberation. It is liberation that has been liberated from beginningless time. It is the experience that has in fact been our experience from beginningless time. We have just met with it again.

If the bardo being is not liberated now, at this moment; if the consciousness does not realize its true nature at the first appearance of this radiant light of ultimate truth, then phenomena goes on and the bardo being will dissolve into the clear light.

At this point, there begins to be the recollection of something. Although the bardo being now does not perceive or conceptualize as we do in the human realm - the bardo being is not able to hear sounds, see objects, or relate in this respect - still, the being at this point is aware that there is something. There is a sense of awareness, which arises. With the absorption into the clear light, the body becomes one of light, and this is the beginning of awareness, the awareness of light. The consciousness relates to the light as though it were the body of the consciousness, the light body. There is no longer a corporal gross body; there is a light body and an awareness of such. Further, the consciousness elaborates on this light body as being a light body like a mandala of the five colors of the rainbow. Here, however, all of the phenomena that we experience of mountains, earth, planet, sun, moon, of elements is not all there in this state of the bardo. There is only the awareness of the light of five colors. This is related to as if it were one’s own body, a light body. At this point, what the consciousness perceives in all directions is similar to viewing beautiful brocade silk. Wherever you look, beautiful brocade silk of five colors, and/or the rays of the sun as they go out over the horizon when the sky is incredibly beautiful in such as way that you almost can see each little atom, each little molecule in the atmosphere. Each and every little molecule that is perceived is of the light of the five colors. This is the awareness that the bardo body has. Then many of these molecules appear and they are extremely subtle and move all about and begin to move in various patterns and in different ways. Some are like shooting stars.

If the bardo being was an adept practitioner of the togyal in his past lifetime (the togyal is the practice mentioned earlier where one works with the appearance of phenomena and relates to all appearance as being circular, like drops, atoms or molecules and one works with colors and light and the eye, the channel of the eye) he can remain for many hours in this experience, perhaps even several days depending on his ability to recognize it and realize its true nature.

Here the way that liberation is achieved is in three successive moments:

The first moment that begins the cycle that results in liberation is a sense of trust, or ascertainment, deep ascertainment that the appearance is the spontaneity of one’s phenomena arising in the bardo. This is like the child recognizing its mother. You recognize here that this appearance of the clear light is your own phenomena, the spontaneity of your own mind appearing before you in all of its perfection. It is like the child recognizing his mother and going straight to the mother, right to the source, right back into it. Not only that, but one has total trust in this and has no second thought. This is the first instant of the cycle that leads to liberation.

The second moment of this cycle is that one becomes liberated oneself, just like that, naturally. Self-liberation occurs. This is like remaining there with your mother, so to speak. Realizing that, yes, this is in fact my true nature. This is really so, and being liberated right there within this realization. It is a spontaneous awareness that results in liberation. One stays with one’s mother, not like we jump from boyfriend to boyfriend, or girlfriend to girlfriend, but staying with one.

The third moment of this cycle acts like a seal. From that point onward, there is no falling back into an impermanent state of awareness that continues to change and shift. One remains in a state of permanent recognition of self-liberation. With that ascertainment which is the third moment, there is no longer any other phenomena which arise. At this moment one is liberated and will no longer fall back into an impermanent cycle in the bardo or any other time. Liberation is sealed.

But if you are totally ignorant of any of this, then the appearance will be as brief, and can be as brief as a shooting star. It just passes right by you very, very quickly.

All of the phenomena that we experience are coming only from our own mind. We may like to think or believe that it is created somewhere else that it is the fault of another or it is due to some external circumstance, but in fact it is due to our own consciousness. That’s where it comes from. That’s where it goes back into.

Right now in this lifetime, we are unable to trust our own phenomena. If we really trust the appearance of our own phenomena, then in the second instant, the result of really trusting will be liberation. It just comes in the second instant, The moment you trust, the second moment you’ll be liberated, The third instant seals the liberated state and there is no longer any other phenomenal appearance. We can’t say that there are any more instants because with these three, that’s it. So one is able again to realize the state of purity, one’s own primordial awareness, the pure awareness that has been so since beginningless time. One has gotten back in touch with this, has believed in it and it with it. This is difficult to understand, but you shou1d try anyway.

As the consciousness moves on through the bardo, the bardo being travels on. The next occurrence is a dissolving into union with this clear light. Here, the awareness of a body, of a being, becomes more prominent because it is the union of being with the clear light. Here the being which appears to the bardo body becomes more and more prominent and refined, and yet the appearance of form here now is not such that one form is large and one form is small, or that there is any unequalness, or that one is great or that one is one color and not the other. There is no flaw. Any ornaments that the beings that appear wear are all perfect and very, very beautiful.

The mudras, the postures that are maintained by the beings that arise to one’s consciousness are also very pleasing and graceful. The appearance of peaceful forms arise and the appearance of wrathful forms arise and yet all of them are very, very perfect in their appearance, the postures are very pleasing and intact.

The peaceful beings that appear are upon peaceful seats. A peaceful illusory being that appears before you at this point in the bardo will be resting on a moon disc. A wrathful being that appears will be resting on a sun disc. So it is that the peaceful ones retain all the marks of peacefulness, and the wrathful ones all the marks of wrath.

Up to this point, the appearance of the wrathful illusory beings seem as though it’s arising outside of oneself, yet we should know that the residence of these wrathful ones is inside of one’s own brain. The wrathful illusory beings actually do reside inside of the little capillaries in one’s brain. Western scientists feel that consciousness is centered in the brain, as opposed to the hearts.  So perhaps the bardo teachings follow closely along these same thought lines.

Right now if we were to try to imagine the wrathful beings, these little illusory beings residing in our brain cavity, they would have to be the size of little mustard seeds, if not smaller. But in the bardo, phenomena are not restricted to such tiny, tiny, little sizes, in relation to the way that we view things. In the bardo, phenomena are vast, huge, and greatly expansive. So the appearance of even one wrathful being could fill this entire universe. This is another way to recognize the appearance to be just phenomena.

At this point, if appearance is not properly understood to be one’s own phenomena, the appearance of the wrathful ones will be very frightening and terrifying for the bardo being. There are various terrifying weapons that they hold; the postures that they maintain are also very, very terrifying. The sound that they make is also as loud, or could be compared to the intensity of the sound of one thousand dragons rearing. It is incredibly loud and just very, very terrifying.

Before we spoke about the appearance in the chu-nyid bardo of the wrathful illusory beings, and the fact that the bardo consciousness would become terrified by the sound that they make and by the brilliance of the appearance and the light which is so dazzling and bright. The appearance actually does occur here and you should know that it is very, very intense. For examp1e, if you see a lion, you immediately react and become terrified. Yet someone says to you, “Hey, that lion’s stuffed. The lion is not real. That’s a fake lion.” Then, right away you are no longer afraid. So it is with this appearance. It’s not really the appearance of anything that will harm you. It is only the appearance of your own phenomena. The arising of your own phenomena, once again, is no different from a stuffed lion. It is a hollow appearance. There is no need or reason to be afraid, to react, become paranoid. Here again, needs to ascertain the truth of the appearance. If you understand that the appearance is hollow, that it is your own consciousness, you will be liberated at this, point. By not having understood the introductory teachings to be the Bardo Thodrol, the Liberation through Hearing, by not having really understood these teachings, although one may have held a mala, a rosary, may have recited many mantras, may have practiced meditation in their past lifetime they didn’t understand the true nature of their mind.

And so, up until this point in the bardo, because they have not understood Buddhahood they have not been 1iberated you call to them and you say: “Although you have attempted to be a practitioner, you have not achieved liberation all the way up until now. The oral transmission teachings, which have been given to you in the past, have not merged into your mindstream. You have not been able to cut the need to react against your own phenomena, the appearance of your own phenomena. In fact, you have no need to be afraid but still you are afraid. You have not understood. You have not been able to ascertain the real meaning of the sound, of the light, of the brilliance, which to you seems terrifying. The appearance of your own phenomena has frightened you. So because of this, you are continuing to wander on in cyclic existence. You are wandering on in the bardo. You have not understood.”

You tell them that they have not been able to understand that which was the appearance of their own illusory body. The illusory body is the appearance of these deities who have a rainbow form, a phantom form, and it is the appearance of the bardo form; it is a reflection of yourself. But you have not understood it to be this and thus you still hold onto an ordinary dual mind. You are grasping. If you can drop this conceptual¬ization, you will be liberated.

Following this appearance of the wrathful illusory beings, the peaceful phenomena begin to arise. And here, the form initially appear as auras, rings of five lights, five-colored light rings, very, very great like you see sometimes in the tangkas surrounding the Buddhas. From these rings of auric light, there appear male and female Buddhas, and then slowly but surely, gradually, the entire mandala of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appears, their rainbow bodies very, very peaceful and colorful and beautiful, They appear fully complete.

Five Buddha Families
(see more detailed explanation at the end)

On the first day, the entire mandala of the first Buddha and his family and entourage appears. On the second day, the second Buddha family appears and so on around. The five days are filled with these peaceful appearances for the bardo being - what we know as the time of about five days.

On the first day, the Buddha who appears is Buddha Vairochana. He appears with his entire entourage of Bodhisattvas, a great, vast mandala of peaceful illusory beings.
On the second day, the Buddha Aksobhya appears, surrounded by the mandala of his entourage.
On the third day, the Buddha Ratnasambhava appears, surrounded by the mandala of his entourage.
On the fourth day, the Buddha Amitabha appears, surrounded by the mandala of his entourage.
On the fifth day, the Buddha Amoghasiddhi appears, surrounded by the mandala of his entourage.

We speak here of five days, but actually, it is not so precise in the bardo. It depends on the karma of different individuals. For example, those who have more karma to perceive and behold the peaceful appearance will be able to ascertain it and concentrate upon it for a longer period of tine. For others it will be a very, very brief appearance and will pass by quickly,

These three moments, which are the cycle of liberation, which we spoke about: trust, liberation and the seal, pertain to this appearance. So, if one can see the appearances whichever Buddha it may be on whichever day or whatever time, if one can ascertain that the appearance is none other than the play of one’s own phenomena, and trust that, and then move on into the state of liberation, the third moment will be sealed. One will be liberated. These three essentials pertain here if one is to be liberated.

At this time, one imagines one’s heart, which is one’s consciousness, uniting with the heart of the Buddha that one is focusing and concentrating upon. One is attracted toward the appearance and begins to recognize it as the play of one’s own phenomena. The consciousness is attracted and unites, and liberation takes place. Liberation takes place by way of pure awareness and light, and the union of light, pure awareness, and form. As this liberation occurs which was called the dissolving into union with the clear light, from one’s heart there actually proceeds forth an array of molecules of light. There are so many of them all twisted together and patterned together beautifully, that they are like a twisted rope of light. They are also very, very tiny; there are countless molecules together. This appearance of light like a twisted rope of colors proceeds forth from one’s heart. To the bardo being, it seems as though the peaceful illusory being dissolves right into one’s own heart chakra, as if there is a connection of this light rope and the Illusory being and one’s own consciousness. In this way the union takes place. Thus it is called the union of pure awareness and light, the dissolving into the clear light.

No one is going to remain for too long in a state of emptiness, in a state where there is no appearance of phenomena. Just as when we fall off to sleep, we have the initial blank period before dreams begin, and just as when we wake up from sleep there is a blank period just before we awaken, so it is In the bardo. After the moment of death occurs, if there is not liberation, the bardo consciousness begins to experience the arising of new phenomena, which is the chu-nyid bardo, the bardo of ultimate truth.

So the phenomena are, if you recall, like the appearance of a twisted light rope which seems to come from the heart. It comes from the center of the consciousness of the bardo being. It seems to touch and connect with the heart of the being, the illusory appearance, which is the peaceful aspect of the Buddha, which is appearing there before the bardo being. This appearance will be very, very subtle. The rope will be very, very delicately tiny and small. It seems to be right in the front of the consciousness, right in front of the bardo being. If this has been recognized, this would have been a dissolving into the union of the clear light, but now as the conscious¬ness is still in the bardo experience, and as the appearance matures, then it enters into the cycle known as the dissolving into the primordial awareness of the union. Here, if the bardo being can concentrate very, very carefully upon the light rope and the union of the mind which realizes ultimate truth, and the light rope which is the projection of the bardo being’s phenomena. One should try to remain in a single state of mind with the union of these two.

This very, very subtle vision or appearance of phenomena becomes thicker, and that which is actually becoming thicker becomes like a blanket of light. The light is like little molecules or atoms and it just gets thicker and thicker. The depth of the appearance gets richer and fuller. It is the appearance of primordial awareness, that which is the projection of the empty aspect of the ultimate truth, the true nature of all phenomena. It is the clarity of that true nature. It is primordial awareness itself. It is the awareness aspect of the union that already took place. It gets thicker and more radiant, denser, and it becomes like a rainbow roll of cloth rather than a thin, twisted rope of light.

This roll of cloth like a rainbow, which is the phenomena that’s arising, is of the five colors of the rainbow. It becomes even more elaborate. On top of this rainbow of five colors there appears a layer of pure white, like crystal - very, very clear and brilliant.  The layer is a solid layer of these circular molecules. It’s not just a flat piece, but it is always in atoms, molecules, and there are so many of them. They are all pressed together and they make one solid visionary experience.

On top of the white crystal, there appears a yellow layer of the circular molecules. They are like little auras of light. On top of this there then appears a red blanket of light molecules, then there is another layer that appears of molecules like peacock feathers, with many lights encircling around and around, down to the center.

This appearance of the blankets of light, the rainbow light in its density and in all of its luminosity, is the appearance of primordial awareness, the true nature of the mind, the phenomena, the appearance of intrinsic awareness. There are five particular awarenesses or wisdoms that all conscious beings have possessed from beginningless time. So this is the pure appearance of these five wisdoms or primordial awarenesses. But the fifth of these five wisdoms is called the all-accomp1ishing wisdom. It is just naturally within the other four. So its appearance, that is more toward the color green, is not necessarily there because it is just naturally within. So one definitely does behold the other four. This is called the secret path of Vajrasattva.

The appearance of this phenomenon is so brilliant and so pleasing that it is like a golden scepter. It is as though it opens the eye of wisdom if one can only remain focused upon it for the time that it appears. If one can hold the concentration upon this intrinsically pure unelaborated appearance, which is in fact the appearance of the mind’s wisdom, the pure wisdom of Buddha-nature, the purity of the consciousness from beginningless time then one will become liberated without a doubt.

Some of you know what these five wisdoms, these five primordial awarenesses are as they have been translated into English before and can be found in books, but just to give you the name here. The first is called mirror-like wisdom. This corresponds with the crystal appearance, the ‘white color in the bardo. The second is the wisdom of equanimity, which corresponds with the yellow color. The third is the wisdom of discriminating awareness, the ability to discriminate perfectly, and corresponds with the red color, the red blanket of light molecules, the color of ruby. The fourth is the all-accomplishing wisdom. The fifth is the wisdom of ultimate truth that is represented by the color blue. So when four of these wisdoms are understood, then all-accomplishing wisdom is naturally accomplished.

One should be able to concentrate and focus upon the appearance of these colors in the bardo without any other thought, without any mental wandering or wavering. And if that is the case, one will achieve liberation.

There is a meditation that is being taught more generally these days generally called vipassana, but is really shamatha. It simply involves the control of the mind, concentration, watching the breath initially and calming all of these thought patterns that are continually rampant in our waking reality. This practice is really beneficial, because in the bardo it certainly helps if we can concentrate.

Dissolving into the primordial awareness of the union:

The next series of phenomena is the dissolving into the spontaneously accom¬plished primordial awareness. It is almost beginning to fade at this point, and to change. The actual rays that the molecules of light give off become more prominent than the molecules, and the molecules begin to fade back a little bit. The phenomena becomes more like the sky again, a very, very clear sky. The colors get duller and dimmer, and it is more like an array of rays, like the clear, clear blue sky without any clouds. So from within this, the wrathful illusory beings begin to project themselves, which is the play of phenomena once again. This projection begins to arise, slowly but surely, and arises spontaneously from within this wisdom awareness. Also, all of the mandalas of illusory beings begin to appear-- not just wrathful, but all beings who represent illusory form begin to appear.

First the wrathful ones begin to arise, and then more peaceful beings begin to appear and then all of the mandalas of the beings of illusory awareness arise before you. It seems to the bardo consciousness that it is in every direction, the four directions and the four intermediate directions. There is not any place where an illusory being is not perceived. Slowly but surely, the environment, or the enlightened field of awareness that these beings reside within, this pervades the entire environment. The bardo consciousness feels very, very attracted. In fact it is an intoxicating experience. The bardo consciousness becomes filled with a sense of intoxication toward this illusory state of awareness. Also there appear six Buddhas. There are six particular enlightened ones who reside in each of the six realms of transmigratory existence. These appear, surrounded with their entourage of enlightened followers.

In order to achieve liberation and not to wander further in a state of unknowing, the bardo consciousness must be able to see this as merely the reflection of the mind. All of these illusory appearances of the Buddhas, wrathful and peaceful, etc. are like a mirage. It is a reflection. Again, we should remember the teaching concerning the base of the foundation of consciousness being is pure from the beginning, like the mother and that the appearance of the phenomena is like the child, or we can say the sun and the sun’s rays. Without separating the basic foundation of the reflection and one’s own consciousness, the bardo consciousness should remain in this state, which ascertains that the vision and the mind are not separate.

It might seem complicated for some of you and for others, it might not, but the main point that is being made is that whether the appearance is more peaceful or more wrathful, whatever the case may be for the bardo consciousness, it is all just a manifestation of phenomena. It is going to be slightly different for each and every being, due to habits and instincts that have been created in the past.

The main point is to understand that the appearance is a reflection of one’s mind.

Eight Characteristics the Bardo being possesses:

At this point in the bardo, the bardo consciousness possesses eight characteristics of the vision that appears. In one sense, we can say that these eight characteristics are just qualities of enlightened awareness. Enlightened awareness means the state of Buddha; Buddha means pure awareness. So here, these are like qualities of pure awareness, which the bardo being possesses. The bardo being is in a very, very pure state actually. There are not too many obscurations or defilements at all.

The first characteristic that the bardo being possesses, and it is a result of the vision, the visions of the phenomena -- is compassion. Compassion just naturally arises from the bardo consciousness, because at this point there is no distinction between samsara and nirvana. The bardo consciousness doesn’t relate to cyclic existence and en1ightenment as being separate. When we speak of the compassion of the Buddha, it is the same thing. The Buddhas do not distinguish between their state of enlightenment and just forget about the beings who are in samsara, but in fact an enlightened being is one who works to liberate others who have not realized their own pure awareness. In this respect, the bardo being also possesses compassion because the bardo being sees no distinction between samsara and nirvana.

The second characteristic is light. Light is the vision that the bardo consciousness perceives and the reason for this is because the bardo consciousness is aware that light is the appearance of one’s phenomena and relates to it in this way. But, in the bardo, it is not just a black situation where there is nothing, where it is empty. There is no nihilistic experience in this respect. There is a light experience.

The third characteristic is the vision of form. Here, this vision of form is without distinction. When the bardo consciousness perceives form, it does not see one form as being bigger or smaller than another. It doesn’t differentiate in this way. There is a sense of true equanimity. There is no distinction, yet there still is form.

The fourth characteristic is the appearance of the wisdom, the vision of intrinsic awareness. When this arises, the bardo consciousness is aware of the pure state. It is a penetrating state, a state where the true nature of light, which is the dexterity of ultimate truth appearing, is understood as wisdom.

The fifth characteristic of the vision is that all visions that appear for the bardo consciousness are not dual; there is no subject and object. All is one; all is inseparable and is but one single-pointed concentration experience.

The sixth characteristic of the vision is the state of purity which is realized, and that is liberation itself, which is a state without origination or without completion. When liberation occurs, there is no longer any sense of there ever having been delusion or obscuration, Nor is there a beginning or an end; there is just a state of total purity, without limit, without boundary,

The seventh characteristic of the vision is that of impurity, the state of impurity. The state of impurity in this characteristic means that the bardo consciousness has no need to fear the arising of transcendental existence because samsara is not an obstruction at all. It doesn’t matter what realm of samsara the bardo being must enter into. After one has been liberated in the ultimate truth bardo, there is no longer impurity. Impurity is not a threat.

The final characteristic of the bardo vision is purity. When purity appears before the bardo consciousness, intrinsic awareness, wisdom is understood to be the mother, or the foundation of the consciousness. The appearance of phenomena is the pure clarity or the ornament of wisdom. So here, the bardo consciousness - if this is all ascertained - is liberated.

These characteristics of the pure vision of this state in the bardo are ways to explain that the state of enlightenment could be compared to a very great mirror. Everything that is in front of the mirror is going to appear in the mirror, not just the good things. The pretty flowers will be shown there and so will the old shoes. It doesn’t matter. You can think now you have a good thought, but that doesn’t mean that the bad thoughts are obstructed just because you have a good thought, and vice versa. So you shouldn’t differentiate in this way so much, thinking with such a dual, two-pointed mind. This frame of reference is in fact inaccurate when we talk about the state of pure awareness.

At this time, just like meeting an old friend that you knew very well in the past, there is no mistake. Then you see him again, you have no doubt that he was in fact your acquaintance and your dear friend in the past. You go directly to him and relate to him. So it is, if you can relate to the vision in this respect, with the eight pure characteristics, then you, the bardo consciousness, will be liberated.

Three Moments (recap):

Liberation takes place the same way that we spoke of earlier with the three instances: the first is that of trust, and then the second is liberation, and the third is the seal so that there is no returning to a state of impermanence again.

The first of the three moments is that of total trust. The mind should be certain, without a doubt, of the direction to go in; should be certain that this vision, right now in the bardo, is absolutely the true nature of the mind. One trusts that and goes toward that, just like a rocket shoots off up into the atmosphere -- it is not about to turn right back and come down.

The understanding that comes from these first two moments means that this consciousness is liberated completely from all afflictions in transmigratory existence, and no longer returns into this ‘wheel of life’, into the cycle. There is no longer a rebirth that occurs in an inferior state.

So one might say here, “Okay then, Buddha, or Jesus, or some other masters that we say are enlightened are liberated from transmigratory existence. Then why are they doing coming back into this world? Why do they come here? But you should know that they don’t come here for their own business. They have come only for the sake of helping other beings that are still in a state of suffering and ignorance. So they come to help guide others, but they come by choice and they have control over the cycle, whereas most people who are in transmigratory existence have come unknowingly and exit unknowingly as well.

Also, as the consciousness is there in this state, there are five aspects of the vision that are understood. There are also different ways that the consciousness can follow phenomena. But, as days go on for bardo consciousness, the visions that arise may be very, very slow, and the consciousness, due to past instincts and karmic potencies, will feel more of an affinity toward one light or one illusory appearance than another. In this respect, the bardo consciousness may understand the appearance of one particular light to be one’s true nature, faster than it will recognize another appearance. Just as in our lives now there are many appearances that come. It depends on past instincts. Similarly, there are different ways that the consciousness is able to remember in the bardo, again based on past karmic potencies.

The first way is if the bardo consciousness is very attracted to the appearance of a deity, of an illusory body, then this is because in the past, the consciousness worked with the deity or practiced visualizing him etc., had an affinity for deities before the bardo experience. In the bardo then, if that affinity is still very strong, then the bardo consciousness will actually see the face of the deity very, very clearly. It will be just like greeting an old friend again.

The second way is if in the past the bardo consciousness, in one of the lifetimes prior to the experience, was one who studied the different teachings particularly the teaching of the Mahamudra and the Great Completion and these higher tantric teachings, if these were studied -- if teachings were heard and contemplated and meditated upon -- then in the bardo, particularly the chu-nyid bardo, the bardo of ultimate truth, the consciousness will have power to understand what is going on.

The third way is if the bardo consciousness follows appearance due to past instincts is, if the person had in the past extensively studied the sid-pa bardo, the bardo of re-entrance into transmigratory existence, then at that point in the bardo when the consciousness is about again to enter into a form in one of the six realms, the consciousness sees the beings of whichever form he is about to go into, in the sexual act. If it is the animal realm, then a male and female animal are seen in the sexual act. This is just prior to the consciousness’ reentry. At this point, the consciousness remembers the teachings from the sid-pa bardo and prays, or just really gives rise to the fervent wish to be reborn in a pure state of awareness. It is possible, at this point, that the consciousness may be reborn in a field of Buddha awareness, or enlightened awareness, as opposed to the animal realm if the bardo consciousness is able to concentrate very, very clearly and carefully, due to having perfected single-pointed concentration in one’s past lifetimes, then again the instinct will be there in the bardo, particularly at the time in the chu-nyid bardo, when the visions of the peaceful and wrathful deities appear. This could go on for many days.

The consciousness can, at will, can just rest with the appearances or hold one or the other, whichever one it has an affinity for, hold it for a day or two and be able to go into it and become one with it. There will be an ability to concentrate in the bardo state; particularly those tantric practitioners who practice the developing and completion practices in their lifetimes are able to concentrate very clearly in the chu-nyid bardo.

The fourth way is if the bardo consciousness received, in the past, the teachings from a qualified teacher and had a very incredible experience and had made a good connection with the teacher, then in the bardo, the consciousness will be able to remember the teachings that were given.

The most important point of those teachings was the fact that the bardo consciousness should never forget that the appearance and one’s pure awareness are inseparable. If here, the bardo consciousness remembers, he will be liberated by remembering the teachings received in his past lifetimes, and/or the bardo consciousness just joins with the mind of the teacher and is liberated in this way.

The last and fifth way is if the bardo consciousness has an affinity for the view, particularly if the being who is now in the bardo, had really understood the highest view of the teachings, the view of the Great Completion or the Mahamudra, then at this time in the bardo, it would be just like meeting with an old friend -- everything that was occurring would be totally familiar and the consciousness would be liberated.

The tantric practices specifically prepare the mind for the appearances in the bardo. The visualization practices of the illusory bodies of the deities represent enlightened awareness. In most cases such practitioners are able to feel a great affinity toward these phenomenal projections and to be liberated just by reestablishing the relationship. If the bardo consciousness has a great amount of devotion for his spiritual master, and if the relationship between teacher and student was particularly profound and close, then it is no doubt that in the bardo all of the teachings will be remembered and one will actually meet with the master there in the bardo and be liberated. Therefore, receiving the teachings, hearing the teachings is extremely important. It is liberation through hearing in the bardo. Having received the teachings and had some deeper understanding of them is the key to dealing with the phenomena that begin to arise when one has entered the bardo. At that time, a breath will be able to be taken, so to speak, as it is said that the bardo consciousness will have a chance to breath, a chance to be liberated.

Six Appearances that will arise:

At this point in the chu-nyid bardo, things begin to become a little more gross. You call out again to the dying person, you call out his name, and you tell him that now there are six appearances that will arise which you will directly understand. The first of these is that the bardo consciousness will remember his immediate past lifetime. So exactly as you are now, when you are in the bardo, you will remember. The bardo consciousness is seven times more intelligent than we are now in the human realm. The immediate past lifetime will be remembered. The second is the bardo consciousness will remember how he died. The third is that the thoughts of others will be understood. Just now we can’t do that. The fourth is that all phenomena and hidden appearances will become understood. For example, just now I don’t know what each and every one of you may be hiding from me, or something that you might try to keep very, very secret about yourself, but in the bardo all of this will be understood. The fifth is that which is hidden to you now, hidden to your ability to comprehend will not be hidden in the bardo. In the bardo you will understand much, much more than you do now, about yourself and others. And finally the sixth, the bardo consciousness will be able to see the realm that the consciousness will be taking rebirth in. So these six appearances will be directly understood.

The god realm is the highest of the six realms of transmigratory existence, but it is still in samsara, and the reason is, that it is a temporary existence, Although the life of a god may be very, very long, just before that karma is exhausted and the god must die, these six appearances are directly understood. The being understands his immediate past lifetime, understands how he will die in the very near future, and begins to understand the thoughts of others, the hidden appearances in his own mind, and finally, the realm that he will have to take rebirth in. So the suffering that the god experiences is very, very intense, and right after that he dies. Here when we say god, we are talking about beings still in samsara.

At this very moment then, following these six appearances, the bardo consciousness is able to remember all the teachings that were heard in the past lifetime, and not any aspect of it is forgotten. Everything is remembered. The bardo consciousness has the power of total memory. If no teachings were taught or received, then there is nothing that occurs, but if there was a series of transmissions that took place, everything will be recollected.

Therefore at this time, when we have achieved life as a human being, it is a very precious opportunity, particularly because we can see that in the future, if we are able to receive teachings now and understand them, we are wise people. If we can practice and create some positive habits and karmic potencies in the future, then there is no doubt that we can achieve liberation in these states in the bardo. But if we study just for worldly concerns in this lifetime, and work only for this life alone, then maybe the teachings will be of no benefit at all, because actually, they are only beneficial if one’s motivation is pure. If the motivation is pure, then one might get some kind of intellectual knowledge in this lifetime, but it will be left at that alone.

The period in the bardo of ultimate truth where the consciousness is able to follow according to karmic potencies and achieve liberation by recognizing again the face of the deity or remembering the teachings, and particularly right here at the end, remembering all of the teachings that one received, this whole period or recognizing phenomena in its purest aspect is called the chu-nyid bardo.

But you have to remember that this recognition takes place only for those beings who have quality, who are wise and have the karma to understand the true nature of phenomena. For other beings who are ignorant and who have no training whatsoever, it is like a flash. It goes very, very quickly and there is no understanding at all. So you can’t even say this was or was not the chu-nyid bardo. You can’t even say that it happened.

Here in the text, and as the tradition goes, one cannot say exactly when liberation will occur in the chu-nyid bardo because you can’t really measure karma in that way. Everyone’s karma is different. Nothing is certain because no one is similar. But, as the teachings go, at one place or another, depending on karma, liberation can certainly be achieved. So if you want to ask, or wonder then, well, how many days is the consciousness in the bardo? Some bardo beings experience this phenomenon for 21 days, and others for just one moment. You really can’t put a time on it. In fact, sometimes there are consciousnesses who are in the bardo for even as long as a year, just wandering in the bardo unknowingly. The Tibetans traditionally say that there are 49 days in the bardo experience.

So now as the chu-nyid bardo begins to come to an end, the bardo consciousness that has not yet achieved liberation continues to wander on. These eight pure characteristics that were spoken of earlier were not understood. So now they begin to dissolve, they reabsorb. Everything that arises will dissolve (reabsorb). This happens in successions. So we begin with the first of these eight, which was the pure quality of compassion, which is the aspect of the vision. When compassion dissolves back into compassion, it is like a sun, which has set, and the rays set with the sun. Compassion comes from compassion - it just goes back within.

At this time when compassion dissolves, there is not even a name of the six realms of transmigratory existence that the consciousness is aware of. It is just blank in that respect. When primordial awareness dissolves back into itself, then it is like the child on the lap of the mother. Because pure wisdom awareness is only the dexterity, the movement, of ultimate truth, the appearance of the true nature of phenomena, the way that it appears is this brilliance of wisdom in the bardo. So it is that it has come from the source, the same way that the child has come from the mother. When clear light reabsorbs into itself, in this process of absorption it is like a rainbow, which just disappears into the pure, clear sky.

When the being was dying and the five elements dissolved back into the source, so it is the same idea that here in the bardo, when the chu-nyid bardo is in its most mature state, the bardo consciousness could have perceived these six characteristics of the vision. When the vision is fully mature, it possesses these six characteristics. If the consciousness can understand them, then liberation occurs. But since they have not been understood, they reabsorb and the consciousness wanders on. It is the same idea as, or prior to, the point where the moment of death was occurring.

When form dissolves into form, at this point it is always symbolically said that it is like the youthful vase. This means that form, which is the manifestation of pure awareness, is eternal. This kind of form is pure. It is not form as we know it, but it is the appearance of form in the bardo. So when it dissolves back into itself, then it leaves the consciousness in the state of pure awareness. The purified state of form possesses no ordinary physical distinctions, and when form in the bardo reabsorbs, then there is just the sense of pure awareness. When the state of nonduality reabsorbs into nonduality, the place where it came from, the ultimate truth, then it is like a river that just dissolves into a river. When the state that is beyond liberation dissolves into, the term liberation, the state that is beyond even saying that, when this dissolves back into ultimate truth, it is like the sky reabsorbing into the sky. Does anyone understand that?

The pure nature of the mind is beyond liberation. Liberation is just the term; it is a worldly concept. The point is that the pure nature of the mind is like the sky, and so the reabsorption here, is sky into sky.

If you really understand the nature of the mind, the pure awareness as it has been from beginningless time, then none of this teaching is necessary for you. All of this talking, and all of the study, you are way beyond that. This is only to help those who have not yet understood. So, in a sense, human beings think that ‘we have to suffer the suffering of old age and death and that we don’t really suffer at the time of birth. Actually, we don’t need to suffer at either of these times. There is nothing to fear. Death is nothing to fear and neither is birth. One just has to understand it as a process, a chance actually to understand the true nature of mind. If this is the case then, there will no longer be this cycle of birth and death. You can just take a look at it and understand its true nature, and as soon as you do, it ceases to exist.

Samsara is like a great illusion, a play of the mind. Everything about it is not really true; it is an illusion.

At this point in the ultimate truth bardo, there comes the time of the absorption of the pure, primordial wisdom into the actual nature of reality. We go back now to the bare, naked ultimate truth which is the way that this bardo period began. All appearance now absorbs into that ultimate truth state, which is the actual nature of reality, the actual nature of the mind. This is a state of total fearlessness and in the text; the simile of a snow lion is used. In Tibet when the snow lion was in the mountains, then he had no fear of anything. He was king of the mountain. And so it is here that the consciousness, the child, reabsorbs back into the mother and everything is stable. There is no fear; there is no doubt.

The measure of this experience is such that pure awareness now has arrived back at its own source. There is no appearance. There is no appearance of that pure awareness at this point in the bardo. It is right back down to just naked, ultimate truth. There is no vision. Here there is no need for fear or doubt, or any second thought. It is like folding up a tent and packing it away. All of the ropes, all of the phenomena and twisted ropes of light rays and all these appearances are no more. They have reabsorbed and are brought back together. The way that this bardo began, it is now back to that. Now, at this point, all of the entrances, the gates that lead into rebirth in either of the six realms of transmigratory existence are all closed and brought back in. Now consciousness is naked and bare again, and rests in a state of ultimate truth awareness.

If liberation occurs here, it occurs in the state of pure awareness, the sunyata experience. The true nature of the mind is nakedly perceived. Nakedly means without any elaboration. It is a bare perception. This is also said to be that here, now, there is nothing but one molecule, one atom, one circle. That is used as an example, but yet that is the real meaning, too. There is nothing more than one; there is no second thought.

This state of pure awareness is beyond words, beyond thought, beyond any¬thing conventional. There is no way to describe it. It is just a naked perception. It is the true nature of the mind. If somehow the bardo consciousness is able to capture it or be with it, then the connection to transmigratory existence is severed at that moment.

Again here, there is a chance for the cycle of the three moments to occur: the truth, the liberation, and the not turning back. So as soon as you trust, as soon as the bardo consciousness trusts this state to be the true nature of the mind, the ultimate truth realization, the next moment the connection with samsara is severed, ‘which means liberation’. Then there is just total confidence in this state of pure awareness.

If you can rest with the spontaneous realization of pure awareness, which is Buddhahood, liberation, whatever you want to call it, this ultimate truth awareness, no other phenomena arise. On the other hand, if you give rise to appearance or awareness of awareness, then there is no limit or no end to visions or appearances or phenomena. They just go on and on and on. There is nothing wrong with that. You should just know that there is no limit to it.

When you look at ultimate truth nakedly ‘without a second appearance’, then it is just a bare perception. But if you try to examine just for a moment this state of ultimate truth again, this is not accurate. There can be no second thought. There is no state or sense of mental examination. There is no other appearance or phenomena.

But here now in this life experience, if you were not to examine, we would never get anything because we aren’t on that level yet. So we have to examine, contemplate, and take a look at phenomena and come to understand the true nature of phenomena. But you should know that when you finally do get to the state of being able to rest in ultimate truth awareness, at that time there should be no examination.

Whatever arises in the mind, whatever object you imagine, or whatever happens to come before you, don’t follow after that thought. Internally the phenomena that just occurs mentally, you don’t obstruct that or try to stop that either. You don’t think, “Oh, I just had a thought, Oh, I’d better stop and push it down. You don’t do like that. You don’t follow any external object or phenomena. You don’t obstruct internal thought patterns. You just rest. By trying to stop phenomena, the stopper of phenomena is creating phenomena right there by that very effort.

All external appearance in the bardo and all internal phenomena and anything in between external and internal should be understood to be the pure awareness of one’s phenomena. If this is understood very, very, well, then this very concept is the essence of the teaching of Longchenpa. This great master has nothing that is higher or more profound to say in all of his teaching than this. This is the essence of his mind. The author of this text, the Yeshe Lama, who is known as Rigzin Jigme Lingpa, received the full transmission in a direct visionary experience from Longchenpa and went off for three years into the forest known as Chimpu in Tibet. Here he concentrated on the teachings and meditated and came to realize the truth and wrote it down. Therefore, he goes on to say that because of this work being his direct experience, it is particularly profound and rich and every word within it is considered very carefully and holds the pure transmission of direct experience.

So with this, we’ll conclude the discussion concerning the ultimate truth bardo. Within this bardo there is also the experience of the bardo of concentration, the ability to concentrate upon the vision, etc. which is a direct quality that the bardo being possesses if he had the karmic potencies to concentrate from past lifetimes.

Sid-Pa Bardo

This bardo deals with the attachment to form, the tendency to be attached to form. As we can clearly see, from the time that we were able to talk or think, as young children, we always related to our face as being “my face, my hand, my food, my hat, my clothes, my this, my that,” we always related to self and body, We related to consciousness dwelling in a body, in a form.

In the future when consciousness separates from this corporal form, this gross body, at the time of death, then the bardo consciousness is called a mental body -- “body” but mental body because there still is a leftover tendency to relate to body, and so we can call it mind-body. This mind still relates to itself as being somewhat of a body, although it is not a gross body like we have right now, The bardo body possesses all mental faculties fully complete. When we dream it is just like that and this is true here. Instantly it can arrive wherever it dreams of arriving. The bardo body, this mind-body, can go wherever it wants. The bardo body doesn’t need to worry about gasoline or a plane ticket.

Externally then, the bardo body relates to itself as being a mental body. Internally, the mind/consciousness that is within the body be it at this time or later in the bardo, the consciousness, also relates to itself as existing. There is the external sense of self -- grasping for all of those who are still in a state of impermanent existence (samsara). It is the very idea that one permanently exists that keeps one in a state of impermanence. There is a heavy, weighty burden or ego grasping and self-cherishing, cherishing the self, where the mind relates to everything as experience. You think, “Oh, that was great for me.” Or you have a suffering experience and dwell on it and carry it out to the fullest. So the mind is like this, self-grasping and being so concerned with true existence. So there is this attachment to form and attachment to truly existing consciousness.

The body, the external form, and the internal consciousness, they are together. They are together right now; they are together in the bardo; they are together when we dream. The only time when they seem to separate is when we die, at the end of this grosser reality, at the end of this lifetime. We think that the body and the consciousness are separate, but that consciousness that goes on already thinks that it is a body, but it is a mind-body, This habitual tendency to relate to form is always present.

This mental body in the bardo state can go anywhere except Bodhgaya and a mother’s womb. Except for these two places, the mental body can go any other place that it wants to and can spontaneously and instantly be there. At this point in the bardo now, at the conclusion of one and the beginning of the other, sid-pa bardo, we should remember that the bardo consciousness is seven times keener and wiser than we are at this present time. Experiences, suffering, and bliss as well, the sense fields, the mental faculties are also intact. It is a mind-body. The only thing it doesn’t have is a gross form.

When we mention this place Bodhgaya, this should be explained a little bit. Bodhgaya is a place in India which is there today and is a place where Buddha Shakyamuni sat under the Bodhi tree and achieved liberation in the sixth century, B.C. It is also the actual, physical place where the 1000 Buddhas of this light kalpa will also all achieve liberation in this world, symbolically. So the place is very, very holy; it is a very blessed and sacred place, in central India. You should not have any doubt that Bodhgaya is not one of the most profound spiritual centers on the planet. All people of all traditions, anyone who goes there, can feel the power of the environment. It is absolutely blissful, an exceptional environment.

Bodhgaya means place of enlightenment. The bardo consciousness is afflicted, due to karmic potencies and habitual instincts, obscurations which obscure the mind of pure awareness, is unable to the place of realization, to achieve liberation and realization. The bardo consciousness is unable to get out of cyclic existence if it is obscured and afflicted in a great way, and so it cannot go into Bodhgaya, the place of enlightenment. We are speaking of a level of realization. Any consciousness which is afflicted and defiled and is unable to purify these afflictions, is unable to be on a level of realization as long as the afflictions are there.

The reason that it can’t go into the mother’s womb is because it is unable to go into a form until karma ripens and matures to the point where it instantly happens. There are certain consciousnesses that are like spirits and they remain in this bardo-like state for indefinite periods of time, They are karmically unable to enter a womb or enter a form. They are unable to go back into one of the six realms of existence until karma ripens for it to occur. So as long as the consciousness is in the bardo, it is obstructed from re-entrance into the womb. In a way, you can imagine the womb of a mother as being the expression of ultimate truth. For example, right now if we are all bardo consciousnesses just wandering and waiting again to find a form, we are lost in the state of ignorance and we haven’t yet perceived the true nature of our pure awareness. We are unable to get back in touch with our mother, our origination, the original nature of our mind, which we can look at as being like the womb of the mother. We are unable to enter into that realization because of karmic afflictions, bad habits, instincts that are negative and that obscure our pure awareness and the realization of it.

The time of rebirth depends on karma, whatever that consciousness caused in the past and the result. It depends upon this. We cannot see the beings who are in the sid-pa bardo, flying about and wandering about by the winds of their own karma. But those beings who are in the bardo, they can see one another. They have a certain, special degree of recognition and mental capacity, a little greater than we do in this respect. They have some supernatural powers that are more powerful than what human beings can experience. They also can see all of the beings, who reside in the six realms, whereas we cannot see the bardo beings at all.

There are five aggregates that we possess as human beings: form, feeling, recognition, reaction or habitual tendencies, and consciousness. Bardo beings have four of these, but they don’t have form. They don’t have a gross form, but they relate to the concept. Although they have these qualities in the sid-pa bardo, we should note that they are flying around like a feather blown around in the wind. They have no control over what is going on at this point. What blows the mental body around is the winds of its own karma, karmic potencies from the past.

When thoughts arise for the mental being, it is not able to hold onto them. They start to get more and more scattered and they come more quickly and it becomes very chaotic. The whole experience becomes one of really just being blown around in the winds of karma, totally out of control. Nothing is certain anymore, although the experience just seems to continue.

The consciousness could not be liberated in the bardo, at the moment of death. What was occurring was not understood. Then, it wandered on into the bardo of the ultimate truth and at that time it also was not liberated. Then, during the many days when it could have been liberated during the bardo of concentration, it was not and so now it is falling lower and lowers... It is regressing; it is coming back into a state of grosser suffering. At this point, it is more or less out of control and is being blown by the winds of karma alone. The chance for liberation now is very slight. The chance was missed in the past.

At this point in the sid-pa bardo, the consciousness realizes that it has died, that it has no form and that it is being blown around like this. It just keeps remembering that it has died and suffers intensely. There is an incredible amount of pain and mental suffering that occurs at this point. To intensify the suffering further, the phenomenon that arises is that the consciousness is aware and focuses upon its immediate past lifetime. Then immediately following that, the consciousness becomes aware of what it will be, what form it will take in its next future lifetime.

If the consciousness is going to be reborn in the formless realm, then there is no form that is thought of or recollected. The consciousness has sort of empty, a grossly sort of empty experience, just blank.

Vajrayana Buddhism is the resultant tantric vehicle that Buddha taught. In order to be a practitioner on this path, one must take many vows. Beings who have taken these vows and made promises before their tantric master and vowed they would not break their promise or their commitment until they achieved liberation, for those who have in fact broken their promise, such beings will have no bardo but will directly at the moment of death be reborn in the lowest hell - experiencing intense mental suffering. On the other hand, those beings who practiced the Vajrayana, the tantras, perfectly and have achieved understanding in their practice and are truly experienced yogis or yoginis, such beings will also have no bardo. They will go directly to the state of realization. There will not even be the need for the stages of absorption of the elements to occur. It will be direct liberation. So it is like two opposite extremes.

Phowa, or transference of consciousness at the moment of death, was explained previously a little. If someone has mastered this practice, then again it will be applied at the moment of death and there will be no need for the bardo experience. The consciousness will be liberated.

Other living beings who don’t fit into the category of these two just mentioned, who have never heard the Dharma or had any association with the spiritual path, for those beings who, although they have heard the teachings, did not have faith or trust in the teachings; also for those beings who have not kept their vows and their commitments pure, and also those who have been lazy concerning practice, those who have had teachings and transmission and yet have not practiced, for all such people, the chu-nyid bardo, the ultimate truth bardo will last for a very short time. And the time to be able to somehow achieve liberation, of all those times mentioned, will just barely even be there. There will be hardly an opportunity for liberation to occur. It will be like a flash.

At this point then, (which is close to the third week) for about seven days, the bardo consciousness becomes extremely alarmed. The phenomena that is alarming the consciousness centers around the day that death occurred. There is very extreme suffering here, the consciousness is without what it used to have and hasn’t yet acquired what it is supposed to acquire. It is like water going down a water pipe or a gutter and about to drop off. The consciousness is just about to enter again into a gross form in one of the six realms. The consciousness is just about to join again the fusion of the mother and father. There is still a chance for liberation. We have to remember the consciousness has certain supernatural powers; the ability to at least ascertain to a certain degree that rebirth is about to occur. There is this almost shaking kind of attachment in waiting or anticipating it actually occurring. If the consciousness can begin to pray or to engender a sense of fervent regard to be reborn in a pure environment, preferably a Buddhafield, an environment where enlightened ones reside, then it might be possible for this to occur. Birth can occur in a pure realm, in a realm of enlightened awareness at this point in the bardo if the consciousness has enough fervent regard and prayer and faith that actually this will be able to occur. So the concentration has to be pretty intense as well. In the past, during the ultimate truth bardo, the different Buddhas appeared. These Buddhas reside in five Buddha realms symbolically. These realms are the kinds of environments that the bardo consciousness should pray to be reborn into.

The consciousness should try to remember the refuge and visualize or imagine the teacher, and the source of refuge, the refuge object, and pray very fervently with intense devotion to awaken to rebirth in a pure environment, in a realm where the awareness of the true nature can be realized. For those who are unable to be liberated in one of the Buddha realms at this final opportunity, then the next series of visions that appear relates to the realm into which one will be reborn. Those who are going to be reborn in the god realm or in the human realm will perceive the color white. Those who are going to be reborn in the hungry ghost realm, this mental environment, will perceive light, which is the color of smoke. Those who are going be reborn in the hell realms will perceive logs piled up and/or like a massive heap of black wool, or something that is a dark, black color. Those who are going to be reborn in the animal realm will perceive a pool of blood. Those who are going to be reborn as a jealous god will perceive a snowstorm. At this time, those who are going to be reborn as gods or as humans will imagine themselves as taking rebirth in an upright position, sort of walking along. Those who are going to be reborn as jealous gods will then, immediately following this last perception, imagine themselves to be crawling along. Those who are going to be reborn as hungry ghosts or as hell beings will imagine themselves falling upside down. These are all signs of which realm the bardo consciousness is going to take rebirth in.

At this point in the sid-pa bardo, one is almost to the point where the bardo consciousness is going to desire the place where it is about to take rebirth. Karma is such that that’s where it actually wants to go at this time. It desires to be there and is beginning to have the experience that it is going to be experiencing in its next environment where it takes on a grosser form.

With this we leave aside all chance for liberation. The bardo consciousness has no control and is like dry grass having a match set to it. It just burns like that. Or it is like sinking in the mud, in quicksand and naturally sinking in. Or it is like a bird, which, by the power of desire to eat a worm, flies down and is caught or trapped. And so it is that by the power of past instinct and habit the consciousness at this point is overpowered by these karmic potencies and is trapped in the union of the father and mother in the sexual act. This sexual act is like a hook or a trap for the conscious¬ness seeking form. So, just like taking a piece of meat in summer and putting it outside where ants and flies are attracted to it in thousands of numbers if there is nothing else around, so it is that bardo consciousnesses at this state are so intensely and fervently seeking for a form and already going toward the realm of their immediate rebirth, that the vaginal opening of a woman has so many sentient beings waiting to go into it that they are just lined up. They cannot get in without the karma, and remain there in a state of frustration and waiting and searching and hoping, but without karma the consciousness will not be conceived until the very moment that the karma matures.

When the bardo consciousness is about to enter into the fusion of the blood and semen, whichever parents it is karmically meant to join, there is a wisdom, there is a certain degree of mental ability, and there is a chance at this point in time that the consciousness can think, “Well, just now I am about to reenter into this fusion.” For those then who are able to gain some sense of awareness, there is a final attempt to be reborn as a human being.

Here those who have had past affiliation with Dharma teachings and practice might very well again have one last chance to remember the teacher and the teaching and recollect the deity in union that one used to visualize and to try to purify the sexual act that is being perceived. Through this, the consciousness is able to relate to itself as the wisdom being, the mind-being entering into the commitment being, the grosser form of the father and mother, and taking rebirth by way of absorption. The purification of this thought pattern can result in a purer type of conception, which would mean rebirth as a human being as opposed to an animal or something else.

Here one could also visualize oneself as the deity, Chenrezig or some other deity that you are familiar with and visualize taking conception in this way.

Beings who are recognized incarnate beings actually come through to this point in the bardo, but they don’t reenter out of control. They are directing their rebirth, They don’t enter out of desire or attachment, they enter having taken refuge and they visualize themselves as the pure substance of the deity entering into the union of the parents. So it is a consciousness effort; they actually take rebirth fully conscious of where they are going and what they are doing. At this point, the consciousness of such a being is actually blessing the father and mother by entering into their union.

This then is the end of the teaching on the Sidpa Bardo. We have now concluded a brief teaching on the Bardo section of the Yeshe Lama text of Jigme Lingpa.

We should each here and now make just a brief prayer to dedicate the root of the virtue and merit that we have all acquired for the sake of being able to benefit other beings who are suffering.

The great 19th-century scholar and meditation master, Mipham Rinpoche, offered this advice:

“Seeing the image as an empty form, a mirage or a magical illusion.... Let the stream of insight flow until it vanishes. Do not prolong the glow, but proceed and examine another image.... All biased perceptions will be seen as unfounded fabrications.... Watching these baseless fabrications arise. Only to dissolve again in an instant, is the heart of meditation. Whatever forms arise, impermanent and transitory.... They are liberated by the power of the illuminated mind.”

Concluding Verses
from the Mirror of Mindfulness

From beginningless time until now
I have been always sinking in the ocean of samsara,
but still I don’t feel weary.
Precious Ones, please turn to virtue this mind of mine,
The dharma-pretender who strives for the aims of this life
With no thought for life and limb when pursuing nondharmic things,
But unable to bear a single hardship for dharma’s sake.
With perverted perseverance, like a madman jumping in the river—
Please heed us, the dharma-charlatans who fill the land.
Boasting of being learned while giving the doctrine a bad name,
Pretending to be virtuous while filled with nonvirtue—
This predominant custom, like excrement enveloped in silk,
Is the light of the setting sun of the Buddha’s teachings.
With the freedoms and riches like mountain mist of the verge of dissolving,
And one’s life span fast running away like a mountain stream,
Yet without leisure, preparing as though to remain for one hundred years,
Now the time is surely right to quickly prepare for death.
Preparations and aims out of fear of not being counted among people,
Hoarding wealth out of fear of starving in one’s old age,
And the studious effort of desiring a vast knowledge of words—
There is now no time for doing any of these things.

Recognize these manifold appearances, as a dream,
To be your personal experiences, illusory and unreal.
Without fixating on anything, maintain self-cognizance beyond concepts.
That is the essential practice of the bardo of this life.
You will certainly die soon, and then nothing will be of real help.
The death experience is only your own conceptual thinking.
Without constructing thoughts, abandon them in the space of self—cognizance.
That is the essential practice of the bardo of dying.
The fixation on appearance or disappearance, as being good or bad,
   is your mind.
This mind is the self-expression of dharmakaya
   perceiving whatever there is.
Not to cling, make concepts, accept, or reject what is perceived,
That is the essential practice of the bardo of dharmata.
Samsara is your mind and nirvana is also your mind.
Pleasure, pain, and deluded experiences exist nowhere
   apart from your mind.
To attain mastery over your own mind,
That is the essential practice of the bardo of becoming.
Since your self—cognizance is never separated from the three kayas,
It is utterly devoid of attributes of this life, the next, and the bardo.
Yet the confusion of the bardo appears for the mind
   that has not realized this.
It is essential to take exactly what appears as the path.
The various personal experiences appearing to yourself
Are not cast away by discarding,
   nor can they be stopped by blocking them off.
Yet, recognizing their nature,
   you are freed from the causes and conditions for confusion
All the key points are condensed into just this.
Follow therefore carefully a sacred master
And resolve your doubts about the concise essence of all the teachings.
With the discipline of equalizing your life span with your practice,
Exert yourself in quickly accomplishing the welfare of yourself and others.

By whatever noble virtue there may be
   from confessing all faults and mistakes,
May all my old mothers in endless samsara attain complete enlightenment,
And may all directions and times be filled with the auspicious goodness
Of the Buddha’s immaculate teachings,
   forever shining as a torch for those to be tamed.

Five Buddha Families

The element of space contains all the other elements so it is the first to manifest as blue light out of the luminous emptiness of the fundamental nature of mind. The family is the Buddha family, appearing within in its own pure land at the center of the mandala of the five Buddhas. In this vision on the first day, we find the combination of blue and white light in connection with the Buddha family. Vairochana, with his radiant white form in union with his consort Akashadhatvishari (essence of space) is panoramic awareness, the one who sees and knows and illuminates every particle of existence in all directions.

From the hearts of the couple radiates an intense blue ray of light; this is the light of all-encompassing knowledge, the knowledge of the dharmadhatu. It shines out because the skandhas of consciousness is revealed in its own natural purity. In the bardo we possess all the skandhas in their subtle refined state and these skandhas are the five Buddhas themselves. The all-encompassing knowledge is the very essence of Vairochana, meaning that our own skandhas of consciousness is freed from its dualistic bias and transformed into the all-encompassing, non-dual knowledge of total reality.

But the brilliant light of reality is hard to bear. It is blinding and overpowering as it streams toward us; it pierces the heart like a sharp sword. At the same time another light flows toward us, invitingly soft and pleasant. This is a white ray of light forming the pathway leading to the realm of the gods, but is created by ignorance and delusion. Ignorance means ignoring and closing off from the clarity and openness of panoramic awareness. Because of the negative effects of past actions, the bardo being will be terrified by the sharp, penetrating, blue radiance and try to escape from it, but will feel attracted to the pleasant, soothing, white glow of delusion. If they follow that path they will “wander into the realm of the gods and circle among the six types of existence.”

Because of the karma resulting from ignorance and confusion, we may not have been able to respond to the first vision at all. The five poisons form veils or obscurations, preventing us from seeing clearly, so we continue to wander through the experiences of the bardo.

In The Hundred Homages, the five Buddhas are described as not rejecting the five poisons, but embodying their basic purity.

On the second day, the Vajra family arises out of the sphere of white light of the water element. Akshobhya, the lord of the Vajra family, is here combined with Vajrasattva, the Vajra Being. Akshobhya here is in consort with Buddha Locani who is the essence of earth. In relation to the skandhas, earth corresponds to form and water to feeling.

From the hearts of the couple the brilliant white light of the mirror knowledge, the purified skandha of form shines out. The skandhas of form is the basis of all of our assumptions about the nature of material existence. It is the foundation of our misperception of ourselves and the world as solid and permanent. Now the purified principle of form is transmuted into the great mirror, in which form and emptiness are unified; the mirror is empty, yet forms appear vividly within it. With awakened eye of Buddha Locani, we experience all sense perceptions arising and passing away like a reflection or a dream.

At the same time, a path of softer light the color of smoke, appears, leading to the realm of the hell-beings. The state of hell results from aggression, anger, and hatred, the characteristic negative emotions connected with the Vajra family. The path leading to hell is built from all the aggression accumulated throughout our life. The more accustomed we have become to reacting aggressively, the clearer the smoky path will appear and the more comforting and inviting it will seem in contrast to the dazzling light of total clarity and self-knowledge.

If one has not even noticed the vision of the Vajra family or if one was afraid and ran away from it, the Ratna aspects of one’s nature will appear next, in order to transmute the obscuring veils of pride that cause one to continue through the journey of the bardo.

Within the yellow sphere of light, the earth element, the deities of the Ratna family appear. Mamaki, the essence of water, is the mother of the family, complementing the earth of Ratnasmabhava. She provides the element of fertility that enables the earth to be reproductive.

From the hearts of the couple the brilliant yellow light of equalizing knowledge shines forth. Because Mamaki is the essence of the element of water, the skandhas of feeling that goes with water is associated with the Ratna family. Feeling is the root of all sensations – pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral – which in turn lead to the emotions of attraction, aversion and indifference. When the skandhas of feeling is purified, it doesn’t mean that the distinctions between sensations disappear or that we experience emotions, but that we are no longer enslaved by them. The equalizing knowledge of sameness frees us to enjoy the one, essential flavor that lies at the heart of all experience.

But Ratna qualities can be distorted into the poison of pride. Pride is another way of looking at life, another path. It enters our heart as a softer blue light leading to the human realm.

Next, the Padma family will appear, because desire and passion prevent us from seeing the true nature of our mind.

Amitabha’s Padma family appears from the element fire. Everything connected with the family expresses transmutation of passion, the root of samsara, into compassion, the activity of enlightenment. This is called the lotus family. The lotus grows with roots deep in mud and slime, but its flower rises above the water untainted and unpolluted; it feeds on the rich manure of the poisons and transmutes it into enlightenment.

The dazzling red light that streams from the heart of Amitabha and Pandaravasini is the light of the skandhas of perception transmuted into investigated knowledge. Perception links subject and object together, but in the ordinary state, the dualistic distinction between them always remains and gives rise to emotional reactions. Investigative knowledge transcends duality and sees things as they really are, individual yet undivided. It looks with the eye of love at all living beings and all inanimate objects, distinguishing them and appreciating their different qualities.

In order to dissolve into the radiance of Amitabha’s heart, we must let go of grasping and attachment. If we cannot do that, if we find the light too sharp and penetrating, we shall be attracted instead to the soft yellow. We shall fall back into our habitual ways of wanting, greed, and passion. If we follow that path, we will eventually end up in the hungry ghost realm, the world of perpetually frustrated desire.

If we are unable to respond to the Padma vision, then all our tendencies toward jealously and envy will come to the fore and we will “wander on downward to the fifth cycle of the bardo,” when the Karma family manifests.

From the green light of the air element, the Karma family appears. The Karma family represents perfect activity; it embodies the energy or skill that accomplishes and puts into action the qualities of all the families. The mother of the family and the consort of Amoghasiddhi is Tara. She is the feminine embodiment of compassionate action.

The skandhas of conditioning, which leads to all our worldly actions and to the chain of karmic cause and effect, is in its pure nature the action-accomplishing knowledge, or all-accomplishing wisdom, which spontaneously performs the work of enlightenment. It shines from the heart of Amoghasiddhi and Tara as a brilliant green ray. Now that we have reached the fifth day of the bardo, the instructions become even more insistent, reminding us not to fear, not to resist, not to think of the visions as separate from ourselves. Our tendencies toward jealously, envy, and suspicion will make us feel threatened and draw us to the soothing beam of soft red light. “This is the inviting path of karma accumulated by your intense envy. If you are attracted to it, you will fall into the realm of jealous gods and experience unbearable misery from fighting and quarrelling.” We should try to reach a state of equanimity where we feel neither fear of the bright light nor attraction to the soft light.

If we have not been able to make a connection with any of the five families individually, on the sixth day they will all appear simultaneously exactly as before, each in their own circle of light surrounded by rainbows of the five colors arranged in one vast mandala.

The culmination of the sixth day is “the vision of the four knowledges combined.” The rays of light that stretch from the hearts of the buddhas to our own hearts spread out into luminous cloths of dazzling brilliance, “very fine and clear, like cobwebs of sunbeams joined to¬gether.” Then, upon this fabric of light, sparkling bindus emerge; they are disks or spheres, resembling Jewel bowls turned over to face down toward us from above. This time, the first two colors are reversed. Upon the white cloth of all-encompassing knowledge appear spheres like downward-facing mirrors; upon the blue cloth of the mirror knowledge appear spheres like turquoise bowls facedown; upon the yellow cloth of equalizing knowledge appear spheres like golden bowls; and upon the red cloth of investigative knowledge are spheres like coral bowls, Within each one, there are five similar spheres, five more within each of those, and so on, becoming smaller and smaller, so that it seems as if we are gazing into the infinite depth of space. We are drawn into these pools of light, losing all sense of a reference point, so that there is no center and no boundary.

The appearance of these four lights means that we have the poten¬tial to manifest all the qualities of primordial knowledge. But because its manifestation has not yet been fully realized, the green light of action-accomplishing knowledge does not shine along with the others. The fifth aspect of knowledge is the actual accomplishment of the other four. It is called the creative energy of knowledge, implying the potency and skill to express the awakened state fully and completely.

The experience of these visions is called the inner path or passage¬way of Vajrasattva, who is our innermost, indestructible vajra being. This is the final opportunity to merge with the deities in their peaceful form. At this moment, we should try to remember our guru’s previous instructions and our earlier experience of the brilliant rays of light, which were pointed out as being our self-display, arising from our own awareness. If we have confidence we shall be able to recognize them— Just as in a meeting of old friends or of a mother and child—and dissolve into the light and images to become awakened in the sambho¬gakaya.

At the same time, the soft, dull rays of light leading to the six realms of samsara, including that of the animals, which has not ap¬peared before, will shine together. These are the white light of the realm of the gods, the red light of the realm of the jealous gods, the blue light of the human realm, the green light of the animal realm, the yellow light of the hungry ghost realm, and the smoky light of the hell realm. If we are attracted to any one of them, we shall take birth there.

Wrathful Manifestations

The vision of the wrathful deities is the culmination of the bardo of dharmata. If the spirit wandering in the bardo has not re¬sponded to the invitation of the vidyadharas, the energy of the awak¬ened state manifests in the most powerful and dynamic manner possible, as “the fifty-eight blazing, blood-drinking wrathful ones.” Be¬fore describing the visions in detail, the text recapitulates the reasons for reading these teachings to the dead person and the vital importance of practicing them during life.

Although the wrathful manifestations are no different in essence from the peaceful Buddhas, their appearance can be horrifying to some¬one who has never contemplated them before. The consciousness of the dead person is also becoming more and more bewildered and ex¬hausted as the experiences of the bardo continue without being recog¬nized. So the sudden fear aroused by these new visions is likely to be devastating unless some sort of previous connection with them exists in the mind; by trying to escape from them in panic, one will fall headlong toward rebirth in samsara, If one reacts with horror or aggression, these negative emotions will propel one in the direction of the lower realms, On the other hand, if there is the slightest glimmer of recognition, the intensity of the situation actually helps to focus the mind. Through sheer terror, one takes refuge in that glimpse of something familiar without being distracted, and so one attains at least partial liberation and reaches a higher state.

At such a crucial time, only previous familiarity with the wrathful deities will help; otherwise, their ferocious and horrific appearance will be misunderstood by those who do not know them. Even experienced practitioners of other traditions, seeing them for the first time, may not be able to penetrate their true nature under the pressure of fear and bewilderment.

The wrathful deities are part of our nature just like the peaceful deities. They are within us, yet they also appear to us externally. They are transpersonal; they do not belong to the individual ego but to our nondual nature. So we can interpret them and try to understand them from both points of view, within and without.

Regarding them as external, they are expressions of the most in¬tense awakened energy poured forth in response to the ignorance and suffering of sentient beings. Or, to put it another way, this energy is the fundamental, self-existent, compassionate nature of the awakened state, which sentient beings perceive as wrathful because of obscured vision resulting from ignorance and suffering. These deities are expres¬sions of the same awakened state that is present all the time, and in the bardo we are directly exposed to it, like the full, dazzling light of the sun, Since we have not recognized the earlier visions but continued to wander in the bardo, this means that we are drifting further into confu¬sion, we are becoming more involved with ego, and we instinctively react to whatever appears with greater self-protectiveness. The sponta¬neous display of enlightenment has not changed, but now we perceive it as fiercer and more threatening.

Intensity and passion can often appear threatening even when no harm is intended. We become afraid of our own energy because it so often manifests in the distorted form of the five poisons and so easily turns violent and destructive. But there is no soft and gentle way to contemplate the total power of the awakened state; this is one reason for the awe-inspiring character of the wrathful deities, Another reason is that they forcefully show us the universal coexistence of destruction with creativity. We constantly meet with reminders that dissolution is taking place at every moment, and that without death there can be no birth. The wrathful deities embody the oneness, the equal taste, of life and death within the sphere of wholeness.

Yet they do not merely represent universal principles; they are immediate and personal. There have been some attempts to explain them psychologically as the dark side of our nature, the shadow that we must meet and integrate; but that kind of interpretation, although it may have some validity, misses the essential point. They are indeed the forces of our mind, those same forces that can turn into cruelty, lust, arrogance, and so on. But as the self-display of awareness, they represent that energy in its original, undistorted purity. In relation to the earlier visions, it was said that, simply because we are made of the five skandhas and the five elements, the buddhas and devis will automatically appear. Already in the imagery of the peaceful deities we have seen that their symbolism is concerned with transmutation, but in a manner that reveals the awakened essence as primordially present, simply awaiting recognition. Here the actual process of transmutation is expressed in a much more overt and direct manner. Even the most extreme evil actions of which living beings are capable arise from energy that is pure in its basic nature, and that energy must be liberated; this is what the symbolism of the wrathful deities expresses. So they are not the shadow, but the pure energy that transcends the dualism of light and dark. Spiritual paths that attempt to suppress all negativity or pre¬tend that it does not exist do not allow their followers to experience and recognize this energy, which nevertheless is still latent within them.

The tremendous power of the wrathful deities is completely de¬void of ego; it arises from the state of emptiness; it is pure wisdom and compassion. Their entire and only purpose it to wake us up. Their wrath is the fury of those who have awoken directed at the forces that oppose awakening. But in a world of confusion and uncertainty, cling¬ing to our sense of individual existence, it is easy to misinterpret their overpowering presence. They may arouse our deepest fears and anxie¬ties, they may disgust and horrify us so that we feel hatred toward them, or they may seem to be attacking us so that we react with anger and violence.

Trungpa Rinpoche used to speak of how we solidify the experi¬ence of luminosity. All phenomena, whether in this world or in the bardo, arise out of luminosity. If we recognize this and let go into openness, we can take part in the play of existence without being taken in by it. But if we start to believe in it, then the whole thing begins to seem solid. We react to the simple presence of the peaceful deities in various ways, trying to ignore them or turning them into objects of fear or attachment. It is just as important not to become attached to them as it is not to be frightened of them. The instructions are to feel intense longing and devotion toward them. These are emotions that open up the heart and allow us to let go; they are not based on the swing between attraction and aversion, which is the reaction of ego. If we are attracted to the peaceful deities and start to believe in them and their environment as externally real, we might imagine we have gone to heaven. Then they turn into wrathful deities to remind us of emptiness and wake us up.

Whatever appears in the bardo is a more dramatic, raw, and naked version of what happens during life. The wrathful deities use shock tactics; the time for gentle persuasion has passed. In ordinary life, it is very difficult for us to accept frightening or distressing situations as opportunities for awakening. It is difficult to maintain awareness under all circumstances, to see the buddha-nature in every living being, to accept things we dislike with equanimity, to react calmly to aggression, and to show compassion to our enemies. These are some of the situa¬tions in which we might recognize wrathful deities in a general sense. But whenever we speak of deities, we must remember that they are really our own potential awakened qualities, powers, and functions. We bring them into being as living presences in our lives through receiving empowerments and through practicing their yoga.

Vajrayana Symbolism

The symbolism of vajrayana is based on the ultimate meaning of emptiness, which, as the Heart Sutra says, is none other than form. It is a two-way process; form is emptiness and emptiness is form, and there is no opposition between them. This goes back to an understanding of the basic Buddhist principles of impermanence and nonself. We know that everything is impermanent, that life is a continuous process of change. Nothing could exist for a moment if it were really solid and unchanging. So form is constantly revealing its empty essence. Yet emp¬tiness also unceasingly manifests as form, displaying the entire phenom¬enal universe in its state of natural purity.

Appreciation of this kind of symbolism depends above all on de¬veloping a real sense of the presence of enlightened qualities, which is quite simply what the deities are, and allowing them to awaken within us. It is a process of opening up our vision, not just of developing our imagination and projecting it onto the external world. As we learn to work with the imagery of the creation stage in deity yoga, we gradually come to experience the meaning of the deities directly, without concep¬tual thought. Instead of “imagining” them, we feel the actual presence of their natures, until eventually they may become so real that we meet them face-to-face.

In our ordinary state, the ego, or watcher, sits at the center of our experience like a spider, paralyzing everything that falls into its web. We project ourselves onto the world; as Trungpa Rinpoche put it, “everything is ‘me’ all over the place.” To use another of his expres¬sions, we solidify space, but once the reference point of ego begins to dissolve, we find that we can experience everything in a different way, within the openness of centerless space. We can perceive directly from our original, empty mind, or “non-reference-point mind,” and become one with objects of perception, with sensations and emotions. Then everything becomes much more real, much more alive and vivid. What¬ever we see, whatever we hear, whatever we touch, taste, and smell speaks to us of its own inherent nature. “The whole world is symbol— not symbol in the sense of a sign representing something other than itself, but symbol in the sense of the highlights of the vivid qualities of things as they are.”9

From this point of view, symbolism is closely connected with the mandala principle; it is a bridge between ordinary perception, which creates samsara, and sacred vision, in which everything is seen as the mandala of the awakened state. The whole environment is a pure land, and all the sentient beings within it are deities. But symbolism is not only visual; it includes all the senses. Everything we hear and everything we say is the sound of the deity’s mantra, and whatever thoughts and feelings arise within our mind are the expression of the deity’s awakened mind. Here symbolism is a tool for transmutation. Yet at the same time, the mandala is already completely present and perfectly accom¬plished. From that perspective, symbolism is simply a statement of real¬ity and a method of direct recognition.

How can we begin to get a feeling for vajrayana imagery? Already we live in a symbolic world: words are symbols; numbers are symbols; what we do, what we wear, how we move are all symbols; even our thoughts and feelings are symbols. So we are actually quite used to symbolism, although we do not usually think of it in that way. If we learn to appreciate the symbolism of everyday life, we can gradually relate that to the iconographic symbolism of the deities. As Trungpa Rinpoche put it, symbolism does not need to be anything special, it is really very ordinary. “Altogether, it is simply our living situation—life and experience, life and experience—very simple and direct.”

Colors are particularly powerful symbols. We often experience emotions in terms of color, and we find that certain colors arouse cer¬tain moods. So when we bring colors into the context of vajrayana, they become a very natural and effective means of linking to the awakened state of mind. They are all around us, so they provide continual remind¬ers. For instance, if we are doing the purification practice of white Vajrasattva, any glimpse of white that we see will remind us of the intrinsic purity he represents. We can easily use colors to link to the five families. The principles of the five families are openly displayed in every aspect of life; we only have to look for them.

Events, too, are symbolic. Everything that happens to us carries a message that can be interpreted in terms of the deities. For example, there are various dharma protectors, like the guardians of the gates who appeared earlier. If we have an accident or a sudden shock, it may be a warning from them that we are going off the path in some way. Or we may receive signs to give us confidence that we are on the right track. It is not a question of working it out intellectually, and there is no automatic approach to interpreting such events. Symbolism bypasses the thinking mind. We need to develop sensitivity so that there is an immediate, intuitive recognition of the message. By gradually getting used to their symbolic language, we can learn to trust the innate guid¬ance of the deities.

As our understanding of the deities and our sensitivity to their presence increases through meditation practice, this symbolism takes on ever-deeper meaning. It becomes reality and opens up into magic, which could be called the practical application of symbolism. Here again, the distinguishing feature of tantric magic lies in dissolving the boundaries of ego and letting go into space. It cannot be used for self-interest in any way; it is power over oneself, not power over others. Ordinary power and the ordinary concept of magic are based on passion and aggression, whereas tantric magic is based on transcending them. Its first step is to tame our own mind. Then we need to develop the energy, confidence, and courage of a warrior, to be willing to go beyond our limits and leap into the unknown. This can be very simple and straight¬forward: making an effort when we feel exhausted, giving up resentment when we feel hurt, showing love and kindness when we feel irritated and annoyed. We always have a choice. As Trungpa Rinpoche said in relation to the bardo visions, the threshold of magic is the point at which we can choose between returning to the comfortable, dim light of samsara or going toward the unfamiliar, awe-inspiring brilliance of awakening.

However much we may be able to appreciate the magical qualities of the universe through its natural symbolism, only the adhishthana of the guru can open the door to the genuine magic of vajrayana. It is the guru who gives us the direct experience of the true nature of mind, which can only be reached through self-surrender. Although the bud¬dha-nature is our own, at some point we have to give up our sense of ego by trusting in someone else. That is when symbolism comes alive and magic takes place. Through this, we learn to dance with the phe¬nomenal world, which becomes a source of inspiration instead of giving rise to identification and grasping. It is a continuous process; the more we open up, the more the magic is revealed. We become one with the energies of the universe, as Trungpa Rinpoche put it. That is why he said that the tantric guru has power over the magical aspects of the universe, and that this is represented by the vidyadharas.

The outer charnel ground, visualized in wrathful practices, has always played a large part in tantric practice, but practitioners do not literally have to go there, for its quali¬ties can be found everywhere once we become attuned to its symbolism. The dismembered corpses, the flesh and blood, the skulls, bones, inter¬nal organs, and flayed skin, represent everything that we would rather avoid. They reveal the areas that disgust and revolt us and the secret, sensitive parts that we do not want to look at or expose. Here we find everything that we reject as having nothing to do with our spiritual nature, yet it is the raw source of our energy and must be recognized and accepted. The thought of this terrifying environment, with all its vivid sensory perceptions of sight, sound, and smell, produces an acute awareness of impermanence; of the continual presence of death in life; and of how worldly beauty, pleasure, and perfection can turn into their opposites at any moment, The world is our charnel ground, where everything is continually dying and being reborn. But it is a place of birth as well as a place of death; it is the ground of transmutation.

Sometimes life itself forces this awareness upon us, When we are close to sickness, death, or danger, when we feel suddenly exposed and vulnerable, or when there is too much pain and horror to bear, we enter the charnel ground. It is a state of mind where we can easily become unbalanced; we feel we are living on the edge, and everything crowds in upon us, clamoring with demands, At such times, we may be particu¬larly open to hearing the voices of those enigmatic messengers. But in our state of fear and confusion, we are not sure whether they are helpful or harmful, and we do not know whether to trust them or not. The only solution is to relax, to let go into the dance of life and death that is taking place all the time. The brilliant light of knowledge shines from the hearts of the vidyadharas, inviting us to merge with them, while simultaneously the dull light of ignorance tempts us to retreat into instinctive, automatic behavior, to turn our backs, curl up, and go to sleep.

The light of the five colors combined is the light of our purified fundamental karmic imprints or tendencies, formed by the effect of past actions, which remain in the source consciousness. They are com¬pared to traces of perfume impregnating the consciousness. These im¬prints form tendency patterns that predispose us toward a particular environment and specific physical and mental characteristics. Here they are described as “purified in space.” Just as the five skandhas were re¬vealed in their naturally pure basic state as the five aspects of knowl¬edge, so the karmic imprints return to their original purity in the space of Dharmadhatu. Instead of giving rise to further ignorance, they shine forth as the light of primordial knowledge, which is then called the knowledge born with us, our natural, innate knowledge. It can also be interpreted as the knowledge born together with ignorance or simulta¬neously born knowledge. The awakened state and the confused state are always present simultaneously within us; we continually give birth to them both together.

But although this knowledge of our true nature always exists within us, we have gone on drifting deeper and deeper into ignorance, during life after life and from moment to moment. In order for our innate knowledge to manifest spontaneously, we need to prepare condi¬tions for it, to develop wisdom and compassion and open up gaps in the thick fog of confusion. This is the whole reason for the practice of dharma. And we are not alone; wakefulness is present everywhere to help us. This is what is meant by the vision of the vidyadharas, the divine teachers, and the dakinis, the principle of inspiration. In the bardo state after death, they appear in the most vivid and compelling form, yet they are all around us here and now. We continually have the choice of falling asleep into ignorance or awakening into knowledge, of opening up to the brilliant light or following the path of the dim light.

In Trungpa Rinpoche’s words, “This symbolism from the Tibetan Book of the Dead is very profound for our actual, everyday life situation. It does not have to refer only to after-death experience. Perhaps the after¬-death experience just typifies the kind of situation in which choices are most enlightening or stimulating and most immediate.”