I’ve always been fascinated by the state of bardo as described in ancient Tibetan scriptures. Could you say something about this?
Bardo is a simple method but with great significance. Only people who have meditated a little bit in their lives can be benefited by it, and Tibet was one of the countries where almost everybody was devoting some time to meditation – just to be alone, silent, not doing anything, just witnessing. If such a person does not achieve enlightenment in his life, and death intervenes, then bardo is used.
Such a man has achieved a certain opening of the door. He has not entered in, but he has at least tried; he has knocked on the door. He has a certain receptivity, and at the time of death he is absolutely willing to go into a state of meditation. Now there is nothing to be afraid of. Death has already come; he can risk everything. And bardo is a certain soft method of hypnosis… just the way I am using it. Listening to me you become quiet, silent.
The bardo is a suggestion to the dying person: “Now be silent. Leave this life consciously. Rather than death taking it away from you, relax your hold; don’t be defeated by death, don’t struggle. Just drop all your attachment. This world is finished for you, and this life is finished for you. There is no point in holding on to it; in holding on to it you will be fighting with death. You cannot win, and a very significant possibility will be missed.
“Simply let go of everything on your own accord. Relax, and accept death without any antagonism as a culmination of life, as a natural phenomenon. It ends nothing. Remain conscious and watch what is happening – how the body starts becoming more and more distant from you, how the mind starts falling into pieces as if a mirror has fallen and broken into pieces, how your emotions, sentiments, moods… everything that made your life starts disappearing.”
It is the end of a dream. That is the fundamental point in bardo, that you have lived a dream that you call life, a seventy-year-long dream. It is coming to an end. You can weep for the spilled milk and miss the opportunity… because within seconds you will be entering into another womb, into another dream.
Between these two dreams just a few seconds are available for you to be alert and awake, and if you can manage this alertness you have conquered death, you have conquered dreaming. You will be entering into another womb consciously; you will be leaving this body consciously, entering into another body consciously.
You will be able to remember the death, the dream you had lived, in the coming life, which will make you alert not to get into the same rut – again chasing the same stupid desires, getting caught in the same jealousies, fighting for the same meaningless respectabilities. It will keep you alert that you have done it before. Everything ends in death and this too will end in death.
So bardo is reminding you that what is disappearing was a dream. It is very easy when death is coming to see your life as a dream. What else can it be? It is just as if you are waking up in the morning.
The whole night you have lived so much, so many dreams – you may have lived years in the night – but bardo reminds you that it was a dream. It has to be done by a very evolved being – a lama, a master – and he insists that it is time to realize that it was a dream: you are not dying, only the dream is broken.
And while you are being shifted from one dream to another… the gap is of tremendous importance because in that gap there is no dream, there is simple clarity, absolute clarity, awareness. So the second point to be reminded of is: don’t miss the gap.
And the third thing: don’t miss the entry into the womb. Then you have accomplished something which people need lives to work on.
The person is just falling into deep silence and death is descending. He is listening to these words from someone he has loved, he has trusted, from someone he cannot imagine deceiving – only then is it meaningful. It won’t work from just anybody. The bardo is available, all the instructions are available, but it is possible only through someone whom you have respected, honored, trusted, loved.
In this critical moment a small doubt about what the person is saying will destroy the whole thing – then the bardo has been futile. But if you don’t miss and you follow the instructions, you are laying a foundation for a new life which will be a totally different life. It will be your last life, because anybody who is dying consciously, who uses the gap to have a taste of absolute purity, enters into the womb alert, is born alert. His enlightenment is guaranteed by nature: he has the seed, the foundation.
So bardo is a simple process, but it can be helpful only to those who have meditated a little, who have been with a master, who have once in a while tasted the silence, the presence, and the beauty of being in the moment. They become capable.
Bardo is the greatest contribution Tibet has made to the world. Tibet has not contributed anything else. It is a poor country, far away from the world – the roof of the world – unapproachable. Even today it is very difficult to reach Tibet.
Tibet developed meditation through Buddhist influence and finally became the only country in history where everybody was meditating, where meditation was a normal phenomenon. Every family had to give at least one of its members – someone who was ready – to a monastery, to meditate totally. So from every family at least one member went from each generation.
Almost the whole country of Tibet became a monastery. Just as Russia has become a concentration camp, Tibet became a monastery. There were hundreds of monasteries in the mountains, in beautiful places. Every family had contributed someone who was truly interested in seeking. It was the only place where people were encouraged to go on the search; it had become part of the style of the whole country.
And those who were not in the monasteries were also meditating as much as they could manage, so by the time of death, bardo was possible for everybody. There were many masters available, many evolved beings available who could repeat those instructions – and everybody had a master of his own. It was a totally different world.
In this century many beautiful things have been destroyed but Tibet is at the top. Tibet has been destroyed by a communist invasion from China. Monasteries have been changed into schools, into hospitals, and monks have been forced to work in the fields. Even to mention the word “meditation” became a crime. And it was not hurting anybody: the country was so aloof, so cut off from the world.
But it has been destroyed, and I don’t think there is any possibility to recover its beauty, its grandeur. That is impossible because now there are roads joining it to Pakistan, to China. Now buses are moving, now airports are there and planes are coming and going. The army is there. It has become a military base for China. It has lost its golden age.
Soon it will be difficult to find a person who is capable of listening to bardo instructions and almost impossible to find a person who can give those instructions. They will be in the books; they are available now in all the languages. They are simple instructions but they can be improved, and I have the idea to improve them because they are very ancient and very crude. They can be polished. Much can be added to them, more dimensions can be given to them. But the basic thing is that the people should be meditative. My people are meditative, and it will be part of our basic work to revive the bardo in a more refined form so we can use it for our people.
Tibet is no longer the same Tibet. But we can create the situation, the psychology, where bardo – or something like bardo but even far more evolved – can help people. It is a beautiful process. Just as Japan has brought Zen from Buddhist sources of meditation, Tibet has brought, from the same Buddhist sources of meditation, bardo. These are their immortal contributions.
When nuclear weapons are forgotten, still these discoveries will have the same significance.
From The Path of the Mystic, Discourse #7
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