If you’re familiar with spiritual teachings, especially those of Tibetan Buddhism, you must have heard about the bardo states. The bardo teachings come from ancient Tibet, transferred from Master to disciple through oral transmission. The wisdom of the bardos was also written down in a famous book titled The Tibetan book of the Dead, which is still a bestseller to this day.
In this episode, I’d like to share with you my thoughts about bardo, and how its concept may help or hinder your spiritual journey. Yes, I said hinder, because although I view these teachings as mostly helpful in the life of a spiritual seeker, there’s a possibility that some will misuse it. But before I go into that, let’s see what bardo is all about.
Bardo is most often understood as a realm between death and life. It’s not a physical place but a spiritual type of existence. But as I understood, bardo is not only that gap after death, it refers to all kinds of states of consciousness in general. There is the bardo of life, the bardo of dreams, the bardo of dying and the bardo of becoming.
What’s essential to grasp is that all phenomena is arising from consciousness, which is the ultimate and only reality of existence. Pure consciousness is equal to enlightenment, and all other states of consciousness are illusory. Bardo refers to these altered states, no matter if they are drug induced or occuring naturally.
That’s why the sages say that the ordinary man is asleep, even when his eyes are open. His consciousness is not pure, because he identifies himself with its contents, he can’t see the forest from the tree. The different bardos normally follow each other in a well-defined pattern throughout life, and supposedly even after life.
Dreaming is followed by deep sleep, which is followed by the normal waking state, and this cycle goes on until the end of life. But according to the Buddhists, the bardos don’t stop there, rather they continue in a cycle that transcends even death. That’s the phase where the Tibetan Book of the Dead puts most of its focus: on the process of dying.
This book describes step-by-step in detail what happens in the afterlife. But to a skeptical mind, the question then arises: how could they know all of this? The answer is that we don’t know for sure, and cannot verify it until we go through this process ourselves. If it was an intuitive knowledge, how can we know it was not just imagination? If it was a memory from before birth, how can we know it was not just false memory?
The truth is that we cannot know, so we shouldn’t rely on these anecdotes either. Besides, even if it’s true, who can guarantee that what you experience will be exactly the same as they went through? I find it unnecessary to offer such detailed descriptions, because just like in the case of near-death experiences, although there are common elements, every journey is unique.
Just like you shouldn’t believe that the Bible contains the words of God, you shouldn’t believe in the existence of the afterlife just because you respect and trust Tibetan monks. You shouldn’t rely on any belief for the matter, because the only thing that counts is your direct experience.
Don’t let the bardo teachings become a crutch to grasp onto life, because their aim is exactly to help you let go of life. Don’t use them to deny death, use them to explore death. Don’t just believe in these stories, make an effort to see for yourself while you’re still alive. Prepare for your death in your life, because if you can remain conscious in death, you can attain enlightenment, even if in your whole life you were unconscious.
If you want to know more about death from a spiritual but down to earth perspective, you should read my book: The Power of Death. Click on the link below, and get it now! I’m deadly serious.