Now with this bardo,we would enter into the concept of rebirth, which is something that has always fascinated and intrigued me.But my elders always used to respond to my curiosity for the past life with a very typical buddhist answer - look at your present birth/life and you will know what you had been in your past life and look at what karma you earn in this life and you will know what you would be in your next life.Well,that was not exactly what I was looking for but in a way it did make sense.Also,I have heard H.H.Dalai lama say,that when practitioners reach a certain level of advancement in their meditation they could experience very clear and vivid visions of all their past and future lives! I'm sure it would take me a lifetime meditating, and still I wouldn't hit any close to that level, nevertheless it was great to know that!
I have heard a lot of stories of people remembering their past lives and also have known few of them personally.There was a boy in my class,who as a child, remembered his past life very clearly.His father went on to investigate the matter and was surprised to find out that the boy was right in every detail.In his previous life he had been a famous bandit who lived around a small village in the capital of India.He was deceived and killed by one of his own men.He was one of the most wanted criminal at that time and in this present life his father is a police officer!Isn't it a bit ironical?Well,his memory faded as he grew older and wouldn't remember anything later on.Mostly,people tend to retain their past life memories or impressions during their early ages.
We accept the concept of rebirth because we believe in the continuity of mind or consciousness.There might be people who do not believe in rebirth, and most of the times the argument given is that they do not remember it, and so it cannot be proved that they had lived before.But,do we remember even a single fraction of a second of the time we spent, nine long months or seven short months, in our mother's womb?Then why not be open to possibilities of a life after death and give it atleast the benefit of the doubt.
The "Karmic" Bardo Of Becoming
With our failure to recognize the Ground Luminosity and our failure to recognize the bardo of dharmata, the seeds of all our habitual tendencies are activated and reawakened.The bardo of becoming or sipa bardo spans the time between their reawakening and our entering the womb of the next life.The tibetan word sipa,which is translated as "becoming," also means "possibility" and "existence."So,another way of interpreting the Tibetan is as the bardo of possibilty,since at this point we have not taken physical birth and there are numerous possibilties for various kinds of existence.
In the bardo of becoming the mind is endowed with immense clarity and unlimited mobility,yet the direction in which it moves is determined solely by the habitual tendencies of our past karma.So,it is called the "karmic" bardo of becoming.
At this point the mind has arrived at the next stage in its process of gradual unfolding : out of its purest state-the Ground Luminosity-through its light and energy-the appearances of the bardo of dharmata- and so into the yet grosser manifestation of a mental form in the bardo of becoming.What takes place now at this stage is a reverse process of dissolution : the winds reappear, and along with them come the thought states connected with ignorance,desire,and anger.Then,because the memory of our past karmic body is still fresh in our mind,we take on a "mental body."
The Mental Body
Our mental body in the bardo of becoming has a number of special characteristics.It possesses all its senses.It is extremely light,lucid,and mobile,and its awareness is said to be seven times clearer than in life.It is also endowed with a rudimentary kind of clairvoyance,which is not under conscious control,but gives the mental body the ability to read others' minds.
At first this mental body will have a form similar to the body of the life just lived,yet it is without any defects and in the prime of life.Even if you were handicapped or sick in this life,you will have a perfect mental body in the bardo of becoming.
One of the ancient teachings of Dzogchen tells us that the mental body is about the size of a child of eight to ten years old.
Because of the force of conceptual thinking,also known as "the karmic wind,"the mental body is unable to remain still,even for an instant.It is ceaselessly on the move.It can go wherever it wishes unobstructedly,just by thinking.Because the mental body has no physical basis,it can pass through solid barriers such as walls or mountains.The mental body can see through three-dimensional objects.Yet since we lack the father and mother essences of the physical body,we no longer have the light of sun or moon,but only a dim glow illuminating the space immediately in front of us.We can see other bardo beings,but we cannot be seen by other living beings,except those who have the kind of clairvoyance developed through deep experience of meditation.So we can meet and converse for fleeting moments with many other travellers in the bardo world,those who have died before us.
Because of the presence of the five elements in its makeup,the mental body seems to us to be solid,and we still feel pangs of hunger.The bardo teachings say that the mental body lives off odours and derives nourishment from burnt offerings,but it can only benefit from offerings dedicated specially in its name.
In this state mental activity is very rapid: thought come in quick succession,and we can do many things at once.The mind continues to perpetuate set patterns and habits,especially its clinging to experiences,and its belief that they are ultimately real.
The Experiences of the bardo
The situation in this bardo becomes roughly analogous to what we experience now - many varied impressions continually arise in the mind and we cling to them,taking them all to be ultimately real.This hallucinatory state is traditionally said to last for an average duration of forty-nine days (the tibetans perform a forty-nine days prayer for the dead person, during which the Tibetan Book of the Dead is read in order to help the deceased) and a minimum length of one week before the consciousness takes physical form again as an embryo.During the first week of the bardo, we have the impression that we are a man or woman, just as in our previous life.We do not realize that we are dead.We return home to meet our family and loved ones.We try to talk to them or interact with them but all in vain.In extreme cases the mental body can linger near its possessions or body for weeks or even years.And still it may not dawn on us we are dead.It is only when we see that we cast no shadow,make no reflection in the mirror,no footprints on the ground,that finally we realize.And the sheer shock of recognizing we have died can be enough to make us faint away.However,some can even get stuck in this bardo, to become spirits or ghosts.
In the bardo of becoming we relive all the experiences of our past life,reviewing minute details long lost to memory,and revisiting places,the masters say,"where we did no more than spit on the ground."At the end of each week there is the trauma of realizing that we are dead and we are compelled to go through the experience of death once again,with all its suffering.If our death was peaceful,that peaceful state of mind is repeated;if it was tormented,however,that torment is repeated too.And remember that this is with a consciousness seven times more intense than that of life,and that in the fleeting period of bardo of becoming,all the negative karma of previous lives is returning,in a fiercely concentrated and deranging way.
Our restless,solitary wandering through the bardo world is as frantic as a nightmare,and just as in a dream,we believe we have a physical body and that we really exist.Yet all the experiences of this bardo arise only from our mind,created by our karma and habits returning. We are swept along relentlessly by the wind of karma,unable to hold on to any ground.The Tibetan Book of the Dead says : "At this time,the great tornado of karma,terrifying,unbearable,whirling fiercely,will drive you from behind." Consumed by fear,blown to and fro like dandelion seeds in the wind,we roam,helpless,through the gloom of the bardo.Tormented by hunger and thirst,we seek refuge here and there.Our mind's perceptions change every moment,projecting us," like out of a catapult,"says tha Tibetan book of the Dead,into alternate states of sorrow or joy.Into our mind comes the longing of a physical body,and yet we fail to find one, which plunges us into further suffering.
The whole landscape and environment is moulded by our karma,just as the bardo world can be peopled by the nightmarish images of our own delusions.If our habitual conduct in life was positive,our perception and experience in the bardo will be mixed with bliss and happiness,and if our lives were harmful or hurtful to others,our experiences in the bardo will be ones of pain,grief,and fear.
The Power of the mind
As our mind is so light,mobile,and vulnerable in the bardo,whatever thoughts arise,good or bad,have tremendous power and influence.Without a physical body to ground us,thoughts actually become reality.The overwhelming power of thought ,then,is the key issue in this bardo.This crucial moment finds us completely exposed to whatever habits and tendencies we have allowed to grow and dominate our lives.If we don't check those habits and tendencies now in life,and prevent them from seizing hold of our mind,then in the bardo of becoming we will be their helpless victim,buffeted to and fro by their power.The slightest irritation, for example,in this bardo can have devastating effect,and that is why traditionally the person reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead had to be someone with whom we had a good connection;if not,the very sound of his or her voice could infuriate us,with the most disastrous consequences.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead could not warn us more strongly:
Now is the time which is the borderline between going up and going down;now is the time when by slipping into laziness even for a moment you will endure constant suffering;now is the time when by concentrating for an instant you will enjoy constant happiness.Focus your mind single-mindedly;strive to prolong the results of good karma!
The Tibetan Book of the Dead tries to awaken any connection with spiritual practice the dead person may have had,and it encourages us: to give up attachment to people and possessions,to abandon yearning for a body,not to give in to desire or anger,to cultivate kindness rather than hostility,and not even to contemplate negative actions.It reminds the dead person there is no need to fear: On the one hand,it tells them that the terrifying bardo figures are nothing more than their own deluded projections and by nature empty;and on the other hand,that they themselves have only "a mental body of habitual tendencies,"and are therefore empty too."So emptiness cannot harm emptiness."
The shifting and precarious nature of the bardo of becoming can also be the source of many opportunities for liberation,and the susceptibility of mind in this bardo can be turned into our advantage.All we have to do is remember one instruction;all it needs is for one positive thought to spring into our mind.If we can recall any teaching that has inspired us to the nature of mind,if we have even one good inclination toward practice,or a deep connection with a spiritual practice,then that alone can free us.
If we are able to invoke or call to mind any enlightened being such as,Buddha,Tara,Guru Rinpoche,Christ or the Virgin Mary,with one pointed devotion and with all our heart,then through the power of their blessing,our mind will be liberated into the space of their wisdom mind.
However,at this juncture it is extremely difficult to focus one's mind without any previous training.This is why the watchword of the Tibetan Book of the Dead,repeated over and over again,is:"Do not be distracted."As it points out:
This is the dividing line where buddhas and sentient beings are separated...
"In an instant they are separated,in an instant complete enlightenment."
As, in the bardo of becoming the time for rebirth gets closer, we crave more and more the support of a material body,and we search for any one that might be available in which to be reborn.Different signs begin to appear,warning us of the realm in which we are likely to take rebirth.Lights of various colours shine from the six realms of existence,and we will feel drawn toward one or another,depending on the negative emotion that is predominant in our mind.Once we have been drawn into one of these lights,it is very difficult to turn back.
Then images and visions will arise,linked to the different realms.As we become familiar with the teachings,we will become more alert to what they really mean.The signs vary slightly according to different teachings.Some say that if we are to be reborn as a god,we will have a vision of entering a heavenly palace with many stories.If we are able to be reborn as a demigod,we will feel we are amidst spinning circular weapons of fire,or going onto a battlefield.If we are able to be reborn as an animal,we find ourself in a cave,a hole in the ground,or a nest made of straw.If we have a vision of a tree stump,a deep forest,or a woven cloth,we are able to be reborn as a hungry ghost.And if we are able to be reborn in hell,we will feel we are being led,powerless,into a black pit,down a black road,into a sombre land with black or red houses,or toward a city of iron.
There are many other signs,such as the way in which our gaze or movement is aligned,which indicate the realm for which we are heading.If we are to be reborn in a god or human realm,our gaze will be directed upward;if in an animal realm,we will look straight ahead,as do birds;and if in a hungry ghost or hell realm,we will be facing downward,as though we were diving.
If any of these signs appear,we should be on guard not to fall into any of these unfortunate rebirths.
At the same time,we will have an intense desire and longing for certain realms,and are drawn toward them all too instinctively.The teachings warn us that at this point there is a great danger that out of our avid eagerness to be reborn,we will rush to any place at all that seems to offer some security.If our desire is frustrated,the anger that arises will of itself bring the bardo abruptly to an end,as we are swept into our next rebirth by the current of that negative emotion.So,we must take great care not to enter blindly into one of these undesirable realms.Yet what is wonderful is that the moment we become aware of what is happening to us ,we can actually begin to influence and change our destiny.
Swept along by the wind of karma,we are drawn toward our birthplace.When our mind enters the womb, this signals the end of the bardo of becoming,as our mind rapidly reexperiences yet again the signs of the phases of dissolution and the dawning of the Ground Luminosity.Then the black experience of full attainment arises again,and at the same moment the connection to the new womb is made.
So life begins, as it ends, with the Ground Luminosity.