The "Painful" Bardo of Dying

 Our entire existence can be divided into the following  four realities or the four bardos :

1) the "natural" bardo of this life - It is the period between birth and death.

2) the "painful" bardo of dying - lasts from the begining of the process of dying till the end of what is known as "inner respiration", which in turn ends in the dawning of the nature of mind, called the "Ground Luminosity"

3) the "luminous" bardo of Dharmata - It involves the after death experience of the radiance of the nature of mind,the luminosity or "Clear Light",which manifests as sound,colour and light.

4) the "karmic" bardo of becoming - It is what we generally call the Bardo or  intermediate state,which lasts right up until the moment  we take on a new birth.

                                                                      The Process of Dying

There are many descriptions of the stages of dying,differing in small details and in their order.The author of the book gives a description of the general pattern,and states, that it can unfold differently according to the makeup of the individual,for instance,the effects of the particular illness of the dying person,and the state of the channels,winds, and essences.

         Earth,water,fire,air and space are the five elements which constitutes and sustains our body,and when they dissolve,we die.The process of dying involves two phases of dissolution - an outer dissolution and an inner dissolution.Following are the exact descriptions from the book except for few omissions here and there.

                                                                       The Outer Dissolution

The outer dissolution is when the senses and elements dissolve.The stages of the outer dissolution may take place extremely quickly and not very obviously.

The first thing we may be aware of is how our senses cease to function.If people around our bed are talking,there will come a point where we will hear the sound of their voices but we cannot make out the words.This means that the ear consciousness has ceased to function.We look at an object in front of us, and we can only see its outline,not its details.This means that the eye consciousness has failed.And the same happens with our faculties of smell,taste and touch.When the senses are no longer fully experienced,it marks the first phase of dissolution process.The next four phases follow the dissolution of the elements.

Earth : Our body begins to lose all its strength.We are drained of any energy.We cannot get up,stay upright or hold anything.We can no longer support our head.We feel as though we are falling,sinking underground,or being crushed by a great weight.We feel heavy and uncomfortable in any position.We may ask to be pulled up,to have our pillows made higher,or for the bedcovers to be taken off.Our complexion fades and a pallor sets in.Our cheeks sink,and dark stains appear on our teeth.It becomes harder to open and close our eyes.As the aggregate of form is dissolving,we become weak and frail.Our mind is agitated and delirious,but then sinks into drowsiness.

These are the signs that the earth element is withdrawing into the water element.This means that the wind related to the earth element is becoming less capable of providing a base for consciousness,and the ability of the water element is more manifest.

    So the "secret sign"that apperas in the mind is a vision of a shimmering mirage.

Water : We begin to lose control of our bodily fluids.Our nose begins to run,and we dribble.There can be a discharge from the eyes,and may be we become incontinent.We cannot move our tongue.Our eyes start to feel dry in their sockets.Our lips are drawn and bloodless,and our mouth and throat sticky and clogged.The nostrils cave in,and we become very thirsty.We tremble and twitch.The smell of death begins to hang over us.As the aggregate of feeling is dissolving,bodily sensation dwindle,alternating between pain and pleasure,heat and cold.Our mind becomes hazy,frustrated,irritable,and nervous.Some sources say that we feel as if we were drowning in an ocean or being swept away by a huge river.

The water element is dissolving into fire,which is taking over in its ability to support consciousness.

So the "secret sign"is a vision of a haze with swirling wisps of smoke.

Fire : Our mouth and nose dry up completely.All the warmth of our body begins to seep away,usually from the feet and hands toward the heart.Perhaps a steamy heat rises from the crown of our head.Our breath is cold as it passes through our mouth and nose.No longer can we drink or digest anything.The aggregate of perception is dissolving, and our mind swings alternately between clarity and confusion.We cannot remember the names of our family or friends,or even recognize who they are.It becomes more and more difficult to perceive anything outside of us as sound and sight are confused.

The fire element is dissolving into air,and becoming less able to function as a base for consciousness,while the ability of the air element to do so is more apparent.

So the "secret sign" is of shimmering red sparks dancing above an open fire,like fireflies.

Air : It becomes harder and harder to breathe.The air seems to be escaping through our throat.We begin to rasp and pant.Our inbreaths become short and laboured,and our outbreaths become longer.Our eyes roll upward,and we are totally immobile.As the aggregate of intellect is dissolving,the mind becomes bewildered,unaware of the outside world.Everything becomes a blur.Our last feeling of contact with our physical environment is slipping away.

We begin to hallucinate and have visions: If there has been a lot of negativity in our lives,we may see terrifying forms.Haunting and dreadful moments of our life are replayed,and we may even try to cry out in terror.If we have led lives of kindness and compassion,we may experience blissful,heavenly visions,and "meet"loving friends or enlightened beings.For those who have led good lives,there is peace in death instead of fear.

The air element is dissolving into consciousness.The winds have all united in the "life supporting wind"in the heart.

So the secret sign is described as a vision of a flaming torch or lamp,with a red glow.

Our inbreaths continue to be more shallow,and our outbreaths longer.At this point blood gathers and enters the "channel of life"in the centre of our heart.Three drops of blood collect,one after the other,causing three long,final outbreaths.Then suddenly,our breathing ceases.

Just a slight warmth remains at our heart.All vital signs are gone,and this is the point where in a modern clinical situation we would be certified as "dead".But Tibetan masters talk of an internal process that still continues.The time between the end of the breathing and the cessation of the "inner respiration" is said to be approximately "the length of time it takes to eat a meal,"roughly twenty minutes.But nothing is certain,and this whole process may take place very qucikly.

                                                                    The Inner Dissolution.

In the inner dissolution,where gross and subtle thought states and emotions dissolve,four increasingly subtle levels of consciousness are to be encountered.1)Appearance 2)Increase 3)Full Attainment 4)The Ground Luminosity.

There are 72,000 subtle channels in the body,but three principal ones: the central channel,running parallel to the spine,and the right and left channels,which run either side of it.The right and left channels coil around the central one at a number of points to form a series of "knots."Along the central channel are situated a number of "channel wheels,"the chakras or energy-centres,from which channels branch off like the ribs of an umbrella.Through these channels flow the winds,or inner air.

There are two kinds of essences within the channels from which the next phases of dissolution evolve.During the development of the foetus,our father's essence, which is the white essence rests in the chakra at the crown of our head at the top of the central channel.The mother's essence,which is red is located in the chakra four finger-widths below the navel.With the dissapearance of the wind that holds it there,the white essence descends the central channel toward the heart.As an outer sign ,there is an experience of "whiteness,"like "a pure sky struck by moonlight."As an inner sign,our awareness becomes extremely clear,and all the thought states resulting from anger,thirty-three of them in all,come to an end.This phase is known as "Appearance."

Then the red essence begins to rise through the central channel,with the dissapearance of the wind thats keeps it in place.The outer sign is an experience of "redness,"like a sun shining in a pure sky.As an inner sign,there arises a great experience of bliss,as all the thought states resulting from desire,forty in all,cease to function.This stage is known as "Increase."

When the red and white essences meet at the heart,consciousness is enclosed between them.As an outer sign,we experience a "blackness,"like an empty sky shrouded in utter darkness.The inner sign is an experience of  a state of mind free of thoughts.The seven thought states resulting from ignorance and delusion are brought to an end.This is known as "Full Attainment."

With the death of anger,desire and ignorance which are the three "poisons", the true or pure nature of mind is revealed.This is called the dawning of the "Ground Luminosity" or the "Clear Light."His Holiness the Dalai Lama says:"This consciousness is the innermost subtle mind.We call it the buddha nature,the real source of all consciousness.The continuum of this mind lasts even through Buddhahood."The dawning of the Ground Luminosity,or Clear Light is the great opportunity for liberation.

For a practitioner,it lasts as long as he/she can rest,undistracted,in the state of the nature of mind.For most people,however, it lasts no longer than a snap of the fingers,and for some ,the masters say,"as long as it takes to eat a meal."

Even though the Ground Luminosity presents itself naturally to us all, most of us are totally unprepared for its sheer immensity,the vast and subtle depths of its naked simplicity.The majority of us will simply have no means of recognizing it,because we have not made ourselves familiar with ways of recognizing it in life.What happens,then,is that we tend to react instinctively with all our past fears,habits,and conditioning,all our old reflexes.Though the negative emotions may have died for the luminosity to appear,the habits of lifetimes still remain,hidden in the background of our ordinary mind.Though all our confusion dies in death,instead of surrendering and opening to the luminosity,in our fear and ignorance we withdraw and instinctively hold onto our grasping.This is what obstructs us from truly using this powerful moment as an opportunity for liberation.Being unable to recognize the Ground Luminosity we are plunged into a state of unconsciousness,which can last upto three and a half days.It is then the consciousness finally leaves the body.

This has led to a custom in Tibet of making sure that the body is not touched or disturbed for three days after death.It is especially important in the case of a practitioner,who may have merged with the Ground Luminosity and be resting in the state of the nature of mind.

The Tantric practitioners prepare in life for the process of dying,by simulating the changes of consciousness of the dissolution process,culminating in the experience of the luminosity or "Clear Light."The practitioner also seeks to maintain awareness of these changes as he/she falls asleep.Because what is important to remember is that this sequence of progressively deepening states of consciousness does not only happen when we die.It also occurs,usually unnoticed, as we fall asleep,or whenever we travel from the grosser to subtlest levels of consciousness.Some masters have even shown that it also happens in the very psychological processes of our everyday waking state.

At  each stage of dissolution during the process of dying the practitioners have a range of specialised practices to do.But as far as ordinary people are concerned it would be highly beneficial if we pray or wish wholeheartedly that,through regretting all our negative actions in this and other lives,they may be purified,and that we may die consciously and at peace,gain a good rebirth,(in the pure realm or as a human being)in order to protect,nurture,and help others,and ultimately acheive liberation.

With the conclusion of the "painful" bardo of dying,we then encounter the next bardo,the luminous bardo of dharmata.