His Eminence the Third Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche,
Karma Lodrö Chökyi Senge
I would like to welcome and thank you for coming here to receive the teachings on the bardo. It is a great joy seeing you. Having imparted the initiation of the peaceful and forceful deities of the bardo, I will now speak about the way one needs to train one’s mind to experience the bardo in the best way and how to attain liberation then. It’s important to appreciate the special opportunity and good fortune of receiving these teachings and learning about them.
The perfectly enlightened Buddha presented an inconceivable number of teachings. The purpose of all teachings is to introduce disciples to the fact that the Buddha nature abides in each and every living being without exception and that since beginningless time it has never been obscured or defiled. Due to incidental impurities and obscurations arising from emotional defilements and non-virtuous actions, living beings accumulate negative karma which prevents them from recognizing their Buddha nature. Those who do not recognize their Buddha nature are referred to as ‘sentient beings’ and those who do are called ‘enlightened.’ Everybody experiences their true nature in certain moments in life but falls into the state of confusion that is samsara due to not recognizing it. Even somebody with very negative karma experiences glimpses of his ultimate nature but, having failed to recognize it, does not experience liberation. We practice the Buddhadharma, ‘the teachings of Lord Buddha,’ to experience the manifestation of our Buddha nature.
Attaining Buddhahood or enlightenment means realizing our true nature that is always and already present within. We practice to realize our true nature, but there are a great number of distractions that impede us from concentrating on the practice that we should be doing. Achieving enlightenment doesn’t mean acquiring something outside oneself and it doesn’t mean gaining power or fame. Such thoughts and wishes are detrimental and misleading. One recognizes one’s Buddha nature when one has perfected the two aims, which are excellent abandonment of conflicting emotions and primitive beliefs about reality and excellent realization of one’s true nature. From among the innumerable teachings to help devotees recognize their true nature, their Buddha nature, the bardo teachings are most important. We can come to know the non-substantiality of both samsara and nirvana through the bardo teachings. They were handed down to us by Padmasambhava, Guru Rinpoche.
What is bardo? It is every intermediate state between a beginning and an end. The state between birth and death is bardo, and the state between death and rebirth is bardo. The period between falling asleep and waking up is also a bardo. There is a bardo, a gap, between every perception and apperception. There are many classifications of bardo. I will speak about the bardo between dying and rebirth.
Many stages are experienced after the consciousness leaves the physical body and when one takes a new birth. It is possible to realize one’s Buddha nature during those stages. This is why I mentioned that the Buddha nature abides in each and every living being without exception. While alive, one needs to exert oneself to realize it. During the bardo between death and rebirth, however, one’s true nature automatically manifests and, if one is trained, can easily be recognized. One fails to recognize it during life because it is too close. One’s Buddha nature naturally manifests after one has died and during the bardos that follow, so those are special opportunities to attain liberation. Therefore the practice is exceptional. I will speak about the three bardos after death that last until one is reborn. They are: the bardo of death, the bardo of dharmata, and the bardo of existence or becoming.
The Bardo of Dying & Death – ‘shi-ka-bar-do
The bardo of death is a successive process. Our physical body is an aggregation of flesh, blood, etc. and deteriorates at death. Mind, on the other hand, does not die since it isn’t composed of particles. The physical components of our body are formed at birth and disintegrate at death. Our physical body only functions as long as it is sustained by our mind. Every physical body is dependent upon many causes and conditions and is only appropriated in dependence upon them. For this reason, our body is subject to decay and collapses in the absence of our mind, our consciousness. Mind, which isn’t an aggregation of particles, doesn’t cease when it leaves the body. Its nature is clarity and awareness.
Failing to acknowledge the difference between body and mind, ordinary beings are afraid of death. Many people call their body ‘self,’ refer to as ‘mine,’ and assume everything ends when they die. These ideas cause extreme bewilderment and anguish. One needs to know that the mind is not identical with the body and continues after death. Even if one trusts that the mind continues after it has separated from the body at death, those individuals who cling to their body are terrified of the thought of losing it and panic when they do. One needs to die peacefully so as not to suffer.
Impermanence and the painful consequences of attachment are central teachings of Lord Buddha. He also showed how indefinite the time of death is. Therefore it is very important to become free from attachment before one dies and to be fully aware of the fact that one experiences a change at that time.
Westerners feel quite comfortable moving from a house, city, or country to another. Easterners are more grounded and suffer when they have to move, just as much as western people suffer when they hear about death. Should one see moving from one location to the next just like death, it wouldn’t be agonizing and one could make preparations. Realizing that one’s body is compounded and that all compounded things change, one feels at ease learning about the bardo and practices as best as one can. Bardo is the most important practice for liberation at death.
The bardo of death concerns the physical body, which consists of an aggregation of four elements - earth, water, fire, and air. At death, the elements dissolve, one into the other. It’s important to know about the dissolution of the elements at death, otherwise the associated experiences can be frightening. One can stay wakefully aware if one recognizes the visions that appear to one when the elements dissolve.
The first stage of dying is the dissolution of the earth element into the water element. The dying person becomes physically weak and has difficulties moving his limbs. The internal sign at this stage is that everything is seen in a smoky light. Sight has become hazy and unclear. If not prepared, one panics. We know that this experience means that the earth element is sinking into the water element and remain calm and at ease. The second stage of dying is the dissolution of the water element into the fire element. The outer sign is that all fluids of mouth, nose, etc. become dry. The internal sign is that one’s consciousness experiences appearances as a mirage. When the fire element dissolves into the air element during the third stage of dying, the body loses its warmth. The internal sign is seeing sparks flickering in the wind. One’s vision has become hazy and very unclear. When the air element dissolves into the consciousness during the next stage of dying, one exhales a long time and has difficulty inhaling again. One’s respiration eventually ceases. One perceives a flaming torch that becomes brighter and brighter. The dissolution of the four elements sinking into each other is the initial stage of dying and death. Then follows what is called ‘appearance,’ ‘expansion,’ and ‘attainment.’
At the stage of appearance, a dying person perceives a white light, while his inner consciousness apperceives darkness. Now the emotional defilement of aversion dissolves. During the stage of expansion, a dying person perceives everything bathed in red light, while the inner consciousness sees lights that resemble fireflies at night. Now the emotional defilement of attachment dissolves. During the stage of attainment, a dying person perceives everything in black, while the inner consciousness sees a lamp locked in a container that can only illuminate the inside. Now ignorance and delusion dissolve. These three stages of appearance, expansion, and attainment are experienced in life, too. Every relative phenomenon that is perceived is an appearance. Being attached and clinging to appearances is what is meant by increasing or expanding a perception. Once a perception has expanded in one’s mind, it is established in one’s mind and is thus attained. These three processes continually take place while one apperceives things in life. They dissolve when one dies.
After the last three dissolution stages have taken place while dying, the father’s and mother’s energies that one attained when one was conceived unite. One’s consciousness leaves one’s body and one blacks out when one’s father’s white energy-drop descends and one’s mother’s red energy-drop ascends and they unite in the middle of one’s heart chakra. Advanced practitioners realize the ground clear light at this point, the ground clear light being the primordial Buddha Vajradhara, Dorje Chang in Tibetan.
What is the ground clear light? It is the unimpeded manifestation of one’s mind’s true nature, which is the indivisibility of emptiness and clarity. It is beyond birth and death and is non-referential. If one realizes one’s mind’s true nature, one will instantaneously have achieved the Dharmakaya (the Sanskrit term for ‘truth body’). Somebody who isn’t trained and has no meditative experiences also perceives mind’s true nature at death but, failing to recognize it, continues wandering in samsara. It is necessary to train during life so that one can consciously recognize the manifestation of the ground clear light when one dies.
Among the many practices, the Mahamudra instructions show us how to rest our mind in its natural state, free of any mental contrivances. One is not practicing Mahamudra if one clings to thoughts. One merely wins an idea of Mahamudra when one hears about it, but one needs to establish the actual state for oneself. One can’t rest in mind’s natural state as long as one gives in to the many distractions and clings to them. For this reason, the bardos of death presents the exceptional opportunity to experience enlightenment.
Mind’s clear light appears to everyone at death, whether they are practitioners or not, whether they led a virtuous life or not. There are no worldly distractions during the bardo of death, so it is an exceptional opportunity to attain Buddhahood. Yet, if one doesn’t recognize one’s mind’s true nature at that time, one continues the journey through the next bardo. This is the reason one meditates now, to become accustomed to recognizing mind’s true nature. Our spiritual master introduces us to bardo so that we recognize our mind’s natural state. If we have a spiritual master who gives us these instructions and we meditate them, then we can achieve realization during life. Then, when we die, we experience the clear light that corresponds with our Lama’s instructions, which is called ‘the meeting of the mother and son’ (öd-gsäl-ma-bu in Tibetan). Attaining enlightenment during life is best, though. Should we fail, there is a chance at death. And so, recognizing the clear light at death is the meeting of a mother and son and is attained by somebody who dies in meditative equipoise.
There are different levels of mental stability. Some practitioners rest in meditative absorption when they die because they have recognized the clear light and united with it. Others rest in meditative absorption when they die because they have mastered calm abiding meditation. It is evident to those who witness the death of somebody who dies in meditative equipoise, which depends upon an individual’s practice.
Questions & Answers
Question: “Would you please explain perfection of realization?”
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche: Perfection of abandonment refers to the elimination of the two obscurations, the obscurations of afflicting emotions and the obscurations to knowledge. One achieves Buddhahood when both obscurations have been overcome, which is the perfection of realization. Then, two wisdoms are accomplished, the wisdom knowing everything as it is and the wisdom knowing everything as it manifests. Perfection of realization means ascertaining the ultimate truth. Perfection of abandonment means complete elimination of all obstacles that impede realization of the ultimate truth; it is complete elimination of dualistic concepts.
Next question: “His Eminence mentioned that there are two kinds of bardo, one between death and rebirth and one between birth and death. Since the teachings will deal with the bardo after death, would Rinpoche give a short summary of the bardo between birth and death and in which way the two are similar?” JKR: The bardo between birth and death is a general statement. This period can be classified into numerous states. For example, the period between conception and birth is a bardo. From the moment of birth until an infant learns to crawl is another bardo. There is another bardo lasting from the moment a child enters school until taking exams. The moment one falls asleep until one wakes up is also a bardo. The time one starts dreaming until one stops is a bardo, too. In fact, the moment one begins having breakfast until one is finished is a bardo. Everything has a bardo, even the time between a first and second thought. In short, there is no concrete phenomenon or lasting experience since all things are transient.
Next question: “If I heard correctly, you said that the Buddha nature is too close to recognize. Would you explain this a little more?” JKR: Let me give an example. You always have eyelashes but don’t see them because they are too near. Same student: “If I can’t see my eyelashes …” JKR: You see the Buddha nature. Same student: “Thank you.” JKR: It is not as simple as that.
Next question: “His Eminence spoke about the three stages of dissolving, also occurring in everyday life, the samsaric world. I didn’t understand the progression from appearance to expansion and attainment. Would you give an example?” JKR: It concerns contact. A subject and an object come into contact during the three phases of appearance, expansion, and attainment. Take this shrine room as an example. You first enter and see it, which is the appearance. Then you expand your perception of the appearance by distinguishing the four columns, the beautiful paintings, etc. Appearance expands in your mind, i.e., your mind expands, not the object. Once you have apperceived the room’s details, you understand that it is a shrine room and approach it accordingly, which is attainment. Same student: “So the third one means understanding the function, how to relate to it properly?” JKR: No. The first moment you see the shrine room is appearance. You do not cling in the first instant. When you differentiate the interior, your mind clings. Subsequently you define it as ‘a shrine room’ and are attached to that concept, which is attainment. That’s how we function in the world. When we die, these stages dissolve, one by one. Same student: “May I ask how the consciousness exists? I wasn’t sure about the father and mother energy meeting at the center. Is it a physical center of the body?” JKR: No. It is in the central channel. After the dissolution of appearance, expansion, and attainment, one’s first six consciousnesses as well as the six objects of those consciousnesses cease. The father-energy descends and the mother-energy ascends into the heart chakra that is within the central channel. As all impure perceptions cease, all active energy-winds in the right and left channels - that are the pathways for the vital airs within the body, are responsible for primary physical functions, and are interrelated with the mind - enter the central channel. There they are transformed into wisdom, which is the reason we experience clear light. If you have received instructions from your Lama and have practiced, at this point it is easy to recognize the clear light of the mind, free of any impure thoughts or emotions. During life we practice in order to realize our Lama’s instructions, but there are so many distractions and emotions that impede realization. Even if you realize your mind’s true nature, you are distracted in the next moment and lose the experience. So it’s very hard to attain realization during life. The clear light appears effortlessly during bardo and you just need to recognize it, which is only possible if you have received instructions from your Lama and practiced. Same student: “I have a last question. Do you think it is possible for us, as we relate more to the death of our fellow Sangha people, parents, and friends, in some way to learn to help them? One’s Lama isn’t always there when one dies.” JKR: That is why one invites a Lama when someone dies. If one can’t find a Lama, an older Sangha member with a connection can instruct the dying person. He reminds that person of the experience. This is very important. Same student: “Do you think we need to form particular classes or does it happen naturally that somebody more advanced is called?” JKR: It has to be done by somebody who has experience. It is better.
Next question: “If a person is able to liberate himself in the bardo, does he become a Buddha or Bodhisattva.?” JKR: It depends upon which level of bardo. If he recognizes his true nature during the first bardo, he achieves the Dharmakaya, i.e., Buddhahood. If he recognizes it during the second stage, he achieves the Sambhogakaya (‘the enjoyment body’). During the third stage, which is very difficult to understand, it is possible to realize the Nirmanakaya (‘the emanation body’).
Next question: “How much is your chemical brain involved in the connection between your body and consciousness and how much is it affected by the dissolution of the elements? When I’ve been sick, I noticed my brain is less capable of higher perceptions. Being a beginner, I’m curious about this.” JKR: As long as there is a connection between the body and mind, then every part of the body functions. The brain functions on account of mind’s activities and other organs function due to other mental processes. Suppose your arms and legs are paralyzed. This needn’t influence your thoughts, whereas a harmed brain does influence thoughts. So the brain is important.
Next question: “While I’ve been present during the dissolution stages of friends, the moment of death, and some time afterwards, I have, I think, experienced some things physically. I was wondering because I seemingly saw colors around the person who was in the dissolution stage and felt extreme temperatures in the room. Is this my own illusion or the ability of my friends to project these experiences? Have I been wise to try to ignore these experiences and just to be there?” JKR: There is a definite possibility of signs and we should not be attached to them. Although such experiences are possible, you have many questions, which could be your own mental projection. It is recommendable to leave those experiences as they are, without being attached to them.
Next question: “Your Eminence, in the West, the medical profession often prolongs the physical life of a terminally ill person with machines that breathe for the patient or beat the heart of the patient with electrical stimulation and with drugs. This goes on very often against the will of the family and perhaps of the patient, if arrangements haven’t been made before the patient becomes so ill that he cannot express his wishes. In terms of dying consciously and having the most control over the mind at death, is it advisable for us as practitioners to make arrangements while we have our full faculties that these measures not be taken by doctors, by hospitals? There is such a thing in our culture as a living will, in which a person could now put in writing and have witnessed that they do not want their life prolonged artificially should they become ill. Is it wise for us as practitioners to make these arrangements?” JKR: Yes, it seems to be a wise decision to wish to experience a natural death. The thoughts one has during the moment of death are very important, therefore a natural death is important. If you leave a will behind for this purpose and your physician knows you can’t be healed, then all the chemicals would be useless anyway. If there is hope to be cured, it would be a different matter.
Next question: “If somebody has gone into a coma and can’t experience perceptions and so forth, is it harmful to prolong his life? Is there anything we can do for him by allowing him to die a natural death? What would you recommend if it appears that somebody’s brain has been damaged irrevocably and they can’t come back to this experience? Does prolonging their life harm their bardo experience?” JKR: I can’t say much about this because I’m not acquainted with the Western system. In the East, a person in a coma and with brain damage that definitely leads to death is given certain empowerments to purify his negative karma. Somebody experiencing the discomfort of a coma is experiencing his negative karma, therefore we ask a Lama to give a purification empowerment against negative karma. There are specific deities, such as Buddha Akshobhya and Vajrasattva, that purify from falling into lower realms. Normally, these empowerments are given to those about to die and the person either dies or recovers. In the East, a person who is about to die is not kept in a hospital, rather he is taken to a monastery or to his home where a Lama performs the practice for him. I don’t know if this is possible in the West, but it is advisable.
Next question : “You discussed the distinction between body and mind. Would you say something about personality or personal makeup, where that falls, whether it is body or mind? Psychological makeup is a sense of who we are, our personality, identity, our psychology of how I identify myself.” JKR: Mind, definitely. Same student: “Am I correct that when our body dies we take that sense of ourself or identity with us because mind continues?” JKR: Right. Same student: “At some point that stops and we get a new identity when we are reborn. At what point do I lose my sense of John?” JKR: On the one hand, what you said is very true. On the other hand, your body and name change, whereas clinging to a ‘me’ and ‘I’ doesn’t change. Now you are called John and then you are called Michael. The point is that you cling to the old and new names. Same student: “So, at the possibility of liberation into the Dharmakaya, it would actually mean letting go of all that completely?” JKR: Ego? Student: “Yes.” JKR: Of course.
The Bardo of Dharmata - chös-nyid-bar-do
One achieves liberation into the Dharmakaya if one realizes the clear light that appears to one during the bardo of death. Achieving liberation means realizing the indivisibility of mind’s empty and luminous nature.
At this stage in the bardo, a deceased individual notices that his body does not throw a shadow anymore and so forth. While learning that he has died, terrifying experiences arise to him due to having seen the body’s qualities as the five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and space) and five skandhas, ‘psycho-physical aggregates’ (form, sensation, recognition, mental events, and consciousness). A mind going through bardo is very instable and tries to communicate with friends and relatives, but they don’t respond. He suffers very much because he has not fully realized that he has died. Not having recognized the clear light when it appeared in the first bardo, the person becomes unconscious, awakes again, and enters the bardo of dharmata, ‘suchness.’
Each of the five Buddhas in union with his consort successively appears to a deceased individual during what is referred to as ‘a day’ in the bardo of dharmata. Since the five elements and five skandhas are inseparable, the five Buddhas, who are the pure aspect of the skandhas, always appear in union with their consorts, who are the pure aspect of the five elements that constitute a physical body. When an impure skandha (that is associated with a specific disturbing emotion and element) is transformed, it becomes the pure expression of a peaceful deity in yab-yum, ‘union’ (yab, ‘father,’ yum, ‘mother’).
Buddha Vairocana (sangs-rgyäs-srnam-par-snang-mdzäd, ‘Radiating One’) of the Buddha family appears in union with his consort on the first day to someone in the bardo of dharmata. Buddha Vairocana is the pure aspect of the fifth skandha of consciousness. His consort, Buddha Akashadhatuvishvari, is the pure element of space. The afflicting emotion associated with the impure consciousness and corresponding with the impure element of space is ignorance. When transformed and pure, it is dharmadhatu wisdom-awareness (chös-dbyings-ye-shes, ‘pristine wisdom wherein all appearances and events are perceived as they are in themselves, awareness of the expanse of all-encompassing space’). Buddha Vairocana in yab-yum appears in the Sambhogakaya form and in a bright white light in front of a deceased person. A dim light appears at the same time. It is the manifestation of the presence of ignorance and, if the deceased is attached and clings to it, leads to birth in the gods realm.
The Buddha families in radiant lights and the dim lights of the six realms of samsara (the Sanskrit term for ‘conditioned existence’) simultaneously seem to approach a deceased individual from the outside. Frightened by the magnificent appearance of a deity, instead of recognizing it as an expression of his own mind, he flees towards the weak light of the associated samsaric realm that is determined by an afflicting emotion and takes birth there. Should he realize that the appearance of the deity is not separate from his own mind, he would achieve omniscience. If Buddha Vairocana in yab-yum is recognized to be indivisible with the own mind on the first day in the bardo of dharmata, a deceased individual would attain liberation into his pure realm, stug-po-bköd-pa’i-zhing-khams , ‘Densely Arrayed Realm.’
If a deceased did not achieve liberation on the first day in the bardo of dharmata, then Buddha Akshobhya (sangs-rgyäs-mi-bskyöd-pa, ‘Unperturbable Buddha’) of the vajra family appears in union with his consort on the second day. He is the pure aspect of the skandha of form. His consort, Buddha Locana, is the pure element of water. The vajra symbolizes mirror-like wisdom-awareness (me-long-lta-bu’i-ye-shes, ‘pristine wisdom wherein everything is perceived as if reflected in a mirror’). Polluted, it is the emotional defilement of anger and aggression and appears as a dim light. The deceased will take birth in the hell realm of samsara if he is attached and clings to the dim light. If he recognizes that the magnificent blue light of Akshobhya in yab-yum is inseparable with his own mind, he will attain liberation into his pure realm, mngön-dga’i-zhing-khams, ‘Realm of Pure Joy.’
If the deceased individual failed to recognize the bright blue appearance of Buddha Akshobhya, then the Buddhas and deities of the ratna family manifest on the third day. Buddha Ratnasambhava (sangs-rgyäs-rin-chen-‘byung-ldän, ‘Lord of the Jewel’) in union with his consort, Buddha Mamaki, appears in the magnificence of bright yellow light. They are surrounded by all deities belonging to the ratna family and are associated with the earth element and the pure skandha of sensations. The dim light of the impure skandha of sensations appears simultaneously with the bright light of the wisdom of equanimity (mnyam-nyid-ye-shes, ‘wisdom wherein all events are perceived in their ultimate identity, awareness of fundamental sameness’). If the bright light is recognized as the manifestation of his own mind, the deceased person experiences liberation into the pure realm of Ratnasambhava, dpäl-ldän-pa’i-zhing-khams, ‘Illustrious Realm.’ If, on the other hand, he becomes frightened and seeks shelter in the dim light of sensations and feelings due to desire and craving, he will take birth in the human realm.
Not having become liberated, on the fourth day Buddha Amitabha (sangs-rgyäs-‘öd-dpag-med, ‘Immeasurable Light’) of the lotus family appears in union with his consort, Buddha Pandara, in bright red light. The associated element is fire and the corresponding skandha is recognition or discernment. The bright light is accompanied by the dim light of the disturbing emotion of seductive passion. If a deceased being recognizes Buddha Amitabha or just prays to him, he will experience liberation into his pure realm, bde-ba-chen, ‘Land of Great Bliss,’ and achieve discriminating wisdom-awareness (so-sor-rtog-pa’i-ye-shes, ‘wisdom wherein all phenomena are perceived in their concrete individuality’). If he seeks shelter in the dim light of miserliness, though, he will take birth in the realm of the hungry ghosts. Everyone receives another opportunity to attain liberation the next day.
Amoghasiddhi Buddha (sangs-rgyäs-dön-yöd-grub-pa, ‘Unfailing Accomplishment’) appears in union with his consort, Buddha Samayatara, on the fifth day. He manifests in the bright green light of all-accomplishing wisdom-awareness (dön-grub-pa’i-ye-shes or bya-grub-ye-shes, ‘wisdom wherein all actions are accomplished with enlightened awareness’). The associated element is air and the corresponding skandha is the compositional factors of mental events. Should a deceased being seek shelter in the dim light of jealousy appearing at the same time, he will be reborn in the samsaric world of the demi-gods. If he recognizes the clear appearance of Amoghasiddhi and his retinue, he will experience liberation in his Buddha field, läs-rab-rdzogs-pa’i-zhing-khams, ‘Realm of Perfect Activity.’
On the sixth day, all five Buddhas in union with their consorts and accompanied by their retinue appear in their bright lights. They are the manifestation of all peaceful Buddhas and the six Buddhas abiding in the six realms of samsara for the benefit of beings there. If a deceased person recognizes that they are the appearance of his pure skandhas, that the bright lights are the radiance of omniscience that is free of all afflicting emotions and mental contrivances, he will achieve omniscience and be born in the pure realm of Akanishta, ‘og-min-gyi-zhing-khams, ‘Unsurpassable Pure Land,’ the abbreviation for dag-pa-rab-‘byams-‘og-min-zhing-khams, ‘Unexcelled Pure Realm Below None.’
After the peaceful deities of the heart chakra appeared on the first six days in the bardo of dharmata, on the seventh day the semi-wrathful deities of the throat chakra and the five Vidyadharas (rig-‘dzin in Tibetan, ‘Holder of Wisdom, Holder of Wisdom Mantra’) in yab-yum appear before a deceased being. There are the five Vidyadharas: of body, of speech, of mind, of knowledge, and of activity. If a deceased individual recognizes the manifestations of the unity of emptiness and clarity that are located in the chakra of communication, then the root of all afflictions, which is mental dullness or stupidity, will have been transformed and he will experience liberation. If not, he will be born in the animal realm.
One needs to know that the peaceful and semi-wrathful deities that appear during the first week in the bardo of dharmata are not solid entities and are not based on ideas or beliefs. They are the unimpeded embodiment of the qualities of one’s awakened mind. Mind’s essence is emptiness; its nature is unobstructed clarity. Mind’s clarity is also described as ‘self-awareness.’ Knowing that one experiences the qualities of one’s own mind when one perceives the deities during the bardo and that the deities appear due to the empty and clear nature of one’s mind, one understands that they are projections of one’s own mind and are not hallucinations.
The appearances that arise in the bardo of dharmata are quite different than the ones that appear while engaging in visualization practices. No matter how often one has heard about the purity of a yidam (‘deity’) and no matter how strongly one tries not to make a separation between a meditator who is meditating a meditation deity, beginners visualize dualistically. In its inexhaustible abundance, mind’s true nature manifests clearly during the bardo of dharmata and therefore the deities are different than those one visualizes during life. Vajrayana practitioners seek to refine their mind during life so that they are also able to recognize their mind’s undistorted nature when it manifests clearly at death. Therefore Vajrayana practitioners visualize the deities and recite the deities’ mantras during life. When the deities actually appear in the bardo after one has died, one can accept them instead of being afraid and thus rejecting them. One also hears thundering sounds and violent words and becomes frightened. Through the strength gained by having recited mantras during life, though, all sounds are experienced as the mantra of dharmata.
There are many reasons why practitioners engage in visualization practices and recite mantras. The way to overcome faulty ideas and negative habits is to replace them with wholesome ones. Yet many people do not experience beneficial results from practicing and others separate Sutra from Tantra. Many people practice Tantra because they want to gain worldly results. One doesn’t know much about the profundity of these practices. But one should know that the visualization and recitation practices one does during life become habits that enable one to recognize the non-duality of the profound and manifest and are very helpful after death, too. Mantras are not discursive thoughts that are merely uttered or chanted. Tantra is not magic. All teachings about the deities and mantras pertain to a Buddha’s wisdom.
We saw that the peaceful and semi-wrathful deities - expressions of the qualities of mind’s true nature - appear to deceased beings during the first seven days in the bardo of dharmata. It is said to be easier to attain liberation when seeing them because one is less frightened of them than one is of the wrathful deities that appear during the third phase of the bardo of dharmata.
The essence of the mind is shunyata (‘emptiness’) and therefore one can experience the peaceful and wrathful deities. Wrathful aspects of the Buddhas are Herukas (khrag-thung in Tibetan, ‘Blood Drinkers’). They are not different than the five Buddhas and their consorts and so they are not different than one’s own mind. Someone who died in peace and who had a strong and open mind had the opportunity to realize Buddha Vairocana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amogasiddhi, and the Vidyadharas in union with their consorts and could attain liberation. If they failed, they have the opportunity to attain liberation when the Herukas appear to them.
There are 58 Herukas in all. The five main male Herukas are the pure display of the force of the five defilements. The five initial defilements are attachment, anger, pride, ignorance, and jealously; miserliness is often referred to as a sixth main defilement. They are our real enemies and lead us to experience rebirth in one of the five or six realms of samsara. During the bardo of dharmata, the forceful Herukas appear in union with their ferocious-looking consorts. The five main female wrathful deities are an expression of the interrelationship between the defilements and the sense objects (forms, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects).
Everyone has eight consciousnesses. They are: the five sensory consciousnesses, the mental consciousness, the afflicted consciousness, and the ground consciousness. Eight objects are fields of response for each consciousness. Purified, they are aspects of the eight peaceful Bodhisattvas and their Dakinis (mkha’-‘gro-ma, ‘Sky-Goers’). When intensified through their forceful manifestation, they have the same function of purifying the consciousnesses.
Living beings have many afflicting emotions. Therefore a deceased individual experiences as if before him the appearance of even more pure aspects of being. As said, yidams (‘deities’) are not outside oneself and are not hallucinations. They are embodiments of one’s transformed defilements. One’s impure defilments, afflicting emotions, skandhas, distorted beliefs, etc. are one’s true enemies; they cease after one has died and appear in their pure aspects during the bardo of dharmata. One needs to recognize them as such in order to become free from the defilements that keep one fettered in the unremitting rounds of samsara, which is marked by the suffering of birth, sickness, old age, and death. Again, all yidams always and already abide within everyone. They are the pure aspect of one’s emotions, which one creates by clinging to duality.
Having failed to recognize the Vidyadharas of the throat chakra on the seventh day, the deities become more forceful, brighter, louder, and more terrifying. It is said that it is more difficult to experience liberation at this time than earlier. Should a deceased individual be fearless and realize that all appearances are not other than his own mind, he would achieve liberation. Otherwise he continues wandering through bar-do (‘the intermediate state between death and rebirth’) and experiences the Herukas that are situated in what is described as ‘the blissful chakra’ of the brain.
Buddha Heruka, the wrathful aspect of Buddha Vairocana, appears in yab-yum before a deceased being on the eighth day in bardo. If not realized, Vajra Heruka in yab-yum appears to a deceased being on the ninth day, Ratna Heruka in yab-yum on the tenth, Padma Heruka in yab-yum on the eleventh, and Karma Heruka in yab-yum on the twelfth. A deceased individual has the opportunity to realize his mind’s true nature on each successive day. Deities such as Mamos and Wangchugmas as well as wrathful aspects of Bodhisattvas and Dakinis also appear to him. If he realizes that every emanation is a manifestation of his own mind, he achieves liberation. Otherwise Yamantaka (gshin-rje-chös-kyi-rgäl-po, ‘the Judge of the Dead’) appears to him.
Clinging to duality prevents one from realizing the true nature of one’s mind. One’s mental and intellectual diffusion prevent one from recognizing the manifestation of the yidams and thus one experiences suffering and pain. One experiences excruciating pangs of pain in the hell realms, where one is beaten and kicked around by ferocious tormentors. These spiteful beings are emanations of one’s negative thoughts that keep one from realizing that one’s mind is inseparable with the ever-pure yidams.
Having experienced all wrathful appearances and not having become free, a deceased individual finds himself in a miserable state. Terrified by the thunderous sounds, bright lights, and horrifying experiences, he becomes unconscious.
It is important to have become accustomed to the wrathful deities and to look at one’s thoughts during life. If one has trained one’s mind, one isn’t shocked when one’s mind manifests in its ferocious forms but feels that one is meeting old friends during the third phase of the bardo of dharmata. Then one will be able to overcome all fetters that keep one bound in samsara and will achieve liberation into the Sambhogakaya.
Visualizing a peaceful or wrathful deity during meditation practice seems strange. One needs to remember that these practices have a profound meaning and purpose and one should know that each detail of the visualization (the associated mansion in the mandala and all the ornaments) helps purify one’s impure outlook and enables one to attain a clear vision of reality. One practices meditation in order to increase and strengthen one’s awareness of the purity of one’s mind. The generation stage of each practice instils a habit in one’s mind that accompanies one during life and through the stages of dying and death. If one is trained, one will be able to naturally merge with the deity that appears to one during the bardo and thus experience fruition, which is liberation. This is why visualization practices in daily life are very important. This is why it is taught to visualize a deity devoid of solidity and why it is important not to cling to the visualization practice one is doing. One needs to become accustomed to realizing the unimpeded clarity of one’s own mind while meditating so that one’s vision becomes more and more spacious and clear.
Questions & Answers
Question: “We are trained in the Amitabha Sadhana and the mantra is part of any practice. What happens if one wants to co-emerge with Amitabha because he is the familiar Buddha? Is it possible to wait? When one meets with Vairocana and doesn’t go with the weak light, you go there and not to the fourth day of Amitabha?” JKR: You have to wait four days – just kidding. One needs to know that the essence of all Buddhas is one and the same, although the five Buddhas appear successively. They are in truth inseparable. If you are very familiar with Buddha Amitabha and his mantra, his blessing and your practice enable you to be liberated after you have died. Then you needn’t wait for days, so to speak. Same student: “May I ask another question about that? You say that if one fails the first day, one goes on to the second. What entails the failing if you don’t go for the weak light? Is it not merging with the bright light? In what ways does one fail?” JKR: The fact is that one’s consciousness experiences the appearance of the deities. If one is aware, one recognizes them and realizes that they are not different than one’s own mind. That is how one attains liberation. Due to the habitual pattern of clinging to duality, though, one isn’t aware and sees them as threatening. One rejects them on account of one’s afflicting emotions, which cause one to go for the dim light, i.e., the unenlightened state that is created by ignorance. Same student: “So, when you fail to co-emerge, you automatically go into the weak light and are born into one of the realms of samsara?” JKR: Yes.
Next student : “You mentioned that the body degenerates without the mind. The body also seems to degenerate with the mind. Apparently the consciousness exists before the body and survives the body. What is the relationship between the body and mind?” Translator: Can you repeat the first part of your question? Student: “You said that the body dissolves without the mind. I assume this means the body deteriorates when the mind departs. It is apparent that during our existence with the mind our body deteriorates. The deterioration seems to be unrelated to the existence of the mind. Since the mind exists before the body and exists after the body, what is the relationship between both? How are they connected?” JKR: Our body is an aggregation of many particles, of the skandhas, and so forth. It depends upon that aggregation. Whatever is compounded is impermanent and is subject to deterioration. The body is subject to change the moment one is born and as the energies weaken. This is the nature of anything that is compounded. The only difference between the deterioration of the body with and without the mind is that the body collapses much faster when the mind has withdrawn than when the mind is with the body. There is a relationship between body and mind. The body is a basis for the mind. The body is like a house or abode for the mind. When the mind moves in, it takes over and considers the body ‘mine.’ Possessiveness evolves from the connection between mind and body. Same student: “What is the relationship between mind and brain then? It seems the consciousness you were talking about is unrelated with the brain.” JKR: There is a similar relationship as with one’s body, because all organs function on account of the mind. When this relationship prevails, one is alive. One cannot say that the brain is the mind. One can say consciousness is the brain, though. This is logic: If you ask whether the mind is the brain, you could say, “Yes.” If you ask whether the brain is the mind, the answer is, “No.” So think about it.
Next question: “Do the various practices preparing us for liberation and death have specific connections with the various stages of the bardo? For example, with the realization that is attained, does accomplishing Mahamudra meditation differ from the accomplishment of the Sadhana of Zhi-khro (‘peaceful and wrathful deities’)? Do the practices prepare us for liberation at different stages in the bardo?” Translator: What was your last question?” Student: “If one were to fully accomplish the Sadhana of Zhi-khro in this life, would realization in the bardo be connected with the Sambhogakaya? For instance, compared with Mahamudra meditation, would it be connected with the Dharmakaya in the bardo?” Translator: “What is your question?” Student: “I guess the question is that there are so many practices preparing us for death that no matter what practice we do, how do you determine the various practices that are applicable and how does one choose a practice?” JKR: All practices, also the yidam practices, are done to understand mind’s nature, which is Mahamudra. There are different practices, Sutra-Mahamudra and Tantra-Mahamudra. In order to understand them, you can consider all yidam practices of the generation and completion stages as Tantra-Mahamudra. You can practice Mahamudra and yidam. There is no conflict; in fact, it helps. The one practice may help if you fail to accomplish the other, so you should do both. Many people have a wrong notion about yidam and Mahamudra, which is the practice of the mind. Actually, visualization, recitation, and meditation of the yidam serve to understand the mind. There is a danger if you do not acknowledge this. Many people believe that Tantric practices are carried out to attain supernatural powers. If you know and practice correctly by focusing your attention inwards to understand your mind’s true nature, then you won’t misunderstand.
Next question: “Your Eminence, if one automatically goes into the dull or brighter light, why are all the other days in the bardo?” JKR: They are the nature of the mind. Whether one does or doesn’t recognize them, they still appear. They are your mind’s true nature. That is why the teachings say, “The inconceivable qualities of our mind appear in bardo.” Even if one doesn’t recognize it as such, one sees the essential nature of one’s own mind as it is, free from obscurations and defilements. That’s why they appear. Same student: “You don’t automatically get reborn as an animal, for instance?” JKR: Mind’s nature is still there. To symbolize this: You are still experiencing your mind, i.e., there are many opportunities to achieve omniscience. Same student: “Great. Thanks.”
Next question: “If one goes to the clear light and becomes liberated, what happens to one’s karma?” JKR: One has karma due to the dualistic notion that there is karma. When you recognize the clear light, you liberate yourself from divisiveness. By realizing emptiness, you are free from duality. Same student: “So there is no karma afterwards?” JKR: You are then free of karma.
Next question: “I have a simple question. I am a beginner in the practice. If I were a Hindu, Moslem, Christian, or Jew and you came to my bed as I were about to die and you had five minutes with me, what would be your instructions I could take into bardo with me that could carry me?” JKR: It would be important to find out your belief. Yet, regardless of religion, we all have the basic nature of the mind. There is the blessing of the transference of consciousness, which I would do if I were there.
Next question: “Your Eminence, is recognizing one’s basic nature the same as merging subject and object?” JKR: During bardo or during daily practice? Student: “I was actually thinking either one. We’re having a lot of instructions on recognizing particular deities that become familiar to us through our practice. If beings don’t have these practices, is there a sense of merging the subject with the object of perception? Would that be the same thing?” JKR: When you recognize the clear light during bardo, you can say there is realization that subject and object are inseparable. During practice in life, however, it needn’t occur. You may have some experience of your mind’s true nature through your teacher’s instructions, but this doesn’t mean you have realized it. You still need to stabilize your experience. It’s different than bardo. You may have experiences in life, but there are so many distractions. You need much practice in order to achieve realization. You first experience the true nature of phenomena on the Bodhisattva path of seeing, which doesn’t mean you have actualized it. You need to develop the next path of meditation until you complete it in order to practice and perfect the path of no-more-learning.
Next question: “I have a question about spirits in the Buddhist tradition. Do we have guardian spirits we see when we die or is that out of the question?” Translator: “Would you repeat your question.” Student: “Are there guardian spirits in Buddhism that we don’t see? Do we see them in bardo or meet them in the Buddha fields?” JKR: Everything is based upon one’s mind. If you believe there are spirits, then there are. It depends upon what you believe.
Next question: “Would you please explain what is meant by first day, second day, third day? In terms of dualistic thinking, we have ‘from sun up to sun down.’ What happens in bardo when we aren’t attached to this?” JKR: The 49 days of bardo are counted according to the rising and setting sun and are connected with our habitual pattern. Same student: “Are we experiencing the first day after we die as a day?” JKR: There is no sensory perception of the rising and setting sun, but our habitual patterns are very strong. Based on the habits we built up, we experience the rising and setting sun, although they don’t actually take place for us in the bardo. We experience them, though, due to the force of the continuation of our habitual patterns. Habits cause us to experience a first, a second, a third day, and so forth.
Next question: “You have repeatedly mentioned that the deities we experience in the bardo and that are so frightening are the pure nature of our mind. The reason we don’t see them is because of our afflicting emotions. Why is it we find that the nature of our mind is so frightening? Is it because of our afflicting emotions? I’ve heard it described that when one first experiences emptiness, it’s also very frightening. Is there a relation between the two?” JKR: The reason one experiences fear during the bardo is because one realizes that one is dying or has died. The consciousness is very unstable in that situation and experiences tremendous fear, which isn’t pleasant. One feels very insecure and hasn’t broken through the duality of believing in a subject and objects. Therefore, when mind’s innate nature appears as a deity, one shies away due to believing in duality and becomes more frightened in the process. Fear increases and resembles the fear of a wild animal that is in a continuous state of panic.
The Bardo of Becoming - srid-pa-bar-do
One achieves liberation from the painful chasms of samsara when one recognizes that the wrathful deities are an expression of one’s own mind. If one fails, one enters the third bardo of becoming. At this stage an unaccomplished individual becomes more convinced of his death than he had been before, feels frustrated, is very imbalanced, and is attracted to the impurity of his habitual defilements. He tries to communicate with people he left behind in the world – friends, relatives, acquaintances. He sees them and everything they do, tries to communicate with them but can’t. Incapable of dealing with the situation, he feels terribly disappointed, angry, and hopelessly lost. Grieved, he suffers immensely. Having reached the peak of instability and driven by fear of the unbearable impressions, he wanders around restlessly. It is said that at this point a deceased person understands karma (‘the infallible law of cause and effect’) and regrets all his past negative actions. His remorse intensifies the pain he already feels about not being able to influence the workings of his karma.
An individual in the bardo of becoming doesn’t have a physical body consisting of flesh and bones, but the mental habit of having a body causes him to believe that he still does. This image is referred to as ‘the mental body of habitual patterns.’ It is only an idea, a thought. The insecure being in bardo fights to protect its mental body and fears losing it more than he feared losing his physical body while alive. Insecurity intensifies as fear grows. The deceased person feels threatened from all sides and, in total anguish, struggles to escape. If his Lama introduced him to these experiences during life, he could realize the insubstantiality of all things and then would experience enlightenment into the Nirmanakaya.
The third bardo, the bardo of becoming, is very painful, yet the possibility to achieve liberation then is even more likely than during life. How can this be? During life we are taught that all phenomena and experiences are empty of inherent existence and that all things are projections of the mind. We understand these teachings intellectually but aren’t able to non-discursively ascertain appearances and experiences in this vein. The possibility to achieve enlightenment during the bardo of becoming is illustrated with the example that it is quite obvious that a dream was a dream when we wake up. There are the practices of dream yoga, illusory body yoga, and the bardo practice that belong to the Six Yogas of Naropa. We know that there are these practices. If we meditate one of them, then we train our mind to realize that we are dreaming while dreaming, to recognize the illusory body and the bardo, and thus we can become free when actually in those situations.
Should a deceased individual not have awakened to the true nature of his mind until now, then at this time in the bardo, memory of his former life fades away and the longing to take a new body arises in his mind. His karma ripens and therefore he has an idea of the body he will take. He sees the six lights of the world. Depending upon his habitual patterns, he clearly sees the realm of his rebirth and, not having any control, enters that realm according to the dictates of his habitual tendencies and karma. Let me tell the story of what happened in a devoted Buddhist family. They asked a realized Lama to perform the ceremony of liberation into the Pure Land for a deceased family member. While praying, the Lama saw that the deceased person was about to take birth into the body of a donkey. The Lama did what he could to stop him, but the man didn’t experience the situation negatively due to the force of his karma and thought he was entering paradise. I told you this so that you are aware of the powerful force of karma. Anxious to become free from the strain of wandering around with a mental body and the instability experienced during the bardo of becoming, deceased beings don’t experience the vision of hell, for example, as frightening but as pleasant.
Due to their karmic imprints, living beings perceive appearances and experiences quite deluded. Lord Buddha taught that we need to first believe in karma and then try to win certainty of it, which is a very difficult task. At the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma, Buddha Shakyamuni spoke about the Four Noble Truths. The red thread going through these teachings is the truth of karma.
A student asked, “What happens to karma when one recognizes the deity and becomes liberated?” The instructions I presented here might be misinterpreted and cause one to think, “Why worry about karma as long as I recognize a deity in bardo?” I want to warn you about such thoughts. Recognizing a deity in bardo depends on positive karma, the accumulation of merit and wisdom. I want to ask you to stop engaging in unwholesome activities and to accumulate merit. You will have better chances to attain enlightenment through the strength of positive merit, whether in life, when you die, or during the intermediate state between death and rebirth. Every devotee and practitioner of Lord Buddha’s teachings has the responsibility to integrate the teachings of the Three Vehicles in life. One’s attitude can only become better by working on one’s mind. Should one have the pre-condition to be reborn in a miserable state of existence, then the practices of Noble Chenrezig, Buddha Amitabha, or meditating one’s Root Guru above one’s head, even praying to them, stop one from falling into lower realms of existence. Everything depends upon one’s ability to visualize the deities correctly and fully. Karma determines one’s future.
It is pointless arguing whether one has Buddha nature or not, seeing every sentient being without exception is endowed with the Buddha nature. Lord Buddha presented innumerable teachings and practice instructions, especially in Tantra, so that his disciples achieve awakened mind. This is only possible because one has the Buddha nature. Therefore the practice of the transference of consciousness has been handed down to us. If we practice it during life and a Lama performs the ceremony for us when we are dying or have died, then we won’t go through the bardo but will attain Buddhahood, the unimpaired state of ‘One Gone Thus.’
Whoever engages in Tantric practices needs to be a pure vessel. One must possess decency, have self-respect and self-confidence, and know that the Buddha nature abides within. Goodliness may not be impaired by incidental impurities, like arrogance, pride, or self-centeredness, which contradict the teachings and are detrimental. I want to ask you to please not be arrogant and self-centered.
Questions & Answers
Question: “Your Eminence, you have used the word ‘pure’ a lot in these talks. Would you elaborate what it means?” JKR: Pure in relation to what? Student: “Pure experience. You have said in order to practice, you must have purity. You were talking about the deities manifesting as pure.” JKR: Even though there are many different methods in Vajrayana, such as transference of consciousness, bardo, illusory body, and the other practices from the Six Doctrines of Naropa, they all enable a practitioner to attain realization during bardo. Hearing about the methods inspires many people to want to practice. Others even try to teach them, which isn’t the way to go about it. Many conditions must prevail if one wants to practice correctly. In order to engage in Tantric practices, one needs to have purified oneself; at least one needs to follow Hinayana discipline, which doesn’t mean one must become a monk or nun. Leading one’s life with ethical discipline of body, speech, and mind, one then gives rise to the Mahayana attitude, which is Bodhicitta. Then one needs to learn and understand the true meaning of Tantra and be free of false assumptions, for example, that it only consists of rituals, mantra recitations, and the like. The meaning of Tantra is profound. Having understood the meaning well, one engages in the practices and then they work. It’s not correct to give Tantric instructions to students who aren’t prepared. Purity refers to the container, the practitioner. Does this make sense? Student: “Relative to the yidams?” JKR: One cannot experience the pure aspects of one’s five skandhas as long as one is confused. When a practitioner cuts through duality, he realizes that the pure aspects of the five skandhas are the five Buddha families. One has the pure outlook, dag-sems in Tibetan (‘pristine mind’), when one is free of dualistic thoughts concerning a subject and objects. If you want to ask about the sacred outlook, please ask. Student: “So ‘pure’ means free from dualism?” JKR: That is absolute purity, yes.
Next question: “This question concerns the experience of the peaceful deities. You see the light of the wisdom deity, the yellow light of Ratnasambhava, for instance. It says in the text not to be attracted to the dim light. If you are, at that stage of the third day, are you reborn into the human realm then and there or is it further along in the bardo of becoming?” JKR: No, you don’t take rebirth the instant you are attracted to a dim light. Due to your attraction, you build up your connection and go through the other bardo experiences with that specific disposition. Living beings have different karmic patterns. These instructions are a general outline. Again, even though attached to a specific light, one isn’t immediately born into the respective realm but experiences the other stages.
Next question: “Do you meet the light at one time? If you have the illusory body and you see the light, are you absorbed by it or do you just recognize it so that the scene shifts to another scene?” Translator: Would you repeat your question. Student: “When you meet the true light and you have the illusory body – you think you have a body -, will you be absorbed into the light or will the light come to you? How will the meeting be?” JKR: The light discussed here is not like ordinary light, the reason we call it ‘the light of wisdom.’ It is not a matter of dissolving into the light or the light dissolving into you. As you recognize the wisdom light, it is inseparable with your mind. So you just recognize mind’s pure nature. We only use the expression ‘it merges.’ Actually there is nothing that merges, because there is no separation between light and mind. Separations are only experienced due to dualistic fixations.
Next student: “I have three questions. You began the lectures by saying that there are two aspects of mind, emptiness and clarity. You also mentioned that the peaceful deities manifest in the empty aspect and the wrathful deities in the clarity aspect. Is that right? Why is this so? They are inseparable.” JKR: The instructions on the peaceful and wrathful deities are presented according to the characteristics of emptiness and clarity. The union of both doesn’t mean that when the wrathful deities manifest, there is no empty essence. How can they appear without being empty of inherent existence? Likewise, mind, which is empty by essence, experiences the peaceful deities, which doesn’t imply there is no clarity. It is taught in this order. There’s no separation between emptiness and clarity; the instructions are only presented in the sequence of those characteristics. Student: “Thank you. The second question is: What is Wangchug?” JKR: “What do you mean?” Student: “You mentioned them.” JKR: Are you asking about the word? Student: “I don’t understand the word.” JKR: It means ‘richness of power.’ There are 28 deities known as Wangchugma. dBang means ‘power,’ phyug means ‘richness,’ ma is the particle for the feminine gender. Student: “Do you mean the transformation of the emotions into 28 richnesses of power during bardo?” JKR: Wangchugma is the name of the deities. They are manifestations of the different emotional thoughts. It’s not really necessary to define the meaning now. Student: “Thanks. The third question is: You spoke about the three progressive stages of bardo. Why do the peaceful deities appear first and not the other way around?” JKR: Because the peaceful deities are the aspect of emptiness and the wrathful deities are the aspect of clarity. That’s the order. The wrathful deities manifest because there is emptiness. In fact, that’s how the yidams appear. Mind’s essence is empty; its nature is clarity.
Next student: “Your Eminence, I’m quite concerned about this fellow with the donkey. The reason I’m concerned is that I’m wondering how in the state of bardo we’ll be able to tell the difference between clear perception and arrogant intelligence, that we’ll think we have the truth or think we’re perceiving clearly what we should do, but we won’t do that. Do you have any suggestions?” JKR: It’s advisable to seriously engage in practice and then in Mahamudra. Should one seriously apply Mahamudra for oneself, one needn’t even go near experiencing the donkey, but one will achieve immediate liberation. We should strive to achieve liberation fast. Do you understand? Student: “I think so. It seems we’re so compelled by karma.” JKR: Instead of being concerned about the third stage of the bardo, you have many possibilities to recognize your mind during the first and second stages. The first is the best, in which case you experience the clear light because of having practiced Mahamudra. It’s the best and simplest way. I wouldn’t recommend this because you are already doing the practice. Eventually you will achieve it. It’s the best and most powerful technique. If one wishes to prevent going into the third stage, one needs to unravel one’s confused state of karmic perceptions. One must engage in the practice as best as one can to experience liberation as soon as possible. Same student: “I have one more question that you might have answered - I’m not sure. At the moment of death, is there a beneficial thought we should have or should we think about a state of calmness?” JKR: It is based upon an individual’s level of practice. If you are well-trained, you rest your mind in its natural state. If not, you contemplate Buddha Amitabha or your Guru. In addition, if an instructor reminds you of what to think about, then it’s very good.
Next student: “Your Eminence, I have a question about different beings that are seemingly different going through the bardo. I was curious what it would be like for a Vajrayana teacher or Bodhisattva. What is different since they cannot be reborn? How are they reborn? What choices do they make? A second one is: You talked about the deceased trying to communicate with relatives and so on. It does seem like there is some communication of people we consider dead with people who are alive with their original personality, whether it is a Buddha’s teachings, people teaching people, or even ordinary people. It seems it is an experience that is true in some instances. I heard Chögyam Trungpa say at one time that there is a ghost in a hotel, which means nothing to me other than the fact that this being seems to exist. And it seems that people are able to keep somewhat of their personality beyond the grave during some instances. The final point: I’m curious about the donkey. When I look at birds or other animals, I see from your talk how somebody can be born as a donkey, but how does a being such as a donkey or bird actually come to be a human being? I don’t understand that process. I just don’t know how conscious the bird is of what we are talking about. It’s very complicating.” Translator: What was your first question? Student: “How are enlightened beings reborn?” JKR: There are many levels on the Bodhisattva path, depending on the elimination of defilements and obscurations. Although there are different levels of Bodhisattvas, it is generally said they willingly take birth where they can be of most benefit to sentient beings. Ordinary beings take birth unwillingly, through the dictates of karma. The answer to your second question: There are different existences. Advanced practitioners can benefit such beings tremendously. It’s possible. What was your third question? Student: “May I ask about the second? Can an ordinary being do that? You mentioned that the relatives don’t pay attention. Can an ordinary being make the communication, not particularly in the body form, obviously? Does that happen?” JKR: It is possible that some people have the ability to communicate. Same student: “The third question. I don’t understand how much consciousness animals have, especially to be reborn as a human being.” JKR: A human being experiencing rebirth in the animal realm and vice versa is similar. The Buddha nature pervades humans and animals alike, i.e., it equally pervades all sentient beings without exception. Animals have taken birth in one of the three lower realms of existence. Due to delusion, they are considered inferior. From the view of Buddha nature, they aren’t inferior because they have the Buddha nature to the same degree as beings in the three favourable states of existence. Due to the force of positive or negative karma, rebirth from the human into the animal realm and from the animal into the human realm is possible. – Thank you.
Through this goodness may omniscience be attained
And thereby may every enemy (mental defilement) be overcome.
May beings be liberated from the ocean of samsara
That is troubled by waves of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
By this virtue may I quickly attain the state of Guru Buddha and then
Lead every being without exception to that very state!
May precious and supreme Bodhicitta that has not been generated now be so,
And may precious Bodhicitta that has already been never decline, but continuously increase!
Long-life Prayer for His Eminence the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche,
Lodrö Chökyi Nyima
May the life of the Glorious Lama remain steadfast and firm.
May peace and happiness fully arise for beings as limitless in number as space is vast in its extent.
Having accumulated merit and purified negativities,
May I and all living beings without exception swiftly establish the levels and grounds of Buddhahood.
Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche imparted the Great Bardo Initiation of Samantabhadra at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, N.Y., in Sept. 1990 and presented these teachings on that occasion. Photo of plaque dedicated in memory of our precious Root Guru at the entrance to the new Gompa of Thrangu Tashi Chöling in Qinghai, East Tibet, taken by Lena Fong of San Francisco. Due to the connection the Kongtrul Rinpoches had with this monastery, the new Gompa was sponsored by Karma Yeshe Chodzong Jamgon Kongtrul Foundation in Canada and was inaugurated by Lodrö Nyima Rinpoche on July 16, 2004. Photo of monks doing puja during prayer flag hanging at the Great Monastery of Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche at Pullahari in Nepal, photo of Stupas lining the way to Pullahari Monastery, photos of His Eminence the Fourth Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche taken in Sept. 1999 and April 2003, and photo of lotus also taken and generously offered for this article by Lena. We also wish to thank Chöjor Radha, who died recently, for his translation of Tibetan into English. Teachings transcribed in 1990; transcript revised and arranged in 2009 for the Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang Archives at Pullahari and for the Download Project of Khenpo Karma Namgyal at Karma Lekshey Ling Institute in Kathmandu by Gaby Hollmann of Munich, solely responsible for all mistakes. Copyright Jamgon Kongtrul Labrang, Pullahari, Nepal 2009. All rights reserved. Distributed for personal use only.