Bardo Teachings

Initially when we listen to the dharma we should have a certain motivation. The word in Tibetan for the motivation we should have is kun long. The first syllable means complete and the second means to take up or lift. Kun refers to our many concepts. We have a lot of thoughts, most of which are not very wholesome. Kun long means to lift up the best from these thoughts. The syllable long is also In the phrase yar long, which means get up. We are telling the best of our thought to rise up, and this refers to bodhicitta. What kind of motivation do we need? The mind of a bodhisattva. That’s what we need here. What is the object of this motivation? It is compassion and loving kindness to all sentient beings without exception. All sentient beings have been our mother and do not know how to practice the causes of happiness and to eliminate the causes of suffering. So we should think I will listen to dharma to learn how to practice and then help them. That is the kind of motivation that we should have. We’ve all heard that all sentient beings are our mother. What does this mean? We all been moving through cyclic existence for all time. We really don’t know where we’ve been before and who have been our parents. When we think what our parents have done, they’ve shown us incredible kindness. To repay this kindness is what we mean by regarding all sentient beings as our mothers. We may think I don’t have the ability to benefit all sentient beings. No matter if we do, if we have this motivation eventually we will have the ability to do so. So the main thing is to orient ourselves in this way. Sometimes we think if I help other people I will not benefit and things won’t work out for me. This selective attitude should not be practiced. Milarepa said benefiting others is the source of all happiness. Benefiting others only brings about happiness and in no way harms us. Kun Ling Rinpoche said even in life any status we get comes from the mind of enlightenment, the mind set on benefiting others. So even in this life any high rank comes from bodhicitta. So that’s a little bit about motivation.

There’s also a lot of talk about proper conduct when listening to the dharma but we won’t discuss it in great detail. In Buddhism they talk of the three faults of a cup. The first of these is not to listen, which is like a cup turned upside down. The second is like a cup with a hole in the bottom, which is when you don’t retain the words. The worst is when your mind is mixed with negative emotions. It’s likened to a cup stained with filth, so that when something is pure in it it becomes contaminated. This means listening to the dharma in order to gain wealth or status, or with a negative attitude to the lama or your fellow students. It’s important when you are studying anything to not study for the sake of renown. If you do that, except for benefiting yourself in a slight way, you won’t be able to help others. You won’t listen to others and will not be in a position to explain the teaching to others. There’s a condensed verse that describes the attitude we should have: “Listen excellently and hold in your mind.” It’s very simple and contains all that I’ve said here. Listen excellently means to eliminate gross afflictions. Hold in your mind means to consider what you’ve heard. The entirety of the 84,000 teachings of the Buddha really comes down to bodhicitta Its the only thing that benefits us in this and future lives. Our life will be protected by the dakinis and dharma protectors if we have this motivation. Jigten Sumgon said if you don’t have anger toward your enemies they become dakas. And if you don’t have attachment to your relatives and friends, they become dakinis. This is really true. Without aversion or attraction they transform into dakas and dakinis. If you realize emptiness, the emptiness of attachment to your relatives, the dakinis abide in your mind stream. Likewise when enemies emerge the way to practice is to recognize them as dakas. At first you will have wrath towards them. But if you recognize the emptiness of that wrath and have compassion toward them, they become dakas in your mind stream.

Today the main teaching is on the intermediate state. Today we will teach those instructions associated with the Six Yogas of Naropa. To practice the Six Yogas of Naropa you have to complete the preliminary practices, the five limbed mahamudra and the subtle wind and drop practices. Then in connection with the intermediate state practice you practice the six yoga practices. So generally it is best to keep these practices secret. Why do we need to keep this secret? We shouldn’t tell them to people who don’t have an interest or are suitable for these practices. For that reason they are referred to as secret practices. On the other hand, if you have faith and interest and motivation to benefit others, it is okay to hear these teachings. So it is important to know that these teachings should not be kept from anyone who has bodhicitta. There are six types of bardo. The first bardo is the bardo of becoming or birth. The next is the dream bardo. Then there are the bardo of meditative states, bardo of death, the bardo of suchness, and the bardo of existence. These are the six bardos. From the moment of birth to the time the aggregates start to dissolve is referred to as the birth bardo. Sometimes it is refereed to as the bardo of birth and death combined. Likewise the dream, suchness, and the meditation bardo are often included in the dream bardo because they follow the same kind of process as the dream state. The bardo we think of when we use the term is the bardo of existence. It is the intermediate state between death and birth. What would normally be done is to train in the inner yoga teachings of wind channel and drops before going into the bardo teachings, particularly the practice of inner heat. After practicing the inner heat it is important to practice the clear light and illusory body practices. Because it is uncertain how many of us have done these practices, this explanation is being given to place a predisposition or imprint in you mind stream. In that way it will be beneficial. Here is an example of how even understanding one word can be beneficial. A monk was reciting a teaching on the bardo and a woman who poured his tea heard a phrase about a bird flying from the East. After death she saw the hundred deities and was terrified. But she saw a bird flying from the East, thought the bird was a yidam and on that basis attained liberation.

We discussed how the six intermediate states are condensed into three. Now we will discuss how to practice for each of these three bardos. The three stages of practice are training and familiarizing oneself with the bardo, generating confidence in the practice and having signs of success and taking action after death and resolving the vital points at that time. Any phenomena that appears but only exists from the view of a deluded conventional consciousness is regarded as the bardo. Things are regarded as permanent, unitary, and truly existent, but when investigated are devoid of these qualities. Whatever exists in this way is regarded as the bardo. The time between birth and death is regarded as the bardo of birth and death. For this reason we need to train in oral instructions in the practice of the bardo and gain great familiarity with them. Otherwise when we pass away we won’t know what to do. So by practicing we will know what to do at that time. The author of this text is Dharmakirti Rigdzin Sherap. He says previous texts describe what will appear in the bardo. In this text he won’t discuss how to train in all those elaborate ways. This particular teaching is from the lineage of Gampopa who gave it to Phagmodrupa, who gave it to Jigten Sumgon. So this is a condensed teaching from that lineage. It doesn’t contradict the more elaborate practices and there is a great benefit to doing it.

We’ve heard about the lineage of great masters from Vajradhara to Gampopa. Gampopa had many disciples, but truly his heart disciple was Phagmodrupa., who he gave many oral instructions. Phagmodrupa had innumerable disciples. He had five hundred principal disciples. When he was about to pass away he was asked who will be your regent. This was a big issue because there were so many disciples. He said my regent will be a monk who is not fully ordained, but instead a genyen, a novice monk, but abiding on the tenth bhumi. Before he passed away Jigten Sumgon requested to become a monk so Phagmodrupa convened all his monks. When Phagmodrupa was just about to pass away he called his attendant to bring Jigten Sumgon to his bed. When he arrived, all the other siddhas saw a golden vajra form at the heart center of Phagmodrupa and dissolve into the heart of JIgten Sumgon. This explains the lineage that arose for the transmission of this teaching.

This section explains how we train before we die. It has three subdivisions. The first is carrying the four enemies and three appearances on the path. The second is carrying confused appearances of the six realms onto the path. And the third is carrying pure appearances of the dharmakaya onto the path. The first of these, taking the four enemies and three appearances on the path, refers to appearances at death. When we die our consciousness dissolves into clear light. This happens in four stages. Consciousness dissolves into appearances. Appearances dissolve into a proliferation of appearances. That dissolves into attainment. And that dissolves into clear light. What happens is that the five primary and five subsidiary winds which are connected with the four elements dissolve into the central channel. If you understand the five principal winds it will help. The first is the all pervasive wind. The second is the downward expelling wind. The third is the upward expelling wind, responsible for breathing. The next is the fire wind, responsible for digestion. The last is the life force wind which is responsible for movement.

Now comes the meditation we can do to prepare when we die. Naturally we become terrified and this results in a negative rebirth. We should meditate that this body is an old broken down house with wobbly beams and broken down rafters with eight doors and one window. The window represents the crown chakra at the head. The eight doors refer to the other eight openings of the body. We should meditate that the consciousness dwells within the house. The appearance of the earth element appears as a gorge or a stone ravine which arises as an enemy. Fire water and air are not present in this and Mount Meru and the other mountains appear to collapse onto oneself. We should meditate that what has happened is fearful and should be slightly disturbed that it will happen again. The first moment after this thought one will have the thought have I just been killed. In the second moment think I am dead and a ravine has arisen as my enemy, but in reality it is not truly existent but I am really dead. Hold to that thought and think that it is an illusion and hold onto bodhicitta and think of yourself as the yidam. How do we generate the mind of enlightenment. Think that all sentient beings have this sort of confused appearances. Reflect clearly on your form as the yidam deity and visualize the lama on the crown of your head and supplicate the lama. Bring yourself into the state of emptiness and clear light which is the state of mahamudra. Within that state no harm can be done to any being and it is clear that the falling mountains are an illusion. Then rest in that state as long as you are able.

We talked about how the earth constituent of the deceased emerges as a foe and how we should recognize that as confused appearance and rest in the state of equanimity. This state is not one where one has arrived there or there is anyone to arrive. If we are not able to abide in that state we should try to arise as the illusory body of the deity and hold to the teaching of the clear light arising as the illusory body of the deity. Likewise the water constituent arises as an enemy as does the fire and wind element. So we should apply the instruction on the earth constituent, as they are relevant to the other constituents. Concerning the water constituent the feeling is that we are swept away by water equal in mass to the entire universe. The meditation is that the body is a house with one window and eight doors swept away by water. Likewise one’s consciousness is within the house and is unafraid. In the first moment there is a lot of fear and the feeling one has been swept away by water. In the second moment think that this is confused appearance and I have died. This is the water constituent of my own body that has arisen as my enemy. It has no true existence beyond confused appearance and then rest in a state of emptiness. Generate compassion to all other sentient beings who are not aware of their confusion and are unable to recognize appearances as emptiness. Think of the various classes of beings who are unaware of this and supplicate the lamas. All sentient beings become terrified and have attraction to some appearances and aversion to others, which is the seed of wandering in cyclic existence. Have compassion towards them for this reason. Then meditate on an emptiness suffused with this compassion. When resting in emptiness there is nothing to harm us and nothing to be harmed. The water does not exist from its own side and cannot harm us and we do not inherently exist and cannot be harmed. Just as in the case of the earth constituent we should bring ourselves into the clear light state and rest there and if we cannot, visualize ourselves as the mandala of the hundred deities. Through our life we should practice this so we develop a really stable understanding. Wandering in samsara comes about through thinking “I and me.” As soon as we say “I” the other occurs. This makes it possible for enemies to arise and is the basis for wandering in samsara. The main antidote to grasping to I is bodhicitta, the attitude that regards others’ welfare as our own. If we don’t have the attitude of regarding others as more important than us, we don’t have the attitude of bodhicitta. Bodhicitta is not regarding our relatives and friends as important. Bodhicitta is regarding all beings who have been born as more important than us. This is the attitude of bodhicitta. If through the intention of bodhicitta, we view our bodies as the deity and rest in the state of mahamudra, samsara dissipates of its own. Likewise the constituent of fire and wind are meditated on in this same sequence. We visualize a fire as vast as a universe burning a house and a wind as vast as the universe blowing it away. When they are recognized as described above these four enemies become four aspects of enlightenment. They become the four consorts of the Buddha families. For example, the earth constituent becomes Sangye Gyenma. Likewise the water constituent becomes Mamaki. The fire constituent become Kokarmo. When the fear connected with wind is liberated, it becomes Damtsig Tara. How does the conversion of the enemies to the consorts sound to you?

Q: Do you have an experience that corresponds to death when you do this meditation?

A: I’ve done this meditation but it didn’t come out that great. But when you die, you will have the recognition that they are not enemies. I hope. We talked about this yesterday when meditating on bodhicitta. At that time you think there are no enemies. But if one comes along that’s different. You may not be able to keep to the view of meditation.

So if you are not able to recognize the elements, you can liberate the knots of the twelve energy channels that correspond to the twelve links and lie between the chakras that represent the four constituents. There are four chakras. The topmost one is the chakra of great bliss at the crown. It has eight principal channels that further divide into 32 channels. At the throat center the chakra has 16 channels. At the heart center there are 8. At the navel center, there are 64 channels. If we don’t do any subtle inner body yoga, the channels are knotted and tangled. If we do the practices, they are unknotted and released. At each of the chakras there are three knots of the twelve interdependent originations. There are three knots associated with each of the chakras. These knots are afflictive emotions and concepts. When we practice the inner body yogas they naturally release. So when we die all external appearances stop, because our sense faculties stop. Likewise, our concepts briefly stop. So the knots of our inner channels naturally release. When they release, we are confused with respect to three appearances. The consciousness together with the wind enters into the middle channel. It arrives in the navel channel. As soon as it collects there, flames arise from the red mother constituent. The white father constituent in the crown melts and descends. When they join, you become unconscious due to the great bliss of the experience. This is also what happens during the practice of tummo. You should visualize a red A at the navel center and a HUNG at the crown, which descends. The bliss is compared to that of sexual union, but it is not contaminated. It does not come and go. It is immutable. The bliss is quite great, so all other concepts dissolve and you become unconscious.

There are three aspects to success in meditation: bliss, clarity, and nonconceptuality. Here we are talking about bliss. But by having attachment and clinging to bliss you can be propelled into the desire realm of the gods. That’s from meditating on bliss in this life. So you should practice in a way so that you do not stray into attachment to bliss. At the time of generating bliss, you should not be attached to that. When you do these practices you should think this is what happens when the father and mother constituents join with consciousness at the navel. Clinging to it will bring about remaining in samsara. So do not cling to the experience and remain in the clear light. Through practicing like that you will not fall under the power of wandering in samsara and bliss and emptiness will become a union and you will be liberated into vajra speech.

If that meditation does not succeed, the wind and the mind will be brought upwards. The knots of the first four links of dependent origination will become liberated. When wind and mind reach the heart center all concepts will cease and you will experience clarity equal to the light of the sun and the moon. If you become attached to this clarity you will wander in the form realm. If this experience of clarity arises you should think you have died and this experience of clarity and the knots of the first four links have been liberated and your consciousness has arrived in your heart center. If you become attached you will wander in samsara, so practice clear light and illusory body meditation as before. Through practicing in this way later you won’t wander into the form realm, but experience the unity of clarity and emptiness and be liberated into the family of vajra mind. This is the second of the two experiences, clarity.

If that meditation doesn’t succeed, the wind and mind rises further and severs the next four knots of the twelve links. The mind and the wind connected with it arrives in the throat center. Thoughts of anger cease and one arrives in nonconceptuality. If you are attached to this nonconceptuality you stray into the formless realm. When the experience of nonconceptuality arises think that I have died and this is the experience of mind and wind arriving in the throat chakra. Meditate on clear light and illusory body so that you don’t stray into the formless realm but be liberated into the family of the vajra body.

If this doesn’t come to the point, the mind and wind rise and reach the crown center after having loosed the knots of the four remaining links of dependent origination. All the concepts of ignorance are stopped and in just a moment the vajralike meditation arises. This is the true ultimate view. Bliss, clarity, and nonthought are experiences, but this liberates you spontaneously. If you realize the vajralike meditative concentration, it is referred to as the meeting of the mother and child clear light. If you recognize that, you become a Buddha without going to the intermediate state. So now that we have attained Buddhahood, we should have tea.

So we have finished the section on the four enemies and the three appearances. So we now can visit the pure lands or wander in samsara. Those who have committed grievous sins in the past will have little familiarity with this sort of practice. They will become frightened by the resonance of the self radiance of the four elements. Becoming afraid of that, the mind and wind will just briefly touch the crown chakra briefly and appearances of whatever realm they are most familiar with will appear. An experienced practitioner will gain liberation, but others will not.

We are now in the second of the three main sections. This concerns taking confused appearances onto the path. If you don’t apply yourself to the four enemies and the three appearances, through the force of your previous karma your consciousness is ejected through whichever of the nine orifices and you take rebirth. If someone has amassed karma for the hell realm, the consciousness is ejected through the anus. There is a meditation to do to prevent this situation, to take confused appearances of the hell realm onto the path. For the mediation on the hell realm, reflect that you have been born in the hell realm. Imagine with terror that you have been killed and born there. Then in the second moment think you are dead and hold to the certainty that you are dead. Then think of all the sentient beings that surround you and generate a mind of love and compassion and think I will liberate them from this realm. Then think as before meditate on clear light and the illusory body of the deity and think in reality there is no suffering in this realm as it is not truly existent. With this understanding meditate on clear light and the illusory body of the deity. Buddha Shakyamuni said in ultimate reality the hells do not exist. It is just the mind of the person who has amassed a lot of sin which manifests the hells. All suffering arises from the mind which is intent on performing nonvirtuous actions. So it’s like suffering in a dream, Some dreams are good and others are not so good. You may imagine someone is beating you and you are killed, but it doesn’t happen. Your suffering is like that dream

Likewise one meditates on the hungry ghost realm. Meditate that you are born in that realm. Have compassion to the beings in that realm. Supplicate the lama and see the emptiness of that realm. Remain in the clear light and illusory body meditations. Similarly meditate on the other four realms. So this is taking the six realms on the path. That’s pretty easy isn’t it?

The next division is taking the pure appearance of dharmakaya on the path. This is relevant to people who have performed the generation and completion stages, offered torma, and generated virtue in this life. If they attain realization in this life the consciousness leaves the crown chakra. You will receive the teachings of the nirmanakaya and see the face of the yidam and a number of pure appearances will arise at that time. These type of virtuous experiences are the results of imprints from deity practice. It is not actually seeing the face of the deity. When seeing these visions you become attached to them and won’t achieve liberation. Because you won’t achieve liberation if attachment occurs, you should wonder when doing this practice that these yidams whether you see or do not clearly see these visions. Immediately after that think I am dead and this is an appearance in the bardo. Make offerings to the objects of the visionary experience, make offerings to them and think that they are not forms but the dharmakaya. Think may I attain liberation as the dharmakaya. Then after thinking that, instantaneously visualize yourself as the deity and enter into the great bliss of clear light and then arise as the deity and rest for a long time in the natural state. Then through doing that, the dharmakaya will manifest and the two bodies of the sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya will manifest.

So we are finished with that and are moving on to the dream bardo. In the space between birth and death we are meditating on different appearances and what will happen at death. That is what needs to be meditated on during our lifetime. Dreaming is a lot like dying and the stages of dissolution are the same. The stages are the same in dying and dreaming. They are explained in great detail in the section of the bardo of existence. Whatever you dream, during your dream think that you are dead and in the bardo. Practice as before meditating on the clear light and the illusory body. If you become familiar with this kind of meditation the practices described before are taken into dreams. The experiences of dream become indistinguishable from the daytime. The practices that strike at the vital point are performed just as in the bardo. A certainty will arise that you won’t have to wander in samsara and be reborn again. This completes the dream bardo. Then certainty will arise and will see various signs during dreams. We don’t have a lot of time here. It would be nice to do the mediations described here.

Now we have reached the bardo of becoming, the sidpa bardo. This concerns the bardo between lives. There are three separate subdivisions. The first is recognizing death. The second is how the bardo arises after death. And the last is the actual practices to be done. Within this first section there are three subdivisions: the twenty ways of dissolution that are coarse, the four ways of the subtle, and the four elements, and the extremely subtle dissolution of appearance, expansion, and attainment. If you think about it there are a lot of concepts. Even to make a car there extremely many boring details in that. The first topic is the twenty coarse ways of dissolution. The first is the dissolution of the aggregate of form. Through this dissolution, the body becomes feeble. Until forty the body increases, but after that comes the decrease. The hearing and other senses become less acute. This is because the aggregate of form is dissolving. So the body becomes more feeble. When the aggregate of sensation dissolves sensations become less. When the aggregate of feelings dissolves, the memory becomes forgetful. When the aggregate of volition dissolves, people lose the ability to take actions with the body. When the element of earth dissolves the body becomes dry and stiff. When the element of water dissolves the moisture of perspiration and saliva in the mouth dissolves. When the element of fire dissolves there is no proper digestion. When the element of wind dissolves the winds are driven from their abodes. One of the five subsidiary winds is associated with the faculty of sight. So vision becomes unclear and shaky. When the ear faculty dissolves, outer and inner sounds aren’t heard clearly.

The wind connected with eye is called the circulatory wind and with ear is called the full circulatory wind. When the nose sense faculty dissolves scents are not sensed. The wind responsible for this call the completely pure circulatory wind. When the taste sense faculty dissolves, the tongue shrinks and one is unable to speak. This is called the extreme circulatory wind. Then the complexion fades. The wind responsible is the definite circulatory wind. When sound dissolves you are unable to hear the sound of your own body. When scent dissolves you are unable to smell your own body. When taste dissolves you are unable to taste the six tastes. The previous states of dissolution concern the outer form, the next concern the dissolution of consciousness. Through dissolution of the mirrorlike wisdom, mind becomes cloudy and unclear. through the dissolution of the wisdom of equanimity, the sensation of pleasure, pain, and neutrality cannot be brought to mind. Through the dissolution of discriminating wisdom, the names of family and friends cannot be brought to mind. When the wisdom of all accomplishing action dissolves, nnot remember out plans and what we ought to do. This was the twenty types of coarse dissolution.

Next is the subtle manner of dissolution of the four elements. The the twenty coarse dissolutions occur prior to death. The second part of the dissolution is more subtle. When earth dissolves into water one is unable to move the body or hold it upright. One feels one is sinking into the earth. One says, “pull me up.” These days people are whisked away to the hospital and this may not occur. In Tibet one invites the lamas who will explain the signs of death to the person. I have seen the dying and they do invariably say, “pull me up.” The inner sign for earth dissolving into water has to do with consciousness. It becomes unsteady like smoke. Then water dissolves into fire. The outer sign is that your mouth’s saliva and nose’s mucus cease. People say, “achi,” which is what people in Tibet say when they are cold. It is the same as the name of the first of the cold hells. The internal sign is that consciousness shakes and becomes unstable like a mirage. Then when the fire dissolves into the air element, the heat of the extremities is drawn in. People say “atsa,” which is an exclamation made on burning oneself or poking oneself.

The internal sign is that the consciousness becomes luminous like a firefly, When the wind dissolves into consciousness, one becomes unable to draw deep breaths and one is unable to bring one’s breath in. Even after drawing in a little breath, it is short and unsteady. The internal sign is as if one’s consciousness becomes luminous and stable like a butter lamp undisturbed by the wind. The five subsidiary winds dissolve and the experiences arise that were explained before. It’s the winds that experience objects, so contact with the physical world dissipates. The dissolution of the five principal winds follows that of the secondary winds. When the upper circulating wind dissolves, one’s voice becomes coarse. When the lower expelling wind dissolves, the feces and urine cannot be retained. When the wind that binds the life force dissolves, the circulation of wind that keeps the life force is lost. When the wind of fire dissolves, food and drink that has been swallowed and bile are expelled, and one doesn’t know how to arrange words, and language is lost. When the all pervasive wind is lost, the body becomes like earth or stone. At this time the consciousness is still within the body, so this is the time to do phowa practice.

People who have familiarized themselves with phowa and generation and completion stages, go through the coarse stages, but they go through the subtle stages in a moment, because they have gained familiarity with them. Those who have gained familiarity in retreat will die in a moment rather than go through all these stages. A monk named Kardak awoke one morning and felt a little unwell. He was doing a prostrations and someone brushed off his cushion. When he sat down on it, he passed away. It’s not necessary for a practitioner to go through all these stages.

So the coarse and subtle stages are completed. The extremely subtle stages of appearance, expansion and attainment are next. This concerns the dissolution of consciousness. Initially it dissolves into appearance. It is white like a moon rising in a cloudlesspts that come from anger cease. This is a vacancy of concepts concerning anger, not the realization of emptiness. When appearance dissolves into expansion, the appearance arises of a field of red, which is likened to a sunrise in a cloudless sky. The 40 concepts connected with desire cease. Then the state of expansion dissolves into attainment and a field of black appears which is likened to a completely clear black sky. Then the 7 concepts connected with delusion cease. One’s consciousness degenerates and one becomes unconscious.

The stage of attainment dissolves into clear light. Consciousness is purified and there arises a completely pure sky, like the dawn that is free of the sun and moon, but is not dark. That is the vacancy of everything and the actual clear light of death. This the meeting of the mother and child luminosity. It is always with us. The afflictions leave behind the luminosity when they dissolve. This state is the mahamudra. Consciousness is like the moon that is obscured by the clouds of afflictions. When the clouds part, the moonlight is not newly created, it is actually always there. So we have achieved the clear light and it is five o’clock.