One of our personal experiences with our deceased friend with whom we related previously would substantiate this principle as described by Swedenborg:
We once decided to visit our friend in the heavenly regions. We had some joyful news that we wanted to convey to her–news that she was waiting to hear while she was alive in the physical. Not knowing where she was or able to directly manifest before her, we were escorted by a guide to a lovely garden with a Greek temple in the midst of it. The garden was empty, or so it seemed. But while adjusting our sight, people appeared everywhere. They did not notice us, however. It was as though we did not exist in their eyes. Our escort went into the building and moments later our friend came out all beaming with joy. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said. Then she looked more closely at me and commented jocularly, “you are so bright, I could faint.” After conveying to her our message we bade farewell. As we were leaving, we noticed that no one was yet aware of our presence; however, a dark-skinned man who was sitting on a bench reached out and touched me to, perhaps, reassure himself of my presence and reality. We smiled at each other.
After a lengthy stay in the astral or lower mental heavens, and when one is about ready to reincarnate through karmic necessity or choice, one first goes to the causal realms for a brief sojourn. Not all souls experience this; however, some incarnate directly from whatever realm they may be. In the causal world the soul experiences bliss and peace, and a real rest as a reward for a soul-mission well done. One of the purposes of this stay in the causal realms is the transference of the positive qualities acquired by the soul and recorded in the seed-atoms, to the causal body where it is stored as one’s “treasure in heaven.” The positive deeds and virtues of the soul adorn the causal body with a greater glory than its former condition. Every incarnation offers a form of nourishment to the causal body when its incarnated life ends. This causal body is called in Masonry “the temple not made with hands.” Other traditions call it “the Chalice.” When the soul is prepared to reincarnate for new soul-experiences, it seeks out the appropriate parents, time and place to be reborn in the physical world. This seeking is done with the help of spiritual guides.
Reincarnation is a law for those not having transcended ignorance and earthly desire. Although some religions do not openly teach reincarnation, the concept or precept does appear in some form in their holy scripture.
Although not exhaustive, the above information is sufficient enough to offer us some idea of the occult knowledge available concerning the after death state that is based on personal experiences of psychics and mystics. In order to know more in a convincing way, one would have to study and master the art of soul-travel. Only in this manner, through personal experience, will we satisfy our thirst for a greater knowledge of God’s many dimensions, the Cosmic laws, and the purposes of life.
The Tibetan Tradition
Tibetan Buddhism declares that men are enchained to a world of suffering and pain, of illusion and ignorance. This they call samsara. Samsara refers generally to the condition of the six worlds, but more specifically it refers to the physical plane. To be liberated from samsara one had to awaken to one’s true Reality and the Reality of the Cosmos called in Mahayana and Vajrayana literature, the “Clear Light of the Void,” “Sunyata,” “Dharmakaya,” etc. Tibetan Buddhism, or Vajrayana, declares that there are various ways of liberating oneself. One may be liberated–if prepared beforehand through arduous spiritual work–through initiation by a spiritual master where the Clear Light of one’s true primordial nature is introduced; or one may be liberated through samadhi or meditation where the Clear Light dawns in the consciousness; liberation may also be achieved through recognizing and merging with the Clear Light during transition in the first phase of the bardo.
Techniques have been formed by lamas and applied at the onset of transition to assist the dying to achieve Liberation. These techniques are called:
1) Liberation Through Taste, where consecrated pills are placed in the mouth to assist the soul to sustain consciousness throughout the bardo so that it would recognize the Clear Light when it dawns.
2) Liberation Through Contact, where the ashes of burnt talismans are rubbed on the heart for the same purpose as the above.
3) Liberation Through Listening, this is by far the most common practice. In this method, a manual-ritual such as the Bardo Thodol is read to the dying to remind the person of what it had previously learnt of the bardo and the way of approaching it.
The Bardo Thodol
The “Bardo Thodol,” or the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as Christianized by Evans-Wentz, deals with the phases of the bardo that the soul would undergo and what it should do in order to liberate itself from samsara. It provides a unique psychology of the death process and the attitudes that the soul should assume in order to escape rebirth in the lower realms. Recognition of the Clear Light in the first bardo phase is stressed in the manual, because it is the only means for the soul to save itself from experiencing the subsequent phases of the bardo, which from the viewpoint of Tibetan metaphysics, lead to rebirth and a prolonged stay in the samsaric worlds. Thus, the Clear Light that dawns in the first phase of the bardo offers a chance for the soul to redeem and free itself from the shackles of samsara. This Clear Light is the grace of God that offers death-bed salvation–salvation from one’s so-called “sins,” or liberation from karma.
In Tibet there are many manuals composed as guides for the dying or the newly departed soul. The Bardo Thodol is one of the most well-known among them in the Western world. It is said to have been written down in the 8th century by the Precious Guru, Padmasambhava. The teachings and doctrines of the Bardo Thodol as an oral tradition, however, are much older. It is believed that Bon, the indigenous religion of Tibet, transmitted much knowledge to Tibetan Buddhism concerning the death process.
Unlike the Christian forms of prayers of burial-rituals recited on behalf of the newly-departed (and also the living), the Bardo Thodol is more of an instruction manual read to the dying by a spiritual guide, that it may understand the psychological processes that it would undergo through transition. It is of especial value to those who practice and follow Buddhistic doctrines, or teachings similar to it because of certain inherent concepts. The underlying doctrine of Tibetan Buddhism is that man, a slave to samsara–the wheel of birth and rebirth, or reincarnation–is able to liberate himself through being aware of his primordial nature represented by the Clear Light which appears in the early stages of the bardo. Recitation of texts such as the Bardo Thodol reminds the departing soul, the “awareness-principle,” what it had previously learnt of the bardo and its liberating potential while still alive in the physical plane.
Although dissociated from the physical body, the awareness-principle still retains its sensory faculties. In the disembodied state its psychic senses are acute and enhanced and is able to register and perceive physical surroundings–to listen to the bardo-guidance and instructions as given by the spiritual guide or lama, for instance. In the death process, as the physical senses grow dull the psychic senses grow more keen.
The recitation of the bardo text to the departed may last for a total of 49 days. This is done at first in the presence of the corpse but later a representation of it. The 49 days is supposed to be the maximum length of days the soul would spend in the bardo. This given figure is probably symbolic, representing as it does the number 7 squared. The number 7 is the mathematical and geometrical principle in which our solar system is based. We have many indications of the number seven as creative manifestations, for instance, the seven colours of the light spectrum, and the seven notes in an octave. Forty-nine days of the bardo may also refer to soul-progression and evolution within the 49 realms of the cosmic physical plane. In Indonesia, 40 days is referred to as the period it takes for the soul to complete its wandering in the borderland between the physical and higher worlds before settling in its destined home in the subtle spheres. In other traditions, three days and three nights after transition are considered to be of some importance to the soul. For instance, the Hadhokht Nask, one of the scriptures of Zoroastrianism, declares that the soul remains near its body for such a period. This 3-day lingering is probably based on the occult fact that sometimes the sutratma may still be connected to the body after the pronouncement of “death,” meaning that the so-called corpse is actually in a comatose state and that revival may occur.
Being symbolic, in reality the 40 or 49 days may take just a few moments or several days. Should the spiritual guide be unable to attend to the dying for reasons of physical distance, an effigy is usually made to represent the one undergoing transition with personal effects surrounding it to attract by magnetic attunement the awareness-principle of the dying pilgrim. The instructions of the Bardo Thodol may thus telepathically be heard by the dying soul.
It is well worth quoting the fundamental doctrines of the Bardo Thodol as summed-up by Evans-Wentz in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as this will help us understand the bardo as well as give us some insight into Buddhistic beliefs:
“1) That all possible conditions, or states, or realms of sangsaric existence, heavens, hells, and worlds, are entirely dependent upon phenomena, or in other worlds, are naught but phenomena.
“2) That all phenomena are transitory, are unreal, and non-existent save in the sangsaric mind perceiving them.
“3) That in reality there are no such beings anywhere as gods, or demons, or spirits, or sentient creatures–all alike being phenomena dependent upon a cause;
“4) That this cause is a yearning or thirsting after sensations, after the unstable sangsaric existence;
“5) That so long as this cause is not overcome by Enlightenment, death follows birth and birth death unceasingly–even as the wise Socrates believed.
“6) That the after-death existence is but a continuation, under changed conditions, of the phenomena-born existence of the human world–both states alike being karmic.
“7) That the nature of the existence intervening between death and rebirth in this or any other world is determined by antecedent actions;
“8) That, psychologically speaking, it is a prolonged dream-like state, in what may be called the fourth dimension of space, filled with hallucinatory visions directly resultant from the mental-content of the percipient, happy and heaven-like if the karma be good, miserable and hell-like if the karma be bad;
“9) That, unless Enlightenment be won, rebirth in the human world, directly from the Bardo-world or from any other world or from any paradise or hell to which karma has led, is inevitable.
“10) That Enlightenment results from realizing the unreality of sangsara, of existence;
“11) That such realizing is possible in the human world, or at the important moment of death in the human world, or during the whole of the after-death or Bardo-state, or in certain of the non-human realm;
“12) That training in yoga, i.e. in control of the training process so as to be able to concentrate the mind in an effort to reach Right Knowledge, is essential.
“13) That such training can best be had under a human guru, or teacher.
“14) That the Greatest of Gurus known to mankind in this cycle of time is Gautama the Buddha.
“15) That this doctrine is not unique, but is the same doctrine which has been proclaimed in the human world for the gaining of salvation, for the Deliverance from the Cycle of Rebirth and Death, for the Crossing of the Ocean of Sangsara, for the Realization of Nirvana, since immemorial time, by a long and illustrious dynasty of Buddhas, who were Gautama’s Predecessors.
“16) That lesser spiritually enlightened beings, Bodhisattvas and gurus, in this world or in other worlds, though still not freed from the Net of illusion, can nevertheless, bestow divine grace and power upon the sishya [student] who is less advanced upon the Path than themselves.
“17) That the Goal is and can only be Emancipation from Sangsara.
“18) That such Emancipation comes from the Realization of Nirvana.
“19) That Nirvana is non-sangsaric, being beyond all paradises, heavens, hells, and worlds.
“20) That it is the ending of Sorrow.
“21) That it is Reality” (1975:66-68)
Man, in general, is ignorant of his divinity. His mind and consciousness are veiled by the false light of Maya. Maya is the way we perceive and interpret Reality. It translates in our consciousness cosmic vibrations into forms, colours and sensations–a world of appearance. We perceive not what is, but what we believe to be. Maya produces a deceiving state of duality, of object and subject. All appearances in the mind and consciousness as a product of Maya are illusory and unreal. The mind, not understanding the nature of Maya, is indeed the slayer of the Real, as stated by Helena Blavatsky. This ignorance of Reality causes man’s prolonged stay in samsara. Recognition of the Clear Light, of Reality, of the Unity of Being, releases man from his spiritual bondage. Tibetan Buddhism believe that the six worlds are transitory and that rebirth into any one of them is undesirable and should be avoided. Man’s loftiest aspiration should be directed to the awakening to Reality as the highest religious goal, and this illumination naturally terminates the ceaseless rounds of birth and rebirth in the samsaric worlds. In Christian terms, this is the attainment of salvation where the true follower of Christian principles is made into a pillar in the kingdom of heaven and “goes no more out.”
Tibetan Buddhism is not the only religion that possesses manuals to be read to the dying. To the Hindus, the Garuda Purana fulfills the same purpose. Ancient Egyptians, too, had their death-manuals such as the one translated by Wallis Budge, the Book of the Dead, or “The Coming Forth From Day,” to give its original title. This title suggests the acquaintance of the ancient Egyptians with the Clear Light of the bardo. In this manual, taken from hieroglyphical murals painted in tombs, says that death is followed by the soul’s entry into the “clear light of day.” Experience of the bardo is universal and fundamental to the human psyche, therefore, manuals such as the Bardo Thodol or the Book of the Dead that possesses keys to spiritual portals, are relevant to human psychological and spiritual integration. The relevance of such texts are not to be confined to its place of origin in time or in space. Adaptations may be made for western society with its world-wide influence. The phenomenon of the Clear Light with its inherent nature of spiritual grace is for all human beings regardless of race, sex or creed. In one sense, this Clear Light may be seen as the “comforter” promised by the Piscean Master to his followers.
The Bardos and Tibetan Practices Related to Dying
Before continuing, it is appropriate that we define here the word “bardo.” Bardo is often translated as “intermediate state,” an interval, or a period between two conditions, planes, or states of consciousness in the samsaric worlds. Basically, it refers to the following four states:
1) Between two states of consciousness
2) Transitional state
3) Uncertain state
4) Twilight state
Tibetan teachings refer to these 4 states as the psychological nature of the following six bardos:
1) Bardo of Life (Kye Ne Bardo)
2) Bardo of Dreams (Milam Bardo)
3) Bardo of Meditation (Samten Bardo)
4) Bardo of the Transition Process (Chikai Bardo)
5) Bardo of State After Death (Chonyid Bardo)
6) Bardo of Rebirth into Samsara (Sidpa Bardo)
The word Bardo, as is commonly used and understood, refers to the general framework of the death process. In this section we will be considering the nature of the last three bardos listed above. But before we do, however, it would be interesting to note certain practices related to the art of dying and the psycho-somatic processes of dying as occultly observed by spiritual practitioners of Lamaism throughout the centuries.
Physiologically speaking, when one undergoes a natural death the physical senses fail one by one. First the sense of vision blurs, then the sense of hearing is impaired, next the sense of smell fails; this is followed by the deterioration of the sense of taste and touch. There is also a feeling or sensation of pressure, followed by coldness, heat, and a sense of being blown to bits. Dissolution of the senses and its varied sensations are symbolically described in Tibetan Buddhism as the merging of the elements one into the other until it sinks into the primal substance. This is the process of Thimrim. To describe the illustrative process above in symbolical detail:
First, “earth sinks into water;” second, “water sinks into fire;” third, “fire sinks into air;” fourth, “air sinks into space.”
As for the external signs of the approach of death that may be observed by an outsider, they may include sagging facial muscles, coldness in the extremities, blueness beneath the nails, difficulty in breathing, and glazed eyes.
This merging of the elements are accompanied by internal and external phenomena or signs which the dying is taught to recognize. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche explains certain inner signs as cited in the Bardo Guidebook:
“First the earth element starts to disintegrate. One feels very heavy. That’s when people say `Please lift me up, raise me up. I feel like I’m sinking.’ When the water element dissolves then one feels very cold and says, `Please warm me up. It’s too cold in here.’ When the fire element dissolves one feels very thirsty and wants water, one’s lips are drying up. When the wind element dissolves one feels as if one is floating at the brink of an abyss, not anchored anywhere. When consciousness dissolves into space it means that everything grows very big and completely ungrounded. The outer breath has stopped but the inner breathing is still taking place.” (1991:93)
Copyright © 2006 Luxamore