In the Chonyid one has to exercise Vairagya and Viveka, or detachment and discrimination–detachment as to what is seen, and discrimination as to what is real and unreal in the unfolding panorama. One has to overcome one’s attraction to the images of beauty in this first Chonyid stage as well as to overcome one’s repulsion to wrathful and awesome images in the following Chonyid phase. One has to embrace every appearance as a reflection of one’s own pure primordial nature. Forms should be seen as illusory, their inner essence, however, should be realized as the essence of Reality. Tsele Rangorol explains it in this way:
“The key point in the Bardo of dharmata is simply to rest in awareness, no matter what happens, and to be able to embrace everything with the mindfulness of awareness-wisdom, without losing the continuity of that awareness.” (1993:7)
Aside from psychic images that one perceives in the Chonyid, one may also see coloured-lights, either bright and dazzling or dull. The bright coloured-lights originate from the five “Dhyani Buddhas” of the spiritual planes, whereas the dull coloured-lights emanate from the 6 lower realms of becoming. Like the psychic images that one may see in the Chonyid, the coloured-lights are also a manifestation of one’s mind. Their appearance may continue all the way through Sidpa bardo. In the following we list the realms with their associated coloured-lights together with the Dhyani Buddhas and their corresponding colour rays:[Note: The table may be seen as originally published at our website]
Generally speaking, one has to distance oneself and not be attracted to the dull lights as they lead one to a rebirth in a lower world. Conversely, bright coloured-lights lead us to a more fortunate rebirth in the spiritual worlds. When encountered, therefore, one has to abide in the dazzling coloured-lights and allow them to guide one to a higher state. Detlef Lauf in the Secret Doctrines of the Book of the Dead, tells us what would occur if we were to be attracted to dull lights:
“If thou art frightened by the pure radiances of Wisdom and attracted by the impure lights of the 6 lokas, then thou will assume a body in any of the 6 Lokas and suffer sangsaric miseries . . .” (1989:125)
Chonyid Bardo, Second Stage
This stage is a continuation of the previous stage. Should the awareness-principle still be unliberated from the bardo in the previous experience, this stage dawns to reflect the darker side of one’s psyche for immediate reaction–or response. When the images of one’s spiritual aspect exhausts itself from one’s psyche, what remains are the negative side with images called by Tibetan teachings “the 58 wrathful deities.” Like the images of the peaceful deities, these wrathful images are mere illusions, thoughtforms, hallucinations, or mirages. They are simply projections of one’s negative thoughts, feelings and karmic stains. It is therefore imperative that the soul grasp the true nature of these images and not be repulsed, frightened or alarmed by them. Nothing can hurt one’s primordial nature, one’s Divine Self–“the Real cannot be threatened”–and this is a lesson that one has to learn even now while incarnated in the physical form. A calm abiding in one’s pure awareness without any dualistic thought of “I” and “thou” or any sense of separation should be cultivated and maintained. There should only be a feeling of unity, of oneness, of integration with All That Is, which is one’s Divine Self. Understandably, such an awareness may not come automatically while one is facing terrifying images. It is for this reason that there should be a reasonable amount of spiritual practice while one is still yet alive on the physical plane. Referring to the images perceived in the bardo and a possible emancipation through right understanding and awareness as well as the result of wrong apprehension, Detlef Lauf comments:
“If all the temptations of deceptive visionary images, which are continually referred to in the texts [Bardo Thodol] as hostile forms of the intellect, can be recognized as empty creations of one’s mind and can be immediately penetrated, one will attain liberation. These images dissolve away and the awareness reaches the peaceful and imageless release of nirvana. Every fleeing from these fearsome and terrifying bardo images and every feeling of being seduced by certain colours and visionary apparitions is a step into the ambivalence of the feelings of hatred and desire and is attachment to the opposites of divine consciousness. It is therefore a step back into ignorance, for the antagonistic forces of desire and aversion prevent salvation and unity of awareness in the state of liberation.” (1989:69)
One of the reasons that one slips into this bardo from the former stage is that the anxiety, and the terror engendered by the fear of the unknown, and augmented by the appearance of holy images which often stimulates guilt feelings, causes the awareness-principle to evoke the negative side of its subconscious content, thus resulting in the appearance of wrathful images. What one experiences in the bardo is the direct result of one’s karma and the nature of one’s psyche, whether it be spiritual or carnal. The images of peaceful or terrifying deities, or other frightening forms are there to purify the awareness of ignorance and to offer an opportunity for the awareness-principle to grasp their inner nature. Should the soul react negatively to these images, it passes on to the next bardo. A positive response offers release. One’s negative reaction is due to one’s karma and lack of spiritual unfoldment.
Should one fail to gain liberation in the Chikai or in the former stage of Chonyid because of one’s negative karma and negative mental and emotional traits, there is still hope to liberate oneself at this stage; not from samsara, however, but from rebirth in one of the lower planes of the six worlds. Liberation at this stage also emancipates the awareness-principle from having to undergo the “Judgment” in Sidpa bardo. A soul gains liberation, totally or partially, at whatever stage his karma allows. As said before, preparation beforehand through spiritual practices is an indispensable task to be undertaken by those seeking a better soul-life. Chokyi Nyima, the author of The Bardo Guidebook, advises this succinctly:
“The Buddhas very kindly gave many teachings and methods of practicing, but all these different systems converge at one point: right now, while you are alive, get used to the non-conceptual wakefulness called luminous dharmata, the state free from concepts, beyond a meditation of mental fabrication . . . Accustom yourself to non-conceptual wakefulness now so at the time of death you will not have to go through the remaining bardos [Chonyid and Sidpa] to a new rebirth. Resting in non-conceptual wakefulness is enough to cover all aspects of practice . . . ” (1991:137)
In Chonyid bardo one’s psychic senses are enhanced, and one acquires a certain degree of clairvoyance. The pilgrim of the bardo is somewhat aware at this stage of the surroundings related to its physical form and its newly-terminated incarnated life. The soul may hear and see its relatives and friends grieving and lamenting, but they do not perceive the astral form of its awareness-principle. The awareness-principle may or may not realize at this stage that it has permanently severed connections with its physical form. The incapability of offering comfort and solace to beloved ones at this point frustrates the soul. Bombarded by frightening sounds and coloured-lights likewise make this an exhausting period for the soul.
Sidpa Bardo, First Stage
Here, in Sidpa bardo, the lights, sounds, and images assume a sight more ghastly than the previous bardo. The psychic motion within one’s consciousness is intensified to the utmost degree and it projects out with a centrifugal force all of one’s inner negative qualities that takes on forms that corresponds to those qualities. It is in this bardo that one’s negative karmic deeds play strongly upon one’s conscience. In Sidpa, the feelings of guilt, of hatreds, greed, anger and other egoic expressions seemingly assume terrifying phantasms–demon-like, to torture one’s consciousness of all of the misqualifications of one’s personal energy. As the peaceful deities are said to emanate from the heart-center, so the terrifying images that one experiences in the bardo are said to emanate from the head-centers. One’s main objective and natural inclination at this state as in previous ones, is to escape, to flee from these frightening, awesome and gruesome images. This is a mistake of the dualistic mind, however, that requires a reiterated warning: all that is experienced in the bardo are mental projections, and are, therefore, unreal. The bardo experience is subjective and is but a mental journey with an alchemical purpose. To acknowledge mental projections as real and to be deluded by them causes the awareness-principle to further entrap itself in the snare of Maya. This is spiritual death to the consciousness which is referred to by the Piscean Master when he advised his disciples to “let the dead bury the dead.”
Should one by any chance, however slim, attain a partial liberation in the Sidpa, one obtains the Nirmanakaya–a pure emanation of the Dharmakaya, the Monad. Eventhough with this attainment, the awareness-principle is still subjected to the wheel of birth and rebirth. However, the next birth may be in more fortunate circumstances and surroundings, conducive to spiritual growth, unfoldment and awakening.
We should reiterate here that the Bardo, not being a place or a realm, but an inner experience, is different for every soul making its transition. Every form, image, figure, or symbol making an appearance on the screen of consciousness simply reflects one’s own subconscious content. They are one’s personal conscious and subconscious fantasy assuming a virtual reality. All of the forms that appear corresponds to one’s sublime or carnal thoughts, feelings, passions and impulses. One’s habitual pattern of thoughts and feelings are the most potent in expressing themselves in the bardo. The average soul may succumb in a negative way to these protean forms and changing scenes, the spiritually inclined would, however, transform these images into more pleasant ones with the power of thought. Recognizing the underlying reality of the bardo forms, one may go through it quickly. Amidst the dark thought-forms of Sidpa bardo, there still lurks the Clear Light of the Void. Therefore, reaching out to the greatest light perceivable hidden in and around the monstrous forms one may discover a “saviour” that leads one away from experiencing the Judgment in the latter half of the Sidpa bardo.
At every stage masterful beings watch intently the souls experiencing the bardo–to give subtle aid when necessary, or when a plea for help is made. The nature of that aid is dependent upon the soul’s own personal karma. Such saviours when recognized amidst the psychedelic and surrealistic images will free one from further doings in the bardo.
Sidpa bardo is often called the “bardo of becoming,” because at this stage it is almost certain that one would be reborn in one of the 6 realms, in one of the phenomenal world of change. In Sidpa the awareness-principle is made aware through certain signs and indications that it is deceased. With such an awareness it may desire to be quickly reborn; it does so by seeking the lights emanating from the human realm–as though drawn to it. These lights play upon the psychic senses, swirling and twirling together as though a human couple were in the act of copulation. Other lights from the other lower realms also play about in one’s vision. The light that the soul is attracted to and merges with determines the realm of its rebirth. This may occur before or after the judgment–normally after.
Sidpa Bardo, Second Stage
One now comes to the Judgment with which almost all religions teach. After undergoing the previous bardos without being released from it, the soul, the awareness-principle, hallucinates a judgment scene. In this judgment, all of the actors–the judge, the prosecutor, the defender, the scribe and others–are all aspects of one’s being participating in a drama that directs the attention of the soul to all of its misdeeds in thought, words, and action–whether of omission or commission–in the physical life that it had just passed. It is a period of soul-review, reflection, introspection and self-examination. Regarding this soul-review, Helena Blavatsky, the co-founder of the Theosophical Society remarks:
“At the solemn moment of death every man, even when death is sudden, sees the whole of his past life marshalled before him, in its minutest details. For one short instant the person becomes one with the individual and all knowing Ego. But this instant is enough to show him the whole chain of causes which have been at work during his life. He sees and now understands himself as he is, unadorned by flattery or self-deception. He reads his life, remaining as a spectator looking down into the arena he is quitting; he feels and knows the justice of all the sufferings that has overtaken him.” (cf Cosmos in Man 1983:180)
In this judgment one’s past life is relived and viewed as though one were watching a movie. One is enforced here to realize the significance of one’s misdeeds and made aware of one’s error. Every misdeed the soul has to account for, and motives are scrutinized by one’s conscience represented by Dharmaraja, the Judge, literally, “king of the law.” This is the event where the saying “God is not mocked,” is seen explicitly. All of the persons that the soul had harmed or done wrong in any way, seemingly appear to accuse the soul of its violation of truth and righteousness. Their sufferings and pain are somewhat felt by the soul being judged, that it may acquire an understanding of the effect of its evil actions. One’s reaction here may determine one’s “placement” in the subtle realms, whether it be in one of the hell regions or in purgatory. Should the soul be filled with remorse and shame, acknowledge its error, sincerely repent and ask forgiveness, it may be granted a reprieve and sent to the purgatorial worlds; otherwise, if it is filled with hate and anger for God and man and hardens its heart, it would be isolated in hell where it has illusory visions of being tortured by demons, or even literally feel the effects of the flames. This punishment in reality is self-imposed, for none condemns the soul but its own self. The low vibrations that it generates with its negative feelings simply anchors it down to the mire of the astral worlds.
The results of one’s judgment are recorded in the seed-atoms and in the subconsciousness of the soul, and this has a great influence upon its subsequent lives in the physical plane; and while still imprinted fresh in its mind in the subtle realms, it provides food for thought and consideration which may evolve into a conscience of a higher standard. In the judgment of Sidpa the soul sees itself for what it really is and not what it believes itself to be or what others believe itself to be.
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