The Diamond Way
The Bardo of This Life

The Intermediate states (Series) by Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche.
translated from German by LodröSangpo

When in Tibetan Buddhism we speak of "Bardo", we generally mean the phase between one life and the next - the time span between death and re-birth. The proper meaning of the word, however, is "intermediate state / that which lies between" and goes far beyond the common meaning, as is shown by the teachings of Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche.

Part 2: The Bardo of Dying. The Bardo of Dying, which is usually experienced as very painful, begins at the moment where it is certain that we must die and lasts until that moment, where the Clear Light of our mind appears. The experience of the Clear Light of the mind itself is explained as the third Bardo; here though, at the second Bardo, we are dealing with the actual process of dying. Beings of higher spiritual abilities do not go through all the Bardos at all. The death of such a realized being, the great Attained one, is explained in various ways. One is said to be as when a vase is broken and the air inside mixes with the air outside - there is no difference between the two. Another comparison is as when fire-wood burns up and nothing remains. At the death of Realized Beings their realization of the emptiness often shows itself in various ways as wonders to the outside world. Often at the death of a realized being the sky is brightened, or a Dakini dissolves itself as a rainbow. These are outer signs of their realization. The realized person with some knowledge, who is not fully enlightened, is able to die in a very untroubled manner. It is described as with a small child, or a beggar or a lion in the mountains. For them the death is no big deal, they don't have this strong attachment. It isn't as if they have to let go, because these realized people have already freed themselves from the very strong attachments which ordinary people have. Often these beings prefer to die alone, and there are then nobody there who notice their death at all. They don't have a score of people hovering around them who want to hold them back and so on. They simply retire, disappear from the world and then die. Ordinary people and realized ones, who have not attained the results of the practices, experience the ordinary death-process. This - in which the exterior elements and the mind dissolve, as well as the interior and secret signs - will be explained here. Our Life in the physical existence comes about based on the five elements (1), and during our lifetime it is these five elements which bind our physical form together. At the time of our death they dissolve again and there appear the so-called "outer, inner and secret" signs. The outer sign, when the earth-element melts into the water-element, is that our body loses its power and we are no longer able to keep it upright. We cannot raise our head and body and cannot hold anything in our hands, that's how weak we are. The body begins to dissolve. We fall into a state of panic, for although we lie quite normally, we all the time have the sensation of falling, and we want the people around us to hold us and to help us. The way we experience the inner signs is that our mind becomes unclear, we cannot concentrate anymore and we become confused. The secret sign is that one experiences a kind of flickering. This may also happen in connection with a certain kind of meditation, but here it happens automatically. Next the water-element melts into the fire-element. The outer sign for this is that the body becomes dry. Mouth and tongue become increasingly dry, no matter how much one drinks. Also one can no longer control the tongue. The inner sign is that one is very irritable and becomes angry very easily; one feels very unwell. The secret sign is that, one experiences smoke-like apparitions. Then the fire-element melts into the wind-element and the outer sign for that is that, the body-heat decreases. The breath loses its warmth and appears as cold as cool air. Slowly body-heat fades away, starting from the feet all through the whole body, until it has become completely cool. The inner sign is that the mind becomes even more confused; sometimes it is still clear, but one can't seem to really concentrate on anything. The whole perception of the outer world is not clear anymore. One is not certain anymore whether one sees something or not. Flickering red lights - a bit like glow-worms - appear as the secret sign. After that - when the breathing stops - the wind-element melts into the consciousness. First we take quick breaths, and then we exhale for a long time and have great difficulties inhaling again. Finally we breathe out for the last time and the wind-element melts into space. Since at this time the whole physical basis for our existence has dissolved, so have the senses, which we experience through this basis, dissolved. This means that we can no longer see, hear, taste, smell or feel. This is the worst moment, and if we don't have a very good Karma, we will really panic. At this time one can have the most horrifying visions. The moment, when the consciousness leaves the body, is the really crucial moment. One can only maintain control, if one has been practicing very well in this life. If one has developed a very stable practice and some understanding, one can manage to keep the spirit under control. Otherwise this will be a very painful moment at which most people will suffer severely. If one has gathered very much good Karma, one will get help at this time. Then one can for instance get visions of Dharma-protectors and Dakinis, who will come to help one through this crucial time. When the outer breathing has ceased, an inner breathing still carries on; one is not totally dead. For this reason it often happens that people after the cessation of the outer breathing may still come back to life. As the cessation of the outer breathing is not the final death, it is very good if a Dharma-friend or at least someone, who knows a bit about Dharma, can be present by the side of the corpse. At least it would be good if the body is left in peace for some time. The Hindus remove the body the moment the breathing stops, almost even before that. It is immediately carried out of the house and given over to the funeral-pyre. It would however, be very beneficial if the body could be left lying for at least one day or three days or perhaps even longer, but of course this depends on the climate. If it is very hot it is not kept for long. The death-process should be really finished before the body is burned. To know this is very good for us, because we can then take care of this for our friends and us when that time comes. With the now ensuing cessation of the inner breathing special signs are experienced, which are called "Appearing", "Increasing" and "Attaining" and which require some further explaining: What happens here, is, that one makes the so-called inner experiencing of "white" and "red". The order in which this happens is often explained in various ways and the author of this text bases his explanation on the Kalachakra-tantras. In our body we have a central energy-channel, at the upper end of which resides the essence which we receive from our father at conception, the white element. At the lower end of the central-channel resides the essence of the mother, the red element. At first the white element has the form of the Tibetan letter Hang. When it dissolves and starts to move downwards, it splits up into 33 mind-states, which are associated with aggression and aversion, and we are having the experience that everything becomes white. Then the red element of the mother, which has the form of the Tibetan letter Ah moves from its place beneath the navel and moves upwards. Through this we are getting the experience that everything becomes red and 40 mind-states which have to do with attachment and desire are dissolved. When the white essence of the Father and the red essence of the Mother meet at the heart-center in our body, 7 states of mind associated with ignorance are melted away, and everything becomes black. Here our practice can help us a lot. If we have received direct teachings from our teacher and are well familiar with the Dharma, we have the opportunity at this moment to realize the Clear Light of our mind. The true nature of the mind appears at this moment to all beings whether they understand it or not. If we have already prepared ourselves for this, we have the chance at this very moment to realize the true nature of the mind. Otherwise we will not perceive it at all and simply become unconscious. At the beginning of the death-process we experience how the elements dissolve into each other, which is perceived as being very overwhelming. When for instance the Earth-element melts into the Water-element, one often gets the feeling of being crushed by huge mountains and one hears unbearable loud grinding noises. When water melts into fire, we often get the impression of being swept away by a flood as when an ocean is rushing towards us, while we hear the teeming of the waves. When Fire melts into the Wind we hear it as if it were the final fire at the end of this world. When the Wind melts into consciousness, this feels as frightening as the sound of a thousand simultaneous thunders. What may save us at this point is to open oneself up to one's own Buddha-aspect or to one's teacher. Here we will get the protection, which will bring us through this difficult phase and prevent us from being overwhelmed by all these impressions. Otherwise it is merely a question of how good or bad our Karma is. Usually one has no influence on these events, they just happen. When our body is dead, our mind wanders on with a kind of ghost body. These impressions will then be very strong. Whatever place comes into our minds, we will be there at once, and we will see everything without being seen by other people. It is extremely confusing. But we still have the chance, even at this moment, of utilizing what we have learned in this life. For this reason we should keep the impermanence in mind, and should know that all this will happen to all of us. It is important to use the time now and to prepare oneself for this, so that one may know how to deal with it, when it happens. Then we will have nothing to regret at the time of our death, for when we are thus far gone, it will be too late. It also means that we must understand all the teachings of the Buddha and integrate them into our lives. We must really live in accordance with the Dharma and not just regard it as some theory (to one side of our lives) on the side. We should practice the Dharma as much as we can, and try not to spend all our energies in worldly pursuits. That would yield no significant results. We must find some kind of balance here, for we do have a lot of stuff to do, but should not do more than is necessary. When one has finished one task, there is usually always some new thing to do and so on. One constantly gives oneself new tasks to do in this life and should strive to remember what is important and what is not. Then we will invest our energies in what is of real importance, and we will not get tangled up in what is not. The real import of this is to relinquish the attachment to this life. The last moments of our life are very powerful. What we have in our minds when we exhale our last breath is a very strong impression and will bring instant results. If we have accumulated much good Karma and have nothing to regret, everything will go very easy and not give us any great problems. If out of ignorance we have acted negatively and carry these actions with us still, now is the time to earnestly regret these, for then we can be free of them. This has a great importance as to how we experience the rest of the Bardo. It means that at this moment it is possible to change many things, really to be cleansed and to change a lot of Karma. Also if one makes strong wishing prayers, that will bring about instant results. It is very powerful and will later be fulfilled. It has already been mentioned earlier that it is very beneficial if one has someone who can guide one through these processes. If that were one's own teacher, that would be the very best. But if that is not possible, it is also very good if one has a Dharma-friend, with whom we have a clean connection, is there and who can remind us, what is to be done. He can tell us," You are now dying and should remember the Teachings, your Yidam, Teacher and so on." o get this kind of help at this moment is most beneficial. On the other hand it can be very harmful if there are people about you, whether they be relatives or dear friends, who only are there to weep and cry and tell us that we should not depart. The process of dying as it is described here goes on like this when there are no disturbances. But it is not always like that. If for instance one dies in an accident, one doesn't go through all the phases, but dies instantly. There are also other circumstances where one doesn't go through all the described phases, or where some of them happen simultaneously. As we know from the "Four considerations which lead the mind to thinking of the Dharma", it is good to constantly be aware of the fact that we as Human beings have the chance to practice the Dharma and that at the time of our death, the Dharma is the only thing that will help us. Otherwise we are just victims of our Karmas. The consequence of this is, that we should practice as much as we can and that we strive as far as possible, to improve ourselves, so that we develop a good motivation, the spirit of Illumination. When we feel that our death is imminent, we should practice even more diligently and try - according to what we practice - to understand the Mahamudra or Maha Ati, since this is really what it is all about. To become a fully Realized person, we must learn to understand that everything is pure and the nature of the truth. There is nothing, which is separate from this Truth: The final innermost essence, the true nature is in everything. This we must really try to understand. At the time of actual dying it is best, if we can sit ourselves up in meditation-posture, which is often no longer physically possible, though. Then we should place ourselves in the Lion-position, the position in which the Buddha is depicted at the time of his death: In this position one is lying on the right side with the left arm on the body. The fingers of the right hand touch different points and openings of the head [(2)(?)]. It helps if one imagines that one is lying with the head or face in the direction of West towards "the Buddha of Limitless Light". One doesn't really have to really lie like his, but one imagines it. This position, lying on the right side with the right hand in this special position, one should practice already now. For who knows if one can do it at the hour of death if one hasn't done it before. But apart from that, this position has many other advantages, if one assumes it when one goes to sleep. Of course one turns in one's sleep, but that doesn't matter. It is very useful to develop the habit of going to sleep on the right side in this position. To practice for the moment of death, is something, which one can learn like anything else. One just needs to have it explained and to be initiated into it, then one can learn it and do it. There are also different forms of Phowa for the moment of dying, which are given for people at different levels. People at the highest levels do not need Phowa at all, because they are already enlightened. When they die they often exhibit outer signs of their realization. In India for example this was the case with Nagarjuna, and in Tibet with Marpa the translator. Marpa, at the time of his death, said, " If you want to do the Phowa, do it like I do." From the crown of his head five-colored light shone out and illuminated the whole sky. Then his wife Dagmema dissolved into light and melted into him. This was a demonstration of what his spirit was able to do. It was no "ordinary" Phowa. Another great Master by the name of Melong Dorje showed similar signs upon his death - he radiated strong white light from the top of his head and filled the whole room with it. These were very special cases, which cannot easily be explained. Realized beings simply exhibit different signs at their death; some disappear in a rainbow, others leave their bodies behind and it transforms into sacred relics - there are various possibilities. Beings with more intermediate powers can get the instructions for the Phowa, practice it, get the signs and use it at the moment of death. For beings with lesser abilities the Phowa is very important, for it gives them the opportunity at the time of their death of getting assistance to set them off in the right direction. Whether it works or not is very dependent on whether the person has pure connections, of whether they have maintained their connection with their teacher or not. If for instance someone has very much negative Karma, then the Phowa may still function if he has kept the connection with his teacher and at the moment of his death earnestly calls upon his teacher and his Yidam. If however someone has broken the connection with his teacher and does not have any pure connections, it is very difficult to do a successful Phowa, even if one may not have very much negative Karma. When the teacher is present at the body, he will perform the Phowa in the interim between the cessation of the outer and the inner breath; that is immediately after one has drawn one's last breath. To do the Phowa earlier would be too soon. One could thereby end the life of the dying prematurely, in effect killing him. Some teachers can transfer the consciousness even later, in the span of the 49 days in the Bardo, especially up to the time when the body is cremated. If someone was a confident, practicing Buddhist one can help him during the 49 days after the death, making wishes and ceremonies or letting them be made. In this way the spirit of the deceased is called upon and guided. In the 49 days after the death there is much confusion and it is very beneficial for a Buddhist to get this kind of assistance. I must happen before the 49 days are over, after that it is meaningless. When you practice the Phowa yourself, there is a time for training, and a time for application, the moment of death itself. There are different kinds of Phowa, and here 5 categories will be explained: Dharmakaya-Phowa Sambhogakaya-Phowa Nirmanakaya-Phowa Phowa of Blessing Kachö-Phowa The Dharmakaya-Phowa is explained differently in the different traditions, according to either the Maha-Ati- or the Mahamudra- or other schools. They all have one thing in common though, that it concerns the realization of the Dharmakaya - the final true nature - at the moment of death. One is at this moment initiated into the absolute, true nature of the mind and realizes it. The Sambhogakaya-Phowa is closely connected to the Dharmakaya-Phowa. They are both regarded as belonging together, for if in this life we practice the development- and the fulfillment-phase of the Diamondway-meditation so well, that we master it, then that means that at death we will realize the Dharmakaya- and the Sambhogakaya-Phowa. The completion-phase is connected to the Dharmakaya and the development-phase with the Sambhogakaya. They are however regarded as a whole, and they cannot be separated. At the time of death one can utilize the experience won in the practice, and through that the Phowa will take place. However, to reach such levels of understanding in this life is not so easy. For ordinary people it is not always possible to reach such results before death. The Nirmanakaya-Phowa is here called the "Phowa that one practices". This means that one learns the method and must practice it. One receives the instructions from a teacher, who can carry the blessing of the Phowa, who has had the experience himself and can transfer it. Then one practices the practice, after one has taken Refuge and has developed the enlightenment-mind. First one learns how to sit properly in meditation: The back straight, legs crossed etc., the seven points that one knows from the explanations on how to get into the tranquility of meditation. Then one meditates according to the instructions. There are various Phowa-meditations. But whichever one learns: one makes the imaginations, meditates on oneself as a certain light- and energy-form and on the central energy-channel in the body. One imagines that over the head there hovers a Buddha-aspect. Regardless of which method one learns one must in all cases follow the instructions closely and learn how to send one's mind upwards, until one receives the signs. The exact explanations one gets at the time when one has learned this. Generally, the aim is that one learns to concentrate on the central energy-channel in the body. This has a certain size, about the width of a little finger, but sometimes it is another size. It is completely straight and goes from the secret point below the navel and upwards. One learns to concentrate on the essence of the mind in the form of a root-syllable, and while one, according to the various traditions, utters various sounds, one sends it all the way up to the Buddha above one - the "Buddha of Limitless Light" or whomever according to the instructions. This practice one must do carefully so as one has been instructed. Each single sitting is finished with a meditation-practice on the "Buddha of Long Life". On whichever Buddha up above one meditates, according to the various traditions, one can also imagine that one's own Root-Lama is sitting above one's head. The essence is the same, and one should regard the Lama as the Buddha himself and see that the essence of the Lama is not different from the Buddha or the Yidam. To practice the Phowa on one's own Lama, is here explained as a special kind of the Phowa, the "Phowa of Blessing" The fifth Phowa, finally, is the Kachö-Phowa. "Kachö" is the name of a pure land. This Phowa deals with one having practiced the practice of the dream-yoga and the Clear-Light yoga. One has learned to completely understand the illusory nature of the dream and is experienced enough to remain in the condition of deep-sleep consciously. As a result one can employ this form of Phowa. Whichever form of Phowa one learns, one must practice it well and apply it at the moment of death with concentration, purposefully and without distraction. It is important that one doesn't follow any disturbing feelings but instead concentrates fully on the practice and the Lama and with a single-purposed mind sends the consciousness upwards - just as a strong man shoots his arrow from his bow. This one should do with full concentration, without being distracted by other things, and with full confidence. Then we are sure to attain Liberation. The highest result of the Phowa is, as it was explained in the first kind, full Enlightenment. The medium result is the rebirth in the pure land of Dewachen, and the least result is the renewed rebirth as a human with a precious body. Extremely important during the Phowa-practice is the confidence in the teacher. Sometimes people practice the Phowa again and again without getting the signs. This can happen, even if the teacher is qualified and has the blessing and the instructions. If one has no confidence or false views, one reaches no results.

(1) 5 elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether. [(2) Not sure about the footnote ??? Can't find it!!]

(Ins Englische von Hannah Nydahl, ins Deutsche von Detlev Göbel) Translated from German for Buddhism Today byu LodröSangpo. From the Translator: I have tried to edit it one more time. I think this is somewhat better. This is one of the most difficult and interesting and profound texts I have yet had to deal with. I am having real trouble with selecting the best suited word for the German "auflösen" concerning what is called "sinking into" in the old edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead of Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdrup by W. Y. Evans-Wentz from 1957. I have been reading and re-reading this work very intensively during the translation to try to get as close to the meaning as possible. I can't decide whether to use 'dissolve', 'disintegrate', 'decompose' or perhaps 'break up', or even 'melt into'. This time I have used melts into. Please have a learned Lama look at it and choose which is the better.
Lodrö Sangpo

PS. 'Nothing in this World that I've been trying
can equal or surpass the Art of Dying'.