The following article on the 'Teachings on Bardo by H.H. Dudjom Rinpoche' ( https://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Dudjom_Rinpoche ) was copied from the magazine of the 30th Nyingma Monlam Chhenmo held at Bodh Gaya in January 2019. I got a copy of the magazine when I was in Bodhgaya during the event. The text was copy-typed by Ms Deki Tshomo, whole Bhutan Topper in the Arts stream in BCSE Exams in 2019, while interning with us at Thimphu TechPark Ltd. in February 2019.
I decided to put this text online as this version of the teaching was not yet available through online Google search, and was particularly motivated to do so after I attended an inspiring teaching (oral transmission (lung) and explanation (khrid) on the same subject by Dungse Garab Rinpoche at the RIM Hall on the afternoon of 17th February 2019. The big RIM Hall was packed to capacity.
May it benefit all sentient beings!
Pictures above (Courtesy of Mr Langa Dorji, Bhutan Soul Tours & Travel) and video (courtesy of Dudjom Dharma House Kuantan Facebook Page) are from the teachings given by Dungse Garab Rinpoche on 17th Feb. 2019.
Teachings on Bardo
By His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche
This is a teaching on the intermediate states that His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje (1904-87) gave to his disciples when he was bestowing the empowerments of the thousand Buddhas during the Sadhana of Avalokitesvara.
The Buddha condensed all his teachings into those on the six intermediate states and taught accordingly. Generally, the Buddha taught many vast and profound teachings. Each teaching contains unfathomable pith instructions. But if one were to practice all those teachings and accomplish them in this lifetime, one must gain the understanding of the six bardos.
Bardo (Skt: antrabhava) means abiding in the middle without falling to either side. The six bardos are as follows:
1. Kyeney bardo: The natural bardo from birth to death.
2. Milam bardo: The deluded bardo of dreams.
3. Samten bardo: The self-appearing bardo of meditative concentration.
4. Chikhai bardo: The bardo at the time of death where there is suffering.
5. Chonyi bardo: The luminous bardo of dharmata.
6. Sidpai bardo: The karmic bardo of becoming.
The kyeney bardo is the intermediate state from birth to death. Just now we all are in this state. As it is said, “Alas! When the kyeney bardo appears to me, may I avoid indolence as life is short.” At this moment, if we seriously think about how many years have passed from the time of our birth and how many are left, then we know that there is no freedom to live, as we all have to die.
There is no time to stay idle. If we waste our lives by staying distracted and lazy, then our lives will come to an end, and at that time there is nothing further we can do, and at that time there is nothing we can do either. Therefore, starting now, practise the dharma which is beneficial at the time of death without letting time pass in laziness and distraction.
Though we can’t do whatever we want, at least practise the Dharma as much as you can. At the time of kyeney bardo, make aspiration to go to the higher realms in the future lives. Avoid even the smallest non-virtuous deed and accomplish even the smallest virtuous deed.
The present is uncertain. So, you must act in such a way that even if you were to die tomorrow, you would not have any regrets.
The milam bardo is the intermediate state from the time we fall asleep till we wake up the next day. The duration may differ but it is like death. The five senses - of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch dissolve into kunzhi (the base of all senses which is neutral in nature) and then we fall asleep. During that time, it’s similar to death even though we are sleeping. Everything goes dark and we don’t even see dreams. This is called “falling under the spell of kunzhi.”
Generally, when we fall under the spell of kunzhi and go to sleep, the karmic wind of ignorance gives rise to clinging. In this way we dream of desirable objects, sounds, smells, tastes, and tangible objects as is they were real.
In reality these things are neither present in our dreams nor is our mind wandering near them. Though our mind does not move from our body, we are deluded by its appearances. This results in the rise of delusion and we experience dreams. We see things like we see them during the daytime and we dream about all sort of desirable things as if they were real, the whole night long. So these are said to be like the illusions in a magic show. This is the reason why ordinary people accept dreams as being unreal and waking appearances as being real.
However, Buddhists believe both appearance in dreams and those in the day time are the same: both of them are unreal, changing, impermanent, and deceiving. They are both devoid of an intrinsic nature. For example, if we look at what we have achieved since our birth - the things that we did and where we have achieved them - we cannot actually grasp them.
If we search for the things that we have done in our lifetimes, we cannot show even a single one of them. Though the compounded phenomena that appear are unstable and impermanent by nature, we don’t understand this; rather, we apprehend them as being truly existent and permanent.
We think, “This is mine and this alone is true.” This becomes the cause for us to wander in the cyclic existence. Hence, by any means possible, we must recognize the appearances of dreams to be delusions. We must pray to our Gurus and Triple Gem every day.
We must be able to recognise all appearances to be dream-like. Even in our dreams, we must be able to accumulate virtue. Similarly, practise different ways to recognise the nature of dreams. If we practice in this way, we will see waking appearances and dreams to be of the same nature, and this will boost our spiritual practice. It is said that this practice is also really helpful in clearing obstacles that threaten our lives.
The samten bardo is the intermediate state from the time one enters nyamzhag (the meditative state) till one arises out of it. During this state, there are no ordinary delusions but there are some appearances like that of the kyeney bardo. At that time of nyamzhag, one’s mind should remain like a pure sky or an ocean without waves. Otherwise if you get distracted by coarse discursive thoughts like those of a bandit, or subtle discursive thoughts that are like a tangled thread, then you can’t remain in meditative concentration. Thus, yogis should be mindful without allowing discursive thoughts, and strive mindfully to ascertain unbreakable concentration.
Milam bardo and samten bardo are subdivisions of the kyeney bardo. Their practices are no different than those of keyney bardo. Their time duration are also like that of kyeney bardo. These practices should be practised during keyney bardo. So, these are in fact no different from kyeney bardo.
Suppose that tomorrow you catch a disease that you are unable to get cured either through treatment or through ritual. It’s certain that you are going to die. Now all the unnecessary actions you have engaged in, all the things that you have done from your birth till now, are of no benefit to you. Those material achievements won’t follow you after your death.
You don’t have the power to take even a single thread with you, even though you may possess wealth the size of Mount Meru. You are left only with your karmic actions because now the time has come for you to leave your pampered body. The only thing that follows you is the karma of the virtuous and non-virtuous deeds that you have accumulated so far. Aside from that, the karmic actions that you have not created won’t follow you.
If one has prastised phowa (transference of consciousness) according to the essential instructions and made oneself proficient in that practice, one will not have regret at the time of death, and one can then be one’s own greatest benefactor. If one is able to go to the Pure Land according to one’s wish, then one can be considered to be an excellent practitioner. One of the main purposes of practising Dharma is to be of benefit at the time of death. This is said to be the wisest way to die.
Even if one is an ordinary person, it is said that the crucial moment of greatest significance arrives at the moment of death. Since this moment is of great purpose, we should make supplications to our precious guru. We should cut off craving for objects we possessed, like our house, wealth and so on, by offering them to our precious guru and reminding ourselves that being attached to those objects drags us down into samsara.
Make strong supplications to your precious guru, requesting him not to let you suffer in pain at the time of death, and to protect you from the suffering of lower realms after death. If you are able to practise phowa very seriously and if you are able to transfer your consciousness to the pure realms, then that would be wonderful.
Even if you are unable to do this, if there are fellow practitioners who can do phowa for you, then that can also help. However, if you can practise the method that would be helpful at that critical time, you would not fear death at all. This also fall under kyeney bardo.
How should we practise at the time of death? Our body came into existence through the union of our parents and is formed by the five elements. At the time of its disintegration, the five elements separate one by one and subsequently dissolve into one another. Physical heat dissolves into fire, flesh dissolves into earth, blood into water and so on. After all five elements have dissolved, then our breath ceases but the inner breath still remains. When the inner breaths is about to cease, our father’s white essential drop located at the crown of our head descend, and our mother’s red component located at the navel ascends. When these two meets at the heart, the inner breath stops.
Right after the inner breath ceases, our consciousness leaves our body. At that time, the consciousness of some of those who have no spiritual experience will wander for long time. For those noble beings who have spiritual experience, within a few moments, their consciousness becomes inseparable from the sky-like nature. The sky-like nature then becomes inseparable from the luminous nature.
The fruition of the meditation practice is that when the inner breath ceases, it dissolves into the luminous nature, and then a clear sky like nature appears. When that occurs, if one recognises this luminous nature, then one is instantly liberated. This union of emptiness and luminosity is like the meeting of a mother and child. Recognising this is the main cause for what we call the thukdam (meditative experience after death). There is no other thukdam than this. If one recognises this nature then it is like the meeting of the mother-like luminous ultimate nature and child-like luminous nature of one’s mind. Through this we gain stability in the generation and completion phases, thereby attaining liberation.
If one has no spiritual experience, then one will become unconscious and then arise from that at once. After waking up from this unconscious state, many dreadful appearances will arise. Then one will enter the fifth bardo, the chonyi bardo. One will hear dreadful sounds and see rays of light and peaceful and wrathful deities, which are no different from Buddha Samantabhadra who embodies the five kayas and eight signs. When these appear, one who doesn’t have meditative experience will become frightened. As soon as one gets frightened, the luminous nature will disappear. After that, chonyi bardo and chikhai bardo will appear together.
In brief, when we die, the five elements separate and our mind dissolves into its sky-like nature and become unconscious under the spell of kunzhi. After that, there appears a clear sky-like nature and a luminous nature. Those who don’t have meditative experience will not recognize this luminous nature and if it’s not recognized, this appearance will not remain for long. Those who have meditative experience will be able to recognize the inseparability of the mother-like and child-like luminous nature.
The most important thing at that time of chikhai bardo is that before the disintegration of the five elements, when you are about to die, abandon all attachment to this life. At the moment of death, there is no other refuge other than the Triple Gem. Therefore pray to the Triple Gem and your root guru, the essence of Triple Gem, thinking that he is the only one who is your principal guide at the critical time of bardo. Furthermore, arouse regret and confess whatever non-virtuous deeds you may have done in this life, and beyond that make genuine aspirations like, “May I attain liberation right after my death.”
If you die undistractedly, having formed such an aspiration, then this is helpful in attaining liberation. If this is not possible, then a Dharma practitioner who has great integrity and is close with dying person can help by introducing the disintegration process of the five elements and offering the advice to remember the guru. It would also be beneficial just to recite the bardo prayers and so on. For example, when a sick person falls on the ground, he can only stand up with someone’s help; similarly, if a dharma friend of dying person introduces the appearances and makes inspirational prayers, this will be helpful.
Buddhas are compassionate and if we make aspirational prayers by whispering their names- like Sangay Drimed Rinchen Tsuktor Chen, Amitabha, Buddha Shakyamuni or others - it is said that just hearing these names will dispel the suffering of hell. If the dying person is able to make aspirational prayers when we whisper the names of the Buddhas, then just remembering those names will protect him or her from the lower realms. This is like having a protector at the time of death, so it is important and will be beneficial.
In short, when we die, we become unconscious, and then we wake up from that unconscious state. After waking up, we don’t recognise the luminous nature. So, that disappears and then the appearances of chonyi bardo arise.
During the chonyi bardo, the peaceful and wrathful deities appear in the form of dreadful sounds, dangerous cliffs and infinite rays of light. Fear arises in us due to our being incapable of recognizing them as the self-appearing display of the nature of our mind. We see these things as terrifying, and then lose faith that such appearances are pure. After this, our consciousness leaves our body through one of the organs. This is the time when our body and consciousness separate. After that the consciousness is no longer in our body. We won’t have a complex human body then; rather, we will only have a subtle body of light. Because of this we won’t see the light of the sun or moon.
We will possess our own luminosity, which seems to appear from our mind, and by which we can see our way forward. However, those who are wandering in the sidpai bardo can see each other and hear their sounds too.
In the sidpai bardo, our consciousness is free to reach any destination instantly, just by thinking of that place. However, we cannot enter a mother’s womb or Bodhgaya.
We will be endowed with worldly omniscience by which we can read the thoughts of human beings. We can see who is utilising our wealth, what kinds of rituals are being performed for our well-being, and what kinds of thoughts people are harboring about us and others. However, ordinary human beings can’t see us. We will be surrounded by other beings of that state. We will experience the suffering of hunger, thirst, cold, heat and so on, all together.
The beings who wander in this bardo are those who have neither accumulated great virtuous deed nor great non-virtuous deeds. Those who have accumulated great non-virtuous deeds will go to lower realms after their death. Those beings who have accumulated great virtuous deeds will also no wander in sidpai bardo because as soon as they die, they will go to the higher realms. Apart from these two, ordinary people like us have no option but to enter the sidpai bardo.
During the sidpai bardo, there is nothing other than suffering. The only thing you can carry with you is the merit accumulated from making offerings to the Triple Gem, giving to poor people, constructing mandalas of the peaceful and wrathful deities, performing rituals for the dead, conferring empowerments, liberating beings and so on. If you accumulated great virtue, then like a group of people can pull up a person who is about to fall from a cliff, similarly one can protect suffering beings and help them attain enlightenment. For this reason we must perform virtuous deeds for benefiting the dead after their demise.
The way to perform virtuous deed is this: For twenty-one days from the day of their death, they will feel and think like a living human. After twenty-one days, their behavior will resemble that of their next birth. So the 21st day and the 49th day after their death are considered to very important days to perform rituals for them.
Within those days, even if they were to fall in lower realms, if we can accumulate great virtuous deeds for them, then through the compassion of the Triple Gem we will be able to pull them up.
If we cannot help them in those days, they will fall into the lower realms. It’s not that the Triple Gem doesn’t have compassion for them but this occurs due to their karmic actions. They will fall and until their negative karma is exhausted, we cannot pull them up. Therefore, it is really important to accumulate virtuous deeds for them during the days after their death.
A Dharma practitioner who has spiritual experience will know that he is going to die and he is going to go through the bardo. At that moment, he will remember his root guru and his root wisdom deity. He will then make aspirations.
There are some who have the ability to take birth in Amitabha’s pure realm, or those of Zangdok Palri, Ngonpar Gawa, or others.
There are also other great lamas who can summon the consciousness of the dead and give them Dharma teachings and empowerments. This will either lead those who have died to pure realms, or if not at least help them take rebirth as humans. This is all because of their own karma and aspirations.
The critical time to create karma and to make aspirations is during kyeney bardo; this is really important. This is the root of all other bardos and it decide our fate in those other bardos. If we don’t want to wander in other bardos, then we should strive to benefit others and ourselves in this kyeney bardo.