Buddhist Journey Through the Bardos
accepted the basic Hindu doctrines of reincarnation and
karma, as well as the notion that the ultimate goal of the
religious life is to escape the cycle of death and rebirth.
Buddha asserted that what keeps us bound to the death/rebirth
process is desire, desire in the sense of wanting or craving
anything in the world. Hence, the goal of getting off the
Ferris wheel of reincarnation necessarily involves freeing
oneself from desire.
Nirvana is the Buddhist term for liberation. Nirvana
literally means extinction, and it refers to the extinction
of all craving, an extinction that allows one to become
Buddha departed most radically from Hinduism was in his
doctrine of "anatta",
the notion that individuals do not possess eternal souls.
Instead of eternal souls, individuals consist of a "bundle"
of habits, memories, sensations, desires, and so forth,
which together delude one into thinking that he or she consists
of a stable, lasting self. Despite its transitory nature,
this false self hangs together as a unit, and even reincarnates
in body after body. In Buddhism, as well as in Hinduism,
life in a corporeal body is viewed negatively, as the source
of all suffering. Hence, the goal is to obtain release.
In Buddhism, this means abandoning the false sense of self
so that the bundle of memories and impulses disintegrates,
leaving nothing to reincarnate and hence nothing to experience
From the perspective
of present-day, world-affirming Western society, the Buddhist
vision cannot but appear distinctly unappealing: Not only
is this life portrayed as unattractive, the prospect of
nirvana, in which one dissolves into nothingness, seems
even less desirable. A modern-day Buddha might respond,
however, that our reaction to being confronted with the
dark side of life merely shows how insulated we are from
the pain and suffering that is so fundamental to human existence.
death, according to Tibetan Buddhism, the spirit of the
departed goes through a process lasting forty-nine days
that is divided into three stages called "bardos."
At the conclusion of the bardo, the person either enters
nirvana or returns to Earth for rebirth.
It is imperative
that the dying individual remain fully aware for as long
as possible because the thoughts one has while passing over
into death heavily influence the nature of both the after-death
experience and, if one fails to achieve nirvana, the state
of one's next incarnation.
Stage one of the
Bardo (called the "Chikai" Bardo), the bardo of dying, begins
at death and extends from half a day to four days. This
is the period of time necessary for the departed to realize
that they have dropped the body. The consciousness of the
departed has an ecstatic experience of the primary "Clear
White Light" at the death moment. Everyone gets at least
a fleeting glimpse of the light. The more spiritually developed
see it longer, and are able to go beyond it to a higher
level of reality. The average person, however, drops into
the lesser state of the secondary "clear light."
two (called the "Chonyid" Bardo),
the bardo of Luminous Mind, the departed encounters the
hallucinations resulting from the
karma created during life. Unless highly developed,
the individual will feel that they are still in the body.
The departed then encounters various apparitions, the "peaceful"
and "wrathful" deities, that are actually personifications
of human feelings and that, to successfully achieve nirvana,
the deceased must encounter unflinchingly. Only the most
evolved individuals can skip the bardo experience altogether
and transit directly into a paradise realm. Stage three
(called the "Sidpa"
Bardo), the bardo of rebirth, is the process of reincarnation.
Buddhist and NDE
The Tibetan account of the first
bardo after death shows striking parallels with the near-death
experiences of people who have died, experienced themselves
floating out of their bodies, having what appears to be
real afterlife events, and then being revived.
The second bardo is an experience
with divine entities which parallels near-death accounts
where a person experiences
Scholars have also been interested in the parallels between
and psychotic states, and experiences of "astral
third bardo involving the reincarnation of a person's karmic
energy by choosing and entering a new body to be born agrees
with many near-death accounts that affirm reincarnation.
The purpose behind
the Buddhist bardo states after death is to provide the
dying an opportunity to become enlightened and attain Buddha-hood,
or if enlightenment is not attained, to secure a favorable
rebirth. As it is with Buddhism, the goal to be attained
during near-death experiences is to become one with God.
Experiencers have described this as a "merging" process
and "becoming God." This loss of ego and at-one-ment aspect
involved in near-death experiences and the Buddhist bardo
journey are identical.
most remarkable correlation between Buddhism and near-death
accounts is the encounter with a
Buddhists refer to this light as the "Clear White Light"
and the Tibetan Book of the Dead's description of it is
remarkably similar to the Being of light in near-death experiences.
Buddhists believe this light to be the light from all the
enlightened ones which is indistinguishable from true essence
of everyone. As it is with Buddhism, near-death experiences
have described this light in the same way. For example,
Benedict saw the light change into various personalities
such as Jesus and Buddha. Other experiencers affirm the
light to be everyone and everything. Encounters with beings
of light and darkness described in near-death experiences
can be found in the "peaceful" and "wrathful" deities encountered
in the Buddhist afterlife. At some point in the bardo states,
many of the karmic essences of individuals feel a desire,
a "pull", to return to the physical world. This phenomenon
also appears in many near-death accounts when the individual
is given a choice to stay or return and this choice results
in the individual returning from the near-death condition.
Also, as it is with Buddhism, near-death experiences support
the concept of
number of days (forty-nine) given in the Tibetan Book of
the Dead is likely symbolic, although the Tibetans themselves,
like all people who are strict religionists, interpret it
The comparison between the Tibetan
and Egyptian Books of the Dead, Taoism, and
conceptions, also reveals similarities. All of them
with the exception of Tibetan Buddhism view the soul as
composition of elemental components that separates after
death; each component entering into its own world. Tibetan
Buddhism describes an aspect of the human personality passing
through a number of different afterlife bardo experiences.