The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Intermediate State
Tibetan: bar-do thos-grol Pronounced, Bardo Thötröl
The Bardo Thödol (incorrectly translated in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead) can be understood at two levels:
1. as advanced practice for trained meditators, and,
2. as support for beings experiencing the bardo without specific meditative training, experience or empowerment.
The Bardo Thödol is a text based on oral teachings by Padmasambhava and recorded in written form around 760 AD.
Through early misrepresentation to the West by the incomplete translation of Evans-Wentz (1878-1957), the Westerners have come to know this text as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a title that has misguided many. A much better translation is The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Intermediate State.
Serious meditative practitioners, who have received the proper empowerments (initiations) meditative training and sustained meditative experience, have an opportunity at death to recognize the Clear Light of the Absolute True Nature of Reality and achieve Ultimate Enlightenment at that time. Much of an advanced practitioner's meditative training involves meeting this transformative moment.
To help the dying achieve the goal of auspicious re-birth or even Enlightenment, a spiritual master (lama) whispers guiding instructions through the bardo into the person's ear. Traditionally, these instructions are read from The Bardo Thödol, designed to help guide the deceased's consciousness through the intermediate realm between lives (bardo). Thus the meaning of the Bardo Thödol: The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Intermediate State.
The bardo state is recognized as an opportunity for change; a starting point of transformation. It is understood as a gap between familiar boundaries through which beings can glimpse the Absolute True Nature of Reality. By fully recognizing this ultimate nature, the deceased is capable of breaking the afflictive cycle of rebirth (samsara) and achieving final liberation: Enlightenment for the sake of all sentient Beings.
Buddhism recognizes the fact that human beings tend to avoid thinking about or dealing with the fact of death. The refusal to acknowledge the imminence of death and impermanence is regarded in Buddhism as a fundamental cause of the confusion and ignorance that prevents spiritual progress (Four Noble Truths of Buddhism). Spiritual growth is achieved not by avoiding ‘unpleasant’ facts, but by facing and accepting them with calmness, wisdom and compassion.
Specific meditations enable Buddhist practitioners to seriously consider the truth of impermanence and to comprehend the true nature of human existence. The goal of skillful meditation study and practice is experience and actualization of the Absolute True Nature of Reality (Enlightenment).
Tibetan Buddhism and the Bardo Thödol teach that the first moment of death is marked by a gradual process of disintegration, in which both the mental and physical components of the dying individual begin to collapse. Corresponding to the gradual deterioration of consciousness during death, the dying patient experiences a variety of distinctive visions, each marking a stage in the dying process.
Serious meditators study these stages in order to gain intimate knowledge of them, since a person familiar with the death experience is less likely to be frightened when death finally arrives. But more importantly, a detailed knowledge of the dying process enables advanced practitioners to simulate the experience during meditation. Through cultivation and experience of these subtle visionary states of consciousness the meditator can achieve complete Liberation (Enlightenment) during life or at the moment of death.
But in the case of ordinary individuals without empowerment, training and advanced meditative experience, the deceased is dependent upon the assistance of the lama (or other religious practitioner), to recite the guiding instructions from the Bardo Thödol in order to bring Reality into clear focus for the deceased in the bardo.
The words of the lama communicate the essential truth of the postdeath experience, giving the deceased a point of reference to make sense of the often confusing and terrifying visions with which non-trained and ordinary individuals are confronted during the bardo period. Also, recitation of the texts within a ceremonial setting offers practical wisdom to the participants.
Before the ordinary dying process is complete, relatives and friends are advised to quietly bid the dying person farewell, without creating excessive drama. Tibetan Buddhists believe that it is crucial for both the dying person and those around him/her to avoid causing excessive regret, grief or longing in the patient; and to have a mindful, calm and compassionate state of mind. The state of mind at the time of death is believed to influence directly the experiences of the departing consciousness.
Any thoughts that occur during this time are extremely important; it is vital for the individual to generate and sustain a positive mental state throughout all the stages of dying. The quality of mind at the time of death is a critical component in determining the dying person's experience in the bardo. If disruptive thoughts can be avoided while simultaneously directing the mind toward pure and virtuous thoughts, even the ordinary person without advanced meditative training may be capable of positively effecting the outcome of the dying process.
Tsele Natsok Rangdrol, THE MIRROR OF MINDFULNESS: The Cycle of the Four Bardos. Presentation of Tibetan Buddhist teachings on the endless cycle of experience, the four bardos: life, death, after-death, and rebirth. Instruction is aimed at inspiring and helping the practitioner achieve liberation from deluded existence and awaken to complete enlightenment for the benefit of others.
Dudjom Rinpoche, COUNSELS FROM MY HEART . As a teacher of legendary kindness and wisdom, Dudjom Rinpoche (deceased, former head of the Nyingma lineage) is highly regarded. This volume contains some of the very few of Dudjom Rinpoche's teachings that have ever been translated and published. In it he discusses the Three Jewels, self and cyclic existence and the bardo states between life and death.
Thurman, Robert A. F. (trans.). Bardo Thödol: The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Sogyal Rinpoche, Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
Shitro: 100 Deity Empowerment
As one of the major Nam Chö lineage dzogchen transmissions, this empowerment (wang or intiation) is an opportunity to directly encounter one's own Buddha Nature (True Nature of Mind or Absolute True Nature of Reality).
The Shitro 100 Deity Empowerment/Teaching is closely related to the Guhyagarbha Tantra (Secret Essence of Magical Net). The Guhyagarbha Tantra (also known as Vajrasattva Magical Net) is one of the main Inner Tantric texts in the Nyingma tradition and Palyul lineage.
Shitro, which translates as the Peaceful and Wrathful Bardo Deities, is a blessing and transmission of the 100 Peaceful and Wrathful Deities of the Bardo. As the foundation of the Bardo Thodöl, the Shitro is considered part of the Inner Tantra teachings.
The Shitro empowerment is an initiation into the mandala of the 100 Peaceful and Wrathful symbolic deities that personify each practitioner's skandhas (aggregates of form, perception, feeling, mental volitions and consciousness) and the great elements (wind, fire, water and earth). At the moment of death, the elements dissolve and their nature arises as after-death visions.
The Bardo Teaching instructions provide us with a body of techniques and practices by which we can recognize the mind's True Nature and achieve liberation. The benefits of receiving the empowerment, practicing it and reciting the mantra are many. With actualization of the practice, practitioners can recognize the stages of the Bardo as they occur, will not fall into lower existences, and have the possibility to attain liberation from cyclic existence and Buddhahood.
Vajrasattva - Primordial Purity
Vajrasattva Empowerment: A Dzogchen Foundational Practice
From the Nam Chö: Buddha in the Palm of the Hand
Vajrasattva practice and actualization is one of the foundational dzogchen practices and is the basis of the Guhyagarbha
Tantra (Secret Essence of Magical Net). The Guhyagarbha Tantra (also known as Vajrasattva Magical Net) is one of the
main Inner Tantric texts in the Nyingma tradition and Palyul lineage.
Vajrasattva is the ultimate embodiment of the aspects of all the Buddhas and is representative of the Diamond-like
Primordial Purity of the Buddha Nature within each individual. Vajrasattva is representative of the 100 Peaceful
and Wrathful Deities embodied in each sentient being (See Shitro Empowerment) and also represents the Union of
Compassion and Skillful Means. Sattva translates as ‘spiritual hero or heroine’ and Vajra translates as 'diamond
thunderbolt' (unbreakable and pure energy).
Vajrasattva is the ideal of the perfected being: without negative karma, without desire, without ego, without self, in an
egalitarian inner union of perfect non-duality. Vajrasattva represents the aspects of compassion and skillful means;
and the state of perfected wisdom, joined for the ultimate goal of realization: Absolute Compassion and Wisdom
Through accomplishment of the meditative practice, Vajrasattva is actually understood as the practitioner in a state of
absolute purity, having totally revealed the inner purity of the Buddha Nature within each individual. Thus transformed,
the practitioner is enabled to embark further and further along the path of realization; and achieve a deeper personal
understanding and actualization of Compassion and Wisdom.
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‘Dana’: Donations to the Teacher
The only ‘salary’ Khenpo Rinpoche receives is the donations of students.
All funds from the door fees go directly to defraying Khenpo Rinpoche’s travel and lodging costs and
for Program expenses. These funds are the operating expenses for the teaching event.
All workers at the event are volunteers and accept no fees for their time.
In Tibetan Buddhist tradition (and many other spiritual traditions) it is considered ‘good karma’
to make a personal donation to a teacher who has helped clarify spiritual understanding and awareness.
The amount is not as important as the action of donating.
The motivation for dana (giving), one of the Buddhist Six Perfections* (paramitas), is utterly pure -
free from all desire, conceit or misguided views. Thus in the perfection of giving one should seek no return for oneself
and be impartial, like the sun: that casts its radiance over all without a hint of favor.
In ultimate terms, there is no giver, no recipient and nothing is given - yet we still give! This is an important insight.
Generosity is a positive virtue we can practice even when the time is not available for study or meditation.
It is a good way of developing a shift away from basically egocentric orientation.
The ego is always trying to expand its province by accumulating,
whereas to freely give is to reverse this 'I'- building process so that for once the energy flows the other way.
Naturally, one may gain merit from giving, but even this can be given away to benefit all sentient beings.
Many who start practicing generosity report the sense of joy it brings.
*The Six Perfections:
(1) Generosity - Giving without seeking reward
(2) Virtue (Moral Discipline) - Eliminating self-centeredness and not harming others
(3) Patience - Being tolerant and forgiving of self and others
(4) Effort - Practicing Buddhist principles despite adversity
(5) Meditation - Stabilizing and calming the mind
(6) Wisdom - Living in accordance with the true nature of things
All human beings want happiness and want to avoid suffering. Human beings desire happiness, but in fact they are
creating the causes for suffering. Since the teachings explain happiness as being the result of a peaceful mind,
in order to become happy it is necessary to train the mind. When practicing the Six Perfections the mind is trained
to perfection. The bonus is that the practice of the perfections also benefits other people, not only oneself.
If the goal is that of a bodhisattva to attain enlightenment for the sake of all living beings,
the practice of the Six Perfections is indispensable.
"Take advantage of this human boat; free yourself from sorrow's mighty stream!
This vessel will be later hard to find. The time that you have now, you fool, is not for sleep!"
Shantideva, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, chapter VII, verse 14
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*Bardo: The Intermediate State After Death or During Dreaming