In INSIGHTS by Erik Pema Kunsang7 Comments

Dying and the after-death experience was not a taboo or off-topic for my teacher Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche. On the contrary, he would often speak for hours on how to use that transition between this life and the next as an opportunity for total freedom, how to use the bardo of dharmata for realization and how to make ready for that right now. Reality here doesn’t mean the superficial reality we experience from day to day, but ultimate reality, dharmata, and it has other types of phenomena taking place.

At the onset, these phenomena have no structure and no recognizable features whatsoever, but are a tremendous display, the ultimate acid trip. It’s unlike wide open space on a cloudless day: something happens within that space, called sounds, colors and lights. The sounds are, Tulku Urgyen said, like 100.000 simultaneous thunder cracks, from all directions, above, below, everywhere. The colors are all colors of the rainbow, but much more intense than we normally see in this life. The rays of light are like sharp needles or swords, piercing through everything. The bardo of reality is transparent, completely pure and infinite.

This bardo of reality is the time for mastering the crucial point: to be unafraid and instead recognize the nature of mind, which is manifest as self-radiance of knowing. This radiance has three forms, sounds, colors and lights, and as they manifest don’t be afraid of these peaceful and wrathful displays, they are your own display. For most people such a groundless, centerless and boundless display is unfamiliar and therefore very scary; there are no handles on anything, nothing to relate to as being here and there. Recognize that it is just the play of the bardo, Tulku Urgyen said, don’t give into fear, dread or panic, which means fearing the colors, dreading the sounds and panicking before the intensity of the light rays. So give up fear, it’s just the play of dharmata.

Dharmata means the nature of your mind, buddha nature. In other words, the display is buddha nature’s own play, your essence coming out to play. The unprepared mind becomes terrified of it own nature, like wild donkeys are frightened by wind rustling tall dry grass, and pointlessly try to escape. Here in the bardo of reality, there is nobody else, not at all. Nobody is chasing you; it’s your own shadow and the shadow is the play of dharmata. That’s the most important point of dharmata: to recognize that everything you experience is yourself, not something or someone else. Just like your hand will cast a shadow when placed before a light, don’t be scared of the shadow, know that it is you own hand. This understanding is not necessarily easy, especially when these displays come from everywhere, and the earth, the sky, everything is the self-radiance of knowing. Acknowledge this, letting be in it, remain steady and liberation is guaranteed in the bardo of dharmata.

How do we prepare ourselves for the after-death experience’s amazing and overwhelming display? First and foremost, become familiar with a steady awareness that is calm, kind and clear. Then become familiar with it’s open and groundless reality. Especially, train just when falling asleep, and after falling asleep, when waking up in the dreamstate. Visualisation practice can help in the bardo of dharmata, manifesting out of the three samadhis as a tantric deity. There is also something known as tögal practice, in both daylight and darkness. For instance, sit in total dark room or outside on a moonless rainy night and notice that the structures in perception, the recognizable features, are all created by your own thoughts. But there is more, and liberation during the bardo of reality depends on being familiar with your own display. This understanding alone will help to be free of terror, relax into your nature and gain lasting freedom. By all means, gain familiarity while alive.

Have a safe journey!

About the Author
Erik Pema Kunsang

Erik Pema Kunsang

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Translator of ancient Buddhist scriptures, author, bridge-builder to modern life, Buddhist teacher & meditation instructor. Board of director at 84000: Translating the Words of the Buddha. Founder of Rangjung Yeshe Publications and LEVEKUNST art of life. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author. Erik's website & retreats.

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  1. Pingback: Бардо реальності | Ґомде Україна

  2. Erik Meier Carlsen

    Precious lotsawa Erik, I see this as a fortaste to your bardo-retreat in november. I imagine that I saw another text in Levekunst some weeks ago with a Bardo-text from Dudjom Lingpa that might has served the same purpose, but I cannot find it, can you help me?

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    Great Erik, thanks. Can you say something more on how realization in the bardos of after this life relates to the three samadhis, especially the samadhi of illumination and bardo of dharmata?

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    Grateful ! Thank you !

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