by Chogyam Trungpa
© 1992 Diana J. Mukpo
Table of Contents
The Six Realms of Being
The Bardo of Meditation
The Bardo of Birth
The Bardo of Illusory Body
The Bardo of Dreams
The Bardo of Existence
The Bardo of Death
The Lonely Journey
Pain and Pleasure
The Realm of the Gods
The Jealous God Realm
The Human Realm
The Animal Realm
The Hungry Ghost and Hell Realms
The Sequence of Bardos
The Six States of Bardo
The Cycle of The Seven Bardos
Transliterations of Tibetan Terms
About the Author
There seems to be quite a misconception as to the idea of
bardo, which is that it is purely connected with the death
and after-death experience. But the experience of the six
bardos is not concerned with the future alone; it also
concerns the present moment. Every step of experience, every
step of life, is bardo experience.
Bardo is a Tibetan word: bar means “in between” or, you
could say, “no-man’s land,” and do is like a tower or an
island in that no-man’s land. It’s like a flowing river
which belongs neither to the other shore nor to this shore,
but there is a little island in the middle, in between. In
other words, it is present experience, the immediate
experience of nownesswhere you are, where you’re at.
That is the basic idea of bardo.
The experience of such a thing also brings the idea of
space, of course. Without seeing the spacious quality, which
does not belong to you or others, you would not be able to
see the little island in the middle at all. The living
experience of bardo could only come from seeing the
background of space. And from that, within space or an
understanding of space, a brilliant spark or flash happens.
So generally, all bardo experiences are situations in which
we have emerged from the past and we have not yet formulated
the future, but strangely enough, we happen to be somewhere.
We are standing on some ground, which is very mysterious.
Nobody knows how we happen to be there.
That mysterious ground, which belong to neither that nor
this, is the actual experience of bardo. It is very closely
associated with the practice of meditation. In fact, it is
the meditation experience. That is why I decided to
introduce this subject. It is also connected with the
subject of basic ego and one’s experience of ego, including
all sorts of journeys through the six realms of the
Beyond that is the issue of how we happen to be in the
six realms of the world; how we find that experience is not
seen as an evolutionary process, as it should be, but as
extremely patchy and rugged, purely a glimpse. Somehow,
things don’t seem to be associated or connected with each
otherthey are very choppy and potent like gigantic
boulders put together. Each experience is real, potent,
impressionable, but generally we don’t find that there is
any link between those potent experiences. It is like going
through air pocketsemotionally, spiritually,
domestically, politically. The human situation passes
through these highlights or dramas, and on the other hand,
the absence of drama, and boredomwhich is another
aspect of drama. We go through all these processes. And
somehow these isolated situations, which from our confused
way of thinking seem to have nothing to do with the basic
quality of continuity, are the continuity itself. So the
only way to approach this is to see the evolutionary
I can’t lay heavy trips on people to understand that or
accept that purely on blind faith. In order not to lay heavy
trips on people, we have to have some concrete thing to work
on. That is where the six experiences of bardo come
inin each moment, each situation. Each of the six
types of bardo is individual and unique in its own way. They
are isolated situations on the one hand, but on the other
hand they have developed and begun to make an impression on
us, penetrating through us within that basic space or basic
psychological background. So the bardo experience is very
important to know. And in fact it is much more fundamental
that simply talking about death and reincarnation and what
you are supposed to experience after you die. It is more
fundamental than that.
I know people would love to hear about undiscovered
areas: “Do Martians exist?” In a lot of cases, when we talk
about karma and reincarnation and life after death, we tend
to make assumptions or logical ideas about them. And people
often get quite emotional about it, because they would like
to prove that there are such things as life after death or
reincarnation. But the subject we are going to work on is
not based on trying to prove logical conclusions. I mean, it
is not really that desperate, is it? What difference does it
really make whether we are going to come back or not? The
question of whether we are what we are or whether we are on
some ground seems to be more realistic and more
In discussing the experience of the bardos we are working
on that realistic aspect of the process of changing from
birth to death, the intermediate process between birth and
death. We are not trying to prove logically or by theology
that life after death is important and that you must accept
that on faith. In many cases, particularly in the West,
people try to prove the existence of life after death,
saying: “Such and such a saint or sage was a great person
when he lived, and his example of being is beyond
questionand he also says that there is such a thing as
life after death.” That is trying to prove the notion of
life after death by innuendo: “It is true because he was an
enlightened person as a living being and he said so!” When
we try to prove the point of view of life after death in
that way, we have no real proof. The only thing we could
prove is that he was an awake person and that he said
There is almost a feeling of rediscovery: Eastern
traditions have managed to present to the Western world that
nothing is fatalistic but everything is continuously
growing, as an evolutionary, developing process. In many
cases, Westerners find this view extremely helpful and
hopeful. They no longer just wait to die, but there’s
something hopefulthe message of continuity, that you
have another chance. But I think all of these views and
attitudes on the idea of rebirth and reincarnation and karma
are very simple-minded ones. As well as that, we begin to
feel we can afford to make mistakes, because surely we will
have another chance. We are going to come back and we might
do better. Often people who are afraid of dying have been
saved by hearing the idea of reincarnation. They are no
longer afraid of death, or even if they are afraid of death,
they try to contemplate the idea of rebirth, which saves
them from that. I don’t think that is a complete way of
looking into the situation.
The fatalistic quality of life and death depends on the
present situation. The present situation is
importantthat’s the whole point, the important point.
Whether you continue or whether you don’t continue, you are
what you are at the moment. And you have six types of
psychological thresholds, or bardo experiences, in your
lifetime. We will go into details if you don’t find this too
heavy on intellectual supposition. You might ask, “Is it
worth speculating about all these six types of bardo
experiences? Why don’t we just sit and meditate and forget
all this jargon?” Well, it is much easier said than done. To
start with, when we begin to sit down and meditate, these
collections do come up. They happen continuously in the
thought process. Discursive thoughts, argumentative
thoughts, self-denial thoughtsall sorts of thoughts
begin to come up. So it seems to be important to know
something about them. In other words, you could make use of
these thoughts instead of pretending to be good and trying
to suppress thoughts, as though you don’t require them
anymore or they don’t require you anymore.
It is good to make use of speculative mind. That is
exactly why the whole idea of studying scriptures and going
through disciplines or practices is extremely important. It
is a way of using these living materials that we have.
Whether we try to quiet ourselves or not, these things come
up constantly and do happen. Therefore, making use of such
thought processes as a way of learning is extremely
necessary and good and helpful and importantunless you
develop “gold fever,” believing that you have found some
argument, some logic which you’re excited about, and you
spend the rest of your life arguing, trying to prove it
logically all the time. If this begins to happen, then the
intellect is not being properly cared for. It begins to take
on a self-destructive quality, as in gold fever, where
you’re constantly willing to sacrifice your life looking for
gold, gold, gold, and you end up destroying yourself. It is
the same thing when you’re trying to look for something,
trying to prove something purely by intellectual
speculation, beyond the ordinary level of thought process.
The ordinary level of thought process has been transformed
into a more ambitious one. Being able to click with your
thought process and work something out is good, but beyond
that goodness, you begin to get a faint idea of
satisfactionjust a teeny-weeny bit to start with and
then it begins to grow, grow, grow, and grow. It becomes
addictive and self-destructive.
So that seems to be the limitation. If one’s experiences,
discoveries, and intellectual understandings coincide
simultaneously, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle,
that’s fine. That doesn’t mean that you have to have an
absolute understanding or a complete command of the whole
thing necessarily at all. But you could have a basic glimpse
or understanding of the situation and you could go along
with it, without indulging in the experience as a new
discovery of an exciting thing. And I hope, in any case, to
introduce in my lifetime, working with people in the West,
all the teachings that are available and have been studied,
practiced, and experienced in Tibet and elsewhere. And I
have tremendous confidence that people in the West will be
able to grasp them if we are not too rushed, if no one has
caught gold fever halfway. That would be too bad.
I’m sure that such studying, such learning, means
sacrificing intellect when it goes beyond, to the
pleasurable point of intellectualization. It also means
sacrificing the emotional, impulsive quality of wanting to
exaggerate by tuning in to your basic neuroses and trying to
interpret them as discoveries. That is another problem. You
see, there are two extremes: one extreme is indulgence in
the intellectual sense and in intellectual discovery; the
other extreme is using the impulsive, instinctive level of
the ego as camouflage to prove your state of mind in terms
of the teachings. The two of them could work side by side
with some people, or else there could be a greater portion
of one or the other with others. It could work either
Our task is not purely trying to save ourselves
alonewhether you are 99 years old or whether you are
ten years old doesn’t make any difference. Our task is to
see our situation along with that of our fellow human
beings. As we work on ourselves, then we continuously work
with others as well. That is the only way of developing
ourselves, and that is the only way of relating with the six
experiences of bardo. If we relate our experience with the
dream bardo, the bardo between birth and death, the bardo of
the before-death experience, or the bardo of
emotionsall of these have a tremendous connection with
our projection of the world outside. Other persons, animate
and inanimate objects, the apparent phenomenal world, also
play a great and important part. But unless we’re willing to
give in, give way, and learn from these situations, then our
prefabricated learningeither by scripture or by the
constant close watch of our instructordoesn’t help. It
doesn’t mean anything very much.
I think I’ve said enough. This much introduction is quite
a handful. At this seminar, a lot of us, all of us actually,
are brought together by individual convictions. That
individual conviction means a great deal. We were not
brought up in Buddhist families; our parents did not pay our
fee and push us here. Everything here is based on individual
conviction. We are free people; we have the right to use our
freedom, our insight, for our own benefit as well as for
sharing and communicating with others as compassionately and
openly as possible. Perhaps we should have a short question
STUDENT: You said one should not try to save oneself
alone, and then you used the expression “projections.” But
in another talk you said that in order to be able to
communicate you have to respect the existence of the other
person. This is more than projection, isn’t it? It’s a
TR: Well, you see, that is a very interesting point. And
actually, to tell you the truth, nobody is quite certain
whether it is one hundred percent projection or whether it
is only partially a projection. Things do exist independent
of you, outside you, and you exist independent of them in
some ways. But occasionally you need their help to reaffirm
yourself. If you are a fat person, somebody will say you are
fat because they are thinner than you. Without their
comparison you wouldn’t know what you were, because you
would have no way of working with yourself. And from that
point of view it could be called a projection. But
projection in this case does not necessarily mean purely
your hallucination; things outside do exist as they are. But
that’s a very dangerous thing to say.
Things do exist as they are, but we tend to see our
version of them as they are, rather than things as they
really are. That makes everything that we see projections.
But one doesn’t have to make a definite and absolute
reassurance of that necessarily at all. You just go along
with situations, go along with dealing with them. If you are
going too far, they’ll shake you. They’ll beat you to death
if you’re going too far. If you’re going well, if you are
balanced, they will present hospitality and openness
luxuriously to you. I mean, that much of a situation is
there anyway; some kind of rapport between this and that
goes on all the time. As long as a person is sensitive
enough to experience it, that rapport goes on. That’s the
important point. One doesn’t have to make it definite and
clear-cut as to which is not projection and which is
projection. It is sort of a gradual understanding. Until the
attainment of buddhahood, this experience goes onand
nobody is able to answer it because they themselves don’t
STUDENT: When was The Tibetan Book of the Dead
TR: According to tradition, it was about the 14th
century, or about 200 years after the introduction of
Buddhism into Tibet from India. At that time, a particular
teacher called Karma Lingpa discovered this teachinghe
did not actually compose it, but it is as though he
discovered, or rediscovered, this teaching. The actual
teaching existed in the 7th century. He rediscovered the
idea of bardo and the death experience out of his own
experience as well, in the death of his very beloved child.
He had watched the death of his child, and after he had
conducted the funeral service and the child had been buried,
he came back home to find that his wife was also just about
to die. So he watched and he worked through this experience
of the death process. From that experience he discovered
that the process of birth and death is continual, taking
place all the time. And therefore the six types of bardo
I think it had something to do with the local situation
in Tibet at the time as well, because generally people
regarded death as extremely important as well as death.
People often gathered around their dying friends, dying
relatives, and tried to work with them and help them. That
was the common tradition. It seems that in the West, people
make birth more important. You congratulate someone for
having a child, and you have parties for birthdays. But
there are no parties for dying.
STUDENT: In Ireland there is the wake, or party for the
deceased, which happens down South as well.
TR: I hope so. I’m pleased. That is probably connected
with ancient ideas, which is very right, very good. It think
it is extremely important to a dying person that he or she
receive proper acknowledgement that he is dying, and that
death plays an important part in life as well as
birthas much as one’s birthday parties. It’s an
STUDENT: I didn’t understand the distinction between
intellectual and instinctual.
TR: In Instinct, you don’t use any logic. To put it very
bluntly, extremely bluntly, if you’re studying and
practicing the teachings of some religion, and you have some
pseudo-experience of the spiritual pathsort of a
shadow experience of what has been described in the
scripturesyou’ll go along with it, but you are not
quite certain exactly. You would like to believe that these
experiences are true experiences. And at a certain point,
you have to make up your mind whether all this experience
and development have been pure hypocrisy on your part or
notyou have to make a decision. Either you have to
renounce your discoveries as being false up to that point or
you have to make another leap of building yourself up.
That very peak point becomes extremely important to a
personwhether he will confess everything completely,
or whether he will latch onto some continual buildup. If a
person has decided to continually build up and to latch onto
that, then he begins to realize that he can’t keep up with
the speed of what’s going on, with his experience. In the
scriptures, the analogy for this is a street beggar who’s
been enthroned as a universal monarch. There is a sudden
shock, you don’t know what to do. You never had a penny; now
you have the rest of the world, from your point of view. And
you automatically freak out because of such a change. You
act as though you are a universal monarch, although in
mentality you are still a beggar. A beggar doesn’t make a
good millionaire. If there’s no gradual experience of the
transition, things will become chaotic and emotionally
disturbed as well in such a relationship. That is, of
course, the emotional or the instinctive.
The scholarly approach is less violent than that, less
dangerous than that, but at the same time it is extremely
contagious in the sense of bringing you down. Continual
bondage is put on yourself all the time. You become heavier
and heavier and heavier. You don’t accept anything unless it
is logically proven, up to the point that the logic brings
you pleasure, the discovery brings you pleasure. In certain
neurotic intellectual states of mind, everything is based on
pain and pleasure. If your discovery brings pleasure, then
you accept it as a masterpiece. If that discovery or logical
conclusion doesn’t bring you pleasure, or victory, then you
feel you’ve been defeated. You find this with certain
college professors: if you discuss their sore point in their
particular subject, if there’s the slightest usage of
certain words, since their whole world is based on words,
the structure of words, they become extremely upset or
offended. The whole thing is based on pleasure and pain,
from the point of view of getting logical conclusions. But
the scholar doesn’t claim that he or she has spiritual
experiences, as the other person would claim. In fact, the
scholar would be afraid of any actual experience of what
he’s teaching; he wouldn’t actually commit himself at all.
He may be a professor of meditation, but he wouldn’t dare to
take part in sitting meditation because that doesn’t bring
pleasure or any logical conclusions for his work or
STUDENT: If you really start to study very hard, do you
have any conscious control over the experiences you receive?
Doesn’t it just happen to you? Can you really push it too
TR: Well, you can push too fast, of course, but that
doesn’t mean the whole thing should be ruled out. I mean,
there is a balanced pattern happening all the time. It’s a
question of how open you are. The minute you set foot on the
path, if there’s room for suggestion and if you are flexible
and not too serious or sincere, there is, of course, room
for study. But once a person begins to make up his mind that
whatever he is doing is a matter of death or life, kill or
cureas they say, “publish or perish”then it
could become self-destructive. It is very individual; you
can’t make generalizations.
S: Is it possible to check yourself when you start on the
path so that you’re not deceiving yourself all the time
about your seriousness, your sincerity, and so that it
doesn’t just become a trap?
TR: Generally, if you allow some space between the action
and the thinking, it is a natural process, always
predictable. In this case, there will be a definite
experience of genuine understanding of yourself as you
areand as what you’re trying to doin other words, your
hypocritical aspect and you as an innocent child. That will
be quite obvious, provided you allow room or space between
action and thinking. It will be quite a natural process.
A person might be convinced that he has gained something
which he actually hasn’t gained. And if you talk to such a
person, he might behave as if he has no doubt about himself
at all. He overrides your doubts about him; there’s no
question about his attainment; it’s absolutely valid; he is
a bank of knowledge and he knows what he’s doing. But the
very fact of the way he overrides any doubts means the
subtlety of something is not quite right. It could happen
that if we were really honest with ourselves, if we allowed
space for ourselves, we automatically would know that the
subtlety of self-hypocrisy is always there, without fail.
Even if you had great power, great will power to override
these obstacles, still you would know. There still will be a
very faint but very sharp, very delicate and penetrating
understanding that something is not quite right. That is
basic sanity, which continues all the time, without fail.
That basic sanity really allows you to engage your speed and
your pressure, so to speak. It happens all the time,
S: I want to know how it works, the space between action
and the thinking process. Is it that you think of an action,
then do it?
TR: When I talk about space, I don’t mean you have to
delay yourself between thinking and doing things. It is a
fundamental understanding that, to start with, what you’re
doing is not warfare. No one is losing and no one is
gaining. There’s time to be open. It doesn’t mean you have
to slow down your footsteps and be half an hour late for
your interview necessarily; it is not that literal. But
there will be some feeling of spaciousness or roomy quality,
that you can afford to be what you are. Really, you can
afford to be what you are. You may think you’re alone and
nobody’s with you, but that in itself is good enough. The
aloneness is good, because you are definitely what you are,
clear-cut what you are. Your area has not been intruded on
or taken advantage of by others. You have your space; you
have your place. It is a definite thing: you are alone and
you can afford to be what you are, and you don’t have to
rush into it. It is fundamental space, basic
spaceextreme, fundamental space.
S: Usually in real life one cannot afford to do or be
what one wants to be for oneself because it involves many
other people, so it can be very selfish.
TR: The point is not that you have to centralize
yourself. If you can afford to be what you are, then that
automatically means you could receive others as your guests.
Because the ground your guests are treading on is safe
ground, nobody is going through the floorboard. It is a
sound, well-built house, your own house, and people could be
welcome in it. That makes other people more comfortable and
welcome, so they don’t have to put up their portion of
resistance anymore. It is mutual understanding. You see,
generally people pick up some kind of psychic vibrations
that you put out, and before you exchange words there is a
kind of meeting of the two psyches. That takes place
S: Could you elaborate on the importance of studying the
six states of bardo in connection with meditation
TR: You don’t have to try to put them together; they are
the same experience. However, the six types of bardo are
post-meditation experience, the meditation-in-action aspect.
Sitting meditation is being, a way of being in open space,
providing a clear white canvas in order to paint pictures on
it. So they are complementary to one another.
S: As Evans-Wentz mentions in The Tibetan Book of the
Dead, there are various books of the dead in various
cultures. Are the experiences they describe inspired
parables, or have they actually been experienced and can be
experienced by us, too?
TR: You see, all ancient traditionssuch as the
Egyptian, the Pon tradition of Tibet, the Shintoism of
Japan, the Taoism of China, and othersall paid a great
deal of attention to the process of growth. The process of
growth means birth as well as coloring, blooming, decaying,
turning into a seed, dropping on the ground, regenerating as
another plant, and going through the cycle of the four
seasons continuously. Because of that, because it is of the
same nature, human life has been dealt with in exactly the
same way. So much sacredness has been imposed on the idea of
the birth and death process. I don’t think it is so much an
intellectual, philosophical, or religious phenomenon, but it
is much more earthybeing one with the facts of life,
with this growth process.
For instance, in Pon, the Tibetan pre-Buddhist tradition,
they say the time of death and the time of birth should
coincide. That brings a conclusion to that process of birth
and deathwhich includes the climate, the time, the
location, the direction the dying person is facing, the
particular collection of parents and relatives, and how many
people are gathered there, how many men, women, or children.
That whole collection brings a total picture of complete
conclusion. So they are very earthy people. It is quite
different from how modern occultists work with the same
thing. It is very earthy; nobody allows room for
hallucinations or imagination. Everything is dealt with
completely within the tradition and the actual experience of
From that point of view, in all the traditional
civilizations of many different cultures, the death
experience is regarded as an important point. And on top of
that, the Buddhist discovery was to see all those colors,
directions, temperatures, and climates of the dying person
as a psychological picture. So it is seen completely
differently but in exactly the same way.
S: Are the deities which appear during the 49 days
following death just visions, or are they actually
TR: Nobody knows. But as an experience of a given
situation develops, it has a feeling around it as well. That
could be said of anything, like the meeting of two
friendsthe situation of the meeting, the nature of the
conversation, the particular kind of prelude to the meeting
the individuals had before they met the other person, what
kind of state of mind you are in, what kind of incidents you
have gone through, whether you just got up and felt
high-spirited when you met this person or whether you were
just involved in a car accident and you happened to drag
yourself into a friend’s house and met this personI
mean, such situations make real life, the living quality.
From that point of view it is a definite thing, an
experiential thing. But as far as the death process is
concerned, nobody knows. It is left to individuals to work
through it from their living experiences.
S: If you have decided to return to earth, the soul sees
visions of copulating males and females. Well, this is a
marvelous simile, but does that vision really exist?
TR: It could exist, sure. If you are without a home for
seven weeks and you see somebody decorating a beautiful
S: Through meditation I get myself together. But can I
use it to help other people, all those who are
TR: I think so, definitely, yes. It wouldn’t become true
meditation if you couldn’t help other people. That is a
criterion of meditationmeditation experience is not
only an introverted experience, but it is also associated
with the experience of life in general. You see, the idea of
meditation is complete sanity, a completely balanced state
of mind. If you are a completely sane person, even your
example will be inspiring to others, that you are a balanced
person, beautiful to be with.
S: Is it helpful to study The Tibetan Book of the
TR: Sure, of course. But you have to understand the
symbolism, all the subtleties, because the people who wrote
such writings were very earthy people. They saw things as
they really are. When they say water, they really mean it.
When we say water, we might see it as something coming out
of taps, in terms of cold and hot. It could be
DISCUSSION NEXT MORNING
S: We were talking this morning about ego, and we seemed
to have trouble defining it. Could you say what it is?
TR: Well, there seem to be different ways of using the
word ego. To some people, the ego is that which sustains
them. That which gives some kind of guideline or
practicality in dealing with things is referred to as ego,
being conscious of being oneself. And you exert effort
through it, so any kind of self-respect is referred to as
ego, which is a general sense of the term.
But ego as we are discussing it is slightly different
from that. In this case ego is that which is constantly
involved with some kind of paranoia, some kind of
panicin other words, hope and fear. That is to say, as
you operate there is a constant reference back to yourself.
As you refer back to yourself, then a criterion of reference
develops in terms of hope and fear: gaining something or
losing one’s identity. It is a constant battle. That seems
to be the notion of ego in this case, its neurotic
You could have a basic sound understanding of the logic
of things as they are without ego. In fact you can have
greater sanity beyond ego; you can deal with situations
without hope and fear, and you can retain your self-respect
or your logical sanity in dealing with things. Continuously
you can do so, and you can do so with much greater skill, in
a greater way, if you don’t have to make the journey to and
fro and if you don’t have to have a running commentary going
on side by side with your operation. It is more powerful and
more definite. You see, getting beyond ego doesn’t mean that
you have to lose contact with reality at all. I think that
in a lot of cases there is a misunderstanding that you need
ego and that without it you can’t operate. That’s a very
convenient basic twist: hope and fear as well as the notion
of sanity are amalgamated together and used as a kind of
excuse, that you need some basic ground to
operatewhich is, I would say, a misunderstanding. It’s
the same as when people say that if you are a completely
enlightened being, then you have no dualistic notion of
things. That is the idea of ultimate zombie, which doesn’t
seem to be particularly inspiring or creative at all.
S: What do you mean by basic sanity?
TR: It is relating with things which come up within your
experience and knowing experiences as they are. It’skind of
the rhythm between experience and your basic being, like
driving on the road in accordance with the situation of the
road, a kind of interchange. That is the basic sanity of
clear perception. Otherwise, if you wanted to reshape the
road in accordance with your excitement or your wishes, then
possibly, instead of you reshaping the road, the road might
reshape you and you might end up in an accident. This is
S: How about vajrayana, crazy wisdom?
TR: Well, crazy wisdomthat’s a very good
questionis when you have a complete exchange with the
road, so that the shape of the road becomes your pattern as
well. There’s no hesitation at all. It’s complete
controlnot only control, but a complete dance with it,
which is very sharp and penetrating, quick precision. That
precision comes from the situation outside as well: not
being afraid of the outside situation, we can tune into it.
That’s the fearless quality of crazy wisdom.
S: What do you mean when you speak of “the simple-minded
attitude toward karma?”
TR: Well, there seem to be all sorts of different
attitudes toward the idea of karma. One is that if you
constantly try to be good, then there will be constant good
results. That attitude to karma doesn’t help you to
transcend karmic creation. The ultimate idea is to transcend
sowing the seed of any karma, either good or bad. By sowing
karmic seeds you perpetually create more karma, so you are
continuously wound up in the wheel of samsara.
Another attitude to karma is that it is connected with
rebirth, life after deathwhich is pure blind faith.
That approach brings a certain amount of psychological
comfort: this is not the only life, but there are a lot more
to come; other situations will come up so you don’t have to
feel fatalistic any more. That kind of attitude to karma is
not dealing with the root of the karmic situation but is
purely trying to play games with it or else trying to use
karma as a comforter. It is based on distrust in oneself.
Knowing that you are making mistakes, you think that even if
you do make mistakes, you can afford to correct them,
because you have a long, long time, endless time to do
S: I understand that an enlightened person doesn’t carry
a trace of what happens, but the rest of us do.
TR: In terms of an enlightened being, his attitude to
karma is that either of the two polarities of good and bad
is the same patternfundamentally a dead end. So
there’s no fear involved. In fact, there’s more effort, more
spontaneous effort of transcending sowing karmic seeds. In
the ordinary case, you are not quite sure what you are
doing, and there’s fear of the end result anyway. So there’s
the constant panic of losing oneself, the ego.
S: Could you discuss what it is that reincarnates,
especially in relation to the Theravadin doctrine of
TR: Well, from the point of view of anatman, nothing
reincarnates. It is more of a rebirth process rather than
reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation is that a solid,
living quality is being passed on to the next being. It is
the idea of some solid substance being passed on. But in
this case, it’s more of a rebirth. You see, something
continues, but at the same time, nothing continues. In a
sense we’re like a running stream. You could say,such and
such a river, such and such a stream. It has a name, but if
you examine it carefully, that river you named three hundred
years ago isn’t there at all; it is completely different,
changing, passing all the time. It is transforming from one
aspect to another. That complete transformation makes it
possible to take rebirth. If one thing continued all the
time there would be no possibilities for taking rebirth and
evolving into another situation. It is the change which is
important in terms of rebirth, rather than one thing
S: Doesn’t that happen moment to moment within a
TR: Yes, exactly. You see, the ultimate idea of rebirth
is not purely the idea of physical birth and death. Physical
birth and death are very crude examples of it. Actually,
rebirth takes place every moment, every instant. Every
instant is death; every instant is birth. It’s a changing
process: there’s nothing you can grasp onto; everything is
changing. But there is some continuity, of coursethe
change is the continuity. The impermanence of the rebirth is
the continuity of it. And because of that, there are
possibilities of developing and possibilities of regressing.
Certain new elements and inspirations could insert
themselves into that process of continual change. You can
enter yourself into the middle of the queue, if you are
queuing, because this queue is made out of small particles,
or people, rather than one thing.
S: Doesn’t alaya consciousness provide the ground of
TR: In order to have alaya consciousness, you have to
have change taking place all the time. This common ground
idea, or alaya, is not ground in terms of solid ground, but
perpetually changing ground. That’s why it remains
consciousnessor the unconscious stateit is a
S: This morning there was some confusion in our
discussion group about the place of technique in dealing
with the problems of everyday life and in meditating, and
whether there should be any techniques at all.
TR: Whether there shouldn’t be any techniques or there
should be techniques, both remain techniques in any case. I
mean, you can’t step out of one thing because you have
gotten a better one, you see? It’s a question of what is
needed. Any kind of application becomes a technique,
therefore there is continual room for discipline.
S: Is the technique of “no technique” a fiction? In fact,
do you always have to apply some technique?
TR: When you talk about “no technique” and “technique,”
when you begin to speak in terms of “yes” and “no,” then
that is automatically a polarity. And however much you are
able to reduce your negativity into nothingness, it still
remains negative as opposed to positive. But at the same
time, being without the sophisticated techniques of everyday
life, the practice of meditation is in a sense more
ruthless. In other words, it is not comforting and not easy.
It is a very narrow and direct path because you can’t
introduce any other means of occupying yourself. Everything
is left to a complete bare minimum of simplicitywhich
helps you to discover everything.
If you present the simplicity of nothingness, the absence
of technique, the so-called absence of technique, then that
absence produces a tremendously creative process. Nothing
means everything in this case. That helps you to learn not
to be afraid to dance and not to be afraid of too many
things crowding in on you. It helps keep that guideline of
simplicity. Whereas if you already have complex techniques
and patterns, if you already have handfuls of things, then
you don’t want to pick up any more. Any new situation that
comes in becomes overcrowding. But all of these tactics, so
to speak, are fundamentally still acts of duality, of
S: Is that all right? Is that the best we can do at this
point, to act within that duality?
TR: Well, there’s no other thing to work on; the best we
can do is just work on what we have.
S: Some people reach a sort of meditative state without
knowing it. I met somebody who was emphatically against even
hearing about meditation, and yet he was often in a
meditative state. But if I told him, he would be
TR: Well, that’s always the thing: even if you start with
the bare minimum, complete nothingness, it tends to bring
you something anyway. You end up practicing some kind of
teaching; that automatically happens. Before you realize
where you are, you have technique; before you realize where
you are, you have religion, so to speak, you have a
spiritual path. You see, you can’t completely ignore the
whole thing, because if you reject everything completely,
that means there is still a rejecter. As long as there’s a
rejecter, then you have a path. Even if you completely
ignore the road, there still will be a pair of feet, and
they have to tread on something. That automatically happens.
Things always work with this kind of logic. If you commit
yourself to collecting a lot of things, you end up being
poor. But if you rejectnot exactly reject, but purely
accept everything as bare simplicitythen you become
rich. These two polarities, two aspects, continue all the
time. It is a natural thing. It doesn’t matter whether you
are studying Christianity or Buddhism. Whatever technique or
tradition it may be, it’s the same thing as far as ego is
concerned; it’s still stuff that you are collecting. It
doesn’t matter what this stuff consists of, still you are
2. THE SIX REALMS OF BEING
Generally there is the basic space to operate, in terms
of creative process, whether you are confused or whether you
are awake. That basic space acts as the fundamental ground
for the idea of bardo. Many of you may also have heard about
the development of ego, which is exactly the same pattern as
the operation of bardo. The experience of bardo is also
operating on the basis of that evolution of ego. But the
discovery or sudden glimpse, or the experience of bardo, is
a momentary thing, impermanent. So fundamentally we might
say that the teaching of bardo is closer to the concept of
Bardo is that sudden glimpse of experience which is
constantly developing. We try to hold on to it, and the
moment we try to hold on to it, it leaves us, because of the
very fact that we are trying to hold on to it, which is
trying to give birth to it. You see something happen and you
would like to give birth to it. You would like to start
properly in terms of giving birth, but once you begin to
prepare this birth, you realize you can’t give birth
anymore. You lost your child already by trying officially to
adopt it. That is the kind of bardo experience which happens
in everyday life. It is operating in terms of space as well
as in terms of ego.
Bardo is generally associated with samsaric mind, not
necessarily with the awakened state of being. There is a
background of bardo experience, which is like a river. A
river does not belong to the other shore or to this shore;
it is just a river, a no-man’s-land. Such a no-man’s land,
or river, has different characteristics: it may be a
turbulent river or a gently flowing river. There are
different categories and types of riversour basic
situation, where we are at, our present psychological state
of beingwhich make the bardo experience more
outstanding. If there is an impressive little island, by
being in the middle of a turbulent river, it becomes more
outstanding. An island in the middle of a gently flowing
river is also more impressive and outstanding. At the same
time, the shape and condition of the island itself will be
completely different, depending on the river and the
background. Therefore it seems necessary to go through these
patterns, which are called the six types of world: the world
of the gods, the world of the jealous gods, the world of
human beings, the world of animals, the world of hungry
ghosts, and the world of hell. Before we get into the bardo
experience, it is very important to know these particular
types of worlds. They are not purely mythical stories or
concepts of heaven and hell; they are also psychological
pictures of heaven and hell and all the rest.
We could begin with heaven. The notion of heaven is a
state of mind which is almost meditative. Heavenly
psychology is based on a state of absorption in something,
or spiritual materialism. It is complete absorption, which
automatically, of course, means indulging ourselves in a
particular pleasurable situationnot necessarily
material pleasure, but more likely spiritual pleasure within
the realm of ego. It’s like the notion of the four jhana
states. Traditionally, the 33 god realms are based on
different degrees of jhana states, up to the point of a
completely formless jhana state containing both experiencer
and experiencing. But if there is an experiencer and also an
experience, then that experience must be either pleasurable
or painfulnothing else could exist beyond those
limits. It could be an extremely sophisticated experience,
seemingly transcending pain and pleasure, but there is still
a very subtle and sophisticated experience of some thing
going on. The thingness and the awareness of self continue.
That is the realm of the formless godslimitless space;
limitless consciousness; not that, not this; not not that,
not not thisthe full state of absorption in a formless
state. Other states as well are inclined toward that state
of mind, but they become less sophisticated as the
experience is on a more and more gross level. The first
state, therefore, the realm of spiritual pleasure, is so
extremely pleasurable that you can almost afford to relax.
But somehow the relaxation doesn’t happen, because there’s
an experiencer and an experience.
That is the realm of the gods. And in that god realm, as
you can imagine, in such a state of spiritual materialism,
there is a weakness. The intensity of your experience is
based on collecting, possessing further experiences. That
means that fundamentally your state of mind is based on give
and take. You are developing immunity to temptation and
fascination in order to seek pleasure and try to grasp hold
of the pleasure more definitely.
As that state of mind develops in terms of the six realms
of the world, we are talking about regressing from that
sophisticated state of spiritual materialism in the world of
heaven down to the world of hellregressing. Such a
state of pleasure in the world of heaven, that complete
meditative absorption into the jhana states, automatically
brings up temptations and questions. You begin to get tired
of being extremely refined, and you want to come down to
some raggedness. Jealousy or envy or dissatisfaction with
your present state comes up automatically as an obvious next
step, which then leads to the realm of the jealous gods, the
The realm of the asuras is highly energetic, almost in
contrast to that state of spiritual absorption. It’s as if
somebody had been far away a long time from their
civilization, in the middle of a desert island, and they
suddenly had a chance to come down to the nearest city.
Automatically, their first inspiration, of course, would be
to try to be extremely busy and entertain themselves,
indulging in all sorts of things. In that way the energetic
quality of busyness in the realm of the asuras develops.
Even that experience of tremendous energy, driving force,
trying to grasp, trying to hold on to external situations,
is not enough. Somehow you need not only rushing, but you
have to pick something up, taste it, swallow it, digest it.
That kind of intimacy is needed. You begin to feel tired of
rushing too hard, too much, and you begin to think in terms
of grasping and taking. You would like to take advantage of
the situation and the intimacy of possessing, the sexual
aspect, the tenderness. You try to use it, chew it. That is
the world of human beings. (In this case, when we talk of
the world of human beings or the world of animals, it is not
necessarily human life or animal life literally, as
conventionally known. It’s the psychological aspect.) So the
human realm is built on passion and desire.
Somehow, indulging ourselves in passion and desire is
again not quite enoughwe need more and more. You
realize that you can come down to a more gross level, a
cruder level. And realizing that, you begin to yearn for
much more real and obvious experience as a way of putting
into effect your emotional need. But at the same time, you
are tired of relationships. You are tired of relating to
experience in terms of pleasure, and you begin to find all
sorts of facets of your experience are involved with just
that. You begin to look for something simpler, a more
instinctive way of dealing with things, in which you don’t
have to look for the complicated patterns of that passion,
that desire. Then you are reduced to the animal level.
Everything is put into practice in an instinctive way rather
than by applying intellectual or emotional frustrations as a
way of getting or possessing something.
Then, again, such a state of mind, in which you are
purely acting on the impulsive or instinctive level of the
animal realm, is not gross enough. You begin to feel that
there is a tremendous weakness in your state of being, in
such animal mentality. You don’t want to give away anything,
but you would like to take more. So far, all
experiencefrom the realm of the gods down to the
animal levelhas been a kind of exchange constantly, a
balancing act or play. And somehow you begin to realize and
come to the conclusion that exchanging or commuting between
two situations, even at the blind level, is too exhausting.
Then you look for a highly crude form of maintaining
yourself. That is the world of the hungry ghosts. You don’t
want to give away anything, but you just want to take. And
since you do not want to give anything away, since you would
purely like to take in, the mentality of that world becomes
an extremely hungry one, because unless you give, you won’t
get anything. And the more you get, the more you want to
receive. In other words, you do not want to give or share
any experience. There’s so much hunger and thirst, me-ness,
unwillingness to give an inch, or even one fraction of a
moment, to relate with the world outside. So the hungry
ghost realm is the height of poverty.
Ultimately that sense of poverty leads to aggression. You
not only do not want to give anything away, but you would
like to destroy that which reminds you of giving. That is
the ultimate world of hell, or naraka, an instant and
extremely powerful state of aggression or hatred.
All these six states, these six different aspects of the
world, are the rivers in which the bardo experience is
taking shape. In terms of the realm of the gods, it’s a very
dreamlike quality. The realm of hell is very aggressive and
definite. It would be good to think about that process of
the six types of world and become familiar with those
different states of mind before we get into bardo experience
itself. That would be very helpful. Having already developed
that ground, we can pinpoint the different experiences of
bardo and fit them into these different types of rivers,
samsaric rivers. It would be much easier to work on that
level.And strangely enough, these experiences of the six
realmsgods, jealous gods, human beings, animals,
hungry ghosts, and hellare space, different versions
of space. It seems intense and solid, but in actual fact it
isn’t at all. They are different aspects of
spacethat’s the exciting or interesting part. In fact,
it is completely open space, without any colors or any
particularly solid way of relating. That is why they have
been described as six types of consciousness. It is pure
consciousness rather than a solid situationit almost
could be called unconsciousness rather than even
consciousness. The development of ego operates completely at
the unconscious level, from one unconscious level to another
unconscious level. That is why these levels are referred to
as loka, which means “realm” or “world.” They are six types
of world. Each is a complete unit of its own. In order to
have a world, you have to have an atmosphere; you have to
have space to formulate things. So the six realms are the
fundamental space through which any bardo experience
operates. Because of that, it is possible to transmute these
spaces into six types of awakened state, or freedom.
STUDENT: Can you be in more than one type of world at the
TR: With momentum the worlds always change. But it seems
that there is one particular governing factor.
S: When you’re in one of these worlds, can you remember
TR: Well, you have the instinct of the other one. That’s
why you can move from one experience to another
S: By your own will?
TR: Not necessarily by your own will, but you sense that
you know something. For instance, dogs occasionally forget
that they are dogs. They almost think they’re human beings
taking part in human society.
S: These worlds of the bardo, are they real, or are they
TR: That’s a very heavy question: What is real? It is
very difficult to distinguish 100% real in any case.
S: Does it make any difference if these take place only
in the mind or in reality?
TR: Well, mind operates realistically.
S: Does it make any difference whether they are actually
TR: Well, they are acted out, of course, but that
activity is questionablewhether it is purely action
for the sake of action or whether it is inspired by the
mind. The point is that once you are in any of these realms,
you are completely immersed in it. You can’t help showing
the internal impressions of it. You are completely submerged
into that kind of experience. It is so living and so real.
It is almost confusing whether the experience of hell, for
instance, is external hell or internal hell, purely in your
mind. At the time, you can’t distinguish whether you are
just thinking or whether you’ve been made to think that way.
And I don’t think you can avoid acting at all. If you are
nervous, for instance, much as you try not to act nervous,
there will still be some signs of nervousness.
S: But take passion, for instance: you can restrain your
action, but you can’t restrain your thinking.
TR: You can. At a certain gross level there are different
ways of putting out passion. Passion is not sexual passion
alone at all, there are many kinds: one particular desire
can be replaced by all sorts of other things. You see, what
generally happens is that if you don’t want to reveal
completely your full state of being, quite conveniently you
tend to find ways of interpreting that in order to get
satisfaction in all sorts of ways.
S: So whether you act on it or not, you’re in that
TR: Yes, at that time you’re in that world, and action
S: And repressing it doesn’t change the fact?
TR: No, you always find a way of doing it.
S: I sense, when you talk about transmuting the six
realms of samsara into the six realms of the awakened state,
that the six worlds are to be avoided or worked through into
something else. Is that a good way to think about it?
TR: I don’t think replacing them with something else
would help. That doesn’t seem to be the point. The point is
that within that realm of intensity there is the absence of
that intensity as wellotherwise intensity couldn’t
exist, couldn’t happen, couldn’t operate. Intensity must
develop in some kind of space, some kind of environment.
That basic environment is the transcendental aspect.
S: There’s no sense in leaving the world of hell behind,
transmuting it into something which excludes hell?
TR: No, then you go through the realms again and again.
You see, you start from the world of heaven, come down to
hell, get tired of it, and go back up to heaven. And you
come down again and againor the other way around.
That’s why it is called samsara, which means “whirlpool.”
You are continually running around and around and around. If
you try to find a way out by running, by looking for an
alternative, it doesn’t happen at all.
S: Does it make any sense to look for a way out?
TR: It’s more like a way in, rather than a way out.
S: Were you ever in the hell world yourself? Have you
yourself ever experienced the hell world?
TR: Definitely, yes.
S: What do you do?
TR: I try to remain in the hell world.
S: What is the basic ground that allows one to enter
completely into that state and yet be completely out of that
state at the same time?
TR: The point seems to be that the hell realm, or
whatever realm may be, is like the river, and the
bardoexperience out of that is the island. So you could
almost say that the bardo experience is the entrance to the
S: Is it the key to that experience?
TR: You could say key, but that is making a more than
S: So it’s like the high point or peak.
TR: Yes. Yes.
S: You spoke yesterday of the ground or canvas on which
experience is painted. How does that relate to the river and
TR: That’s a different metaphor altogether. In this case,
the canvas had never known colors yet, it’s an open canvas.
Even if you paint on the canvas, it remains white,
fundamentally speaking. You could scrape off the paint.
S: I still don’t see how it relates to the gulf between
the ground and the experience.
TR: The experience is, I suppose, realizing that the
turbulent quality purely happens on the surface, so to
speak. So you are not rushing to try to solve the problem of
turbulence, but you are diving inin other words,
fearlessness. Complete trust in confusion, so to speak.
Seeing the confused quality as the truth of its own reality.
Once you begin to develop the confident and fearless
understanding of confusion as being true confusion, then it
is no longer threatening. That is the ground. You begin to
S: Where hope and fear cease to exist?
TR: Of course.
S: And activity continues; each state continues. Nothing
TR: Nothing changes.
S: If confusion persists, do you just let it persist?
Don’t you try to clear it out?
TR: You do not go against the force, or try to change the
course of the river.
S: Suppose there are four exits, and in our confusion we
don’t know which is a good one?
TR: You see, the whole idea is not to try to calm down;
it is to see the calm aspect at the same level rather than
just completely calming down. These particular states of
turbulence, the emotions or confusions, also have positive
qualities. One has to learn to transmute the positive
qualities as part of them. So you don’t want to completely
destroy their whole existence. If you destroy them, if you
try to work against them, it’s possible that you will be
thrown back constantly, because fundamentally you’re running
against your own energy, your own nature.S: There’s still
something undesirable I feel about confusion. You always
think that you’re going from some unenlightened state to an
enlightened state, that if you stay with it there is this
little hope or feeling that you will develop clarity sooner
TR: Yes, there will be clarity. Definitely.
S: So you don’t want confusion to be around, you want to
get rid of it, but nevertheless you have to stay in it to
TR: It doesn’t exactly work that way. You see, you begin
to realize that the clarity is always there. In fact, when
you are in a state of complete clarity you realize that you
never needed to have made such a fuss. Rather than realizing
how good you are now, you begin to see how foolish you’ve
S: Does anything actually exist outside of the mind
itself? Does anything actually exist?
TR: I would say yes and no. Outside the mind is, I
suppose you could say, that which is not dualityopen
space. That doesn’t mean that the whole world is going to be
empty. Trees will be there, rivers will be there, mountains
will be there. But that doesn’t mean they are some thing.
Still, tree remains tree and rocks remain rocks.
S: I wonder, in the human world is there any advantage
over, say, hell for crossing over, or is it equal in all
TR: I think it’s the same. The karmic potential of the
human realm seems to be greater because there is more
communication in the human state. The human state is the
highest state of passion, and the ultimate meaning of
passion is communication, making a link, relationship. So
there is a kind of open space, the possibility of
communication. But that doesn’t mean that the human realm is
an exit from the six realms of the world. The experience of
passion is very momentary: you might have a human state of
mind one moment and the next moment you have another realm
S: But seeing as how we have human bodies, isn’t the
human world the one in which we have the best chance to
accept ourselves for what we are?
TR: Yes, but we are talking about the realms as six
experiences within the human body. We are not talking about
the different realms as other types of worlds.
S: I understand that, but since we have human bodies and
minds, isn’t passion the basic framework of our lives rather
than hatred? Don’t we have the best chance of crossing over
within that framework?
TR: I think so. That’s precisely why we can discuss these
six types of world in a human body. So as far as experience
goes it is equal, but the physical situation of the human
realm seems to be unequal or special. As I’ve said already,
we are discussing these realms now, in our human bodies.
However, all of them are human states of mind, one no more
so than any other.
S: I’m not clear about the difference between humans and
TR: The asura realm is a kind of intermediate state
between the intense passion of the human realm andintense
bliss, which is the world of heaven. Somehow there’s
discontentment with the blissful state; one is looking for a
more crude experience. Then you begin to transform your
experience into that of an asura, which is energy, speed,
rushing, and a very sudden glimpse of comparison which is
called jealousy or envy. But I don’t think jealousy and envy
are concrete enough words to express this state of
neuroticism. It’s a combination of jealousy with the
efficient speed of looking for an alternative to the
blissful state of the world of the gods.
Then in the human realm you begin to find some way of
communicating, some way of making that experience more
concrete. You begin to find passion instead of pure jealousy
and comparison alone. You begin to find that you can get
into it: you can dive into it and indulge, in fact. In the
realm of the asura there’s no time for indulgence because
the whole thing is extremely fast and rushed. It’s almost a
reaction against the blissful state.
I would say that with all the realms you are not quite
certain what you are actually getting and what you are
trying to get hold of. So you try to find the nearest
situation and reinforce that or change that. There’s
S: If you drop all your usual patterns of relating, what
holds on to giving logical answers?
TR: You can’t do that in any case. Impossible.
S: You could go to the desert.
TR: Then there would still be the desert. If you try to
give up patterns, that in itself forms another pattern.
S: But what if you’re not trying?
TR: If you are not trying to drop anything, either
pattern or without pattern, and you are accepting all of
them as just black and white, you have complete control; you
are the master of the whole situation. Before, you were
dealing purely at the ground level, but in this case you are
dealing from an aerial view, so you have more scope.
S: Does anxiety have anything to do with the asura realm,
that rushing quality?
TR: I think so, yes.
S: It also seems that the rushing quality is very closely
connected to the hungry ghost state.
TR: That’s a good observation. The world of hell is
ultimate crudeness, and the world of the gods is ultimate
gentility. The hungry ghost and asura realms are the
intermediaries between these two realms and the animal and
S: Sometimes the fear of losing oneself, of losing ego,
is very overwhelming. It’s very real. Is there any way to
prepare the ground for dropping that, or do you just have to
drop it one step at a time?
TR: I think the only alternative left is just to drop. If
you are as close as that, if you’re extremely close to the
S: You mean to the ground.
TR: To the cliff.
S: It almost seems as if someone has to push you over;
you won’t go yourself.
S: I was wondering, is there really any reality except
the reality about which everyone agrees?
TR: You might find that everybody agrees on it, but
sometimes people don’t agree. To some people, one particular
aspect is more real than the others. Somehow, trying to
prove what is real and what is not real isn’t particularly
S: Is it possible that a real world exists, but that even
if we all agree as human beings, a catfish or a gopher might
see it differently?
TR: Well, it seems that reality, from a rational point of
view, is something that you can relate towhen you’re
hungry you eat food, when you’re cold you put on more
clothes, and when you’re frightened you look for a
protector. Those are the kinds of real things we do. Real
things happen, experiences such as that happen.
S: Rinpoche, are you going to discuss ego at all during
TR: I suppose that subject will pop up.
S: Rinpoche, you said that you can’t get out of a
situation, you have to get completely into it.
TR: You have to be completely fearless. And there should
be communication with the ground you’re standing on. If you
are in complete touch with that nowness of the ground, then
all the other situations are automatically definite and
S: Which world are you in now?
TR: Woof, woof.
S: But you said these are not states of the awakened
mindthey are only confusion!
TR: Yes, confusion. Sure.
S: Do the six bardos go around in a circle like the six
TR: Somehow it isn’t as methodical as that.
S: Is it one continuum? How does one move from one to the
TR: It’s the same as the different types of emotions,
which change from one to another, like temperament. Each
bardo is individual, an independent thing, like an island;
but each island has some connection with the other islands.
The presence of the other islands allows us to see the
perspective of any one island. So they are related as well
as not related.
S: Is it the water that connects them?
TR: I think so, yes.
S: Could you say that each experience has its root in one
or another of the bardos?
TR: Yes, definitely.
S: Is it a good thing, as one is experiencing, to try to
hold that view?
TR: Well, one doesn’t have to acknowledge them on the
spot necessarily, not intellectually, but from an
experiential point of view, this happens and one can
acknowledge it, so to speak. It is not necessarily healthy
to speculate or to try to put it into categories
intellectually. You see, meditation is a way of providing a
clear perception of these experiences, so that they don’t
become confusing or inspire paranoia. Meditation is a way of
gaining new eyesight to look at each situation, to feel
situations. And often the hidden aspect of these states or
worlds is brought out by meditation. If there’s a tendency
to try to hide from yourself the suppressed elements of
these worlds, then meditation brings them out. If your
experience is constantly destructive, then meditation brings
out the friendliness in these situations and you begin to
see that you don’t have to regard them as external attacks
or negative destructive things anymore. Meditation is a way
of seeing the perfect value of them, in a sense, the perfect
relationship of them. The whole thing is that you have to
work from within. Unless you are willing to go back to the
abstract quality, the root, judging the facade doesn’t help
at all. So meditation brings you back to the root, dealing
with the root of it.
S: Does meditation mean nothing but simply sitting still
quietly for forty-five minutes?
TR: In this case, it is not necessarily only that. It’s
the active aspect of meditation as well as the formal
sitting practice. All aspects.
S: Everybody seems to have different interpretations or
opinions as to what you feel about drug addiction or
alcoholism in relation to the Buddhist path. Can you relate
drug use or heavy drinking to bardo experience?
TR: Well, it seems to be connected with the idea of
reality, what is real and what is not real. Everybody tries
to find what is real, using all sorts of methods, all sorts
of ways. A person may discover it by using alcohol or by
using drugs, but then you want to make sure that discovery
of reality is really definite, 100% definite. So you go on
and on and on. Then somehow, a sort of greediness takes over
from your discovery at the beginning, and the whole thing
becomes destructive and distorting.
This happens constantly with any kind of experience of
life. At the beginning, there’s a relationship; but if you
try to take advantage of that relationship in a heavy-handed
way, you lose the relationship absolutely, completely. That
relationship becomes a destructive one rather than a good
one. It’s a question of whether the experience could be kept
an actual experience without trying to magnify it. At a
certain stage, you begin to forget that the situation that
the usage is not pure experience alone; it begins to become
a built-up situation that you require. And then there will
be conflict. In terms of LSD, for instance, a person has an
experience for the first time, and in order to confirm that
experience he has to take LSD againa second, third,
fourth, hundredth timeand somehow it ceases to be an
experience anymore. It isn’t exactly a question of middle
way or happy medium, but somehow trusting oneself is
necessary at that point. One doesn’t have to be extremely
skeptical of oneself. You have one experience, and that
experience is experienceyou don’t necessarily have to
try to make it into a clear and complete experience. One
experience should be total experience.
S: In meditation, how does one get these glimpses of
TR: In a sense you can create a glimpse by being open to
the situationopen meaning without fear of anything,
complete experience. A glimpse just takes place; it takes
shape of its own and sparks us. But in many cases, when a
person tries to re-create that glimpse he or she had
already, that sudden flash, it doesn’t happen at all. The
more you try, the less experience you getyou don’t
experience open space at all. And the minute you are just
about to give up, to give in and not careyou get a
sudden flash. It’s as if a person is trying very hard to
meditate for a set timeit could be in a group or it
could be aloneand it doesn’t go very well at all. But
the minute you decide to stop, or if it’s group practice,
the minute the bell is run, then the meditation actually
happens, spontaneously and beautifully. But when you want to
recapture that, to re-create that situation, it doesn’t
happen anymore. So it’s a question of trying to recapture
experience: if you try to recapture an experience, it
doesn’t happenunless you have an absence of fear and
the complete confidence that these experiences don’t have to
be re-created, but they are there already.
S: Supposing what you think you want more than anything
is openness, but you don’t know how to open?
TR: There’s no question of how to do itjust do it!
It cannot be explained in words; one has to do it in an
instinctive way. And if one really allowed oneself to do it,
one could do it.
S: People seem to want to be happy, but it doesn’t work
TR: Happiness is something one cannot recapture.
Happiness happens, but when we try to recapture it, it’s
gone. So from that point of view there’s no permanent
S: Are the six worlds always happening, and do you attain
them in meditation?
TR: Yes, the six realms seem to happen constantly; we are
changing from one extreme to another and going through the
six realms constantly. And that experience takes place in
meditation practice also. Therefore, the whole idea of
trying to create a fixed, ideal state of meditation is not
the point. You can’t have a fixed, ideal state of meditation
because the situation of six realms will be continuously
S: I mean, we’ve spent all our lives in these six realms,
but through meditation we can learn to see which realm we’re
in, and how to deal with them?
TR: That isn’t the purpose of meditation, but somehow it
happens that way. Actual meditation practice is a constant
act of freedom in the sense of being without expectation,
without a particular goal, aim, and object. But as you
practice meditation, as you go along with the technique, you
begin to discover your present state of being. That is, we
could almost say, a by-product of meditation. So it does
happen that way, but it’s no good looking for it and trying
to fit it into different degrees or patterns. That doesn’t
S: When you just perceive somethingsmell, hear,
seeand you don’t have any thought about anything for a
very brief time, what world is that?
TR: Any world. Sure, any world.
S: Are people born with a quality of one of the worlds as
TR: It seems there is one particular dominant
characteristicwhich is not particularly good and not
particularly bad, but a natural character.
S: Would sense perceptions be the same in all six
TR: The sense perceptions will be different. We are
talking about the human situation, and in human life the six
experiences of the world will be the same, of course, but
your impressions of them will be different. Each thing we
see, we see purely in terms of our own likes and dislikes,
which happen all the time, and our associations. Certain
trees, plants, and things may be irritating for some people;
whereas for some other people they may be a good
DISCUSSION NEXT MORNING
S: Would you discuss briefly the similarities and
differences between Zen practice and mahamudra practice?
TR” Well, that has something to do with the evolutionary
aspect of the teachings. The Zen tradition is the actual
application of shunyata, or emptiness, practice, the heart
of the mahayana teaching. Historically, the Zen method is
based on dialectical principlesyou engage in continual
dialogues with yourself, asking questions constantly. By
doing that, in the end you begin to discover that questions
don’t apply anymore in relationship to the answer. That is a
way of using up dualistic mind, based on the logic of
Nagarjuna. The interesting point is that the practice of
traditional Indian logic used by Hindu and the Buddhist
scholars is turned into experiential logic rather than just
ordinary debate or intellectual argument. Logic becomes
experiential. In other words, the subject and object of
logical discussion are turned into mind and its
projectionsand that automatically, of course, becomes
meditation. Once you begin to follow the whole endless
process, everything begins to become nothingbut
nothing becomes everything. It’s the same ideas as the four
statements of Prajnaparamita: form is emptiness, emptiness
is form, form is no other than emptiness, emptiness is no
other than form. It’s kind of using up the abundance of
hungry energy. Or, it could be said, self-deception is
exposed by realizing that you don’t get any answers if you
purely ask questions, but you do get answers if you don’t
ask questions. But that in itself becomes a question, so in
the end the whole thing is dropped completely: you don’t
S: In Zen they talk about abrupt realization.
TR: That abruptness is referred to in the Zen tradition
as the sword of Manjushri, which cuts through everything. It
is symbolized in Zen practice by the stick (kyosaku) carried
in the hall during meditation (zazen) practice. If a person
wants to have sudden penetrations, or if a person is off his
pattern, he’s reminded by being hit on the backthe
sword of Manjushri.
In the case of mahamudra, the application or the
technique is not quite like the Zen approach of
logic,questioning, or koans. It is, in a sense, a highly
extroverted practiceyou don’t need inward scriptures,
but you work with the external aspect of scriptures, which
is the phenomenal world. Mahamudra has a cutting quality as
well, but that cutting or penetrating quality is purely
based on your experiential relationship with the phenomenal
world. If your relationship to the phenomenal world is
distorted or if you are going too far, then the sword of
Manjushrithe equivalent of the sword of Manjushri,
which is the phenomenal worldshakes you and demands
your attention. In other words, the situation begins to
become hostile or destructive for you if you are not in tune
with it, if you are dazed or if you’re confused. If you are
not willing to put your patience and discipline into
practice, then such situations come up. In this case,
mahamudra is very much purely dealing with the phenomenal
world aspect of symbolism. So mahamudra practice contains a
great deal of study of events or situations, seeing them as
patterns rather than using logical, koan types of
questionswhich brings us to the same point.
These two practices are not polarities. You have to go
through Zen practice before you get to mahamudra practice,
because if you don’t realize that asking questions is the
way to learn something, that the questioning process is a
learning process, then the whole idea of study becomes
distorted. So one must learn to see that trying to struggle
for some achievement or goal is useless in any way. You have
to start by learning that such a dualistic notion is
useless; you have to start from the Zen or mahayana
tradition. And after that, you realize that asking questions
is not the only way, but being a fool is the only way. If
you see the foolishness of asking questions, then you begin
to learn something. Foolishness begins to become wisdom.
At that point, you transform yourself into another
dimension, a completely other dimension You thought you had
achieved a sudden glimpse of nonduality, but that nonduality
also contains relationship. You still need to relate
yourself to that sudden glimpse of beyond question. That’s
when you begin to become mahamudra experience. In other
words, the Zen tradition seems to be based on the shunyata
principle, which is a kind of emptiness and openness,
absence of duality. The mahamudra experience is a way of
wiping out the consciousness of the absence: you begin to
develop clear perceptions beyond being conscious of the
absence. If you feel that absence, voidness, or emptiness is
so, then you are dwelling on something, one some kind of
state of being. Mahamudra experience transcends that
consciousness of being in the void. In that way every
situation of life becomes play, dance. It is an extroverted
I suppose you could say that Zen and mahamudra are
complementary to one another. Without the one, the other one
couldn’t exist. As experience, first of all you clear out
the confusion of duality. And then, having cleared that out,
you appreciate the absence of the blindfold in terms of
appreciating colors and energies and light and everything.
You don’t get fascinated by it at all, but you begin to see
that it is some kind of pattern. The whole process of
mahamudra, in other words, is seeing the situation of life
as a pattern. That’s why the word mudra is used, which means
“symbolism.” It doesn’t mean ordinary symbolism; it isn’t a
question of signifying something, but it is the actual fact
of things as they are. The pattern of life is a pattern. It
is a definite pattern, a definite path, and you learn how to
walk on it. I think this particular topic needs some kind of
actual experience or practice, you can really explain it in
terms of words.
S: If one is preliminary to the other, can you explain
the emphasis in Zen meditation practice on posture and the
lack of emphasis in mahamudra?
TR: Well, I think that the discipline which goes along
with Zen practice is connected with the experience of being
determinedbeing determined and willing to use up any
dualistic notion Therefore it is described in terms of
struggle, or within the framework of discipline. Otherwise,
if there were no framework around this notion of shunyata,
or voidness, you wouldn’t have anything at all; you wouldn’t
even have practice, because everything is nothing, absolute
nothing. In order to bring out the notion of shunyata and
voidness, you have to create a horizon, or some framework,
which is discipline. That is necessary. That is what we all
do in the practice of meditation: at the beginner’s level,
we have disciplines or techniques, something to do. In the
case of mahamudra, instead of putting discipline into
situations, the situations bring out discipline for you. If
you are lax, the situation reminds you, jerks you, and
you’ll be pushed; if you are going too slow, if you are too
careful, the situation will push you overboard.
S: Are we beginners, or are we advanced enough to
disregard the techniques?
TR: It’s much safer to say that we’re all beginners, that
we do need some act of sitting down and practicing. But, of
course, the level of discipline in meditation practice is
not only a conflict between mahamudra practice and the Zen
tradition at all. It’s also connected with different styles
of teaching, such as the Theravadin tradition of Southeast
Asia, Tibetan Buddhism, or the Chinese tradition. Each
culture effects a different tradition and style of practice.
Obviously, in the Zen tradition a lot of the formality is
highly connected simply with Japanese culture rather than
fundamental Buddhism. And the same thing could be said about
Tibetan Buddhism as wella lot of things came into it
from the Tibetan cultural background, not from the actual
teaching. Those cultural styles make a difference in some
S: Do you have to have some preparation for working in a
mahamudra way? Does one have to be particularly conscious of
the transition point from Zen to mahamudra?
TR: Well, it happens as you grow. It would be too
presumptuous for teachers to say that now you’re ready for
mahamudrain fact, it would be dangerous to say it. But
if a student finds himself in the situation of mahamudra
under the pretense of practicing Zen, he’ll find himself in
a mahamudra situation automatically. Then of course he’ll
accept that as the next process. But there wouldn’t be a big
deal about relaxing from one technique to another technique
at all; it would become a natural process for the
S: When you say “situations,” do you mean the situations
that arise in daily life?
TR: I mean individual meditation experience as well as
daily life and your relationship to it. Many people have
heard about the principle of abhisheka and the initiations
that are involved with mahamudra teachings or tantric
teachings in general. But initiations aren’t degrees at all;
initiations are the acceptance of you as a suitable
candidate for the practice. There’s really only one
initiation, and that’s the acceptance of your whole being,
your whole attitude, as suitable to practice, that you are
the right type of person. Beyond that, there’s no change of
techniques and practices. It’s not like a staircase at all;
everything’s a very evolutionary process. When you are on
the first level, as you go along, you begin to develop
possibilities and qualities of the next step. And then, as
you begin to lose the idea that the first step is the only
way, you begin to discover something else. You begin to grow
like a tree. It is a very general process, and therefore it
is very dangerous to pin down that you belong to a different
type of experience, a different level.
S: Both you and Shunryu Suzuki Roshi speak of the path as
being dangerous. I always wondered what the danger is that I
should be avoiding.
TR: They are numerous. Danger is really a relative term,
in terms of the relationship of ego and the relationship of
being awake. The relationship of ego is regarded as a
dangerthe extreme or the confusion. But danger also
comes from different levels of practice. Danger always comes
with speed, going fastvery rarely from going too
slowly. And generally we go very fast. There’s the
possibility that if you go too fast youwill get hurt.
There’s the danger of going too slow as well, being too
concerned and becoming ultraconservative. That’s not the
case in the West, particularly; it is more the case in the
East. Easterners go too slowly; they don’t go fast enough.
In a lot of cases, according to the stories of great
teachers and their relationship to students on the path, the
teachers actually have to push their students overboard,
kick them out. “If you hesitate to jump, then I’ll push
youlet’s go!” That sort of hesitation is a problem of
the Eastern mentality. And in the West, the problem seems to
be one of going too fast, being unbalanced, bringing up pain
and confusion in terms of ego.
S: If the danger is of going too fast, don’t you
intensify that danger for us by outlining the mahamudra
practice as a superior one, because most of us tend to want
to skip to a more advanced practice without experiencing
fully the preliminary level?
TR: Precisely. That’s the whole point. I do feel that I’m
responsible for this. And precisely for that reason, in the
practice of meditation I try to present everything as
extremely dull and uncolorful. In fact, most people who
practice meditation are going through the process of
discovering that meditation practice is not a kick anymore;
the whole practice is extremely dull and uninteresting. And
I think we have to go through that process as well. But I
don’t think there is anything wrong in mentioning mahamudra.
It doesn’t have to be introduced as a surprise. There is
this possibility if you go through it, but it needs patience
and hard workthat automatically brings up a person’s
inspiration, which is a very great thing.
S: Concerning the idea of different levels or hierarchies
of practice, sometimes it seems like we’re in all these
levels at the same time.
TR: Well, we are passing through the six realms of the
world all the time. I mean, you pass through those different
states of the world every moment or every other moment, on
and off. But the gradual development we’ve been talking
about is more definite than that. You may have an experience
or mahamudra as well as an experience of Zen happening all
the time, but as your Zen practice develops, your experience
of mahamudra becomes more frequent, and you develop in that
way. And beyond mahamudra, your experience of maha ati also
begins to develop more. The flash of that experience becomes
more and more frequent, stronger and more real.
S: All this seems endless.
TR: I think it is an extremely good thing to realize that
the learning process is endless.
S: I thought you said the whole idea is to stop
collecting things, but you’re collecting more things.
TR: It isn’t really collecting, but you’re involving
yourself in it. You see, the whole point is that mahamudra
is not introducing a new thing or new theme, but if you
reach an absolute understanding of the shunyata principle,
then that becomes mahamudra. And when you understand
completely the level of mahamudra, then that becomes
something else. So it’s a growing process. It’s not
collecting anything at all, but it’s the way you grow. And
each step is a way of unmasking yourself as well. You begin
by realizing the shunyata principle and experience, and then
you begin to see it as a foolish game. You begin to see the
foolishness of it once you get to mahamudra experience. And
once you transcend mahamudra experience, then you again
begin to see that you unnecessarily fooled yourself. It’s a
continual unpeeling process, a continual unmasking process.
So it’s more of a continual renunciation than collecting
anythinguntil there’s nothing further that you have to
go through, no journey you have to make. And then you begin
to see that the whole journey youmade was a foolish thing
that you never made at all.
S: You speak of the original understanding of voidness as
something thta you transcend more and more, rather than
giving up one thing to proceed to another, as though you
were climbing a ladder?
TR: Each moment has possibilities or potentials of
everything. Your experience of emptiness and form is empty
at the beginning level as well, all the time, but somehow
your experience becomes more and more deep as you go along.
So in a sense it could be called a progressive process, but
is not absolutely sobecause all the possibilities or
potentials of the various steps are present in one moment of
S: Is it as if the circle of one’s understanding keeps
enlarging and includes more and more, rather than giving up
one thing to proceed to the other?
TR: Yes. It’s a process of going deeper and deeper. You
are unpeeling, unmasking the crude facade to start with.
Then you unmask the semi-crude facade; then you unmask a
kind of genteel facade; and you go on and on and on. The
facades become more and more delicate and more profound, but
at the same time they are all facadesyou unpeel them,
and by doing so you include all experiences. That is why at
the end of journey, the experience of maha ati is referred
to as the imperial yana (vehicle or path) which sees
everything, includes everything. It is described as being
like climbing up the highest mountain of the world and
seeing all the other mountains underneath you: you have
complete command of the whole view, which includes
everything in its absolute perfection.
S: I don’t understand what is meant when it’s said that
forms are empty. I don’t understand what emptiness
TR: When we talk of emptiness, it means the absence of
solidity, the absence of fixed notions which cannot be
changed, which have no relationship with us at all but which
remain as they are, separate. And form, in this case, is
more the solidity of experience. In other words, it is a
certain kind of determination not to give away, not to open.
You would like to keep everything intact purely for the
purpose of security, of knowing where you are. You are
afraid to change. That sort o9f solidness is form. So “Form
is empty” is the absence of that security; you see
everything as penetrating and open. But that doesn’t mean
that everything has to be completely formless, or nothing.
When we talk of nothingness, emptiness, or voidness, we are
not talking in terms of negatives but in terms of
nothingness being everything. It’s another way of saying
“everything”but it is much safer to say “nothing” at
that particular level than “everything.”
S: What is the relation of kriya yoga, the Hindu
practice, to mahamudra?
TR: It’s the same thing. Kriya yoga, or kriya yana, is
the first tantric yana, or stage. In kriya yoga, the basic
notion of absolute is presented in terms of purity. Because
your discovery of the symbolism of mahamudra experience is
so sharp and colorful and precise, you begin to feel that if
experience is so good and accurate, it has to be pure. And
that fundamental notion of purity in kriya yoga is the first
discovery that such an experience as mahamudra is there. In
other words, it is excitement at the discovery of mahamudra,
the experience of a tremendously valuable discovery. An
extra attitude of sacredness begins to develop because of
your mahamudra experience. That is kriya yoga, the first
step. It is the first discovery of mahamudra.
S: But kriya yoga is also a Hindu school.
TR: Buddhist and Hindu kriya yoga probably use different
kinds of symbolism, iconography; but the fundamental idea of
kriya yoga in the two traditions is very close, definitely
S: Is kriya yoga a definite technique?
TR: It is. In fact, you could almost say it is 99%
S: Couldn’t one use the expression “truthfulness” instead
of “purity,” since in the experience you are talking about,
all pretensions are suddenly missing?
TR: Yes, that’s true.
S: So why should one get rid of it?
TR: Well, you see, there are different types of
discoveries. The discovery that happens in kriya yoga is in
some ways a sharp and absolute discovery, but it is still
based on spiritual materialism, meaning spirituality having
a reference to ego. You see, any kind of practice which
encourages constant health, constant survival, is based on
ego. And actually, any discovery of such a practice wouldn’t
be absolute truthfulness or an absolute discovery, because
it would have a tinge of your version of the discovery
rather than what is, because you’re seeing through the
filter of ego. Such discoveries, connected with spiritual
development or bliss, are regarded as something that you
I suppose we are talking about the definition of
“absolute” and of “truth.” You see, absoluteness or truth in
the ultimate sense is not regarded as a learning process
anymore. You just see true as true. It is being true, rather
than possessing truth. That is the absence of ego; whereas
in the case of ego, you still feel you possess truth. That
doesn’t mean that you have to start absolutely perfectly. Of
course you start with ego and with confusions and
negativesthat’s fine. Ego is the sort of ambitious
quality which comes up throughout all parts of the pattern,
a kind of continual, constant philosophy of survival. Ego is
involved in the will power of survival, the will power of
not dying, not being hurt. When that kind of philosophy
begins to be involved with the path, it becomes
negativeor confusing rather, in this case. But that
doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t have any of these notions at
all. At the beginning of the path, you have all sorts of
collections, but that doesn’t matter. In fact, it is very
enriching to have them, to work with them. So the point is,
one begins with faults, one begins with mistakes. That is
the only way to begin.
S: When I think of some possible terror or pain, I think,
“That’s my ego.” At the same time, if I get very relaxed,
then I think maybe I am heading for danger, that I am not
taking any precautions.
TR: One doesn’t have to rely purely on blind faith or
guesswork alone. Whether it is going to be dangerous or not
depends on how much of a relationship to the present
situation you are able to make, how much you are able to
communicate with the present situation. If your relationship
with the present situation is vague or confused, then
something’s not quite solid; whereas if your relationship is
quite clear and open, then that’s fine. That seems to be the
criterion and judgmentstanding on the ground, the
earthy quality, grounding quality. I often refer to it as
the peasant qualitysimple, but at the same time,
3. The Bardo of Meditation
In order to understand bardo experiences, you also have
to understand basic psychology. Yesterday we discussed the
six realms of the worldthe world of hatred, the world
of possessiveness, the world of ignorance, the world of
passion, the world of speed or jealousy, and the world of
pride. These different patterns or worlds are the sources of
particular emotional experienceshatred, meanness,
passion, or whatever. They are the basic background; they
are the space. And within that, there will be the different
experiences of bardo, which work with the thought process
and with different types of emotions than the emotions that
you were born with, so to speak, that you are made out of.
The experience of the six realms is like having a body: you
have involved yourself in the world of hell or the world of
the hungry ghosts. But if you have a wound on your body,
that is the experience of the different types of bardo, a
flash of bardo experience.
To understand bardo, we have to understand the pattern of
ego as well. Our basic involvement with situations, or the
six realms, and the specific situation that we are facing,
or bardo, have to have some relationship. The specific
development of bardo experiencein the form of a dream,
in the form of birth or death, whatever it may bealso
has to come from the pattern of ego. I have discussed ego
previously, but perhaps it is worth going over again, in
order to bring out the bardo concept properly.
The Development of Ego
When we talk of ego, it is as if we are talking about a
man with a body and limbs. It has a basic makeup and it has
its tentacles, so to speak, as well. Its basic makeup
consists of paranoia and confusion. But at the same time,
its basic makeup started from some kind of wisdom as well,
because there is the possibility that we don’t exist as
individual entities or as solid persons who can continue all
the time. There is the possibility that as individuals we
consist of particles or of lots of things but those
particles don’t exist as individuals either.
When that possibility first flashes onto itself, there’s
sudden panic. If this is the case, we’ll have to put up some
kind of defense mechanism to shield out any possible
discovery of the nonexistence of ourselves. We begin to play
the game of deaf and dumb. We would like to be individuals
who are continuously existing, continuously surviving,
continuously being one person, not even making the journey
through time and space. Time and space may be extra
attributes, but the actual basic phenomenon of our
consciousness of being has to be a solid thing that’s
how ego tends to see it. So the whole thing is based on a
kind of dream, wishful thinking. It is based on what we
would like to be rather than what we are.
That leads to paranoia as to the possible discovery of
wisdom. And that paranoia begins to develop: fromthat
paranoia you begin to experiment with extending yourself.
You can’t just remain constantly deaf and dumb, you also
have to learn to establish your ground as deaf and dumb.
That is, you extend yourself into different areas, different
realms, trying to feel the situation around youtrying
to project yourself and then trying to experience that. It’s
kind of an experimental level of feeling. So first you have
the basic ignorance of refusing to see what you are, and
then you have the possibility of relating yourself through
The next stage is impulse: feeling begins to develop
beyond simply trying to feel good or bad or neutral; feeling
has to become more sophisticated and efficient. Therefore,
impulse begins to develop along with feeling, as that
efficiency, or automatic mechanism.
Next, impulse also begins to developinto
perception. You try to perceive the result of your impulsive
actions. A kind of self-conscious watcher develops, as the
overseer of the whole game of ego.
The last development of ego is consciousness, which is
the intellectual aspect of the ego: trying to put things
into categories and make intellectual sense of them. We try
to interpret things and their basic meanings, and we begin
to see in terms of consciousness, in the sense of being
conscious in relating with situations. That is the last
stage of the development of ego.
From that point of view of consciousness, the idea of
bardo comes through. Bardo experience presents a case of
surviving, occupationin terms of subconscious thought
patterns, conscious thought patterns, dreams, birth, death,
being with oneself, or the meditative state. These are the
types of thought that we begin to put out.
The next situation in the development of ego is that as
we develop our personal state of being, up to the point of
consciousness, that consciousness not only acts in terms of
our own subconscious thoughts, dreams, and such things, but
also puts out particular shapes or patterns or creeds, so to
speak. It puts out a sense of belonging to a particular race
or a particular family. Consciousness would like to
associate itself with particular types of world. That is
where the six realms we discussed yesterday begin to
develop. Consciousness could either begin the six types of
world from the world of hell, or it could start from the
world of heavenly beings. It could begin either way. That
process is like buying land; we associate ourselves with a
particular land, with one of the six lokas, six worlds.
Having bought that landit doesn’t matter whether
the land is a hot land, the burning hotness of hell; the
tropical land of human passion; the heavenly land with the
clear and crystal air of pleasurable meditative states; or
whatever land we associate ourselves with as nativeswe
still have to survive. You see, the point is, how are we
going to survive? How are we going to survive as hell
beings? How are we going to survive as heavenly beings? We
need some mechanism of survival, some method. And that
survival mechanism, or survival policy, so to speak, is that
of the six types of bardo.
The Bardo of Clear Light
We could begin with the world of heaven, for instance,
the realm of the gods. The world of the gods is a state of
complete bliss, a spiritual state of complete balance from a
temporary point of view, a meditative state. In order to
survive in that meditative state of the world of heaven,
there is the experience of the clear light. In Tibetan it is
called samten bardo. Samten means meditative state, in other
words, complete absorption in the clear light, or the
perception of luminosity. So in the world of the gods, in
order to survive as they are, they have to have the
highlight of meditation, like the island which remains in
the middle of the river. Youneed this particular type of
highlight of what you are, which is the clear light
In terms of the ordinary experience of bardo, it has been
said that the clear light experience can only happen in the
moment of death, when you begin to separate from physical
being. At the moment of separation between consciousness and
the physical body, you begin to develop the idea of clear
light as spontaneous experience. In that perception of clear
light, if you are a meditator who meditated before, you
begin to see the clear light and you begin to recognize it,
as in the analogy of son meeting mother. But in the case of
the world of heavenly beings, the clear light is a constant
This also brings another kind of bardo: the bardo of
birth and death. When we begin to leave one kind of
experience, whatever it may be, we look for the next
experience to get into. And between birth and death, there
is a sudden recognition that birth and death never need to
happen at all; they are unnecessary. We begin to realize
that the experience of birth and the experience of death are
unnecessary concepts. They just happen; they are purely
perceptions, purely the result of clinging to something. We
experience birth in terms of creative things and death in
terms of destructive things, but those two things never need
to have happened.
A sudden experience of eternity develops, which is the
bardo of clear light. And this experience of eternity,
beyond birth and beyond death, is the source of survival of
heavenly beings in the meditative state. That’s why they
attain a pleasurable state in meditation, because each time
their meditation experience begins to wane, the only
possible kick they could get, the only possible way they
have of latching onto their previous meditation experience,
is to reflect back on that eternity. And that eternity
brings a sudden glimpse of joy, the pleasurable state of
That’s the bardo of clear light. In other words, the
experience of the eternity of clear light is the ultimate
meditative state of ego and the ultimate state of
nothingness. You see, the point is that when we see eternity
from the point of view of the world of the gods, it is an
exciting thing to discover. There is tremendous hope that it
is going to be the promised state of being, that you’re
going to be like that all the time there is
tremendous hope. On the other hand, from the awakened point
of view you see that eternity means constant nothingness as
well, constant space. Eternity needn’t really have existed,
nor do birth and death need to exist. In the absolute clear
light, in the case of the awake state, when you begin to
feel solidness, you automatically begin to feel the loose
quality of the space as well.
The experience of clear light is extremely subtle. It is
like experiencing hot and cold at the same time, extreme hot
temperature and extreme cold temperature simultaneously. You
could appreciate either side. If you’d like, you could
believe in hot, although you experience both hot and cold
simultaneously; or if you want to believe in the cold, you
could believe in that as well, because it is also intense.
The whole thing is based on this: believing is, in fact,
solidifying the experience of the bardo of clear light. So
clear light could present itself as egohood, or clear light
could present itself as the awakened state of mind.
This is described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead as the
afterdeath experience of seeing peaceful and wrathful
divinities. The pattern is as follows: you always get
peaceful divinities as your first experience, and then
wrathful divinities as the next experience. This, again, is
the same analogy as the idea of experiencing hot and cold
simultaneously. If you have experienced the more pleasant
aspect, the pleasurable aspect of the eternity of clear
light as peaceful divinities, then automatically, if you are
too relaxed in that pleasurable situation, the next
situation brings dissatisfaction and wakes you up. Eternity
begins to develop an impermanent quality, or the voidness
quality of open space. That is the first experience of
bardo, which is connectedwith the world of heavenly
The clear light bardo could also relate with our own
experience of meditation as well. The perception of
meditation becomes promising: that promise could become the
equivalent of eternity as experienced in the world of the
gods, or else that promise could mean that there’s no goal
anymore, that you are experiencing that the promise is
already the goal as well as the path. That is a kind of
shunyata experience of the nonexistence of the
journeybut at the same time you are still treading on
the path. It is an experience of freedom.
Student: Does one have any choice at all? If you have
some kind of eternity experience and then you feel
satisfaction, is there
To Be Cont’d