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Transition and Liberation

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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by Tenga Rinpoche

The motivation with which we begin an undertaking is an important factor. The highest attitude in the striving for enlightenment (Skt.: bodhicitta) should be the motivation in connection with all dharma activities. The intention here is to support all beings in their attainment of the level of realisation of

a buddha by putting the teachings of the dharma into practice. Rinpoche teaches about the bardo on the basis of such motivation. Readers are urged to study these teachings, to reflect upon them and to put them into practice with the same motivation. If bodhicitta is the basis of our thought, then the mind of enlightenment, the highest motivation of the great vehicle (Skt.: mahayana), is fully developed.

Buddha Shakyamuni himself also travelled the whole path to buddhahood. The beginning of his path was the development of the mind of enlightenment, after which he practised the six perfections (Skt.: paramita) for three immeasurable aeons, thereby collecting merit for the benefit of all beings, until in Bodhgaya, India, he finally realised the state of a buddha.

As the Buddha he then taught two kinds of vehicle:

- the causal vehicle of characteristics

- the fruition vehicle of secret mantra

The Causal Vehicle of Characteristics

It is called the causal vehicle because it teaches the cause of buddhahood, the thirty-seven factors of a bodhisattva. It is the vehicle in which these thirty-seven factors are practised and which eventually brings them to realisation.

To summarise briefly, the causal vehicle of characteristics teaches principally the tripitaka, the three collections of the spoken teachings of the Buddha:

- vinaya pitaka

- sutrapitaka

- abhidhamma pitaka

The first collection of the teachings, the vinaya pitaka, teaches principally the overcoming of the affliction of desirous attachment through the corresponding antidote, namely the training in correct behaviour.

The second collection of the teachings, sutrapitaka, teaches principally the overcoming of the affliction of anger through the corresponding antidote, namely the training in samadhi.

The third collection of the teachings, abhidharmapitaka, teaches principally the overcoming of the affliction of dullness through the corresponding antidote, namely the training in highest understanding.

In the abhidhamma pitaka the Buddha also taught on the bardo. The Tibetan wordbardo’ {bar do} indicates an intermediate existence. Previous activities are now finished, future activities have not yet begun and everything which lies between is known as a bardo. In its most common usage, however, the word bardo refers to the existence in between death and renewed birth. Buddha describes the bardo existence, its forms of expression and manifestation in the abhidharmapitaka.

The body in the bardo is described there as follows:

His physical appearance corresponds to his previous existence. All sense faculties are perfect. He moves freely. He possesses the pow er to perform karm ic miracles.


With the pure divine eye he sees those who correspond to his realm of existence.

His physical appearance corresponds to his previous existence.

The appearance of the body in the bardo is dependent upon karmic imprints. Here on earth we posses a body of flesh and blood and a specific appearance. Because of karmic imprints, our bardo body will take on the same appearance. However, this body is not made of flesh and blood, but rather is a mental body. So if in this life we appear in the form of a human being, because of karmic imprints our mental body after death in the bardo will also take on the form and appearance of a human.

All sense faculties are perfect

Even if we are blind or deaf in this life, if we have missing limbs, or some organs that do not work, all of these sense faculties, limbs and organs will be perfect in the bardo body.

He moves freely.

If we think, for example, about Kathmandu, a picture of the city immediately arises. The mental body of the bardo is capable of moving itself to any place, just by thought. It can not be obstructed by anything, whether cliffs, mountains or oceans. If we wanted to travel now in our material body to Kathmandu, we would have to undertake either an aeroplane flight or a long overland journey. However the bardo body moves freely and without hindrance. He possesses the pow er to perform karm ic miracles.

In the intermediate existence of the bardo, the body is capable of performing miracles. If we have this capability in this life, then the reason lies in the power of samadhi or of meditation. If we meditate well there is a possibility that we

develop extraordinary powers such as clairvoyance, the ability to walk on water or not to be burnt by fire. Miracles in the bardo are different from these. They are merely called ‘miracles’, but do not happen as a result of the force of meditation but rather through the power of karma. For example, one miracle based on karma is the ability of the mental body of the bardo to see all the humans on the earth. With the eye of the bardo he can see what his parents and relatives are doing. He can clairvoyandy see every place. With the ears of the bardo he can hear the conversations of all the people of the earth.

With the pure divine eye he sees those who correspond to his realm of existence.

A being of the bardo who, on the basis of his karma takes on the body of a human can perceive other bardo beings having a similar karma. This also applies to beings with whom he has a karmic connection from an earlier life. In the bardo, the consciousness can also see those beings who correspond to the future realm of existence of his rebirth. If, for instance, he is going to be reborn as an animal, he can see all animals.

The Fruition Vehicle of Secret Mantra

In addition to the bardo teachings which Buddha Shakyamuni gave in the abhidharma, he taught a variety of methods whereby a being in the bardo can be helped. He taught phowa, which is the practice of the ejection of consciousness5, and the rituals of the bardo. These methods are contained in the secret mantra vehicle.

This vehicle is also known as the secret-mantra-vajra vehicle, since, on the basis of this path which joins method and highest understanding, we can attain the vajra body with our

body, the vajra speech with our speech and the vajra mind with our mind. This means that we will attain the three vajras4 with our body, speech and mind through this vehicle. Therefore it is called the ‘vajra vehicle’ (Skt.: vajrayana).

The Buddha taught the secret-mantra-vajra vehicle in a special way. When the dharma king Dawa Sangpo asked him for teaching, he taught the Kalacakratantra. He did not teach it in his normal form, but rather manifested himself as Kalacakra together with his complete entourage.

At the request of King Indrabodhi, Buddha Shakyamuni taught the Guhyasamajatantra in the manifestation of Guhyasamaja.

All the tantras taught by the Buddha were originally given on the basis of the request of a bodhisattva. The Buddha turned himself in each case into the divinity of the tantra concerned, teaching the tantra as a form or aspect of that divinity.

Another tantra was requested by Arya Samantabhadra and Arya Manjushri together. At this, the Buddha taught the Vajra Catuhpithatantra by taking on the form of Vajra Catuhpitha. In the Vajra Catuhpithatantra he gave the following teaching about how a being in the bardo can realise buddhahood in one moment with the help of the instructions on phowa:

They are in bondage to allf aults. They become free by the practice o fp how a being carried out. Not in bondage to any kind o f negativity They attain the highest liberation beyond samsara.

If someone who in his life had performed many negative actions, and who was not able to practise the dharma dies, then a master of phowa, who has himself perfectly realised phowa, can carry out the phowa ritual for the deceased

4 The vajra is a symbol of indestructibility

person. In this practice he visualises the body of the deceased in the form of Vajrayogini, visualises her central channel, and, within that, the essence of the mind as a white drop. This is then ejected. It is said that under favourable circumstances the consciousness of the deceased can attain buddhahood

in an instant. It can also take on a body in a pure land such as Sukhavati. Normally however, the consciousness will be reborn on earth, taking on a human body, with which it can practise the dharma. In this way the consciousness can remove and purify previously collected negativities with the help of dharma practice, and later, step by step, attain the level of realisation of a buddha.

If in this way a master carries out the practice of phowa for a deceased person, even if that person is a criminal who has committed the limitless acts, they will no longer be bound by those negativities and will realise buddhahood beyond samsara. The phowa ritual must however be properly, accurately and

genuinely carried out. If these factors come together someone can also be saved from a descent into the hells. At the request of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of great compassion, Buddha, in the manifestation of Vajrasattva, taught the Tantra o f the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities.

A section of this tantra was the Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo, better known in its translation as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. If we are in the bardo, and this book is recited, then we can attain liberation purely through hearing the instructions. Therefore this teaching is called Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo.

The Buddha taught also a further special method of liberation in connection with the Tantra o f the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, namely the Great Wheel of Liberation through Wearing. It concerns a text of the Dharmakaya

Samantabhadra, which is written down in a circular pattern. If this text is attached to the body of the deceased and burnt together with it, then, according to this teaching, all negativities will be purified through this alone.

Tibetan lamas provide this Great Wheel o f Liberation through Wearing at a cremation for a deceased person. The deceased wear it over the heart. Through this blessing the appearances in the bardo, which are based on delusion, do not arise. As a result it is easier to recognise the bardo as such. There are many reasons for the special importance of applying this method.

After the Buddha, manifesting in the form of Vajrasattva, had taught this tantra, it was transmitted through an unbroken line of many Indian mahasiddhas until it was brought to Tibet by Guru Rinpoche as the Tantra o f the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities and the Great Wheel o f Liberation through Wearing.

When Guru Rinpoche came to Tibet it was above all three students who requested teachings for support in the bardo: the translator Langdro Lotsawa Konchog Gyatsen, the king Trisong Detsen, and the dakini Yeshe Tsogyal.

They prayed to him for teachings, saying: “We Tibetans are all incapable of practising with strength. Please give us instructions on how we can shield ourselves from the fears of the bardo, recognise the bardo, attain liberation through hearing and purify all our negativities through wearing.” At this, Guru Rinpoche taught the Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo and the bardo rituals.

At the end of the teachings Guru Rinpoche said: “Langdro Lotsawa, you will be the future lord of these teachings. Say prayers and give your blessing, so that in the future they will be able to spread amongst all beings.” The translator hid the profound teachings on the peaceful and wrathful deities in

the form of a treasure text (terma). In this way it came about that all these bardo rituals were hidden as a treasure text in a cliff on the mountain of Gonpo Targyi Ri in Tibet. Some time after the translator Langdro Lotsawa had died, the Siddha Karma Lingpa took birth as a discoverer of treasure texts (terton) and raised this treasure from the mountain of Gonpo Targyi Ri.

This treasure text rediscovered by Karma Lingpa was the teaching which is known in its translation under the name of The Tibetan Book o f the D ead and in Tibetan as Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo. The book has been translated into a variety of Western languages.

The ritual connected with the bardo is known as the Ritual of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities. This refers to the 42 peaceful and the 58 wrathful deities of the bardo. This ritual is also known as the bardo ritual or as the bardo puja.

Part of the practice instructions for the bardo ritual are the Root Verses of the Six Bardos.

They describe six kinds of bardo:

- the bardo of the natural place of birth

- the bardo of dream

- the bardo of samadhi and mental stability

- the bardo of the time of death

- the bardo of dharmata

- the bardo of becoming

All of these forms of bardo existence will be explained in the following.