The Bardo Explained by Donal Creedon

Dark retreat as Bardo preparation

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— Bardo of the Peaceful & Wrathful Deities —

Why does one spend seven weeks for 49 days in a retreat in total darkness?

Just as does dream practice, vision practice in the dark retreat serves as a preparation for the Bardo experience after death.

Just as one experiences sensory deprivation in the dark retreat and during sleep, even though one remains encased within the physical body, when the senses are withdrawn from their external objects and the Manas or discursive mind (yid) ceases temporarily to function in its normal fashion, the contents of the unconscious psyche rise to consciousness as visions.

This occurs in dreams and it occurs also after death in the Bardo of Existence.

But these visions are karmic and do not represent enlightened awareness.

During the process of dying, known as the Chikhai Bardo, when the external breathing has ceased and one is pronounced dead, one’s Namshe or consciousness (rnam-shes) finds itself deprived of the physical body. Nevertheless, consciousness continues and this consciousness finds itself in a subtle or mind-made body where the mind and the senses are still operative.

For some days the deceased consciousness sees and knows what is going on around it and what is being done to its corpse. But after 3 or 4 days when the internal breathing ceases, that is to say, the circulation of psychic energy, then the subtle body that is the vehicle for consciousness, as well as the personality begin to disintegrate.

Then the 2nd death approaches, the moment of true psychic death or dissolution of consciousness. One experiences the white dawn and the red dawn and finally the moment of eclipse or total black-out when dualistic consciousness is dissolved and extinguished. Then there subsists only the state of Shunyata.

This is called the Bardo of Emptiness and it represents the culmination of the process of dying.

At this moment, one experiences a total sensory deprivation because neither the senses nor the mind are functioning. One finds oneself in a condition of total and complete nakedness with neither a mind nor a body. One is simply suspended in space. One is simply Shunyata itself. All the clouds have vanished from the sky.

This allows the space and the clarity for the manifestation of one’s own Buddha nature, one’s Nature of Mind. What manifests in this state of Shunyata is the Clear Light. This is like seeing one’s face in the mirror.

This Clear Light is one’s own intrinsic awareness or Rigpa, the inherent quality of the Natural State of the Nature of Mind.

Just at this moment, the border or boundary (so-mtshams) between dying and the onset of the Bardo experience, the moment when the Clear Light manifests in emptiness, one has the maximal opportunity to attain enlightenment and liberation from Samsara.

– If one recognizes the Clear Light and understands that it is the manifestation of one’s own Nature of Mind, one becomes liberated.
– If not, then a spontaneously born ignorance arises which is dualistic in its operation, giving rise to the dichotomy of subject and object.

One does not intuitively understand that this Clear Light is oneself, but one comes to feel it is something out there in space separate from oneself.

Then the mind comes once more into operation at a subtle level and the archetypal images of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deitiesspontaneously manifest within the chaos of colors forming in this Clear Light.

Still, if one has done meditation practice as preparation during one’s previous lifetime, one will have the opportunity to recognize these pure visions as manifestations of one’s Nature of Mind.

And one can liberated at this point. If not, these images become more active and energetic and appear as the Wrathful Deities.

Still, even at this time, one may recognize their nature and liberate. But if the individual has not been prepared by previous meditation practice, these visions in the Clear Light flash by in less than an instant, like a flash of lightening seen on the distant horizon in the middle of the night.

The Clear Light having faded, the gross discursive mind comes back into operation and memories re-awaken. One finds oneself again inhabiting a mind-made body in which the subtle senses are fully operational.

But instead of finding oneself in the material conditions that once surrounded one’s corpse, one discovers oneself wandering in a visionary symbolic landscape where one’s own past karma rises up before one in visual manifestations like dreams.

Having departed from the Bardo of the Clear Light of Reality, one finds oneself in the Bardo of Existence. Lacking understanding and the presence of awareness, one becomes distracted by these visions, thinking them to be real, and one wanders lost in this expanding holographic landscape.

This landscape develops, proliferates, and transforms as one’s memories and karmic traces germinate and re-awaken. Literally one becomes lost in a labyrinth of the visions of one’s own karma. And then propelled by the winds of karma, like a dried leaf blown about in the empty streets by the autumn winds, one is driven relentlessly toward a new rebirth within Samsara.