What exactly are the “Bardos” that are described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead? It may be a difficult concept to fully get your head around if you’re not already familiar with the traditions and beliefs of Tibetan Buddhism.
But not to worry. As you can probably guess, we know a thing or two about the Bardos (being a company named BardoVR, after all).
What is a Bardo?
The word “bardo”, in Tibetan, means something that is transitional, a gap, or “in-between”. Tibetan Buddhism considers all states of existence as transitory or transitional, each one leading to the next in a never-ending cycle, until one is finally liberated and achieves the pure, eternal state of nirvana.
However, colloquially “Bardo” has come to signify a specific state of existence or consciousness. Tibetan Buddhist traditions hold that there are six Bardos, of which three are experienced here on Earth, while the other three are transitional states within the death and rebirth process.
The Six Bardos
The Kyenay Bardo is the Bardo of life, of ordinary consciousness in a corporal body. This is the Bardo in which you presumably are reading this article. Your consciousness is said to enter the Kyenay Bardo at the moment of your conception and remains here until you draw your final breath.
It is in this Bardo that you live out your human life. However, your actions in this bardo will also affect and determine your experience in the after death Bardos.
It is said that those souls who have practiced and prepared themselves in the Kyenay Bardo are much more spiritually capable of navigating themselves into a favorable rebirth in the Chonyi and Sidpa Bardos.
The Kyenay is not the only Bardo your consciousness can experience during your Earthly life. The Milam Bardo is the Bardo of the dream state. This the Bardo your consciousness enters after you fall asleep and begin dreaming.
A set of tantric yoga practices were developed, aptly named Dream Yoga (or lucid dreaming), whose primary purpose is to help the dreamer realize that they are dreaming. One of our BardoVR’s advisors, Andrew Holecek, is an expert in Dream Yoga and has actually created a website, NightClub, where people can learn about lucid dreaming and share their experiences.
The Samtem, or Samadhi, is the Bardo experienced during moments of the deep meditation, a trance-like state of consciousness that can be cultivated through the Buddhist practices called dhyāna, or training of mind.
It is described as a meditative consciousness with a complete state of perfect awareness and equanimity.
The Chikhai Bardo begins as you are physically dying, and includes three phases.
First, you experience the dissolution of all your physical sensations and awareness of the material world.
Then, the dissolution of the five elements and of your psyche occurs. Earth, water, wind, and fire dissolve into each other one by one. Earth sinks into water — water sinks into fire — fire sinks into air — wind sinks into ether. Finally, after all the elements and their properties have been dissolved then only pure awareness will remain free from all Earthly attachments.
It is at this point that you briefly experience pure awareness, manifested as infinite luminosity and light, the final phase. This is often called “the clear light of reality” or the “luminous mind.” This can be thought of as the ultimate ground for reality or a state of pure consciousness, and has been compared to the experience of spiritual enlightenment in life.
If you have attained a very high level of spiritual development and can recognize this Pure Light of Consciousness as yourself, you become enlightened and are liberated from the endless cycle of death and rebirth.
Otherwise, the ego begins to re-manifest itself as it subsequently enters the Chönyi Bardo.
If the recently deceased fails to recognize themselves as the Clear Light, they shall enter the Chönyi Bardo.
Various visionary and auditory phenomena are said to occur in the Chönyi, all of which are connected to the karma accumulated in previous lives.
This Bardo consists of several stages, including the appearance of gods and demons, a ghostly journey across desolate plains and rugged mountains, and a terrifying confrontation with the Lord of Death, who measures out your sins and merits and decrees your ultimate fate.
The final Bardo is known as the Sidpa or the Bardo of Rebirth. It is here that your consciousness will be reborn into one of six realms or Lokas (states of rebirth), ranging from a god-like existence of pure pleasure to the burning torments of hell.
It goes without saying that we should strive to be reborn into the highest possible state of rebirth. During the Sidpa, you would be shown various visions of future places you could be reborn.
There are strategies prescribed for “shutting the womb door” and achieving a more favorable rebirth, but at this point the “winds” of our karmic past are blowing hard and our fate is effectively pre-determined.
As we’ve mentioned in our article about the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Tibetan sacred text was composed as a guide for these incorporeal souls traveling through the after death Bardos. Tradition holds that the deceased can still hear words, incantations, or prayers that are spoken on their behalf. As such, the Tibetan Book of the Dead is meant to be read aloud to the deceased so that they may be guided through their transition to a place of favorable rebirth. After all, the text’s original Tibetan name is “Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State.”
Sounds pretty fascinating, right? If only there was a way you could explore such an After Death realm, without, you know, actually having to die.
What if we told you it was possible? You’ve presumably already noticed the ‘VR’ in BardoVR, and, we wouldn’t be worthy of the name if we weren’t developing such an experience.
AfterDeath will be a game-based, psychedelic VR journey through the post-death stages described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
By utilizing the same mental and emotional strategies prescribed by spiritual masters for achieving higher states of awareness, AfterDeath players will be able to experience the meditative bliss of heaven — or ignore them and find themselves in the depths of hell.
AfterDeath has been under development for two years here at BardoVR, largely through the efforts of many dedicated Buddhist practitioners and media and software experts. If you’d like to learn more, visit our site at www.bardovr.com