LIFE AND DEATH
Tibetan Buddhism emphasises greatly the awareness of death and impermanence. Everything is always dying – the cells of our bodies are dying even while we live, reminding us of our own impermanence. All the living things around us are dying, too.
This awareness isn’t to make us sad, nor should it cause a Buddhist to start a panicking and going on the hunt for the impermanent pleasures of life. Instead, it should lead us to see the value of every moment of existence and be diligent to the fragility of life.
Tibetan Buddhists use visualisation meditations and other exercises to imagine death and prepare for the bardo. The bardo is another name for the period between leaving this life & being reborn into the next. During the Bardo process which can take up to 49 days, the consciousness is taking its journey to rebirth.
Another way of preparing for death is to take part in helping those who have died through their experience in the bardo. This not only aids the dead, but enables the living practitioner to gain a real experience of the bardo, before they themselves enter it. Even those who cannot gain the spiritual awareness to have a consciousness of the bardo are helped by achieving a greater experience of the impermanence of everything.
TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD
This is one of the great Tibetan Buddhist texts, and a great seller in the west. The English title is not a translation of the Tibetan title – the book’s true name is Great Liberation through hearing during the intermediate state, commonly known in Tibet as Liberation through hearing.
The book deals with the experiences of a person as they pass between death and rebirth.
Bardo is the state between death and rebirth. The different schools of Tibetan Buddhism have different understandings of this state which is regarded as lasting for 49 days. The experience of a person during bardo depends on their spiritual training during life. An untrained person is thought to be confused as to where they are, and may not realise that they have died. People are often unwilling to give up attachment to their previous life – and their negative emotions may cause their rebirth to be less good than it would otherwise have been.
In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, the dead person is helped through bardo by a lama who reads prayers and performs rituals from scripts called the Bardo Thodol, advising the deceased to break free from attachment to their past life and their dead body. In some schools of Tibetan Buddhism, the lama will actively help the dead person to transfer their consciousness from their body, in preparation for rebirth.
Many Tibetan Buddhists believe that it is possible for those left behind to assist the dead person on their journey by doing spiritual work that increases the merits of the deceased and thus helps them to a better rebirth.
During the 49 day period the dead can see clearly into the minds of those left behind, which allows the living to help the dead by thinking good thoughts, meditating on Buddha and other virtuous beings, and engaging in spiritual practices.