One of the central characteristics of the bardos is that they are periods of deep uncertainty. Take this life as a prime example. As the world around us becomes more turbulent, so our lives become more fragmented. Out of touch and disconnected from ourselves, we are anxious, restless, and often paranoid. A tiny crisis pricks the balloon of the strategies we hide behind. A single moment of panic shows us how precarious and unstable everything is. To live in the modern world is to live in what is clearly a bardo realm; you don’t have to die to experience one.

This uncertainty, which already pervades everything now, becomes even more intense, even more accentuated after we die, when our clarity or confusion, the masters tell us, will be “multiplied by seven.”

Anyone looking honestly at life will see that we live in a constant state of suspense and ambiguity. Our minds are perpetually shifting in and out of confusion and clarity. If only we were confused all the time, that would at least make for some kind of clarity. What is really baffling about life is that sometimes, despite all our confusion, we can also be really wise! This shows us what the bardo is: a continuous, unnerving oscillation between clarity and confusion, bewilderment and insight, certainty and uncertainty, sanity and insanity. In our minds, as we are now, wisdom and confusion arise simultaneously, or, as we say, are “co-emergent.” This means that we face a continuous state of choice between the two, and that everything depends on which we will choose.

This constant uncertainty may make everything seem bleak and almost hopeless; but if you look more deeply at it, you will see that its very nature creates gaps, spaces in which profound chances and opportunities for transformation are continuously flowering—if, that is, they can be seen and seized.

Because life is nothing but a perpetual fluctuation of birth, death, and transition, so bardo experiences are happening to us all the time and are a basic part of our psychological makeup. Normally, however, we are oblivious to the bardos and their gaps, as our mind passes from one so-called “solid” situation to the next, habitually ignoring the transitions that are always occurring. In fact, as the teachings can help us to understand, every moment of our experience is a bardo, as each thought and each emotion arises out of, and dies back into, the essence of mind. It is in moments of strong change and transition especially, the teachings make us aware, that the true sky-like, primordial nature of our mind will have a chance to manifest.

Let me give you an example. Imagine that you come home one day after work to find your door smashed open, hanging on its hinges. You have been robbed. You go inside and find that everything you own has vanished. For a moment you are paralyzed with shock, and in despair you frantically go through the mental process of trying to recreate what is gone. It hits you: You’ve lost everything. Your restless, agitated mind is then stunned, and thoughts subside. And there’s a sudden, deep stillness, almost an experience of bliss. No more struggle, no more effort, because both are hopeless. Now you just have to give up; you have no choice.

So one moment you have lost something precious, and then, in the very next moment, you find your mind is resting in a deep state of peace. When this kind of experience occurs, do not immediately rush to find solutions. Remain for a while in that state of peace. Allow it to be a gap. And if you really rest in that gap, looking into the mind, you will catch a glimpse of the deathless nature of the enlightened mind. ▼

Think of the moment of death as a strange border zone of the mind, a no-man’s land in which, on one hand, if we do not understand the illusory nature of our body, we might suffer vast emotional trauma as we lose it, and on the other we are presented with the possibility of limitless freedom, a freedom that springs precisely from the absence of that very same body.

When we are at last freed from the body that has defined and dominated our understanding of ourselves for so long, the karmic vision of one life is completely exhausted, but any karma that might be created in the future has not yet begun to crystallize.

So what happens in death is that there is a “gap,” or space, that is fertile with vast possibility; it is a moment of tremendous, pregnant power where the only thing that matters, or could matter, is how exactly the mind is. Stripped of a physical body, the mind stands naked, revealed startlingly for what it has always been: the architect of our reality. ▼

From: Glimpse After Glimpse: Daily Reflections on Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche © 1995 by Rigpa Fellowship, published by arrangement with HarperSanFrancisco, and imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

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