The Bardo Thodol, sometimes called the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is a funerary text that describes the experiences of the soul after death during the interval known as bardo between death and rebirth. It is recited by lamas over a dying or recently deceased person, or sometimes over an effigy of the deceased. It has been suggested that it is a sign of the influence of shamanism on Tibetan Buddhism. The name means literally "liberation through hearing in the intermediate state".
The Bardo Thodol actually differentiates the intermediate states between lives into three bardos (themselves further subdivided):
- the chikhai bardo or "bardo of the moment of death"
- the chonyid bardo or "bardo of the experiencing of reality"
- the sidpa bardo or "bardo of rebirth".
The chikhai bardo features the experience of the "clear light of reality", or at least the nearest approximation to it of which one is spiritually capable.
The chonyid bardo features the experience of visions of various Buddha forms (or, again, the nearest approximations of which one is capable).
The sidpa bardo features karmically impelled hallucinations which eventually result in rebirth.
One can compare the descriptions of the Bardo Thodol with accounts of certain "out of the body" experiences described by people who have nearly died in accidents or on the operating table - these typically contain accounts of a "white light", experienced as, somehow, a living being, and of helpful figures corresponding to that person's religious tradition.
The Bardo Thodol also mentions three other bardos: those of "life" (or ordinary waking consciousness), of "dhyana", and of "dream". Thus together the "six bardos" form a classification of states of consciousness into six broad types, and any state of consciousness forms a type of "intermediate state" - intermediate between other states of consciousness. Indeed, one can consider any momentary state of consciousness a bardo, since it lies between our past and future existences; it provides us with the opportunity to experience reality, which is always present but obscured by the projections and confusions due to our previous unskilful actions.
- Wikipedia (2004). Bardo Thodol (http://www.wikipedia.org/Bardo_Thodol). Retrieved Oct. 19, 2004.