through special intensive practice; on remembering the transference

of consciousness, the phowa, at the moment of death;

and on hearing certain profound teachings, such as the Great

Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is destined for a practitioner or

someone familiar with its teachings. For a modern reader it is

extremely difficult to penetrate, and raises a lot of questions

that simply cannot be answered without some knowledge of

the tradition that gave birth to it. This is especially the case

since the book cannot be fully understood and used without

knowing the unwritten oral instructions that a master transmits

to a disciple, and which are the key to its practice.

In this book, then, I am setting the teachings, which the

West has become familiar with through the Tibetan Book of the

Dead, in a very much larger and more comprehensive context.


Because of the popularity of the Tibetan Book of the Dead,

people usually associate the word bardo with death. It is true

that "bardo" is used in everyday speech among Tibetans for

the intermediate state between death and rebirth, but it has a

much wider and deeper meaning. It is in the bardo teachings,

perhaps more than anywhere else, that we can see just how

profound and all-encompassing the buddhas' knowledge of

life and death is, and how inseparable what we have called

"life" and what we have called "death" truly are, when seen

and understood clearly from the perspective of enlightenment.

We can divide the whole of our existence into four realities:

life, dying and death, after-death, and rebirth. These are the

Four Bardos:

• the "natural" bardo of this life

• the "painful" bardo of dying

• the "luminous" bardo of dharmata

• the "karmic" bardo of becoming

1. The natural bardo of this life spans the entire period

between birth and death. In our present state of knowledge,

this may seem more than just a bardo, a transition. But if we

think about it, it will become clear that, compared to the enormous

length and duration of our karmic history, the time we

spend in this life is in fact relatively short. The teachings tell

us emphatically that the bardo of this life is the only, and

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