108 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING therefore the best, time to prepare for death: by becoming familiar with the teaching and stabilizing the practice. 2. The painful bardo of dying lasts from the beginning of the process of dying right up until the end of what is known as the "inner respiration"; this, in turn, culminates in the dawning of the nature of mind, what we call the "Ground Luminosity," at the moment of death. 3. The luminous bardo of dharmata encompasses the afterdeath experience of the radiance of the nature of mind, the luminosity or "Clear Light," which manifests as sound, color, and light. 4. The karmic bardo of becoming is what we generally call the Bardo or intermediate state, which lasts right up until the moment we take on a new birth. What distinguishes and defines each of the bardos is that they are all gaps or periods in which the possibility of awakening is particularly present. Opportunities for liberation are occurring continuously and uninterruptedly throughout life and death, and the bardo teachings are the key or tool that enables us to discover and recognize them, and to make the fullest possible use of them. UNCERTAINTY AND OPPORTUNITY 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, andoften 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 some-
BARDOS AND OTHER REALITIES 109 times, 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.