114 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING example of compassion. Yet even when he became well known he did not change. He still wore the same simple old clothes, and he lived in one small room. When anyone came andoffered him a gift, he would make a present of it to his next visitor. And if someone cooked for him, he would eat; if not, he would go without. One day a master whom I know well went to visit Kunu Lama, to ask him some questions about the bardos. This master is a professor, extremely well-versed in the tradition of the TibetanBookof the Dead, and experienced in the practices connected with it. He told me how he asked his questions, and then listened, spellbound, to Kunu Lama's reply. He had never heard anything like it before. As Kunu Lama described the bardos, it was so vivid and precise that it was as if he were giving someone directions to go to Kensington High Street, or Central Park, or the Champs Elysées. It was as if he was actually there. Kunu Lama was pointing out the bardos directly from his own experience. A practitioner of his caliber has journeyed through all the different dimensions of reality. And it is because the bardo states are all contained within our minds that they can be revealed and freed through the bardo practices. These teachings come from the wisdom mind of the buddhas, who can see life and death like looking in the palm of their hand. We too are buddhas. So if we can practice in the bardo of this life, and go deeper and deeper into the nature of our mind, then we can discover this knowledge of the bardos, and the truth of these teachings will unfold in us by itself. That is why the natural bardo of this life is of the utmost importance. It is here and now that the whole preparation for all the bardos takes place. "The supreme way of preparing," it is said, "is now—to become enlightened in this lifetime."
EIGHT This Life: The Natural Bardo LET US EXPLORE the first of the Four Bardos, the natural bardo of this life, and all its many implications; then we will proceed to explore the other three bardos in the appropriate time and order. The natural bardo of this life spans the whole of our lifetime between birth and death. Its teachings make clear to us why this bardo is such a precious opportunity, what it really means to be a human being, and what is the most important and only truly essential thing for us to do with the gift of this human life. The masters tell us that there is an aspect of our minds that is its fundamental basis, a state called "the ground of the ordinary mind." Longchenpa, the outstanding fourteenth-century Tibetan master, describes it in this way: "It is unenlightenment and a neutral state, which belongs to the category of mind and mental events, and it has become the foundation of all karmas and 'traces' of samsara and nirvana." 1 It functions like a storehouse, in which the imprints of past actions caused by our negative emotions are all stored like seeds. When the right conditions arise, they germinate and manifest as circumstances and situations in our lives. Imagine this ground of the ordinary mind as being like a bank in which karma is deposited as imprints and habitual tendencies. If we have a habit of thinking in a particular pattern, positive or negative, then these tendencies will be triggered and provoked very easily, and recur and go on recurring. With constant repetition our inclinations and habits become steadily more entrenched, and go on continuing, increasing, and gathering power, even when we sleep. This is how they come to determine our life, our death, and our rebirth. We often wonder: "How will I be when I die?" The answer to that is that whatever state of mind we are in now, whatever kind of person we are now: that's what we will be like at the 115