THE BARDO OF BECOMING 295 comes the longing for a physical body, and yet we fail to find one, which plunges us into further suffering. The whole landscape and environment is molded by our karma, just as the bardo world can be peopled by the nightmarish images of our own delusions. If our habitual conduct in life was positive, our perception and experience in the bardo will be mixed with bliss and happiness; and if our lives were harmful or hurtful to others, our experiences in the bardo will be ones of pain, grief, and fear. So, it was said in Tibet, fishermen, butchers, and hunters are attacked by monstrous versions of their former victims. Some who have studied the near-death experience in detail, and especially the "life-review" that is one of its common features, have asked themselves: How could we possibly imagine the horror of the bardo experiences of a drug baron, a dictator, or a Nazi torturer? The "life-review" seems to suggest that, after death, we can experience all the suffering for which we were both directly and indirectly responsible. THE DURATION OF THE BARDO OF BECOMING The whole of the bardo of becoming has an average duration of forty-nine days and a minimum length of one week. But it varies, just as now some people live to be a hundred years old, and others die in their youth. Some can even get stuck in the bardo, to become spirits or ghosts. Dudjom Rinpoche used to explain that during the first twenty-one days of the bardo, you still have a strong impression of your previous life, and this is therefore the most important period for the living to be able to help a dead person. After that, your future life slowly takes shape and becomes the dominant influence. We have to wait in the bardo until we can make a karmic connection with our future parents. I sometimes think of the bardo as something like a transit lounge, in which you can wait for up to forty-nine days before transferring to the next life. But there are two special cases who don't have to wait in the intermediate state, because the intensity of the power of their karma sweeps them immediately on to their next rebirth. The first are those who have lived extremely beneficial and positive lives, and so trained their minds in spiritual practice that the force of their realization carries them directly into a good rebirth. The second case are those whose lives have been negative and harmful; they travel swiftly down to their next birth, wherever that might be.
296 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING JUDGMENT Some accounts of the bardo describe a judgment scene, a kind of life-review similar to the post-mortem judgment found in many of the world's cultures. Your good conscience, a white guardian angel, acts as your defense counsel, recounting the beneficial things you have done, while your bad conscience, a black demon, submits the case for the prosecution. Good and bad are totalled up as white and black pebbles. The "Lord of Death," who presides, then consults the mirror of karma and makes his judgment. 5 I feel that in this judgment scene there are some interesting parallels with the life-review of the near-death experience. Ultimately all judgment takes place within our own mind. We are the judge and the judged. "It is interesting to note," said Raymond Moody, "that the judgment in the cases I studied came not from the being of light, who seemed to love and accept these people anyway, but rather from within the individual being judged." 6 A woman who went through a near-death experience told Kenneth Ring: "You are shown your life—and you do the judging... You are judging yourself. You have been forgiven all your sins, but are you able to forgive yourself for not doing the things you should have done, and some little cheating things that maybe you've done in life? Can you forgive yourself? This is the judgment." 7 The judgment scene also shows that what really counts, in the final analysis, is the motivation behind our every action, and that there is no escaping the effects of our past actions, words, and thoughts and the imprints and habits they have stamped us with. It means that we are entirely responsible, not only for this life, but for our future lives as well. THE POWER OF THE MIND As our mind is so light, mobile, and vulnerable in the bardo, whatever thoughts arise, good or bad, have tremendous power and influence. Without a physical body to ground us, thoughts actually become reality. Imagine the sharp grief and anger we might feel on seeing a funeral service performed carelessly on our behalf, or greedy relatives squabbling over our possessions, or friends we loved deeply, and thought had loved us, talking about us in a sneering or hurtful or simply condescending way. Such a situation could be very dangerous, because our reaction, in its violence, could drive us directly toward an unfortunate rebirth.