THE BARDO OF BECOMING 297 The overwhelming power of thought, then, is the key issue in the bardo of becoming. This crucial moment finds us completely exposed to whatever habits and tendencies we have allowed to grow and dominate our lives. If you don't check those habits and tendencies now in life, and prevent them from seizing hold of your mind, then in the bardo of becoming you will be their helpless victim, buffeted to and fro by their power. The slightest irritation, for example, in the bardo of becoming can have a devastating effect, and that is why traditionally the person reading the TibetanBookof the Dead had to be someone with whom you had a good connection; if not, the very sound of his or her voice could infuriate you, with the most disastrous consequences. The teachings give us many descriptions of the rawness of the mind in the bardo of becoming; the most striking of these says that our mind in this bardo is like a flaming red-hot iron bar that can be bent in whichever way you want until it cools, when whatever form it finds itself in rapidly solidifies. In just the same way, it is said, a single positive thought in this bardo can lead directly to enlightenment, and a single negative reaction can plunge you into the most prolonged and extreme suffering. TheTibetanBookof the Dead could not warn us more strongly: Now is the time which is the borderline between going up and going down; now is the time when by slipping into laziness even for a moment you will endure constant suffering; now is the time when by concentrating for an instant you will enjoy constant happiness. Focus your mind single-mindedly; strive to prolong the results of good karma! TheTibetanBookof the Dead tries to awaken any connection with spiritual practice the dead person may have had, and it encourages us: to give up attachment to people and possessions, to abandon yearning for a body, not to give in to desire or anger, to cultivate kindness rather than hostility, and not even to contemplate negative actions. It reminds the dead person there is no need to fear: On the one hand, it tells them that the terrifying bardo figures are nothing more than their own deluded projections and by nature empty; and on the other hand, that they themselves have only "a mental body of habitual tendencies," and are therefore empty too. "So emptiness cannot harm emptiness."
298 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING The shifting and precarious nature of the bardo of becoming can also be the source of many opportunities for liberation, and the susceptibility of mind in this bardo can be turned to our advantage. All we have to do is remember one instruction; all it needs is for one positive thought to spring into our mind. If we can recall any teaching that has inspired us to the nature of mind, if we have even one good inclination toward practice, or a deep connection with a spiritual practice, then that alone can free us. In the bardo of becoming, the buddha realms do not appear spontaneously as they do in the bardo of dharmata. Just by remembering them, however, you can transfer yourself there directly by the power of your mind, and proceed toward enlightenment. It is said that if you can invoke a buddha, he will immediately appear before you. But remember, even though the possibilities are limitless, we must have at least some, if not total, control over our mind in this bardo; and this is extremely difficult, because the mind here is so vulnerable, fragmented, and restless. So in this bardo, whenever you can suddenly retrieve your awareness, even for a moment, immediately recall your connection with spiritual practice, remember your master or buddha, and invoke them with all your strength. If in life you have developed the natural reflex of praying whenever things become difficult or critical, or slip beyond your control, then instantly you will be able to invoke or call to mind an enlightened being, such as Buddha or Padmasambhava, Tara or Avalokiteshvara, Christ or the Virgin Mary. If you are able to invoke them fervently with one-pointed devotion, and with all your heart, then through the power of their blessing, your mind will be liberated into the space of their wisdom mind. Prayer in this life may seem sometimes to bring little result, but its effects in the bardo are unprecedentedly powerful. Yet the description I have given you of the bardo shows the sheer difficulty of focusing the mind at this juncture, if we have had no previous training. Think how almost impossible it is to remember something like a prayer in a dream or nightmare, how impotent and powerless we feel in them; in the bardo of becoming it is just as hard, if not harder, to collect our thoughts at all. This is why the watchword of the TibetanBookof the Dead, repeated over and over again, is: "Do not be distracted." As it points out: