The Bardo of Meditative Stability

His Eminence Beru Khyentse Rinpoche

© Marpa Activities 1998

The Bardo of Meditative Stability (skt : samadhi) is the absence of external obstructions in
both past and present meditation. It is maintaining concentration one-pointedly without
distraction. In order to attain insight it is necessary to cultivate samadhi on shunyata. A
determined effort is required. One's awareness must accompany one's every breath and
one's attention shouldn't be dull or scattered. In the vajrayana's development stage the
practice of visualising one's yidam, and so forth, is used to develop one's mind. The
subject shouldn't be seen as something solid but translucent. Also it should not be seen
as anything other than a creation of one's mind. This protects one's mind from falling into
the view of ordinary appearances. One-pointed attention should be held even through the
recitation of the deity's mantra. In this way one's complete attention is occupied and one's
mind is brought into the sphere of influence of emptiness - the mind's natural state -
without falling into the streams of distraction. One can then experience the qualities of
one's mind, which are clarity, awareness and spaciousness.

In spaciousness there is no part nor is there a boundary. The nature of one's mind is
likened to the sky which is totally unobscured by the distraction of clouds. It is
unobstructed clarity and awareness. Excessive delusion often forces one's mind in the
wrong direction, but as thoughts are inseparable from one's mind they themselves must
not be rejected. Advanced practitioners can experience the nature of their mind like an
ocean without waves, deep, expansive and still, the nature of emptiness. The nature of the
mind is clarity and awareness, but beginners may not be able to appreciate these
qualities because to do so requires effort and practice.

We must differentiate between the two ways in which things exist so there is no
confusion. The basis of this practice is mindfulness and awareness. Without mindfulness
a mother might accidentally lose her child, but with mindfulness, carefulness, she can
look after it properly. We need the same attitude in our practice, not wasting so much as
an instant. If you don't watch your head as you enter a small door, you'll bump it. There
are many such illustrations. Usually one distraction causes another, like when driving on a
motorway. If you lose your attention you can easily get lost. Thoughts should dissolve into
thoughts where there's no difference between the thoughts and the watcher. In this way
one can lessen one's thoughts, one's hindrances, more and more, like calming an ocean
by making less waves. We should not be so concerned that our thoughts are stopping, we
are just getting more and more relaxed. All our senses can be calmed this way and we
can experience tranquillity. At this stage all mental objects still exist but not inherently.
Everything is experienced as "one taste". This state of effortless meditation is achieved
only through tremendous effort.

The Bardo of Samadhi is dependent on the Bardo between Birth and Death. It also
depends on meditative practice. When one maintains one-pointed concentration, this is
the meditative phase. In between times is the post meditative phase. In post meditation
one should train one's mind in understanding that appearances are but dreams.
Practitioners should practise like this. Also, it is important for a practitioner's actions
outside the temple to match their actions inside. In this way one's practice of the bardos
will be helpful at the time of death.

Everyone experiences the Bardo of the Moment of Death without choice, regardless of
their religion or experience. It occurs due to the ignorance of our dualistic mind's illusions.
Due to this one experiences a great deal of suffering from passion, aggression and
ignorance. The dualistic mind doesn't exist inherently but we perceive it that way. This is
the cause.

It can be likened to a dream. When we wake up from a dream we realise the dream to be
a dream. Yesterday is no more than a dream-like memory which won't ever be
experienced again. All things are subject to the experience of change and are changing
constantly. In this way they are said to be mere illusion. An illustration of this is that one's
best friend can become one's worst enemy and vice versa. One shouldn't think nothing
changes. All things are interdependent and subject to change. Without recognising the
nature of all phenomena to be impermanent, it is very easy to get attached to things.

Our body is composed of five different aggregates, including consciousness. Suffering and
the experience of problems, such as sickness, are very much part of their nature. We
experience this no matter where we may happen to be. The ultimate solution is in the final
realisation of the omniscient state of enlightenment. Until this is reached, one is in
constant suffering.

As mentioned previously, the Bardo between Birth and Death has three sub-divisions : The
Bardo of the Dream State, the Bardo of Samadhi and the Bardo of the Moment of Death.
The remaining bardos are included within the Bardo of the Moment of Death. The moment
between death and birth is an intense experience and only preparation done beforehand
will result in fearlessness and peacefulness at this time. The best preparation one can
have is an accumulation of positive actions in relation to all living beings. It is very
important we prepare for death because everyone experiences it without exception.

The difference between the various levels of practitioner becomes apparent when their turn
comes to die. No matter what a person has gained in their lifetime, they still face their
death in light of their personal practice of method and wisdom. Those who perform positive
actions in their life, and with confidence, approach their death with a sense of celebration,
whereas those who have courted bad actions approach death with much regret. I have
observed these differences many times. Good practitioners don't experience delusions
when they die and they go on to recognise the inseparability of their mind with their guru
or deity. This is born solely of the familiarity they cultivated during their life. It is a matter of
technique and method. For the advanced practitioner, eg some lamas and yogins, upon
the recognition of the signs and experiences accompanying the subtle dissolutions they
maintain the Bardo of Samadhi without wavering.

Usually one's mind is attached to family and possessions at the time of death but this
only serves to prolong the time spent in the bardo. By experience, though, it is possible to
train our mind not to be attached. There are also a number of sadhanas that can be
performed for the dying person which describe the process and experiences they will
encounter. This enables the dying person to recognise them as they arise.

The process of death dissolves all the elements. The sign the earth element is dissolving
is a feeling one is falling from a high mountain. I have seen this with several dying people.
Sometimes the dying person will ask for a larger pillow. When the water element dissolves
the dying person feels thirsty, their body loses its lustre and their saliva dries up in their
mouth. When the fire element dissolves their body heat dissipates and their senses close
down. They hear more and more faintly and their sight becomes more and more distant.
When the air element dissolves their breathing stops.

White bindu is inherited from one's father at the time of conception and red bindu from
one's mother. Together they form the basis of one's physical body. The white bindu is
located in the brain and the red bindu in the navel. At the time of death these two
elements travel toward each other and meet at the heart. This occurs before the air
element properly dissolves. One's outer energy may have gone at this time but one's inner
energy still remains. If you touch a dying person's heart area it is possible to detect
whether or not the process has finished. The moment the red and white bindu meet at the
heart the dying person is not able to maintain awareness. Ordinary people fall
unconscious for a few moments then awake not realising what has happened.
Practitioners familiar with the process of death and bardo experiences will not be disturbed
by this experience of unconsciousness and will remain in a state of samadhi. This is
known as the Chiki Bardo.

If one is qualified one can do powa practice at this time or a qualified person can be asked
to do this for them. The reading or recitation of the powa text acts as a reminder to the
dying practitioner. Also of benefit to the dying person is the dedication of merits on their

Because the cycle of birth and death is fraught with problems, there is a real need to
practise dharma. Obscurations and defilements are a product of our mind. They
accumulate due to temporary occurrences, and since they are temporary they are able to
be removed. The accumulation of negative actions causes fear and guilt to arise at the
time of our death. It is only an accumulation of positive actions which brings about a
positive experience in the bardo. Both actions, though, don't inherently exist, they are
merely a reflection of one's mind.

Once the subtle innermost dissolution has occurred the Bardo of Dharmata arises. This
occurs in all living beings whether they are a practitioner or not. The only difference is in
their recognition of that state. Those who don't recognise this state for what it is react with
fear. After this experience one then experiences five different intensely coloured lights. The
five colours represent both the impure and pure forms of our make-up, light and dark. The
impure appearance is black, the pure appearance is dharmadhatu wisdom. Through
intense hate one experiences blue coloured light; the pure form of this is mirror-like
wisdom. Through pride or arrogance one experiences yellow light; the pure aspect of
which is self-cognition. Through attachment or desire one experiences red light; the pure
aspect of this is impartiality. Through envy or jealousy one experiences green light; the
pure aspect of this is all-accomplishing wisdom. both the forms and the sounds
experienced at this time originate from within oneself.

Our different emotions give rise to different lights or energies, and these energies are used
to good effect in the practice of deity yoga. If you visualise a particular deity of a certain
colour and form it is possible to effect the cure of a particular disease. To increase one's
health and wealth, you practise a yellow deity. To subdue desire-attachment you practise
a red deity. To accomplish one's activities, a green deity. Different colours are used for
different problems and the light involved is self-generated from one's mind. Just as a
crystal reflects the light of many different colours, so does the mind. If you could see the
colours inside a crystal ball you would see the reflection of many different colours. The
effect is not man-made and it does not exist from it's own side.

There are two possible experiences of these lights; bright or dull. If fear doesn't arise when
these lights appear it is possible for one to born in a Buddha field, but if one is scared this
opportunity is lost. Recognising the colours as Dhyani Buddhas - manifestations of the
dharmata - is a liberating experience. If one falls unconscious at this time the end result is
one begins to experience the Bardo of Becoming. At this time you don't have a physical
body but a mental body which can travel wherever you wish, with the exception of two
places; Vajrasana (Bodh Gaya, the place where the thousand Buddhas of this age
manifest their enlightenment) and the womb of your next rebirth. In this mental body you
also possess a mental sharpness which allows you to read minds, etc. You are able to
view your body but are unable to use it. If you lose your body in an accident you leave
your body fast, but a lingering attachment towards your aggregates remains. If a strong
attachment arises at this time you will be born as a ghost, at least on the relative level.
This type of spirit is something Tibetan culture is well aware of and certain practices are
performed to tame and reason with them. A spirit in this state of attachment towards a
body can only receive food when it is dedicated to them and burned on a fire.

The root of Bodhicitta is the attitude of loving kindness and compassion. Both are
dependent on other living beings and without them it is not possible to experience lasting
peace and tranquillity. As everyone experiences problems and suffering alike they are
especially important. The practice of either one of these helps to alleviate the suffering of
both ourselves and others. Not following them is the reason why beings experience
suffering and pain. Problems arise and dissolve into themselves, they are self created,
they arise from nowhere other than one's own mind. Sometimes beings look to such
things as alcohol etc, for the answers to their sufferings. This may help temporarily but
they are of no lasting benefit. Desire and attachment are never satisfied. The same is true
of material possessions. We are never satisfied and always want more. Working on one's
mind - spiritual practice - is the only way to produce permanent and positive results. Lord
Buddha taught the practice of renunciation and contentment with what one has. If you
practise this, it is indeed possible to experience mental tranquillity and peace. We should
replace our desire for more and more material objects with the desire for more and more
spiritual practice.

If someone is prosperous we shouldn't be envious of them, instead we should rejoice in
their good fortune. In this way there is benefit to one's spiritual practice. The attitude of the
Four Immeasurables is the attitude of enlightenment. We should wish all beings never to
be separated from whatever happiness they have. This develops one's attitude of
impartiality. One stanza in a text by Nagajuna says that if you see someone older than
yourself you should regard them as you would an aunt or uncle; someone your own age,
your should regard as a sister or brother; and someone younger as a daughter or son.
This type of attitude, without a trace of hatred, should then be extended to all sentient
beings impartially. if you bring this attitude into your life it will become a positive habitual
pattern and in time it will become effortless. This will be of great help to you in the bardo