We have conducted a long-due interview with Veetman about his work on Bardo and conscious dying.
Please explain the Bardo Meditation you devised.
The Bardo Meditation, Awakening from the Dream, was a starting point in my work with death and dying. Meanwhile I have gone further in my exploration and added more depth and scientific understanding to my work, also from my experience of being with the dying.
I understand that Bardo as a method only works for people with a background in the science of meditation and/or some understanding of ego-psychology and the dualities of our personality structure which are being healed during the often difficult dying process.
In my observations with the dying process I noticed that what equally matters are the qualities of the support person: fearless presence, silence, awareness of our true nature, and most of all compassion.
The Bardo process can be helpful in addition to these, either as a preparation for the transition by listening to it repeatedly, and of course hearing the messages after the physical death has occurred. The Tibetans say that the hearing sense remains intact for some time after death, and it is also the first sense that operates after birth.
So Bardo is just one part of my work with death and dying.
I heard from a Swiss man who ordered the English Bardo meditation that he was taking it to Bhutan where a Lama had asked for it, and also had recommended it.
The Bardo meditation is now available in 7 languages: German, English, French, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Czech.
Osho speaks again and again about the importance of the experience of death, of conscious dying. Is there a quote you remember that has had a special impact on your work?
This is my favourite quote in relation to conscious dying:
“The secret of knowing death, of understanding death, is not in death itself. You will have to go deeper into the existence of the ego. You will have to look, observe, watch, be aware of what this ego is. And the day you have found that there is no ego, that there has never been,- it appeared only because you were not aware, because you were keeping your own existence in darkness- the day it is understood that the ego is a creation of an unconscious mind, the ego disappears, and simultaneously death disappears. The real you is eternal. Life is neither born nor dies. The ocean continues, waves come and go- but what are waves? Just forms, the wind playing with the ocean. Waves have no substantial existence. So are we, waves, playthings.
But if we look deep down into the wave, there is an ocean, and the eternal depth of it, and the unfathomable mystery of it. Look deep down into your own being, and you will find the ocean. And that ocean is. You cannot say ‘it was’, you cannot say ‘it will be’. You can use only one tense for it, the present tense: it is. This is the whole search for religion. ..Those who try to understand directly will never be able to penetrate into the mystery of it.”
Osho, The Book of Wisdom, Ch 14, Q 1
What was the impetus for you to start exploring teachings in order to help people experience a conscious death?
My first encounter with death was a burning celebration in Pune 1979. I was 29 and had just that day completed a Vipassana course, and was in a state of vulnerability and openness. Seeing the body disintegrating in the flames was like an earthquake, uprooting all illusions and dreams. I deeply felt the impermanence of everything, including my own life in this body and even my time with Osho. This experience was my initiation to a deeper sincere spiritual search; I went home from that celebration, got sick, and did not get up from my bed for 6 weeks. My genuine spiritual search started then.
When I heard Osho speak about death and dying, a deep longing arose to explore death and its implications for us as spiritual seekers. As I realized later on, I had unconsciously been preoccupied with the issue since my father had died when I was a small child. When Osho spoke about dying consciously as a potential moment for enlightenment, I understood that this was a door for me to explore death through meditation and through dying in love. In one of my first groups in 1978 we simulated a death experience; afterwards I went to the river and saw a dead body floating by. Deep acceptance of constant change and impermanence arose together with the insight that life and death are always happening and that I am part of that – an inner melting of life and death, grief and joy, light and darkness and all dualities.
The year when Osho returned to India in 1986, I found out in an astrology session that my life´s path and work was about exploring death, and to help people die a beautiful fearless death. I accepted that challenge and left my ‘career’ as a hypnotherapist and asked Osho, via Prem Prasad, for the name ‘School for Life and Death Processes’, and received the message to go ahead. Later the name was changed to ‘Institute for Living and Dying’.
Usually, whenever I wrote a question to Osho, his answer more often than not was that I already knew or needed to find out for myself.
Most people are scared of death – how can information on conscious dying be made more accessible?
This information is already available from many sources – but the barrier is the deep collective denial, caused by fear, helplessness in the face of death, and the mind´s ability to deny the fact of our physical mortality until the truth hits home. We cannot even imagine that we will have to die – only consciousness interested in truth can remove that barrier. To deny our mortality is part of the collective dream state.
I remember Osho say something like: You are not really interested in enlightenment, because you are not yet lying on your deathbed. This says it in a nutshell. For a conscious death – or for enlightenment – a kind of psychological death has to happen, the dropping away of the egoic personality, the mechanism of control and obsession with time, the idea of past and future. But who is interested in experiencing life from the timeless now, the inner silence and surrender that it requires? Who is really ready to stop and devote some time ‘to die before you die’ – which means to die a psychological death in order to really live?
I have found this totality of letting go of the egoic denial mainly in people who were facing their impending death – they did not collapse in fear, struggle and resignation because they had had some insight into their true nature through love, meditation and/or their being close to an enlightened being. Often it happened simply because they had enough time left to go through the stages of death – called chaos – and then surrendered into the grace that is possible when the ego dissolves in the light of consciousness that realizes the truth of our true eternal being and the divine life inside us. Even meditation in itself is not powerful enough unless it is understood as a way to die as a separate entity.
Did you learn about the Bardo from Tibetans?
Not directly. I read the Bardo many years ago, but did not understand it at all. My interest was rekindled when Osho spoke on it, and when he suggested that his people create a more refined version he made it clear that it is a beautiful process and can transform death into a door to enlightenment. I had always felt attracted by the Tibetan culture and their emphasis on compassion.
I came in contact with Osho in 1978 when I lived near Dharamsala with my girlfriend and had some sannyasin neighbours who gave us the Osho book, Tao: The Three Treasures. We were absolutely determined to meet Bhagwan, as he was called then, and travelled to Pune immediately. Later on when I began to work on the new version of Bardo I found some contemporary sources and interpretations of Bardo which helped me to create the process ‘Bardo – Awakening from the Dream’. Once we did the daylong process in Lao-Tzu House and I felt Osho´s presence and the message of Bardo as absolutely compatible, coming from the same source.
I know personally some seekers who have applied the Bardo CDs during their time of preparation for the dying process and during the active dying; it has helped them to die with less fear and struggle, or even free from fear – in surrender, as they said – because the message was received with great urgency and in a state of deep listening. And I know of many, including friends and myself, who have listened to it for longer periods of time as their regular meditation. It has deepened the understanding of dying as a natural transition, the relaxation and the periods of silence in meditation, and most of all the urgency for liberation from egoic suffering in order to die consciously and in surrender, free from fear.
“The Bardo is a simple method but with great significance. Only people who have meditated a little bit in their lives can be benefited by it, and Tibet was one of the countries where almost everybody was devoting some time to meditation – just to be alone, silent, not doing anything, just witnessing. If such a person does not achieve enlightenment in his life, and death intervenes, then Bardo is used.
Such a man has achieved a certain opening of the door. He has not entered in, but he has at least tried; he has knocked on the door. He has a certain receptivity, and at the time of death he is absolutely willing to go into a state of meditation. Now there is nothing to be afraid of. Death has already come; he can risk everything. And Bardo is a certain soft method of hypnosis…just the way I am using it. Listening to me you become quiet, silent.
The Bardo is suggestions to the dying person: ‘Now be silent. Leave this life consciously. Rather than death taking it away from you, relax your hold; don’t be defeated by death, don’t struggle. Just drop all your attachment. This world is finished for you, and this life is finished for you. There is no point in holding on to it; in holding on to it you will be fighting with death. You cannot win, and a very significant possibility will be missed.’
[…] It is the end of a dream. That is the fundamental point in Bardo, that you have lived a dream that you call life, a seventy-year-long dream. It is coming to an end. You can weep for the spilled milk and miss the opportunity – because within seconds you will be entering into another womb, into another dream.”
Osho, The Path of the Mystic, Ch 7, Q 1
Many people know about the Bardo through the documentary, ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’, narrated by Leonard Cohen. When I saw it years ago for the first time I was intrigued but found it at times hard to follow. Having had more experiences since, I still think it is a marvelous work. Do you show this documentary to people? Would you recommend it?
Yes, I recommend it and we show it during our trainings. Of course, some clarity of understanding is needed, about all the deities, the lights, energies and terms that are part of the Tibetan culture and spirituality. They need to be translated into our contemporary understanding of spiritual psychology. Otherwise we may become even more confused and afraid of the dying transition. I usually convey that understanding before we show the movie.
If we have some deeper meditation experience, understand the mind and its inability to perceive reality as such and the subtle dimensions of the transition called death, the movie has some beautiful messages about the transition, the preparation in life through meditation and practiced compassion, and about the significance of understanding the ego.
The Bardo works on various levels, and I sense that´s why Osho spoke about it many times, and called it Tibet´s eternal contribution to the world of consciousness. Bardo´s message is about the moment of death as an extremely potential moment for enlightenment, recognizing our true nature, and about the time span of our life as a preparation for that transition into the ground of being and another life. The moment of death for Tibetans is not the moment of brain death, but the end of an inner dissolution when the individual consciousness dissolves into the universal. This may be shortly or some time after physical death.
Bardo makes it clear that the moment of death and the time after physical death is vital for our spiritual evolution, because the inner dissolution of ego-consciousness continues. This makes it clear why the Tibetans emphasise to leave the body after physical death as undisturbed as possible for at least a few hours up to three days.
Bardo also points to a deep truth of the present timeless moment as “the island of now in the stream of time.” For me this timeless moment has become the most helpful refuge in any life experience in that it opens a door out of the vortex of egoic suffering.
Bardo reminds us also to sincerely meditate in life as a way to recognize our thoughts, fears, desires, etc. as projections, so that in our passage we can remember this and thus be liberated. Bardo will certainly help us in the dying process in that it reminds us to relax and to remember the inner connection with our spiritual master or teacher and the essential qualities we have experienced through that presence.
Have you visited Tibet or Tibetan settlements? Lived there for any amount of time?
I love to visit areas in India and other countries where Tibetans live, and I visited Ladakh just before Osho returned to India in 1986, but I have not lived in Tibetan communities for longer periods. My connection with Tibetan spirituality appears to be part of my individual consciousness; this was ‘confirmed’ to me in some meditation experiences and in meetings with a living Tibetan teacher.
Meanwhile I have created new processes of deeply understanding the passage of death and the dissolution of the ego. I found very clear and helpful insights into the process of ego-death in western transpersonal psychology, in updated interpretations of living Tibetan teachers, which fully confirm the Tibetan descriptions of Bardo, and in Osho´s guidance on what meditation essentially is. All these allow us to approach our inner work of preparation for a conscious death or enlightenment with great clarity and inner urgency. This urgency arises when we are open to understand that the moment of death is the most potential moment for enlightenment because the futility of identification is obvious; and even if we miss this opportunity, that the level of consciousness in the transition decides about our further spiritual journey.
I suppose that the Tibetans put so much emphasis on the Bardo because it kindles an inner fire in those who are sincerely seeking liberation or enlightenment. I feel that this fire is an integral part of Tibetan spirituality even today, also because their collective situation does not allow too much dreaming and desiring, and because they are rooted in an ancient tradition of a search for genuine compassion and liberation. Probably that is why the Dalai Lama, who represents these qualities, attracts and influences so many people in these challenging times.
“Only in Tibet have they developed the art of dying. While the whole world has been trying to develop the art of living, Tibet is the only country in the world which has developed the whole science and art of dying. They call it the Bardo.
[…] So remember it – it may happen to many of you. You may be with a friend or with a relative, your mother, your father. While they are dying, help them to realize two things: first, they are not the physical body – which is very simple for a dying man to recognize. Second – which is a little difficult, but if the man is able to recognize the first, there is a possibility of the second recognition too – that you are not even the second body; you are beyond both the bodies. You are pure freedom and pure consciousness.”
Osho, The Razor’s Edge, Ch 3, Q 1
Please speak about your book and the CD’s you are creating.
The book is about exploring how the ego consciousness comes into existence as separate from the whole, why the fear of death is inherent in that mechanism, how the notion of time contributes to our fear of death, and how the identity-project that we pursue for a big part of life leads towards separation and disillusionment; how the individual consciousness returns into the ground of being by means of an often painful and psychologically challenging dying process, or in authentic spiritual transformation. It teaches about the application of some methods, and how we can support the dynamics of the dying process through timeless presence, meditation, authentic compassion and clear understanding about the dissolution of body and mind during the psycho-spiritual stages of dying.
Every transformation has almost the same elements: Chaos, Surrender, and Transcendence. Chaos involves the turbulence we experience in our psyche as we try to come to terms with inevitable death. Surrender is a turning point – letting go of the controlling grasp on the known and an entrance into Transcendence. Whether weeks or days, hours, or even in the last moments before death, our awareness moves into the grace of dissolving into the ocean of consciousness. If we have not been prepared for this, we will not experience this consciously, but probably “opt out” because of great fear of returning into the vastness of the ground of being. We are in reality afraid of our own true nature.
The book’s title will be something like “…dying like a snowflake disappearing into pure air…” Sounds familiar?
The CDs are a way to support the exploration and understanding of death, dying, transformation and the essence of meditation. They contain guided meditations inspired by Osho, hypnosis work on relaxation and disidentification, as well as guided life and death processes for people to become familiar with the transition and to challenge our misunderstandings and beliefs about death.
The larger part of the program is in German, and more CDs in English will be published soon. Our current project is a new website where our new monthly videos, audios and writings on these issues can be viewed or listened to.
After travelling around the world for the first 20 years of my sannyas life, my/our life style has become more quiet and inwardly now, more focused on inner exploration of consciousness, teaching in occasional seminars and regular trainings, creating CDs on conscious dying, inner transformation and true meditation, writing the book on the possible transformation and grace in dying and the psycho-spiritual support for the dying. We offer individual retreats for people in life crisis and situations of grief and impending death and a free hotline for those facing grief and impending death.
Privately we enjoy travelling, time in silence, and rejoice being in nature and the wilderness.
The idea of setting up a ‘Last Resort’ for fellow travelers has been around for a while – would you like to comment on that?
I wish all those involved truly the best for this vision.
In my view people will always prefer to die at home and surrounded by people really close to their heart. Dying is very individual and unique and involves a natural withdrawal into silence, love and aloneness, because it is a preparation for melting into the dimension of oneness.
If that option is not present, being surrounded by an atmosphere of compassion, meditation and the sacredness of the transition is certainly the best that can happen to a human being. Many people are afraid to die a lonely death.
Of course it is beautiful if we have a choice where to die, which kind of people surround us, if we are taken care of by loving compassionate people who accept and nourish our spiritual orientation, and if we can have a space where we can meditate, be still and open our hearts. I hope everyone will have a loving support on the ‘journey of return’ to the ground of being. But even this is not in our control and cannot be taken for granted.
A spiritual ‘hospice’ will only serve efficiently if all people involved have a deep understanding of the sacred dimension of dying and integrate this into their life and work, free of any fear and misunderstandings about dying themselves.
I prefer to teach people while they are alive how to die consciously and fearlessly, which means to awaken to their true nature while they still have energy and a deep openness for that transformation, unimpaired by sickness, weakness, emotional resistance or fear of the unknown of death.
Preparing for death only when it knocks on your door, during the last days/weeks/months while already in the process of dissolution, will not make much difference on the level of true liberation from egoic suffering and separation for most people. Often the time we have left – after the first phase of denial wears out – is too short to complete the radical spiritual transformation that the reality of our physical and psychological death offers us.
Probably many of us will want to die in ‘spiritually supportive’ surroundings yet this will probably not even be in our control. And if we really understand it, the ‘right’ support is available everywhere, when we have learned not to struggle against that which is, when we have learned not to argue with what is, when we have relinquished the notion that we need to control our life and our death, and have recognized that consciousness and peace is always present inside us.
That is my approach to my own inescapable aging and dying. I´d love to have serene and compassionate surroundings for myself and my beloved, but if that is not possible, I want to be prepared to surrender even to the most challenging situation, and be at peace with it.
This is my inner work of preparation. Osho gave me the name: beyond the ego. He spoke about suffering always coming from the ego; even the suffering in dying is just resistance to the psychological death that is enforced on us. If the grace of awakening happens before my physical death, Hallelujah! Every reason to celebrate!
Sukhi and I are open to support a spiritual hospice with whatever we can share. However, my work is teaching about the preparation for a conscious dissolving into our true nature while there is still time and energy – through our trainings, seminars, retreats, CDs and writings.
A few sannyasins are pondering the setting up of ‘retirement homes’ for us older sannyasins, where we most likely would also breathe our last. Any thoughts on that?
A great idea to be together in ‘retirement homes’ in that phase of life. It requires a lot of commitment, organization and maturity to set it up.
But pondering alone is not going to help, as long as the egoic notion of having to control life and death is prevalent. Fearful and controlling separate personalities coming together in such a home can be ‘relative hell’, I imagine, just like in any other retirement home, without a shared intention of consciousness and meditation in some way.
Who of us ‘older’ sannyasins is ready to give up our individual life style as long as we enjoy a fulfilled inner life and creativity, and have found contentment? Probably only when we cannot take care of ourselves anymore, and have nobody to do this for us.
Even in spiritual communities today, death is not really a favourite subject, it is the pink elephant in the living room that is avoided. We will first have to face our helplessness, because there are no easy answers and only a few people who have authentic insight and the authority to speak about what is needed to face aging and dying in a conscious way. Helplessness is the most difficult emotion for human beings to endure without escaping into reactivity, anger, depression and control. So being in such a home would, in my view, require a sincere willingness to prepare for our last breath through the science of meditation and inquiry into our formless being. Old age in Osho´s vision is the time of life that should be devoted to that inquiry.
Living in such a home with spiritually mature people can be a wonderful autumn of life, a joyful togetherness and helpful in our preparation for a conscious transition. Death is a radical compassionate teacher, and if that is part of a retirement home, it makes sense.
It certainly needs compassionate, meditative and committed staff, and probably will be possible only in the context of a mature community and with the guidance of a (living) awakened being. A place like this can be a true caravanserai if it is intended as a support for completing our lives in gratitude, in meditative inquiry into what we really are, and sharing our wisdom through love, silence and creativity, so that we can leave this form “…like a snowflake disappearing into the pure air…,” celebrating death as an expression of our individual life´s journey.
Related discourse by Osho: Bardo Is A Beautiful Process
Veetman spoke to Bhagawati
Veetman was born in Germany, took sannyas in Pune during the seventies, and began exploring death and dying intently during the eighties. Osho entrusted the School for Life and Death Processes to him in 1986, later the name was changed into Institute for Living and Dying. He met his partner Sukhi in 1997, and they both work together in their trainings and seminars. www.living-dying.com – www.bardo-meditation.com