Bodhicitta answers to our questions about the Tibetan Bardo.
How can someone with no idea what the Bardo is, understand the concept?
Bardo means intermediate state. There are six Bardos: waking life; dreaming; meditation; the moment of death; the intermediate state called the Bardo of the Dharmata; and the Bardo of becoming, getting ready for a new birth. All six Bardos are considered dreamlike constructions of the mind. We cannot know reality until we wake up, become enlightened, see things as they really are. All Buddhist traditions, especially Tibetan Buddhism, have intensive and extensive practices to prepare for a conscious death, and failing that, choosing an auspicious rebirth.
In essence, both Osho and Tibetan Buddhism tell us over and over that what we think is being awake is a dreamlike construction of our minds, intermixed with inputs from all our senses, our conditionings from both this life and past lives, and the many invisible energies from the many layers of unconscious and superconscious mind. The uniquely human realization “that I’m going to die someday” has driven mankind to authentic spiritual search for millennia. The Bardo teachings are the distillation and essence of what to do when you start to ask “what’s it all about.”
The Tibetan Bardo teachings are said to have been transmitted by Mahaguru Padmasambhava in the eighth century, passed on to his disciples and refined by many enlightened teachers since. They are inextricably bound up in the matrix of Tibetan culture. Osho has modified and embedded many of these teachings in his radical new formulation of the New Man.
The essential continuity is be as conscious as possible during the period between birth and death, whether awake, dreaming, asleep or meditating. The radical difference is that our main practice is to tune in on our unfolding individuality and be aware of it while leading an ostensibly ordinary life. This is in contrast to the extensive ritualistic, monastic, and ascetic practices of all Tibetan sects. For instance, the preliminary practices are 100,000 repetitions of each of four practices. These include prostrations, repetitions of long mantras, visualizations and prayers of supplication. The serious practitioners then embark on a three-year three-month three-day retreat in a small cabin. One is not allowed to lie down, only sit in the meditation box. Food is brought to one and the only contact is one spiritual teacher. The sexes are separated.
My own Tibetan teacher spent 18 years in solitary retreat. It is a very different way than Zorba the Buddha. To put it another way – if you feel like falling in love and having sex with a new person every year or so, the Tibetans would say: don’t do it; perform lots of mantras and visualizations; more retreats; and be aware of the emptiness that’s inextricably bound up with the sounds, thoughts, and forms that you visualize. Osho would say: follow your feelings; have as many lovers as you fall in love with; use birth control; don’t take it too seriously or personally; and be as aware as possible of the emptiness that’s inextricably bound up with the dream you’re living out.
What event made you investigate the Bardo?
About 43 years ago I was sitting in bed and visions of all the people in my life older than myself passed before me and I knew they were going to die. I wept intermittently for three hours. The next night the same thing happened except the people were all my acquaintances of my own age. The third night it was my children and all the younger people who I knew were going to die. About two days later, as I was wading into the ocean at Long Island Sound to swim, I burst into tears and realized “I am going to die.” This started my meditative search in earnest.
In the next several years I explored the available meditative traditions. This was the early 1970s in New York City. I was a professor in a medical school teaching social psychiatry. I explored Arica, mindfulness, playing bass in a rock band, was a stoner, inquired into Sufism and Tibetan Buddhism.
I’d been doing hatha yoga for several years, and one day my teacher came back with a new name, Ma Dhyan Siddhi, and introduced me to Osho. My life was in profound upheaval. The Limits to Growth had convinced me that mankind was headed for mass extinction in the next 50 to 200 years, and nobody was paying any attention. I realized I was part of the problem and didn’t know what the solution was.
My marriage was also falling apart. Everybody thought I was at the top of my professional career, and I had not met any of those I wanted to be like when I grew up; I knew Nobel Prize winners and the leaders of psychiatry, anthropology, sociology, and several other disciplines in America. The search became a little more intense. On a retreat at the Tail of the Tiger, a Buddhist ashram in Vermont, I met the late Choggyam Thrungpa, looked at him and said, “You’re not my guru.”
He said, “That’s right.”
Two days later the thought floated down “Surrender to Osho.”
I’ve never looked back since. But, I’ve continued to look as deep as I could.
Do you have any conscious memories about having passed through Bardo during a previous death?
I was struck by lightning in Pokhara, Nepal, in 1986. When I came to, Ma Carolyn, my wife, and several other people were anxiously hovering over my body. I smiled and said, “It’s okay, relax.” They said I had turned blue, was not breathing and had no pulse for a couple of minutes. My recollection of that time was being in a dark calm space, and all my memories tumbled out as though somebody had upset a filing cabinet. Then a voice or presence conveyed to me, “You have not finished Osho’s work in this life.” The next thing I remember was their concerned faces.
After receiving the Bardo teachings from Thrangu Rinpoche in Kathmandu that year, I did the 49-day Bardo retreat, visualizing deities and mumbling mantras.
At the end of it I asked Thrangu, “Do you have any memories of the period between death and rebirth?”
He said, “No.”
Then I asked him, “Do you know anybody who has any memories of that interval?”
He said, “No.”
Then I asked him, “How do you know what you are teaching me is true?”
He said, “I trust my teachers.”
I have an audiotape of the entire conversation.
There is a Tibetan tradition of persons who have returned from near-death experiences or who have memories of the period between births. They are called Delogs. Many Delogs’ accounts can be found in the book Peaceful Death Joyful Rebirth by Tulku Thondup. There is an English publication called The Big Book of Near-death Experiences by P.M.H. Atwater that would also be of interest. Nevertheless, at this point it still looks like a bunch of individual dreams, culturally conditioned, reported with the utmost sincerity and a certain amount of naivety.
What meditation do you suggest to readers to practice in order to experience the transition?
Whatever works for you. Osho’s path is as vast as the sky and each man’s track is utterly individual. The more conscious you are in this life, the better your chances of being conscious at the moment of death and beyond. Each one of us has started from a different point in our evolution. I’ve tracked thousands of sannyasins, and thousands of non-sannyasins between 30 and 80 years of age. Enlightenment seems very rare. The meditators get happier and happier as they get older, the rest plateau or go downhill.
My understanding of the five basic building blocks of Osho’s path are:
- Take sannyas and remember Osho’s presence as continuously as possible.
- Do one of the active cathartic meditations every day until you don’t need that anymore. You will know you don’t need it anymore when instead of being energized you feel tired after the meditation. You can supplement the cathartic meditations with groups to hasten the process – start with Mystic Rose, Path of Love, Tantra, etc.
- Be as mindful and as loving as possible while watching your life unfold. Remember you are happening, not the doer doing. You are the witness not the movie. Let go of what feels like old crap, celebrate whatever gives you depth and energy;
- Enjoy the support and brotherhood of the sangha. There are many meditators who are part of your sangha who may not be Osho disciples. There are some Osho disciples whose presence does not support your meditation. Don’t get hung up on labels. Follow your feelings and trust yourself.
- Listen to an Osho discourse daily. Relax, and allow yourself to hear the gaps, the silences around and in-between the words. He has said that listening to his discourses is his main method, all the rest is for those who can’t listen. This loops back to number one.
Many of the traditional Bardo techniques are called deity yoga and guru yoga. They are especially invoked during Bardos five and six, the Bardo of the Dharmata when the peaceful and wrathful deities are shown, and the Bardo of becoming when you are trying to figure out where to get reborn. One is told to visualize oneself as the deity, or visualize one’s guru and become one with the visualization.
Our contemporary version of these practices is to remember Osho’s presence, in whatever form or formlessness it comes to your mind. This remembrance of the presence will connect you with the mysterious universal force/being that we call Osho. There is no more to do than to rest in that remembrance.
An even more profound practice is to rest in the luminous empty, blissful, watchfulness that is the actual nature of your mind. If this has happened during your meditations in this life, when it occurs during the painful Bardo of dying, or the succeeding two Bardos of the Dharmata and of becoming, simply rest there. In the traditional teachings these are called completion stage practices, and luminosity yoga.
For a further in-depth look at practices: Mind Beyond Death by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.
For more Osho, depth and exploration for yourself, listen to the 80 discourses in the Vigyan Bhairava Tantra series, available for free on oshoworld.com; check out the oshobardo.com website; and attend one of the Bardo initiation transmission workshops.
Maneesha, Veetmann and I all carry the energy, and their presence in these workshops is a transmission if you are available. It’s not as mysterious as the mind would like to make it, and yet it is unspeakable and unbelievable.
A disciple went to the great Tibetan Yogi Milarepa and asked him how he could get to Nirvana.
Milarepa said, “Come to my cave tomorrow. I will show you.”
The disciple showed up early in the morning, Milarepa lifted his robe and showed him his ass.
The disciple asked, “How will that help me?”
Milarepa replied, “Feel it, it’s hard like a board from sitting, sitting, sitting.”
The virtuoso pianist Van Clyburn was playing a concert at Carnegie Hall. He was from Texas.
Three Texas oil millionaires flew up to New York and hired a car to go to the concert.
They stopped an old Jewish man on the street and asked him, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
The old man wearily looked up at them and said wearily, “Practice, practice, practice.”
In the words of Bugs Bunny, “Th-th- that’s all, f-f- folks.”
Bodhicitta grew up in New York City and studied Medicine at Columbia University. He took sannyas in Pune in 1976 and participated in many groups. After two years in Rajneeshpuram he spent the next thirty years with Osho’s disciple Yog Chinmaya in Nepal, Pune, and the foothills of the Indian Himalayas and was also close to Veeresh and Kavisha. He now lives in Bonita Springs, Florida, works as a child psychiatrist and gives workshops in India and USA.
Osho Bardo workshops with Bodhicitta:
16-21 Nov 2015 in Mysore, India
14-19 Jan 2016 in San Diego, CA, USA