Home' Nova National : March 2010 Contents 28
© NOVA MARCH 2010
In last month's column, I explored the
contrast between the Western and
the Buddhist approach to the reality
of death. I asserted that there was a
refusal and an inability in our culture to
accept the simple fact that we will all die one
day. As a result, when the end comes near,
we are often fearful and woefully unprepared
to face the unescapable ending.
In contrast, in Buddhism, there is a
constant reflection on the impermanence
of life and the awareness that each moment
of our existence needs to be enjoyed to
the full. In Tibet, The Tibetan Book of the
Dead is often used as a reference manual to
guide the followers through the six stages as
we move from one life into another. These
steps are called bardo (meaning in-between,
or transition). Our entire life can be viewed
as a never ending accumulation of these in-
between states. These include the moment
between breathing in and breathing out, or
between falling asleep and waking up, even
the micro moments that occur between
one thought and another. We could also
use a musical analogy and consider that a
melody is the result of the space, or interval,
between one note and another.
There is a precise relation between the
bardo states, and the level of consciousness
we experience through the cycle of life and
death. In Buddhist training, the followers
are prepared through meditation to enter
these variable degrees of awareness.
It is considered that these six bardo
states provide unique opportunities for
changes within us. The first three of these
states occur when we are still alive. The first
covers the entire period of our life from
the period of our first breath to our death.
Another bardo refers to our state during
meditation, while the bardo of dreaming
refers to the period when we are sleeping,
which is regarded as an opportune time to
train our brain. The other three stages cover
the period of our death to our rebirth into
a next life.
In the bardo of death, the process of
dying is regarded as a means of purification.
According to this spiritual guide, at the
moment of our death, a clear light will
envelop our body for a short time. This is
a unique period of enlighted wakefulness
called Rigpa. If at this moment we can
recognise this great luminosity we will attain
However only those who have prepared
with spiritual practice will be able to take
advantage of this temporary occasion. The
untrained mind, being still connected to old
habits and behavioural patterns established
in life, will be reluctant to make a leap of faith
to embrace this period of change, and this
brief opportunity will be often missed.
This is important, since only those who
have been liberated at the moment of their
death will be liberated in this lifetime and
not in the bardo states later on.
Each of the bardos has its unique set
of instructions and meditation practice. By
following the advanced training practices
prescribed, one can experience these levels
of consciousness while we are still alive.
The foundation of this training lies in the
practice of mindfulness. It teaches us how
Olivier Lejus MHSc. (TCM), BHSc. (Acup.)
is an accredited acupuncturist practising in Sydney.
Olivier Lejus with part two of his exploration of Buddhism's
approach to death.
to live in the present at all times, and be fully
attentive to every moment in our life. All
too often our emotional energy is spent
worrying about what happened in the past,
or what might happen in the future.
We have to learn to wake up to the
present moment, and the truth of what it is.
The Buddha described the four foundations
of mindfulness as: being aware of our
bodies, being aware of our feelings and
emotions, being aware of our thoughts, and
being aware of events as they occur moment
Living in the present allows us to observe
the transient nature of the entire universe. By
looking at the myriad transformations that
occur in nature every day, one realises that
everything is temporary. Even if one does
not believe in afterlife, or reincarnation, this
awareness of our role in the macrocosm
creates an expansive and liberating attitude
We can begin by becoming more aware
of single bodily activities, such as walking
or breathing. In the first instance, we break
each step into multiple micro components
such as lifting our foot, moving it forward,
and putting it down. In breathing meditation,
we concentrate on the sensation and location
of our breath as it enters our nostrils.
The Buddhist author Lama Surya Das
in his book Awakening the Buddha Within
eloquently describes how, as we begin to be
mindful, concentrating our attention to the
smallest fraction of the present moment,
something extraordinary takes place. We
begin to relinquish our fascination with both
the past and the future. As we learn to let
go, we discover that all our energy that was
wasted in nurturing fantasy, bitterness and
regret is returned to us. For those of us who
have spent entire lifetimes fixated on what
was, or what could have been, this often
brings a feeling of peace and liberation which
is well worth the training.
'All too often our emotional
energy is spent worrying
about what happened in
the past, or what might
happen in the future.'
'Living in the present allows us to
observe the transient nature of the
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