The Transition From Death to Rebirth: Part I: The Tibetan Bardo Thödol
The Bardo Thödol, widely known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Dead, is a text or tantra in the Tibetan language that dates to the 7th century C.E. In fact, the Bardo Thödol is but one in a cycle of twelve texts that deal with the subject of dying and death–and of living incarnate in samsara (physical world of suffering through repeated deaths and rebirths). It is, however, arguably the text most useful to the most people who need guidance at the time of death and immediately thereafter to attain liberation from samsara, the wheel of death and rebirth, or failing liberation, to choose a womb for rebirth that will allow the best opportunity to continue on a spiritual path whose goal is liberation, or Buddhahood. To achieve these objectives, the text of the Bardo Thödol, which title is translated into English as “The Great Liberation by Hearing,” is read aloud to the dying or recently deceased person for 49 days following death to ensure that one of these two preferred outcomes is achieved.
The Bardo Thödol is divided into 3 subsequent bardos: the chikhai bardo or “bardo of the moment of death,” which features the experience of the “clear light of reality”; the chonyid bardo or “bardo of the experiencing of reality,” which features the experience of visions of various Buddha forms as peaceful and wrathful deities; and the sidpa bardo or “bardo of rebirth or becoming,” which deals first with seeking to obstruct womb entrances followed by seeking to select the best option for rebirth. Each of these three bardos is discussed in detail and the entire transition from death to rebirth–or liberation–in these intermediate states is summarized in preparation for comparison with and identifying correspondences to the same transition as discussed by H.P. Blavatsky and, perhaps more importantly, her Teachers.