The Stages of the
Bardo of Becoming
It is said that the experience of this bardo lasts approximately seven weeks, or forty-nine days. However, there are some variations in how these weeks are described. Most accounts say that the first half of this bardo is more connected to the appearances and habitual tendencies of this life, while the second half is more connected to those of our next life. At some point, however, there is a shift in our experience and it begins to be colored by the qualities and attributes of the realm into which we will be reborn. Some teachings mark this turning point at three weeks, or twenty-one days. There is no hard and fast rule that it will be exactly one way or another. The timing depends on one's individual karmic makeup. The bardo experiences that are presented here are for the average person --- those who have some positive and some negative accumulation of karmic tendencies. However, there are two categories of exceptional beings that do not experience this bardo. Highly realized practitioners will achieve enlightenment during the bardo of dying or the bardo of dharmata [the ultimate reality]. For them, this bardo does not exist. They are immediately liberated into the dharmakaya [empty essence] or sambhogakaya [blissful energy] buddha realms. On the other hand, those who have accumulated a tremendous amount of negative karma also will not experience this bardo. The force of their negative karma is so powerful that it propels them immediately into another rebirth. They go straight into the continuation of that negativity, which leads them into further states of suffering. However, these two situations are rare. Most sentient beings will definitely experience the bardo of becoming.
Dawning of the Six Realms
About halfway through the bardo of becoming, we begin to witness the lights of the six realms, signaling the approach of our rebirth into one of the six states of samsaric existence. Since we have not yet been liberated, and we have wandered in an ever-changing and groundless state for what seems a long time, we may feel drawn to any opportunity to find another body and home. The "wind of karma," the momentum of our habitual tendencies, will push us toward a realm of rebirth that reflects our most dominant psychological tendencies. At this point, it is most important to be aware of our mental state and to apply the practices that will be most effective at this time. The lights that appear to us now are not purely "wisdom lights," like those that manifested in the bardo of dharmata [the ultimate reality]. At this time, dualistic habits of mind have returned and so these lights, which emanate from our mind, are the lights of samsara [suffering existence]. Their essence is emptiness, and their nature is luminous, but they are tinged with the colors and karmic traces of our habitual patterns. Even so, it is said that if our practice is exceptionally good, it is possible for the lights to appear as the five wisdom lights.

For most beings, the lights that appear now are pale in comparison to the vivid lights of the bardo of dharmata. When we see them, we will naturally feel drawn to one more than others. However, the instruction at this time is to refrain from allowing ourselves to be drawn into any one of these states. The white light that appears is associated with the realm of the gods, the red light with the realm of the jealous gods, the blue light with the human realm, the green light with the animal realm, the yellow light with the hungry ghost realm, and the dark, fog-like light with the hell realm.

In addition to the lights, we will see signs of the realm of our rebirth in the form of images of various landscapes. For example, if you follow the white light of the god realm, you may see a magnificent palace. If you follow the red light of the jealous god realm, you may see a ring of fire and feel that you are entering a battlefield. The green light of the animal realm may lead to appearances such as an empty dale, cave or hut. The yellow light of the hungry ghost realm may lead you to a pile of logs or a jungle. If you follow the dark foggy light of the hell realm, then you may see a dungeon or hole in the ground, or a metallic city. Descriptions of these images vary, and again these appearances will be a matter of individual experience.

If you are attracted by the blue light, it is said that your next birth will be in the human realm, which is made up of four distinct continents. Of these, three are places with many desirable qualities. The inhabitants of these continents enjoy wealth, various comforts, beautiful surroundings and long life, but they have no opportunity to practice the dharma. Only one continent affords that opportunity: the southern continent. It is said that if you see a lake with male and female swans, that indicates rebirth in the eastern continent. If you see a mountain lake with mares and stallions grazing around it, that indicates rebirth in the northern continent. If you see a lake with cows and bulls grazing nearby, that indicates rebirth in the western continent. If you seem to be entering a mist or you see a city with nice houses, that indicates rebirth in the southern continent. The mist is said to indicate simply a human rebirth, while a city with nice houses indicates a "precious human birth," one that will provide the opportunity to practice the dharma. Then you will see a man and woman engaged in sexual intercourse. If you continue to follow this course, you will enter the womb of the female and this couple will become your parents.

--- From Mind Beyond Death
Dzogchen Ponlop
© 2008 Snow Lion Publications
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