History of Afterlife in Different Religions Tibetan Buddhism

About the views on life after death and the afterlife and history of the beliefs in the Tibetan Buddhist religion.



Everyone has returned from death. Many persons do not believe this because they cannot remember it, yet although they have no memory of their birth, they do not doubt that they were born. The supreme goal is to be born no more. This can be accomplished when one understands that the world is an illusion, a mental construct. This knowledge, plus a willingness to understand that the self is likewise an illusion, liberates one to merge with the Universal Mind, the divine mind of Buddha, in the state of enlightenment known as Nirvana.

At the moment of death the deceased enters the Bardo state, the afterdeath plane, lasting about 49 days between death and rebirth. The Bardo has three stages: the Chikhai Bardo, the Chonyid Bardo, and the Sidpa Bardo. The Chikhai Bardo begins at the moment of death, when the deceased has a supreme vision of the liberating Truth. But the dead person, unless trained in yoga or meditation, will not be able to remain in this transcendental state. Only those who have come close to negating the self can seize this opportunity to enter Nirvana. The great majority pass through the brilliantly intense divine light, unwilling to be absorbed into it. In this Bardo the deceased person may remain several days in a trancelike state, unaware that he has separated from his physical body.

In the second stage, the Chonyid Bardo, the deceased encounters the dreamlike state of karmic illusion. (Karma is the psychic residue of our previous existence.) Thought forms generated by the deceased person's own mental content take on terrifying reality. The deceased involuntarily fabricates encounters with good and evil powers, peaceful and angry deities. Buddhas (enlightened ones) and Bodhisattvas (semidivine beings who have deferred their own Nirvanic state in order to help others achieve it) appear majestic and awesome. Their radiance will cause the impure deceased person to shrink back so as to preserve his insignificant selfhood. Many lights and colors will bewilder the dead person. Evil karma may produce thought forms of flesh-eating demons making a frightful tumult, competing with each other to seize the deceased. In this Bardo the deceased will experience a vision of judgment and punishment. Dharma-Raja, King of the Dead, holds a balance scale on which are placed black pebbles (evil deeds) and white pebbles (good deeds) to be weighed. Supervising the weighing is the monkey-headed god Shinje. Also present is a jury of gods, some with animal heads, some with human heads. Dharma-Raja holds up the Mirror of Karma, in which the naked deceased person is reflected. Devils await the deceased who is an evildoer to conduct him to the hell-world of purgation. He will imagine himself to have a physical body which can feel intense pain as demons gnaw his flesh, drink his blood, and pull out his intestines. None of these deities or demons have any real existence; they are thought forms. If the deceased could realize this, he would enter the Nirvanic state.

In the third stage, the Sidpa Bardo, the deceased descends into the ultimate degradation of a new physical birth, having been unable to profit from experiencing the two previous Bardo states. He falls prey to sexual fantasies and is attracted by a vision of mating couples. He is caught by a womb and born into the earthly world again. Although the deceased might have taken rebirth in a nonhuman world or one of the Paradise realms, human life alone generates the karma that makes it possible to end the rebirth cycle.

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