Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Fourth Bardo

"Must not all things at the last be swallowed up in death?"  

I was having a discussion with a friend, and relating how my life has turned as I have had the recognition that I am NOT going to get any real enjoyment here in this world. Yes, we get tastes of enjoyment, and we get freedom from the pain and suffering, which appears to be enjoyment, although it's often simply freedom from pain. And she said that if you think positively, you can be happier and healthier and feel good.  I'm not denying that, or that, to some extent, we can create our reality, or at least we can create our reaction to the reality that arises.

However, no amount of positive thinking is going to stop janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi - birth, death, old age, and disease.  About the only way to avoid old age and disease is to die quickly and very  young. Otherwise, they are inevitable. And death is nearly  always  inevitable.  (I say nearly always as there are stories, and they may be only that, of individuals who have escaped death - sages that have been here for thousands of years.) 

And, assuming you don't die young, old age and disease ultimately become something of a problem.  Actually, old age itself isn't REALLY a problem. It's more the various debilitations that come with it, which I tend to classify as disease.  For instance, when you're young, you can, if you so desire, enjoy food almost unlimitedly, with great relish (or any  topping of your choice). However, often for many  of us, food is no longer simply `eat what you like`.  Many things just don't digest anymore, and eat too much of anything, and major problems can arise. 

And then there's sex. Again, in youth, one feels unlimitedly strong and powerful. Yeah, that goes away too.  Why do you suppose there's so many of those damn ads for Erectile Dysfunction, with sweet semi-older couples sitting around in bathtubs? 

Memory!? Hah!  I'm sorry. What was I saying?  Oh yeah, memory.  My wife laughs at (with) me all the time as I have to make up words because I can't think of the normal ones.  Today, in the car, I saw the same sticker as we have on our car (came on it when we bought it used) from some local sports team.  I couldn't remember what the sport was, so I just said, "Hey, the have that sticker for the same team we have, that, uh, er, squat-ball team."  I still have no idea what the team is, as I religiously avoid all sports. 

I know many of these things can be improved via herbs, diet, exercise, doctors, etc. However, I have tried many of these things, and the recognition occurs that, no matter how much better I might get, the bottom line is I ain't getting better.  Like what?  Suddenly I'm going to feel great and live another 50 years, and climb mountains?  I didn't do that when I DID feel great. And now, I haven't felt great in years. 

But the reality is...suffering is a great boon.  I KNOW now that I am going to die.  I have had at least one heart attack. There have been times when I was in so much pain I PRAYED for death. It's a little like when you're at the beach and you play cut the cake. You  know, you  make a mound of sand with a rock on top, and you take turns cutting away the sand trying to not effect the rock, but ultimately, one slice too much, and down the rock comes.  A little like that.  Bit by bit, the body and mind deteriorate, and you recognize, truly, that it's only a matter of time. Today, tomorrow, a week, or 10 or 20 years. It doesn't matter. But the truth has touched you. You KNOW that your time is limited.

Now, I'm not a Buddhist, but I've read a little of lots over the years, and somehow I was reminded of the idea of Bardos.  Now generally, most people think of bardos as the after-life state, but I remembered reading one time that bardos are simply a particular state of existence, so even this current life is a bardo.  So, I looked it up. (Yeah Google!).  And it turns out that there are 6 primary bardos in the Tibetan Buddhism.  The fifth and sixth are after death states. But the first 4 have to do with this life, and as I recall, it is the fourth bardo which is the recognition of death - where you fully recognize that you are going to die.  Personally, I think it is a very great state. No more illusion. 

I've mentioned the story before, from Mahabharata, where the king Yudhisthira is being asked questions by Dharma, and one question is, " What is the most wonderful thing?" And Yudisthira answers, "Everyday people see friends and relative die and yet think, 'I will never die'." 

Similarly, in our youth, we think, "I will never get old. I will never die."  Or somehow that it will be different for us.  Whew....Beloved illusion.  We ALL get old. We ALL get sick. We ALL die!  As surely as we were born, these things will occur.  So, the beauty of the fourth bardo, is that you recognize these things. You can do something about it - not in terms of changing the inevitable, but in changing what you do about it.  Most religions of the world believe in an afterlife and many of those in reincarnation and an ultimate end to that repetition of birth and death.  They  speak of how our consciousness at the time of death determines what occurs after death - prepares us for our next body, or for release from the material realm altogether.  So, it's a little like being in the last few weeks of college, and thinking, "Oh crap! I'm gonna have to go out in the real world and get a job!"  Fun time is over. It's time for serious work. It's just, did you spend the previous years screwing off!?  Can you  fix it in the short time you have left?  Are people just going to laugh at your shoddy work you've done and throw you out, only to start over, so to speak? 

So, this realization doesn't have to come late in life. Unfortunately, it normally does. But life is always a preparation, and the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can look at how we want to address our lives and how we want to live them.  Do you want to live your life gaining wisdom and making spiritual advancement, or do you want to just kinda screw around until the last bell rings?  Hmmmmm?!    



  1. Nice to see you writing again. I have discovered this recognition and full acceptance of death to be a portal of sorts. It opened me into a place where I could actually feel all that life is, yeah the pain and joy, agony and ecstacy. And that too, another portal. It's all those little Russian dolls, one stacked inside the other only instead of getting smaller and smaller we get bigger and bigger. The choice is made for this that appears as a one. Love this game, even amidst the pain.

  2. Hi Aja,

    So glad to hear we get to die. One of my great fears has often been I wouldn't be able to. The sky can seem like a hat too small for the head. There is happiness here as long as you don't expect it to last. It's reassuring that one thing is for sure, we get old and we die! Thank God for that at least! :)

  3. Nice reminder Aja!! Thanks