a place between …. bardo….Tibetan buddhism in western society

Bardo is a Tibetan word for the time immediately after death, an important time when choices can be made if there has been sufficient preparation. It is a time full of possibilities but there are also dangers for the confused and unaware. The full force of all the karma deriving from actions, good and bad, from the immediate past life, but also from previous lives is potentially active and influences what happens.

bardo_deities_42 The assembly of the 42 Peaceful Bardo Deities seems strange to western eyes.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes what happens after death and the complete text has recently been translated into English for the first time. It has an introduction by the Dalai Lama. We are fortunate to have this book available which gives comprehensive instructions and background information. It was written in the eighth century by Padmasambava. It was called The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate (Bardo) State. Though other teachers contributed, Padmasambava was the father of Tibetan Buddhism and regarded in his lifetime as the second Buddha. He introduced Buddhism to Tibet by persuading the queen to convert. Her husband and the rest of the country followed. Padmasambava succeeded in fusing the indigenous Bon religion with Buddhism to create the distinctive blend which became what we now know as Tibetan Buddhism. The Bon tradition is shamanic in origin and has a very sophisticated training in traditional medicine which has continued to be associated with Tibetan Buddhism.


We are fortunate to have this film showing how a dying person is helped through the process. It also shows a young monk being trained.

Now that Buddhism has been widening its influence in the west for nearly two generations, there are just beginning to be representations of the feelings evoked by the tradition transmuted by Western art and culture:

perhaps in music:


popular culture:

perhaps in dance:

perhaps in a way in film:

It seems possible there is an interaction going on between Tibetan Buddhism and Western culture analogous to that between Buddhism from India and the Bon religion in Tibet at the time of Padmasambava. Something new is being created.

There has been interest in looking for evidence of past lives and near-death experiences from a scientific perspective:


There is good evidence that regular meditation induces changes in the brain by self-directed neuroplasticity. This can change behaviour.


Our Western civilization with its christian roots looks at death as an ending leading to judgement and movement of the immortal soul to either heaven or hell. This view leaves no room for evolution, unlike buddhism which incorporates the concept of multiple lives leading to the possibility of self-improvement.

The death of a child is a particularly sad time with feelings of great loss. It is an ending, particularly when someone young has died. Schubert evokes these feelings:

and of course Mozart writing what is perhaps his own requiem:

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