“If I don’t explain what you ought to know
You can tell me all about it on the next Bardo”
— David Bowie
Every time I’ve listened to this Bowie song, “Quicksand,” I would wonder to myself what a “Bardo” was. Judging by the context of the song, I figured it was a European word for a bus or train, or some other type of transportation.
Then I received an email invitation from Sam Harris to attend an event hosted by him with meditation master Mingyur Rinpoche, as his guest. Mingyur has just written a book entitled, In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying.
There is was again — Bardo.
I did a Google search on Bardo, and according my buddies at Wikipedia:
Used loosely, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one’s previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals, the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality; for others, it can become a place of danger as the karmically created hallucinations can impel one into a less than desirable rebirth.
After reading this description, my mind instantly went to one of the most brilliant and original movies that I’ve ever seen, Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void. Most of the movie, I now realize, is about the journey of the main character, Oscar, through the Bardo state between death and rebirth. In the movie, his consciousness flies, passes through walls, follows his friends and sister, witnesses his past, has terrifying and sometimes beautiful hallucinations, and ultimately, in a scene that I will never forget, gets conceived and reborn again into the world.
That is what happens, according to Hindus and Buddhists, when you are unprepared for death — you reincarnate and begin again.
Yet, according to some Buddhist sects, if you are prepared for death, if you have a purified mind and are spiritually evolved, the first fleeting moments of death can lead to total transcendence and freedom from rebirth:
Following the process leading up to death, the person’s experience of the bardo of death commences. However, for most individuals, it passes by in a split second and goes unnoticed. Only those who have undergone training in and practiced meditation, contemplative prayer, and similar spiritual disciplines will likely even be aware of the bardo of death.
One description of the kind of meditation done by advanced practitioners consists of a conscious effort to “dissolve space into light”, which if successful will propel the dying soul into an a state of light and bliss beyond the continual cycles of birth and death to which most souls are subject. The way this bliss and light is symbolized will vary from individual to individual and from religion to religion.
Which brings me to George Harrison. Yes, that George Harrison; the Beatle, George Harrison.
George was extremely aware of death and rebirth being a dedicated practitioner of Hinduism and meditation. It is self evident in his song “The Art of Dying.”
There’ll come a time when most of us return here
Brought back by our desire to be
A perfect entity
Living through a million years of crying
Until you’ve realized the Art of Dying
Can you believe me?
Which leads me to the Martin Scorsese documentary about Harrison’s life, George Harrison: Living in the Material World. Toward the end of the documentary, Olivia Harrison, George’s wife, talks about the moment of his death. She says to the people behind the cameras filming her, that they wouldn’t have needed lights if they had been filming his death. Someone, (Scorsese?), asks her why. Because, she says, he lit up the room with light when he passed.
I can’t say that I personally believe in Bardo states or reincarnation. But sometimes I wonder.
What if George was ready for death and when that fleeting moment of the “Bardo of Death” came, he hit the mark and “dissolved space into light”?