The Tibetan Book of the Dead which is also called “The Great Liberation upon Hearing in the Intermediate State” or Bardo Thodal, is traditionally believed to be the work of Padmasambhava, the eighth century mystic-saint better known as Guru Rinpoche. Also considered as the second Buddha after Shakyamuni, he was the first person to bring Buddhism to the land of Tibet.
The Bardo Thodal is an important text to be read aloud to the deceased person while they are in the ‘transitional-state’ between death and rebirth. This will help them wake up from their swoon and not be frightened at the projected images they see. As you assist them to perceive and understand what is happening in a peaceful way, it is a great opportunity for them to recognize the nature of their mind and achieve enlightenment on the spot.
When this is not the case, they can be benefited by having their consciousness transferred to a Pure Realm. The most significant being Amitabha’s Pure Land, which is the ideal place to go where there is absolutely no suffering. In fact, it is called Dewachen, the Land of Great Bliss, where the suffering of the three lower realms doesn’t exist. Ordinary beings are permitted to enter there, without having any sort of high level of realization as a prerequisite. This is all due to the great vows and blessings of Amitabha Buddha himself.
The mandala above is said to be so potent that merely looking at it could liberate any being from all negative karma–the unavoidable consequences of harmful actions. It could transform anger and fear into altruism and compassion.
In Christian terms, the pure land would be considered the “Kingdom of Heaven” and not an ordinary heavenly place where the masses of people will enter. The Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying has more on this and is a popular book for beginners and written by Sogyal Rinpoche.
When I was first starting out practicing Tibetan Buddhism, I had a number of friends of the family that passed away. For most people, I think it is very difficult to contact one’s own lama to perform the Bardo Deliverance Ceremony as they are usually busy teaching or in another country. Searching online I only found one lama that offered to do this phowa ritual as a public service. So I know it is very rare.
A true story:
A long time ago, my mother had a sickly day-care child. The girl had heart-surgery when she was born. As a child, this cute little girl had placed tiny stickers (of footprints) on the bottom corner of my bedroom door. As they came off from house-cleaning, my mom decided to glue them to the door. Naturally, she was there to help my mom stick them permanently in place. It was a fond reminder to see them every time we entered my room. Three stickers remained there untouched for thirteen years.
This same girl was close to us even after she finished day-care at the age of five. She would always attend our sports functions with the family and often visit us at home. Unfortunately, she also developed a type of cancer early on. It is sad to say that she passed away from this cancer, in the prime of her life, at the age of eighteen. My mother almost had a nervous-breakdown at the loss of someone who was like her own child. The memory brings tears to my face even as I write this now.
I thought long and hard for a way to give my mother some peace of mind. A few days later, I explained to her what positive action we could do to help. A tantric lama (whom I found on a Vajrayana website) was available to the public. He performed the Bardo Deliverance Ceremony every Friday as part of his commitment. So, I sent the monk her picture and a donation through the mail. And to our surprise, a few weeks later a very auspicious thing occurred.
As both my mother and I walked into my bedroom, we saw those very three footprints – on the floor… a few inches apart as if they were walking towards my shrine.
I’d like to think those footprints represented the Triple Gem: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. I truly believe it was a sure, positive sign that she made it to Amitabha’s Pure Land and is happy and in good health. This put a wonderful smile on both our faces.
About ten years later, I met Tulku Thubten Nyingpo. To my delight, he offered a small group of us the empowerment into a special Drikung Kagyu practice. This would authorize us to perform the Bardo Deliverence Ceremony directly for others. As long as I have been involved in Buddhism, I know it is only rarely given. This Rinpoche is considered a highly realized and qualified lama. His incarnation can be traced back to Atsara Sale, who lived in 9th century Tibet. He is one of the heart sons of Guru Rinpoche and consort of Yeshe Tsogyal.
In 2009, I made a strong vow to perform the Bardo Deliverance Ceremony for EVERY PERSON that has passed away that I personally met. It is my wish to be able to help the deceased “cross-over” and make this transition without fear. There are extensive prayers, chanting of mantras, and offering of (tsok) food that is done to help increase their merits and remove the karmic obscurations necessary to enter the Amitabha Pure Land. I am delighted to say that I have done this two-hour long practice for over twenty-five people so far.
Therefore, if anyone needs this ritual done for their loved one (and it is still within the 49 days since they passed on) please contact me. I would be more than willing to assist them as well. It can be helpful in many ways. For example, you can be relieved as the karmic “cords” that tie you to a loved one are properly removed without pain.
As in the case with my friend, her mother passed away and she couldn’t stop crying for weeks. I performed the Bardo Ceremony and we were both surprised, at the exact hour it was finished, she felt a huge weight lift off her shoulders and she instantly stopped crying.