Bardo?

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Bardo?

Postby texastheravadin » Sun Sep 19, 2010 12:58 pm

There were several factors that influenced me to begin studying/practicing the Theravada over the Zen Buddhism that I started out with. What really bothered me the most, however, was when I would read the Pālī Canon and see specific teachings of the Buddha himself that were flatly contradicted by Mahayana practice.

One of those things was the idea of an intermediate state, or bardo as my teacher at the Zen center called it. I remember one particular Dharma talk she gave about "transitions". It was extremely insightful...until the issue of death came up (being the "ultimate" transition). She said that in the Mahayana tradition, there's an idea of the bardo, an intermediate state that one finds oneself in after death and before taking the next birth. She stated that this is believed to be a very confusing time...the deceased person is inundated with various images and feelings that can lead to fear or clinging, and that those surrounding the recently deceased should try to project thoughts of calmness and reassurance so that the dead can peacefully make their way to the next life.

I intend no disrespect to the Mahayana, but doesn't that whole notion fly in the face of the teaching on anatta ? What is it exactly that's floating around in this intermediate state? How is it "conscious" enough to be "confused"? Does anyone know where this teaching came from, and how it can be justified when it seems IMHO to contradict the Buddha's teaching on the absence of a self that travels from life to life?

With kindest regards,

Your :shrug: friend in the Dhamma

Josh
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Re: Bardo?

Postby octathlon » Sun Sep 19, 2010 2:58 pm

Could it be referring to a rebirth in another realm, rather than an "intermediate state"?
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Re: Bardo?

Postby 5heaps » Sun Sep 19, 2010 4:51 pm

i saw a lecture by one of the monks at the monastery in perth australia where he talked about the possibility of bardo being true and having some basis in commonly accepted sutras. i dont know how common this view might be in general Theravadin circles though.

but doesn't that whole notion fly in the face of the teaching on anatta ?

why do you think that? bardo beings are not asserted as being unchanging or as possessing the identity/essence of "you". just that, instead of the last moment of this life disintegrating and producing the next moment which is the first moment of the next life, the next moment actually gives rise to a subtle type of existence instead. these are very subtle minds though and they dont count as rebirths
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Re: Bardo?

Postby Dan74 » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:01 am

Bardo is a Tibetan teaching found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As far as I know it is not found in Mahayana texts and never seen any mention of it in Zen literature.

I don't know of any Zen instructions for the dead (not to say there aren't any) except "do not cling, do not abide anywhere" which also happens to be the essence of the Tibetan Book of the Dead as I recall.

As for the transitional state, yes it does sound inconsistent with Theravada, but to what extent does this affect your practice? Tibetan schools hold varying positions on anatta, some very similar to Theravada, some somewhat different. Generally in Mahayana there is that talk of Buddha nature which some mistake for atta, but it's not. It's another term for the enlightened perspective which is seen to be everpresent but obscured by delusion. Whether this resonates or not, is often the reason why we stick with one tradition over another. But a better reason might be the quality of the available teacher, perhaps.
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Re: Bardo?

Postby Nyana » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:19 am

Dan74 wrote:Bardo is a Tibetan teaching found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As far as I know it is not found in Mahayana texts and never seen any mention of it in Zen literature.

Hi Dan & all,

The Tibetan term bardo corresponds to the Sanskrit antarābhava. The notion of an intermediate state isn't a Tibetan innovation. It goes all the way back to various early Nikāya sects. And it certainly informs Chinese Buddhism, and I would suspect Korean Buddhism also.

All the best,

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Re: Bardo?

Postby Ben » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:31 am

Hi Geoff
The Tibetan term bardo corresponds to the Sanskrit antarābhava. The notion of an intermediate state isn't a Tibetan innovation. It goes all the way back to various early Nikāya sects. And it certainly informs Chinese Buddhism, and I would suspect Korean Buddhism also.

Yes, this seems to be the case. Over a year ago I contacted Bhikkhu Bodhi regarding a discrepancy I found between the Abhidhamma and the Nikayas relating to events immediately following death. The Abhidhamma, particularly the Abhidhamma commentaries, posit that following death consciousness, there is a rebirth linking consciousness and within the next mind moment, there is a new becoming. Within the suttas, there are instances where the Buddha refers to a being in what appears tobe in an intermediary state a "gandharba", hovering in the proximity of the parent just prior to conception. The Buddha seems to have mentioned the gandharba only a handful of times, if I am not mistaken, and Venerable suggested that it could be the 'subtle body'. I think also Venerable has written about it in an essay or perhaps it is also written about in the introduction to his translation of the SN.
kind regards

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Re: Bardo?

Postby plwk » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:43 am

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"Of course you are befuddled, Vaccha. Of course you are uncertain. When there is a reason for befuddlement in you, uncertainty arises.
I designate the rebirth of one who has sustenance, Vaccha, and not of one without sustenance.
Just as a fire burns with sustenance and not without sustenance, even so I designate the rebirth of one who has sustenance and not of one without sustenance."

"But, Master Gotama, at the moment a flame is being swept on by the wind and goes a far distance, what do you designate as its sustenance then?"

"Vaccha, when a flame is being swept on by the wind and goes a far distance, I designate it as wind-sustained, for the wind is its sustenance at that time."

"And at the moment when a being sets this body aside and is not yet reborn in another body, what do you designate as its sustenance then?"

"Vaccha, when a being sets this body aside and is not yet reborn in another body, I designate it as craving-sustained, for craving is its sustenance at that time."
Bhikkhus, if you develop and make much this one thing,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.
What is it? It is recollecting the Enlightened One.
If this single thing is recollected and made much,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.

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Re: Bardo?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:33 am

texastheravadin wrote:There were several factors that influenced me to begin studying/practicing the Theravada over the Zen Buddhism that I started out with. What really bothered me the most, however, was when I would read the Pālī Canon and see specific teachings of the Buddha himself that were flatly contradicted by Mahayana practice.


May want to keep in mind that there is no single "mahayana doctrine" about anything. It is a "vehicle" (yana), and not a "doctrinal school" (vada).

One of those things was the idea of an intermediate state, or bardo as my teacher at the Zen center called it.


The term "intermediate state" (anatara-bhava) can be found in several schools before the Mahayana. In particular, the Sarvastivadins and Sautrantikas. It was a topic of debate amongst several schools, and so a far portion of ancient Indian Buddhists did have this notion.

This is well before Tibetan Buddhism was even beginning, maybe 800 yrs or so at least. Likewise for Zen. However, because of the massive source bias in English language Buddhism, the idea was popularized through Evans-Wentz's translation of the "Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo" from Tibetan. Hence, many English language Buddhists mistakenly think that this is a "Tibetan idea". Or, they mistakenly think that this is a "Mahayana idea". It is strictly speaking much broader than that.

I remember one particular Dharma talk she gave about "transitions". It was extremely insightful...until the issue of death came up (being the "ultimate" transition). She said that in the Mahayana tradition, there's an idea of the bardo, an intermediate state that one finds oneself in after death and before taking the next birth.


There are several "states" (bhava), and the "intermediate state" is just one of them. Others include the present state that you or I are in, the state of meditative absorption, etc.

She stated that this is believed to be a very confusing time...the deceased person is inundated with various images and feelings that can lead to fear or clinging, and that those surrounding the recently deceased should try to project thoughts of calmness and reassurance so that the dead can peacefully make their way to the next life.


The living state that beings are in right now is also a very confusing time!

In a sense, it is when the physical body of the past life has ended, but the mental factors have not taken up another physical form (dehi) as a basis support. So, there are a large number of mental events that arise. It is thus very similar to what happens during massive sensory deprivation. Because, the physical body no longer functioning, there is restricted sensory stimulus through the physical sense organs.

I intend no disrespect to the Mahayana, but doesn't that whole notion fly in the face of the teaching on anatta ? What is it exactly that's floating around in this intermediate state? How is it "conscious" enough to be "confused"? Does anyone know where this teaching came from, and how it can be justified when it seems IMHO to contradict the Buddha's teaching on the absence of a self that travels from life to life?


How does this "fly in the face of the teaching on anatta"? It is no more so than saying that right now we should try to maintain a calm and even state of mind so that the people around us have a calm and happy day.

The mental factors continue, and they are not based on a physical body. I'm sure that there are plenty of meditators around here that can give examples of when meditating there is some detachment of body and mind. Not very uncommon at all.

This teaching comes from interpretations on a range of early sutras (and yes, these are basically the same sutras that the Pali tradition has, just a different interpretation). If you want the arguments around it, I suggest you read and study the Abhidharma Kosa Bhasyam.

It is no more contradictory with "absence of self" than the notion of any sort of rebirth at all, quite frankly.

With kindest regards,

Your :shrug: friend in the Dhamma

Josh


I hope that you can learn to understand that the Buddha Dharma is much much more than simply Theravada vs Mahayana. These teachings are much older than any of that sort of thing.
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Re: Bardo?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:37 am

Dan74 wrote:Bardo is a Tibetan teaching found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As far as I know it is not found in Mahayana texts and never seen any mention of it in Zen literature.


Although the word "bardo" is Tibetan, the teaching itself predates the Tibetan Book of the Dead by over 1000 yrs!

It is found in a number of Mahayana texts, as well as texts of other non-Mahayana schools.

It is also present in Zen literature, just that in English, we only have about 2% of it translated. It is a standard teaching in all forms of East Asian Buddhism, Zen is no exception.


I don't know of any Zen instructions for the dead (not to say there aren't any) except "do not cling, do not abide anywhere" which also happens to be the essence of the Tibetan Book of the Dead as I recall.


Just another part of Zen that never made it into the English language. Plenty of stuff about this sort of thing. (May want to ask how it is that nowadays Zen and many forms of Japanese buddhism are in danger of being "funeral religion". What do they do during those funerals? ... a lot of it is teaching for the deceased.)

As for the transitional state, yes it does sound inconsistent with Theravada, but to what extent does this affect your practice? Tibetan schools hold varying positions on anatta, some very similar to Theravada, some somewhat different. Generally in Mahayana there is that talk of Buddha nature which some mistake for atta, but it's not. It's another term for the enlightened perspective which is seen to be everpresent but obscured by delusion. Whether this resonates or not, is often the reason why we stick with one tradition over another. But a better reason might be the quality of the available teacher, perhaps.


The teaching has no more conflict with anatta than the teaching of punabhava does.
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Re: Bardo?

Postby Dan74 » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:41 am

Very educational - thank you, especially Paññāsikhara and Ñāṇa! :bow: :bow: :bow:

Source bias is indeed huge, on the other hand there is plenty for lazy sods like me to sink their teeth into. But not to pretend to have broad knowledge for sure!

PS with the regards to the conflict between the intermediate state and Theravada, my understanding was that Theravada believe that rebirth was instantaneous and that mental factors could not be supported with the body being dead. Is that not so?

PPS I see it's just been answered!
Last edited by Dan74 on Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:45 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Bardo?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:41 am

Ben wrote:Hi Geoff
The Tibetan term bardo corresponds to the Sanskrit antarābhava. The notion of an intermediate state isn't a Tibetan innovation. It goes all the way back to various early Nikāya sects. And it certainly informs Chinese Buddhism, and I would suspect Korean Buddhism also.

Yes, this seems to be the case. Over a year ago I contacted Bhikkhu Bodhi regarding a discrepancy I found between the Abhidhamma and the Nikayas relating to events immediately following death. The Abhidhamma, particularly the Abhidhamma commentaries, posit that following death consciousness, there is a rebirth linking consciousness and within the next mind moment, there is a new becoming. Within the suttas, there are instances where the Buddha refers to a being in what appears tobe in an intermediary state a "gandharba", hovering in the proximity of the parent just prior to conception. The Buddha seems to have mentioned the gandharba only a handful of times, if I am not mistaken, and Venerable suggested that it could be the 'subtle body'. I think also Venerable has written about it in an essay or perhaps it is also written about in the introduction to his translation of the SN.
kind regards

Ben


Where some schools posited that there was in fact an "intermediate existence", based on their understanding of the early suttas, the Theravada later concluded that there was not, and the last moment of the past life was immediately followed by the first moment of the next life.

Both are really positions of various mainstream Buddhist schools. Both of them are understandings of early suttas. Bhikkhu Bodhi''s approach is nuanced, and appreciates this, which is good to see.

Despite Theravada orthodoxy rejecting this idea, actual Theravada practice in SE Asia does indicate that such a belief remains. Hence the various forms of the funeral rites in Theravada Buddhism.

(But Western Theravada, like many other forms of Buddhism in the West, tends to rely more on certain texts than content from Buddhist cultures which it likes to label "cultural accretions". - though not suggesting that this is what Ben or the good Bhikkhu are doing, however.)
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Re: Bardo?

Postby Paññāsikhara » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:43 am

Ñāṇa wrote:
Dan74 wrote:Bardo is a Tibetan teaching found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. As far as I know it is not found in Mahayana texts and never seen any mention of it in Zen literature.

Hi Dan & all,

The Tibetan term bardo corresponds to the Sanskrit antarābhava. The notion of an intermediate state isn't a Tibetan innovation. It goes all the way back to various early Nikāya sects. And it certainly informs Chinese Buddhism, and I would suspect Korean Buddhism also.

All the best,

Geoff


Yes, Geoff. Though, I believe a slight correction is in order: Tib "bardo" corresponds to Skt "bhava", there are several types of "bardo" / "bhava", and the "intermediate" (antara-) is only one of them.
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Re: Bardo?

Postby plwk » Mon Sep 20, 2010 2:45 am

As far as I know it is not found in Mahayana texts ...

Life between Life
From sources like Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakosa & Abhidharmakosabhasyam and an example of Mahayana Sutras like:
'The Past Vows of Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Sutra'
http://www.siddham.org/yuan_english/sutra/earth_07.html
If relatives can further do many good deeds during the first forty-nine days after the death of such beings, then the deceased can leave the evil destinies forever, be born as humans and gods, and receive supremely wonderful bliss. The surviving relatives will also receive limitless benefits.

And these interesting quotes from a user from another site: (although I find some parts 'questionable' and using of the term 'fundamentalist' on Theravadins)
http://politics.sgforums.com/forums/172 ... 941?page=1
From the Theravadin Perspective
From http://www.lioncity.net/buddhism/lofive ... 17918.html,

Basically, Ajahn Brahm (and the forest monks of Ajahn Chah) believe there is an antarabhava, partly from the numerous accounts in the Suttas, and according to Ajahn his personal experiences dealing with the dying in Thailand (I have not inquired further on this). Hoping he has written on this and will be published.

From http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Pali/mess ... scount=100,

*Intermediate State between Existences*
In contrast to the orthodox stand, there is significant Pali canonical evidence strongly suggestive of an intermediate state between one existence and
another, a view supported by Theravada fundamentalists. Various suttas from the Nikayas clearly talk about a state of existence before actual rebirth as a
another sentient being. Let me quote some examples from them.

In Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (MN 3Cool the Buddha states that for conception to occur, one of the conditions is that the being to be reborn (gandhabba) has to be present at the moment of union between the father and mother. Here, it is implicitly stated that there is an intermediate state of existence between death in the previous existence and rebirth in the next.

There are various references to the rebirths of bodhisattas as well as other beings, which also imply as much. According to Sampasadaniya Sutta (DN 2 and Sangiti Sutta (DN 33), some beings "enter the mother's womb unknowing, stay here unknowing and leave it unknowing", while others "enter the mother's womb knowing, stay there knowing, and leave it unknowing". One who "enters the mother's womb knowing, stays there knowing and leaves it knowing is, according to the commentary, a bodhisatta in its last rebirth. This is confirmed by several suttas that describe the bodhisatta's moment of entry into the mother's womb as "being mindful and fully aware. [Mahapadana Sutta (DN 14); Acchariya-abbhuta Sutta (MN 123); Pathama-tathagata-acchariya Sutta (AN 4: 27);
Bhumicala Sutta (AN 8:70)].

There are references to a fivefold typology of non-returners, one of which is called antaraparinibbayi (attainer of Nibbana in the interval&#65533Wink, in the
Samyutta Nikaya (SN 48:15, 24, 66, 51:26, 54:5, 55:25); Purisagati Sutta (AN 7:55) and Samyojana Sutta (AN 4:131). Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi, in his "The Connected
Discourses of the Buddha: a new translation of the Samyutta Nikaya", Volume II (Note 65, Pp 1902-1903), argues (with support from Samyojana Sutta) that the
antaraparinibbayi is "one who has abandoned the fetter of rebirth (upapattisamyojana) without yet having abandoned the fetter of existence
(bhavasamyojana)."

Orthodox Theravadins argue against this interpretation of the antaraparinibbayi because in the Kathavatthu (e.g. Kv 366), an Abhidhamma text
regarded by them as canonical, the idea of antarabhava (intermediate life) was strongly refuted.

However, there is further evidence to consider. In Metta Sutta (Khp 9, Sn 1:Cool there is reference to bhuta (those who have been born) and sambhavesi
(those seeking birth). Several suttas [Channovada Sutta (MN 144); Channa Sutta (SN 4:35:87); Catuttha-nibbana-patisamyutta Sutta (Ud 74)] mention the states of "here or beyond or between the two". Kutuhala Sutta (SN 4:44:9) also tells of "a being [that] has laid down his body but has not yet been reborn in another body".

All the above references from the suttas implying an intermediate state of existence should provide sufficient food for thought by Theravadins and ample
reason to keep an open mind regarding the mystery of dying and rebirth.

Although fundamentalist Theravadins may subscribe to a belief of an intermediate afterlife, it does not necessarily mean that they accept all of the
bardo (gap in between or intermediate state) teachings postulated by the Vajrayana tradition.

Having said all of these...I had one discussion with a learned Mod on the now defunct E-Sangha, and we came to an agreement that it is not true that the Mahayana asserts that all must go through an 'antarabhava'. There are cases where with the right conditions, swift/immediate rebirth takes place for some...
http://www.drba.org/dharma/amitabhasutra.asp
Shariputra, if there is a good man or good woman who hears of Amitabha and holds his name whether for one day, two days, three, four, five days, six days, as long as seven days with one mind unconfused, when this person nears the end of life, before him will appear Amitabha and all the Assembly of Holy Ones. When the end comes, his mind will not be utterly confused, and in Amitabha's Land of Utmost Happiness he will quickly be reborn. Shariputra, because I see this benefit, I speak these words; and, if living beings hear this teaching they should make the vow: I wish to born in that land.
Bhikkhus, if you develop and make much this one thing,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.
What is it? It is recollecting the Enlightened One.
If this single thing is recollected and made much,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.

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Re: Bardo?

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon Sep 20, 2010 5:09 am

Dan74 wrote:Very educational - thank you, especially Paññāsikhara and Ñāṇa! :bow: :bow: :bow:

PS with the regards to the conflict between the intermediate state and Theravada, my understanding was that Theravada believe that rebirth was instantaneous and that mental factors could not be supported with the body being dead. Is that not so?


Yes, this is a fascinating discussion! I was also under the impression that Theravada, at least orthodox Theravada, considers that mental factors must always co-arise with some kind of form, unless one is in a formless realm.

This may be a naive thing to ask, but if it's possible at death for the mental factors to continue without the support of a body, doesn't this in effect mean that the dead person has entered a formless realm? How could that be the case, since such realms require meditative attainments and the abandonment of sense desires? What would cause an ordinary person with attachments to find themselves in a non-physical state of being?

Don't some Theravadins accept the "bardo" but argue that it actually does involve some sort of form? I seem to recall Peter R. (where is he these days?) suggesting that the bardo might actually be a brief lifespan in either the preta or deva realms.

:namaste:
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