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MAY 2020 : Bardo, an 'in-between' kind of place

There is a concept in the Buddhist traditions of the Bardo - an ‘in between’ kind of a place or state, a state of transition.  And this is one of those teachings that could lend itself particularly well to getting our heads (and hearts) around the place we currently find ourselves in.  I was mulling it over and thought you might like to be reminded of some teachings of Ringu Tulku’s on this subject, as well as sharing a poem I’m sure is on the same topic.

I made a short précis of Ringu Tulku’s chapter on the Bardo below, and attach the full chapter below as a PDF if you want to read more.  This was originally published in Ringu Tulku’s book 'Being Pure’ which some of you may have a copy of.  I think you will quickly understand why I thought to share this in these times.   

The word bardo is a Tibetan word, which means ‘in between’ - ‘hanging in between.’  It can also be translated as ‘transitory’, ‘in transit’ or ‘transient.’  Sometimes people understand the Bardo to mean only the experience after death, but it is not just that.  From the point of view of the Bardo teachings, every situation and every moment and every experience is a bardo experience, because it is a transient experience.  It is something transitory.  It is between things; it travels; it does not stay put.  So, therefore, the whole cycles of life and death are all described as bardos.

Every moment is seen as an opportunity to free oneself from the bondage of samsara.  Samsara is a state of habitual tendency, a state of mind, of reacting with ignorance and aversion and attachment.  We have continuous pain and problems for this reason.  But there is also, always, continuous opportunity to get out of this situation, to become free of this state of mind.  Every moment allows us the possibility to understand that it is not necessary to have all these sufferings and pain and problems.  At any moment, at any stage of the transition, there is this opportunity: not only during our lifetime, but also at the time of death, and also after death, and also at the time of rebirth.   At any time of transition, there is always the chance and possibility to free ourselves from this bondage.

Therefore, we need to be aware.  That is the reason we need to tame our mind.  It is why we need to purify our mind.   It is why we have to transcend our samsaric way of reacting.  It is why we need to understand and experience the true nature of ourselves and the true nature of phenomena, of everything.  If we can truly experience that, then there is nothing that is actually binding us.  What is binding us is our own misunderstandings, our own habitual tendencies; our own way of seeing and our own negative emotions; our own experience and nothing else. 

The idea is not that I try to bring some other culture into my life, or I try to become something different from what I have been, or the way people do things normally around me.  It is not about bringing something else into my life.  It is about living my own life in a way that is good for me, with compassion, with understanding, with wisdom; in a way that I can experience much more peace, much more tranquillity, much more kindness and joy, much less negativity.  That is the practice. 

Short edit of Ringu Tulkus words by Mary Dechen Jinpa, May 2020

And then there is this poem too, which keeps coming to my mind.  A children’s classic written by Winnie-the-Pooh’s author, A A Milne.  It reminds me of this Bardo concept, I’m sure that’s why people love it so.  To me, it's pointing us to the spaces in our lives, the potential for rearranging and reaffirming, realigning and starting afresh, for pausing, possible in every moment.  The freedom it can bring.  

But if your life is anything like mine, I also notice there can be an enormous dull heaviness or confusion, when we don’t know where we’re going anymore, when the government or health concerns have to put restrictions on our plans and movements, when we don’t know how long these will last or when or how they will change.  When our expectations and dreams have all been dissolved, what are we to run on?  

I think actually this is exactly the place of practice, the moment to realign, to remind ourselves of our basic motivations in life, our aspirations, to open to how they might be brought out into reality; to reconnect with basic kindness, to draw out compassion and to try and see things as they are, clearly, truly.  So, more than anything I guess I am writing to support you all, to support us all, in practice, in keeping going with it.

Halfway Down

By A A Milne

Halfway down the stairs
is a stair
where i sit.
there isn't any
other stair
quite like
i'm not at the bottom,
i'm not at the top;
so this is the stair
I always

Halfway up the stairs
Isn't up
And it isn't down.
It isn't in the nursery,
It isn't in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head.
It isn't really
It's somewhere else

MARCH / APRIL  2020 : Despatches from the Hill

See article published in Many Roads e-zine as:


Mary Heneghan,
10 May 2020, 13:32