2 – On Death: When You’re Dead, You’re Dead (or Are You?)

A straight-forward series of posts on the delicate topic of Death and Dying

Welcome to another installment on Death & Dying. In this post, we begin our dive into the Tibetan Bardo teachings.

Most would assume that once you die, you’re dead. The Tibetan, however, have a different perspective. They believe first of all that there are, if you will, levels or stages of death:

  1. outer death (that which we typically conceive of as death when the last breath is taken)
  2. inner death (the dissolution of the subtle, energetic body)
  3. secret death, secret simply implying hidden but in so much as someone who isn’t ready won’t be able to understand (when individual consciousness becomes unconscious or transcends).

They also believe that it takes at the very minimum three days for this to occur, or to occur to such an extent that the deceased will be spared from any residual discomfort. In other words, we ought not to bury or cremate our loved ones for at least three days, lest we put them through some kind of torture. Bear in mind this torture is not the physical kind, obviously, but born of the stubborn tethering of the mind to the body and not realizing that one has passed…or in rare cases, not having completely died. In fact, there are instances of those who have been assumed dead, buried even, only to be discovered still alive a short time later to the shock of those doing the discovering!

When I heard that the ‘apparent’ dead might still suffer as if in their bodies, I was a little concerned about my father’s death years ago. When he died, everything happened very fast. He was cremated, if not the next day, then the one following. I remember how sweet our family experience at the funeral home was, full of joyful laughter that probably looked like a total loss of sanity to the funeral director. But Dad (and his sense of humor) was truly present with us as we chose his urn, all five of us pointing at the exact same time to the exact same one among a wall full of different styles. Since it hurts to think of him suffering from a too-quick cremation, I choose to believe he was already very much aware he was not his body and all too happy to have it over quickly. I am also reassured because he was ill for some time and was aware of the gravity of his situation.

Actually, despite this minimum of three days, it is believed that it takes 49 days or seven weeks to move through the entire after-death bardo journey. Therefore, our loved ones remain near during that time (and many of us feel and know they are always around even afterwards in different ways), feeling separated by an unsurpassable boundary, as they process their past, resolve feelings from their most recent life, and consider possible futures. This journey is marked by present confusions and obstacles and the visions that enter the mind that continues to exist after bodily death. The dead must overcome temptations, Bardo beings and illusions, and the various traps that would render them “stuck” in the Bardos, unable to transition to another life or to self-realization altogether.

Therefore, it is of great benefit during this 49 days to offer up prayers, rituals, happy memories, and any offerings to assist the loved one’s transit. I will write more about this perhaps at a future time.

Next time, I’ll go into a little more detail about how we come into and go out of existence according to the teachings. Until then…

 

About the Author:

Beth Ciesco is your Selfcare Specialist, a certified yoga teacher and meditation facilitator. Check out the rest of the website to learn more about Restorative Healing YogaMirror MeditationE-Motion Alchemy, and Voicework as capital S Selfcare tools. You can also follow her on these sites:

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2 – On Death: When You’re Dead, You’re Dead (or Are You?)
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