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

Last time, I posted about death as we tend to think of it — a gross physical process. Today, we’ll encounter two additional stages that appear in the Tibetan Bardo teachings.

These next two stages of death are perhaps a little harder for the typical Western mind to grasp. After all, for the majority, if you can’t see it or prove it scientifically, it doesn’t exist, right? (And these days, even if you can see it, that doesn’t mean it’s worthy of belief!) But the Tibetans understand that there is an internal death that must take place; in other words, the energy that is identified with being a person must dissolve. This is what happens at the subtle stage of Inner Death.


Practicing yogis, energy workers, healers and the like will have a much easier time understanding the Inner Death during which the 5 pranas or subtle winds (prana, apana, samana, udana, vyana) and 5 chakras or wheels of energy (as opposed to the 7 of other systems) and their elements collapse down. In other words, the energy channels of the body must also die, not just the gross physical manifestation.

The result of this is collapse is a highly concentrated mind…all that remains of the person we knew. There wouldn’t necessarily be any obvious signs of the Inner Death taking place but the one experiencing it can know it by its visions and lights, that is if that person knew to look out for them. (And now you do!) It’s a mind/body experience without the body…so very like dreaming. It bears similarities to the “light at the end of the tunnel”, which in itself is a pretty fascinating phenomena commonly reported in near-death experiences, giving the Western concepts something in common with Eastern ones.

Different elements are said to give off different lights as they dissolve:

Earth – may see yellow light
Water – may see blue
Fire – may see what appear to be fireflies
Air – lightening visions, red and green (marked by a feeling of tension and grasping)
Space – complete darkness

Unfortunately, at this stage, there is a danger of the mind becoming unconscious, making it impossible to continue one’s journey with awareness.


Finally there is the Secret Death. Secret, to remind you, just means ‘hidden’ from anyone not ready/able to receive them. Here consciousness leaves the body, and though it was not specifically stated, I took this to mean that it returns to the greater mind, the Absolute. This is the real and final death and perhaps the most mysterious of the three because of its hidden nature.

But of course, as any Tibetan will tell you, that isn’t the end! Causes and conditions can lead to other lifetimes or even Buddhahood. In fact, it is said that the best opportunity to become enlightened upon death happens between the Inner and Secret Death stages. One’s lifelong spiritual practices, if they had any, would become most valuable here. I’ll write more about this opportunity in my next post.

A brief mention for the zombie fans out there. If a dead person refuses to leave their body, this can result in the arising of the zombie state. Pulling the hair at the crown, pulling the ears, or shouting in a body’s ear can help nudge the spirit out and guide it to liberation. The question remains, are zombies something we need to fear while we live or after we die and find ourselves traversing the Bardos? Hmm…


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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