The Great Liberation upon Hearing: The
Bardo of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities
Tibetan: Zab chos zhi khro dgongs pa rang grol las thos grol chen moâi skor: Chos nyid bar doâi gsal Îdebs thos grol chen mo Paro, Bhutan, 1977. I(Bhu)-Tib-149; 79-902879. [text 2, 36 folios]
According to The Bardo of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, which is included in Karma Lingpa's Great Liberation upon Hearing, the final moment of the dying process is marked by the sudden and dramatic appearance of the radiant clear light. As we saw in Section 2 above, the fundamental mind of clear light is said to exist beginninglessly and continuously in each individual through each lifetime and into Buddhahood itself. For those Buddhist practitioners who became accomplished in the esoteric methods of yoga and meditation previously in their lifetimes, the true nature of the radiant clear light will be immediately recognized and the wisdom necessary for full liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara) will be achieved. On the other hand, those who have not practiced during their lives will fail to recognize the clear light at death and will digress into the intermediate state known as the "Bardo of Reality" or Chö-nyi Bardo (chos nyid bar do), wherein the deceased experiences the visions of the one hundred Peaceful and Wrathful Deities. In our text it is stated that seven days after the initial appearance of the radiant clear light of death, the deceased awakens in the bardo, confused and bewildered by a stunning array of lights and visions. These colorful visions transform into the forty-two Peaceful Deities, who manifest in a circular pattern known as a mandala. A mandala represents a perfectly contained sacred space, a celestial realm in which reside a great pantheon of enlightened spiritual beings. On the fourteenth day, this peaceful mandala dissolves into the mandala of the fifty-eight Wrathful Deities. These Deities manifest also in the same circular pattern of their peaceful counterparts, only now each Deity appears in its terrifying form. As blood-drinking, flesh-eating demons, the Wrathful Deities symbolize the intensity or "violence," if you will, of liberation, understood here as the compassionate "murdering" of the neurotic and distorted thoughts and emotions that trap human beings in the ongoing cycle of rebirth. Some more contemporary sources assert that the Deities, in both their quiescent and frightening forms, are not really gods in the traditional sense. They are actually symbolic manifestations of psychological states in the inner space of human awareness. If the deceased is capable of properly identifying these Deities as projections of the mind and as manifest reflections of past karma, he or she will merge with the enlightened consciousness that these images represent. Once again, however, if the visions are not recognized due to fear or ignorance, the deceased falls further into the bardo realms which lead eventually to a new existence. Clearly, in the context of the Tibetan funeral rituals associated with this and other texts included in The Great Liberation upon Hearing, it is the prime responsibility of the religious specialist or 'lama' (bla ma) to gain the attention of the deceased and to make him or her aware of the visions encountered during the bardo experience.