First Four Days after Death
The First Day
It says in Tibetan Book of the Dead that having woken up, after four days of unconsciousness, into the luminosity there is a sudden understanding that this is the bardo state, and at that very moment the reverse of samsaric experience occurs.
This is the perception of light and images, which are the reverse of body or form; instead of being a tangible situation of form it is an intangible state of quality.
Then you get the dazzling light, which is a link of communication between body and intelligence. Although one is absorbed into the state of luminosity, there is still some intelligence operating, sharp and precise, with a dazzling quality.
So the psychophysical body and also the intelligence, the intellectual mind, are transformed into space. In this case the colour of space is blue, and the vision that appears is Vairochana.
Vairochana is described as the Buddha who has no back and front; he is panoramic vision, all-pervading with no centralized notion. So Vairochana is often personified as a meditating figure with four faces, simultaneously perceiving all directions.
He is white in colour, because that perception does not need any other tinge, it is just the primordial colour, white. He is holding a wheel with eight spokes, which represents transcending the concepts of direction and time.
The whole symbolism of Vairochana is the decentralized notion of panoramic vision; both centre and fringe are everywhere. It is complete openness of consciousness, transcending the skandha of consciousness.
Along with that there is a vision of the realm of the gods. The depth of the blue is terrifying because there is no center to hold on to, but the glimpse of the white light is like seeing a lamp burning in darkness, and one tends to walk toward it.
The realm of the gods also happens in our daily life experiences.
Whenever we are absorbed in a spiritual state, a trance-like state of joy and pleasure, involved in our own self and its projections, whenever that joy comes there is also the possibility of its opposite, the centerless, all-pervading quality of Vairochana.
It is extremely irritating, not at all attractive because there is nothing to indulge in, no basic ground in which we can enjoy ourselves. It is all very well to have a panoramic vision of openness, but if there is no one to perceive it, it is terrible from the point of view of ego.
The contrast between the realm of the gods and Vairochana constantly happens in life, and often the choice is left to us, whether we should cling to a centralized source of spiritual pleasure, or whether we should let go into pure openness without a center.
This experience comes from aggression, because aggression holds us back and keeps us away from seeing Vairochana.
Aggression is a definite, solid thing; when we are in a state of complete anger it is like imagining ourselves to be a porcupine, putting out everything possible to protect ourselves.
There is no room for panoramic vision; we do not want to have four faces at all, we hardly even want to have one eye. It is very centralized and completely introverted, that is why anger might make us run away from the expansive quality of Vairochana.
The Second Day
Transcending the water element, the white light begins to dawn, and in the east, the Realm of Complete Joy, the tathāgata Vajrasattva or Akshobhya appears.
Akshobhya means immovable, and Vajrasattva means diamond-like vajra being; they both indicate toughness, solidness. In Indian mythology vajra is the most precious jewel, or the thunderbolt, which destroys all other weapons and jewels, which can cut diamond.
There was a certain sage who meditated on Mount Meru for centuries, and when he died his bones were transformed into vajra, and Indra, the king of the gods, discovered this and made his weapon out of it, a vajra with a hundred points.
The vajra has three qualities: it can never be used frivolously, it always fulfils its function of destroying the enemy, and it always returns into your hand. It is indestructible, adamantine.
The tathāgata Vajrasattva-Akshobhya is holding a five-pointed vajra— this absolutely solid object, and he is sitting on an elephant throne— what could be more solid than that?
His consort is Buddha- Lochana, the Buddha Eye. In the Buddhist tradition there are five types of eyes: the bodily eye, the Buddha eye, the wisdom eye, the heavenly eye, and the dharma eye. In this case the Buddha eye refers to awakening.
You may have a very solid, stable situation, but if you have no outlet it can stagnate. The feminine principle automatically opens out, she provides the exit or activation of the whole thing, the element of communication from solidness into a flowing, living situation.
He is accompanied by the bodhisattva Kshitigarbha, the Essence of Earth, who represents any kind of fertility and growth, also an expression of that particular Buddha.
And he is also accompanied by Maitreya, the Loving One. That firmness, solid and fertile at the same time, needs emotion as well in order to give life to the solidity; it is the emotional, compassionate quality of love, not necessarily selfless compassion.
Then there are the female bodhisattvas: Lasya is the bodhisattva of dance or mudra, she is more performer than dancer, the offering goddess who displays the beauty and dignity of the body; she shows the majesty and seductiveness of the feminine principle.
And Pushpa is the goddess of flowers, the bodhisattva of vision, sight, the scenery.
Transcending the skandha of form, are mirror-like rays, white and glittering, clear and precise, which shine from the heart of Vajrasattva and his consort. Along with that there is the light of hell, grey light without brilliance.
When the person perceives such a display of the vajra quality it seems too complicated to work with, so there is a possibility of simplifying it into the grey light, associated with hell or a fundamental notion of paranoia which is always connected with the intellectual vajra quality.
In order to have intellectual understanding you have to see what is wrong with everything rather than what is right; that is the natural vajra intellectual quality, the critical attitude of the logical mind, which also brings solidity.
If you have an understanding of something founded on the logic of a critical attitude, then your wisdom is based on extremely solid and definite ground; it is unshakeable.
But the other aspect of it is the realm of hell, when the critical attitude does not relate to solidity or basic sanity of any kind, but sets off a chain reaction, an alarm clock so to speak, of paranoia.
The Third Day
In the process of this sequence of days, the dharmadhātu quality of Vairochana has provided space, and the quality of Vajrasattva-Akshobhya has provided solidity.
Now the vision of Ratnasambhava is described.
Ratnasambhava is the central figure of the ratna family, which consists of richness and dignity, the expansion of wealth into other areas, fundamentally solid, rich and expansive.
The negative aspect of ratna quality is taking advantage of richness in order to march into other territories, expanding into whatever space exists, overemphasizing generosity to the point where there is a blockage of communication.
Ratnasambhava is yellow in colour, which represents the earth; fertility in the sense of wealth and richness. He is holding the wish-fulfilling gem, which also means the absence of poverty. And Mamaki, his consort, represents water; in order to have rich, fertile soil the earth needs water.
The bodhisattva Akashagarbha is the Essence of Space. With such rich ground you also need space to create perspective. And there is Samantabhadra, the All-Good, who is the basic strength, the organic quality of the whole mandala of the ratna family.
According to the traditional way of finding appropriate locations to build a home or a monastery or cultivate a new field (which was quite possibly developed by the Bon tradition of Tibet), you do not build a house merely at random, but there are psychological factors involved.
There should be the open feeling of the east, and the luscious feeling of the south with brooks and rivers, and the fortifying feeling of the west with rocks, and the protective feeling of the north with its mountain ranges.
There is also a way of water divining by looking at the shape of the land, and next to the spring of water there is usually a spot which is not swampy but has a good rocky foundation to build a house.
That particular rocky substance, surrounded by such appropriate shapes and locations, is called Samantabhadra, the soil Samantabhadra. Samantabhadra is also associated with aspiration and positive thinking, a basic confidence and positive way of looking at the future.
Ratnasambhava is accompanied by the female bodhisattva Mala, the goddess who offers all sorts of adornments, garlands, necklaces, bracelets, and so on, to bring out the highlights of the earthy quality of ratna.
The other female bodhisattva is Dhūpa, the goddess who carries incense. She represents smell, scent, the environmental situation that earth creates; the fresh air, air without pollution, and the room for vegetation to grow and rivers to run.
The light associated with the ratna family is the yellow light of equanimity, non-discriminating light.
But it seems as though all that detail and richness of the ratna mandala is too elaborate, too majestic, so there is a possibility that one would rather run into a very simple and self-satisfied little corner, and that little area is pride, the dim light of the human world.
The Fourth Day
On the fourth day there is the purified element of fire, represented by Amitabha, the padma family. Amitabha means boundless light, and the basic quality of padma is magnetizing, seductive, invitingly warm, open, and compassionate.
The light is boundless because it just shines naturally, it does not ask for any reward. It has the nature of fire, not in the sense of aggression, but of consuming any substance without rejecting or accepting.
He is holding a lotus in his hand, which means the same thing: the lotus opens when the sun or the moon shines on it, it opens toward the light, so any situation coming from outside is accepted.
It also has the quality of complete purity; such compassion could grow in mud or dirt but the flower is completely perfect and clean.
Sitting on a peacock seat is again openness and acceptance; in mythology the peacock is supposed to be fed on poison, and its beautiful colours are formed from eating poison. It is openness which extends so far that it can deal with any kind of negative situation, in fact compassion is exhilarated by negative situations.
His consort Pandaravasini, the White-clad One, is associated with the symbolism of an Indian legend of certain clothes woven from stone, which could only be cleaned by fire. She represents the essence of fire, consuming everything, and also the result of the consuming process, purification, complete compassion.
Then there is the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, the essence of compassion, he who sees in all directions, which is the ultimate intelligence of compassion.
Whenever compassion is needed it happens naturally, it has a sharp, automatic quality; it is not idiot or blind compassion, but intelligent compassion which always fulfils its function.
Manjushri too represents the mechanical aspect of compassion, but here it is an intellectual rather than a purely impulsive quality. He is also the creator of sound, the communication of compassion; he represents the sound of emptiness which is the source of all words.
Then there is Gītā, the female bodhisattva of song, who sings to the music of Manjushri; and along with her is Aloka, who holds a lamp or torch.
The whole process of compassion has rhythm and light, it has the depth of intelligence and the sharpness of efficiency, and it has the purifying nature of the white-clad Buddha as well as the infinite, all-pervading quality of Amitabha.
That is the complete padma family, which transcends the skandha of perception and shines with the red light of discriminating-awareness wisdom.
Compassion is very detailed and precise, so it is necessary to have discriminating-awareness wisdom, which does not mean discriminating in terms of acceptance and rejection, but simply seeing things as they are.