The other day when I was writing about liminality. Since then I came across another concept that relates to the intermediate undefined space where we are stuck before the next move. It is called bardo and it is described in the Tibetan book of the dead as a state wherein the consciousness of a dead person is preparing for rebirth. In this state the soul is oscillating between different realms trying to find a new body to inhibit. I found this idea incredibly fitting in the context of the lack of meaning in life, an experience shared by many nowadays. Without purpose we are drifting in search for a new body to populate. We are hoping to finally find a home but the desire is never satisfied because the main element - the meaning behind the desire is lacking. Bardo is where we are stuck shifting between being dead and alive, being reborn into a new body over and over again.
As I was reading about bardo, what got my attention were the domains of existence. I could find myself in all of these forms, drifting from one to another when I engage with the world. I’d like to take you through these relationships and ask you to try and see if you could place yourself within them. Where are you at the moment? Which body are you occupying? Once you got the one, perhaps you can predict what comes next and makes its arrival less painful.
First is the heaven. A state of pleasure, joy and happiness. Everything is coming together nicely, you are riding the wave and the world is smiling. There are no obstacles or complications, the ultimate place of comfort. The only thing is that nothing lasts forever. When you are in this state for too long, you start to feel that it is not going to last. The anxiety to lose the blissful state creeps in and we start sliding from the top of the mountain down the hill to the next state.
Once we lose the joy and doubt starts to drive our decisions, we become jealous gods. In this state we try to preserve our reputation doing everything we can to keep those bits of integrity we experienced before. We use intellect to protect ourselves from others, build walls and isolate ourselves developing paranoia fighting for winning and survival.
After the unavoidable failure, losing everything we had we become hungry gods. Trying to feed our bellies with new content, consuming everything in our way, to fill the emptiness and escape from the feeling of lack. We follow new ideas, absorb new insights, following role models. While looking outwards we don’t notice the feeling of fullness, our bellies are full but we keep on eating. It is impossible to satisfy the hunger if the focus is on the food as an object and not on our own experience. No matter how much we consume it is never enough.
As the pain in the belly accumulates and we can’t find an explanation for it, we get angry and agitated. Overloaded with input we start rejecting everything falling into a circle of guilt, shame, hatred and aggression. We find ourselves in hell. A place most horrible to be in, where everything dies once coming in contact with itself.
On the bodily side of experience, the jealous gods are represented in being a human. A state where we strive towards understanding, recognition and success. We want to be a perfect human, living a good human life but what we start doing is we start being judgemental and critical. As we are building walls and isolating ourselves in our minds, it shows in actions directed towards other human. Something that starts with good intentions, to be a good human, ends in disappointment because no-one can fulfil such an expectation.
Once the human is defeated, instinct kicks in and we shape-shift into an animal. Another bodily representation of a hungry ghost state. Where everything is driven by survival of the fittest with no moral rules or respect for the others. The actions are informed by individual needs without consideration and responsibility.
We constantly shift form one state to another, stuck in bardo, waiting to be reborn, fighting the vicious circle, trapped by desire. So where are you at the moment? Heaven? Hell? Are you a hungry ghost or a jealous god? Human or an animal? And most importantly what is next to come and how do we break the circle?