Some of the services offered by our temple, and the True Buddha School, include helping the dying and deceased with the end-of-life care. This consists of palliative care, dharma liberation through hearing during the Golden 8 hours, and memorial service chanting every 7th day after death. The Chin Yin temple in particular has a dedicated team of volunteers who offer memorial services.
To understand the functions of these services, we must first understand all the states of Bardo. What is Bardo? Bardo itself is considered the “soul”, also known as the “body born from one’s consciousness”. It is an energy field formed by one’s consciousness, which is a very fine frequency wave. There are four states of Bardo:
- The Bardo of Birth and Living
- The Bardo of Dying
- The Bardo of Luminosity of True Nature
- The Bardo of Becoming
Bardo of Birth and Life
The goal of our daily cultivation is to actually purify our soul (or that state of being. All living sentient beings are in the state of bardo, the “Bardo of Birth and Life”. While we are in the bardo of birth and life, we are also able to enter the “Bardo of the Dream Stage” and the “Bardo of Meditation”, which are considered altered states of consciousness. The Bardo of Birth and Life starts when the soul enters the womb.
Bardo of Dying
However, during the process of dying, we enter another state of bardo, called the “Bardo of Dying”. The Bardo of Dying manifests itself in the eight hours before and after death of the dying person, and the dying will experience two very important processes: “external dissolution” and “internal dissolution”. These eight hours are sometimes referred to as the “Golden Eight Hours”. When a person enters the state of dying, they begin to enter the “Bardo of Dying”, and they first enter into “external dissolution”. This external dissolution is a process whereby the physical body gradually disappears and disintegrates into the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind. This would be considered the death by the medical community, in which the brain stops functioning, the organs stop functioning and the physical body shows no sign of biological life. However, Buddhists would not consider the end of the dying stage. After the external dissolution, the consciousness still exists in the physical body and must go through a state of “internal dissolution” until the soul leaves the body. That is considered the real death.
While the soul still exists in the physical body, we will go through approximately eight to twelve hours of internal dissolution, and during this process, if we are able to maintain mental stability, we can be reborn into the Pure Land.
This is why during the Golden Eight Hours of external and internal dissolution, we often provide “Liberation through hearing during the Intermediate Stage” for the deceased. This is to assist the soul to achieve mental stability and be reborn into the Pure Land, helping them remove their hindrances and attachments to achieve liberation.
Bardo of Luminosity of True Nature
However, if one loses the affinity to be reborn in Pure Land during the Bardo of Dying, one’s consciousness will enter a coma and wake up three and a half to four days later, becoming a real “bardo body” and enter into the third state of Bardo, the “Bardo of Luminosity of True Nature”. This is what we generally call the “49 days”, or “Every Seventh Day” stage. At this stage, we go through a minor death every seven days, and that is why our temple offers memorial chanting every seven days for seven weeks (totalling 49 days) in order to help that soul through each minor death. During this stage, Grandmaster notes that the bardo body has more than twenty opportunities for liberation (Lu, 2009). In the True Buddha Tantra and the Funeral/Memorial Practice Sadhana we have incorporated the practice of “doing seven” or “saying goodbye” for the deceased.
Bardo of Becoming
The fourth stage is the “Bardo of Becoming”, which starts after the “Bardo of Luminosity of True Nature” and ends with the stage of formal rebirth. At this stage, we can use the teachings we have learnt to choose to be reborn in the Pure Land or in the Six Realms of Samsara (the Cycle of Rebirth). The deceased will enter the Bardo of Becoming in accordance with their karma, and if they are not liberated, they will be reborn into the six realms, experiencing transmigration repeatedly.
Each stage alone could warrant a long essay (or even a 4 month class devoted to each stage). But it is very wonderful that we can understand the cycle of birth and death with the help of the teachings of Grand Master. This understanding drives our Memorial Services and our Funeral Practices, and allows us to help many in their “Crossing of the Ocean of Life and Death”. As long as we continue to cultivate, this can aid us during that crossing, and hopefully allow for a quick transition to the Pure Land, otherwise, we can also recall our teachings at the later stages of Bardo to help us liberate ourselves.
By Lotus Yvonne, Dharma Assistant.
Lu, Sheng-Yen (2009). Crossing the Ocean of Life and Death.US Daden Culture.
Master Lian Yue. (3rd September, 2022). Lesson 1: End-of-life Care – What is Bardo?. 2022 End-of-Life Care and Memorial Services Etiquette training for TBS Reverends, Dharma Instructors, Dharma Assistants and Lay Ritual Practitioners.