This Christmas Eve is a Bardo day, and particularly festive for me and my old buddy and Tibetan Terrier Teacher, Rascal.
You may know, Rascal died November 5. I was with him, and felt his moment of passing. Very real. Very immediate the way a spirit lifts and leaves.
My teachers say 49 days after someone dies they are reborn again into a new life and in a new form. Who knows if it’s true or not? Follow the logic, and that means I was reborn in this lifetime, but I don’t remember.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead says from death until rebirth we pass through three bardos. What is a bardo? Unusual moments that occur without anticipation, awakening when they happen. Simply explained, a bardo is any moment instantly jump-started by surprise. A moment of stepping out of routine into the unexpected.
There are no good bardos. They’re are no bad bardos. Simply put, they pop up suddenly, shockingly, and can be a bit frightening even. The moment of a car crash. Slipping on a ski run. The explosion of war or the sudden attack of a wild animal. Bardos shake us out of normalcy.
They can be exhilarating. A surprise greeting. A good joke. A balloon bursting.
But it’s not the car crash or the popped balloon that makes a bardo. It is the sudden jump it sparks. The moment of spontaneity that bursts us out of planned and predictable into suddenness.
Like death does.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead says death is comprised of three bardos. The first the moment we die and accept it. The second a 49-day journey through delusional and ghostly apparitions after we die. These ghost days can be frightening. To help us prepare for them, we practice meditation while alive. Meditation is a calm approach to live in everyday chaos. Our stepping out of our delusion of expectation into a world that occurs without our say-do.
As we live, so we die. That’s a Buddhist lesson. But with a little meditation our deathly 49-day bardo need be no more frightening than a carnival ride.
This where Rascal is now. On a carnival ride. I hope he enjoys it.
The third bardo of death is rebirth into a new form on the 49th day. This is the bardo that gets all the press, where folks say you could come back as a slug or a prince, or maybe even a president, oh my.
But princes and slugs and presidents, they each have their problems. It’s not like being good or bad in one lifetime determines what station you’re reborn into in the next. Rather. It’s how fearlessly you lived, and how fearlessly you died.
Rascal was a little dog. A 35-pound Tibetan Terrier with spunk. (Tidbit: actually not a terrier at all, with no terrier blood whatsoever; but when the breed came from Tibet Westerners called them terriers because they were small—an example of the delusion of expectation.)
Rascal always ran with the big dogs. He’d stretch up on hind legs and box mastiffs, Great Danes, and Dobermans wherever he could reach them. Always playing. Never mean or little-dog-aggressive. He didn’t have that fear. He didn’t know enough to be scared. Cats, neighborhood rabbits, squirrels, he’d approach them all trying to get them to play. He’d get confused when they hissed at him or ran away.
Today, Christmas Eve is Rascal’s 49th day through the bardo. Today he is reborn into a new life. Who knows if it’s true or not, or if it’s only something we accept because we accept linear time and think moments lay in a big, long row that stretches to the future.
Sometimes dying’s really just about the ones left behind. Maybe this 49th day has nothing to do with Rasci, and it’s just me working my way through it. Maybe 49 days, that’s how long it takes for those left behind to adjust.
But since it’s me left behind and adjusting, I see it like this—this Christmas Eve Rascal will realize a lifetime of great things. A world of new treats and ignorable threats, and the calm suddenness of play with the big dogs.
I am happy to think of him like that. The way he was, that’s how he’s reborn. That’s how I still imagine him.