Life after Death: Navigating the Different Phases of the Bardo

What happens after we die? It’s a question that has been asked since the dawn of time. While we may never be able to answer this definitively, we can turn to ancient wisdom for insight. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is an ancient text that offers a map of the afterlife, describing the different stages of death or “bardo” a person goes through after death. In this blog post, we will explore these different bardos and how we can navigate them with greater ease and clarity.

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Photo by Arina Krasnikova on

Introducing the Bardo

In Tibetan Buddhism, the concept of death and the afterlife is explored in great detail in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, also known as the Bardo Thodol. According to this book, the process of dying is seen as a journey through different stages, or bardos, that lead to either enlightenment or rebirth.

The term “bardo” refers to an intermediate state or gap between two phases of existence. It is said that after death, our consciousness goes through a series of bardos, which can be divided into three main phases. These phases are known as the Chikhai Bardo, the Chonyid Bardo, and the Sidpa Bardo.

Understanding these different stages can be helpful for those who are preparing for their own death or dealing with the passing of a loved one. Let’s explore each of the bardos in more detail.

The Chikhai Bardo

The Chikhai Bardo, or the Bardo of the Moment of Death, is the first of the three Bardos that a person goes through after their physical body has died. This stage begins as soon as the last breath is taken, and lasts for a period of approximately three and a half days.

During the Chikhai Bardo, the individual experiences a series of vivid hallucinations and visions. These can be both pleasurable and terrifying, depending on the individual’s past experiences and mental state. The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes these experiences as being created by the person’s own mind, as it is now freed from the constraints of the physical body.

One of the key teachings of the Chikhai Bardo is that the individual should not be afraid of these visions, but instead should recognize them as being manifestations of their own mind. The Tibetan Book of the Dead emphasizes the importance of remaining calm and clear-minded during this stage, as this will have an impact on the individual’s journey through the subsequent Bardos.

One of the practices recommended during the Chikhai Bardo is to recite certain mantras and prayers, which are believed to have a powerful calming and purifying effect on the individual’s mind. These can be recited by the individual themselves, or by those around them.

Overall, the Chikhai Bardo is seen as a crucial stage in the process of death and rebirth, and an opportunity for the individual to purify their mind and achieve enlightenment. By understanding and navigating this stage successfully, it is believed that the individual can set themselves on a positive path towards future rebirths.

The Chonyid Bardo

The Chonyid Bardo is the second stage of the Bardo, following the Chikhai Bardo. It translates to “the realm of experiences” and is considered to be the stage in which the deceased begins to encounter various hallucinations and experiences.

During the Chonyid Bardo, the consciousness of the deceased is said to be experiencing vivid and intense visions of various deities, demons, and otherworldly creatures. These visions are said to be a reflection of the individual’s past experiences and karma and may be positive or negative depending on their actions in life.

In some cases, the deceased may even experience a glimpse of the Pure Land, a heavenly realm free from suffering. This experience is seen as a sign of enlightenment and a good rebirth in the next life.

However, the Chonyid Bardo is not without its dangers. The visions and hallucinations can be overwhelming and may cause the individual to become trapped in a cycle of fear and attachment. It is believed that the presence of a skilled spiritual guide or teacher can help the deceased navigate these experiences.

Overall, the Chonyid Bardo is a crucial stage in the journey of the deceased, and it is believed that the thoughts and emotions experienced during this time can greatly impact their future rebirth. It is important to approach this stage with awareness, compassion, and guidance to ensure a positive transition to the next phase of existence. Therefore, it is recommended to practice mindfulness and cultivate positive thoughts and emotions during one’s lifetime to prepare for the Chonyid Bardo. In doing so, the individual can more easily recognize the illusions and hallucinations for what they are and not get caught up in them.

Ultimately, the Chonyid Bardo is a unique opportunity for the deceased to let go of their attachments and negative karma, paving the way for a more positive rebirth. It is a time of transformation and growth, and with the proper guidance, the individual can emerge from this stage with a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the universe.

The Sidpa Bardo

The final phase of the Bardo is the Sidpa Bardo, which is also known as the ‘stage of rebirth.’ In this phase, the deceased person begins to experience a strong urge to be reborn. This is often described as a feeling of being pulled towards a particular realm or life situation.

The Sidpa Bardo can be divided into two sub-stages. In the first sub-stage, the deceased person encounters the terrifying visions of their past actions, which are known as the ‘karmic illusions.’ These visions are the manifestation of the individual’s past deeds and actions, and they can be frightening and overwhelming.

During this phase, it is believed that the individual can make choices that will determine their future rebirth. If they can recognize these visions as illusory and let go of their attachments and regrets, they can move towards a more positive rebirth.

In the second sub-stage of the Sidpa Bardo, the individual begins to search for a new body and life to be reborn into. This is often described as a process of ‘mental wandering’ where the individual is drawn towards a particular realm or situation based on their past actions and desires.

It is important to note that while the Sidpa Bardo is the final phase of the Bardo, it is not the end of the individual’s journey. The cycle of birth and death continues, and the individual will be reborn into a new life situation based on their actions and karma from their previous lives.

Navigating the Sidpa Bardo can be challenging, but it is an opportunity for growth and transformation. By recognizing the illusory nature of their past actions and letting go of their attachments, individuals can create positive karma and move towards a more favorable rebirth in the next life.


Although the different stages of death outlined in The Tibetan Book of the Dead can seem intimidating and overwhelming, it’s important to remember that they offer guidance and hope for those transitioning into the afterlife. By understanding and navigating the various bardos, individuals can achieve a peaceful and positive afterlife.

Furthermore, the book reminds us that death is not the end, but merely a continuation of our journey. The lessons and experiences we gain in life carry over into the afterlife, and we can continue to grow and learn.

So, instead of fearing death, let’s embrace the teachings of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and approach it with open hearts and minds. By doing so, we can not only ease our own transition but also bring comfort to those around us who may be experiencing the loss of a loved one. Let us focus on living a meaningful life and trust in the journey that lies ahead.–MM


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