First Bardo: The Period of Ego-Loss or Non-Game Ecstasy (Chikhai Bardo)

Part I: The Primary Clear Light Seen At the Moment of Ego-Loss.

All individuals who have received the practical teachings of this manual will, if the text be remembered, be set face to face with the ecstatic radiance and will win illumination instantaneously, without entering upon hallucinatory struggles and without further suffering on the age-long pathway of normal evolution which traverses the various worlds of game existence.

This doctrine underlies the whole of the Tibetan model. Faith is the first step on the "Secret Pathway." Then comes illumination and with it certainty; and when the goal is won, emancipation. Success implies very unusual preparation in consciousness expansion, as well as much calm, compassionate game playing (good karma) on the part of the participant. If the participant can be made to see and to grasp the idea of the empty mind as soon as the guide reveals it - that is to say, if he has the power to die consciously - and, at the supreme moment of quitting the ego, can recognize the ecstasy which will dawn upon him then, and become one with it, all game bonds of illusion are broken asunder immediately: the dreamer is awakened into reality simultaneously with the mighty achievement of recognition.

It is best if the guru (spiritual teacher), from whom the participant received guiding instructions, is present, but if the guru cannot be present, then another experienced person; or it the latter is also unavailable, then a person whom the participant trusts should be available to read this manual without imposing any of his own games. Thereby the participant will be put in mind of what he had previously heard of the experience and will at once come to recognize the fundamental Light and undoubtedly obtain liberation.

Liberation is the nervous system devoid of mental-conceptual activity. [Realization of the Voidness, the Unbecome, the Unborn, the Unmade, the Unformed, implies Buddhahood, Perfect Enlightenment - the state of the divine mind of the Buddha. It may be helpful to remember that this ancient doctrine is not in conflict with modern physics. The theoretical physicist and cosmologist, George Gamow, presented in 1950 a viewpoint which is close to the phenomenological experience described by the Tibetan lamas.

If we imagine history running back in time, we inevitably come to the epoch of the "big squeeze" with all the galaxies, stars, atoms and atomic nuclei squeezed, so to speak, to a pulp. During that early stage of evolution, matter must have been dissociated into its elementary components.... We call this primordial mixture ylem.

At this first point in the evolution of the present cycle, according to this first-rank physicist, there existed only the Unbecome, the Unborn, the Unformed. And this, according to astrophysicists, is the way it will end; the silent unity of the Unformed. The Tibetan Buddhists suggest that the uncluttered intellect can experience what astrophysics confirms. The Buddha Vairochana, the Dhyani Buddha of the Center, Manifester of Phenomena, is the highest path to enlightenment. As the source of all organic life, in him all things visible and invisible have their consummation and absorption. He is associated with the Central Realm of the Densely-Packed, i.e., the seed of all universal forces and things are densely packed together. This remarkable convergence of modern astrophysics and ancient lamaism demands no complicated explanation. The cosmological awareness- and awareness of every other natural process- is there in the cortex. You can confirm this preconceptual mystical knowledge by empirical observation and measurement, but it's all there inside your skull. Your neurons "know" because they are linked directly to the process, are part of it.] The mind in its conditioned state, that is to say, when limited to words and ego games, is continuously in thought-formation activity. The nervous system in a state of quiescence, alert, awake but not active is comparable to what Buddhists call the highest state of dhyana (deep meditation) when still united to a human body. The conscious recognition of the Clear Light induces an ecstatic condition of consciousness such as saints and mystics of the West have called illumination.

The first sign is the glimpsing of the "Clear Light of Reality," "the infallible mind of the pure mystic state." This is the awareness of energy transformations with no imposition of mental categories.

The duration of this state varies with the individual. It depends upon experience, security, trust, preparation and the surroundings. In those who have had even a little practical experience of the tranquil state of non-game awareness, and in those who have happy games, this state can last from thirty minutes to several hours.

In this state, realization of what mystics call the "Ultimate Truth" is possible, provided that sufficient preparation has been made by the person beforehand. Otherwise he cannot benefit now, and must wander on into lower and lower conditions of hallucinations, as determined by his past games, until he drops back to routine reality.

It is important to remember that the conscious-expansion process is the reverse of the birth process, birth being the beginning of game life and the ego-loss experience being a temporary ending of game life. But in both there is a passing from one state of consciousness into another. And just as an infant must wake up and learn from experience the nature of this world, so likewise a person at the moment of consciousness expansion must wake up in this new brilliant world and become familiar with its own peculiar conditions.

In those who are heavily dependent on their ego games, and who dread giving up their control, the illuminated state endures only so long as it would take to snap a finger. In some, it lasts as long as the time taken for eating a meal.

If the subject is prepared to diagnose the symptoms of ego loss, he needs no outside help at this point. Not only should the person about to give up his ego be able to diagnose the symptoms as they come, one by one, but he should also be able to recognize the Clear Light without being set face to face with it by another person. If the person fails to recognize and accept the onset of ego loss, he may complain of strange bodily symptoms. This shows that he has not reached a liberated state. Then the guide or friend should explain the symptoms as indicating the onset of ego loss.

Here is a list of commonly reported physical sensations:

  1. Bodily pressure, which the Tibetans call earth-sinking-into-water;
  2. Clammy coldness, followed by feverish heat, which the Tibetans call water-sinking-into-fire;
  3. Body disintegrating or blown to atoms, called fire-sinking-into-air;
  4. Pressure on head and ears, which Americans call rocket-launching-into-space;
  5. Tingling in extremities;
  6. Feelings of body melting or flowing as if wax;
  7. Nausea;
  8. Trembling or shaking, beginning in pelvic regions and spreading up torso.

These physical reactions should be recognized as signs heralding transcendence. Avoid treating them as symptoms of illness, accept them, merge with them, enjoy them.

Mild nausea occurs often with the ingestion of morning-glory seeds or peyote, rarely with mescaline and infrequently with LSD or psilocybin. If the subject experiences stomach messages, they should be hailed as a sign that consciousness is moving around in the body. The symptoms are mental; the mind controls the sensation, and the subject should merge with the sensation, experience it fully, enjoy it and, having enjoyed it, let consciousness flow on to the next phase. It is usually more natural to let consciousness stay in the body - the subject's attention can move from the stomach and concentrate on breathing, heart beat. If this does not free him from nausea, the guide should move the consciousness to external events - music, walking in the garden, etc.

The appearance of physical symptoms of ego-loss, recognized and understood, should result in peaceful attainment of illumination. If ecstatic acceptance does not occur (or when the period of peaceful silence seems to be ending), the relevant sections of the instructions can be spoken in a low tone of voice in the ear. It is often useful to repeat them distinctly, clearly impressing them upon the person so as to prevent his mind from wandering. Another method of guiding the experience with a minimum of activity is to have the instructions previously recorded in the subject's own voice and to flip the tape on at the appropriate moment. The reading will recall to the mind of the voyager the former preparation; it will cause the naked consciousness to be recognized as the "Clear Light of the Beginning;" it will remind the subject of his unity with this state of perfect enlightenment and help him to maintain it.

If, when undergoing ego-loss, one is familiar with this state, by virtue of previous experience and preparation, the Wheel of Rebirth (i.e., all game playing) is stopped, and liberation instantaneously is achieved. But such spiritual efficiency is so very rare, that the normal mental condition of the person is unequal to the supreme feat of holding on to the state in which the Clear Light shines; and there follows a progressive descent into lower and lower states of the Bardo existence, and then rebirth. The simile of a needle balanced and set rolling on a thread is used by the lamas to elucidate this condition. So long as the needle retains its balance, it remains on the thread. Eventually, however, the law of gravitation (the pull of the ego or external stimulation) affects it, and it falls. In the realm of the Clear Light, similarly, the mentality of a person in the ego-transcendent state momentarily enjoys a condition of balance, of perfect equilibrium, and of oneness. Unfamiliar with such a state, which is an ecstate state of non-ego, the consciousness of the average human being lacks the power to function in it. Karmic (i.e., game) propensities becloud the consciousness-principle with thoughts of personality, of individualized being, of dualism. Thus, losing equilibrium, consciousness falls away from the Clear Light. It is thought processes which prevent the realization of Nirvana (which is the "blowing out of the flame" of selfish game desire); and so the Wheel of Life continues to turn.

All or some of the appropriate passages in the instructions may be read to the voyager during the period of waiting for the drug to take effect, and when the first symptoms of ego-loss appear. When the voyager is clearly in a profound ego-transcendent ecstasy, the wise guide will remain silent.

Part II: The Secondary Clear Light Seen Immediately After Ego-Loss

The preceding section describes how the Clear Light may be recognized and liberation maintained. But if it becomes apparent that the Primary Clear Light has not been recognized, then it can certainly be assumed there is dawning what is called the phase of the Secondary Clear Light. The first flash of experience usually produces a state of ecstasy of the greatest intensity. Every cell in the body is sensed as involved in orgastic creativity.

It may be helpful to describe in more detail some of the phenomena which often accompany the moment of ego-loss. One of these might be called "wave energy flow." The individual becomes aware that he is part of and surrounded by a charged field of energy, which seems almost electrical. In order to maintain the ego-loss state as long as possible, the prepared person will relax and allow the forces to flow through him. There are two dangers to avoid: the attempt to control or to rationalize this energy flow. Either of these reactions is indicative of ego-activity and the First Bardo transcendence is lost.

The second phenomenon might be called "biological life-flow." Here the person becomes aware of physiological and biochemical processes; rhythmic pulsing activity within the body. Often this may be sensed as powerful motors or generators continously throbbing and radiating energy. An endless flow of cellular forms and colors flashes by. Internal biological processes may also be heard with characteristic swooshing, crackling, and pounding noises. Again the person must resist the temptation to label or control these processes. At this point you are tuned in to areas of the nervous system which are inaccessible to routine perception. You cannot drag your ego into the molecular processes of life. These processes are a billion years older than the learned conceptual mind.

Another typical and most rewarding phase of the First Bardo involves ecstatic energy movement felt in the spine. The base of the backbone seems to be melting or seems on fire. If the person can maintain quiet concentration the energy will be sensed as flowing upwards. Tantric adepts devote decades of concentrated meditation to the release of these ecstatic energies which they call Kundalini, the Serpent Power. One allows the energies to travel upwards through several ganglionic centers (chakras) to the brain, where they are sensed as a burning sensation in the top of the cranium. These sensations are not unpleasant to the prepared person, but, on the contrary, are accompanied by the most intense feelings of joy and illumination. Ill-prepared subjects may interpret the experience in pathological terms and attempt to control it, usually with unpleasant results. [Professor R. C. Zaehner, who as an Oriental scholar and "expert" on mysticism should have know better, has published an account of how this prized experience can be lost and distorted into hypochondriacal complaint in the ill-educated.

... I had a curious sensation in my body which reminded me of what Mr. Custance describes as a "tingling at the base of the spine," which according to him, usually precedes a bout of mania. It was rather like that. In the Broad Walk this sensation occurred again and again until the climax of the experiment was reached ... I did not like it at all.

(R. C. Zaehner: Mysticism, Sacred and Profane. Oxford Univ. Press, 1957, p. 214)

If the subjects fails to recognize the rushing flow of First Bardo phnomena, liberation from the ego is lost. The person finds himself slipping back into mental activities. At this point he should try to recall the instructions or be reminded of them, and a second contact with these processes can be made.

The second stage is less intense. A ball set bouncing reaches its greatest height at the first bounce; the second bounce is lower, and each succeeding bounce is still lower until the ball comes to rest. The consciousness at the loss of the ego is similar to this. Its first spiritual bound, directly upon leaving the body-ego, is the highest; the next is lower. Then the force of karma, (i.e., past game-playing), takes over and different forms of external reality are experienced. Finally, the force of karma having spent itself, consciousness returns to "normal." Routines are taken up again and thus rebirth occurs.

The first ecstasy usually ends with a momentary flashback to the ego condition. This return can be happy or sad, loving or suspicious, fearful or courageous, depending on the personality, the preparation, and the setting.

This flashback to the ego-game is accompanied by a concern with identity. "Who am I now? Am I dead or not dead? What is happening?" You cannot determine. You see the surroundings and your companions as you had been used to seeing them before. There is a penetrating sensitivity. But you are on a different level. Your ego grasp is not quite as sure as it was.

The karmic hallucinations and visions have not yet started. Neither the frightening apparitions nor the heavenly visions have begun. This is a most sensitive and pregnant period. The remainder of the experience can be pushed one way or another depending upon preparation and emotional climate.

If you are experienced in consciousness alteration, or if you are a naturally introverted person, remember the situation and the schedule. Stay calm and let the experience take you where it will. You will probably re-experience the ecstasy of illumination once again; or you may drift into aesthetic or philosophic or interpersonal enlightenments. Don't hold on: let the stream carry you along.

The experienced person is usually beyond dependence on setting. He can turn off external pressure and return to illumination. An extroverted person, dependent upon social games and outside situations may, however, become pleasantly distracted (colors, sounds, people). If you anticipate extroverted distraction and if you want to maintain a non-game state of ecstasy, then remember the following suggestions: do not be distracted; try to concentrate on an ideal contemplative personage, e.g., Buddha, Christ, Socrates, Ramakrishna, Einstein, Herman Hesse or Lao Tse: follow his model as if he were a being with a physical body waiting for you. Join him.

If this is not successful, don't fret or think about it. Perhaps you don't have a mystical or transcendental ideal. That means your conceptual limits are within external games. Now that you know what the mystic experience is, you can prepare for it next time. You have lost the content-free flow and should now be ready to slip into exciting confrontation with external reality. In the Second Bardo you can reash and deeply experience game revelations.

We have just anticipated the reactions of the naturally mystical introvert, the experienced person, and the extrovert. Now let's turn to the novitiate who shows confusion at this early stage of the sequence. The best procedure is to make a reassuring sign and do nothing. He will have read this manual and will have some guidepost. Leave him alone and he will probably dive into his panic and master it. If he indicates that he wishes guidance, repeat the instructions. Tell him what is happening. Remind him of his phase in the process. Urge him quietly to release his ego struggle and drift back into contact with the Clear Light.

Preparation and guidance of this sort will allow many to reach the illuminated state who would not be expected to recognize it.

At this point, it is necessary to inject a word of benign warning. Reading this manual is extremely useful, but no words can communicate experience. You are going to be surprised, startled and delighted. A person may have heard a detailed description of the art of swimming and yet never had the chance to swim. Suddenly diving into the water, he finds himself unable to swim. So with those who have tried to learn the theory of how to experience ego-loss, and have never applied it. They cannot maintain unbroken continuity of consciousness, they grow bewildered at the changed condition; they fail to maintain the mystical ecstasy; they fail to take advantage of the opportunity unless upheld and directed by a guide. Even with all that a guide can do, they ordinarily, because of bad karma (heavy ego games) fail to recognize the liberation. But this is no cause for worry. At the worst, they just slip back to shore. No one has drowned, and most of those who have taken the voyage have been eager to try again.

Even those who have familiarized themselves with the road maps and who previously have had illumination, may find themselves in settings where heavy game behavior on the part of others forces them into contact with external reality. If this happens, recall the instructions. The person who masters this principle can block out the external. The one who has mastered control of consciousness is independent of setting.

Again there are those, who although previously successful, may have brought ego games into the session with them. They may want to provide someone else with a particular type of experience. They may be promoting some self goal. They may be nurturing negative or competitive or seductive feelings towards someone in the session. If this happens, recall the instructions. Remember the unity of all beings. One to me is shame and fame. One to me is loss or gain. Jettison your ego program and float back to the radiant bliss of at-one-ness.

If you reach the Clear Light immediately and maintain it, that is best. But if not, if you have slipped down to reality concerns, by remembering these instructions you should be able to regain what the Tibetans call the Secondary Clear Light.

While on this secondary level, an interesting dialogue occurs between pure transcendence and the awareness that this ecstatic vision is happening to oneself. The first radiance knows no self, no concepts. The secondary experience involves a certain state of conceptual lucidity. The knowing self hovers within that transcendent terrain from which it is usually barred. If the instructions are remembered, external reality will not intrude. But the flashing in and out between pure ego-less unity, and lucid, non-game selfhood, produces an intellectual ecstasy and understanding that defies description. Previous philosophic reading will suddenly take on living meaning.

Thus in this secondary stage of the First Bardo, there is possible both the mystic non-self and the mystic self experience.

After you have experienced these two states, you may wish to pursue this distinction intellectually. We are confronted here with one of the oldest debates in Eastern philosophy. Is it better to be part of the sugar or to taste the sugar? Theological controversies and their dualities are far removed from experience. Thanks to the experimental mysticism made possible by consciousness-expanding drugs, you may have been lucky enough to have experienced the flashing back and forth between the two states. You may be lucky enough to know what the academic monks could only think about.

Here ends the First Bardo, The Period of Ego-loss or Non-Game Ecstasy

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