BAR-DO (bar-ma-do) (Tibetan, middle place, intermediate situation; corresponds to the Sanskrit term “antarabhava”)—a Buddhist technical term for the situation of a being (human being) who has completed one form of life and has not yet entered a new form of existence (samsara).
Buddhism does not accept that existence of a permanent soul (anatmatva) that could undergo reincarnation (rebirth), and so even in the early period Buddhists asked about the nature of the river of the dharmas of personality in the borderline situation that occurs between two temporal points, between the moment of a vanishing dharma and the moment of a newly arising dharma (ksanikatva). The moment of death was such a moment (the problem of the transfer of the character of personality to another living being). The scholars of the abhidharma schools tried to solve this problem by the much discussed concept of “pudgali” as a kind of subtle matter or subtle consciousness more permanent than the five skandhas. Some of the schools of early Buddhism held that the pudgala immediately after death creates around it a new psychophysical group (namarupa) in accordance with the “deposits” (asrava) of the stratum of karma acquired in a previous life. Others thought that there was a 49-day transitional period before the pudgala is joined with the newly existing embryo, the pudgala is partially purified of the more accidental “deposits” and a more permanent karmic stratum determines the further lot of the stream of personality.
In Tibetan Buddhism, man’s further destiny, including the achievement of liberation (nirvana) depends not only on the accumulated karmic substratum, but also on a free choice made during bar-do, which is described as “the situation of full freedom”. The tradition of the school of rñing-ma (nimma) most often distinguishes four stages of bar-do in the cyclical reality of rebirth: (1) the final stage of the present life (rang-bźin bar-do [rangzin bar-do]); (2) the moment of death (’chi-kha’i bar-do [ćhikhe bar-do]); (3) a 49-day bar-do of proper reality (chos-ñid bar-do [ćhöni bar-do]), when benevolent and irascible deities (yi-dam) appear in the mind, which are in fact constructs of one’s own consciousness; (4) a process of illusory rebirths (srid-pa bar-do [syba bar-do]). Other schools accept from three to nine stages of bar-do.
Each of these stages has its own kind of experiences and its own meditative techniques that lead to liberation. In light of the above, a man’s preparation for his experience of the period around death takes on a special significance. In that period the human being relies completely on himself. The doctrines contained in the Bar-do Thos-’grol serves this purpose.
S. Schayer, Kamalaśilas Kritik des Pudgalavada, Rocznik orientalistyczny [Oriental annual] 7 (1934), 69–93; S. Schayer, Contributions to the Problem of Time in Indian Philosophy, Kr 1938; M. Eliade, Le Yoga: Immortalité et liberté, P 1954, 19722 (Joga: Nieśmiertelność i wolność [Yoga: immortality and liberty], Wwa 1984, 19972); M. Mejor, Z filozofii buddyjskiej: Doktryna zależnego powstawania [From Buddhist philosophy: the doctrine of dependent coming-into-existence], PO 106 (1980), 167–170; S. Schayer, O filozofowaniu Hindusów [On the philosophizing of the Hindus], Wwa 1988, 96–119, 230–312; Tybetańska Księga Umarłych [Tibetan book of the dead], Kr 1991; J. Tokarska-Bakir, Wyzwolenie przez zmysły: tybetańskie koncepcje soteriologiczne [Liberation through the senses: Tibetan soteriological conceptions], Wr 1997; Życie po życiu w Tybecie [Life after life], Kr 1997.
Maciej St. Zięba