Falling Down the Bardo


Image of the four-headed Vairocana or the celestial Buddha who is often interpreted, in texts like the Flower Garland Sutra, as the Dharma Body of the historical Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama).

“What happened?” Daine Ramsey found herself in a tunnel of light. She had no idea how she had gotten there or where she’d been a moment ago.

“What do you see?”

The voice was unrecognizable. It wasn’t just that Daine didn’t know who was speaking, she couldn’t even tell if it were a man or a woman. It was more like listening to music but the music made words without a voice.

“Who are you? Where is this place?”

“What do you see?”

“There’s a light.” Daine tried hard to see the other end but it was so bright. “I see a path. Will it take me out of here?”

The “voice” didn’t respond.


Still nothing but silence, the light, and the path.

“Where are you?” She waited but there was still nothing.

“Fine. If you’re not going to answer, I’ll just have to keep walking.”

She blinked and there was a light, but it was a different light.

“Now I know I’m dreaming. This can’t be real.”

She thought she heard a sigh and got a feeling of exasperation, not her’s but the other’s.

The light abruptly stopped and Daine found herself someplace else.

“Oh how freaky. What are you guys?” It was more like a painting than a place, but it was definitely real, and really confusing.

“How have you lived?”

The person at the center of the light and flowers spoke to her in a man’s voice. He had some sort of halo around his head or heads, it was hard to tell how many there were. Two others were sitting below him and they had halos, too. They were all holding objects that didn’t make any sense to her. There were more flowers, grass, sky, clouds, but what did it all mean?

“How have you lived?” The voice repeated himself. He seemed almost supernaturally calm but he definitely wanted an answer.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“Have you been pure or impious?”

Even though this was a dream, Daine felt suddenly insulted. “Impious? What do you think this is? Church? Get out of here.”

Then she shrieked in horror as the beings before her transformed into nausea-inducing creatures, oozing pus, mouths gushing with blood. Locusts, wasps, and spiders shot out of their eyes at her, and then they were crawling into her clothes and all over her body, stinging and biting her.

“Help! Help me! Get me out of here!”

“There’s no help for you here! You are in for a long, wild ride!” The voice was the sound of fingernails on an old blackboard, the screams of a person on fire, the cracking of bones being violently broken.

Then a different face appeared in front of her.

“Who do you see?”

She was terrified beyond belief and begging whoever or whatever to just let her wake up from this horrible nightmare.

“You are not asleep, Daine. You’re dead. What happens next is entirely up to you.”

This is something of an experiment and obviously Daine’s journey is nowhere near complete.

yarnspinnerr mentioned the concept of Bardo and the rainbow body phenomenon in relation to one of my stories and I became curious. As it turns out, the Buddhist transitional state between death and the next life is incredibly complex. I had an idea of writing a story about it, but that may be out of the question (although George Saunders didn’t think so when he authored the novel Lincoln in the Bardo).

However, I thought I’d try my hand at telling the tale of someone beginning such a journey just to see what would happen.

From my point of view, this represents no reality in which I believe, but let’s just say as a writing exercise, you believed in reincarnation and that after death, both depending on your karma and what decisions you make along the journey to the next life, you could achieve either liberation or a rough, chaotic ride through many hallucinatory realities. What would it be like?

It would be no fun writing about someone already so enlightened that they achieved liberation right away, so I gave Daine an impetuous and irreverent spirit. Clearly in the transitional phase she finds herself in, she’s got much to learn. I didn’t feel like trying to write the entire journey so it stops here. Unsatisfying I know, but as I said, this is an experiment. I may try developing it more later.

2 thoughts on “Falling Down the Bardo

    • It is up to her but she may still make poor decisions which extend her time in the Bardo and, under the circumstances, the longer you’re there, the less likely you are going to achieve liberation. Worst case scenario is that you’re born again without any sort of improvement having been accomplished.

      Liked by 1 person

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