In the May 2017 issue of Lion’s Roar, we talk to George Saunders about his new novel Lincoln in the Bardo, which blurs the line between the living and the dead. So: what exactly is a bardo?
Bardo is the Tibetan term for the intermediate state or gap we experience between death and our next rebirth. The Tibetan title of the fourteenth-century text published in 1927 as The Tibetan Book of the Dead is Bardo Tödöl, meaning “Liberation in the Intermediate State Through Hearing.”
More generally, the word bardo refers to the gap or space we experience between any two states. The lesser-known bardos described in the traditional texts include the bardo of dreaming, the bardo of meditating, and even the bardo of this life—which is, after all, the intermediate state between birth and death.
When you finish reading this article, there will be a moment of bardo.
We actually experience bardos throughout our day. When you finish reading this article and look up, there will be a moment of bardo, a tiny gap following the end of one activity and preceding the start of another. If you notice them, these bardos of everyday life are places of potential transformation.
As it says in the London subway, “Mind the gap.” In meditation practice, you can notice the simple, nonconceptual awareness in the gap between thoughts. The bardo between death and rebirth is considered a particularly good opportunity for enlightenment.
Bardos are spaces of potential creativity and innovation, because they create breaks in our familiar routines and patterns. In that momentary space of freedom, the fresh perception of something new and awake may suddenly arise.