Be good and do what we tell you during your life, fear not and everything will be all right, even some mystical traditions attest to something like heaven, in the modern incarnation of Wicca, there is the Summerlands. None of these religions actually give an instruction manual as to what is to be done, if anything, after you die to attain the ascension to the "higher plane" that they speak of. In the majority of cases it is a reward for deeds committed on the material plane. The most one can hope for is prayers and songs to speed you on your way into the Ether.
Few cultures however reach the Depth and specifics of Tibetan Buddhism. The "Death Model" of the Tibetan Buddhists is more complex and does not assure a person, however good they have been in life, a place in Heaven, or as they would put it - to end the cycle of Samsara - that is the cycle of death and rebirth, which only ends when one becomes enlightened.
The Tibetan Buddhists, after many centuries of "near death experience" reports, and the occasional "illumination" of one of their devotees have constructed the model of the "Bardo Plane" - or as it would be understood here in the West the "after death" plane.
The Tibetans, to be best of my knowledge, are alone in having very specific actions that the soul (or however you want to define it) should engage in after death and what it should be wary of in order to stop the cycle of Samsara. The Bardo Thodols, or scriptures, specify these steps.
Bardo literally translated, means "gap" or "space" and according to the Thodols there are six levels of Bardo. Three of these Bardo states are experienced at the moment death occurs, the Bardo of the moment before death, the Bardo of dharmata, and the Bardo of becoming. According to the Tibetan Buddhist model, as the spirit or soul dies, it has to perform specific actions in order to ascend to the next stage. These actions are specified in the Thodols.
Without instruction, the Tibetan Buddhists say, it is likely that the soul, or spirit will become frightened or attached to something and return to the cycle of samsara.
The Bardo stages, and the specific actions that are required to transcend them are listed in points below. I consider all death cosmologies, models as to how individual cultures approach death. The Bardo model is the most specific one I have yet encountered. So as a public service, consider this list one possible (the probability of it I leave up to you) way into, well, everything.
1. The Bardo of the moment of death. The consciousness becomes aware of a blinding light, which is purported to be a visual representation of the "true Buddha nature" composed of knowledge and compassion. There is a prayer that is traditionally said over the body at this point to allow the consciousness to recognise it for what it is.
"O son of noble family, (name), now the time has come for you to seek a path. As soon as your breath stops, what is called the basic luminosity of the first Bardo, which your Guru has already shown you, will appear to you. This is the dharmata, open and empty like space, luminous void, pure naked mind without centre or circumference. (Trungpa 35)"
There are other verses that should traditionally be read, though I cannot find translations of them on the web. If the "Buddha nature" is not recognised at this point, either because of fear, attachment or bad karma, the soul or consciousness reportedly moves away from it and on to the second Bardo.
2. The second Bardo involved the invocation of the "peaceful deities" which are manifestations of the five Buddha families, these families appear as "the blinding light of the consciousness' own projections" and can seem to be terrifying in their intensity. If the wandering consciousness is still aware of the teachings it received in life, then it will recognise the light and will achieve enlightenment. If not, then the Buddah families change their manifestation into something more shocking, in an attempt to be recognised.
If the consciousness cannot recognise the "peaceful deities" then they will manifest themselves as the so-called "wrathful deities" which are no more than the peaceful deities in a more terrifying aspect. This is apparently to use a more forceful and blunt way of trying to shock the consciousness into awareness of the Buddha nature. Like the "peaceful deities" the aspect that they appear in is a manifestation of the consiousness' own projections. In order for the deceased not to be dragged further down the Bardo staircase they must recognise this fact, and be aware that they cannot harm themselves. If the consciousness cannot recognise this fact it will flee from the projections. According to tradition, a knowledge of the Bardo states and good meditative practices can aid in the recognition of the wrathful deities as part of themselves.
3. The third Bardo State is known as the "Bardo of becoming" is where the consciousness is prepared for rebirth, and reentry to the wheel of life, or the cycle of samsara. The Bardos give several instructions as to how to prevent the reentry soul from doing this. If this fails it also specifys how to choose the place you will be born, and what you will be born as. According to the Bardos it is incrediby difficult to make these decisions at this point, as apparently the soul, is plagued by its own demons, and these demons can terrify the soul into making a choice that it may think is the right one, though it generally is not, as fear will have clouded judgement, if this occurs then the conciousness will return to the womb.
One model out of many, though as I said it is the most detailed model I have come across in any belief system (or B.S. as Robert Anton Wilson calls it.)
This is dedicated to all I have known who have broken the cycle of samsara.
To those who will escape from the wheel.
Family, Friends and Lovers.
© Fathercrow 2004
Peace and Hope