The World of Salt and Rice by Kim Stanley

Chapter 8, p 71 – 74
In the bardo Bold explains to Kyu the true nature of reality; Their jati regathered, they are cast back into the world.

At the moment of death Kyu saw the clear white light. It was everywhere, it bathed the void in itself, and he was part of it, and sang it out into the void.

Some eternity later he thought: this is what you strive for.

And so he fell out of it, into awareness of himself. His thoughts were continuing in their tumbling monologue, revelry, even after death. Incredible but true. Perhaps he wasn’t dead yet. But there was his body, hacked to pieces on the sand of the Forbidden City.

He heard Bold’s voice, there inside his thoughts, speaking a prayer.

“Kyu, my boy, my beautiful boy,
The time has come for you to seek the path.
This life is over. you are now
Face-to-face with the clear light.”

I’m past that, Kyu thought. What happens next? But Bold couldn’t know where he was along his way. Prayers for the dead were useless in that regard.

“You are about to experience reality
In its pure state. All things are void.
You will be like a clear sky,
Empty and pure. Your named mind
Will be like clear still water.”

I’m past that! Kyu thought. Get to the next part!

“Use the mind to question the mind. Don’t sleep at this crucial time. Your soul must leave your body awake, and go out through the Brahma hole.”

The dead can’t sleep, Kyu thought irritably. And my soul is already out of my body.

His guide was far behind him. But it had always been that way with Bold. Kyu would have to find his own way. Emptiness still surrounded the single thread of his thoughts. Some of the dreams he had had during his life had been of this place.

He blinked, or slept, and then he was in a vast court of judgment. The dais of the judge was on a broad deck, a plateau in a sea of clouds. The judge was a huge black-faced deity, sitting potbellied on the dais. Its hair was fire, burning wildly on its head. Behind it a black man held a pagoda roof that might have come straight out of a palace in Beijing. ABove the roof floated a little seated Buddha, radiating calm. To his left and right were peaceful deities, standing with gifts in their arms; but these were all a great distance away, and not for him. The righteous dead were climbing long flying roads up to these gods. On the deck surrounding the dais, less fortunate dead were being hacked to pieces by demons, demons as black as the Lord of Death, but smaller and more agile. Below the deck more demons were torturing yet more souls. It was a busy scene and Kyu was annoyed. This is my judgment, and it’s like a morning abbatoir! How am I supposed to concentrate?

A creature like a monkey approached him and raised a hand: “Judgment,” it said in a deep voice.

Bold’s prayer sounded in his mind, and Kyu realized that Bold and the monkey were related somehow. “Remember, whatever you suffer now is the result of your own karma,” Bold was saying. “It’s yours and no one else’s. Pray for mercy. A little white god and a little black demon will appear and count out the white and black pebbles of your good and evil deeds.”

Indeed it was so. The white imp was pale as an egg, and the black imp like onyx; and they were hoeing great piles of white and black stones into heaps, which to Kyu’s surprise appeared about equal in size. He could not remember doing any good deeds.

“You will be frightened, awed, terrified.”

I will not! These prayers were for a different kind of dead, for people like Bold.

“You will attempt to tell lies, saying I have not committed any evil deed.”

I will not say any such ridiculous thing.

Then the Lord of Death, up on its throne, suddenly took notice of Kyu, and despite himself Kyu flinched.

“Bring the mirror of karma,” the god said, grinning horribly. Its eyes were burning coals.

“Don’t be frightened,” Bold’s voice said inside him. “Don’t tell any lies, don’t be terrified, don’t fear the Lord of Death. The body you’re in now is only a mental body. You can’t die in the bardo, even if they hack you to pieces.”

Thanks, Kyu thought uneasily. That is such a comfort.

“Now comes the moment of judgment. Hold fast, think good thoughts; remember, all these events are your own hallucinations, and what life comes next depends on your thoughts now. In a single moment of time a great difference is created. Don’t be distracted when the six lights appear. Regard them all with compassion. Face the Lord of Death without fear.”

The black god held a mirror up with such practiced accuracy that Kyu saw in the glass his own face, dark as the god’s. He saw that the face is the naked soul itself, and that his was as dark and dire as the Lord of Death’s. This was the moment of truth! And he had to concentrate on it, as Bold kept reminding him. And yet all the while the whole antic festival shouted and shrieked and clanged around him, every possible punishment or reward given out at once, and he couldn’t help it, he was annoyed.

“Why is black evil and white good?” he demanded of the Lord of Death. “I never saw it that way. If this is all my own thinking, then why is that so? Why is my Lord of Death not a big Arab slave trader, as it would be in my own village? Why are your agents not lions and leopards?”

But the Lord of Death was an Arab slave trader, he saw now, an Arab intaglioed in miniature in the surface of the god’s black forehead, looking out at Kyu and waving. The one who had captured him and taken him to the coast. And among the shrieks of the rendered there were lions and leopards, hungrily gnawing the intestines of living victims.

All just my thoughts, Kyu reminded himself, feeling fear rise in his throat. This realm was like the dream world, but more solid; more solid even than the waking world of his just completed life; everything trebly stuffed with itself, so that the leaves on the round ornamental bushes (in ceramic pots!) hung like jade leaves, while the jade throne of the god pulsed with a solidity far beyond that of stone. Of all the worlds the bardo was one of the utmost reality.

The white Arab face in the black forehead laughed and squeaked, “Condemned!” and the huge black face of the Lord of Death roared, “Condemned to hell!” It threw a rope around Kyu’s neck and dragged him off the dais. It cut of Kyu’s head, tore out his heart, pulled out his entrails, drank his blood, gnawed his bones; yet Kyu did not die. Body hacked to pieces, yet it revived. And it all began again. Intense pain throughout. Tortured by reality. Life is a thing of extreme reality; death also.