It's funny how you lead yourself around to things.
I am currently reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead or Bardo Thodol which translates as Liberation Through Hearing in the Intermediate State. Next I will be reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.
How did I get here? I had recently read John Lennon in His Own Words and I recalled later that John Lennon had read The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, before writing Tomorrow Never Knows (working title: The Void), the last song on The Beatle's 1966 album Revolver.
I was searching my libraries' catalogue for something interesting to read when I recalled all this. So I looked it up.
It is very interesting, if you are interested in re-incarnation and other spiritual topics, as I am. It was written by Tibetan Buddhists so it relates to their beliefs but can be useful to anyone.
The basic idea is that when a person dies there is a 49 day process before re-incarnating and if the Bardo Thodol is read aloud, their spirit will hear it and realize where they are and in doing so, become liberated and not have to be re-incarnated. Apparently this is a rare event, as it takes a person with lifetimes of dedication and good merits to achieve liberation. Although a person in the Bardo may realise where they are they may still have to be re-incarnated but at least they can have some choice in the matter. I think this is the case but I am a complete novice so I may be wrong.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is a like a preparation guide for the Bardo. Being a Buddhist would also be a preparation for the Bardo by default, as its tenets of compassion, mindfulness and right doing are skills needed in the Bardo.
From what I can gather from reading the Bardo Thodol is; when you are in the Bardo (although there are technically 3 Bardos) your mind manifests everything you encounter there. These can be good and bad experiences; memories, thoughts, karmas etc. But you think they are real and respond to them. That is the trap. By responding, you generate the conditions around you and so like a vicous circle you get carried along by your thoughts and feelings and sink lower and lower until you are attracted to a womb and become re-incarnated. Starting the whole cycle again.
Buddhists want to be liberated eventually so they practice their techniques in preparation for the Bardo or just the next life. By staying calm and mindful and being compassionate, in the Bardo, you will not be swept along by reacting to your manifestations and may become liberated by realising that everything is an illusion created by your mind. This is a very difficult thing to do. Anyone who has tried meditating by letting there thoughts flow by without getting carried along by them will know. It is also difficult not to believe everything in the physical world is an illusion (or Maya) whilst you are totally immersed in it. Just like the people in the film The Matrix (one of my favourites), who are actually in pods generating the power for the Matrix which is a virtual human world in which the inhabitants think is reality.
Personally I do not want to be re-incarnated, so I'm looking at ways to prevent it occurring, but if this is not possible, then at least to have some control over the matter.
I have also studied Krsna conciousness by reading The Science of Self Realisation, Chant and Be Happy, part of the Bhagavad Gita and some other Krsna books, and by talking to some devotees at Crossways Hare Krisna Restaurant in Melbourne. They believe that in this age of Kali Yuga (time of quarrel and contention) the best way to become liberated from re-incarnation (go back to Godhead or Krsna) is to chant the Hare Krisna mantra and when not chanting the mantra, to serve Krsna. They also believe in karma. This is a very basic overview obviously.
I met one guy at Crossways who is a follower of Krsna Consciousness but not a devotee who told me Buddism was created by Krisna for atheists so they can be liberated without believing in Krisna.
I will continue my studies.