If we have not practiced, we faint when the experience of blackness arises, only to reawaken almost immediately into the fearful perceptions of what is referred to as the fifth bardo, the bardo of ultimate reality.
At this point, the peaceful and wrathful deities appear. They are implicit and present in our awareness, from Samantabhadra to the buddhas of the five families and the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. Their appearance is accompanied by startling sounds and lights.
At this point, people who are unfamiliar with the practice are terrified. As soon as their fear overwhelms them, these manifestations of awareness dissolve and melt away.
I would now like to say a few words about the bardo of dying and the bardo of ultimate reality together. After the five elements separate and dissolve, the consciousness dissolves into space, fainting into the state of alaya.
Following this, luminosity is seen. It is like pure, immaculate space. If you have no experience of meditation, you will fail to recognize this luminosity.
Being unrecognized, it will not stay for long.
If you are used to concentration, however, the two luminosities, mother and child, will mingle.
Just before you start to die, before the gradual dissolution of the elements takes place, the most important thing is to be perfectly aware that you are actually dying. You must sever all attachment to the things of this life.
When death arrives, you should pray to the Three Jewels, for there is no other hope than them. You should also invoke your root teacher, for he or she is somehow more accessible to you. When all is said and done, your root teacher is their embodiment. Pray to your teacher, your very yidam deity, on the dangerous pathways of the bardo.
Confess all the negative actions you have committed during your life and pray to your teacher one-pointedly, asking to be led to a buddhafield immediately after death.
It is said that this kind of undistracted prayer, with this aspiration constantly present before the mind, is actually a precondition for being led to a pure field.
Furthermore, when a sick person is dying, his teacher or his Dharma kindred (whose samaya is unspoiled and with whom he has a harmonious relationship) should remind him that the elements are dissolving as it is actually happening. They should pray and chant, invoking the teacher.
These aspirations—to be delivered from danger on the pathways of the bardo—will be of great help. When an invalid falls down, other people pick him up. In the same way, Dharma friends can be of help; they can guide the dying person and pray for him. This is very beneficial.
It is said that the buddhas are endowed with great compassion, and if one invokes them by name (immaculate Ratnashikhin, protector Amitabha, the Buddha Shakyamuni, and so forth), the sufferings of the lower realms are dispelled even as their names are spoken.
In the same way, if the dying person is able to pray well, the buddhas prevent him from entering the path to the lower realms simply owing to the fact that their names are uttered. This therefore is most useful.
Prayer is like our helper and protective escort at the time of death. It is of great importance and benefit.
First of all, the dying person faints into a blank, unconscious state. Then consciousness remanifests, the luminosity appears and, if it is not recognized, vanishes, and the visions of the bardo of ultimate reality begin to dawn. This is when the manifestations of the peaceful and wrathful deities occur, with frightening sounds and lights and the impressions of terrible chasmic precipices.
If one fails to recognize that these incredible sounds and rays of light are nothing but the projections of one’s own mind and nothing but the creative power of awareness, a feeling of terrible dread arises. The visions occur, fear arises, and then the visions fade away. The consciousness then leaves the body, exiting by the appropriate opening.
Source: Dudjom Rinpoche. Counsels from My Heart (Kindle Locations 774-795). Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition.