The primary influences on writer Bruce Joel Rubin were:1. The Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead). This eight century Tibetan text, dictated by the Indian yogi Padma Sambhava, and transcribed by his student Yeshe Tsogyal, is to be read aloud to the dying or the recently deceased. The book is intended as a guide through the experiences after death, during the interval between death and the attainment of spirituality. Death, the book explains, is a three-stage process, with each stage called a bardo. First is the chikhai bardo (the moment of death), then the chonyid bardo (the time between death and spirituality), and finally the sidpa bardo (the process of rebirth). The book sets out to help navigate these three bardos. Of primary importance is the notion that death presents one with an opportunity for liberation (the literal meaning of the word 'thodol' is 'liberation'); a chance to escape the suffering that characterizes corporeal earthly existence. However at all three stages, the mind fights to hold onto its corporeal worldly connections in an effort to convince itself that it is not really dead. It is this resistance with which the book is primarily concerned, teaching us how we can recognize the heavenly realms instead of remaining in the earthly realms.Once death occurs and the mind is freed from the body, it creates its own reality in a manner not dissimilar to how one would experience a dream. This new reality is composed of a journey through the three bardos, a journey manifested as a series of encounters, revelations and self realizations, not unlike those depicted in Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and Seamus Heaney's "Station Island". At every stage along the journey, the book is clear that 'liberation' can be attained at any moment if one is simply ready to remove the shackles of life and accept spirituality, although it acknowledges that the mind often finds this difficult.Initially, one is given the chance to accept death in the chikhai bardol. This is the split second moment when the mind is presented with a "Clear Light of Inner Radiance", which is the very substance of the state of liberation, if only the soul can recognize it and act in a way so as to remain in that state. If the mind is able to shake off its associations with earthly existence, it can merge with the Clear Light, thus becoming immediately liberated, and be spared the process of moving on to the next bardo. The book suggests that the mind embrace the Clear Light with love and compassion, thus leading to a realization that the mind itself is actually identical with the Clear Light, transcending all time and space. If the mind can recognize this universality, it will immediately attain liberation, and enter into the Clear Light for all eternity.If the mind is not ready to free itself from its worldly concerns however, it must move on to the chonyid bardo. Here the mind is presented with visions of the 100 deities of the Buddhist pantheon. First there are the Peaceful Deities, such as the divine Father-Mother (the supreme deity of the universe) and the God of Eternal Life. At each stage, the reaction of the mind to the appearance of the God determines whether or not the mind is ready for liberation. If, after the appearance of the Peaceful Deities, the mind has still not attained liberation, the Wrathful Deities begin to appear, such as Vajra Heruka ("dark blue in color, with three faces, six arms and four legs, carrying a skull-cap, an axe and a ploughshare") and Vajra Krodhisvari ("embracing Heruka's body, her right hand clasped around his neck and her left offering a skull-cap filled with blood to his mouth" - see here for more info). The book advises the mind not to fear these Wrathful Deities, but to look at them and accept that they are in fact not real. If it can do that, it will be liberated, if it cannot, it will enter the third bardo.In the sidpa bardo, the mind will experience the sense of being able to move unobstructed through walls, concrete, mountains, to travel over huge distances and float in the air. The mind will be presented with images of the dead body to which it is tethered as well as images of grieving relatives and friends in what is called the "Life Review". Yama (the Lord of Death) will then be encountered and the Mirror of Karma must be faced, wherein all of the virtuous actions of the person's life are counted out in white stones, and all of the non-virtuous in black stones. If there are more black stones than white, Yama will decapitate the individual, take out their heart, pull out their entrails, eat their brains, drink their blood, eat their flesh and lick their bones clean. However, the mind will still conceive of itself as 'alive'. At this point, the mind will be presented with six caves, which represent the six Lokas or realms of life - god, demigod, human, animal, anguished spirit and hell-being. The mind is encouraged not to enter any of these caves and is given one more chance to attain liberation by entering the Clear Light. If however, after this final chance, the mind has still not freed itself from its corporeal nature, it must then choose one of the Lokas and accept rebirth.Interestingly, a literal translation of the term 'Bardo Thodol' means "liberation through hearing in the intermediate state", something which is obviously of crucial importance in the film, insofar as much of the content of the narrative is based upon the notion that Jacob Singer is continually being told that he is dead, and all he needs to do is accept it.See these links for more details about the Bardo Thodol: Wikipedia entry; 'How the Dead Live' article by Patrick French; 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead' article; Bardo Thodol ebook.2. the biblical story of Jacob's ladder as found in the Book of Genesis (28:10-13), in which the patriarch Jacob envisions a ladder ascending to heaven: And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and beheld a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, "I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.
There are various interpretations of this vision: (1) the angels represent souls descending to and ascending from earthly bodies (reincarnation); (2) the ladder is the human soul and the angels are God's servants, pulling the soul up in distress and descending in compassion; (3) the dream depicts the ups and downs of life; (4) the ladder represents the continually changing affairs of man; (5) the ladder signifies the exiles which the Jewish people will suffer until the coming of the Messiah; (6) Jacob, as a holy man, was always accompanied by angels, and when he reached the border of the land of Canaan, the angels who were assigned to the Holy Land went back up to Heaven and the angels assigned to other lands came down to meet him; (7) the ladder signifies the 'bridge' between Heaven and earth; (8) the ladder is a metaphor for prayer.For more information, see the Wikipedia entry, and 'The Ladder' article by Nissan Dovid Dubov.3. Robert Enrico's Oscar-winning short film "La rivière du hibou" (1962), based on the 1890 Ambrose Bierce short story, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge". Set during the American Civil War, the protagonist, Peyton Farquhar, is a Confederate sympathizer who is sentenced to death by hanging upon Owl Creek Bridge. The story opens with Farquhar already bound and ready to ascend to the noose. As he stands by the side of the bridge, Farquhar thinks of his wife and children, and concocts an escape plan which involves him shrugging off the noose and diving into the nearby stream. In flashback form, it is revealed that a disguised Union soldier enlisted Farquhar's aid in demolishing Owl Creek Bridge. Farquhar was subsequently caught, arrested, tried and sentenced. The story returns to the present, and the execution takes place, however, the rope breaks and Farquhar falls into the water. He swims to the surface, escapes the Union soldiers shooting at him and makes it to dry land, immediately heading for his house by going through a nearby forest. The forest however, seems to be endless, and Farquhar becomes disorientated. He begins to experience strange events, to see and hear unusual things in the shadows, and constantly finds it difficult to tell whether he is awake or asleep. Eventually, he collapses and falls asleep. Upon awakening, he sees his house, his wife sitting outside smiling at him. He runs towards her, arms outstretched, but as he does, he suddenly feels a sharp pain in his neck. There is a white flash, and everything goes black. It is then revealed that Farquhar never escaped at all; he imagined the entire incident in the split second prior to the noose breaking his neck.The Robert Enrico short film "La rivière du hibou" was made in 1962, and went on to win major prizes at both the Cannes Film Festival (Best Short Film) and the Academy Awards (Best Short Subject, Live Action). In 1964, it was screened in the United States as an episode of The Twilight Zone TV series, under the title The Twilight Zone: An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (#5.22). For the most part, the film is loyal to the source material, with all of the major plot points and characters included, and even sections of dialogue reproduced verbatim.Download the original Ambrose Bierce short story from Project Gutenberg here, or watch the Enrico short film at Liketelevision.com here.