The word bardo literally means "an interval between two things". 'Bar' means 'interval' and 'do' means 'two'. We can think of this interval in a spatial or temporal way. If there are two houses, the space between them is a bardo. The period between sunrise and sunset, the interval of daylight, is a bardo. A bardo can be of long or short duration, of wide or narrow expanse.

The bardos as encountered in the Tibetan Book of the Dead describe the passings between various stages of consciousness, e.g. falling asleep and waking up, going in and out of a trance during meditation, and of course dying - the passing from life to death.