20 Bewildering Facts About The Tibetan Book of The Dead

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Not actually a book but a text from a larger corpus of teachings, the Bardo Thodol—Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State— was rediscovered by Karma Lingpa as the Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones.

The text is considered as the most famous work of Nyingma literature and is usually referred to (in the west) as the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

The text is, in fact, a guide and it describes a collection of experiences that the human consciousness goes through after death, and in the Bardo, an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth.

This article isn’t meant to describe this work of literature, but to introduce the reader to the book through fifteen interesting facts that resume the ancient text in an easily digestible way.

Manuscript of the Bardo Thodol.
Manuscript of the Bardo Thodol. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Book of the dead it is popularly known in the west is a collection from a larger corpus of teachings called Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones.

Bardo Thodol has the following meaning: Thodol means “liberation through understanding.” Bardo means a “between state.”

The text is a sort of guide that helps the individual go through the experiences that the human consciousness experiences after death, and the Bardo, a transitional state between death and rebirth.

In addition to acting as a guide between death and rebirth, the Tibetan text also features a number of chapters on the signs of death and what rituals should be undertaken when death is closing in or has taken place. The Bardo Thodol explains how the mind or soul continues to live after death, undergoing a series of experiences before rebirth.

The text Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State is believed to have been written sometime in the eighth century by Padmasambhava, an 8th-century Indian Buddhist

After writing the text, Padmasambhava concealed the book because he considered the world was not ready for its teachings.

Padmasambhava is considered the founder of Lamaism, or Tibetan Buddhism.

Padmasambhava is widely venerated as the ‘second Buddha’ across Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Himalayan states of India, and whoever believes in Tibetan Buddhism.

The text can be categorized into three parts (Three Bardos)

The first part (“Transitory state of the moment of death or the chikhai bardo or “bardo of the moment of death”) describes the moment of death;

The second (“Transitory state of reality—chonyid bardo or “bardo of the experiencing of reality”) deals with the immediate moment after death.

The third part (“Transitional state of rebirth, sidpa bardo or “bardo of rebirth”), deals with prenatal issues, including the birth of instincts.

The work Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State also makes reference to an additional three bardos: “Life,” or ordinary waking consciousness; “Dhyana” editation); “Dream,” the dream state during normal sleep.

Together, they form a classification of states of consciousness into six broad types.

Three Bardo’s are encountered during life, and three are encountered after death.

Experts explain that either state of consciousness can form a type of intermediate state, between other states of consciousness.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, was popularized by Walter Evans-Wentz’s edition, but as such is virtually unknown in Tibet.

The first ‘western’ version of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was published by Oxford University Press in 1927 by Walter Y. Evans-Wentz.

The title Tibetan Book of the Dead was chosen by Dr. Evans-Wentz because he found a number of similarities to the Egyptian Book of The Dead.

Contrary to popular belief, the book is not read by people who are passing away. In fact, it is a work of literature that is used throughout one’s life by people who want to learn to visualize and understand what will happen after death.

Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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