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The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Masterpiece of World Literature - Translated by Gyurme Dorje and Edited by Graham Coleman



The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Guide to the Afterlife




Death is one of the most universal and inevitable experiences that humans face. Yet, it is also one of the most mysterious and unknown aspects of life. How do we cope with death? What happens after we die? Is there a way to prepare for death and make it a positive transition? These are some of the questions that many people ask themselves at some point in their lives.




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Fortunately, there is a source of wisdom and guidance that can help us answer these questions and more. It is called The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a sacred text that reveals the secrets of death and the afterlife from a Buddhist perspective. In this article, we will explore what this text is, how to read it, and how to practice it in order to gain a deeper understanding of death and life.


What is the Tibetan Book of the Dead?




The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not a single book, but a collection of texts that describe the stages of death, rebirth, and liberation according to Tibetan Buddhism. The original title in Tibetan is Bardo Thodol, which means "Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate State". The term bardo refers to any transitional state between two events, such as waking and sleeping, birth and death, or life and enlightenment. The term thodol means "liberation by hearing", which implies that one can attain freedom from suffering by listening to and following the instructions given in these texts.


The origin and history of the text




The Tibetan Book of the Dead is attributed to Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, who is considered to be the founder of Tibetan Buddhism in the 8th century CE. He is said to have composed these texts as a result of his visionary experiences and teachings from various Buddhas and bodhisattvas. He then concealed them as terma, or hidden treasures, in various places in Tibet and neighboring countries, to be discovered by future generations when they were ready to receive them.


The most famous discoverer of these texts was Karma Lingpa, a 14th century Tibetan master who found them in a cave in central Tibet. He then revealed them to his disciples and followers, who transmitted them orally and in writing for centuries. The texts were first translated into English by Walter Evans-Wentz in 1927, who gave them the title The Tibetan Book of the Dead, inspired by the ancient Egyptian funerary text The Book of Going Forth by Day. Since then, many other translations and editions have been published, each with different interpretations and commentaries.


The structure and content of the text




The Tibetan Book of the Dead consists of three main parts: The Great Liberation by Hearing, The Great Liberation by Contemplation, and The Great Liberation by Wearing. The first part is the most widely known and used, as it contains the instructions for the dying person and the caregiver during the process of death and the afterlife. The second part is a supplement to the first part, as it provides additional teachings and practices for the dying person and the living. The third part is a collection of ritual texts and mantras that are used to protect and bless the dying person and the corpse.


The main focus of the first part is on the four bardos that one experiences after death: the bardo of dying, the bardo of dharmata, the bardo of becoming, and the bardo of existence. The bardo of dying begins at the moment of death and lasts until the cessation of the breath. It is characterized by the dissolution of the elements, senses, and consciousness, which are accompanied by various signs and visions. The bardo of dharmata begins after the breath has stopped and lasts until one recognizes one's true nature. It is characterized by the appearance of clear light, which is the essence of one's mind, and various deities, which are the manifestations of one's emotions. The bardo of becoming begins after one has failed to recognize one's true nature and lasts until one takes rebirth. It is characterized by the emergence of karmic tendencies, which shape one's future life, and various realms, which are the destinations of one's rebirth. The bardo of existence begins after one has taken rebirth and lasts until one dies again. It is characterized by the cycle of birth, aging, sickness, and death, which are driven by ignorance, attachment, and aversion.


The main purpose of the first part is to help the dying person and the caregiver to recognize these bardos as illusory projections of one's mind, and to use them as opportunities for liberation from suffering. The text provides detailed descriptions of what to expect in each bardo, as well as instructions on how to meditate, pray, recite mantras, invoke deities, and make offerings in order to overcome fear, confusion, and attachment. The text also advises on how to choose a favorable rebirth if liberation is not attained.


The purpose and function of the text




The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not only a guide for the dead, but also a guide for the living. It teaches us how to face death with awareness, compassion, and wisdom, and how to use death as a catalyst for spiritual transformation. It also teaches us how to live with mindfulness, kindness, and skillfulness, and how to use life as a preparation for death. By reading and practicing this text, we can learn to appreciate the preciousness of human life, the impermanence of all phenomena, the interdependence of all beings, and the potential for enlightenment within ourselves.


How to read the Tibetan Book of the Dead?




The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not an ordinary book that can be read casually or superficially. It is a sacred text that requires respect, devotion, and understanding. It is also a complex text that requires study, reflection, and application. Here are some suggestions on how to read this text in a meaningful way.


The different translations and editions of the text




As mentioned earlier, there are many translations and editions of this text available in English and other languages. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, depending on the translator's background, perspective, and intention. Some are more literal and faithful to the original Tibetan language, while others are more interpretive and adapted to modern culture. Some are more scholarly and academic, while others are more practical and experiential. Some are more comprehensive and inclusive, while others are more selective and concise.


Therefore, it is important to choose a translation or edition that suits your needs and preferences. You may want to compare different versions and consult reliable sources for guidance. You may also want to read more than one version to get a broader view and deeper insight into this text.


The recommended approach and attitude for reading the text




Once you have chosen a translation or edition that you like, you need to decide how you want to read it. You can read it from beginning to end as a whole, or you can read it in parts according to your interest or situation. You can read it alone or with others in a group setting. You can read it silently or aloud with proper pronunciation. You can read it slowly or quickly depending on your time and concentration.


However you choose to read it, you should have a positive approach and attitude towards this text. You should read it with an open mind that is willing to learn new things and challenge old beliefs. You should read it with a curious heart that is eager to explore the profound teachings of this text. You should read it with a sincere intention that is motivated by compassion and wisdom, and dedicated to the benefit of all beings.


The benefits and challenges of reading the text




Reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead can bring many benefits to your life and death. It can help you to overcome your fear of death and to face it with courage and confidence. It can help you to understand the nature of your mind and reality, and to realize your true potential. It can help you to develop a positive attitude towards death and to see it as an opportunity for liberation. It can help you to cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for your life and for others. It can help you to prepare for your own death and to assist others who are dying.


However, reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead can also pose some challenges to your understanding and practice. It can be difficult to comprehend the complex and symbolic language and imagery of this text, and to relate it to your own experience. It can be hard to find a qualified teacher or a supportive community who can guide you and support you in reading and practicing this text. It can be challenging to balance your reading and practice with your daily responsibilities and obligations. It can be tempting to use this text as a way of escaping from your problems or avoiding your emotions.


Therefore, you need to be aware of these challenges and overcome them with patience, perseverance, and humility. You need to seek reliable sources of information and inspiration that can clarify your doubts and questions. You need to find a suitable time and place that can allow you to read and practice this text without distractions or interruptions. You need to integrate your reading and practice with your everyday life and activities, and use them as opportunities for learning and growth. You need to use this text as a tool for transformation, not as a means of evasion.


How to practice the Tibetan Book of the Dead?




The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not only a book that can be read, but also a book that can be practiced. It is a manual that provides practical instructions on how to use the process of death and the afterlife as a path towards enlightenment. It is also a ritual that involves recitation, visualization, meditation, prayer, offering, and dedication. Here are some suggestions on how to practice this text in an effective way.


The preparation and application of the text for oneself




If you want to practice the Tibetan Book of the Dead for yourself, you need to prepare yourself in advance before you die. You need to familiarize yourself with the teachings and practices of this text, and apply them in your daily life. You need to cultivate a calm and clear mind that can recognize the nature of reality and oneself. You need to generate a compassionate and altruistic motivation that can benefit all beings. You need to make a sincere aspiration that can direct your mind towards liberation.


When you are dying, you need to apply the instructions of this text according to your level of understanding and capacity. You need to relax your body and mind, and let go of any attachment or aversion. You need to listen carefully to the words of this text, either from yourself or from someone else who is reading it for you. You need to follow the guidance of this text, either by meditating on the clear light or by invoking the deities or by choosing a rebirth. You need to trust in the power of this text, either by relying on your own awareness or by seeking refuge in the Buddha or by dedicating your merit.


The assistance and guidance of the text for others




If you want to practice the Tibetan Book of the Dead for others, you need to assist and guide them in a compassionate and skillful way. You need to know their level of understanding and capacity, and adapt your instructions accordingly. You need to respect their wishes and preferences, and avoid imposing your views or expectations. You need to create a conducive environment for them to die peacefully and comfortably. You need to read the text for them clearly and confidently, either in person or remotely. You need to support them with your prayers and blessings, either verbally or mentally.


The reflection and integration of the text for life




If you want to practice the Tibetan Book of the Dead for life, you need to reflect and integrate the teachings and practices of this text in your daily life. You need to contemplate the impermanence of life and death, and appreciate every moment as precious and meaningful. You need to examine the nature of your mind and reality, and recognize their emptiness and luminosity. You need to cultivate a compassionate and altruistic attitude towards yourself and others, and act accordingly. You need to practice meditation and mindfulness regularly, and maintain a calm and clear awareness in all situations.


By doing so, you can transform your life into a path of liberation, and prepare yourself for a peaceful and positive death. You can also inspire others to do the same, and create a positive impact in the world.


Conclusion




The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a unique and valuable text that can help us understand and cope with death and the afterlife from a Buddhist perspective. It can also help us live a more mindful and meaningful life in the present. By reading and practicing this text, we can gain a deeper insight into ourselves and reality, and realize our true potential for enlightenment.


FAQs




What is the best translation or edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead?




There is no definitive answer to this question, as different translations or editions may suit different readers depending on their needs and preferences. However, some of the most popular and reputable translations or editions are:



  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead: First Complete Translation by Gyurme Dorje, edited by Graham Coleman with Thupten Jinpa (Penguin Classics, 2005). This is considered to be the most authoritative and comprehensive translation of this text, based on extensive research and consultation with Tibetan masters.



  • The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche (HarperOne, 1992). This is not a direct translation of this text, but a commentary and adaptation that presents its teachings in a modern and accessible way.



  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo by Francesca Fremantle and Chogyam Trungpa (Shambhala, 1975). This is one of the earliest translations of this text in English, based on the oral teachings of a renowned Tibetan master.



How can I find a teacher or a community who can help me read and practice The Tibetan Book of the Dead?




One of the best ways to find a teacher or a community who can help you read and practice The Tibetan Book of the Dead is to find a qualified teacher or a community who can teach you and support you in this path. You can look for a teacher or a community who belongs to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, especially the Nyingma school, which is the source of this text. You can also look for a teacher or a community who has experience and expertise in reading and practicing this text, and who can guide you according to your level and needs.


You can find a teacher or a community online or offline, depending on your availability and accessibility. You can search for websites, blogs, podcasts, videos, books, or courses that offer teachings and resources on this text. You can also search for centers, groups, events, or retreats that offer classes and sessions on this text. You can contact them and ask them for more information and guidance.


How can I use The Tibetan Book of the Dead as a source of inspiration and creativity?




The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not only a source of wisdom and guidance, but also a source of inspiration and creativity. It is a text that stimulates your imagination and expression, and invites you to explore the mysteries of death and life. You can use this text as a basis for creating your own artistic or literary works, such as poems, stories, songs, paintings, sculptures, or films. You can also use this text as a theme for your personal or professional projects, such as essays, presentations, workshops, or campaigns.


You can use this text as a source of inspiration and creativity in various ways. You can use the language and imagery of this text as a way of expressing your thoughts and feelings about death and life. You can use the teachings and practices of this text as a way of exploring your mind and reality in different ways. You can use the stories and examples of this text as a way of learning from other people's experiences and perspectives. You can use the questions and challenges of this text as a way of stimulating your curiosity and inquiry.


By doing so, you can enrich your understanding and appreciation of this text, and share it with others in a creative and engaging way.



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