CategoriesTibetan BuddhismPadmasambhava and the Nyingma School Tibetan Book of the Dead, The

Tibetan Book of the Dead, The

Product no.: 0-14-310494-0
The first complete translation of a classic Buddhist text on the journey through living and dying.

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Publisher's Synopsis
Graced with opening words by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Penguin Deluxe Edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead is “immaculately rendered in an English both graceful and precise.” Translated with the close support of leading contemporary masters and hailed as “a tremendous accomplishment,” this book faithfully presents the insights and intentions of the original work.

It includes one of the most detailed and compelling descriptions of the after-death state in world literature, practices that can transform our experience of daily life, guidance on helping those who are dying, and an inspirational perspective on coping with bereavement.

"When WY Evans-Wentz's English translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead first appeared in 1927 it became an instant classic. Later it was a firm favourite of the postwar counterculture. Timothy Leary recast it as The Psychedelic Experience, a manual for psychedelic voyagers - the idea being to 'shortcut' many years of spiritual training and discipline by dropping some acid - and William Burroughs claimed to be in telepathic contact with Tibetan adepts, subtitling his novel The Wild Boys A Book of the Dead. Allen Ginsberg read The Tibetan Book of the Dead while off his head on yajé in New York, while in Brion Gysin's novel The Last Museum the Beat Hotel in Paris becomes the Bardo Hotel, each room representing another stage in the after-death state. Gysin's beatnik friends, Ginsberg and Burroughs included, are depicted chanting in the street, their 'heads shaven like Tibetan monks' and wearing orange robes: 'Kerouac looks kinda cute, and so do some of the anonymous acolytes and hangers-on who are earnestly passing around a community copy of the Bardo Thödol, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, handwritten on dried banana leaves.'

In fact, Evans-Wentz's book has been so influential it is surprising to learn that he translated only three chapters of the original work which, it turns out, is not even called The Tibetan Book of the Dead - that was his idea. Its real title is The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States, and this is the first complete English translation. It's a magnificent achievement.

The extra material includes an examination of the nature of mind ('One's own mind is insubstantial, like an empty sky') and some beautiful verse meditations usually sung by monks performing their early morning duties. There are aspirational prayers to be read at the moment of death, as well as a translation of the sacred mantras that can be attached to a corpse in order to bring Liberation by Wearing. An unexpected bonus is a light-hearted allegorical masque about travelling through the after-death state.

Chapter 10 reveals how to transfer our consciousness at the exact moment of death. This involves blocking up in our imagination the rectum (the entrance to hell), the genitals (entrance to the realm of the anguished spirits) and other orifices, so that our consciousness escapes through the crown fontanelle, which we should visualise opening up. If it leaks blood, it is a sure sign the deceased has attained buddhahood. It is said that if these ancient rituals are followed, even the unrefined and uncultured ('however unseemly and inelegant their conduct') can attain enlightenment. In fact, they have a head start on those devout monks and learned philosophers who pooh-pooh such practices.

Combining Tibetan folklore with traditional medicine, another chapter tells us how to recognize the signs of our impending death. These include loss of appetite and disturbed sleep, but also 'if one's urine falls in two forks' and 'if one urinates, defecates and sneezes simultaneously'. Another sure sign is dreaming of riding a tiger or a corpse, or of eating feces, or of 'being disemboweled by a fierce black woman'. Untimely or sudden death may be averted, it tells us, by following the Natural Liberation of Fear through the Ritual Deception of Death, which involves making dough effigies, kneaded with our own urine, and hurling them into a river.

Gyurme Dorje's translation avoids the archaic thees and thous of the Evans-Wentz version and emphasises instead the quasi-scientific quality of the text - a point made in the Dalai Lama's introduction, where he draws parallels between Buddhist ideas and the discoveries of modern physics. The result is a very clear-cut, practical rendering of this classic of Nyingma literature (the Nyingmapa being followers of the oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism stretching back to the eighth century). The familiar, evocative vocabulary has been rationalized - 'bardo' becomes 'the intermediate state', 'samsara' is 'cyclic existence', 'wisdom' is 'pristine cognition', 'the Knower' becomes 'the consciousness [of the deceased]' and 'good and bad karma' are now 'positive and negative past actions' - but there are more gains than losses. 'O, Child of Buddha Nature' is preferable to Evans-Wentz's 'O nobly born'; 'skull-cup' is much gorier than 'red shell'; and the 'Three Precious Jewels' (meaning the Buddha, the sacred teachings and the monastic community) is less open to misinterpretation than Evans-Wentz's 'Precious Trinity'.

Thupten Jinpa, the Dalai Lama's senior translator, has advised on the text, as has Zenkar Rinpoche, a revered lineage-holder of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (its correct interpretation transmitted through an unbroken line of masters). There are useful introductions to each chapter, extensive notes and a glossary."       ~Ian Pindar, The Guardian

"Now follows the esoteric instruction which reveals the three times to be one:
Abandon your notions of the past, without attributing a temporal sequence!
Cut off your mental associations regarding the future, without anticipation!

Rest in a spacious modality, without clinging to [the thoughts of] the present.
Do not meditate at all, since there is nothing upon which to meditate.
Instead, revelation will come through undistracted mindfulness —
Since there is nothing by which you can be distracted.

Nakedly observe [all that arises] in this modality, which is without meditation and without distraction!
When this [experience] arises, Intrinsically aware, naturally cognisant, naturally radiant and clear,
It is called ‘the mind of enlightenment'.
Since [within this mind of enlightenment] there is nothing upon which to meditate,

This [modality] transcends all objects of knowledge.
Since [within this mind of enlightenment] there are no distractions,
It is the radiance of the essence itself.

This Buddha-body of Reality, [union of] radiance and emptiness,
In which [the duality of] appearance and emptiness is naturally liberated,
Becomes manifest [in this way], unattained by the [structured] path to buddhahood,
And thus Vajrasattva is [actually] perceived at this moment."

Editor Coleman, Graham
Coeditor Jinpa, Thupten
Author Padmasambhava
Translator Dorje, Gyurme
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 535 pp.
Publisher Penguin Classics 2007
Gold Medal

Gold Medal


  Gold Medal Essential Reading

Browse these categories as well: Padmasambhava and the Nyingma School, Bon and Dzogchen Shamanism, Vajrayana and Crazy Wisdom Masters, Termas, Tantras and Sutras, Death, Grief and the Afterlife, Karma and Reincarnation, Noteworthy Releases 2007, Gold Medal Essential Reading

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