The Tibetan Book of the Dead (with video)

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The Bardo Thodol of Tibetan Buddhism, commonly known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, was passed down orally for centuries before being adapted to written form. Sometimes translated as Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State, is recited

When the breathing is about to cease, it is best if the Transference hath been applied efficiently; if it hath been inefficient, then address the deceased thus: ‘Oh, nobly-born [name], the time hath now come for thee to seek the Path in reality. Thy breathing is about to cease. Thy guru hath set thee face to face before with the Clear Light; and now thou art about to experience in its Reality in the Bardo state, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like unto a transparent vacuum without circumference or centre. At this moment, know thou thyself and abide in that state. I, too, at this time, am setting thee face to face.’ Having read this, repeat it many times in the ear of the person dying, even before the expiration hath ceased, so as to impress it on the mind of the dying one. If the expiration is about to cease, turn the dying one over on the right side, which posture is called the ‘Lying Posture of a Lion. The throbbing of the arteries, on the right and left side of the throat is to be pressed.”  --The Bardo Thodol

The Bardo Thodol of Tibetan Buddhism (also spelled Bardo Thotrol), commonly known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, was passed down orally for centuries before being adapted to written form.  According to Tibetan tradition, this funerary text, sometimes translated as Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State, is recited at the time of death to act as a guide for the dead during the state between death and the next rebirth which is known in Tibetan Buddhism as the “bardo.”

Composed in the 8th century by the famous spiritual leader Guru Padmasambhava, then written down by his primary student Yeshe Tsogyal, it is said to have been buried in the Gampo hills in central Tibet and then subsequently discovered by a Tibetan “terton” (an individual who discovers something previously hidden) Karma Lingpa in the 12th century.

Today, there are numerous variations of the book among different Buddhist sects.  Often drawing parallels to the Egyptian Book of the Dead  (also a funerary text), the Tibetan Book of the Dead also includes chapters on the signs of death, and rituals to undertake when death is closing in or has already taken place.  It is the most internationally famous and widespread work of Tibetan Nyingma literature.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead  teaches that awareness, once freed from the physical body, creates its own reality like that of a dream. This dream unfolds in predictable ways, both frightening and beautiful; peaceful and wrathful visions often appear which can be overwhelming. Since this freed awareness is in a state of shock from being disconnected from physical body, it needs guidance and forewarning so that key decisions can be made that will ultimately lead to enlightenment.  The Book teaches how one can attain “heavenly” realms by recognizing the “enlightened” realms from those of “seduction” that pull the spirit into cyclic suffering.

Presented in six parts, the first part of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, called “Chikhai Bardo” (or bardo of moment of death) describes the moment of death.  The second part, “Chonyid Bardo” (bardo of experiencing reality) deals with the states which supervene immediately after death.  The third part, “Sidpa Bardo” (the bardo of rebirth) concerns the onset of the birth instinct and of prenatal events.  These three are followed by three less formally categorized bardos, those of “life” (or ordinary waking consciousness), “dhyana” (meditation), and “dream” (the dream state of normal sleep). Thus, while the Book instructs the living as to how the dying can make the transition from life to the afterlife, it also teaches the enlightened perspective that there are many “intermediate” stages (many bardos) throughout life when enlightenment can be achieved.

Indeed, one can consider even a momentary state of consciousness a bardo, since it lies between our past and future existences, providing us with the opportunity to experience "reality," which is always present but obscured by the misjudgments we have made in less enlightened states of mind.  Accordingly, death, like all these states, is just one state between one consciousness and the next, and one that needs to be purposefully navigated.

“Oh, nobly-born, that which is called death hath now come. Thou art departing from this world, but thou art not the only one; death cometh to all. Do not cling, in fondness and weakness, to this life. Even though thou clingest out of weakness, thou hast not the power to remain here. Thou wilt gain nothing more than wandering in this Samsara. Be not attached to this world; be not weak. Remember the Precious Trinity.

Oh, nobly-born, whatever fear and terror may come to thee in the Chonyid Bardo, forget not these words; and, bearing their meaning at heart, go forwards: in them lieth the vital secret of recognition.”  --"Chikhai Bardo"

An interesting sidenote: Some of the concepts in the Tibetan Book of the Dead are said to be found in "The Gospel of Mary Magdalene."

References:

http://www.summum.us/mummification/tbotd/

http://www.near-death.com/experiences/buddhism01.html

http://reluctant-messenger.com/tibetan-book-of-the-dead.htm

Images via Wikipedia and http://reluctant-messenger.com/tibetan-book-of-the-dead.htm

Related Articles:

>  Meditation

>  Native American ritual

>  Shintoism

>  Wicca

>  Egyptian Book of the Dead

>  Early Christians

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Jessie Agudo
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