‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ OR ‘The After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane’, according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup’s English Rendering’, aka ‘Bardo Thodol’ is a pretty heavy number – used in Tibet as a breviary that is read or recited on the occasion of death, it is said to have been originally conceived to serve as a guide, not only for the dying and the dead, but for the living as well. And as a contribution to the science of death and of existence after death, and of rebirth, the treatise is unique among the ‘sacred’ books of the world. The book is compiled and edited by W.Y.Evans-Wentz, who is said to have sat at the feet of a Tibetan Lama for years in order to acquire his wisdom. He was a scholar of Jesus College, Oxford and was a dedicated student of Eastern Philosophy, having authored a number of books on the subject – particularly on Tibetan Buddhism.

In the Tibetan Buddhist philosophy a Bardo is a ‘plane’ or ‘level’ of consciousness and there are, according to the esoteric Tibetan teachings, six Bardos representing different states of consciousness: Skyes-Nas Bardo – the state of ‘normal’ or waking-consciousness, Rmi-Lam Bardo or dream-consciousness, Bsam-Gtan Bardo or trance-consciousness, as when in deep meditation, Hchhi-Kha Bardo or state of consciousness whilst experiencing death, Chhos-Nyid Bardo or state of experiencing reality and Sid-Pa Bardo – the state of rebirth-consciousness.

Carl Jung, well known for his exploration into areas of consciousness outside of the strict discipline of the conventional psychoanalytical field, has pointed out in his psychological commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Dead, that although Freud’s “..is the first attempt made by the West to investigate, as if from below, from the animal sphere of instinct, the psychic territory that corresponds in Tantric Lamaism, to the Sidpa-Bardo. A very justifiable fear of metaphysics prevented Freud from penetrating into the ‘occult’”. He also reported that “psychoanalysts even claim to have probed back to memories of intra-uterine origin”, indicating that if Freudian analysis had pursued these so-called intra-uterine experiences still further to the past, “..it would surely have come out beyond the Sidpa Bardo and penetrated from behind into the lower reaches of the Chonyid Bardo”.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead was first published in 1927 and has been reprinted many times since. It’s acceptance among the professionals in the field of psychology and psycho-analysis, intellectuals and philosophers gives credence to the fact that it isn’t some ‘esoteric’ mumbo-jumbo that has no base in what students of the mind consider to be acceptable in terms of what their own research has pointed to as real possibilities that originated in spiritual wisdom come down through the centuries. It seems, according to Evans Wentz’ investigations, that the Great Guru Padma Sambhava, who introduced Tantric Buddhism to Tibet, was the one that committed the Bardo Thodol  to writing in the 8th century AD. The original text was among hundreds that were secretly hidden away, probably in the 9th century AD when the persecution of Buddhism was prevailing in that part of the world and many teachings were hidden in caves and among rocks to prevent their destruction.

Anyhow, reading the book itself is a pretty heavy trip – if you’re into that sort of thing. It is full of Tibetan Mahayana doctrine, with its pantheon of lesser Buddhas and all sorts of other pretty weird stuff, but if one can get beyond the symbolism and images of ritualistic dogma and get into the substance of the ‘art’ of dying, it looks to be rather good advice and preparation for the journey to be embarked on. So if you know anyone who seems to be close to calling it a day, check it out and maybe you could help make the passing that much less traumatic.

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