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Secret Teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead

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The assorted sayings below are from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, much as translated by Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (1868-1922) and edited by Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz. The book was first published in 1927. [Til vi]

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is one of the texts that Padma-Sambhava is said to have hidden in Tibet in the late 700s, because Tibetans of that day and age were somehow unprepared for his teachings. Today they are being discovered and rediscovered by Western readers as well: it started 1927 when Dr. Evans-Wentz (1878-1965) first published this landmark volume.

It is traditionally used as a mortuary text. Yet it was originally understood as a symbolic guide for the living too, especially for yogis entering taller states of mind. The socio-cultural influence of the text is astounding.

Below are clearly annotated and structured nuggets from this text. - Tormod Kinnes

The Esoteric Dhyana-Buddhas

Giants, or spiritual beings as real as you are

The yellow Buddha is Ratna-Sambhava of touch - or the wisdom of equality [202n, xlviii].

The Blue Buddha is Samanta-Bhadra. Reality is personified by Samanta-Bhadra, the All-Good [cf. 32, 202n].

The Green Buddha is Amogha-Siddhi, a personification of Omnipotence. The wisdom of equality is also into the green symbol [202n, cf. 32, xlviii].

No deity or spiritual being has any real individual existence any more than have human beings; these apparitions are your own thought forms [cf. 32]. (2)

Different Buddhas are used to symbolise various attributes

The red Buddha is Amitabha - of feelings. Red is a sign of discriminative wisdom too. [xlviii, 202n].

The White Buddha is Vajra Sattva, and white represents mirror-like wisdom. [202n]. LoFive personifications of elements

Each Dhyana-Buddha symbolizes definite spiritual attributes [cf. 220]. MM

The five Dhyana-Buddhas are associated with dogmas of five elements that you may find in Saiva Hinduism and Acupuncture also [cf. 14-17] (7).

    Spiritual beings are said to be as real as you are yourself.
    In Buddhist Tantric art, different Buddhas are used to symbolise various attributes.
    Five personifications of airy elements are represented too.

IN NUCE Beings in art are somewhat airy too, in that they represent things and beings, but are hardly taken as the real things and beings themselves.

Affirmations, alias Resolves and Invocations

Go for highly valued returns to come -

WHEN THROUGH intense stupidity you are wandering in the world (sangsara) [200]:

    Let it come that I obtain the non-forgetting intellect and remember my past life [207 ].
    Let it come that I see with the celestial eyes of bright Wisdom [206].
    Mistaken will be your purpose if you return empty-handed from life [cf. 204].
    May we see a Buddha realm — There is an Unmade Realm [[[Buddha]]]. [202-3, cf. 68].

Jivatman is the "knower of the field", knower of the body [cf. 47n].

May the blending of the practising of the sleep [states] and actual [waking] experience be highly valued [cf. 203].

The [[[Tibetan]]] Judgement Scene as described in our text and that described in the Egyptian Book of the Dead seem so much alike in essentials as to suggest [a] common origin [35].

Like an earthly twilight, the astral light is quite bright enough [cf. 161n].

The secret mantra conferred at the initiation, like the Egyptian Word of Power, is the password necessary for a conscious passing into the blissful realms [cf. 224].

At the base of the spinal column a mighty occult power lies coiled. Once it is aroused into activity, it may rise "like mercury in a magic tube" through various yoga centres and reach the "thousand-petalled lotus" in the brain-centre. Spreading out in a fountain-like crest, it falls as a shower of heavenly bliss that feeds the mind and vital sheets - and fills one with yogic Illumination [cf. 216-17]. (2)

The Great Teacher [[[Buddha]]] has set aside, as being non-essential to mankind's spiritual enlightenment, the belief and the non-belief in a Supreme Deity - more especially in an anthropomorphic Supreme Deity [236].

Symbolism to mature on is to be different from stupefying and awe-inspiring

MAY I not fall under the power of misleading, stupefying passions [203].

Symbolism similar to that used by Plato has been used by the recorders of the Buddhist Scriptures [53-58]. (4)

Even beyond there are entities and places that induce misery - stay away from them if you can

ABANDON all awe [203, 205, and elsewhere.].

The Veil of Maya has been lifted, and the Clear Light shines into the heart [224].

To leave false concepts, one should know that . . . the best human thought of all things is only temporary and is not Truth Absolute. - Asvagosha [229].

You have to form resolves in your mind, even in the beyond, where earnestness and pure love are thought to be necessary. [cf. 177]. MM

As a man is taught, so he believes [33].

Let it come that I, obtaining the assurance of fearlessness, may recognize the Bardo and the apparitions of wrathful and peaceful forms dawning upon me [cf. 205].

Brutish pleasure must produce misery [cf. 47n].

There is a Clear Light of Reality [92].

May the consciousness undistractedly be kept in its natural state [202].

May I know the body to be impermanent [cf. 203].

May the bright light-path of Wisdom lead us — Let all this be auspicious [200, cf. 209].

Obtaining the power of being born, let it come that I see with eyes of bright Wisdom, obtaining for myself the body of a male (which is) better [cf. 206-7].

When I arrive where I wish, let it come that I do not experience the evil there — May the ethereal elements not rise up as enemies [206, 201].

May we be placed in the state of the perfect Buddhahood [cf. 200, 201, modulated extracts.].

The Essence: its true nature is that of a pure mind, eternally joyful, the true being, divine, unspeakable, the Absolute - Asvagosha [cf. 230-31]. (8)

    You are allowed to go for highly treasured returns to come and store merits too.
    Symbolism to mature on is to be different from stupefying and awe-inspiring representations.
    We are told that in the beyond there are entities and places that induce misery - stay away from them if you can.

You are allowed to mature, also in places of great misery and hardships.

In the After-Life

Hope your own tutelary angel will shine forth

IF YOU are going to be reborn as a male, attraction towards the mother and repulsion towards the father, will arise on you - and if you are to be reborn as a female, attraction towards the father and repulsion towards the mother, together with a feeling of jealousy (for one or the other) will dawn on you. Yet, when the attraction or repulsion arises, meditate: "Not through attraction and repulsion." [cf. 180].

Think of all these fears and terrifying apparitions as being your own tutelary deity [acting for your real good], or as the Compassionate One. [168].

If you have been unable to apprehend [the teachings], henceforth the body of the past life will become more and more dim and the body of the future life will become more and more clear. You will then think, "I shall go and seek my body," going here and there distractedly. Then lights will shine on you from the six world-realms, and the light of that place that you are to be born in, will shine most prominently, through karmic power:

    A dull white light from the world of gods.
    A dull green light from the world of titans.
    A dull yellow light from the human-world.
    A dull blue light from the animal (brute) world.
    A dull red light from the spirit (preta) world.
    A smoke-coloured light from the hell-world [173-74].

Prepare yourself for a good after-life. In Western Europe, "Memento mori" is a phrase that has been used for it.

Have no feeling of miserliness, but be prepared to renounce your worldly goods willingly [cf. 170]. (4) LoForm earnest resolves that seem fit, just, and needed

They [the dwellers in the Bardo] live on odours — All these are like dreams [[cf. 164n, 181]. MM

You have to form resolves in your mind, even in the beyond, where earnestness and pure love are thought to be necessary [cf. 177].

If you see visions of females and males in union, withhold yourself from going between them as you mentally worship the Great Spirit and ask for perfect guidance as to what to do with it [cf. 178]. (7)


    Feel free to hope your own tutelary angel will shine forth.
    Prepare yourself solidly for a good after-life in the beyond. In Western Europe, "Memento mori" is a phrase that has been used for it.
    Form earnest resolves that seem fit, just, and needed.

IN NUCE Feel free to prepare yourself as needed, both for here and now and the morrow and beyond.

Choosing Birth Again

LoTo win a lot, enter wombs through foreknowledge of what would be really good for you

TO WIN a perfectly endowed human body one must inherently possess faith, perseverance, intellect, sincerity, and humility - and also be born at a time when [a good dharma] prevails - and then meet a fit guru [cf. 194n].

If you have to enter into a womb, choose according to the supernormal power of foreknowledge you possess. A one-pointed wish for any Realm of birth will take you to that Realm at once [cf. 188, 190]. LoThrough birth-visions from the other side, you can be alerted to dangers of various wombs (and families) and circumstances

YOU CAN choose the land of the place of birth by help of premonitory signs or visions [cf. 184]. (3) LoNext life be born as a god if you are up to it, that is . . .

EVEN though a womb-door may appear to be good, do not be attracted; if it appear bad, have no repulsion towards it. To enter in the mood of full impartiality is a most profound art [cf. 191]. (5)

By accomplishing the Select Teaching [not shown in full here] one obtains Buddhahood [Enlightenment] at the moment of death [cf. 196]. MM

Teachings for selecting a womb-door [to a next life]: If the womb-door has not been closed, it is almost time to assume a body. Select your womb (according to the) best teaching. Listen, and hold it well in mind [cf. 183]. (7)

For one to be born as a god (deva in a heaven), delightful mansions of precious metals will be seen [cf. 184].

If to be born in hell, [wailing and wistful] songs will be heard. Lands of gloom and black holes in the earth will appear (etc.) [cf. 185]. (8)

Hold fast to the Truth. - Gautama Buddha [Tiy 240].


    TIP: To win a lot, enter wombs through foreknowledge of what would be really good for you.
    Through birth-visions from the other side, you can be alerted to dangers of various wombs (and families) and circumstances.
    Next time be born as a god if you are up to it, that is . . .

Further Observations

Some titles

Evans-Wentz combined two quite long texts to get the Tibetan Book of the Dead as it is known in English. The two text in it are Great Liberation through Hearing: The Supplication of the Bardo of Dharmata and Great liberation through Hearing: The Supplication Pointing out the Bardo of Existence.

Tibetan tradition has it that the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State was composed in the 700s by Padmasambhava and discovered by Karma Lingpa in the 1300s. There are variants of the book among different sects or schools.

Walter Y. Evans-Wentz came up with the title based on the previously published Egyptian Book of the Dead. A more accurate title is "The Liberation through Hearing during the Intermediate State", or just Bardo Thodol. Another translation: "Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones", popularly known as Karma Lingpa's Peaceful and Wrathful Ones. The "wrathful ones" are mental visions of deities appearing due to the dead guy's wrongdoings here on earth. The texts shows how to handle them, if that is not too hard to do.

For the dead and listening, and fit for yogis

The work is a funerary text, and a helpful text for yogis that slide into such states as the text paints vivid and perhaps scary pictures of. The Tibetan text is intended to guide one through possible experiences after dying, aiming at at the interval from death and toward next birth, in short: the bardo. The text shows the rituals and readings that lamas undertake next to someone who has died, assuming or knowing that the still living entity that once inhabited a body, is able to hear and take the lead.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead was first published in 1927 by Oxford University Press, and has evoked significant interest in the West from 1960, when it was reissued.

Francesca Fremantle (2001:20) writes that "the text has been handed down through the centuries in several versions containing varying numbers of sections and subsections, arranged in different orders, ranging from around ten to thirty-eight titles. These individual texts cover a wide range of subjects, including . . . meditation instructions, visualizations of deities, indications of future rebirth", and guiding words for the after-death state.

Three states

Three states given:

    The moment of death as an opportunity to sail into the bright light of reality, or as good a realm as one is capable of. One is cautioned against dark, gloomy misty and fearful sides to the beyond, for such environments may lead to a glide into tortures in one or more hells.
    Experiencing various sides to reality features visions of Buddha forms - or as good forms as one is capable of experiencing without swooning.
    Toward rebirth - what results in rebirth in various lokas (realms). Life as a human in this loka (material plane) is one of many possibilities.

Deal well enough with life to improve the future fare; don't wait till you are dead for it

Still, handling the fare in the beyond is not as simple as this sketch shows. One is held to account for one's good deeds and other deeds in several lives. These "seeds" come to fruition or are dispensed out through different lives. And stable and good sides to ourselves are rewarded in that the soul gravitates to "resonating" environments, Buddha holds in his great karma teachings.

These texts says one may help oneself to experience reality first-hand in the beyond right after dying, in part by focusing smartly and well, and similarly with visions. Maybe able concentration efforts helps against falling asleep or away from helpful gods and awakened beings in the beyond. However, the results could depend on one's spiritual efforts here on earth for a long time also.

Also, Buddha teaches (link above) that in the long run of several lives, perhaps, those who do good, may go upwards in the lokas, realms, and get it better too, depending of how one's total karma is portioned out, and how good it has become. Such betterments pertain to a series of earth-lives also. Yet, detrimental karma currents may set in too.

Teachings are good if they salvage us

The above fills in various holes in the survey by concentrated points from Buddha's teachings on karma and reincarnation. He teaches that both sound skills (being deft) and meditation help, and behaving properly too.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead acknowledges the value of subtle skills in dealing with apparitions and other phenomena one may come across in the beyond. Meditation teachings, dhyana teachings, say that as you brighten up by dhyana, you gravitate toward good environments in the future too, if not counterforces prevail. So having good and helpful friends is good, being careful is good, being protected from wrongdoers is also good.


Tibetan Book of the Dead, Bardo Thödöd, extracts, Literature

Words and phrases placed in square brackes are added by me. What is in round brackets, is in Evans-Wentz' edition. The page references above are to:

Til: Evans-Wentz, W. ed. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English Rendering. London: Oxford University Press, Paperback ed. 1960.

And added:

Tiy: Evans-Wentz, W. ed. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.