Difference between revisions of "Tibetan Book of the Dead"

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Revision as of 20:42, 27 June 2009

The Tibetan Book of the Dead was first translated into English in 1927. Its title was coined by its translator, the American scholar W. Y. Evans-Wentz, in imitation of the famous (and equally mistitled) Egyptian Book of the Dead. The actual name of the book is Bardo Tödrol Chenmo (Wyl. bar do thos grol chen mo), which means "the Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo."

Sogyal Rinpoche writes in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

Bardo teachings are extremely ancient, and found in what are called the Dzogchen Tantras. These teachings have a lineage stretching back beyond human masters to the Primordial Buddha (Skt. Samantabhadra, Tib. Kuntuzangpo), who represents the absolute, naked, sky-like primordial purity of the nature of our mind. But the Bardo Tödrol Chenmo itself is part of one large cycle of teachings handed down by the master Padmasambhava and revealed in the fourteenth century by the Tibetan visionary Karma Lingpa.
The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo is a unique book of knowledge. It is a kind of guidebook or a travelogue of the after-death states, which is designed to be read by a master or spiritual friend to a person as the person dies, and after death. In Tibet there are said to be "Five Methods for Attaining Enlightenment without Meditation": on seeing a great master or sacred object; on wearing specially blessed drawings of mandalas with sacred mantras (Tib. takdrol); on tasting sacred nectars, consecrated by the masters through special intensive practice; on remembering the transference of consciousness, the phowa, at the moment of death; and on hearing certain profound teachings, such as the Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead is destined for a practitioner or someone who is familiar with its teachings. For a modern reader it is extremely difficult to penetrate, and raises a lot of questions that simply cannot be answered without some knowledge of the tradition that gave birth to it. This is especially the case since the book cannot be fully understood and used without knowing the unwritten oral instructions that a master transmits to a disciple, and which are the key to its practice.
In this book [The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying], then, I am setting the teachings, which the West has become familiar with through the Tibetan Book of the Dead, in a very much larger and more comprehensive context.

English Translations

  • W. Y. Evans-Wentz, Tibetan Book of the Dead (London: Oxford University Press, first edition 1927)
  • Francesca Fremantle and Chögyam Trungpa, Tibetan Book of the Dead (Boston: Shambhala, first edition 1975)
  • Gyurme Dorje and Edited by Graham Coleman with Thubten Jinpa, The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Penguin: 1993)
  • Robert Thurman, The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bantam Books, Inc.: 1994)
  • The first ever complete and unabridged translation, by Gyurme Dorje and edited by Graham Coleman with Thubten Jinpa, The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Penguin: 2006)

Further Reading

  • Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (HarpersSanFrancisco: 1992)