Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Firstly, the title "The Tibetan Book of The Dead" is a western invention. The Tibetan title is
"Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones".
Next, there is no single title, in Tibetan literature that actually correspondence to that title. Rather there are several collections, and versions of individual texts popular known as "Karma Lingpa's Peaceful and Wrathful Ones."

Still with me ? Next, what we  know in the west as "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" (the Evans-Wentz translation) is in fact only a small portion of the original texts, composed of two works.

The Bardo of dharmate, and the Bardo of existence

AKA Great Liberation through Hearing: The Supplication of the Bardo of Dharmata and Great liberation through Hearing: The Supplication Pointing Out the Bardo of Existence

The two combined are referred to as Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo, Great Liberation through Hearing, or just Liberation though Hearing
I will ask you again, are you still with me ?, because if you haven't got lost in the above, then the actual text will get you lost.

Unlike the Bhagavad Gita, which I said in my review had a welcome familiarity to it, was a refreshing read, and whilst I will not pretend to fully understand it, it felt like the start of a beautiful question.

'The Tibetan Book of the Dead on the other hand, left us confused, annoyed and a little scratchy.

I should also point out, unlike the rest of the reviews on this site, there is no link to the copy I am reviewing from. This was because, the copy I bought, cost 99p and I can't recommend it, nor can I really complain about a book that cost 99p.  All I will say, it was cheaper than printing out the ebook version of  Evans-Wentz 1927 translation, but slightly incomplete in the notes and commentary.

So, three hundred words later, and now onto what it actually it is. It is meant to be a guide for those who have died as they transition from their former life, to a new destination.

I have several tabs open in my browser at the moment, as I try and write an introduction to the text. To be honest I am going to struggle, and I would not like to add to what seems to be a mountain of contradiction out there on the web. This book is hard to understand, I think it is deliberately meant to be hard to understand. The only thing,  I am really taking away from it, is where the book says several times about things its explaining, that they are in fact only an illusion - the concept, not the undetstanding.

I did make some notes as I went along, which I will share with you below in the hope, that if you are brave enough to read it, they will be of some help. One final thing to note, there does appear to be a much larger,complete translation availiable and I have not been put off, from wanting to read that. I just want to read a lot more other books first, before having another heavy dose of what the Tibetan Buddhist take on what reality actually is.

Bardo: Transitional-state , or in-between state. Traditionally there are 6 bardos
    1. Shinay bardo - Birth and Life, from conception until the last breath.
    2. Milam bardo  - Dream state, subset of the 1st bardo
    3. Samtem bardo - meditation
    4. Chikkhai bardo - moment of death
    5. Chonyid bardo - moment of enlightment, the final inner breath
    6. Sidpai bardo - the becoming or transmigration

Deva: Supernatural being

Asura - Loka: Regions where the demons reside

Dharmadhatu:The realm of phenomenon, the root of Dharma.

Preta:A supernatural being that undergoes more than human suffering, particularly hunger and thirst. Can be translated as Hungry ghost.  Are believed to have been Jealous or greedy people in a previous life.

Sangsara:the cycle of repeated birth and death in the material world, which is held to be a place of suffering. The particulars of an individual's wanderings in samsara are determined by Karma. samsara is transcended by the attainment of nirvana. *

Kerimas:The blood-drinking deity of the Karmic Order, who appear on the 12th day. There are eight of them, and they are  terrifying female counterparts of the eight male Bodhisattvas (more info here)

Mt Meru: Sacred mountain, considered to be the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes.

Samadhi:An abiding in which mind becomes very still but does not merge with the object of attention, and is thus able to observe and gain insight into the changing flow of experience.

The Six Realms of Existence:

  1. Deva or 'God' Realm - The Deva realm is the realm of bliss. The disadvantage of this realm is that things are so very comfortable there, that these beings completely neglect to work towards enlightenment. Instead they gradually use up the good karma they had previously accumulated, and so they subsequently fall to a lower rebirth.
  2. Asura or 'Demi-God' Realm - The Asura realm is the realm of the demigods. They are here because of actions based on jealousy, struggle, combat or rationalization of the world. They may be here because in human form they had good intentions but committed bad actions such as harming others.  The Asuras are said to experience a much more pleasurable life than humans, but they are plagued by envy for the devas, whom they can see just as animals can perceive humans.
  3. Human Realm - Buddhists see this realm as human existence. A human rebirth is in fact considered to be the by far most advantageous of all possible rebirths in samsara because a human rebirth is the samsaric realm from which one can directly ensure enlightenment either in the present or future birth (for anagamis, the actual liberation occurs in a deva realm). This is because of the unique possibilities that a human rebirth offers.
  4. Animal Realm - The Animal realm (also known as the Tiryag-yoni realm) is based on strong mental states of stupidity and prejudice cultivated in a previous life or lives. Buddhists believe that this realm is the realm of existence of the nonhuman animals on Earth. Humans can however be seen by the animals, in the same way that the Asura can see the Devas.
  5. Preta or 'Hungry Ghost' Realm - The Hungry Ghost realm (also known as the Preta realm) is a rebirth based on strong possessiveness and desire which were cultivated in a previous life or lives. The sentient beings in this realm are known as "hungry ghosts". They are constantly extremely hungry and thirsty, but they cannot satisfy these needs. In Tibetan versions of the Bhavacakra these beings are drawn with narrow necks and large bellies. This represents the fact that their desires torment them, but they are completely unable to satisfy themselv
  6. Naraka or 'Hell' Realm - The Naraka realm, or "hell realm" is a rebirth based on strong states of hatred cultivated in a previous life or lives. The Buddhist view of Niraya differs significantly from that of most monotheistic religions in that those being punished in this realm are not trapped permanently. Rather, they remain there until their negative karma is used up, at which point they are reborn into another realm.
 * This is  key one to get in your head, before starting reading

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