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Evans Wentz was a genuine guy who travelled to India and Tibet and met real people. Wentz even travelled to Ramana Maharshi to ask him whether Shangrai La was real! But who today will travel around the globe to ask a sage a question? That shows enthusiasm.

The introduction by C.G Jung is also excellent and shows the open minded Jung grappling with this enigmatic and highly suggestive text. Even before the near death experience became pop, the Tibetan's claimed to have actually mapped the territory. This uber-confidence led Jung to ask the reader to take seriously the possibility of people somehow managing to break into the fourth dimension and to 'bring something back'.

Rudy Rucker writes on the fourth dimension that it is a place, rather than time. Rucker claimed to have glimpsed a few minutes of the fourth dimension in his entire life. As for bringing something back?

Terence McKenna used to say that bringing something back is the Holy Grail of 'tripping'. Memory is notoriously slippery and the more extravagant the witnessing the faster the forgetting.

But who knows? Maybe a civilisation living in or around the Himalayas, thousands of years ago did it right, as McKenna used to say. A genius like Rudy Rucker, a culture, say, like in Aryan Indian with brahmin's workind night and day on the enigma, and a magic potion, and who knows?

Maybe the Bardo Thodol is a fossil of the lost civilisation and this is why it is frightfully similar to the near death experience but bafflingly confident in what happens in the post death experience?

Now on to Donald S. Lopez. This guy is a mere compiler of paper. He rubbish's Evans Wentz and he even has a pop at C.J Jung. Lopez has no imagination and is dismissive of everything except his own word. One reviewer said Oxford Press should not had let a Lopez write uninspiring platitudes to his personal gripes, however, we expect the average academic to do this.
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on 18 December 2010
Whatever else "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" might be, it's definitely a spiritual classic and something of a publishing phenomenon. Several different editions and translations exist, but the 1960 edition remains the "classical" one. Translated by Walter Evans-Wentz, it also contains introductory comments written by Carl Gustav Jung, Lama Govinda, John Woodruffe and Evans-Wentz himself. The editor has also appended extensive footnotes to the main text.

"The Tibetan Book of the Dead" is a translation of a Tibetan mortuary text, known in original as "Bar do thos grol". Or rather, it's a translation of a portion of a text from a genre known as "Bar do thos grol". The English title is the translator's. In original, the text is used by the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

Those who read this book should also obtain a copy of "Prisoners of Shangri-La" by Donald Lopez, which contains the true story surrounding this mysterious book. It turns out that Evans-Wentz was a member of a New Religious Movement, the Theosophical Society. For this reason, his interpretations of the Tibetan text should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Thus, Evans-Wentz claims (on the authority of a real lama, no less) that Tibetan Buddhism has a secret message similar to that of Theosophy. Of course, there is no evidence whatsoever for such a claim. Another "lama" associated with this book, Anagarika Govinda, was actually a German national who couldn't even read Buddhist texts in their original language and claimed to have been initiated into the Kagyu sect. Lopez points out that the initiation ritual described by Hoffman (Govinda's real name) doesn't exist. In other words, "Lama" Govinda was something of a fraud. I readily admit that he seems to have been quite a character!

This is all extremely interesting, even entertaining. But what about the actual Tibetan text? "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" describes the fate of the soul after death. Or something to that effect - officially, Buddhists don't believe in an actual "soul". After leaving the dying body, the soul passes through a number of intermediary states known as bardos. In each state, liberation from the cycle of rebirth can be achieved. If for some reason the soul doesn't accomplish this, it is reborn as a god, demigod, human, animal, hungry ghost or denizen of hell.

The book describes the various bardos in chilling detail. At various points, the soul comes face to face with wrathful deities or is chased by demons. Small wonder Jung regarded the book as a description of a deliberately induced psychosis. (A later American commentary on the book, co-written by Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, compares it to a psychedelic experience.) There are also certain similarities to a near-death experience. Depending on your psychological state of mind, "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" might strike you as boring, incomprehensible, absurd or downright scary! How I reacted the first time I read it, I won't disclose here.

Regardless of what you think of this text, "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" plus all its forewords in the 1960 edition, are required reading for everyone interested in Tibet, Buddhism and above all comparative religion. What the book really tells us about the bardos is anybody's guess, but it does say a lot about how the Western mind wants to look at Tibet. For good or for worse.

Five stars...and beware of the bardo!
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on 24 February 2014
This is a really nice edition of this book, easy to read and beautifully decorated with good explanations about it, loved it
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on 3 May 2014
Although this is from the Buddhist world view it is nevertheless a wonderful examination of the after death conditions we might meet. I use the word 'might' because cultural views tend to alter our experience.
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on 26 June 2017
very good read
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on 13 March 2017
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on 26 February 2017
Boring as hell but supply of the Book Great
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on 2 May 2013
This is one of the most surprising work of Tibetan Buddhist erudition and the subject is a lot less morbid than it may sound or look if you just read the English title which is a bad translation. This title sounds like Beetlejuice but it is a lot more serious than a comedy.

This book is in fact a manual about what may happen after death, or rather when and after dying. It is very complicated but it is fascinating to see the details given by the author of this manual. Let's say that after death nothing is easy since you arrive there with your karma, what merit you have accumulated in your life, positive and negative, and what religious education you have acquired, none, little, a lot, or even plenty more.

The first element that is surprising is that the manual has to be read in the ear of the dying or just dead or recently deceased person to help him/her find his/her way in this after world. The manual proposes three periods: the Chikhai Bardo just after death, in two phases, about three and a half or four days altogether. Then the Chonyid Bardo which lasts fourteen days, twice seven days. And then the Sidpa Bardo that can last up to 49 days and five more seven day cycles.

The manual is addressed to the officiant, who can be anyone since it is advised for everyone to learn it by heart, for one's own benefit, but also for the benefit of anyone who is dying since this manual can only really help if it is read in the ear of the dying or dead person. The manual contains many passages that are prayers the dying or dead person is supposed to utter him/herself but the officiant seems to be the prompter who recites these prayers in the first person as if he were the dying or dead person. That may seem to imply the dying or dead person cannot recite these prayers, or at least we cannot be sure about it, so it is recommended to do it in his/her place in case he/she can't do it.

The second batch of remarks I want to formulate here have to do with the very clear assumption and assertion that the whole Bardo is nothing but a mental universe that only happens in the mind of the dying or dead person. First then the anatta principle, the not-self theory is contradicted in this assertion since something does survive death, the karma of the person, the knowledge of the person, and the mental and ethical qualities of the person who has to take initiatives to be reborn properly. This mental body as it is called definitely has some permanence and some reality, the permanence of the karma and the heavy burden some characteristics of the mental body of the person may represent: particularly his/her fear and other reactions of the type. At the same time the manual considers this mental person can and must take initiatives and thus go against his/her karma, or his/her instinctive reactions especially by using his/her accumulated knowledge and his/her freedom of choice. At this point the manual is optimistic. Death is not a tragedy, at least not always, and the judgment is not automatic and irreversible: the person can always fight with his/her knowledge against what his/her karma dictates. And the decision is not taken by anyone outside the person him/herself with the help of a big register, book or whatever, even if many outsiders of all types are teasing, provoking, tricking and trapping the dead person, or at least trying to.

The second idea here is that if this Bardo is entirely mental for the person and has no material reality, then why is it only one set of stages and always the same characters, gods, divas, monsters, devils and all other elements? And how does the author know about it? He has already gone through it? If it is personal and purely mental it should be unpredictable and different for each person. This implies that in fact this mental universe is the result of a vast shared education and culture: we can say that in a deeply religious society practically everyone has the same cultural and religious heritage, knowledge and this mental Bardo is thus both some kind of "collective mental universe" that comprises all the common elements learned before death by everyone, and eventually the personal contribution that is essentially the karmic level of the person and his/her capacity at making the proper choices and taking the proper decisions in every step of the procedure. I must say that as a "collective mental universe" it is a unique resource to study the cultural history and heritage of the Tibetan society.

Then we can consider the whole Bardo as a cultural construction of the Tibetan Buddhist society over many centuries and as such then we can compare with the various other Buddhist visions because there is no revealed truth in Buddhism and there are no heretics, only debates. There are many schools of thought and reflection and they can be very different at times.

This would lead us to a deep reflection on the very morbid vision of some levels of that Bardo, particularly when the Wrathful Deities come into the picture in the second seven day cycle. The main characteristics are that they are blood drinkers, cannibals or at least human flesh eaters, violent and savage, sadistic and wild. Their numbers are great and can be counted in tens of thousands. This vampiristic and cannibalistic approach is typical of a society locked up in mountains but it is inherited or recuperated by the arriving Indian Buddhists when Tibet was educated into Buddhism in the first centuries of the first millennium, from the older religion in Tibet known as BON that has the reputation of having practiced human sacrifices and other blood rituals. The four possible burying techniques are mentioned in the Bardo Thodol and they show that heritage. First to be incinerated (today only for the top monks and scholars, with at the top of the top the possibility to be embalmed). Second to be interred (rather rare because of the hardness of the constantly frozen soil or rock, and reserved for sick people and criminals because then the mental body cannot get into the Bardo and migrate to rebirth or nirvana). Third to be dismembered and thrown into some rivers. And fourth to be "dissected", meaning the flesh is separated from the bones, the bones are crushed into powder and mixed with some flour to be fed to vultures before the flesh is served to the vultures in the end. These techniques seem to have survived still today and they represent a direct heritage from a civilization that did not respect the physical body, hence a civilization for which the body was the source of many evils and had to be gotten rid of radically to free th mental body.

But the most surprising element is that the officiant goes on with the manual and the reading for days, but how can he know where the dead person is, what stage he/she has reached, since one can escape rebirth right after death and hence get into full final awakening and become a Buddha and merge into the cosmic energy of the universe. But the manual explains the dead person can find the way out of the sangsara cycle, out of dukkha at any step of the procedure. He/she will have to get out of the Bardo sooner or later but how can the officiant know? Otherwise he is talking for nothing, or at least there comes a moment when he will be talking for nothing. In fact this element seems to negate the free choice of the person and to imply the process is blind and anonymous.

The final remark I will make is that there is an important lesson we can learn in this manual when the person is confronted with choosing the womb door of his rebirth. The person has to have some knowledge and even some practice or experience to be able to choose without falling into the traps this Bardo is opening in front of the mental feet of the dead person. The dead person must also have some good motivation without which he/she is nothing but a plaything in the hands of the Bardo and its creatures. This is in fact the best conception you can have for education; A person will not learn anything if he/she is not motivated and if he/she does not feel it is a strategic question, a question of life or death in a way or another, the result will be mediocre or nil. And a person cannot learn properly if he/she does not start from what he/she already knows or has experienced. So many of our schools are trying to teach swimming to children whose arms and legs have been either cut off or tied up very tightly. To really succeed a child needs to use all his/her limbs and his/her full body and mind. You learn just as much with your toes as with your neurons.

The cup of tea the students offered me, their teacher, after the lesson was also part of the lesson. I remember a French school inspector in 1964 explaining to some future teachers that according to the code of ethics of the primary school teachers a teacher, if he wanted to go to a bar, was supposed to go to a bar in a neighborhood where the parents of his students could not be met. I just wonder how the teacher could do that in a village where there was only one bar. Luckily the world has changed and even in France a few things have changed, but yet I am afraid some of the standard French politician would be inspired if they decided to go on a trip to the Bardo to learn about learning and living in a constantly impermanent changing world.

A great book to read, very complicated, very inspirational and a must on the road to global enlightenment, though I would prefer to say global awakening. There are so many people who are still asleep and even quite many millions of people who have been forgotten on the sidewalks when the burying team came around to collect the recently deceased.

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on 24 June 2005
this is one of the bestest translation ever written on the 'Bardo Thö dol' (Tibetan book of the Dead) not as dry as most scholarly versions, nether the less created with the help Tibet's highest spiritual masters. I found this book extremly helpful in order to help others with their death as much as in preparation for my own. And refering to the gentleman's review above mine, these kind of books have no expiry date!
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on 24 January 2017
I was not very familiar with this book, so was well impressed when I read it. What a great help it seems to be to those about to embark for the afterlife. Maybe we should consider this service in the western world?
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