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on 11 September 2009
I came to this book with an open mind, but rather influenced by the 5 star posts on here. I am certainly on a journey to understand my mind and spirit further, and I practice meditation as often as I can. I find it very calming and settling for my mind, like settling a raging ocean. Meditation works for me. Sogyal Rinpoche's guidance on meditation practice is straightforward and clicked with what I already knew. However, after this point I soon stumbled across some of his arguments that were on shaky philisophical ground. I am surprised no one has pointed these out yet:

Firstly, he refers to a creator or divine being, and the old argument that 'just because we can't see it, does not mean it doesn't exist'. Ut oh. No. If he wants to go down that route the onus of the evidence is on Sogyal Rinpoche to prove that divine being *does* exist, not for the reader to disprove it. If you believe in a flying spaghetti monster, the pressure is on you to prove it exists. This was my first big let-down and I was surprised he used this old failed argument. He should know better!

Secondly, there were to a lot of mystical tales, and one sticks in my mind - the one about the 'rainbow body'. Sogyal Rinpoche refers to a story where a man reaches such a level of enlightenment, that he asks to die on his own. Around his house many rainbow lights appear, and when his family and students enter inside, his body is gone apart from his hair and fingernails. This was meant to signify his ascension as a bhudda. Sorry, but I laughed out loud. This is very psychedelic nonsense. If you can believe this story, you will thoroughly enjoy the rest of the book. There were many other times in the book where he dispensed very good advice, and in the middle was the most outlandish stories I've ever heard. No evidence, just belief that the stories were true because someone told him. Often he tries to diffuse your objection by saying things such as 'Hard as it is to believe...'.

Another story he uses, and something I simply cannot believe in even though I love the idea, is reincarnation. He uses the story of a girl in a poor neighbourhood who is born and asks her father to travel to another house where she lived in her previous life. She knows everything about the house and her old parents. Again, no evidence, you are just told that it must be true and almost told to ignore other possible scenarios. Maybe the family wanted basic human affection from others. Maybe pilgrims turned up to the house later with donations? I'd love to find out because I find those scenarios more plausible.

Following this story was more spiritual 'proof' for why we forget everything from our previous lives, but although we forget we still accrue enlightment or stay stuck in samsara depending on the life we lead. This just takes a big leap of faith to believe in. I couldn't leap that far. There are many holes in his reincarnation argument that just popped into my head as I was going, and a few times I had to put down the book in frustration.

I'll leave the criticisms there, because this book does have many great points. Some of the other philosophical advice is sound, although its better when its referenced from someone else. The advice for compassion and the practice of Tonglen seems very useful. Tonglen is a visualisation method to increase compassion for others. I have practised it and it seems to work well (in an NLP kind of way), although I don't really tie it in with my meditation. Finally, the advice on dying seems very profound, more so than anything else I've read. I love how the book reveals that yes, we all die, and then offers a practical guide to help understand your own death and others. I have found reflecting on my own death a very powerful positive experience. It often helps me change my perspective on a situation or make a different decision.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is worth reading for some specific insight on meditation and dying - just please, do not get drawn into the absurdities. Keep thinking.
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on 18 February 2017
In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the dead man is asked not to give in to astonishment. The Lama says, ‘Don't be distracted by the fireworks’. But, of course, saying fireworks is an analogy and the actual after death experience has never been experienced by you or me while in these bodies, and especially in this ego. So, I think, the astonishment of not dying and being there will overwhelm the newly dead person.

Imagine being thrown out of an aeroplane and some guy in your headphones tells you not to give in the astonishment. This is impossible. You will panic and be very alarmed. Go down a giant water park slide and the first time you shoot off you shit yourself. The third time you feel more calm. So the more you do it the better you get. And it is the same with death and parachuting. Unfortunately for us, we only die once from this body. So how do we even begin to prepare for the after-death state the Tibetans say will happen?

You have to at least parachute a few times in your life to even get used to falling off an aeroplane, then you can practice keeping calm without the parachute! If you got pushed out of the plane and you've never parachuted in your life, you will panic!

In India they call the practice ‘spiritual sadhana’. You must do sadhana to prepare for the big occasion.

The parachuting lessons are a practice before the big fall. Buddhists say a good spiritual practice is like those parachute lessons. The more lessons, hopefully you'll be fine!

The Tibetans whisper into the ear of the corpse, to guide him through the chaotic states. In ancient times, the dead man did his spiritual sadhana while alive and he’s a better chance of being guided by the voice. So one who has done much practice in this life will hear the voice clearly and hopefully keep calm.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying is a good start.

If the Tibetan’s are right, then they must have somehow gotten this knowledge. In his introduction to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, near the end, as a throw away line, Jung asks whether the Tibetan’s somehow solved some riddle, and cracked into the fourth dimension. Jung here is making a personal, and to some obvious, but to most not interesting, observation.

Many a materialist, a scientist or a celebrity snake oil salesman will never take these questions seriously. They will dismiss anything they can’t see.
Here is a line from Goethe’s Faust:

"I see the learning in what you say.
What you don't touch, for you lies miles away
What you don't grasp, is wholly lost to you
What you don't reckon, you believe not true
What you don't weigh, this has for you no weight
What you don't count, you're sure is counterfeit".

Goethe is describing the mentality of the modern sceptic.

So C.G. Jung leaves the question with a sigh. It is too good to be true that the way the Egyptians mastered the pyramid the ancients near the Himalayas mastered the death states, if they even exist and there is no reason to believe that they do exist.

Even when we think of the sleeper and the corpse being in the same state. Both laying down, not moving. In fact they say that death is just going to sleep, so blank. But when we do go to sleep we dream. An observer standing over the sleeper only sees the body. When I wake up I report a crazy dream. How do we know the corpse is not dreaming? The Tibetan’s say that he corpse is dreaming. The only difference is that I wake up every morning and report my adventure and the corpse in this dream never wakes up again.
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on 9 December 2015
This is a very good book, a lot of good instructions. Dying is a process as living, but much shorter. That is what we should understand. We can have a right attitude towards death. But the moment of death reflects what we have practiced in whole life. I think it is hard to guide one who has never had spiritual practice in one's life to get liberation at the moment of death no matter how good the spiritual practitioner is.

The misleading parts are the waling of the persecution of Buddhism in twenty century and advocating the education of the dying process.

The severe storm that Buddhism had been through in twenty century was not only the persecution in the long history of the Buddhism. As in my limited reading, I have known so many insurmountable obstacles that the true Buddhist masters had been through. Bodhidharma, the first Patriarch, who was from India to China to teach Buddhism, had been poisoned six times. Hui Ko, the second Patriarch was beheaded because he was teaching Buddhism. Hui Neng, the sixth Patriarch was hiding sixteen years because many people wanted to kill him. In later Tang Dynasty in China, the Buddhism was persecuted to such a large scale that many temples and their possessions were confiscated. Many monks and nans were forced to live as lay people because the emperor was a Taoist. But there was a school called Lin Chi was striving. The emperor asked why this school was not closed. The answer was that if the Emperor wanted to close this school, the Emperor must go there and close it himself. Of course the Emperor could not face this true master. The Lin Chi school was continually striving. It had produced many enlightened beings. What is true, meant to be cannot be destroyed. Master Lin Chi was a strong tree who withstood that wild storm and protected those who wanted to liberate themselves. The strong storm of twenty century had blown down and blown away so many light spiritual figures. But there is one very strong figure, Hsu Yun (Empty Cloud) who stood firmly in that storming era. Several times he was beaten to death. He never said anything bad to his persecutors. You can find this from his autobiography – Empty Cloud : Autobiography of the Chinese Zen Master Hsu Yun.

A true master never advocates his teaching. He waits patiently for people coming to him. This book advocates that the dying process should be taught in every school. These are not the words coming from a spiritual master. Each individual are quite different. Some had sown the Dharma seed many lives ago and they reap it this life. Some may sow the Dharma seed in this life and reap it in future life. Some may not sow at all in this life or next, they may sow it in the future life. Spiritual masters will not force anyone to sow and to reap. They are there to help if anyone needs. They are like ocean, at the lowest position, any stream can flow to them. Shakyamuni put himself in a beggar’s position, so that anyone could sow a Dharma seed with him; anyone can reap one’s Dharma fruit in his teaching. Never an advocating was coming from him.
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on 3 September 2014
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying was a great read because it distilled into one book the wheel of life & death seen through the eyes of the Buddhist tradition from a sky high perspective. In a single book I found wisdom, knowledge and knowhow spanning all life's phases; for which I will take its wisdom & insight seriously. Ultimately this is about understanding our “opportunities” to become aware of the real nature of mind; both in life and in dying, so we may escape samsara/karmic rebirth. It’s not an easy read, so I read for 30-45 minutes most days after my meditation, to make light its assimilation.

This book is effectively split into 3 main parts; Living (impermanence, nature of mind, Bardos & other realities etc.), Dying (helping, practices for the dying & carers, its processes etc.), Death & Rebirth (Ground luminosity, intrinsic radiance, bardo of becoming etc.), and we are given wisdom, insight and practices for each of these parts. The penny dropping moment happened toward the end of the book when Sogyal pointed out more directly that the process of dying/death is not unlike the process of awakening in life. And that we are given numerous opportunities to awaken to the real nature of mind in both contexts. The trick being to be aware of these fleeting moments or doorways (& where they lurk); which seemed more cognitive than process driven for how we can practically realise this. What he doesn’t explain is why the universe conspired to veil us in ignorance and amnesia so we may live this paradoxical irony of suffering called life, with hidden windows for revelatory escape or reawakening. Part of Universal evolution (creation) I guess.

I really appreciated the insight from Sogyal on meditation – and you can tell he really knows the process, which was helpful and practically instructive. He also taught me where to focus my prayers – for the suffering of others and in their death/dying, and the sort of words I might use. I was inspired by his sense of caring, compassion and wisdom in helping people to die, and he is clearly someone who takes this aspect of his life seriously. As a veterinarian who euthanized a lot of life and helped people make and manage those decisions, I empathise with the dying and the human grieving process. It has always been my view that our western societies poorly equip us for life/dying/death, and helping those face their death anxieties, and their underlying existential crisis. So I for one take my hat off to Sogyal for boldly addressing this vitally needed topic of discussion!

My view is this book and its underlying Buddhist faith miss important parts of this mind revelation process, and most folk cannot practically live the life of the mystic/ascetic who dedicate(d) their lives to the Buddhist process for mind transformation. How do we predictably, repeatedly and practically access altered states of consciousness so we may become aware of the real nature of mind? No religion or spiritual faith ever teaches us how to access these states of consciousness with a high degree of efficacy in this life time; and this book is no different. Instead what is espoused are the relic-remnants of ancient methods & processes; written in sacred texts hundreds of years after the death of its mystic founder (i.e. Buddha, Christ), which few will ever realise/attain. This for me is a big caution in following blindly - which is my caution for this book. In my view it’s missing the real practical process for how Buddha accessed altered states of consciousness. When i view Buddhist art i see embedded sacred ritual process know-how, just as other ancient world religions did: Realised Buddha + Meditation + Sacred time + Entheogen symbols. Those lovely pink flowers (lotuses) provide dopamine agonists after some metabolic tinkering (atherospermine) and these are known entheogens (hallucinogen). Ancient world originating religions/spiritual faiths utilized formal processes for accessing altered states of consciousness (ASC), and we lost these to the ravages of time. ASC is humankind's biologically enabled 4th state of consciousness; and its there for the accessing. Sacredly timed meditation combined with entheogens, and perhaps applying geomancy principles (alignments to earths magnetic axis), is how you reveal the true nature of mind and help people manage their death anxieties in this lifetime – in my view! Only for the few will meditation & insight alone work.

So I do highly recommend this book and will read it again for sure. If you wish to know a little more on Ritual Meditation™ please read its background in Sun God Sacred Secrets or visit my blog at www.carltonbrownv47.com, read Sun God Sacred Secrets: The Archaeology, Art & Science of Ancient World Religions (http://tinyurl.com/phoj3hj) or view the book trailer http://youtu.be/LRndS9pN3VQ
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on 13 March 2013
This is a spiritual book, a hardback copy of which I have by my bed. This is the kind of book one might well have near one through life. I recently gave two friends copies (by post) and only by chance discovered how awful the quality of this edition is. The print is tiny, almost illegible, on cheap paper, very cheaply bound. It has the appearance of being produced "on demand" by computer, or being the kind of pirated copy one might find on the streets of Delhi. The publishers should be ashamed of themselves (I certainly felt ashamed in front of my friends) producing something so shoddy, with no respect for the noble content.
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on 4 March 2003
I disagree with the above review. You don't have to be close to someone who has died for this book to be of benefit. I was initially put off by the title, thinking it morbid, but what this book taught me was that we will all die sooner or later, so we better start dealing with it. Once I started to realise this it was a tremendously freeing feeling, which allowed me to live more in the present moment and make the most of my live. This book has had a huge impact on my life and if you have never considered your impermeance then it will help you enormously.
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on 30 October 2002
The wider implications of the Tibetian book of the dead are explained in this inspiring, beautiful book. Written by a master of the Dzogchen school, the Tibetian Book of Living and Dying gives us an incredible view of life and death. Most importantly, it asks us to consider wisely, what will happen at the time of our death, and when those close to us die. It also offers advice for looking after the dying, and stresses the importance of peace at such times.
An extremely valuable book, if you can take the advice and wisdom to heart, it may well be priceless.
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on 1 June 2003
Of all the books I have ever read, this is the only one that changed my life. I read this book twice and continue to refer to it because I am now taking courses at the Rigpa (Buddhist) Center. Anyone who is curious about Buddhist teachings will find this book very valuable. For people who are more serious about finding meaning in life and lasting happiness, it is extremely helpful.
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on 25 July 2010
I have had this book on my shelf for a while now, and i have drawn much inspiration from the first half of the book. The first half covers different ideas such as how to reframe death and give it a positive place in our lives, how to understand karma, meditation, how to rest in the nature of mind free of grasping and aversion, and much more. I have used many of the ideas contained in this section to life changing effect, and if it wasn't for the second half of the book, I would have given the book a resounding 5 stars.

The second section of the book seems to fall into esoteric doctrines saved only for the hardcore practitioner of Buddhism (Dzogchen etc). Much of the second half of the book is interspersed with 'don't try this at home' type comments, and suggesting that you need a guru and a master to practice and to be properly introduced to the nature of your own mind. For a book supposedly written by Sogyal Rinpoche, acclaimed for introducing Tibetan Buddhism to the west, I found this section to be quite alienating and of very little or no practical relevence (unless you plan on becoming a hardened Buddhist, packing up this life and living in the Tibetan mountains with the goats.).

For me, the book retains some considerable value, as, for the most part, the book is inspiring and introduces the reader to many interesting key concepts of Buddhism. Think of it as a kind of an encyclopedia of Buddhism. A must have for anyone interested in spirituality, but perhaps not entirely relevant.
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on 22 September 2011
This is a book that was hyped by Harper Collins. That is not a criticism - simply a statement of fact. In that way the book is like `Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance'. Many people seem to have found `The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying' valuable - and supportive with respect to personal experiences of loss and bereavement. It is obviously beneficial that people have been helped in this way. What is not beneficial about the book is the errors it contains. The book is a compilation of a decade or more of the author's talks. These talks were transcribed and edited by Andrew Harvey, a well known author. Andrew Harvey not only edited the book but was responsible for re-writing it to a large extent. Therein lies, maybe, the problem. Andrew Harvey is more familiar with Hinduism than Buddhism - and was therefore not conversant with the fact that Buddhism is not a theistic religion. The book abounds with theistic / monistic errors. The section on Dzogchen is particularly problematic and a reader would be far better served by reading Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche's book `The Crystal and the Way of Light' as it is error free. These errors would not be noticed by an appreciative yet uninformed public - and that has accounted largely for the popularity of `The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying'. I cannot say whether these errors are due to the author or to the editor. I would not recommend this book. I would recommend the works of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche - as these are entirely without errors and deal with Buddhism in dynamic contemporary English. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's books are all based on single seminars - rather than being compilations of a great many talks. They have only received light editing and represent Buddhism at its most profound. `The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying' cannot really be said to accomplish that end - even in the title. Living and dying are not the traditional pairing in Vajrayana Buddhism. It is birth and death rather than life and death - because the thread--tantra--runs through the continuum of birth and death.
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