Tibetan Book of the Living Dead

Reading Time: 3 minutes

For this special Halloween installment of Karma and Meg, I was just going to copy and paste the script of a Halloween episode of Dharma and Greg, but apparently there are these wacky laws that prevent me from doing so. With my hopes of providing you with hilarious Dharma and Greg entertainment crushed, I figure I will instead provide you with insightful Tibetan Book of the Dead information instead. Why Tibetan Book of the Dead? Because it sounds a little bit like Night of the Living Dead, and Night of the Living Dead is Halloween-ish and this is a Halloween issue and I wanted to fit in something Eastern related since the name of this column is Karma and Meg and I thought, “Why not write about the Tibetan Book of the Dead?” and then I thought I was going insane, but then I realized it was just because I had a 24-ounce of coffee from Will’s Pit Stop, plus a five-hour energy shot I found at the bottom of my purse. Anyway, less talk about extreme caffeine abuse, more talk about ancient Tibetan texts.

Although the West refers to it as the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the overall name of the cycle is Profound Dharma of Self-Realization Through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones. For the sake of space, I will call it the Tibetan Book of the Dead (TBD) in this article. For centuries, this text was passed down orally. In the eighth century an Indian sage Guru named Padmasambhava finally wrote it down.

The TBD is essentially a guide for the dead during the state in between death and rebirth. In Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia, a Lama will often recite the book to the dying. They do this in order to help them understand the death experience and to help them attain enlightenment, or at least a positive rebirth.

The book may sound a bit unnerving and spooky, but it doesn’t have to be. The TBD can be viewed strictly as a funerary text or it can be used as an insightful guide to liberated living. For example, death comes to us all and happens around us constantly. Perhaps it takes form in the ending of a relationship, the changing of the seasons, or the molding of that pizza you forgot about under your couch. By letting go of attachment and recognizing the impermanence in all things, one can free themselves from the fear and uncertainty that change brings about.

The different states of consciousness in the after-death state that are described in the TBD include various visions of Tibetan gods and demons. The text tells one to not be seduced or frightened by any of these deities, but instead to view the experiences as one’s own psychological projections. Taking a look into one’s own mind and what personal gods and demons reside there is, to put it extremely lightly, terrifying. Yet understanding the root of one’s cravings and evasions is a giant step towards letting go of the ego and attaining enlightenment.

Well, the time has come where I have run out of room. I don’t think I even need to point this out, but this was a very quick and, frankly, lacking look at the TBD. I had to leave many things out and was not able to delve deeper into the significance of the ancient text. I implore you (yes, “implore”) to do further research on the TBD and the ideas behind it.

Oh, and if you are in a bit of an experimental mood, check out the 1964 manual based on the TBD called The Psychedelic Experience written by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert. It’s a pretty far-out manual, maaan, but the ideas expressed in the TBD are more closely relevant to your own life than you may think.

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