The Tibetan Book of the Dead, also known as “Bardo Thodol” or “The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State,” is a foundational source for Buddhist understandings of the afterlife. The earliest versions of The Tibetan Book of the Dead trace back to an Indian Buddhist master called Padmasambhava. Padmasambhava lived in the 8th century and is widely venerated as a second Buddha across Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Himalayan states of India. His insights into the afterlife (and the purpose of life) were written down by his primary student, Yeshe Tsogyal. After being lost for centuries, The Tibetan Book of the Dead was re-discovered in the 14th century in the Gampo hills in central Tibet by a Buddhist monk named Karma Lingpa. Over the centuries, the revered book evolved into several different versions. In 1927, one version was published by Dr. Walter Y. Evans-Went by Oxford University Press. In 1967 another version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead was published by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass).
According to Wikipedia, The Tibetan Book of the Dead “describes, and is intended to guide one through, the experiences that the consciousness has after death, in the bardo, the interval between death and the next rebirth. The text also includes chapters on the signs of death and rituals to undertake when death is closing in or has taken place.”
It’s important to note that The Tibetan Book of the Dead is based on the insights of one man. While it contains ideas that are echoed in modern-day near-death experiences, the thousands of NDE accounts that are available today go far deeper into the mysteries of life, death, and the afterlife, than any ancient manuscript. Not only do the sheer number of modern accounts, from all over the world, offer more depth, breadth, and practical insight than ancient sources of knowledge, but today’s NDE accounts also come to us directly from the people who experienced them. They are not (for the most part) being passed on as oral traditions or being filtered through large numbers of interpreters over the course of hundreds or thousands of years.
To learn more about the purpose of life according to near-death experiences, go here.
To learn more about hellish and distressing near-death experiences, go here.
To learn more about The Tibetan Book of the Dead, go here:
The Tibetan Book of the Dead (pdf version)
Bardo Thodol (Wikikpedia)
Tibetan Book of the Dead (Wikipedia)
To learn more about current past life research, go here.
To learn more about other direct, modern-day windows into the afterlife, go here:
To learn more about the differences between near-death experiences and spiritual traditions that believe “enlightenment” or “awakening from the dream of life” is the goal of life, go here:
What Near-Death Experiences Teach Us by David Sunfellow
Rethinking Buddhism: A New Way To View Suffering by David Sunfellow
The Three Faces of God by David Sunfellow
Loving Personhood Or Liberation From Personhood? by Robert Perry
Jesus, Near-Death Experiences, and Religion by David Sunfellow
The Purpose of Life, Jesus & NDEs by David Sunfellow
Related Links & Books:
A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir
By Samuel Bercholz
Take a trip through the realms of hell with a man whose temporary visitor’s pass gave him a horrifying — and enlightening — preview of its torments. This true account of Sam Bercholz’s near-death experience has more in common with Dante’s Inferno than it does with any of the popular feel-good stories of what happens when we die. In the aftermath of heart surgery, Sam, a longtime Buddhist practitioner and teacher, is surprised to find himself in the lowest realms of karmic rebirth, where he is sent to gain insight into human suffering. Under the guidance of a luminous being, Sam’s encounters with a series of hell-beings trapped in repetitious rounds of misery and delusion reveal to him how an individual’s own habits of fiery hatred and icy disdain, of grasping desire and nihilistic ennui, are the source of horrific agonies that pound consciousness for seemingly endless cycles of time. Comforted by the compassion of a winged goddess and sustained by the kindness of his Buddhist teachers, Sam eventually emerges from his ordeal with renewed faith that even the worst hell contains the seed of wakefulness. His story is offered, along with the modernist illustrations of a master of Tibetan sacred arts, in order to share what can be learned about awakening from our own self-created hells and helping others to find relief and liberation from theirs.
Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth: A Tibetan Buddhist Guidebook
By Tulku Thondup
Buddhism teaches that death can be a springboard to enlightenment — yet for all but the most advanced meditators, it will be the gateway to countless future lives of suffering in samsara. Tulku Thondup wrote this guide to help us heal our fear and confusion about death and strengthen our practice in anticipation of this transition, and to help us realize the enlightened goal of ultimate peace and joy — not only for death and rebirth, but for this very lifetime. In simple language, he distills a vast range of sources, including scriptures, classic commentaries, oral teachings, and firsthand accounts. The book includes:
• An overview of the dying process, the after-death bardo states, and teachings on why, where, and how we take rebirth
• Accounts by Tibetan “near-death experiencers” (delogs), who returned from death with amazing reports of their visions
• Ways to train our minds during life, so that at death, all the phenomena before us will arise as a world of peace, joy, and enlightenment
• Simple meditations, prayers, and rituals to benefit the dead and dying
• Advice for caregivers, helpers, and survivors of the dying
This edition includes an audio program providing guided instructions by the author on how to visualize Amitabha Buddha in the Pure Realm; how to receive his blessings; how to visualize transforming your body into light and sound at the time of death; how to share the blessings with compassion for all sentient beings; and how to rest in oneness. By becoming intimate with this practice while we’re alive, we can alleviate our fear of death, improve our appreciation of this life, and prepare for death in a very practical way, while planting the seeds for rebirth in the Pure Land.