The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a Buddhist guide for those facing death. It is intended to be read aloud to the dying or recently deceased to assist them in attaining liberation from the wheel of karma. The book is believed to have been written by Padma Sambhava in the 8th century A.D. Sambhava was likely one of the first individuals to bring Buddhism to Tibet.
“Keep Calm and Expect Nirvana!”
The actual full title of the book is “The Great Liberation Upon Hearing in the Intermediate State” – which is considerably less ominous than its more commonly-known title. The overall message and theme of the book is “Don’t Panic!” We will all face death eventually, and this book functions as a guide to “dying well.”
Following death, the soul can become confused due to no longer being inside of a body. With guidance and awareness at this crucial time, however, liberation and Enlightenment are possible. Sambhava wrote The Tibetan Book of the Dead to function as a tool for recognizing and realizing the nature of mind so that liberation from reincarnation can be attained.
It’s All in Your Mind
After we die, our conscious awareness creates its own reality as if in a dream (just as we do in life, Buddhists and quantum physicists would argue.) According to the book, this post-death reality creation occurs in phases called “bardos,” which can be both wonderful and terrifying. Visions and deities both peaceful and frightening may appear.
Just as in life, free will continues after death. Heavenly realms are available if we expect them, tune into them – and ultimately create them. If the recently deceased vibrates with lower realms, the cycle of rebirth and reincarnation will continue. Even if Nirvana was not attained in life, it can be achieved in death through resonance with Heavenly dimensions.
Some of the language and imagery in The Tibetan Book of the Dead is quite ghastly. Apparently, some apparitions “drink blood and consume the entrails of corpses.” You could encounter Yama, who might eat your brains – and then the rest of you. However, the reader is reminded that since you won’t have a body anymore, none of this can happen, so there’s nothing to fear.
Heaven is Here
Some of the apparitions will be huge, according to the book, and may appear as tiger’s heads, vultures, bats, crocodiles or scorpions. However, no matter what appears, the book advises the reader to remember that it will all be in your mind. You’re creating it all, and just as in a lucid dream, you can change it at any time.
While filled with folklore and frightening imagery, The Tibetan Book of the Dead parallels key Buddhist teachings including the emptiness of all forms and the insubstantial nature of the mind. Ultimately, The Tibetan Book of the Dead teaches that if we take control of the dream-like visions our minds create, we can indeed create Paradise both in this world and the next.