10 June 2008

The Book of the Dead

The Bardo Thodol, sometimes translated as Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate State, is a funerary text. It is often referred to in the West by the more casual title, "Tibetan Book of the Dead", a name which draws a parallel with the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, another funerary text which is also known as "The Book of Coming/Going Forth By Day". The book of the dead was a description of the ancient Egyptian conception of the afterlife and a collection of hymns, spells, and instructions to allow the deceased to pass through obstacles in the afterlife. The book of the dead was most commonly written on a papyrus scroll and placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the deceased..

The Tibetan text describes, and is intended to guide one through, the experiences that the consciousness has after death, during the interval between death and the next rebirth. This interval is known in Tibetan as the bardo. The text also includes chapters on the signs of death, and rituals to undertake when death is closing in, or has taken place. It is the most internationally famous and widespread work of Tibetan Nyingma literature.

One can perhaps attempt to compare the descriptions of the Bardo Thodol with accounts of certain "out of the body" near-death experiences described by people who have nearly died in accidents or on the operating table. These accounts sometimes mention a "white light", and helpful figures corresponding to that person's religious tradition. The closest Christian "Book of the Dead" would be "The Soul After Death", a comprehensive presentation of the 2,000-year-old experience of ancient Christianity regarding the existence of the other world, addressing contemporary "after-death" and "out-of-body" experiences, the teachings of traditional Oriental religions and those of more recent occult societies.
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