“The Tibetan Book of the Dead” refers to the “Bardo Thodol” which translates to Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State, a funerary text intended to guide one through the experiences that the consciousness has after death, during the interval between death and the next rebirth. These texts also includes chapters on the signs of death, and rituals to undertake when death is closing in, or has taken place. It has been handed down through the centuries in several versions covering a wide range of subjects, including the dzogchen view (innate intelligence or intrinsic awareness which all beings possess), meditation instructions, visualizations of deities, liturgies and prayers, lists of mantras, descriptions of the signs of death, and indications of future rebirth, as well as those that are actually concerned with the after-death state.
The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State is recited by Tibetan Buddhist lamas over a dying or recently deceased person. These texts differentiate the intermediate state between lives into six bardos:
- The “bardo of the moment of death”, which features the experience of the “clear light of reality”.
- The “bardo of the experiencing of reality”, which features the experience of visions of various Buddha forms.
- The “bardo of rebirth”, which features karmically impelled hallucinations which eventually result in rebirth.
- The “bardo of life”, or ordinary waking consciousness.
- The “bardo of dhyana”, meditation.
- The “bardo of dream”, the dream state during normal sleep.
Together these six bardos form a classification of states of consciousness into six broad types. Any state of consciousness can form a type of “intermediate state”, intermediate between other states of consciousness. Indeed, one can consider any momentary state of consciousness a bardo, since it lies between our past and future existences; it provides us with the opportunity to experience reality, which is always present but obscured by the projections and confusions that are due to our previous unskillful actions.
One can perhaps attempt to compare the descriptions of the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State with accounts of certain “out of the body” near-death experiences (NDE) 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.
Death is real, it comes without warning and it cannot be escaped. An ancient source of strength and guidance, The Tibetan Book of the Dead remains an essential teaching in the Buddhist cultures of the Himalayas. Narrated by Leonard Cohen, this enlightening series explores the sacred text and boldly visualizes the afterlife according to its profound wisdom.
The Great Liberation follows an old lama and his novice monk as they guide a Himalayan villager into the afterlife using readings from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The souls 49-day journey towards rebirth is envisioned through actual photography of rarely seen Buddhist rituals, interwoven with groundbreaking animation by internationally acclaimed filmmaker Ishu Patel.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead – The Great Liberation – Part 1
The Tibetan Book of the Dead – The Great Liberation – Part 2
The Tibetan Book of the Dead – The Great Liberation – Part 3
The Tibetan Book of the Dead – The Great Liberation – Part 4
The Tibetan Book of the Dead – The Great Liberation – Part 5