The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the category “Tibetan Buddhism”

Tibetan Book of the Dead




Dear Readers,

I stumbled upon this the other day —  a documentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, narrated by Leonard Cohen.  (As regular readers know,  I have been a huge fan of his since I bought his first album in 1967. I played it on my crappy record player until it wore through to the other side. When I was in my early 20’s, I literally stalked him to Hydra, Greece,  where he was living with Marianne. I did manage to meet him. He was, as always, very gracious.)

His is the perfect voice for this.  As I’m sure many of you already know, he, himself, became a Buddhist monk later in his life. But enough about Leonard Cohen (at least  for the moment!)

This film explains the Tibetan religious view of what happens to the consciousness/soul after death.   It seems that most of what I’ve been channeling and posting in this blog is very much in keeping with this philosophy.  The only place we diverge in belief is how quickly people are reincarnated.  I feel that newly crossed souls sometimes have to wait for other spirits to arrive on the other side,  in order to be reincarnated with them.  But that’s just MY belief.  I’m sure not going to tell the Dalai Lama what to believe 🙂

Back in 1987, I traveled in Tibet and Nepal.  I fellow traveler and I were visiting a monastery, hanging out and chatting with the monks who were as interested in us as we were in them.   It soon became time for a daily prayer session with all the monks, led by the abbot.  While Tibetan pilgrims were allowed to stay in the room, Westerners are generally asked to leave. My companion, a very charming Spanish guy, finagled a way for us to stay and observe.  I feel extremely fortunate to have witnessed and heard this.

The abbot began with a deep sonorous OM, which resonated throughout the large, painted wooden room,  seemingly rising up from the depths of the earth.  It went on for longer than any breath I could hold.  I’d never heard anything like it before or since.   All the monks joined him in wave after wave of OM.  Afterwards, some young monks came around and offered pilgrims (and us) some tsampa (roasted barley mixed with salted yak butter). (I guess it’s an acquired taste. I found it inedible. But I was grateful for the offer.)

Many pilgrims make their way across the breadth of Tibet, prostrating themselves, every few steps.  It’s a grueling journey and may take months or even years.  They are fed by the monks at monasteries along the way.  I passed many of them in my travels. To witness such devotion is humbling.

Watching this video,  I can easily recall the scent rancid yak butter candles which burn everywhere.  It’s a smell that imbues everything in Tibet — every place and every person. It’s not immediately pleasant to the western nose, but it quickly grows on you, as it mingles with pleasant memories of happy, kind, generous, and devoted people.


Here are the  The Root Verses of the Six Betweens from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, translated by Robert Thurman, pp 115-116, Bantam Books, New York ©1994

These Root Verses summarize the six betweens, each verse formulating the insights and resolves that are keys to the successful redirection of each being away from the continuing life-cycle between, toward liberation and enlightenment.

Hey! Now when life between dawns upon me, I will abandon laziness, as life has no more time, Unwavering, enter the path of learning, thinking, and meditating, And taking perceptions and mind as path, I will realize the Three Bodies of enlightenment! This once that I have obtained the human body Is not the time to stay on the path of distractions.

Hey! Now when the dream between dawns upon me, I will give up corpselike sleeping in delusion, And mindfully enter unwavering, the experience of reality. Conscious of dreaming, I will enjoy the changes as clear light. Not sleeping mindlessly like an animal, I will cherish the practice merging sleep and realization!

Hey! Now when the meditation between dawns upon me, I will abandon the host of distracting errors, Focus in extreme-free experience, without releasing or controlling, And achieve stability in the creation and perfection stages! Giving up busyness, now one pointed in meditation, I won’t surrender to the power of erroneous addictions!

Hey! Now when the death-point between dawns upon me, I will give up the preoccupations of the all-desiring mind, Enter unwavering, the experience of the clarity of the precepts, And transmigrate into the birthless space of inner awareness; About to lose this created body of flesh and blood, I will realize it to be impermanent illusion!

Hey! Now when the reality between dawns upon me, I will let go of the hallucinations of instinctive terror, Enter the recognition of all objects as my mind’s own visions, And understand this as the pattern of perception in the between; Come to this moment, arrived at this most critical cessation, I will not fear my own visions of deities mild and fierce!

Hey! Now when the existence between dawns upon me, I will hold my will with mind one-pointed, And increased forcefully the impulse of positive evolution; Blocking the womb door, I will remember to be revulsed. Now courage and positive perception are essential; I will give up and be, and contemplate all couples As my Spiritual Mentor, Father and Mother.

“With my mind it distracted and never thinking, ‘Death is coming,’ To slave away on the pointless business of mundane life, And then to come out empty—- it is a tragic error. Recognition of necessity is the holy teaching of the gods, So won’t you live this divine truth from now on?” These are the words of the great adepts. If you don’t put the Mentor’s precept in your mind, Won’t you be the one who deceives yourself?


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