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The Tibetan Book of the Dead  has made been an interesting appearance in popular culture over the past couple years. I think many people fear death because of not understanding it. People want to know what happens after death, so a book like the Tibetan Book of the Dead naturally becomes a source of curiosity. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is well known for describing in detail the sometimes pleasant and other times horrifying visions that are described during the transition time between death and the next life, know as the bardo.

My first exposure to this book actually came through one of my favorite rap artists when I was in high school. I went through a list of books that 2pac Shakur read while he was in highschool, books that he read during his leisure time. The Tibetan Book of the Dead was one of the books that he read. In his songs, he constantly made allusions to his only fear of death was being reincarnated. In a funny indirect way, that put the book on my radar.

Timothy Leary and the Psychadelic Experiece

The Tibetan Book of the Dead was also popularized in part because of Timothy Leary and his book The Psychadelic Experience from the 60’s. His claim was that the pleasant and terrifing experiences of the intermeditate state or the bardo, could be experienced through an LSD acid trip. I think this helped spin this whole idea that one could gain spiritual attainments and understandings through drugs, which still pervades today.

The problem of course, with this theory, is that drugs affect the physical process of the brain. Even though the mind is dependent on the brain, the mind, especially the subtle mind, is not of the same substance as the brain, so it doesn’t matter how many drugs someone takes, they won’t trigger realizations that occur at the most subtle level of the mind.

Bardo Is Not Cultural

The bardo, or the intermeditate state between death and our next rebirth, I don’t think is focused on by all traditions of Buddhism, but it is emphasized by Tibetan Buddhism. This isn’t merely a cultural thing either, because Tibetan Buddhism takes its root from the great indian monastic university traditions of Nalanda and Vikramashila. Its my belief that bardo has special emphasis in these traditions because these traditions practice tantra. Tantra works with the most sublte mind, and its believed that if one doesn’t attain liberation or even enlightenment in this life, one can attain it in the bardo through tantric practices if one has properly trained the mind. So the bardo is like the great gateway for many people.

The Great Doorway

I heard a geshe once say that the death process and bardo is like a door; it can either open to the happiness of liberation or even full enlightenment, or it opens the door to samsara, rebirth and more suffering.

I found this interesting documentary, titled The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation. In this documentary, a monk reads scripture by the same name, to a dying man. He describes the intermeditate state, or the bardo experience and helps guide him into his next rebirth.

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