THE TIBETAN BOOK OF THE DEAD
DEATH AND INTERMEDIATE STATESW.Y. Evans-Wentz
(translator and editor), The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Oxford,
3rd ed.; 1957), pp. 90-2, 95-7, 101-4
"Dr. Evans-Wentz, who literally
sat at the feet of a Tibetan lama for years, in order to acquire his
wisdom... not only displays a deeply sympathetic interest in those
esoteric doctrines so characteristic of the genius of the East, but
likewise possesses the rare faculty of making them more or less
intelligible to the layman." [Quoted from a book review in Anthropology
on the back of the Oxford University Press edition of The Tibetan Book
of the Dead.]
Bardo Thodol, 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead,' is a guide for the
dead and dying. The first part, called Chikhai Bardo, describes
the moment of death. The second part, Chonyid Bardo, deals with
the states which supervene immediately after death. The third part,
Sidpa Bardo, concerns the onset of the birth instinct and of
When the expiration hath ceased, the vital-force will have sunk into
the nerve-centre of Wisdom 1
and the Knower 2
will be experiencing the Clear Light of the natural condition 3.
Then the vital force, being thrown backwards and flying downwards
through the right and left nerves 4
the Intermediate State (Bardo) momentarily dawns.
The above [directions] should be applied before [the vital force
hath] rushed into the left nerve [after first having traversed the navel
The time [ordinarily necessary for this motion of the vital-force] is
as long as the inspiration is still present, or about the time required
for eating a meal.
Then the manner of application [ of the instructions ] is:
When the breathing is about to cease, it is best if the Transference
hath been applied efficiently; if [the application] hath been
ineffident, then [address the deceased] thus:
0 nobly-born [so and so by name], the time hath now come for thee to
seek the Path [in reality]. Thy breathing is about to cease. Thy guru
hath set thee face to face before with the Clear Light; and now thou art
about to experience in its Reality in the Bardo state, wherein all
things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless
intellect is like unto a transparent vacuum without circumference or
centre. At this moment, know thou thyself-, and abide in that state. 1,
too, at this time, am setting thee face to face.
Having read this, repeat it many times in the ear of the person
dying, even before the expiration hath ceased, so as to impress it on
the mind [of the dying one].
If the expiration is about to cease, turn the dying one over on the
right side, which posture is called the 'Lying Posture of a Lion.' The
throbbing of the arteries [on the right and left side of the throat] is
to be pressed.
If the person dying be disposed to sleep, or if the sleeping state
advances, that should be arrested, and the arteries pressed gently but
firmly. Thereby the vital-force will not be able to return from the
median-nerve and will be sure to pass out through the Brahmanic
Now the real setting-face-to-face is to be applied.
At this moment, the first glimpsing of the Bardo of the Clear Light
of Reality, which is the Infallible Mind of the Dharma-Kaya, is
experienced by all sentient beings.
After the expiration hath completely ceased, press the nerves of
sleep firmly; and, a lama, or a person higher or more learned than
thyself, impress in these words, thus:
Reverend Sir, now that thou art experiencing the Fundamental Clear
Light, try to abide in that state which now thou art experiencing.
And also in the case of any other person the reader shall set him
0 nobly-born [so-and-so], listen. Now thou art experiencing the
Radiance of the Clear Light of Pure Reality. Recognize it. 0 nobly-born,
thy present intellect, in real nature void, not formed into anything as
regards characteristics or colour, naturally void, is the very Reality,
Thine own intellect, which is now voidness, yet not to be regarded as
of the voidness of nothingness, but as being the intellect itself,
unobstructed, shining, thrilling, and blissful, is the very
consciousness, the All-good Buddha.
Thine own consciousness, not formed into anything, in reality void,
and the intellect, shining and blissful,-these two,-are inseparable. The
union of them is the Dharma-Kaya state of Perfect Enlightenment.6
Thine own consciousness, shining, void, and inseparable from the
Great Body of Radiance, hath no birth, nor death, and is the Immutable
Knowing this is sufficient. Recognizing the voidness of thine own
intellect to be Buddhahood, and looking upon it as being thine own
consciousness, is to keep thyself in the [state of the] divine mind of
Repeat this distinctly and dearly three or [even] seven times. That
will recall to the mind [of the dying one] the former [i.e. when living]
setting-face-to-face by the guru. Secondly, it will cause the naked
consciousness to be recognized as the Clear Light; and, thirdly,
recognizing one's own self [thus], one becometh permanently united with
the Dharma-Kaya and liberation will be certain.
[if when dying, one is familiar with this state, the wheel of rebirth
is stopped and liberation is instantaneously achieved. But such
spiritual efficiency is so very rare that the normal mental condition of
the dying person is unequal to the supreme feat of holding on to the
state in which the Clear Light shines. There follows a progressive
descent into lower and lower states of the Bardo existence, and finally
rebirth. immediately after the first state of Chikhai Bardo comes the
second stage, when the consciousness-principle leaves the body and says
to itself. 'Am I dead, or am I not dead?' without being able to
But even though the Primary Clear Light be not recognized, the Clear
Light of the second Bardo being recognized, Liberation will be attained.
If not liberated even by that, then that called the third Bardo or the
Chonyid Bardo dawneth.
In this third stage of the Bardo, the karmic illusions come to shine.
It is very important that this Great setting-face-to-face of the Chonyid
Bardo be read: it hath much power and can do much good.
About this time [the deceased] can see that the share of food is
being set aside, that the body is being stripped of its garments, that
the place of the sleeping-rug is being swept; 7
can hear all the weeping and wailing of his friends and relatives, and,
although he can see them and can hear them calling upon him, they cannot
hear him calling upon them, so he goeth away displeased.
At that time, sounds, lights, and rays-all three-are experienced.
These awe, frighten, and terrify, and cause much fatigue. At this
moment, this setting-face-to-face with the Bardo [during the
experiencing] of Reality is to be applied. Call the deceased by name,
and correctly and distinctly explain to him, as follows:
0 nobly-born, listen with full attention, without being distracted:
There are six states of Bardo, namely: the natural state of Bardo while
in the womb; the Bardo of the dream-state; the Bardo of ecstatic
equilibrium, while in deep meditation; the Bardo of the moment of death;
the Bardo [during the experiencing] of Reality, the Bardo of the inverse
process of samsaric existence. These are the six.
0 nobly-born, thou wilt experience three Bardos, the Bardo of the
moment of death, the Bardo [during the experiencing] of Reality, and the
Bardo while seeking rebirth. Of these three, up to yesterday, thou hadst
experienced the Bardo of the moment of death. Although the Clear Light
of Reality dawned upon thee, thou wert unable to hold on, and so thou
hast to wander here. Now henceforth thou art going to experience the
[other] two, the Chonyid Bardo and the Sidpa Bardo.8
wilt pay undistracted attention to that with which I am about to set
thee face to face, and hold on;
0 nobly-born, that which is called death hath now come. Thou art
departing from this world, but thou art not the only one; [death] cometh
to all. Do not cling, in fondness and weakness, to this life. Even
though thou clingest out of weakness, thou hast not the power to remain
here. Thou wilt gain nothing more than wandering in this Samsara. 9
Be not attached [to this world]; be not weak. Remember the Precious
0 nobly-born, whatever fear and terror may come to thee in the
Chonyid Bardo, forget not these words; and, bearing their meaning at
heart, go forwards: in them lieth the vital secret of recognition:
Alas! when the Uncertain Experiencing of Reality is dawning upon me
With every thought of fear or terror or awe for all [apparitional
appearances] set aside,
May I recognize whatever [visions] appear, as the reflections of mine
May I know them to be of the nature of apparitions in the Bardo: When
at this all-important moment [of opportunity] of achieving a great end.
May I not fear the bands of Peaceful and Wrathful [Deities], mine own
Repeat thou these [verses] dearly, and remembering their significance
as thou repeatest them, go forwards, [O nobly-born]. Thereby, whatever
visions of awe or terror appear, recognition is certain; and forget not
this vital secret art lying therein.
0 nobly-born, when thy body and mind were separating, thou must have
experienced a glimpse Of the Pure Truth, subtle, sparkling, bright
dazzling, glorious, and radiantly awesome, in appearance like a mirage
moving across a landscape in spring-time in one continuous stream of
vibrations. Be not daunted thereby, nor terrified, nor awed. That is the
radiance of thine own true nature. Recognize it.
From the midst of that radiance, the natural sound of Reality,
reverberating like a thousand thunders simultaneously sounding, will
come. That is the natural sound of thine own real self. Be not daunted
thereby, nor terrified, nor awed.
The body, which thou hast now is called the thought-body of
Since thou hast not a material body of flesh and blood, whatever may
come,-sounds, lights, or rays,-are, all three, unable to harm thee: thou
art incapable of dying. It is quite sufficient for thee to know that
these apparitions are thine own thought-forms. Recognize this to be the
0 nobly-born, if thou dost not now recognize thine own thoughtforms,
whatever of meditation or of devotion thou mayest have performed while
in the human world-if thou hast not met with this present teaching-the
lights will daunt thee, the sounds will awe thee, and the rays will
terrify thee. Shouldst thou not know this an important key to the
teachings,-not being able to recognize the sounds, lights, and
rays,-thou wilt have to wander in the Samsara.
1 The 'nerve-centres' are the 'psychic
centres' (cakra). The 'nerve-centre of wisdom' is located in the
2 'Knower,' i.e. the mind in its knowing
3 The mind in its natural, or primal, state.
4 That is, the 'psychic nerves,'
pingala-nadi and ida-nadi.
5 Brahmarandhra, the fissure on the top of
the cranium identified with sutura frontalis.
6 From the union of the two states of mind,
or consciousness, is born the state of Perfect Enlightenment,
Buddhahood. The Dharma-Kaya ('Body of Truth') symbolizes the purest and
the highest state of being, a state of supramundane consciousness.
7 The references are (1) to the share of
food being set aside for the deceased during the funeral rites; (2) to
his corpse being prepared for the shroud; (3) to his bed or
8 The Chonyid Bardo is the intermediate
state during the experiencing of Reality. The Sidpa Bardo represents the
state wherein the deceased is seeking rebirth.
9 Samsara, the universal becoming.
10 That is, the Buddha, the Dharma (=the
Law, the Doctrine), the Samgha (the entire community of monks and
11 'Thought-body' or 'mind-body' born of
the past worldly existence.
Book of the Dead
Verses of the Bardo
Book of the Dead
Book of the Dead