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Bardo Thodol

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Bardo Thodol
Tibetan name
Tibetan: བར་དོ་ཐོས་གྲོལ
Wylie transliteration: bar-do thos-grol
pronunciation in IPA: [IPA: [pʰàrdo tʰǿɖøl]]
official transcription (PRC): Pardo Toichoi
THDL: Bardo Tödröl
other transcriptions: Bardo Thodol,
Bardo Thödol,
Bardo Thodrol,
Bardo Todol
Chinese name
traditional: 《中有聞解》
simplified: 《中有闻解》
Pinyin: Zhōng yǒu wén jiě

The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State (Tibetan: bardo "liminality"; thodol as "liberation"[1]), sometimes translated as Liberation Through Hearing or Bardo Thodol 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.

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.[2]


This text is commonly known by its Western title: The Tibetan Book of the Dead. However, Fremantle (2001: p. 20) states:

...there is in fact no single Tibetan title corresponding to the Tibetan Book of the Dead.[3] The overall name given to the whole terma cycle is Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones, and it is popularly known as Karma Lingpa's Peaceful and Wrathful Ones.[4] It has been handed down through the centuries in several versions containing varying numbers of sections and subsections, arranged in different orders, ranging from around ten to thirty-eight titles. These individual texts cover a wide range of subjects, including the dzogchen view..., 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 [sic.] Tibetan Book of the Dead as we know it in English consists of two comparatively long texts on the bardo of dharmata (including the bardo of dying) and the bardo of existence.... They are called Great Liberation through Hearing: The Supplication of the Bardo of Dharmata and Great liberation through Hearing: The Supplication Pointing Out the Bardo of Existence.[5] Within the texts themselves, the two combined are referred to as Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo, Great Liberation through Hearing, or just Liberation though Hearing,[6]....


According to Tibetan tradition, the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State was composed by Padmasambhava, written down by his primary student, Yeshe Tsogyal, buried in the Gampo hills in central Tibet and subsequently discovered by a Tibetan terton, Karma Lingpa.[7] There were variants of the book among different sects.[8]

The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State is recited by Tibetan Buddhist lamas over a dying or recently deceased person, or sometimes over an effigy of the deceased. The name means literally "liberation through hearing in the intermediate state."

The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State differentiates the intermediate state between lives into three bardos:

  1. The chikhai bardo or "bardo of the moment of death," which features the experience of the "clear light of reality," or at least the nearest approximation of which one is spiritually capable.
  2. The chonyid bardo or "bardo of the experiencing of reality," which features the experience of visions of various Buddha forms (or, again, the nearest approximations of which one is capable).
  3. The sidpa bardo or "bardo of rebirth," which features karmically impelled hallucinations which eventually result in rebirth. (Typically imagery of men and women passionately entwined.)

The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State also mentions three other bardos: those of "life" (or ordinary waking consciousness), of "dhyana" (meditation), and 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.

Comparison with the Western experience of death

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 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. According to the buddhist teachings, there are four different steps and the "white light" is most probably the last of them; then Mahaparinirvana eternal bliss. The divine beings are buddhas, dakkis and dakinis that people see as respective figures of their culture or religious belief.

In an introduction to Evans-Wentz' version, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung summarizes his psychological commentary:

The Bardo Thödol [Tibetan Book of the Dead] began by being a 'closed' book, and so it has remained, no matter what kind of commentaries may be written upon it. For it is a book that will only open itself to spiritual understanding, and this is a capacity which no man is born with, but which he can only acquire through special training and special experience. It is good that such to all intents and purposes 'useless' books exist. They are meant for those 'queer folk' who no longer set much store by the uses, aims, and meaning of present-day 'civilisation'.[9]
Carl Jung

English translations and related teachings

Translations and summaries

Secondary works

Musical and cinematic works

  • Lennon, John Tomorrow Never Knows (a song based on the philosophies found in The Tibetan Book of the Dead and performed by The Beatles)
  • In 2007, The History Channel released a documentary film, Tibetan Book of the Dead: "The Tibetan book of the Dead is an important document that has stood the test of time and attempts to provide answers to one of mankind's greatest questions: What happens when we die? Interviews with Tibetan Lamas, American scholars, and practicing Buddhists bring this powerful and mysterious text to life. State-of-the-art computer generated graphics will recreate this mysterious and exotic world. Follow the dramatized journey of a soul from re-birth. In Tibet, the "art of dying" is nothing less than the art of living."[11]
  • In 1994, the Modern Rock band Live had a second album, Throwing Copper. On which, track 9, a song titled "T.B.D." (4:28) stands for Tibetan Book of the Dead.[1]

See also


  1. Fremantle (2001: p.21) states that: Liberation is synonymous with the Sanskrit word bodhi, which means awakening, understanding, or enlightenment, and with nirvana, which means blowing out or extinction: the extinction of illusion.
  2. Dorje, Gyurme. The Tibetan Book of the Dead. "A Brief Literary History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, 2007). Translated by Gyurme Dorje. ISBN 978-0-14-310494-0.
  3. Information about these texts and others relating to death can be found in Detlef Ingo Lauf, Secret Doctrines of the Tibetan Books of the Dead, Boulder, Shambhala, 1977.
  4. In Tibetan, zab chos zhi khro dgongs pa rang grol and kar gling zhi khro.
  5. In Tibetan, chos nyid bar do'i gsol 'debs thos grol chen mo and strid pa'i bar do ngo sprod gsol 'debs thos grol chen mo.
  6. In Tibetan, bar do thos grol, thos grol chen mo, and thos grol.
  7. Evans-Wentz (1960), p. liv; and, Fremantle & Trungpa (2003), p. xi.
  8. 寧瑪派版 《死者之書》 的死後世界
  9. Evans-Wentz, W. Y., ed (1960) [1927]. The Tibetan Book of the Dead (1957 3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. lii. ISBN 0-19-500223-7. 
  10. "Jean Claude Van Itallie". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2009-06-23. 
  11. The History Channel: Tibetan Book of the Dead

External links

cs:Tibetská kniha mrtvýcheo:Bardo Thodolsw:Kitabu cha Wafu cha Tibeti hu:Bardoi toszgroiru:Тибетская Книга мёртвых simple:Tibetan Book of the Dead sk:Tibetská kniha mŕtvych fi:Tiibetiläinen kuolleiden kirja sv:Den tibetanska dödsboken tr:Bardo Thödol vi:Tử thư

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