Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book 94, Tibet: "The Tibetan Book of the Dead"

Cor. This was a bloody good read, way more interesting than the Quran or the Lotus Sutra or the Bible (most bits of the Bible, anyway). I was gonna say it was easy to see why it became a Western cult classic, then I remembered that for the longest time what the hippies and the beats were perusing was a single portion of this volume: The Great Liberation By Hearing.

This baby I’ve been lugging around is the first full translation, based on the three volume manuscript from the library of the Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche, completed by the scholar Gjurme Dorje with support by HH the Dalai Lama. Check it!

And what makes this book so awesome? Well, first of all, it’s brilliantly random: as crazy if not crazier than the palimpsest hotchpotch of the Old Testament. It consists of prayers, philosophy, catalogues of deities, medical instructions for determining the date of imminent death, magical rituals for forestalling said death, a detailed practical guide to ensuring enlightenment or at least rebirth as a higher being following said death, and even a masked drama demonstrating the posthumous fates of a butcher and a pious merchant, as Yama Dharmaraja, sage of hell beings, judges them by weighing the white pebbles of their good deeds against the black pebbles of their sins. (Yes, shades of the Egyptians, which is why the English title of this book stuck instead of its proper name, The Bardo Thodol.

Second of all (a phrase my boyfriend insists is ungrammatical) it is so damn *sensual*, so psychedelic that one wonders what the prophets were smoking, or if mountain air just predisposes one toward incredible visions. It’s bizarre, after reading the fairly square first chapters, which concentrate on the usual Buddhist exhortations to renounce worldly attachments, to be told of the copulating, blood-drinking, sexually dimorphic rainbow-coloured buddhas and bodhisattvas and gatekeepers and herukas that inhabit the cardinal portions of one’s skull: Gauri, white-in-colour, carrying a human corpse as a cudgel; fox-headed Srgalamamuki, black in colour, eating entrails; yak-headed Manauraksasi, brownish-white and holding a vajra; sow-headed Varahi, blackish green, holding a noose of fangs; scorpion-headed Amrta, reddish yellow, holding a lotus; three-faced six-armed Vairocana, brandishing a wheel, an axe, a sword, a bell, a ploughsare and a blood-filled skull, joyously and indivisibly embraced by Buddhakrodhesvari; and Samantabhadra and Samantabhadri, the Buddha-body of Reality.

Oh yes, and trying to foretell your death by staring at the sun or your shadow or the tinges of blood in your urine, and channeling your powers of concentration so that should you topple unexpectedly from a mountain, your soul will escape your body from the correct orifice. Madness!

And also the gentle comfort it must give one to imagine one’s body at a funeral, surrounded by loved ones repeating prayers into one’s ear directing the soul to higher realms.

Yes, this is the kind of religious text I like: more imaginative than preachy; the kind I don’t have to take absolutely seriously and expands my imagination rather than limiting it. O Child of Buddha Nature, may you read many more books as weird and wonderful as this!

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote:
There are, altogether, nine different pathways through which consciousness transference can occur, and these are associated with persons of superior, average and inferior capacity. The aperture of the crown fontanelle is the pathway through which [consciousness] departs to the pure [realm of the] sky-farers. Given this, [it is said that] one will attain liberation f awareness exits through the [crown fontanelle]. Since this is the supreme pathway, it is extremely important that one trains in directing one’s mental focus towards this [aperture]. Furthermore, if consciousness is transferred through the pathway of the eyes, [it is said that] one will be born as a universal monarch, and if it is transferred through the left nostril, one will obtain an unimpaired human body. These are the three optimum apertures associated with those of superior [capacity].

One will, however, be born as a yaksa if [consciousness is transferred] through the right nostril, or as a god of the world-system of form if [it is transferred] through the ears, and as a god of the world-system of desire if [it is transferred] through the navel. These are the three medial apertures [associated with those of average capacity]. Lastly, one will be born as an animal if [it is transferred] through the urethra, as an anguished spirit if [it is transferred] through the sexual passage, and as a hell being if it is transferred through the rectum. These are the three inferior apertures [associated with those of inferior capacity]. Given that there are such very great consequential differences between the various apertures through which consciousness transference may occur, there wil be inestimable benefits in directing one’s awareness to the crowd of the head, at the time of death.

Such is the forceful consciousness transference. SAMAYA!

Next book: Lil Bahadur Chettri’s Mountains Painted with Turmeric, from Nepal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You fool u don't know anything about the spiritual science of India.It is the mother of all spiritual sciences in this world.The world, Christianity,Islamism, Buddhism,Jainism etc...are only one face of Vishwa Virad Purusha . If u don't know anything about this go and study about this.