Bardo Thodol

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Bardo Thodol
Tibetan name
Tibetan བར་དོ་ཐོས་གྲོལ

The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State or Bardo Tödröl (Tibetan: བར་དོ་ཐོས་གྲོལWylie: bar do thos grol "liminality" or "threshold"; thos grol "liberation"[1]), sometimes translated as Liberation Through Hearing or transliterated as 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 Nyingma literature.[2] However, despite knowledge of texts and practices related to the Bardo - the book as found in the west is virtually unknown in Tibet in the title or form.[3]


This text is commonly known by its Western title: The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a title popularized by Walter Evans-Wentz's translation. However, Fremantle (2001: p. 20) states:

...there is in fact no single Tibetan title corresponding to the Tibetan Book of the Dead.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] Within the texts themselves, the two combined are referred to as Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo, Great Liberation through Hearing, or just Liberation through Hearing,[7]....

Wentz's combination of these books is controversial, but today there are other translations available, edited by Tibetans.[8]


According to Tibetan tradition, the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State was composed in the 8th century 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, in the 14th century.[9][10] There were variants of the book among different sects.[11] The Tibetan Book of the Dead was first published in 1927 by Oxford University Press. Dr. Walter Y. Evans-Wentz chose this title because of the parallels he found with the Egyptian Book of the Dead.[12]

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.

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.[13]

— Carl Jung

English translations and related teachings[edit]

Translations and summaries[14][edit]

Secondary works[edit]

Musical and cinematic works[edit]

  • John Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows" (a song based on the philosophies found in The Tibetan Book of the Dead and performed by The Beatles)
  • Line 'it's dying to take you away' from Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour" was based on the drug culture and the release of death described in the Bardo Thodol.[15]
  • 1985 2-part documentary filmed in Ladakh and the States, first part entitled The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Way of Life; the second part The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation was a co-production between NHK (Japan), Mistral (France) and FBC (Canada). Narration in the English version is by Leonard Cohen. See links below.
  • 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."[16]
  • 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.[17]
  • In 1996, Delerium Records released the Liberation Thru' Hearing CD which contains spoken/chanted readings from the Bardo Thodol set to music.[18]
  • Enter the Void, a 2009 French film written and directed by Gaspar Noé, is loosely based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fremantle (2001: p.21): "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. ^ Tibetan book of the dead (Penguin Classics deluxe ed. ed.). New York: Penguin Books. 2005. ISBN 978-0143104940.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  3. ^ Lopez, Donald S., Jr. (2011). The Tibetan book of the dead : a biography. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 127. ISBN 978-0691134352. 
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ In Tibetan, zab chos zhi khro dgongs pa rang grol and kar gling zhi khro.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ In Tibetan, bar do thos grol, thos grol chen mo, and thos grol.
  8. ^ Donald S. Lopez, Jr. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography, Princeton University Press, 2011.
  9. ^ Evans-Wentz (1960), p. liv; and, Fremantle & Trungpa (2003), p. xi.
  10. ^ 'Guru Rinpoche' and 'Yeshe Tsogyal' in: Forbes, Andrew; Henley, David (2013). The Illustrated Tibetan Book of the Dead. Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. B00BCRLONM
  11. ^ 寧瑪派版 《死者之書》 的死後世界
  12. ^ Evans-Wentz, W. Y., ed. (1960) [1927]. "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" (1957 1st (ebook translation) ed.). Oxford University Press. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ 《西藏度亡經》在西方
  15. ^ Many Years From Now by Barry Miles, Vintage, 1998, cited in Magical Mystery Tour - The Beatles Bible, consulted on February 24, 2012.
  16. ^ The History Channel: Tibetan Book of the Dead
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^
  19. ^ Stephenson, Hunter (2010-09-14). "Gaspar Noé's Big Trip". Archived from the original on 16 September 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-15. 

External links[edit]