I find this book exceedingly engaging because of the solid justification it makes, while also drawing many parallels with science. It is my first book on religion, but I often hear that Buddhism is not a religion. One of its fundamental teachings is that ‘in reality there are no such beings anywhere as gods, or demons, or spirits, or sentient creatures – all alike being phenomena dependent upon a cause.’
In its original form, or what we refer to as poti or folio, the editor Evans Wentz says that the book of the dead was ‘first committed to writing in the time of Padma Sambhava, ‘the lotus born’ in the eighth century, it was subsequently hidden away and then, when the time came for it to be given to the world, was brought to light by Rigzin Karma Lingpa.
We see its rendition during the Tshechu, the dance of the Judgment Day, where the Lord of the Dead, (Shin Jei Cho Kyi Gyalpo), The Good Genius (Lha Karchung) and The Evil Genius (Due Nagchung) decide the fate of the deceased. The judgment, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead takes place during the final stages of the bardo, called the Sidpai bardo.
When we die, we enter a fourth dimension of space. Deprived of our nervous system, we cannot differentiate between day and night. Only a twilight-like primordial light shine upon us. We go through various stages of the bardo meeting face to face with peaceful deities and the wrathful ones. If you haven’t gained liberation at the Chikhai Bardo and the Chonyid bardo, you enter the Sidpai bardo where the final judgment takes place.
The book describes the after death plane ‘as a prolonged dream like state in the fourth dimension of space filled with hallucinatory visions. These visions will be happy and heaven like if the karma be good and miserable and hell like if the karma be bad.’
Ultimately, one must meditate upon the subject of voidness, the visions are all void, reality is void, everything ultimately is void, your being and the visions you see are all void and thus voidness cannot injure voidness.
The following is a short excerpt from the book explaining the experiences of the deceased during the Sidpai bardo at the judgment. It is read to the deceased thus:
“O nobly-born, listen. That thou art suffering so cometh from thine own karma. It is not due to anyone else’s: It is by thine own karma. Accordingly, pray earnestly to the Precious Trinity; that will protect thee. If thou neither prayest nor knowest how to meditate upon the Great Symbol nor upon any tutelary deity, the Good Genius (lha Karchung, Little White God) who was born simultaneously with thee, will come now and count out thy good deeds [with white pebbles] and the Evil Genius (Due Nagchung) who was born simultaneously with thee will come and count out thy evil deeds [with black pebbles].
Thereupon thou wilt be greatly frightened, awed and terrified and wilt tremble and thou wilt attempt to tell lies saying, ‘I have not committed any evil deed.’
Then the Lord of Death will say, ‘I will consult the Mirror of Karma.’
So saying, he will look in the Mirror, wherein every good and evil act is vividly reflected. Lying will be of no avail. Then, one of the Executive Furies of the Lord of Death will place round they neck a rope and drag thee along; he will cut off thy head, extract thy heart, pull out thy intestines, lick up thy brain, drink thy blood, eat thy flesh, and gnaw thy bones (these tortures symbolize the pangs of the deceased’s conscience) but thou wilt be incapable of dying.
Although thy body be hacked to pieces, it will revive again. The repeated hacking will cause intense pain and torture. Thy body being a mental body is incapable of dying though beheaded. The Lords of Death are thine own hallucinations. In reality, thy body is of the nature of voidness and thus voidness cannot injure voidness, and the qualityless cannot injure the quality less.”
The scripture from the book is read in this way to the deceased, to guide him to liberation.