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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Bardo Thodol

(T). This classic of Mahāyāna Buddhism was originally intended to be not only a guide for the dead, but for the living. It is used as a breviary and is recited either to a dying person or to the corpse. If the corpse is not present then the reader may carry out the reading ceremony by the bed usually used by the deceased, in which case an effort is made to invoke the presence of the spirit of the dead person.

The standard translation of this work is that of W. Y. EVANS-WENTZ which he entitled The Tibetan Book of the Dead. In the translation the text has been divided into two books. Book One includes the Chikhai Bardo and the Chönyid Bardo. The introduction to these is rendered: “Herein lieth the setting-face-to-face to the reality in the intermediate state: The great deliverance by hearing while on the after-death plane from ‘The profound doctrine of the emancipating of the consciousness by meditation upon the peaceful and wrathful deities.’”

After certain rituals have been carried out, these depending on the spiritual status of the deceased, the officiating person will read the Thödol either three or seven times with the lips close to, but not touching the ear of the corpse. The following summary of the Thödol has been extracted from the above-mentioned text.

Book I: The Chikhai Bardo and the Chönyid Bardo. The obeisances; the Bardo of the moments of death; instructions on the symptoms of death; the primary clear light seen at the moment of death. (Note the similarity to the light reported by “Near Death Experience” commentators); introductory instructions concerning the experiencing of reality during the third stage of the Bardo, called the Chönyid Bardo (T), when the Karmic apparitions appear; the dawning of the wrathful deities from the eighth to the fourteenth day; the conclusion, showing the fundamental importance of the Bardo teachings.

Book II. The Sidpa Bardo (T). The obeisances; introductory verses; the after death world; the Bardo body, its birth and its supernormal faculties; characteristics of existence in the intermediate state; the judgment; the all-determining influence of thought; the dawning of the light of the six lokas; the process of rebirth; the closing of the door of the womb; the choosing of the womb door; the alternative choosing: supernormal birth or womb birth; the general conclusion.

In the above-mentioned book by Evans-Wentz there is a psychological commentary by Carl G. JUNG, who concludes by saying: “The Bardo Thödol 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 ‘civilization.’”

P.S.H.

 

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