What religion is The Tibetan Book of the Dead?

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, as a subject for literary and historical inquiry, has received minimal attention from academic researchers. It is a nearly impossible task to systematically determine what Tibetan texts should be classified under the Western conceptual rubric of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, due to the Tibetan tendency to transmit textual traditions through various redactions, which inevitably changes the content of collected works. However, the few systematic efforts by scholars of Tibetan and Buddhist studies to investigate Bardo Thödol literature and its associated funerary tradition have been thorough, the most noteworthy work being Cuevas 2003, a historical account of the origins and transmission of the Bardo Thödol. Bryan Cuevas also produced an online resource, Tibetan Book of the Dead, to explore various texts and concepts regarding the literature through the University of Virginia. Fremantle 2001 provides a conceptual context to the major themes found within the text. Conze 1959, a brief summary, exemplifies how early Western scholars of the tradition began to critically examine the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Dorje 2006 is a thorough and well-researched introduction to the significance of the Bardo Thödol. Imaeda 2010 asks to what extent the funerary tradition of the Bardo Thödol is an indigenous, pre-Buddhist custom, which is a useful question. Seminal works in German have also been produced, such as Back 1979, a philological study, and Lauf 1977, which has been translated into English and is perhaps the most thorough account of the philosophical and iconographic content of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

  • Back, Dieter. Eine buddhistische Jenseitsreise: Das sogenannte “Totenbuch der Tibeter” aus philologischer Sicht. Freiburger Beiträge zur Indologie 13. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1979.

    A groundbreaking German philological study of the Bardo Thödol.

  • Conze, Edward. “Life after Death, and the Book of the Dead.” In Buddhist Scriptures. By Edward Conze, 227–236. Penguin Classics 88. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1959.

    Conze dedicates a section of his book on Buddhist scriptures to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, where he provides a summary of its contents, on the basis of Kazi Dawa Samdup’s translation and Alexandra David-Neel’s French translation.

  • Cuevas, Bryan J. The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Easily the most comprehensive and essential work published to date on the history and origins of the textual tradition of the Bardo Thödol. Cuevas includes the various known editions of the compendium, as well as charts and lists of the various transmission lineages and traditions of the textual corpus, clearly mapping the dissemination of Bardo Thödol literature.

  • Dorje, Gyurme. “A Brief Literary History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.” In The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States. Composed by Padmasambhava. Edited by Graham Coleman and Thupten Jinpa, xxxvi–xlix. London: Penguin, 2006.

    Dorje provides a concise and useful overview of the origins of the literary tradition of the Bardo Thödol and available editions of the collection, clarifying what one is actually discussing when referring to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Revealed by Karma Lingpa, with an introductory commentary by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

  • Fremantle, Francesca. Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.

    After publishing a translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead with Chögyam Trungpa (see Fremantle and Trungpa 1975, cited under Translations), Fremantle has published this overall introduction concerning major themes of death and dying in the Tibetan tantric tradition, on the basis of Trungpa’s teachings.

  • Imaeda, Yoshiro. “The Bar do thos grol: Tibetan Conversion to Buddhism or Tibetanisation of Buddhism?” In Esoteric Buddhism at Dunhuang, Rites and Teaching for This Life and Beyond. Edited by Matthew Kapstein and Sam van Schaik, 145–158. Brill’s Tibetan Studies Library 25. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004182035.i-254

    Imaeda explores the extent to which the Bardo Thödol liturgy and associated funerary rituals are “Buddhist”; he also explores how much this tradition incorporates pre-Buddhist indigenous Tibetan elements—in both cases by examining funerary ritual manuscripts from Dunhuang. Available online to subscribers.

  • Lauf, Detlef Ingo. Secret Doctrines of the Tibetan Books of the Dead. Translated by Graham Parkes. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1977.

    Lauf’s book, first appearing in German in 1975, is one of the most comprehensive works available on doctrine and tantric iconography relevant to the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead. University of Virginia.

    This website is a digital version of a special collections exhibition from the University of Virginia Library, curated by Bryan Cuevas. Although the website is difficult to navigate, it provides good examples of the Tibetan textual traditions of death and dying, particularly according to the Bardo Thödol tradition.

    What religion is the Tibetan society based on?

    The main religion in Tibet has been Buddhism since its outspread in the 8th century AD. As of 2022 the historical region of Tibet (the areas inhabited by ethnic Tibetans) is mostly comprised in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China and partly in the Chinese provinces of Qinghai and Sichuan.

    What is the Tibetan religion called?

    Tibetan Buddhism, also called (incorrectly) Lamaism, branch of Vajrayana (Tantric, or Esoteric) Buddhism that evolved from the 7th century ce in Tibet.

    Do Tibetan Buddhist believe in god?

    Buddhists do not believe in any kind of deity or god, although there are supernatural figures who can help or hinder people on the path towards enlightenment. Siddhartha Gautama was an Indian prince in the fifth century B.C.E. who, upon seeing people poor and dying, realized that human life is suffering.

    What does Tibetan believe in?

    Tibetans commonly draw a distinction between three religious traditions: (1) the divine dharma (Iha chos), or Buddhism; (2) Bon dharma (bon chos); and (3) the dharma of human beings (mi chos), or folk religion. The first category includes doctrines and practices that are thought to be distinctively Buddhist.