during the interval

Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State

The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State (Tibetan: bardo "liminality"; thodol as "liberation), sometimes translated as Liberation Through Hearing or 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 Tibetan Nyingma literature.


This text is commonly known by its the Western title: The Tibetan Book of the Dead, however, Fremantle (2001: p.20) states:
...there is in fact no single Tibetan title corresponding to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. 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. 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. Within the texts themselves, the two combined are referred to as Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo, Great Liberation through Hearing, or just Liberation though Hearing,....


According to Tibetan tradition, the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State was composed 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.

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.

Comparison with the Western experience of death

One can perhaps attempt to compare the descriptions of the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State with accounts of certain "out of the body" near-death experiences described by people who have nearly died in accidents or on the operating table. These accounts sometimes mention a "white light", and helpful figures corresponding to that person's religious tradition.

English translations and related teachings

  • Graham Coleman with Thupten Jinpa (editors). The Tibetan Book of the Dead [English Title]. The Great Liberation by Hearing in the Intermediate States [Tibetan Title]. Composed by Padma Sambhava. Revealed by Karma Lingpa. Translated by Gyurme Dorje. Penguin Books. 2005. (The first complete translation). ISBN 978-0-140-45529-8.
  • W. Y. Evans-Wentz (editor) Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup (translator). Tibetan Book of the Dead: Or, The After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, Oxford, 1927, 1960. ISBN 0-19-500223-7 This was a long-term best-seller in the 1960s. Evans-Wentz came up with the title based on the previously published famous Egyptian Book of the Dead.
  • Edward Conze provides a precis in Buddhist Scriptures, Penguin, 1959.
  • Francesca Fremantle and Chögyam Trungpa, The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo by Guru Rinpoche according to Karma Lingpa, Shambhala, 1975, 2003, ISBN 0-394-73064-X, ISBN 1-59030-059-9
  • Robert Thurman (translator), Dalai Lama (Foreword), The Tibetan Book of the Dead, as popularly known in the West. Known in Tibet as The Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between, Composed By Padma Sambhava Discovered by Karma Lingpa, Harper Collins, 1994, ISBN 1-85538-412-4
  • Fremantle, Francesca (2001). Luminous emptiness: understanding the Tibetan book of the dead. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-57062-450-X
  • Timothy Leary Psychedelic Prayers, a loose interpretation of the book.
  • Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, Richard Alpert, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead The three hallucinogenic drug pioneers and researchers authored this book strongly influenced by some parts of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It was intended for reciting during hallucinogenic drug sessions. 1964. ISBN 0-8065-1652-6.
  • John Lennon (The Beatles), Tomorrow Never Knows, a song based on the philosophies found in The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
  • Jean-Claude van Itallie, The Tibetan Book of the Dead for Reading Aloud
  • Graham Coleman (Translator), Gyurme Dorje (Translator), Thupten Jinpa (Editor) , The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Penguin Classics; new edition (2005) ISBN 0-7139-9414-2
  • Lati Rinpochay and Jeffrey Hopkins, Death, Intermediate State and Rebirth, Snow Lion, 1985.
  • Lama Lodo, Bardo Teachings. Snow Lion, 1987.
  • Sögyal Rinpoche, with Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey, eds. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Harper San Francisco, 1992, ISBN 0-06-250793-1.
  • Glenn H. Mullin, Death and Dying: The Tibetan Tradition, Penguin-Arkana, 1986, ISBN 0-14-019013-9.
  • Chokyi Nyina Rinpoche, The Bardo Guidebook, Ragjung Yeshe, 1991.
  • Karma Lingpa (revelator); Gyurme Dorje (translator); Graham Coleman (editor) : The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Viking Penguin, NY, 2006.
  • 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.

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