“English Book of the Dead”: Tibetan or Theosophical?
Published: Wednesday, 06 July 2011 14:48
[A friend, Thomas Wittenberg, sent us an article from the journal Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly (summer 2011). It is a review of a new edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, by Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz; the editor of the new version (Princeton University Press, 2011; $19.95. 192 pp.) is Donald S. Lopez, Jr.; the Buddhadharma reviewer of the new edition is Roger Jackson, a professor of Asian Studies and Religion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.]
The Tibetan text Bardo Thodol (“Liberation through Hearing While in the Intermediate State”) was first published in English in 1927 by W. Y. Evans-Wentz, characterized as an “American traveler, scholar, and Theosophist.” The editor of the new version calls the well-known and influential English version, somewhat surprisingly, “not really Tibetan,” “not really a book,” and “not really about death.” The book had significant influence on the Beatles, movies like Jacob’s Ladder, TV shows like Twin Peaks, and respected authors on death like Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross and Raymond Moody. However, the editor argues that it is not really about death because it focuses on tantric practices used by the living, not really a book because it is based on only a fragment of the original, and not really Tibetan because it was inspired by and focuses on a Theosophical view of reality. Nevertheless, the reviewer concedes that the English book “has indeed become a ‘timeless world spiritual classic,’ whose influence will continue to be felt despite all we now know about its composition and contents.”
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