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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
buddhadharma| 69 |winter 2005 feature reviews This new translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a tremendous accomplishment by Dr. Gyurme Dorje, a man who is certainly not afraid of tackling major projects. Previously he gave us Dudjom Rinpoche’s The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, an essential reference for all who are interested in that tradition’s teachings and history. This new work is described as the first complete translation of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a claim that requires some explanation. It forms part of a collection of hidden treasure-teachings (terma) orig- inally attributed to Padmasambhava, the eighth-century Indian master who helped to establish Buddhism in Tibet. Termas were magically concealed in many differ- ent places, to be revealed at the appropri- ate time in the future by their destined discoverers. This particular collection of teachings was discovered by Karma Lingpa in the fourteenth century. Known in short as Karma Lingpa’s Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, it consists of a large number of texts on various subjects. In the late sev- enteenth century, those texts that were particularly relevant to death and the bardo states were compiled into a shorter anthology. Then in 1927, W. Y. Evans- Wentz published in English for the first time a small selection of the texts from this anthology (The Great Liberation by Hearing and its companion verses) in a book he called The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The title has been retained by sub- sequent translators, and here it is extended to include the entire shorter anthology plus two other closely related texts. In this volume translated by Gyurme Dorje, the collection of teachings is pre- sented as fourteen chapters, each one preceded by a brief but helpful introduc- tion explaining its significance and func- tion. Eight of them (including those in the original Tibetan Book of the Dead) have been published before under various titles, but the remaining six have never, to my knowledge, been previously trans- lated, so they form a particularly valuable addition to the related literature available in English. The first chapter is especially inter- esting, as it is not part of the original terma revealed by Karma Lingpa but was composed by his son, Nyinda Choje, the only person to whom he transmitted these teachings. It describes a preliminary practice, containing the traditional series of meditations and training required before embarking on the generation stage practices of Vajrayana. But in this case, it is pervaded by the particular flavor of the Dzogchen view, which gives it an unusually poetic and inspirational qual- ity. Similar in atmosphere is the beautiful guru yoga prayer that follows, in which the guru is supplicated as the three bud- dha-bodies (trikaya), in essence identical with one’s own mind. Chapter 3 contains the Root Verses of the Six Intermediate States, which will be familiar to many readers since it is found in other English translations. The Root Francesca FremanTle collaboraTed wiTh chÖgyam Trungpa on a TranslaTion oF The TibeTan book oF The dead. she is also The auThor oF luminous empTiness: undersTanding The TibeTan book oF The dead. the Definitive Book of the DeaD the tiBetan Book of the DeaD: first Complete translation translated by Gyurme Dorje edited by Graham Coleman with thupten Jinpa Penguin Classics, u.k., 2005 592 pages; £30.00 (hardcover) viking, January 2006 496 pages; $27.95 (hardcover) reviewed by francesca fremantle