Death and Philosophy

By Jeff Malpas; Robert C. Solomon | Go to book overview

8

DEATH AND ENLIGHTENMENT

The therapeutic psychology of The Tibetan Book of the Dead1

Robert Wicks

Although we usually conceive of death as the final moment of life, there is an important sense in which death, as an aspect of change and renewal, is ever-present throughout life: each passing moment ‘dies’ as it becomes past experience; each newly experienced moment is immediately ‘born’ as the future becomes present. From moment to moment, beginnings and endings perpetually coincide. At a less abstract level, we also meet with another form of death—a counterpart to our familiar conception: our habitual patterns of expectation and reaction to circumstances often produce a deathlike stagnation and unanimated redundancy within our experience. As a release from this benighted condition, there remains the permanent possibility of experiencing a liberating transformation of character and a ‘rebirth’ of personality. The implicit and explicit means to achieve such a personal transformation within our lives, as described in The Tibetan Book for the Dead,2 is the subject of this essay. My aim is to recall and reemphasize some of the affinities between the text’s therapeutic and liberating intentions and the goals of psychotherapy, in recognition of its practical, socially all-encompassing message. In the course of this enquiry, I will discuss how some authoritative commentators on the text, namely, Carl Jung and Lama Anagarika Govinda, have drawn our attention away from the text’s more pragmatic and existential value as a handbook for more insightful living.

The Tibetan Book for the Dead is traditionally read aloud as part of a Tibetan Buddhist funeral ceremony: it speaks to the deceased who, as a disembodied spirit, is believed to persist within hearing distance in an after-death realm of transition, or bardo. 3 This is a transitional realm through which a disembodied spirit passes between reincarnations. The text’s manifest purpose is to provide the dead person with repeated opportunities for enlightenment during the bardo experience, such as to prevent rebirth into a renewed condition of suffering. This transitional bardo experience, most importantly, is a period of decision-making: the dead person can choose either to become enlightened by giving up his or her ‘unconscious tendencies’ that have been the cause of suffering, or the person can

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Death and Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • 1 - Death and Philosophy 1
  • 2 - My Death 5
  • 3 - Against Death 16
  • 4 - On the Purported Insignificance of Death 22
  • 5 - Death and the Skeleton 39
  • 6 - Death, the Bald Scenario 50
  • 7 - Death as Transformation in Classical Daoism 57
  • 8 - Death and Enlightenment 71
  • 9 - Death and Detachment 83
  • 10 - Death and Metaphysics 98
  • 11 - Death and Authenticity 112
  • 12 - Death and the Unity of a Life 120
  • 13 - The Antinomy of Death 135
  • 14 - Death Fetishism, Morbid Solipsism 152
  • Notes 177
  • References 198
  • Index 203
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