The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead

By Bryan J. Cuevas | Go to book overview

1
Introduction: The Saga of
The Tibetan Book of the Dead

No one scribe could have been its author and no one generation its creator; its history as a book, if completely known, could only be the history of its compilation and recording.

—Walter Y. Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Sometime in early 1919, a British political officer and dilettante Tibetan scholar, Major W. L. Campbell, purchased a collection of Tibetan blockprints while visiting the town of Gyantse in southwestern Tibet (see fig. 1.1). Upon returning to his station in Sikkim, he presented these books to the American-born, Oxford-educated anthropologist Walter Yeeling Evans-Wentz, 1 who was himself traveling the region in search of exotic books and had recently purchased an illuminated Tibetan manuscript in Darjeeling. 2 At the end of that year, Evans-Wentz met Kazi Dawa Samdup, a respected translator and teacher of a host of previous foreign travelers and the headmaster of the Maharaja's Bhutia Boy's School in Gangtok. 3 Evans-Wentz commissioned Dawa Samdup to prepare English translations of his Darjeeling manuscript and the books he had acquired from Major Campbell. Included among these books was a small set of texts gathered under the title Great Liberation upon Hearing in the Bardo [Bar-do thos-grol chen-mo], the same title of the Darjeeling manuscript. This specific collection of texts, which is derived from a much larger body of literature called Self-Liberated Wisdom of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities [Zhi-khro dgongs-pa rang-grol], was apparently of singular interest to both men. For the next two months, Dawa Samdup worked through the texts of the Great Liberation upon Hearing in the Bardo, with Evans-Wentz close at his side, and together they produced a draft of what would later become The

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The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • A Note on Tibetan Words xi
  • 1 - Introduction: the Saga of the Tibetan Book of the Dead 3
  • I - Death and the Dead 25
  • 2 - Beginnings: Funeral Ritual in Ancient Tibet 27
  • 3 - Transitions: the Buddhist Intermediate State 39
  • 4 - From Death to Disposal 69
  • II - Prophecy, Concealment, Revelation 79
  • 5 - Prophecies of the Lotus Guru 81
  • 6 - A Tale of Fathers and Sons 91
  • 7 - The Gampodar Treasures 101
  • 8 - The Third Generation 120
  • III - Traditions in Transformation 135
  • 9 - Traditions in Eastern Tibet 137
  • 10 - Traditions in Central and Southern Tibet 158
  • IV - Text and Consolidation 177
  • 11 - Rikzin Nyima Drakpa, Sorcerer from Kham 179
  • 12 - Conclusion: Manuscripts and Printed Texts 205
  • Notes 217
  • Bibliography 271
  • List of Tibetan Spellings 303
  • Index 312
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