The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead

By Bryan J. Cuevas | Go to book overview

4
From Death to Disposal

The rituals of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities and the Liberation upon Hearing are built around a coherent set of actions and a fully developed ritual sequence that recognize the value of confession (bshags-pa) and expiation (bskang-ba) in the purification of sins (sdig-pa) and the efficacy of prayer and ritual performance for guiding the deceased through the perilous pathways of the bardo and into the next life. This brief chapter examines the general structure of the Tibetan bardo liturgy, relying on both textual and ethnographic data. The textual material will be drawn from the Karling literature itself, while the ethnographic details will be based primarily on several important anthropological studies, as well as information gleaned from a modern Tibetan pamphlet by Thupten Sangay entitled Tibetan Ceremonies for the Dead [Bod-mi'i 'das-mchod]. 1 Although there are variations in each of these sources, certain features can be found in common. These shared elements will provide the basis for my account of the generalized pattern of the bardo rites.

In matters of burial practice, Tibetans have traditionally disposed of their dead in one of five ways: interment or earth burial (sa-sbas gtong-ba), cremation (ro-sreg), water burial (chu-bskyur), mummification (pur phung-bzos), and vulture disposal (bya-rgod 'don). 2 As I noted in chapter 2, the practice of burying the corpse in the earth was the prevalent custom of the early Tibetan kings before the court-sanctioned arrival of Buddhism. Burial rites during this ancient period consisted largely of offerings of food and various objects such as clothes, jewelry, and so forth, as well as the blood sacrifice of animals. The remains of the Tibetan kings were buried in large funerary mounds. 3 In modern times, interment is reserved exclusively for those who have died as a result of certain epidemic diseases, such as smallpox, leprosy, or tuberculosis. 4 Wylie has suggested that the custom of burning the corpse, or cremation, emerged as a popular alternative to burial sometime after the eleventh century, especially among populations where wood for such fires was easily

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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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