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The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation Through Hearing in the Bardo.

This is the first English translation of the popular Bardo Thotrol of Tibetan Buddhism since the pioneer work of W. Y. Evans-Wentz and Kazi Dawa-Samdup in 1927. The Evans-Wentz edition will always be valued for its extensive outline of the steps of the Bardo Thotrol, and perhaps even more for its commentaries by C.G. Jung, Anagarika Govinda, and John Woodroffe. However, the present version is welcome for its smooth and clear flow of language, and its noted absence of distracting sectional interruptions and cumbersome terminology. The Evans-Wentz translation with its King James biblical language gives the text an unnecessary impression of Western scripturalization.

As Fremantle's introduction points out, there is considerable disagreement between the Trungpa and Evans-Wentz versions, due both to the use of more reliable Tibetan texts, and a greater fidelity to the complexities of the Tibetan Buddhist ichnography.

Introductory descriptions of basic Buddhist and tantric concepts, and the summation of Trungpa's insights, help considerably the reading of the text. For example, the meaning of yidam as "expression of one's own basic nature" internally and psychologically, rather than the traditional "chosen or protective deity"; and the skandhas themselves as "psychological components" rather than just "heaps of phenomena."

Such small but important insights reflect the views that Trungpa developed over his years as head of the Colorado and Vermont Naropa foundations, until his passing in 1987. Clearly, his interpretation of the Bardo Thotrol is that this teaching is for recognizing one's own falsely-centered projections of what reality is, and the dissolution of the sense of self in the light of reality.

The rich visualizations and classification of deities in this translation and commentary seem far more comprehensible than in the unwieldy and overwhelming wordiness of the Evans-Wentz categories. The simple analyses of these symbolisms in correlation to psychological states of the mind is very well done.

In short, this translation and commentary by Trungpa and Fremantle shows the Bardo Thotrol as a guide for living as well as dying. The here-and-now significance of the teaching is perhaps this version's most distinguishing feature. The text is meant to have immediate practicality, not just in the sense of preparing oneself for the event of dying, or of a ritual performed for dying persons; but rather, its value is in seeing every moment of life as a birth-and-death moment.

Excellent footnotes for further study.
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Author:Sherburne, Richard
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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