Death Process as Described in "The Tibetan Book of the Dead."

I. The Moment of Death, and the Clear Light of Pure Reality.

First of all there will appear to you, swifter than lightning, the luminous splendor of the colorless light of Emptiness, and that will surround you on all sides. Terrified, you will want to flee from the radiance, and you may well lose consciousness. Try to submerge yourself in that light, giving up all belief in a separate self, all attachment to your illusory ego. Recognize that the boundless Light of this true Reality is your own true self, and you shall be saved!

Few, however, are those who, having missed salvation during their life on earth, can attain it during this brief instant which passes so quickly. The overwhelming majority are shocked into unconsciousness by the terror they feel.

I.a. The emergence of a subtle body.

If you miss salvation at that moment, you will be forced to have a number of further dreams, both pleasant and unpleasant. Even they offer you a chance to gain understanding, as long as you remain vigilant and alert. A few days after death there emerges a subtle illusory dream body, (or) "mental body." It is impregnated with the after-effects of your past desires, endowed with all sense and faculties, and has the power of unimpeded motion. It can go right through ... hills, boulders, and walls, and in an instant it can traverse any distance. Even after the physical sense-organs are dissolved, sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches will be perceived and ideas will be formed. These are ... the after-effects of what you did with your body and mind in the past. But you must know that all you perceive is a ... mere illusion, and does not reflect any really existing objects. Have no fear and form no attachment! View it all evenmindedly, without like or dislike!

II. The Experience of the Spiritual Realities.

Three and half days after your death, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas will for seven days appear to you in their benign and peaceful aspect. Their light will shine upon you, but it will be so radiant that you will scarcely be able to look at it. Wonderful and delightful though they are, the Buddhas may nevertheless frighten you. Do not give in to your fright! Do not run away! Serenely contemplate the spectacl before you! Overcome your fear, and feel no desire! Realize that these are the rays of the grace of the Buddhas, who come to receive you into their Buddha-realms. Pray to them with intense faith and humility, and, in a halo of rainbow light, you will merge into the heart of the divine Father-Mother, and take up your abode in one of the realms of the Buddhas. Thereby you may still at this moment win your salvation.

But if you miss it, you will next, for another seven days, be confronted with the angry deities, and the Guardians of the Faith, surrounded by their followers in tumultuous array, many of them in the form of animals which you have never seen in the life you left. Bathed in multicolored light they stand before you, threatening you and barring your passage. Loud are their voices, with which they shout, "Hit him! Hit him! Kill him! Kill him!" This is what you have to hear, because you turned a deaf ear to the saving truths of religion!

All these forms are strange to you, (...) they terrify you, (...) and yet it is you who have created them. Do not give in to your fright, resist your mental confusion! All this is unreal, and what you see are the contents of your own mind in conflict with itself. All these terrifying deities, witches and demons around you - fear them not, flee them not! They are but (...) the content of your own mind in the mirror of the Void. If at this point you should manage to understand that, the shock of this insight will stun you, your subtle body will disperse into a rainbow, and you will find yourself in a paradise among the angels.

III. Seeking Rebirth.

But if you fail to grasp the meaning of what you were taught, if you still continue to feel a desire to exist as an individual, then you are doomed to again re-enter the wheel of becoming.

III.a. The Judgement.

You are now before Yama, King of the Dead. In vain you will try to (...) deny or conceal the evil deeds you have done. The Judge holds up before you the shining mirror of Karma, wherein all your deeds are reflected (...). The mirror in which Yama seems to read your past is your own memory, and also his judgement is your own. It is you yourself who pronounce your own judgement, which in turn determines your next rebirth. No terrible God pushes you into it (...).

Tha shapes of the frightening monsters who take hold of you, place a rope round your neck and drag you along, are just an illusion which you create from the forces within you. Know that apart from these karmic forces there is no Judge of the Dead, no gods, and no demons. Knowing that, you will be free!

III.b. The Desire for Rebirth.

At this juncture you will realize you are dead. You will think, "I am dead! What shall I do?" and you will feel as miserable as a fish out of water on red-hot embers. Your consciousness, having no object on which to rest, will be like a feather tossed about by the wind, riding on the horse of breath. At about that time the fierce wind of karma, terrific and hard to bear, will drive you onwards, from behind, in dreadful gusts. And after a while the thought will occur to you, "O what would I not give to possess a body!" But because you can at first find no place for you to enter into, you will be dissatisfied and have the sensation of being squeezed into cracks and crevices amidst rocks and boulders.

III.c. The Dawning of the Lights and the Six Places of Rebirth.

Then there will shine upon you the lights of the six places of rebirth. The light of the place in which you will be reborn will shine most prominently, but it is your own karmic disposition which decides about your choice (...).

If you have deserved it by your good deeds, a white light will guide you into one of the heavens, and for a while you will have some happiness among the gods.

Habits of envy and ambition will attract you to the red light, which leads to rebirth among the war-like Asuras, forever agitated by anger and envy.

If you feel drawn to a blue light, you will find yourself again a human being, and well you remember how little happiness that brought you!

If you had a heavy and dull mind, you will choose the green light, which leads you to the world of animals, unhappy because insecure and excluded from the knowledge which brings salvation.

A ray of dull yellow will lead you to the world of ghosts,

and finally, a ray of the color of darkish smoke into the hells.

Try to resist, if you can! Think of the Buddhas and Boddhisattvas! Recall that all these visions are unreal, control your mind, feel amity towards all that lives! And do not be afraid! You alone are the source of all these different rays. In you alone they exist, and so do the worlds to which they lead. Feel not attracted or repelled, but remain evenminded and calm!

III.d. Reincarnation.

If so far you were deaf to the teaching, listen to it now! An overpowering craving will come over you for the sense-experiences which you remember having had in the past, and which through your lack of sense-organs you cannot have. Your desire for rebirth becomes more and more urgent (...). This desire now racks you; you do not however, experience it for what it is, but feel it as a deep thirst which parches you as you wander along, harassed, among deserts of burning sands (...). Greatly anxious, you will look for a safe place of refuge.

Everywhere around you, you will see animals and humans in the act of sexual intercourse. You envy them, and the sight attracts you. If your karmic coefficients destine you to become a male, you feel attracted to the females and you hate the males you see. If you are destined to become a female, you will feel love for the males and hatred for the females you see.

Do not go near the couples you see, do not try to interpose yourself between them, do not try to take the place of one of them! The feeling which you would then experience would make you faint away, just at the moment when egg and sperm are about to unite. And afterwards you will find that you have been conceived as a human being or as an animal.

Tibetan Book of the Dead, quoted after: Novak Philip, The World Wisdom, P.87-91.

Jesus said, "Look to the living one as long as you live, or you might die and then try to see the living one, and you will be unable to see." Gospel of Thomas, 59.

Last updated: 2001/06/12