Tibetan Book of the Dead Book Review

Tibetan Book of the Dead Teaching Book Review

tibetan book of the dead

Book Title: The Tibetan Book of the Dead – The Great Book of Liberation Through Understanding in the Between
Robert A.F. Thurman
Broadway Books
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This book is a translation which was done by Buddhist teacher and longtime friend of the Dalai Lama, Robert Thurman.  Thurman, who is the father of the famed actress Uma Thurman, is also a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at the University of Columbia and is widely regarded as an authority and noted scholar in this field.

He is also the first Western person to have become a Buddhist monk (at least in the Tibetan tradition) earlier in his life and now holds retreats and lectures at various universities.  He also runs an interesting Buddhist podcast that deals with applying the wisdom of Buddhism to the problems of daily living.  He also clarifies the Dharma in such a way so that the Western mind can understand and relate better with it.

Book Summary

This book outlines the teachings of Buddhism in general, and Tantric Buddhism in particular and does a very good job of it.  In this article, I will share the Six Root Verses of the Between which forms the core of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Chapter 1:  Background 
An Outline of Tibetan History
Tibet: A Spiritual Civilization
Buddhism in Summary
Tibetan Ideas About Death

Chapter 2 The Tibetan Science of Death
What is Death?
The Six Realms
The Three Buddha Bodies
The Body-Mind Complex
Stages of Death
The Reality of Liberation

Chapter 3 The Tibetan Art of Dying
Ordinary Preparations for Death
Extraordinary Preparations

Chapter 4 The Natural Liberation Literature
The History of the Texts
The Sections of the Book

Part Two – The Guidebook for the Journey

Chapter 5 The Between Prayers
The Prayer of the Three Body Mentor Yoga
The Prayer for Help from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas
The Prayer of Deliverance from the Straits of the Between
The Prayer for Refuge from All Terrors of the Between
The Root Verses of the Six Betweens

Chapter 6 The Guidebook to the Betweens
The Prayer of the Reality Between
The Mild Deity Reality Between
The Fierce Deity Reality Between
Orientation to the Existence Between

Part Three Supplementary Translations

Chapter 7 The Dharma Practice, Natural Liberation of the Instincts
The Ten Branches of Accumulating Merit
Enlightening, Protecting, and Purifying
The Actual Visualization

Chapter 8 The Natural Liberation Through Naked Vision, Identifying the Intelligence
The Quintessence
The Need for This Identification
The Detailed Identification

tibetan book of the dead

Robert Thurman

The Six Root Verses of the Betweens

“Hey!  Now when the life between dawns upon me,
I will abandon laziness, as life has no more time,
Unwavering, enter the path of learning, thinking, and meditating,
And taking perceptions and mind as path,
I will realize the Three Bodies of enlightenment!
This once that I have obtained the human body
Is not the time to stay on the path of distractions.

Hey!  Now when the dream between dawns upon me,
I will give up corpselike sleeping in delusion,
And mindfully enter unwavering the experience of reality.
Conscious of dreaming, I will enjoy the changes as clear light.
Not sleeping mindlessly like an animal,
I will cherish the practice merging sleep and realization (i.e. lucid dreaming)

Hey!  Now when the meditation between dawns upon me,
I will abandon the host of distracting errors,
Focus in extreme-free experience, without releasing or controlling,
And achieve stability in the creation and perfection stages!
Giving up business, now one-pointed in meditation,
I won’t surrender to the power of erroneous addictions!

Hey! Now when the death-point between dawns upon me,
I will give up the preoccupations of the all-desiring mind,
Enter unwavering the experience of the clarity of the precepts,
And transmigrate into the birthless space of inner awareness!

Hey!  Now when the death-point between dawns upon me,
I will give up the preoccupations of the all-desiring mind,
Enter unwavering the experience of the clarity of the precepts,
And transmigrate into the birthless space of inner awareness;
About to lose this created body of flesh and blood,
I will realize it to be impermanent illusion!

Hey! Now when the reality between dawns upon me,
I will let go of the hallucinations of instinctive terror,
Enter the recognition of all objects as my mind’s own visions,
And understand this as the pattern of perception in the between;
Come to this moment, arrived at this most critical cessation,
I will not fear my own visions of deities mild and fierce!

Hey! Now when the existence between dawns upon me,
I will hold my will with mind one-pointed,
And increase forcefully the impulse of positive evolution;
Blocking the womb door, I will remember to be revulsed.
Now courage and positive perception are essential;
I will give up envy, and contemplate all couples
As my Spiritual Mentor, Father and Mother.

With mind distracted, never thinking, ‘Death is coming,’
To slave away on the pointless business of mundane life,
And then to come out empty – it is a tragic error.
Recognition of necessity is the holy teaching of the gods,
So won’t you live this divine truth from now on?
These are the words of the great adepts.
If you don’t put the Mentor’s precept in your mind,
Won’t you be the ones who deceives yourself?

My Critique

Overall, I found this book to be chock full of wisdom and information on Buddhism, including the history of Tibet, which is accessible to anyone who is interested in learning about the funeral practices of Tibetan Buddhists.

It also lays out the actual contents of the Tibetan Book of the Dead which can be read to the deceased on any faith.  It is said that the deceased profits from this effort on our part and also helps us with the grieving process.


I would definitely recommend this not only to everyone interested in learning about other cultures and religions but also to those who are interested in seeing how the Tibetans viewed death through the lens of Tibetan Buddhism.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and if you have any feedback or questions, then feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Don’t forget to buy your copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead which is available on Amazon for $12.21.

I do recommend that you get this book on paperback since it doesn’t translate too well with e-book format.

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6 Responses to Tibetan Book of the Dead Book Review

  1. Kristof says:

    I’m glad I have come to you website, because I watched a movie about Tibetan Book of the Dead. It was a very interesting movie, if I remember correctly Leonard Cohen was a narrator. Have you seen the movie?
    After watching the movie I got interested in the book too and I downloaded one in the pdf format (I don’t remember the author), but it was a tough read. The book you reviewed seems better. I definitely must get this version.

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Kristof,
      No, I’ve never seen the movie, now I must go and find it. This translation is definitely much easier to read than some of the other translations out there.

  2. DrSarahBrewer says:

    How interesting. I have the Egyptian Book Of The Dead and find that fascinating with its magical spells and prayers. Does the Tibetan book of the dead include anything that could be interpretted as magical spells, or descriptions of the afterlife, or is it mainly in the form of prayers?

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Sarah,
      There are similarities between both of them in terms of having phases of the afterdeath process. There are no magic spells but there are prayers of protection which pretty much amounts to the same thing.

  3. Gail A King says:

    This website was clean and nicely laid out. For a book review site, it flowed very well. I was especially interested in how you shared something meaningful from the Tibetian Book of the Dead. Although I’ve never heard of this author, I now know something about him – thanks to your great review.

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