The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or Bardo Thodol, is a manual or guide for the 49-day period between a person’s death and their next rebirth. Written in Tibet in the middle ages, it describes the entities and experiences that await all of us in the bardo, or the in-between. Many strange and scary things happen in that intermediate phase, and it is best, from the point of view of the text, to be prepared. In fact, if one is prepared enough, the moment of death can be the most opportune time to achieve liberation. This occurs when you can see what is happening, including the most terrifying images, as aspects of your own mind.
Jung writes that the Bardo Thodol makes “clear to the dead man the primacy of the psyche, for that is the one thing which life does not make clear to us. We are so hemmed in by things which jostle and oppress that we never get the chance, in the midst of all these ‘given’ things, to wonder by whom they are ‘given’. It is from this world of given things that the dead man liberates himself; and the purpose of the instructions is to help him toward this liberation. we … learn from the very first paragraphs the that ‘giver’ of all ‘given’ things dwells within us. This is a truth which in the face of all evidence, in the greatest things as well as in the smallest, is never known although it is often so very necessary, indeed vital, for us to know it.” (vol 11: 514)
Why does Jung say this is vital? Because this exploration of the in-between has the capacity to liberate us in this life, long before the body dies.
Lecture: Our lecture will include a brief history of the Bardo Thodol and then a symbolic exploration of its other reality. We will look at it compared to the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Jung’s own opus of the undiscovered country, The Red Book. Finally we will ground it in our daily lives as a useful and inspirational tool that has something to say to everyone. Fantastic images will accompany the lecture.
Workshop: Our workshop will make it clear that The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not just for the dead! Using Jungian tools to decipher the text we will see just how and when we can act to change our patterns of behavior during the critical “bardo” or in-between phases of experience. Our extra time will give us the opportunity to dive into the intricate and beautiful images – to purely appreciate them, to understand them a little better, and as a way to understand ourselves or our patients. Bring your bad habits and your imagination
Morgan Stebbins, MDiv, LMSW, is a Jungian analyst in New York City, where he is Director of Training, Supervising Analyst, and faculty member of the Jungian Psychoanalytic Association, and a faculty member of the C.G. Jung Foundation. He teaches courses comparing the findings of depth psychology with spiritual traditions worldwide, including the Kaballah, Zen Buddhism, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead and Everyday Life