The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Understanding the Wisdom of Death & Dying

  • Dharma Studies
  • By Andrew Holecek
  • On Demand

About the Course

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is one of the great texts of the wisdom traditions. It is also one of the most cryptic and impenetrable. This course will “translate” this ancient masterpiece into contemporary terms, and reveal its vast and immediate applicability in modern life. The Book of the Dead is just as much a guide for how to live, and equally The Tibetan Book of Birth.

What is the secret history of this timeless text? Why is it so hard to understand? How can I use The Book to prepare for death, and to live a more fulfilling life? This course will unpack the three death bardos, or “intervals,” that await us at the end of life, and that constitute the journey through the book itself. We will discover that bardos are everywhere, and that by working with the small bardos now we will  prepare for the big one at the end of life.

The Book of the Dead is fundamentally a meditation manual, and this course presents the central practices that underlie the book, and that prepare you for your final journey. Death (letting go) is something you can practice now. Breathtaking in its profundity, bewildering in its complexity, and applicable to anything that ends, this classic tome will become your companion after this course, and guide you through life’s most challenging moments with confidence and grace.

This module will present the origins of The Book and its hidden history. Who wrote it, who discovered it, and how was it written? Why was it composed, and for whom? The central narratives that hold the book – and this course — together will be explored, along with the guiding principles that are necessary to understand it. What are the best translations of The Book, and what’s the best way to study it? Why are there so many translations – and what is “lost in translation?” The gnostic pedagogy that is critical to understanding the text is offered, along with a presentation of the “death principle” and how to practice it. We will discuss the revolution in knowing (tantric epistemology) that is necessary to comprehend the otherwise incomprehensible. The central role of meditation is presented, and why it is “death in slow motion” that helps you “die before you die.” The philosophical, psychological, scientific, and spiritual aspects of bardo theory are unpacked, along with the “access codes” that show you how to apply these teachings right here and now. Finally, why should you believe this text, and how can you prove its tenets? Is this all just ritualized phenomenology?
The three death bardos that structure The Book are introduced, emphasizing the first one: the painful bardo of dying. Why is it painful, and what can we do to reduce the anguish? We will discuss the five stages of the outer dissolution (death of the gross body/mind) and the three stages of inner dissolution (death of the subtle body/mind) that constitute the dying process, and how this sophisticated map installs a GPS that can orient us in an otherwise bewildering journey. What is the subtle anatomy and physiology of death according to The Book, and how can this understanding help me – and others — when I die? The orienting principle of the trikaya (three bodies) is presented, with an emphasis on the structure of the sambhogakaya, or subtle inner body. The inner yogas that work with this inner body are introduced, and a look at how The Book is itself an inner yoga. Prana, nadi, bindu, and chakra – the four key players in the dissolution process – are discussed, along with their applications to the process of falling sleep. Guided meditations are presented to orient us to the dying process, along with the role of dream yoga as a nightly rehearsal for death.
The baffling second bardo, the luminous bardo of dharmata, which occupies almost half of The Book is presented. This is the bardo where “all heaven breaks loose,” and the thermonuclear power of the nature of mind is revealed without the buffer of the body. Why is this bardo so stunning, and why does the radiant light revealed here blind us into confusion? The profound topics of emptiness and luminosity are presented as the heart of this bardo, and the core of The Book itself. Why do they generate so much fear? Why do we contract away from the blazing light of this bardo, and run into the shade of form, or the karmic bardo of becoming? What exactly is this light? This module discusses the central role of projection in The Book, and how that is key to understanding the otherworldly appearances of this bardo. What are the peaceful and wrathful deities, and does everyone experience them? How do the deities manifest in daily life? The role of sleep yoga as a concordant experience of this bardo is offered, and how we can actually glimpse the dharmata not only in deep dreamless sleep, but between each and every thought. What are the practices that introduce us to these extremely subtle and formless dimensions of mind?
The Book concludes with a tour through the third death bardo, the karmic bardo of becoming, where “all hell breaks loose.” This is the bardo where we will spend most of our time after death, and that The Book therefore explores in detail. Why does it take 49 days, and is that time fixed? What are the experiences of this bardo, and how does dream yoga prepare us for “the dream at the end of time”? We will explore the connection between karma and habit, and how this bardo plays out in the death of a job, a relationship, or anything that ends. If we become lucid to this bardo we can control it, and transform this potentially nightmarish experience into the bardo of opportunity—and the ability to become virtually anything. Given the culminating tools in The Book, the greatest obstacle in life (death) can be transformed into the greatest opportunity (enlightenment). Seen in the light of this magisterial text, we can transform death into what it really is: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wake up.

Students who take this course will:

  • Remove fear of death
  • Use teachings and meditations to prepare for death
  • Understand the ‘GPS’ of the trikaya
  • Practice lucid dreaming and dream yoga
  • Die consciously
  • Psychologically interpret The Tibetan Book of the Dead
  • Help others as they die
  • Dissect the origins and history of The Book

About Andrew Holecek

Andrew Holecek has completed the traditional three-year Buddhist meditation retreat and offers seminars internationally on meditation, dream yoga, and the art of dying. He is the author of Preparing to Die: Practical Advice and Spiritual Wisdom from the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition; Meditation in the iGeneration: How to Meditate in a World of Speed and Stress; The Power and the Pain: Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy; the audio learning course Dream Yoga: The Tibetan Path of Awakening Through Lucid Dreaming, and his latest book Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep. Dr. Holecek is a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and has authored scientific papers. His work has appeared in Parabola, Lion's Roar, Tricycle, Utne Reader, Buddhadharma Magazine, Light of Consciousness, and many other periodicals. Andrew holds degrees in classical music, biology, and a doctorate in dental surgery.

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  • Access to this course, plus…
  • Member Only Content
    Unlimited access to premium articles, special podcast series, and other member only content.
  • EPTV Streaming Video Service
    Access to EPTV Original Series and our video library of over 250+ hours of lectures, talks and workshops.
  • Wisdom School Courses
    Access to 60+ on-demand courses plus two new courses every month.