- Series: Lives of Great Religious Books
- Hardcover: 192 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (February 27, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691134359
- ISBN-13: 978-0691134352
- Product Dimensions: 4.8 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
#1,229,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #42 in Books > Religion & Spirituality > Other Eastern Religions & Sacred Texts > Tibetan Book of the Dead
- #528 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Philosophy > Eastern > Buddhism > Sacred Writings
- #1195 in Books > Politics & Social Sciences > Philosophy > Eastern > Buddhism > Rituals & Practice
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The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography (Lives of Great Religious Books) Hardcover – February 27, 2011
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A scholarly and informative short read, very useful as a reminder that religious books are not necessarily fixed entities.---James F. DeRoche, Library Journal
The focus of Donald Lopez's ingenious, informative, and engagingly written 'biography' is not so much the original Tibetan text but the pioneering edition and translation first issued in 1927 by the American traveler, scholar, and Theosophist W.Y. Evans-Wentz.---Roger Jackson, Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly
[T]his biography springs to life when Lopez places its subject within the weird tradition of American spiritualism, complete with Madame Blavatsky's acolytes, Ouija boards and memories of exotic past lives.---Miriam Cosic, The Australian
What makes Lopez's biography of Evans-Wentz's book not only amusing (as it unfailingly is) but enlightening is that one suspects he too could have 'chosen any Asian text' that had been ripped from its context and composed a similar story of how meanings, willy-nilly, had attached themselves to it. Having read Lopez's book, we will look afresh at the volumes of unmoored wisdom so many in the West have taken to heart.---David Cozy, Japan Times
"A scholarly and informative short read, very useful as a reminder that religious books are not necessarily fixed entities."--James F. DeRoche, Library Journal
The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography is an excellent short introduction to Buddhism, and an intriguing analysis of how ancient texts are used (or invented) to give authority to ideologies.---Heather Shaw, Portland Book Review
"The focus of Donald Lopez's ingenious, informative, and engagingly written 'biography' is not so much the original Tibetan text but the pioneering edition and translation first issued in 1927 by the American traveler, scholar, and Theosophist W.Y. Evans-Wentz."--Roger Jackson, Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly
"The focus of Donald Lopez's ingenious, informative, and engagingly written 'biography' is not so much the original Tibetan text but the pioneering edition and translation first issued in 1927 by the American traveler, scholar, and Theosophist W.Y. Evans-Wentz."--Roger R. Jackson, Buddhadharma
Concise and written with Lopez's usual clarity, this short book at times reads like an exciting spiritual detective story as the author methodically takes the reader through the improbable developments that led to the creation of what, in some sense, is a Western creation brought forth from Eastern concepts. . . . Although written for a popular audience, this book should be of interest to all scholars interested in the metamorphosis of Buddhism as the dharma has become transplanted in the West.---George Adams, NovaReligio
"[T]his biography springs to life when Lopez places its subject within the weird tradition of American spiritualism, complete with Madame Blavatsky's acolytes, Ouija boards and memories of exotic past lives."--Miriam Cosic, The Australian
From the Inside Flap
"On the history of Buddhism and its transmission to the West, Donald Lopez is the unsurpassable master. The story he tells here about a book that is 'not really Tibetan' and 'not really about death' glistens with delicious ironies and arresting historical parallels. Who else but Lopez would begin a history of The Tibetan Book of the Dead with the story of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith--and then, like a mystery writer, reveal the connections at the end? This is a sly and wildly entertaining book."--Kenneth L. Woodward, contributing editor, Newsweek
"The Tibetan Book of the Dead has a wonderful story, and in this fascinating and charming little book, Donald Lopez reveals himself to be a wonderful storyteller."--Jack Miles, author ofGod: A Biography
"This smart, entertaining introduction to The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a real delight. Despite its title, Donald Lopez argues,The Tibetan Book of the Dead is a uniquely American book and can be properly read and understood only from that perspective. He demonstrates this by exposing its direct links to American Theosophy and spiritualism at the dawn of the New Age in the early twentieth century, while also drawing interesting parallels to the visionary beginnings of Mormonism."--Bryan J. Cuevas, author ofThe Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead
"This book offers a fascinating and fresh discussion of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and its life as a text in the United States. Donald Lopez argues that persistent threads in American religious life--the tradition of the 'found' text as a repository for ancient wisdom, and a philosophical interest in life after death--help explain the overwhelming success of the book and its endurance as a cultural artifact."--Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
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Lopez starts us with a history of American crypto-archeology around religious texts starting with Joseph Smith in New York's "burnt over" district and the revelation of reformed Egyptian and lost golden plates. This history comprises the first chapter, and the next chapters gives us context for Buddhism, and then compares implicitly compares the history of Mahayana textual "findings" and the specific Vajrayana traditions that involve finding "hidden" texts for later revelation and, again, the even more specific Nyingma traditions around terma, which were hidden scriptures that are found through reincarnations and access to Dakinis.
In a way, this contrast is both a condemnation and apologia for Evans-Wentz's theosophical creation of "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" based off some obscure manuscripts in Tibetan found in the British protectorate of Sikkim at the end of the Victorian period that played against the Victorian schemas placing Theravada as a purer form of Buddhism and making the original Buddha a rationalist. This myth, one that still uses up today in popular Buddhist writings, is in some ways just as misleading as Evans-Wentz/Blavatsky theosophical story about Hindu hidden masters in Tibet.
Lopez then goes through the origins of the various introductions--Western converts without proper ordination claiming to be Lamas, Jung's psychologizing and mythologizing of the text, the 70s re-translations and introduction of depth psychology even by Tibetan exiles to make an otherwise hyper-obscure text more appealing. The turning of the text into a self-help manual, and lastly, the more complete recent translation with a proper contextualization by the current Dalai Lama.
Now this is NOT a history of the Bardo Todol in Tibetan or its various manuscripts. That is handled by Bryan J. Cuevas' The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. However, it is important to note that Cuevas and Lopez cite each other and are clearly in dialogue. Like so many of Lopez's books, this is an excellent demystification if it can be dry in the minutiae it must go into to make its point.
That said, what content it does contain is very good. Lopez gives a solid overview of the reception of the bar-do thos-grol in the west, in all of its wild permutations, with a particular focus on Evans-Wentz and his version. He also sets Evans-Wentz in context very well, with a discussion of Joseph Smith and the Great Awakening and Theosophy and more.
Later editions are given a fairly cursory mention. I wish he'd recapped his takedown of Thurman's edition from "Prisoners of Shrangi La," but that isn't even mentioned. He says more or less nothing about Trungpa's either. I guess it's hard to cover everything when you're working with the artificial space constrains of a triple-spaced 4'' X 6'' book.
How often do you say of a serious scholarly work (albeit a short one) that you couldn't put it down and read it at one sitting? This is a compelling story of an important phase in the history of the Western encounter with Tibetan Buddhism that reads like a thriller. While another reviewer sees Lopez's intent as being to undermine all religions, I read it otherwise. The book is a tale of human foibles, of how thoroughly our preconceptions and cultural conditioning can obscure our quest for truth, and of the dangers of getting lost in "the thicket of views" or believing blindly in what has been taught due to claims of lineage or historicity. For those reasons, I think the book and Lopez's work in general are very much in the tradition of the Buddha himself. Highly recommended.