The Bardo Thodol is part of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Nyingma means “ancient” in Tibetan. Bardo Thodol translated into English is “Liberation through hearing during the Intermediate State.” To the West, it is known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The book was not thought to be simply written but rather revealed to one Karma Lingpa during the 14th century and then written down. The Bardo Thodol is part of a larger work called the Profound Dharma of Self-Liberation through the Intention of the Peaceful and Wrathful Ones.
In practice, the Bardo is read to the deceased over a period of forty-nine days. The text describes step-by-step what the deceased will experience and begins with the advice that he or she listen without distraction, since he or she is still around and can hear what is being said. The words point out that the deceased will be sad at leaving his friends and connections, and that this feeling is natural. Day by day, the text leads the deceased through death’s stages, including a period when he or she will be assaulted by demons. The deceased is cautioned that these are parts of his own consciousness. As time passes, the deceased will have choices as to what form of incarnation he or she will take. At the end a choice is made, and if successful, the deceased will take on another human form after which the original body is cremated.
In Tibetan Buddhism, it is thought that the great teachers come back to give further understandings to mankind and continue their work. A search for a teacher’s next incarnation is outlined in the films Little Buddha and Unmistaken Child. Perhaps the most telling part of the Unmistaken Child is when one of the Tibetan monks is asked if it is possible to make a mistake in the reincarnation process. The teacher answers that it is, but even so, if the chosen child is brought up with the original master’s same teachings, beliefs, and methods, is not that person truly reincarnated?
I repeat what the unnamed character in Songs of Rebellion says:
“Whether by accident or design, no one knows the truth of life or death.
“As for death, even those who claim they have returned from there are destined to repeat the process no matter what they say. Perhaps they took a wrong turn? The next time they’ll likely get it right. In this we are all equal.”
Life and death, its meaning, and the truth of it, are themes that run throughout Eye of the Moon, rising to the surface every now and again, only to sink into the background that is life. Death is a mystery that is destined to be revealed to each and every one of us in time. Who is right? Who is wrong? We don’t know; only that it is in life that we have a chance to express our best and our worst. We may or may not have another chance, but what a chance we have! Eye of the Moon and perhaps all the fiction that I write is about the joy of being alive, and that tomorrow is a brand-new day. Waste not.