I'm talking about The Tibetan Book of the Dead, deluxe edition, with introduction by the Dalai Lama, Penguin Books Ltd, 2005.
Much of the material is outrageously bizarre and peculiar (in my eyes, at the time of reading). For example, here's an excerpt from the Specific Rites for Averting Death:
“When the indication of protruding ankle bones appears, one should face westward towards the sun when it is close to setting and remove one's clothes. Then, placing a dog's tail under oneself, and some dog excrement in a heap in front, one should eat a mouthful and bark like a dog. This should be repeated three times...
“Also in cases where other people are afflicted by illness: if the roots of their teeth grow grimy and black, such a person should wear a goat's skin, face the sunrise, and bleat three times like a goat. Similarly, in cases where the nostrils sag inwards, it will be beneficial if one visualises the syllable A on the tip of the subject's nose, recites the syllable A twenty-one times, and bathes in various rivers...” (Number of rivers not specified.)
The excerpt is from the Ritual Averting of Signs of Near Death (page 190), which is part of the section entitled, Ritual Deception of Death, which contains Specific Rites for Averting Death. As highlighted in the Context to the Ritual Deception of Death, many of the strange rituals described in detail are "...idiosyncratic and ... not commonly practised." In other words, downright weird to the max.
It's one of those books you really have to wrestle with. It's hard labour, but the rewards are great. I found much of the non-ludicrous content to be totally impenetrable (to me), at the first reading anyway. But if you keep digging and delving, the gems start revealing themselves.
I'm going to dispense with "(to me)" and its cousins. Let's agree there is an invisible "in my humble opinion" (IMHO) at the start of each sentence (and they're long sentences, with hard labour, for Life!).
A lot of the Book is about folklore and ritual. But IMHO there are parts that offer deep insights into the nature of Life, Death and Reality.
Parts of the Book are highly thought-provoking. Some of it is a relatively pure, undistorted source of some aspects of "new age" thinking.
On page 47, for example, are a series of statements that clarify and enhance the "living in the now" meme. Or, as the Book itself puts it, “Now follows the esoteric instruction which reveals the three times to be one...” (the three times being past, future and present) and closes the page with “Do not meditate at all, since there is nothing upon which to meditate.”
Now, you gotta admit, that whatever your personal belief-system, and how thirsty that makes you, it's refreshing to encounter material that tells you NOT to meditate.
Alongside insights into human psychology, the Book maps the domains and landscapes in which the souls of those who have recently died are believed to wander (and wonder!). (You can substitute "consciousnesses" for "souls" if you like.)
Did the Book persuade me that there is life after death, that people have souls, that reincarnation happens? Reading the Book did not substantially change my views on those subjects. But it did open my mind a little more to possibilities I had previously dismissed as impossibilities.
Let me put it this way: You stumble on a bunch of stuff that you try to make sense of. You fail miserably. But your very failure shows you that the bunch of stuff was once a coherent whole. Because among that stuff are bits and pieces that shouldn't be there, couldn't be there, don't seem to belong there. And the mere fact that they ARE there suggests the broken and distorted shape of what once might have been there. For starters, I'd like to know more about the "skyfarers". Overall, my half-baked conclusion is that the Book contains material that is much older than is believed by many who should know better.
The Assembly of Peaceful and Wrathful Deities is another post in this blog about the Book.