After my dad died last year, I developed more than a passing interest in what happens after we die. In an effort to find out more, I read the following two books at roughly the same time. In retrospect, I realize these books are like night and day: one is a religious text from a religion I don’t subscribe to and the other is a witty look at what science thinks of the afterlife. Needless to say, my quest continues … and will probably continue until I get to experience the afterlife myself. (Note: If blogging from the afterlife is possible, I will try to post something about what I experienced.)
I’m not going to sugarcoat this: this was a difficult read. However, I suspect that if you just wade into a religious text with little or no background in the religion, that is what you will experience. The book’s actual title is The Great Liberation Upon Hearing in the Intermediate State or Bardo Thodol. Used in Tibetan Buddhism as a guide for the dead in the time between death and the next rebirth or liberation, the book is believed to be the work of Padma Sambhava, who lived in the 8th century A.D.
The book is very much a guide book and is meant to be read aloud over the course of several days (or possible even weeks) over the body of a dead person. By reading the book aloud, it is hoped that you will be able to guide the soul of the dead person as they navigate the afterlife. (Don’t you wish every religion was able to offer this type of guide?)
And what does this afterlife appear to be like? Well, there are several bardo realms that the soul passes through on the way to liberation or eventual rebirth. A variety of gods will appear, in forms that can be frightening and deceptive. Here is what I was able to glean from the text.
- There are many many opportunities to achieve liberation during your passage through the realm of the bardos.
- Do not be afraid or believe all the strange things you might see; they are illusion.
- Go toward the dazzling white light if you can.
- If, despite the numerous opportunities presented to you to achieve liberation, you are unable to do so, you will be reborn. The text thoughtfully provides guidance on choosing a womb to enter so as to achieve a good birth.
If you would like a relatively straightforward overview of the text, I found one here. I was also interested to learn that this book was the basis for the Beatle’s song Tomorrow Never Knows (lyrics here). (Note: With that in mind, this might be a good song to play as a guide for the recently deceased who was also a fan of classic rock.)
I read this book as part of my World Religion Challenge and because my dad had developed an interest in Tibetan Buddhism after traveling to Tibet a few years ago. Ironically, I read this ancient text on my Kindle.
This was the first book I’ve read by Mary Roach, and it won’t be the last. Roach has a witty and skeptical mind, and she uses it to good effect in examining different ways that science has explored the afterlife. Roach isn’t afraid to insert herself into the story, whether going along to interview a child that may have been reincarnated to enrolling in medium school. She brings a light touch to the subject, yet manages to work a whole bunch of science-cy stuff in a way that was fun and interesting. Although I didn’t necessarily expect to entertained or amused by this book when I started, I was (entertained and amused). Plus I learned a lot of different things–some of which I wish I could wipe from my memory (e.g., the method in which mediums hid their “ectoplasm”).
Roach explores quite a few ways that scientists have used to quantify, prove or document the soul and/or the afterlife. Some of the areas explored in the book include: interviewing children who were allegedly reincarnated; how early scientists looked for the human soul … in sperm; attempts to measure the a soul by having people expire on a scale; a look at “the giddy, revolting heyday of ectoplasm” and mediums; modern mediums (including the lady that is the model for the TV show Medium); using acoustics to hear the dead; telecommunicating with the dead; hunting for ghosts; and attempting to measure near-death experiences in the operating room.
If you’re looking for an offbeat read about a subject that I suspect all of us might be just a little bit curious about and you’d like a guide who is both an amusing and talented writer, then this gem of a book is for you. I personally enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. And although Roach’s results are pretty inconclusive, she does hold out some tantalizing food for thought that won’t leave readers completely empty-handed.
An excerpt: Carpenter points out that leprechauns have a volume similar to that of a human Mac. “This makes me suspect, ” he writes, “that Leprechauns … are most likely discarnate humans.” This makes me, in turn, suspect that Donald Gilbert Carpenter is most likely not the staid scientists that his many equations and tables suggest.
Another excerpt: “Right,” says the tutor after a minute has gone by. “Does anyone not feel a contact?” No one raises a hand. I haven’t got my energy out the door, and apparently everyone else’s is off in heaven at an ice-cream social. I raise my hand. The tutor comes over and puts her hand up to my face. She asks if I can feel my face. What does this mean? It’s not numb, so I guess the answer is yes. I nod. “Okay, good, you’ve got it.” She turns back to the group. I don’t read minds, but I think I know what’s going on in hers: AVOID THE YANK. The Yank is trouble.
I got this book via Paperback Swap.
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