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Books on Death

Recommended reading

Tibetan Book of the Dead

In Tibetan Buddhism there are many writings about life after death including the 'Tibetan Book of the Dead' or Bardo Thödol. This is a guide telling the dying person how to react and try to ensure

a positive outcome of the experiences. It includes descriptions of the bardo states. These are states between dying and being reborn.

“Remember the clear light, the pure clear white light from which everything in the universe comes, to which everything in the universe returns; the original nature of your own mind. The natural state of the universe unmanifest. Let go into the clear light, trust it, merge with it. It is your own true nature, it is home.”

Bardo Thödol is a funerary text recited to ease the consciousness of a recently deceased person through death and assist it into a favorable rebirth. The first English translation of the Bardo Thodol was titled ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ by Walter Evans-Wentz due to its similarities with another funerary text, the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

In his commentary on the Bardo Thodol, late Chogyam Trungpa explained that Bardo means “gap,” or interval of suspension, and that Bardo is part of our psychological make-up. Bardo experiences happen to us all the time in life, not just after death. The “Bardo Thodol” can be read as a guide to life experiences as well as a guide to the time between death and rebirth.

Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung highly revered The Tibetan Book of the Dead, considering it a great psychological work. This view came primarily due to the symbolic nature of the work, describing peaceful deities, as well as wrathful ones, who drink blood, lick brains and chop heads.

The biography of Milarepa

Example of the attitude towards death can be found in the biography of Milarepa, who began his meditative practice after having killed a number of people through black magic. The realization of his impending death and the sufferings he would experience in his next lifetime prompted him to find a lama who could show him a way to avert his fate. His concern with death was so great that when he was medititing in a cave his tattered clothes fell apart, but he decided not to mend them, saying, "If I were to die this evening, it would be wiser to meditate than to do this useless sewing."


In the Dhammapada, another great teaching of the Buddha, it is said that people would never fight or argue if they fully realized they were going to die. As we contemplate death, we can also learn compassion for our enemies.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying written by by Sogyal Rinpoche, is the ultimate introduction to Tibetan Buddhist wisdom. The author wrote, "I have written The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying as the quintessence of the heart-advice of all my masters, to be a new Tibetan Book of the Dead and a Tibetan Book of Life."

Making Friends with Death

In Making Friends with Death, Buddhist teacher Judith Lief, who's drawn her inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, shows us that through the powerful combination of contemplation of death and mindfulness practice, we can change how we relate to death, enhance our appreciation of everyday life, and use our developing acceptance of our own vulnerability as a basis for opening to others.

Here are some more books:

  • No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh

  • Living in the Light of Death: On the Art of Being Truly Alive, by Larry Rosenberg

  • What the Buddha Taught (1959) by Walpola Rahula

  • Leaning Into Sharp Points: Practical Guidance and Nurturing Support for Caregivers, by Stan Goldberg

  • Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death, by Joan Halifax


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