The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Graham Coleman
  • Title: The Tibetan Book of the Dead
  • Subtitle: First Complete Translation
  • Author(s): Graham Coleman , Thupten Jinpa, Padma Sambhava
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Deluxe edition
  • Year: 2007
  • ISBN-10: 0143104942
  • ISBN-13: 9780143104940


The Tibetan Book of the Dead” by Graham Coleman is a comprehensive and insightful exploration of one of the most revered spiritual texts in Tibetan Buddhism. Drawing from various translations and commentaries, Coleman offers a clear and accessible interpretation of the mystical journey experienced by the soul after death, as depicted in the Bardo Thodol. The book delves into the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, providing a profound understanding of the human consciousness and the transformative power of death and rebirth.

Coleman’s extensive research and expertise in Tibetan Buddhism shine through as he elucidates the esoteric concepts and rituals presented in “The Tibetan Book of the Dead.” With meticulous attention to detail, he guides readers through the intricate stages of the afterlife, exploring the various dimensions of existence and the potential for enlightenment in each. By incorporating personal anecdotes and practical advice, Coleman renders this ancient text relevant and applicable to contemporary seekers of spiritual wisdom. Ultimately, “The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” as interpreted by Coleman, becomes a compelling roadmap for understanding the nature of consciousness, liberation, and the transformative potential of death.

Book Review

A Profound Journey into Transcendence: A Review of "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" by Graham Coleman

The Tibetan Book of the Dead” by Graham Coleman offers readers a captivating and illuminating exploration of the Bardo Thodol, a revered funerary text in Tibetan Buddhism. With meticulous research and a deep understanding of Tibetan philosophy and spirituality, Coleman presents a comprehensive interpretation of this extraordinary spiritual guide. Through his insightful analysis, Coleman reveals the profound wisdom and transformative potential that lies within the realm of death and rebirth.

Coleman’s expertise shines through from the very beginning as he contextualizes the origins and significance of the Bardo Thodol. He highlights the role of Padmasambhava, the eighth-century Indian sage, in introducing Buddhism to Tibet and propagating the teachings of the Bardo Thodol. Furthermore, Coleman emphasizes the text’s intended purpose as a guide to assist the deceased in navigating the afterlife, offering them an opportunity to attain enlightenment.

What sets Coleman’s interpretation apart is his dedication to making this ancient text accessible to a contemporary audience. He breaks down complex concepts and rituals, ensuring that readers can grasp their meaning and relevance in their own lives. For instance, he delves into the concept of “bardo,” the intermediate state between death and rebirth, explaining how it is not limited solely to the realm of the afterlife but can also be seen as a metaphorical state of transition in our daily lives.

Throughout the book, Coleman provides rich examples from the Bardo Thodol, skillfully interpreting its poetic language. He delves into the intricacies of the different bardos, such as the chikhai bardo of dying and the sidpa bardo of becoming. In the chikhai bardo, Coleman elucidates the importance of recognizing the luminosity of the mind and the potential for liberation in the face of death. He emphasizes the need to let go of attachments, fears, and desires, encouraging readers to cultivate mindfulness and embrace impermanence.

Coleman’s inclusion of personal anecdotes adds depth and authenticity to his interpretation. He shares stories of his encounters with Tibetan teachers and their insights, creating a bridge between the ancient wisdom of the Bardo Thodol and the lived experiences of individuals seeking spiritual guidance. These anecdotes serve as a reminder that these teachings are not just intellectual exercises but can have a profound impact on one’s personal transformation.

One of the most powerful aspects of this book is Coleman’s exploration of the transformative potential of death and rebirth. He stresses that the experience of death is not merely an end but a catalyst for renewal and a means for accessing higher states of consciousness. Through his interpretation of the sidpa bardo, Coleman inspires readers to reflect on their own patterns of conditioned behavior and the possibilities for growth and liberation that lie within the cycle of rebirth.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead” is a book that invites contemplation and introspection. Coleman’s deep understanding and ability to convey complex concepts make this profound spiritual guide accessible to readers of various backgrounds and levels of familiarity with Tibetan Buddhism. The book is a valuable resource not only for those seeking a deeper understanding of Tibetan philosophy but also for individuals searching for meaning and purpose in life.

In conclusion, Graham Coleman’s “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” is a masterful interpretation of an ancient text that continues to hold wisdom and relevance in the modern world. Through his insightful analysis, Coleman invites readers to embark on a transformative journey, encouraging them to confront their fears, embrace the impermanence of existence, and actively engage with the pursuit of enlightenment. This book serves as a poignant reminder of the potential for growth and transcendence found within the mysteries of life, death, and rebirth.

Word Count: 641

Key Ideas

The Tibetan Book of the Dead” is a profound and ancient spiritual text that provides guidance on navigating the journey of death and rebirth, as well as insights into the nature of consciousness and the afterlife. Graham Coleman’s translation and commentary on this text bring its key ideas to light. Here are some of the key ideas from “The Tibetan Book of the Dead”:

  1. Death and Transition The book outlines the process that the soul goes through after death and its journey through various stages of transition. These stages are intended to help the deceased individual navigate the afterlife and achieve a favorable rebirth.

  2. Bardo Realms The text describes different “bardos,” which are transitional states between death and rebirth. Each bardo presents unique experiences and challenges that offer opportunities for spiritual growth and transformation.

  3. Mind and Consciousness The book emphasizes the significance of the mind and consciousness in the journey beyond death. It suggests that the state of one’s mind, emotions, and thoughts can profoundly influence one’s experiences in the afterlife and subsequent rebirth.

  4. Liberation and Liberation Practices “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” presents teachings and practices aimed at achieving liberation from the cycle of birth and death (samsara). It introduces readers to meditation practices, mantras, and visualizations that can aid in attaining a favorable rebirth or even liberation itself.

  5. Karma and Rebirth The text underscores the role of karma (the law of cause and effect) in determining the circumstances of one’s rebirth. It teaches that ethical actions, intentions, and behaviors during one’s lifetime can influence the conditions of future lives.

  6. Guidance for the Dying and the Living The book provides practical advice for both the dying and those who care for them. It suggests ways to create a peaceful and supportive environment for the dying and offers insights into how the living can cultivate mindfulness and spiritual awareness.

  7. Impermanence and Emptiness “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” encourages readers to contemplate the impermanent and transient nature of all things, fostering an understanding of emptiness. This insight is seen as a gateway to liberation.

  8. Vivid Imagery and Symbolism The text uses vivid and symbolic imagery to convey profound spiritual truths. It encourages readers to reflect on these symbolic narratives as a means of deepening their understanding of the nature of reality.

  9. Conscious Evolution The book suggests that conscious evolution is possible not only in life but also in the afterlife. It offers an opportunity for individuals to make conscious choices that can influence their rebirths and future spiritual progress.

  10. Integration of Wisdom and Compassion Throughout the book, wisdom and compassion are presented as essential qualities for navigating the journey of death, rebirth, and spiritual awakening. Wisdom brings clarity, while compassion helps individuals connect with others on a profound level.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead” is considered a timeless guide to understanding the nature of life, death, and consciousness. It offers readers insights into the interconnectedness of existence and encourages contemplation of profound truths that extend beyond the boundaries of life and death.

Target Audience

The Tibetan Book of the Dead” by Graham Coleman is a book that can appeal to a wide range of readers due to its diverse and universal themes. The target audience for this book includes:

  • Spiritual Seekers Those who are interested in exploring the depths of consciousness, spirituality, and the nature of existence will find “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” to be an enlightening and thought-provoking read. Coleman’s interpretation offers valuable insights into Tibetan Buddhism and its teachings on death, rebirth, and liberation.

  • Individuals Interested in Eastern Philosophy and Religion Readers with an affinity for Eastern philosophies and religions, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, will find this book to be a valuable resource. Coleman’s thorough exploration of the Bardo Thodol provides a unique perspective on Tibetan spiritual traditions and their approach to the afterlife.

  • Philosophical and Psychological Thinkers Those interested in philosophy and psychology will appreciate the book’s exploration of consciousness, the nature of reality, and the process of transformation. Coleman’s analysis of the Bardo Thodol offers profound insights into the human psyche and the potential for personal growth and self-discovery.

  • Anthropology and Cultural Studies Scholars Scholars and researchers in the fields of anthropology and cultural studies will find “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” to be an invaluable resource. Coleman’s comprehensive interpretation of the text draws from various translations and commentaries, providing a wealth of knowledge and understanding about Tibetan culture, traditions, and beliefs.

  • General Readers Seeking Personal Growth The book’s practical advice and guidance make it accessible and relevant to readers seeking personal growth and transformation. Coleman’s incorporation of personal anecdotes and his emphasis on mindfulness, impermanence, and letting go can resonate deeply with individuals seeking to navigate life’s challenges and find inner peace.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead” is recommended reading for its ability to bridge ancient wisdom with contemporary relevance. Whether one is seeking spiritual insights, exploring cultural traditions, or delving into the mysteries of the mind, this book offers a multifaceted perspective that encourages growth, introspection, and a deeper understanding of the human experience. It is a compelling resource that invites readers to explore profound teachings and contemplate the nature of existence in a way that is both accessible and enlightening.