In 1927, Oxford University Press published the first western-language translation of a collection of Tibetan funerary texts (the Great Liberation upon Hearing in the Bardo) under the title The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Since that time, the work has established a powerful hold on the western popular imagination, and is now considered a classic of spiritual literature. Over the years, The Tibetan Book of the Dead has inspired numerous commentaries, an illustrated edition, a play, a video series, and even an opera. Translators, scholars, and popular devotees of the book have claimed to explain its esoteric ideas and reveal its hidden meaning. Few, however, have uttered a word about its history. Bryan J. Cuevas seeks to fill this gap in our knowledge by
offering the first comprehensive historical study of the Great Liberation upon Hearing in the Bardo, and by grounding it firmly in the context of Tibetan history and culture. He begins by discussing the many ways the texts have been understood (and misunderstood) by westerners, beginning with its first editor, the Oxford-educated anthropologist Walter Y. Evans-Wentz, and continuing through the present day. The remarkable fame of the book in the west, Cuevas argues, is strikingly disproportionate to how the original Tibetan texts were perceived in their own country. Cuevas tells the story of how The Tibetan Book of the Dead was compiled in Tibet, of the lives of those who preserved and transmitted it, and explores the history of the rituals through which the life of the dead is imagined
in Tibetan society. This book provides not only a fascinating look at a popular and enduring spiritual work, but also a much-needed corrective to the proliferation of ahistorical scholarship surrounding The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Bryan J. Cuevas, Assistant Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies, Department of Religion, Florida State University
Bryan J. Cuevas is Assistant Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Religion at Florida State University.
"...deserves to be highly recommended as a precious contribution to the field of the fascinating Tibetan Book of the Dead" - Journal of Asian Studies
"Cuevas's book is required reading for anyone seriously interested in the Tibetan Book of the Dead." - Choice
"The Tibetan Book of the Dead is without doubt the Tibetan work best known in the West and in the three-quarters of a century since its initial translation it has won a secure place for itself in the Religious Studies canon. Nevertheless, its actual history and role in Tibetan religious culture have remained topics of ignorance, even among scholars of Buddhism. In The Hidden History of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Bryan Cuevas now masterfully addresses these matters, shedding welcome light on a celebrated book and on Tibetan religious history more generally." - Matthew Kapstein, Professor, The University of Chicago, Director of Tibetan Studies, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris
"Works that are considered to be timeless world classics arose at specific times and in specific places. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is one such work, and it is through understanding its time and its place that we can gain new insights into many meanings. In this compelling study, Bryan Cuevas provides a lamp that illuminates this book that we thought we knew so well." - Donald S. Lopez, author of Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West and The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to Its History and Teachings