The Bardo Thodol, fitly named by its editor, Dr. W. Y. Evans-Wentz, “The Tibetan Book of the Dead,” caused a considerable stir in English-speaking countries at the time of its first appearance in 1927.
It belongs to that class of writings which are not only of interest to specialists in Mahayana Buddhism, but which also, because of their deep humanity and their still deeper insight into the secrets of the human psyche, make an especial appeal to the layman who is seeking to broaden his knowledge of life.
For years, ever since it was first published, the Bardo Thodol has been my constant companion, and to it I owe not only many stimulating ideas and discoveries, but also many fundamental insights.
Unlike the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which always prompts one to say too much or too little, the Bardo Thodol offers one an intelligible philosophy addressed to human beings rather than to gods or primitive savages. Its philosophy contains the quintessence of Buddhist psychological criticism; and, as such, one can truly say that it is of an unexampled superiority.
Not only the “wrathful” but also the “peaceful” deities are conceived as samsaric projections of the human psyche, an idea that seems all too obvious to the enlightened European, because it reminds him of his own banal simplifications.
But though the European can easily explain away these deities as projections, he would be quite incapable of positing them at the same time as real.
The Bardo Thodol can do that, because, in certain of its most essential metaphysical premises, it has the enlightened as well as the unenlightened European at a disadvantage.
The ever-present, unspoken assumption of the Bardo Thodol is the antinominal character of all metaphysical assertions, and also the idea of the qualitative difference of the various levels of consciousness and of the metaphysical realities conditioned by them.
The background of this unusual book is not the niggardly European “either-or,” but a magnificently affirmative “both-and.”
This statement may appear objectionable to the Western philosopher, for the West loves clarity and unambiguity; consequently, one philosopher clings to the position, “God is,” while another clings equally fervently to the negation, “God is not.”
What would these hostile brethren make of an assertion like the following:
Recognizing the voidness of thine own intellect to be Buddhahood, and knowing it at the same time to be thine own consciousness, thou shalt abide in the state of the divine mind of the Buddha.
Such an assertion is, I fear, as unwelcome to our Western philosophy as it is to our theology.
The Bardo Thodol is in the highest degree psychological in its outlook; but, with us, philosophy and theology are still in the medieval, pre-psychological stage where only the assertions are listened to, explained, defended, criticized and disputed, while the authority that makes them has, by general consent, been deposed as outside the scope of discussion. ~Carl Jung, Psychology and Religion, Psychological Commentary on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Paragraphs 833-834.