The Six States Of Being In The Tibetan Book of the Dead

Warning:  This post is going to dabble in areas of serious pretentiousness.  I don’t know how to talk about this the way I want to without it, so I’m just going to embrace it.

About a year ago I started a growing obsession with reading source spiritual, religious, or philosophical texts or scriptures.  I grew a bit…impatient, maybe…with reading other people’s interpretations or regurgitations of history’s great pieces of writing that revealed some sliver of The Truth.  I figured, why not go straight to the well myself?

So far, it’s been an incredibly rewarding decision that has literally enriched every single moment of my life.  So I’m going to keep on going with it and see where it takes me.

I want to share an early portion of The Tibetan Book of the Dead with you because I loved it from the moment I first read it.  It’s a translation of a poem called ‘The Root Verses of the Six Intermediate States’.  The poem describes six inevitable modes of existence and the best frame of mind to carry into all of them in order to seek a higher state of understanding.  They are: Living, Dreaming, Meditating, Dying, Being Dead, Being Reborn.

I’m not here to have a discussion about the merits of reincarnation, so if that’s an issue in your mind right now (which I’ll admit it is a bit troublesome for me), try to table it just for the moment and focus on the other five that we know to be real.

The introduction in the edition I’m reading says ‘it is recommended that practitioners should memorize these verses and recite them repeatedly, while reflecting on their meaning, throughout their lives.’

So in other words: take it in, mull it over and revisit it over and over and over and over again.  I hope it does for you as much as it’s already done for me.

Root Verses of the Six Intermediate States

Alas, now as the intermediate state of living arises before me,

Renouncing laziness, for which there is no time in this life,

I must enter the undistracted path of study, reflection and meditation.

Taking perceptual experience and [the nature of] mind as the path,

I must cultivate actualization of the three Buddha-bodies (a term describing three specific dimensions of experiencing an enlightened mind).

Now, having obtained a precious human body, this one time,

I do not have the luxury of remaining on a distracted path.


Alas, now as the intermediate state of dreams arises before me,

Renouncing the corpse-like, insensitive sleep of delusion,

I must enter, free from distracting memories, the state of the abiding nature of reality.

Cultivating [the experience of] inner radiance,

Through recognition, emanation, and transformation of dreams,

I must not sleep like a beast,

But cherish the experiential cultivation which mingles sleep with actual [realization].


Alas, now as the intermediate state of meditative concentration arises before me,

Renouncing the mass of distractions and confusions,

I must undistractedly enter a state,

Which is devoid of subjective apprehension, and free from the [two] extremes,

And attain stability in the stages of generation and perfection.

At this moment, having renounced activity,

And having attained a singular [concentration],

I must not fall under the sway of bewildering mental afflictions!


Alas, now as the intermediate state of the time of death arises before me,

Renouncing [all] attachment, yearning and subjective apprehension in every respect,

I must enter the path, on which the oral teachings are clearly understood,

And eject my own awareness into the uncreated expanse of space.

Immediately upon separation from this compounded body of flesh and blood,

I must know [this body] to be like a transient illusion.


Alas, now as the intermediate state of reality arises before me,

Renouncing the merest sense of awe, terror, or fear,

I must recognize all that arises to be awareness, manifesting naturally of itself.

Knowing [such sounds, lights and rays] to be visionary phenomena of the intermediate state,

At this moment, having reached this critical point,

I must not fear the assembly of Peaceful and Wrathful Deities, which manifest naturally!


Alas, now as the intermediate state of rebirth arises before me,

I must with one-pointed intention concentrate my mind,

And resolutely connect with the residual potency of my virtuous past actions.

I must obstruct the womb and entrance and call to mind the methods of reversal.

This is the time when perseverance and purity of perception are imperative.

I must give up all jealousy and meditate on my spiritual teacher with consort.


From the mouth of the accomplished masters come these words:

‘O, [you], with your mind far away, thinking that death will not come,

Entranced by the pointless activities of this life,

If you were to return empty-handed now, would not your [life’s] purpose have been utterly confused?

Recognize what it is that you truly need!  It is a sacred teaching, beginning from this very moment?’

And it is also said,

‘If I choose not to take the oral teachings of the spiritual teacher to heart,

Am I not the deceiver of myself?’


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