Historical Background


It is hardly necessary to remind the reader that the Egyptians believed implicitly in the ka – which might be said to correspond to our conception of the Astral Body.

This KA was not the Soul of man, it must be understood, but its vehicle – just as the astral body is thought to be the vehicle of the mind and soul today. It was this ka which visited the mummified body from time to time, and was usually depicted as a sort of bird-like double of the deceased. Many of the older Egyptian paintings show this. The wanderings and trials of the dead man in the Under World are described at great length in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and in other early writings. ‘Even more striking and important, from our point of view, however, is the recently translated Tibetan Book of the Dead, edited by Dr. W. Y. Evans-Wentz, and published by the Oxford University Press (1927).

This work – the Bar do Thodol – was probably first committed to writing in the eighth century a.d., and embodied teachings much older. The manuscript from which the present translation is made is judged by experts to be between 150 and 200 years old. As the reader may have surmised, it deals with the same general topic as the earlier Egyptian work; but, from our modem point of view, is far more rational, and many of its teachings correspond, in a remarkable way, with those of Occult and Psychical Science. A very brief summary of those portions of the book which deal tnore or less directly with our theme will doubtless prove of interest. When a man is about to die, a Lama is called in, whose duty it is to attend to the dying man and usher him properly into the next world. The arteries on the sides of the neck are pressed. This is done to keep the dying person conscious, with the consciousness rightly directed. For the nature of the Death-consciousness deter- mines the future state of the “soul-complex,” existence being the continuous transformation of one conscious state to another. The pressing of the arteries regulates the path to be taken by the out-going vital current (Prana). The proper path is that which passes through the Foramen of Monro. “If the expiration is about to cease, turn the dying one over on the right side, which posture is called the ‘Lying Posture of a Lion.’ The throbbing of the arteries (on the right and left sides of the throat) is to be pressed. If the person dying be disposed to sleep, or if the sleeping state advances, that should be arrested, and the arteries pressed gently but firmly. Thereby the vital force will not be able to return from the median nerve and will be sure to pass out through the Brahmanic aperture. Now the real setting face to face is to be applied. At this moment, the first glimpsing of the Bardo, of the Clear Light of Reality, is experienced by all sentient beings.” All the time the patient is dying, the Lama urges him to keep his mind tranquil and poised, so that he may see and enter into the Clear Light of Reality, and may not be troubled with hallucinations or thought-forms which have no objective existence, save in his own mind. The Lama superintends the whole process of the with-drawal of the astral body from the physical at death. It is commonly held that the process (of separation) takes from three and one-half to four days, unless assisted by a priest called hpho-bo (pron. pho-o), or extractor-of-the-consciousness-principle; and that, even if the priest be successful in the extracting, the deceased ordinarily does not wake up to the fact of being separated from the human body until the said period of time has elapsed. If the mind of the dying person has not been properly concen- trated upon the Clear Light, he is liable to see scores of devils and demons of all sorts! But it is emphasized over and over again in the book, that these demons have no actual, objective existence: they are merely hallucinations, or thought-forms, having no actuality, save in the mind of the seer. They are all purely symbolical. The mind is capable of manufacturing these, or creating them, just as we do every night in our dreams. He must cleave his way through these into the Clear Light of the Void. The sooner he can do this, the sooner is liberation attained.

The teachings concerning the astral body are very clear and concise: “When thou art recovered from the swoon (of death) thy Knower must have risen up in its primordial condition and a radiant body, resembling the former body, must have sprung forth. It is called the desire-body. The Bardo-body hath been spoken of as endowed with all sense-faculties. Unimpeded motion implyeth that thy present body being only a desire body and not a body of gross matter. . . . Thou art actually endowed with the power of miraculous motion. . . . Ceaselessly and involuntarily wilt thou be wandering about. To all those who are weeping (thou shalt say) ‘Here I am, weep not.’ But they not hearing thee, thou wilt think, ‘I am dead!’ And again, at that time, thou wilt be feeling very miserable. Be not miserable in that way.

There will be a grey, twilight-like light, both by night and by day, and at all times. Even though thou seekest a body, thou wilt gain nothing but trouble. Put aside the desire for a body; and permit thy mind to abide in the state of resignation, and act so as to abide therein. These are the indications of the wandering about on the Sidpa Bardo of the mental body.

At the time, happiness and misery will depend upon Karma.