LUMINOUS EMPTINESS: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead

Francesca Fremantle, Author . Shambhala $24.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-57062-450-6

In 1975, Shambhala published The Tibetan Book of the Dead, whose actual name is less catchy: The Great Liberation through Hearing during the Immediate State. (This misnomer originated with W.Y. Evans-Wentz's initial English translation in 1927, piggy-backing on The Egyptian Book of the Dead's popularity at that time.) The 1975 version of Padmasambhava's original eighth-century text, translated by Fremantle and Chögyam Trungpa, strengthened a bridge between Tibetan Buddhism and the West, and it stills sells briskly. To pay tribute to her teacher Trungpa, Fremantle offers this commentary to expound upon and clarify the spiritual classic. Her solo work here is a blend of high intellectualism, readability and spiritual gifts that successfully enhance the understanding of the bardos, or stages, between life and death. The commentary's first part examines the text's foundations, illuminating its rich concepts, while the second applies this clarified knowledge to newly translated excerpts. As Trungpa once observed, the text could just as easily be called The Tibetan Book of Birth; it is indeed a manual about death, the "process of dissolution, but also the process of coming into being, and these two processes are continually at work in every moment of life." Fremantle wrote this for "everyone who feels attracted to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, whether they are Buddhist or not." Except for the most dedicated students, this is not a book for beginners, but it will provide expert assistance for those who yearn to contemplate Tibetan Buddhism's deeper fathoms. (Dec.)

Forecast:Fremantle's association with the 1975 translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and with Chögyam Trungpa, should help this become an enduring backlist title for Shambhala.

Reviewed on: 12/17/2001
Release date: 12/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 428 pages - 978-1-57062-925-9
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