Donald S. Lopez, Jr.


On his book The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography

Cover Interview of May 10, 2011


I wrote with three audiences in mind.

The first is those people who have heard of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, as I guess almost everyone has, but who have never read it and would like to learn something about it and its history.  For them, I devote two chapters to the Buddhist doctrines and practices that appear in the Tibetan texts that Evans-Wentz purchased.

The second audience is those people interested in the history of religion in America and who might not be aware of the very American nature of Evans-Wentz’s book and the role it has played in the formation of American spirituality. For them, I describe Evans-Wentz’s earlier work on Celtic folklore as further evidence of his Theosophical convictions. I also describe a kind of lineage of American spirituality that includes the Fox Sisters (the most famous American mediums of the nineteenth century), Madame Blavatsky, and Walter Evans-Wentz.

The third audience is those people who have read The Tibetan Book of the Dead and have drawn inspiration from it, either as a work of Buddhist practice or as a work to provide solace to the dying.  These readers may not be aware of the circumstances of its creation and of the fact that the book is more famous in America than it ever was in Tibet.

I wrote the book with this last audience in mind—but not because I want to cast aspersions on a book that they love or because I wanted to disillusion them.

I am sometimes saddened to see that people who are interested in Buddhism think that they must renounce their historical consciousness in order to appreciate Buddhist texts.

What I hope readers might understand is that The Tibetan Book of the Dead, like all religious texts, has a history and that knowing that history can also be the starting point for the inspiration we draw from it.

© 2011 Donald Lopez, Jr.