By Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Princeton University Press, $19.95, 173 pages
“For Evans-Wentz, the ur-text is Madam Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine…a work that she claimed to have received from the mahatmas in Tibet. …It seems, then, that Evans-Wentz knew what he would find in the Tibetan text before a single word was translated for him. It almost seems that Evan Wentz’s spiritual vacation could have taken him to any Asian country and that he could have randomly chosen any Asian text, and he would have produced some version of the book published in 1927 [The Tibetan Book of the Dead].”
The Tibetan Book of the Dead is said to be the inspiration of an Indian Tantric master who was visiting Tibet in the 8th century. He dictated the texts to his consort, then hid them – in a lake, a pillar, a cave, the heart of a future disciple – until the world was ready to receive them. A millennium later, a British army officer bought a set of block prints in Tibet, and sold them in Darjeeling to an American on a spiritual holiday. The American, Walter Evans-Wentz, took the texts to a boarding school English teacher and acquaintance of the founder of the Theosophical Society, Madam Blavatsky, for translation.
What Lopez asserts is that the text is not a book and it’s not Tibetan either. Lopez bookends his thesis with the story of Joseph Smith who, with the aid of a pair of crystal spectacles, translated the Record of the Nephites from what he called Reformed Egyptian. Evans-Wentz didn’t communicate with angels or the dead, and he couldn’t read, let alone translate Tibetan. But like Smith and Blavatsky’s books, his text was unearthed from an unknowable past and interpreted through the crystal lens of American Spiritualism.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography is an excellent short introduction to Buddhism, and an intriguing analysis of how ancient texts are used (or invented) to give authority to ideologies.
I Was A Champion Then is a collection of short stories by Alfred A. Meyer collected from Christopher’s father’s mass of writings he found after Alfred had passed away. They are fiction stories that center on baseball, love, and family. The collection also [...]
On December 21st 1943 a B-24 bomber took off from Ladd Field (now known as Fr. Wainwright) Alaska with five Army aviators on a test flight for the Cold Weather Test Detachment. They were known as the “Cold Nose Boys”, testing equipment in [...]
How should someone respond to social injustice? One woman walks. Living Fulfilled: The Infectious Joy of Serving Others is Eleze “Lisa” Thomas-McMillan’s memoir about what inspired her to serve others and how she took action. The book is broken into six [...]