Formally known as the Bardo Thodol (Tbtn: bardo = liminality + thodol = liberation), The Tibetan Book of the Dead is the popular name for a collection of Buddhist texts, coined by their first translator, W. Y. Evans-Wentz.
While some joke about the Book of the Dead as if it were a dark, brooding document, Buddhists would probably say this attitude comes through ignorance and projection.
Believers see it as a kind of spiritual guidebook, designed to direct souls at the point of death to the best possible reincarnation. A lama, friend or guide usually sits over the death bed and reads the book to the dying or recently dead person.
Contemporary readers will likely be struck by the Book of the Dead’s practicality. Deceptive spiritual lights, enticements and other misleading phenomena the departed soul will encounter are described as things to be avoided, not unlike a road map for a large, unfamiliar city or a trekking guide for a tricky mountain pass.
Interestingly, the Wikipedia entry on TBD completely dismisses Carl Jung’s psychological interpretation.
Jung’s introduction betrays a misunderstanding of Tibetan Buddhism, using the text to discuss his own theory of the unconsciousness.¹
It seems that whoever wrote that was pretty defensive about their beliefs. Jung’s archetypes, after all, transcend space and time so a Jungian analysis of this type of phenomena doesn’t seem inappropriate.
In music, the Beatles were apparently influenced by The Psychedelic Experience, a manual based on TBD by Timothy Leary et. al. The line “it’s dying to take you away” from The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour was also based on a hippie mix of drugs and TBD.²