The 'Tibetan' Book of the Dead

I’ve a review of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, A Biography by Donald S. Lopez, Jr in the TLS this week. It’s part of a promising new series, Lives Of Great Religious Books – in that growing and attractive format of books that are well turned and produced essays. A taster, of the review:

It is the product of the creative editing of Walter Evans-Wentz, a Victorian Theosophist. His literary assembly owes as much to the doctrines of Madame Blavatsky as the purported author, Padmasambhava, the eight century Buddhist saint who is said to have buried a series of ‘treasures’ in the form of teachings to aid future, troubled generations…

Evans-Wentz was able to use the book to vest his version of Theosophy with all the authority of ancient wisdom, newly discovered. Interestingly, Lopez argues, the same pattern of scriptural recovery is manifest in Joseph Smith’s The Book of Mormon. So, although it is undoubtedly the combination of Tibetan esotericism and mortal anxiety that has led to the tremendous success of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, it is better placed within the American millenarian tradition that includes Theosophy, Mormonism and Spiritualism too.