Thursday, October 9, 2008
Travels in the Netherworld: Buddhist Popular Narratives of Death and the Afterlife in Tibet
In Travels in the Netherworld, Bryan J. Cuevas examines a fascinating but little-known genre of Tibetan narrative literature about the delok, ordinary men and women who claim to have died, traveled through hell, and then returned from the afterlife. These narratives enjoy audiences ranging from the most sophisticated monastic scholars to pious townsfolk, villagers, and nomads. Their accounts emphasize the universal Buddhist principles of impermanence and worldly suffering, the fluctuations of karma, and the feasibility of obtaining a favorable rebirth through virtue and merit. Providing a clear, detailed analysis of four vivid return-from-death tales, including the stories of a Tibetan housewife, a lama, a young noble woman, and a Buddhist monk, Cuevas argues that these narratives express ideas about death and the afterlife that held wide currency among all classes of faithful Buddhists in Tibet.