Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead, by Francesca Fremantle, is a masterful commentary on one of the classic books in world religion. We tend to think of the Tibetan Book of the Dead as a guidebook for the afterlife, but a closer reading, aided by Fremantle’s insights, shows its applicability to life. It is equally the Tibetan Book of Life.

Fremantle reveals that the bardo (“transitional process” or “in-between”) teachings are not merely something we can study but something we can practice. Escorted by this book, I’ve discovered that the meditative path is death in slow motion. “Letting go” is a euphemism for death, and when we die, we’re forced to let go. Luminous Emptiness shows us how to “die before we die”—how to let go of false levels of identification and transition into our deathless true nature, the luminous emptiness at the core of our being. Death can be viewed as a wrathful form of liberation. It’s wrathful because it’s uncompromising and nonnegotiable. Fremantle invites us to let go in advance, on our own terms, so that death becomes the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity it truly is.

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