Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tibet's Living Dead

Being that Halloween is just around the corner, I thought it would be an appropriate time to discuss the living dead, in particular, some of the notions of the living dead found within Tibetan society. 

Among Tibetans it has been known to occur that some individuals who have died miraculously return to life after sojourning within the intermediate state (bardo) between the present life and the next. Refered to as “Dālōk” (‘das log), these individuals, generally viewed to have acquired sufficient virtue in life to warrant their return to the land of the living, come back to life principally to share what they have learned within the bardo. Typically, the Dālōk relay the teachings they have received from the various deities, accomplished masters and celestial Buddhas encountered while in the intermediate state, as well as warn individuals of the hells seen and the human actions that caused them to be populated.

Sometimes, however, it is believed that during an individual’s death rites (which can last up to 49 days) the deceased person’s body is animated not by the returning dead person but by a negative or evil spirit bent on causing harm. Such a being is called a “Rōlang” (ro langs). Tibetans often speak of four types of Rōlang, each with its own particular method of destruction (though more universal methods of destroying a Rōlang can also be found).

Not only can a corpse be taken over by an evil spirit, it can be taken by a living individual skilled in consciousness transference through a practice called “Tōng Jūk” (grong 'jug). Tibetan stories portray Tōng Jūk as a practice that can be utilized for both religious and nefarious ends.

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