Self Liberation Through Seeing with Naked Awareness

A translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, with a commentary by Lama Tharchin and Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, and an appendix that critically examines the original translation by Evans-Wentz.

Is there a life beyond death? The ultimate fact of death faces every human being. Whatever is born will eventually die. All things are impermanent– This truth was taught by all the Buddhas. But the death of the physical body is not the end of our conscious existence. Death is only a gateway, a stage in our transformation along the way. The energy of karma propels our consciousness into a new embodiment, a new life, in which we experience the consequences of the deeds committed in our previous lives. These actions in past life times not only determine our future rebirths, but directly effect our health and emotional state in this present life.

But the Buddhas have also taught a way to free ourselves from the dead-weight of past karma and transcend the beginning-less cycle of death and rebirth called Samsara. The highest and most quintessential teaching in the Buddhist tradition of Tibet, known as Dzogchen or “the Great Perfection,” reveals, by way of a direct introduction, the Primordial State of Buddhahood residing at the core of each individual human being. This state, which is, at the same time, the Nature of Mind, lies beyond the mind and its thought process– indeed, beyond all time, all conditioning, and all causality. Like the sun in the sky, but with its face concealed by the clouds, it is primordially present, illuminating all our successive life times as the very source of our being. It is cannot developed through effort or study, but it can be discovered effortlessly and naturely in the practice of contemplation in all its primordial purity and spontaneous perfection.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or Kar-gling zhi-khro, discovered by Karma Lingpa in Southern Tibet in the 14th century, was one of the most important cycle of texts to come out of the Dzogchen tradition of Tibet established in ancient times by Guru Padmasambhava among both the Nyingmapa Buddhists and the Bonpos. “Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness” (Rig-pa ngo-sprod gcer-mthong rang-grol) is the central meditation text of this famous Tibetan Book of the Dead cycle and is said to have been composed by Padmasambhava himself. It is usually known in the West as The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, the title given to it by W.Y. Evans-Wentz (1954). This profound text presents the instructions for the method of Self-Liberation (rang-grol) that represent the very essence of Dzogchen, “the Great Perfection,” which is traditionally regarded in Tibet as the highest and most esoteric teaching of the Buddha. Directly introducing the practitioner of meditation to the Natural State of the Nature of Mind (sems-nyid gnas-lugs), which is the contemplative state of pure awareness or Rigpa lying beyond the mind and its mundane operations that constitute Samsara, this quintessential teaching of the great master Guru Padmasambhava opens up the possibility to the individual of the realization of freedom and enlightenment within a single life time.

This second edition presents a new translation of the Tibetan text, a commentary on the text by the translator based on the oral teachings of Lama Tharchin and Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, and an appendix that critically examines the original translation of Evans-Wentz and his erroneous notion of “the One Mind,” as well as C.G. Jung’s commentary on the latter, where he mistakenly equated it with the collective unconscious psyche.

TRANSLATION OF THE TEXT: Here is contained “Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness,” this being a Direct Introduction to the State of Intrinsic Awareness, from “The Profound Teaching of Self-Liberation in the Primordial State of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities. Homage to the Trikaya and to the deities who represent the inherent luminous clarity of intrinsic Awareness!

Herein I shall teach “Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked awareness,” from the cycle of “The Profound Teaching of Self-Liberation in the Primordial State of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities.” Truly, this introduction to your own intrinsic Awareness should be contemplated well, O fortunate sons of a noble family!
SAMAYA gya gya gya!


It is a single Nature of Mind that encompasses all of Samsara and Nirvana! Even though its inherent nature (as Shunyata) has existed from the very beginning, you have not recognized it. Even though its clarity and presence has been uninterrupted, you have not yet encountered its face. Even though its arising has nowhere been obstructed, still you have not comprehended it. Therefore, this (direct introduction) is for the purpose of bringing you to self-recognition. Everything that is expounded by the Victorious Ones of the three times in the eighty-four thousand gateways to the Dharma is incomprehensible (unless you understand intrinsic Awareness). Indeed, the Victorious Ones do not teach anything other than the understanding of this. Even though there exist unlimited numbers of of scriptures, equal in their extent to the sky, yet with respect to the real meaning, there are three statements that will introduce you to your own intrinsic Awareness. This direct introduction to the manifest primordial State of the the Victorious One is disclosed by the following method for entering into the practice where there exists no antecedent nor subsequent practices. Kye-ho!

O my fortunate sons, listen! Even though that which is commonly called “mind” is widely esteemed and much discussed,still it is not understood or it is wrongly understood in a one-sided manner only.Since it is not understood correctly just as it is in itself,there come into existence inconceivable numbers of philosophical ideas and assertions. Furthermore, since ordinary individuals do not understand it, they do not recognize there own nature, and so they continue to wander among the six destinies (of rebirth) within the three worlds and thus experience suffering. Therefore, not understanding your own mind is a very grievous fault. Even though the Shravakas and the pratyekabuddhas wish to understand it in terms of the Anatman doctrine, still they do not understand it as it is in itself. Also there exist others who, being attached to their own personal ideas and interpretations,becoming fettered by these attachments and so do not perceive the Clear Light. The Shravakas and the pratyeka buddhas are emanantly obscured by their attachments to subject and object. The Madhyakikas are emntally obscured by their attachments to the extremes of the Two Truths. The practitioners of the kriya Tantra and the Yoga Tantra are mentally obscured by their attachments to seva-sadhana practice. The practitioners of the mahayoga and the Anuyoga are mentally obscured by their attachments to Space and Awareness. And with respect to the real meaning of non-duality, since they divide these (Space and Awareness) into two, they fall into deviation.If these two do not become one without duality, you will certainly not attain Buddhahood.

In terms of your own mind, as is the case with everyone, Samsara and Nirvana are inseparable. Nonetheless, because you persist in accepting and enduring attachments and aversions, you will continue to wander in Samsara. Therefore, your active dharmas and your inactive ones both should be abandoned. However, since self-liberation through seeing nakedly by means of intrinsic awareness is here revealed to you, you should understand that all dharmas can be perfected and completed in the great total Self-Liberation. And therefore, whatever (practice you do) can be brought to perfection within the Great Perfection.
SAMAYA gya gya gya!

[Excerpted from Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked Awareness by John Myrdhin Reynolds, 1989 and 2000.]

Being an Introduction to the Nature of One’s Own Mind from
“The Profound Teaching of Self-Liberation in the Primordial State of the Peaceful and Wrathful Deities,”
A Terma Text of Guru Padmasambhava expounding the View of Dzogchen, and Rediscovered by Rigdzin Karma Lingpa;
Foreword by Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche,

Translated with Introduction and Notes by John Myrdhin Reynolds,