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Tibet Death Ritual is practiced by experienced lamas  not novice monks.

The Beauty of Death, Dying and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhist Rituals

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In Tibet they have a lot of interesting beliefs and rituals regarding death and the world beyond. There is even a ritual exclamation which a lama who officiates makes near the body of the deceased in order to release the spirit from the body through a small crack, which the magic syllable produces, on the top of the head.

Hik! and Phet!

The magic syllables in this regard are Hik! and Phet!. Such a Hik! sound can only be uttered by a lama who was instructed by a master in the past. In this way, the respective lama can have the correct intonation and the physical strength which are needed for a successful operation. The sound Phet! can be uttered after Hik! only when the lama is officiating near a dead body. If the lama is only practicing the ritual, then he must never add Phet! after Hik! because the combination of these two syllables determines the inevitable separation between the body and the soul. Therefore, should a lama pronounce the two sounds at once, he would die immediately. Such a danger does not exist in the context of a ritual. In the context of a ritual, the lama magically represents the deceased to whom he lends his voice. Therefore, in this regard, the effect of the two magic words is felt by the deceased and not by the lama.

First, a competent master offers his disciples the psychic power of drawing the spirit out of the body. After this, the disciples must practice the pronunciation of the Hik! sound in a correct voice. They have reached their goad when a straw can be placed in their hair in a straight standing position without falling. The straw must stay there for as long as the disciple wants it to. The explanation lies in the fact that, by correctly pronouncing the Hik! sound, a small opening appears on the top of the head. The straw is actually inserted in this small crack. In the case of a deceased individual, the respective crack is much larger as sometimes one can place a finger in it.

Tibetan beliefs to this day include many ritual items and practices. (Maroš Markovič / Adobe)

Tibetan beliefs to this day include many ritual items and practices. (Maroš Markovič / Adobe)

Buddhism about Death

In Buddhism, the energy resulting from the mental and physical activity of an individual results in the appearance of new mental and physical processes after death. It is obvious that the ideas preached by philosophers are only understood by an elite. Still, the masses repeat the following creed: “All aggregates are ephemeral, there is no “I” in person”. Despite of this, the masses have a much simpler belief. They believe in an entity which cannot be defined, but which journeys from one world to another in various forms.

The lamas state the fact that the time between death and rebirth can be either long or short. After this, the individual can be reborn as one of the six species of living beings known to Tibetans. The respective species are: the gods; the non-gods – a type of titans; humans; non-humans – including here the jinn, spirits, fairies and other such entities, some of which are good and some of which are evil; animals; the yidags – monstrous beings which are always hungry and thirsty and the inhabitants of the various purgatories who are always suffering in their worlds.

It is said that none of these states is eternal. Death can come for all, for the gods, as well as for those lying in the purgatories in torment. Every death is followed by a rebirth. This rebirth can be either in the same category of beings or in another.

In Tibet beliefs every death is followed by a rebirth. (prasith / Adobe)

Popular Beliefs and the “Method”

The popular belief states the fact that the deceased can be reborn in a happier or in a less happy state depending on his or her good deeds. According to the lamas, beings, through their thoughts and actions, can develop various affinities which lead to a certain condition of existence. Another theory states that, through the mental processes and actions, a human or any other being can alter the nature of the substance of which it is made. In this way, the being actually transforms itself in a god or in a damned soul.

In Tibet, there is the following saying: “Those who know how will live comfortably even in Hell”. This saying refers to the opinions on lamas regarding what is known as “thabs” meaning “the method”. In this regard, lamas believe that the deceased individual who knows how to act and think can modify his post mortem fate and be reborn in a condition as good as possible.

Tibet beliefs state that deceased individual is able to modify the post mortem fate and be reborn in a good condition. (Microgen / Adobe)

Tibet beliefs state that deceased individual is able to modify the post mortem fate and be reborn in a good condition. (Microgen / Adobe)

Still, ordinary people are not aware of this fact. However, the lama preaches to them that which they had not had the chance to learn during their lifetimes while they are sick and even after they are dead. In this way, the lama explains the nature of that which they get to see in the afterlife, and he indicates the appropriate road which must be followed.

Entering the Afterlife

The first thing which a lama must do to help a dying person is to do his best so that the respective person does not fall asleep or enter a coma. The lama will then explain how the different types of consciousness leave the individual. These are the consciousnesses that animate the senses. Once the body becomes insensitive, thought must be as active as ever and highly attentive at the happening phenomenon. Then, the moment comes for the spirit to be made to spring out of the body through the top of the head. In order to escape compromising its future welfare, the spirit must not leave the body through any other way.

The extraction of the spirit is made by the lama when he pronounces the ritual sounds Hik! and Phet!. At first, the lama must meditate and identify himself with the deceased. Then, he must make the effort needed in order to make the spirit climb in the top of the head and escape through the crack which is thus produced.

Tibet death beliefs include that the spirit must leave out of the top of the head. (Nejron Photo / Adobe)

Tibet death beliefs include that the spirit must leave out of the top of the head. (Nejron Photo / Adobe)

There are even those who can force their spirit at the top of the head. Then, when they feel that their time has come, they pronounce Hik! and Phet! for themselves. These are lama initiates and some of them can even cause their own deaths in this way. It is said that many actually do this.

The Unusual Journey

Once the spirit has left the body, it begins its unusual journey into the other world. Lamas believe that this journey is nothing more than a series of subjective visions. This is all like a dream which the spirit makes for itself being influenced by its tendencies and by its past activities.

It is said that, immediately after leaving the body, the spirits gets the flickering intuition of the supreme reality. Should the spirit be able to perceive this light, then it can reach liberation, namely it can be released definitively from the cycle of death and rebirth. This is how a spirit can attain the state of nirvana.

However, this happens very rarely. Usually, the spirit is blinded by this shining light. Then, it can be drawn back by its false ideas and conceptions, by its attachment to the existence as an individual and by the pleasures of the senses. Ordinary people have a superstitious belief in this regard. They say that, in order to be convinced, the spirit which has left its body should go to a place where there is sand. There, it should look at its footprints. Should these be reversed, then it means that he or she is dead.


As for the lama, he counsels the deceased to go and start his or her journey without looking behind. This recommendation is made for the good of the spirit. When it comes to the common folk they are afraid, and they want to avoid the possible malefic occult presence of a dangerous revenant.

In Tibet death ritual the lama counsels the deceased to proceed with the journey without looking back. (BenStudioPRO / Adobe)

While the funerary ceremonies take place the spirit travels through Bardo. There it sees luminous beings of supreme beauty as well as monstrous entities. It also sees strange visions and roads with different colors. In this way the spirit becomes frightened and disoriented. What is most important at this time is for it to listen to the good advice of the lama. In this way, the spirit can enter perfectly aware into the afterlife and walk on a road which will take him or her to be reborn among the gods. As for those who do not know what Bardo is, they cannot benefit from the good advice of the lama. They may not even be able to hear this advice.

This is how many souls lose the opportunity to apply “the method”. These souls end up reincarnating as humans or as animals. While one will be a dog, another will be the child of man.

The Tribunal of Shinje

Other beliefs claim that the great mass of those who have not managed to attain enlightenment travel frightened through Bardo until they reach the tribunal of Shinje, the judge of the dead. This impartial judge analyses their past deeds in the mirror in which they are reflected, or he weighs them as black and white pebbles. Depending on the percentage of good or bad deeds, Shinje indicates the world and the form of the future reincarnation.

This judge is inflexible and impartial. Therefore, once before him the spirit can no longer apply “the method” in order to save itself. Still, with or without “the method”, the soul can only act depending on the limits allowed by the power of the past deeds.

Top image: Tibet Death Ritual is practiced by experienced lamas  not novice monks.           Source: Jumpot Tharungsri / Adobe

By Isa Vald


David-Neel, A. 2011. Initiations and Initiates in Tibet. Dover Publications.
David-Neel, A. 1932. Magic and Mystery in Tibet. Martino Fine Books.
Thomas Laird, T. 2007. The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama. Grove Press.
Pommaret, F. 2003. Tibet: Turning the Wheel of Life. Gardners Books.
van Schaik, S. 2013. Tibet – A History. Yale University Press.

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Isa Vald has always been interested in history, archaeology, mythology, ancient mysteries and the supernatural. She has studied many aspects of the unexplained and of historical and mythological enigmas. She has always tried to find out the truth behind mysteries... Read More

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