Saturday, May 18, 2019

Tales of the Delog: Those Who Die and Come Back in Tibet

Who knows what happens after death?
    Those who live there, those who have visited, those who have died and come back.
    The Tibetan language has a word for those who have died and come back. The word is delog (“day-loak, with the stress on the first syllable). There is also the term nyin log, for one who dies and returns in one day.
    Delog Dawa Drolma [d. 1941] recorded a detailed account of her travels in “realms of pure appearance” under the guidance of White Tara while her teen body lay seemingly lifeless for five days. These higher realms, like the lower ones, are understood to be “the display of mind”. The pure realms are the display of enlightened awareness, while the bardo state and the six directions of rebirth are “the display of delusion and the projection of mind’s poisons.”
    In the presence of the Death lord Yama Dharmaraja, she sings (with Tara) a song:

            If there is recognition, there is just this – one’s own mind.
            If there is no recognition, there is the great wrathful lord of death 

Sogyal Rinpoche discussed the delog phenomenon in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. He reported that “In Tibet this was an accepted occurrence, and elaborate methods were devised for detecting whether d´eloks were fraudulent or not”.
    The Tibetan Library of Works and Archives in Dharamsala, India,  houses at least a dozen accounts of delogs
    French anthropologist Françoise Pommaret did pioneer work in this field,  published as  Les revenants de l' au-delà dans le monde Tibetain. She traveled often to the Himalayan highlands and  discovered historical records of ten delogs from the 11th to the 20th century. She interviewed a delog in a village in Nepal and three in Bhutan. Pommaret’s studies of  texts include a marvelously detailed story of a delog whose biography is based on a 17th-century manuscript.
    Pommaret observes that "at first, the delogs may not realize that they are dead, when the spirit separates from the body, leaving it seeming like an animal in the delog’s clothing. As the disembodied spirit roams about the home, the delog may not understand why the rest of the family is acting so strangely and unresponsive to the delog’s efforts at communication."
     A delog named Gling Bza’chos skyid reported that she did not recognize her own body when she saw the family gathered round it in mourning:

When I saw my own bed, there was the cadaver of a big pig covered with my clothing. My husband and my children and all the neighbors of the village arrived and began to cry. They began to prepare for a religious ceremony and I thought, “What are you doing?” But they did not see me and I felt abandoned. I did not think that I was dead.

When another delog met her spiritual guardian (yi dam), he said:

“Don’t you know that you are dead? Don’t show attachment to your body of illusion; lift your spirit towards the essence of things. Come where I will lead you”

Then she met terrifying minions of Yama shouting, “Execute!” but was protected by her yi dam and her mantra.


Lee W. Bailey,  “A ‘Little Death’: The Near-Death Experience and Tibetan Delogs”  in Journal of Near-Death Studies, 19(3) Spring 2001

Delog Drolma, Delog: Journey to realms beyond death trans. Richard Patterson.  Junction City, CA: Padma Publishing, 1995

Françoise Pommaret, Les revenants de l’au-delà dans le monde Tibetain: Sources litteraires et tradition vivante  Paris: Editions du Centre National de le Recherche Scientifique, 1989

Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. New York: HarperCollins,1992

Image: Yama Dharmaraja

1 comment:

Sticks And Lines said...

All things Tibetan have been coming up this week since I picked up an Eliot Pattinson novel at the library; an old painting done in college, notifications from the Dalai Llama Centre via email, your latest post. Thank you for mentioning the Tibetan Library of Works and Archives - wonderful resource, especially the YouTube videos.
By the way, if you have not heard of her yet, there is a mortician by the name of Caitlin Doughty ("Ask a Mortician" channel - Youtube), out of L.A., who advocates for the discussion and acceptance of death in the Western world. She's funny and smart and tells it like it is.
I find it hugely encouraging to read your works, and to see the groundswell of interest in approaching death from a perspective of something other than heavy grief to bear as a burden. And as always to pay attention to our dreams and additionally the visits we receive from those who have passed on.