“Momo Drollo.” A painting by Pema Namdol Thaye featured in the book ‘A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir’ by Samuel Bercholz.
Pema Namdol Thaye is one of modern Tibet’s most important artistic creative forces. Namdol has earned worldwide praise for his mastery of three vital and challenging artforms; thangka painting, mural painting and the creation of 3D mandalas. In Tibetan Buddhism, mandalas (the Sanskrit word translates to “sacred center’) represent the place one seeks out during meditation. Contained in the mandala are objects or objectives which can be utilized to attain enlightenment or other types of spiritual/life guidance.
As a child, Namdol showed great artistic promise and was rewarded with a scholarship to attend a prestigious school in Kalimpong, India. There he surpassed expectations, becoming acutely proficient at skills associated with other disciplines of Tibetan art and Buddhism such as sculpture, architecture, and calligraphy. According to his biography, Namdol is one of only a few artists alive today who has the distinction of being a master of traditional Himalayan arts. His unusual talents and background made him the perfect choice to illustrate the 2016 book by Samuel Bercholz A Guided Tour of Hell: A Graphic Memoir. And this is where the relationship between Bercholz, a respected teacher of Buddhist philosophy and meditation for four decades, and Namdol gets very interesting.
After a heart attack, Bercholz underwent sextuple coronary bypass surgery during which he had a near-death experience that would change him forever. During the experience, Bercholz says he had vivid visions of what he believed was Hell or the “underworld.” He described seeing people getting karma served to them as payment for their scorched-earth lives—despots, killers, and other various scumbags were being horrifically punished before his eyes while he was in surgical limbo. Bercholz shared his story in detail with Namdol which he then translated into a series of paintings capturing Bercholz’s visit to the dark abyss. I know this isn’t the first time a person has come back from death’s door with a harrowing story about what they allegedly “saw,” however, given Bercholz’s background and Namdol’s stature, the images created by Namdol of Berchoz’s visions seem much more believable than a story about reaching out for God’s hand, seeing bright lights, or family members or beloved dead pets. Of course, it would be careless of me not to mention clinical studies of this phenomena have found it is most likely the result of brain function shutting down.
Or is it? Because I’m not going to be the one to dispute the experiences of a devout Buddhist and renowned academic. Nope.
The book has been widely acclaimed and tickets to a fascinating live chat between the author and actor Steve Buscemi about Heaven and Hell, sold-out within minutes. I’ve posted a short, animated clip of the pair discussing Berchoz’s experience. Also below are Namdol’s paintings documenting Berchol’s journey to Hell and back. Some are slightly NSFW. Giclée prints from A Guided Tour of Hell and other gorgeous artwork by Namdol can be purchased here.
Much more after the jump…