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Near Death Experiences

In matters which he does not understand, the wise man will always reserve his judgement. [Confucian Analects, Chap 1]

Buddha teaches that what matters for future lives is the sum of your deeds - thoughts, works - through a life-time and previous life-times - that is a part of Buddha's karma teachings.

Tibetan lore

The Tibetan Book of the Dead seeks to instruct dead persons within hearing-range about how to act after death - about how to deal with experiences beyond death's door, so to speak. The exegesis explains several levels of subtleties to go into, and if possible, how to avoid falling into one of the nasty hells. (Cf. Evans-Wentz 1927; 1967; Mullin 1987)

The bardo experience can be seen in terms of the six realms of existence that we go through, the six realms of our psychological states. . . . How do we know that these things actually happen to people who are dying? Has anyone come back from the grave and told us the experiences they went through? (Freemantle and Trungpa 2007, 2, 3)

Interestingly to some, many have told of near-death experiences, and their accounts are recorded and classified somewhat in several books on the subject (see further down for more). That goes some steps of the long way to show things that might occur to many, granted the experiences are not merely fabrications of mind or brain.

Dalai Lama holds this view:

Although how or where we will be reborn is generally dependent on karmic forces, our state of mind at the time of death can influence the quality of our next rebirth. So at the moment of death . . . if we make a special effort to generate a virtuous state of mind, we may strengthen and activate a virtuous karma, and so bring about a happy rebirth. . . . the most important point is to avoid anything which will cause the dying person's mind to become more disturbed than it may already be. (in Sogyal Rinpoche 2002, ix-x)

Adding to that, Dalai Lama writes in an introductory commentary to The Tibetan Book of the Dead (2006):

A sense of uncertainty, and often fear, is a natural human feeling when thinking about the nature of death and the relationship between living and dying. (In Coleman and Jinpa, 2006, xxviii).

Francisca Freemantle (2001) holds:

Death is a process . . . from coarse to subtle . . . It seems to be a unique and final event, yet this transformation is actually taking place all the time. . . . Whenever we have the feeling of something coming to an end or of trying to hang on to it, that is a taste of the bardo of dying. (2001, 64)

Many seek to be well allied with karma teachings. There are many such teachings. Buddha says it is good to make much good karma. At least some fruits of good karma can be reaped in this life or future lives or in between lives, it is taught in several texts. Then, "Your future life is portioned out as one-life result of what you have done in many lives, but also what has been done to you". Much might need to be redressed, is an underlying idea in such scenarios.

If we do not seem to fathom all the factors that might go into the subtle art of living and dying along and trying to improve soundly too, we may be helped by our developed, sound focus anyway. That is just what meditation skills are for, and what adepts teach.

The fall of Albert Heim and Interviewed people

Lately, there have been much research into dying persons. But formal modern studies of near-death experiences developed in the late 1800s, after the Swiss geologist Albert von St Gallen Heim (1849–1937) fell down a mountain and saw his whole past life take place in many images. Elevated and harmonious thoughts dominated, and calm swept through his soul. He was surrounded by a splendid blue heaven with delicate roseate and violet cloudlets as he was falling through the air. He landed with a dull thud in a snowfield beneath and his fall was over.

The fall experience made Heim want to out whether other people had reported similar events in their lives. In a short time he collected many accounts from war soldiers wounded in battles; masons and roofers who had fallen from heights; workers who survived disasters in mountain projects and railway accidents; fishermen who had nearly drowned; and Alpine climbers who had survived near-death situations, like himself. He presented his findings in a paper given at the Swiss Alpine Club in 1892. Heim reported that 95 per cent of the cases he collected were strikingly similar, and concluded that some accidents were much more "horrible and cruel" for observers than for the victims. (Corazza 2008, 24-25)

Popular interest in near-death experiences (NDEs) was later sparked by Raymond Moody Jr's book "Life After Life" (Moody 1976), first published in 1975. Books by other writers, with stories by revived persons and comments, followed, and several Gallup Polls too.

In 1992, a new Gallup poll revealed that around 13 million Americans claimed to have undergone at least one NDE. Numerous other surveys have been conducted. According to [Kenneth] Ring (1980), 43 per cent, and according to Sabom (1982), 48 per cent of adults who found themselves in life-threatening circumstances had an NDE. The score seems to be higher among children (85 per cent) (Morse 1994). (Corazza 2008, 31)

Further, in a study carried out at the Department of the Study of Religions at SOAS, University of London, two researchers asked passers-by in Trafalgar Square, "What kind of things have made you feel most sublime?" and found that 65 per cent of those interviewed had had an experience that could be classified "as religious, spiritual, ecstatic, sacred, paranormal or mystical". (Ibid.)

A design weakness springs to the eye: Different people do not mean the same things by the same words they use, neither by way of intensity, gravity or quality. One and the same word means different things to different persons, and also in dictionaries. 'Spiritual', for example, is defined as nonmaterial, sacred, religious, ethereal, etc. in Collins Dictionary. Thus, what some call spiritual, might be a matter of religious thoughts and beliefs (religious) and not a happy experience, which it suggests to others.

The Interviews

A typical procedure: People who had died and were revived or come back again unaided, were interviewed. Most persons who experience an NDE see it as a verification of the existence of an afterlife. Such an experience is usually reported after an individual has been pronounced clinically dead, or otherwise very close to death. With recent developments in cardiac resuscitation techniques, the number of NDEs reported has increased. Most of the scientific community regards such experiences as hallucinatory, while paranormal specialists and some mainstream scientists claim them to be evidence of an afterlife.

Children, who typically do not have enough time to develop strongly towards one faith, had very limited NDEs.

An ND experience typically follows a distinct progression, which includes the following selection:

  1. Pleasant emotions; calmness and serenity;
  2. A sensation of floating above one's own body and seeing the surrounding area;
  3. Floating up a blue tunnel with a strong, bright light or garden at the end;
  4. Meeting spiritual figures;
  5. Encountering a being of light, or a light;
  6. Having a life review;
  7. A feeling of being returned to the body, often accompanied by a reluctance.

Kenneth Ring (1980) includes "entering the light" after encountering the light, but only 10% experience that stage, according to him.

Some people have also experienced extremely distressing NDEs, emptiness or dread, but a "core" near-death experience encompasses peace, joy, and harmony, followed by insight and mystical or religious experiences.


And Details

In his foreword to Roy A. Varghese's There Is Life After Death (2010), Dr Raymond Moody sums up thousands of cases of near-death experiences:

I find there are about 15 or so common elements that tend to be repeated. An individual experience may have two or three or four of these elements, or seven or eight or nine and, in a few rare cases, all the way up to 15 of these common features. . . . [Further,] it seems to correlate in a rough and ready way with . . . how close they were to death. If people were really in extremis such that it is hard to imagine how they survived - if, say, the cardiac arrest was very lengthy - it seems to me much more likely that they would have this full-blown effect of 10 or 12 or 15 of these common elements. But in cases where there was only a momentary cardiac arrest, or where the person was very sick, but didn't get really all the way into the cardiac arrest and so on, then those patients would tend to report that maybe three or four or five or six of these elements were experienced. So there is this kind of spread. (in Varghese 2010, 11)

Indescribable surrounding "framework" beyond space-and-time. The profound experience goes beyond words and does hardly take place in the space-time framework as commonly understood. For example, people who came back from a near-death experience might say that, when they get far into the NDE state, just by formulating the idea that they want to go to a place they seem to be there at once. "They will say that time as you and I understand it was just not present." Ibid. 11)

The NDE content within that framework, so to speak. NDE's bring on out-of-body experiences. "They tell us they seem to rise up and they look down and they see their physical body lying on the operating room table or on the table in the emergency room or sometimes at the scene of an accident. They say they are above their bodies looking down and they see their own physical bodies. Now another complicating thing here is that, by and large, people say in one way or another that although they are out of their physical bodies, they still seem to be in something that they would call a body. They even describe it as something that seems to have extension, like a form. Nonetheless, this is very difficult for them to describe."

Then they start to get aware of unusual sides of the state they have reached.

  1. Heart-to-heart. Being able to hear and understand perfectly what others are saying and doing - or rather: " they become aware of what the doctors or nurses are communicating in a heart-to-heart or mind-to-mind way." And "They may try to touch someone to get their attention. But when they do, when they touch the doctor, they find they can make no contact; they seem to go through." And "Once in a while when people realize that no one can see them and no one can hear them, they can see their bodies lying there useless on the table." (Ibid. 12-13)

  2. Awareness of being dead. A very common next phase is when they realize that they are isolated and come to think something like "Oh, I'm dead."

  3. A Passageway. The idea, "I am really dead," may trigger the next and transcendent phase - and find no words to convey an adequate sense of this state - or a passageway of some sort, a tube or a tunnel. They proceed into it and come out on the other side into an incredibly brilliant, loving and joyous light.

  4. The Light. The light on the other side is far brighter than anything we have experienced hitherto, but does not make the eyes hurt. It is very comforting, rather. Going into this light, they feel love, comfort, peace, and joy that goes beyond what many have experienced while in the body.

  5. Meeting forms of friends and family. One manages to recognize people known already, through a sense of their presence, memories and the personality, even though they are not physical forms. Exceptions to such meeting are found.

  6. Gone relatives may be in the prime of their life there. - they are about the age of 30 or somewhere around there, but "they don't really appear to have any age at all." Tension and hate in former relationships is gone in the NDE state -

  7. Life review. Not everyone has all of the features, yet at some point, many people say that in the field of light, the light takes on its own personal identity, and they feel surrounded by a panorama – full-color, three-dimensional, and instantaneous – which in many cases consists of every single action that they have ever taken in their lives. While at it, they find themselves empathically identified with those with whom they had interacted also - "you feel the pain that you brought about in that other person's life." Or, "you feel the good results that were brought about in that person's life" by your kind actions. Also: "It's what's in your heart that comes back to you" from others. Allow for exceptions, since many are evil of their own accord, and many do good of their own accord too. It is an aspect of more or less free will. Add further ramifications of good and bad actions by you to that as well. In other words, what we do, may have chain reactions too. Such data are said to be experienced detailed and instantaneously beyond the common human time-space-frame.

Some people who are revived, have a strong focus on love and a wish to be capable of love, too.

Return to life in a body. Some people say, "At one moment, I was in this beautiful light. The next moment I found myself back in the operating room with no sense of transition." Another group tells you that someone there, either this light or perhaps some relative or friend of theirs who has passed away, says at some point, "You've got to go back. There are things left to do, you have things you've got to finish." Hardly ever are they given any idea of what it is they have to finish. However, some of them may say after some time here, "Now I understand why I came back." It could become apparent to them as time goes on.

A third group says they were given a choice on the other side: either go back to the lives they were leading, or continue with the experience they were having in the beyond. Almost invariably they had young children left to raise. It also happen that some people say they returned for some other relative or friend. Others who were directed toward helping others, say that for themselves they don't want to come back. They would rather stay in the light.

Effects. The most common effect of an NDE is that the purpose of whatever they had been chasing before – knowledge, power, fame, money, and so on – is to learn how to love. They now want to develop, to learn how to love. From it all it stands out that learning to love is hard. Learning to love many well may be even harder, minding "If you love someone, set them free." It does not mean incapacitating them and then setting them free, but shielding, nurturing, raising and seeking to help them into an education and a line of work they can prosper from in the school of hard knocks (life), more or less without us.

Love can also be a two-way street, with not just one party giving and helping. Friends go into such love. Also, there are other fields and forms of love around.

Again, love among friends may last for eternity.

NDE persons may stop fearing death as a result of having seen death as stepping into another framework. "They just face death with a sort of complete assurance," says Moody.

Near-death experiences can have tremendous effects on the people who have them, their families, and medical workers. Changes in values and beliefs often occur after a near-death experience, including changes in personality and outlook on life, appreciation for life, higher self-esteem, a heightened sense of purpose and self-understanding, and a desire to learn.

There are many religious and physiological views of near-death experiences. The NDE is often cited as evidence for the existence of the human soul, the afterlife, heaven and hell, ideas that appear in many religious traditions. But sceptics view NDEs as purely neurological and chemical phenomena in the brain. The imagery in the experiences also varies within cultures. [Main source: Wikipedia, sv "near death experiences"]

Phyllis Marie H. Atwater

Phyllis Marie Huffman Atwater is an original researcher of near-death experiences and a noted authority on them. She retired as an active fieldworker in near-death studies in 2010. In The Complete Idiot's Guide to Near-Death Experiences (2000) she seeks to show what different types of near-death experiences are like, along with what is held to be common after-effects - enhanced psychic abilities, "future memory" and other sides to altered views of reality. In Future Memory (1999), she proposed and describes how we may envision ("know" at least parts of) the future like a memory, and thus live a more or less warned life too.

She sums up:

The general after-effects of NDEs include: Being more playful; Getting more sensitive; Handling stress better; Fresher perceptions, etc. (2000, ii)

She says that after initial NDEs there are positive, negative and transcendent, somewhat complex experiences and resulting changes. Among the positive changes are: Loving; Childlike; Expanded world-view; Greater identity. (Ibid, iii)

The negative changes after NDEs include: Disorientation; Threatening behaviour, Getting uncaring (Ibid). "Occasionally, experiencers describe devils or demonic-type beings who were part of their near-death episodes. Some report torture chambers, moans and screams, and say they were attacked. About six percent of her "reporters" had hellish experiences.

What Scott told after being hit by a car

A boy named Scott was hit by a car when he was six. Afterwards, nobody heard him when he spoke, and when he tried to hug his father, the father passed right through him. He also recalls shouting to his brother Graham, and his brother remembered hearing Scott's voice and told his parents that he did at the time of the accident.

Scott next remembered being in a dark place. Then he felt being propelled through a dark tunnel, floating and being pushed along. While going through this dark "wind" tunnel Scott encountered the devil. The devil accused the boy of being bad and frightened him. To Scott, the devil appeared as a large glob of rotting flesh, sick and crazy.

Scott next described crossing a room and seeing an uncle who had died of cancer. He told the boy that he would be all right - in a kind of telepathic way. Afterwards Scott got aware that he was being 'escorted' through a dark open place towards a distant light. He described the light as being brighter than the sun but it did not hurt his eyes. He felt safe in that light. The light communicated to him somehow that he would be okay. There were other presences in the light, but Scott could not find words to describe them.

He was next taken to what he calls a dungeon. It was a large dark room without windows or doors. There he would be safe from the devil. Scott sensed that good beings where in the room too. The next thing he remembers was waking up in the hospital several hours later. He had been kept in an induced coma while being treated for a number of injuries.

Scott told his parents about what happened to him the day following recovery. He was plagued with nightmares and reported that he tried to become closer to God because he did not want to ever meet the devil again. Scott also said that he had often been unkind to others before his near-death experience, but that the episode made him more sensitive to the feelings of others. (Atwater 2000, 29-31, retold)


"Can God create stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?" [Stephen Hawking]. There are limits to many things, including our understanding of "almighty". Make the best out of it.

Fair and fit study and training could help against being taken in on the one hand, and become a set denial-maker on the other hand. Adequate study may be very hard work, but as a result of it, knowledge from science and scholarship is known and some forms of progress is made.


  1. Check if there were any truthful eyewitnesses or other versions of the tale.
  2. Find out who started and spread the tale in the first place. There may be some caveats to bear in mind. Harold Lasswell's formula may help. Here it is: "Who (says) What (to) Whom (in) What Channel (with) What Effect?" Add if you like: "Who benefits - Where does the money go?" Then seek to see for yourself.

  3. Compare if you can, as much and well as you are up to it within reasonable enough limits.

  4. Find out something about those who are into the tale. It may be very unwise to rely on just one source of information.

  5. Further considerations might help too.

  6. Probe possible alternative explanations. There may be more explanations than one, and more caveats.

  7. It could do good to study the tale-bringer and also the reteller - both parties. That is another quite useful reminder. Bo Bennett (2013) has written a book about logical fallacies. Anthony Weston (2008) has written another. [More of that lore]

Things are not always what they look like. To the degree that solid evidence is lacking, one may bid the tide, so to speak.

Not everything that counts is founded on scientific research. Tao Te Ching's chapter 4 tells for example:

The Way . . .
Like an abyss! It seems to be the ancestor of the ten thousand things.
Submerged! It seems perhaps to exist.
It seems to have [even] preceded the Lord.

- Hendrick 1989, chap. 4, passim

Deep and probing sayings may not be verified and backed up by all scientists today or tomorrow, but don't be too sure. Keep a little reserve . . . Heisenberg's uncertainty principle may apply, and the observer effect too. Who knows? On deep planes there is much fuzziness in nature. (WP, "Uncertainty principle;" "Observer effect")

There is no good reason to grapple with maxims if you do not understand them - especially when there are more rewarding things to do, such as learning amd doing TM, Transcendental Meditation. It has been shown that TM can help mental health very, very well, according to official Swedish research. [◦Dr Jaan Suurküla's TM findings]

Consider statements as provisional, like working hypotheses in science. Sound and rational handling of ideas and propositions can bears fruit at times.

Near death, NDE, Literature  

Atwater, P. M. H., with David H. Morgan. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Near-Death Experiences. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books / Macmillan, 2000.

Bennett, Bo. Logically Fallacious: The Ultimate Collection of over 300 Logical Fallacies. Updated Academic ed. Sudbury, MA:, 2013.

Coleman, Graham, and Thupten Jinpa, eds. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: First Complete Translation. Tr. Gyurme Dorje, introduction by Dalai Lama XIV, Paperback ed. London: Penguin Books, 2006.

Corazza, Ornella. Near-Death Experiences: Exploring the Mind-Body Connection. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2008.

Evans-Wentz, Walter Yeeling, ed. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, according to Lama Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English Rendering. London: Oxford University Press, 1927.

Evans-Wentz, Walter Yeeling, ed. Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1967. Feuerstein, Georg. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Yoga. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1990.

Freemantle, Francesca. Luminous Emptiness: Understanding the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2001.

Moody, Raymond. Life after Life: the Investigation of a Phenomenon - Survival of Bodily Death. New York: Bantam. Books, 1976.

Mullin, Glenn. Death and Dying: The Tibetan Tradition. Harmondsworth: Arkana/Penguin, 1987.

Rinpoche, Guru, according to Karma Lingpa. The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Liberation through Hearing in the Bardo. Trs and comms. Francesca Fremantle and Chogyam Trungpa London: Shambhala, 2007.

Smith, Eliot R., and Diane M. Mackie. Social Psychology. 2nd ed. Hove: Psychology Press, 2000.

Sogyal Rinpoche. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Eds. Patrick Gaffney and Andrew Harvey. Rev. and updated ed. London: HarperCollins, 2002.

Varghese, Roy Abraham. There Is Life after Death: Compelling Reports from Those Who Have Glimpsed the After-Life. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2010.

Weston, Anthony. A Rulebook for Arguments. 4th ed. Cambridge: Hacketts, 2008.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting

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