George Richie died in 1943. He had just completed his Army basic training in Texas and was scheduled to be shipped to Richmond, Virginia. His plans were waylaid when he checked into a hospital with a chest cold and collapsed while in the X-ray room. The diagnosis, of which he was unaware until later, was double lobar pneumonia.
When Richie awoke in an unfamiliar hospital room, his first thought was that it was time to leave for Richmond. But when he climbed out of bed, he noticed someone was still lying there. Feeling himself completely recovered, he began to look closer at his hospital room companion -- to all extents the man appeared to be dead. As Richie looked closer he saw familiar features. Then astounded and appalled, Richie recognized the man in the bed as himself.
Richie fairly ran from the room, passing through an orderly in the outside corridor. Quickly, he left the hospital, hurtling through the air at tremendous speed. Seeing a town below, he swooped down beside a telephone pole, which despite his efforts, he was unable to grasp.
Dr. Donald Francy, meanwhile, was examining his patient for life. Finding no trace of respiration or heartbeat, he ordered an attendant to cover the body with a sheet. At about the same time, apparently, Richie remembered the body on the bed. And at the instant of his decision to return, he found himself back at the hospital searching for his room. When he thought he had found it, he attempted to remove the sheet that covered the body in the bed. But his hand passed through the fabric and, at that moment, Richie realized that he could not get back into his body and that he was in fact, dead.
With that thought, Richie suddenly found himself in a room filled with brilliant light. A sense of compassion and comfort instantly swept over him, and he found himself exuberantly happy. With incredible speed but enormous clarity, he was able to review his life. Every event and thought and conversation flashed by in separate pictures and, from some unknown source, he sensed a gentle questioning of his life on earth.
Abruptly he left the room and found himself in another realm. There he saw a city, constructed entirely of light. He had never read the Book of Revelations, nor even anything on the subject of death. But he now found himself in a place where walls, houses, even streets seemed to give off light. And the inhabitants! Beings of blindingly bright light, including one standing directly before him. Then, just as abruptly, the dazzling light faded, the walls of the hospital returned, and he seemed to fall asleep.
When he awoke he was back in his body. This was not good news to Richie -- he wished he was back in the city of light. Richie was alive and well, despite the fact his medical chart, signed by his physician, showed he had died of double lobar pneumonia on December 20, 1943. He had in fact been dead for nine minutes, when an attendant had noticed a movement under the sheet. Immediately summoned, the doctor had jolted Richie back to life with a shot of adrenalin. Despite the expected oxygen deprivation, Richie had suffered no brain damage.
A reader’s first reaction to this story might be that Richie did, in fact, suffer severe brain damage, as evidenced by the contents of his story. When anyone continually tells wild and incredible stories and tells on one occasion a story of when he was a child kicked in the head by a horse, there is a tendency to totally believe the horse story. Can we apply the same reasoning to George’s “horse story?”
If Richie’s story was an isolated example, there are a host of explanations for this incredible tale. The mind’s ability to create, imagine, or outright fabricate stories, and the wide variety of motivations to do so, is well recognized by modern day therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. It is noteworthy in this example Richie does not come into knowledge or information which is verifiable by other means.
But this “near-death experience” is not an isolated example. There are, in fact, literally thousands of documented cases of people who have had a near-death experience. Well-established medical doctors, psychologists, theologians, cardiologists, and social scientists of various kinds have done extensive research and detailed study of the phenomenon. Researchers such as Cobb, Crookall, Savage, Hyslop, Richet and many others, have accumulated data from subjects over the last hundred years. More recently, books by Doctors Moody, Kubler-Ross, Sabom, Lundahl, Gabbard, Twenlow, and others have been added to an extensive and varied library of professional journal articles and previous research papers.
If there were any questions about the pervasiveness of the near-death experience, George Gallup, Jr., of Gallup Poll fame, has laid them to rest. In his book, Adventures in Immortality, Mr. Gallup reports that five percent of the U. S. adult population have had a near-death experience. This percentage equals about 8,000,000 people who have had such an experience. If nothing else, Gallup’s statistics speak well for the medical emergency technology's ability to resuscitate clinically dead or near-dead patients.
But the pervasiveness of the phenomena has not always been convincing in itself. When one of the first widely-disseminated books on the subject, Dr. Raymond Moody’s Life After Life, was first published, Dr. Moody’s descriptions and conclusions were often viewed with considerable skepticism or simply dismissed out of hand by members of the medical and scientific community.
Dr. Harold Widdison, a sociologist, for example, has noted a significant emotional reaction by scientists to Moody’s book. Dr. Widdison compared it to the classic struggles of a fledgling science against a dominating religion, particularly such individuals as Gallileo and Michaelangelo. Dr. Widdison believed the labeling of near-death experiences as “religious” is erroneous and is often used as an excuse to avoid scientific research into the subject, much to the detriment of science.
Dr. Michael Sabom, a cardiologist, reports he was initially highly skeptical of Moody’s work, but after conducting a survey of hospitalized patients, he along with a colleague, Sarah Kreutziger, concluded that near-death experiences were a real and consistent event for many patients unconscious and near death. Dr. Sabom also noted most patients were reluctant to discuss their experience for fear of ridicule. These two medical researchers found the elements of the experiences of their patients were identical to those reported by Moody. They further noted sociologic and demographic factors did not account for the occurrence of the near-death experiences.
Dr. Lewis Thomas, President of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine (June 1977) found that research into human dying was not correlating with the idea of agony at the end, and that instead people experiencing near-death invariably describe the moment in terms of tranquility and peace. These same people didn’t mention pain or anguish. Dr. Thomas has come to the conclusion there is something going on that we don’t really know about, something quite different from what we might expect, and something we might want to look into!
There is nothing like the New England Journal of Medicine for massive understatement.
Characteristics of Near-Death Experiences
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of near-death experiences is the consistency of their descriptions. The consistency occurs in spite of the fact the persons involved uniformly characterize their NDE as inexpressible or ineffable. The difficulty people have in describing their near-death experience appears to be due to the fact that our language is symbolic—words are only names for our experiences. Inasmuch as NDEs fall outside our common experience, adjectives and superlatives may be inadequate to describe the events that occur during an NDE.
Descriptions of near-death experiences include a variety of common characteristics. Subjects often report hearing their doctor or other attendant pronounce them dead. (Doctors can make mistakes too, but that doesn’t necessarily make them human.) Some subjects describe an intense feeling of peace and quiet, while in other cases various unusual auditory sensations are reported for short periods of time. These “noises” range from pleasant music to annoying sensations of hearing buzzing, loud clicks, ringing, roaring, or banging.
Subjects often report being pulled very rapidly through a dark space. This space may be described as a tunnel, funnel, cylinder, sewer, trough, cave, well, enclosure, vacuum, void or valley. The last descriptive term brings to mind: “Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death....”
Many subjects report leaving their physical body and/or viewing it from a vantage point outside of their body. Often this vantage point is located on the ceiling or in a corner of the room in which their physical body remains. The emotional reaction of subjects seeing their body from a spectator’s viewpoint is often one of panic and a desperate desire to reenter their physical body. Invariably they have no idea of how to proceed to do so.
In their out-of-body state, subjects may become aware their spiritual body lacks solidity, physical objects appear to move through it with ease, and that they are unable to grasp any object or person they try to touch. The spiritual body is reported as weightless, while the person describes sensations of floating or drifting. Almost everyone remarks upon the timelessness of the out-of-body state.
While the characteristics of the spiritual body may seem at first to be limiting, some subjects begin to appreciate them as an absence of limitations. If they cannot grasp a doorknob, they realize they can simply go through the door instead. Travel becomes exceptionally easy, physical objects represent no barriers, and movement can be virtually instantaneous. Such capabilities become even more significant when one considers the possibility of people being able to achieve such an out-of-body state voluntarily and at will (See Chapter IX).
Some subjects have, in fact, reported that in the out-of-body state they begin to think more lucidly and rapidly. Their physical senses of vision and hearing seem heightened and improved from what they had known in their physical bodies. Often subjects feel a comfortable “warmth”, although in some cases there is no sensation of temperature at all. But apparently no one reports either odors or tastes while in the out-of-body state.
Subjects often report being surrounded by a brilliant, guiding light. The light is invariably sensed as being quite bright, but never to the point of being uncomfortable to look at. Once in the presence of the light, the feelings of loneliness are often replaced by a remarkable feeling of peace, tranquility, and intense happiness. Many subjects sense the presence of a close friend or relative, or in some cases a religious figure of importance to the subject. The relatives or friends, surrounded by brilliant light, seem to be beckoning to the subjects, or in some cases merely smiling and radiating a kind of constructive, loving energy toward the person who has temporarily died.
Communication between the subjects and the beings in the light, in those case in which it occurs, is reported to be a direct, unimpeded transfer of thoughts. Subjects claim that there is no possibility of misunderstanding or lying. There is no apparent use of language, yet understanding and awareness are complete and instantaneous.
Many see flashbacks of their immediate past life, often in the form of a cinematic, instantaneous review of their entire life. They seem to be in a situation that makes it very clear to them what is of value and what isn’t. The flashbacks are often initiated by a brilliant presence asking the dying person to review his or her life. One of Moody’s subjects recalled that as a light appeared the question foremost in his mind concerned what the subject had to show for having lived his life. This question then apparently triggered the flashbacks.
The intent of this life review or "debriefing" is sensed by the subjects as being primarily for reflection. There is no sense of judgment, condemnation, or reward. The review is extraordinarily rapid, incredibly vivid and real, and the emotions and feelings which are associated with each memory or image may be re-experienced. Some subjects, even for a period of time following their NDE experience, are able to continue to recall the events of their lives in incredible detail.
Subjects encountering the life review have sensed a lack of judgment and instead, have felt unconditional love directed to them for their past actions, whatever these actions might have been. This feature of the NDE has led many subjects to abandon and disavow the reward-punishment model of the afterlife, even in those cases where the subjects had been accustomed to thinking in such terms. It came as a major surprise to many of the subjects that even some of the most apparently awful and sinful deeds elicited responses from the beings of light of understanding and humor, rather than anger or disappointment. One subject in fact, described the being of light as a fun person with a definite sense of humor. [Considering the conduct of many of our lives, a sense of humor of beings on the other side would seem essential. And as has been mentioned elsewhere, the purpose of life on earth for humans may very well be to collect material for a stand-up-comic routine later on!]
Some subjects reported approaching a limit or border of some kind. Many of these people sensed they had reached some sort of a dividing line between their current condition and a more permanent death. The border often represented a barrier and a point of no return. In some cases the subjects reported they did not know how or why they returned, while others either made conscious decisions to return (e.g. for the sake of children or loved ones) or were told to return.
Margot Grey, in her book Return from Death, characterized the decision to return as invariably an association or consideration for the suffering of those left behind, the difficulties that would be experienced as a result of the subject’s death, or simply a sense one’s life had not yet fulfilled its destiny. Nevertheless, according to Dr. Grey, the choice to return was an individual one, and the motivation for the decision to return was often an altruistic one of service and mission to others and God, essentially a selfless love.
It is noteworthy that most subjects were neither eager to return nor concerned about their physical body. Many reported their sense of amazement at seeing others struggling so hard to revive the body. The subjects often wondered during their observations why there was so much effort being expended. They seemed to feel that: “Gosh, it’s so peaceful here, why should I want to go back? I think I’ll stay; it’s neat here!” Then all of sudden, zap!, and they were back in their bodies again, and going through all the pain and agony as before.
Dr. Raymond Moody has analyzed the near-death experiences of his subjects and has delineated fifteen separate elements which recur again and again. On the basis of similarities between NDEs, he has constructed a theoretical “core” experience he describes in his book, Life After Life. This core experience essentially consists of the experiences described above.
Dr. Moody, however, goes on to point out several critical factors with regard to the “core experience”:
1. No two accounts are precisely identical, despite many striking similarities.
2. No one subject has reported every single component of the core experience.
3. There is no single component of the core experience which every subject has reported, even though a few of the elements come fairly close to being universal.
4. No single component has been reported by only one subject.
5. The order of the individual elements in the core experience varies, but not widely.
6. Subjects who were “dead” generally report more components of the core experience than those subjects who only came close to death, and those “dead” for a longer period of time, report a more complete core experience.
7. Some subjects who were pronounced dead, were then resuscitated, and came back remembering nothing at all.
8. There are a few cases in which death was imminent, but no actual injuries took place.
9. The NDEs result in no apparent brain damage, even after several hours of apparent death.
Margot Grey has encountered similar results in her research and has further noted that illness was more likely to include more of the features of the core experience, and that the later stages were less likely in accidents. The later stages, however, were entirely absent in cases of suicide attempts, i.e. the relief of bodily attachment occurred, but the near-death experience tended to end up as a confused drifting in some sort of “twilight zone”. Dr. Grey emphasized that suicide-related, near-death experiences did not include any transcendent experiences, but rather tended to fade out prior to such occurrences.
The case of suicide-induced, near-death experiences is discussed in more detail below.
The Bad News
Not all reports from near-death experiences paint such a rosy picture of peace and love. For example, the May/June 1979 issue of Parapsychology Review reports:
“A heart specialist from Chattanooga, Tennessee, has just finished a study of more than 100 patients brought back to life after being clinically dead. ‘The Good News’, he said, ‘is that some of them had a blissful encounter with a being of light.’ The bad news, however, is that over half of the patients ‘had a perfectly appalling time,’ walking through dimly-lit caverns and seeing fiendish figures brandishing pitchforks beside a smoking, sulphurous lake surrounded by moaning bodies. The doctor now firmly believes hell exists. ‘Reluctantly,’ he said, ‘I have come to the conclusion it may not be safe to die.’”
It is perhaps comforting to know that with regard to understatement, Parapsychology Review is keeping up with the New England Journal of Medicine.
The evidence for unpleasant or terrifying near-death experiences is sufficient to cause significant concern. Many researchers, however, have found no evidence of cases which are suggestive of a “hellish experience.” These latter researchers include medical professionals such as cardiologists who have access to patients at the moment of resuscitation and who ,therefore, supposedly have the opportunity to talk to the patient before the patient is able to reflect on the experience and possibly bury the memory deep within his own psyche. It seems likely that anyone undergoing a hell-like experience would be reluctant to discuss the subject at a later time, as they might be ashamed to admit to what had apparently happened to them.
On the other hand, negative encounters have been reported by Maurice Rawlings, whose research into negative near-death episodes was one of the first major studies that contended hellish encounters exist. George Gallup has also reported on negative NDEs, as has Margot Grey. Out of forty one case studies, for example, Ms. Grey found five terrifying experiences. In one of her cases a subject had a hell-like experience on one near-death occasion, and a positive ‘core experience’ on a subsequent one. Ms. Grey’s results seem to correspond to both the reports of Rawlings and Gallup, but have no counterpart in the investigations by many other researchers.
According to Ms. Grey, a “negative” experience is associated with fear or panic, emotional or mental anguish, or utter desperation. Her subjects have reported being lost and helpless, extremely lonely, with an enormous sense of desolation. The negative environment was thought of as dark, gloomy, barren and/or hostile, sometimes the edge of a pit or abyss, which required all of the subject’s inner resources to prevent themselves from going over the edge. In some cases, it seemed a matter of wits in order to avoid being tricked into death.
Dr. Grey’s “hell-like” experience includes all the aspects of the negative phase, but with feelings of much greater intensity. In many cases, the subjects sensed an evil force, occasionally identified as the power of darkness, dragging them down. Wrathful or demonic creatures often were envisioned, taunting or threatening the individual, while some subjects recounted attacks by unseen beings, which might be hooded or faceless. The hell-like environment was either intensely cold or unbearably hot. Wailing of souls in torment were sometimes heard, or noises of maddened wild beasts, snarling and crashing about. In some cases, an archetypal hell with fire, brimstone, and the devil himself were encountered.
The variation of the negative or hell-like near-death experiences from that of the ‘core experience’ of very positive conditions is not fully understood. It has been suggested negative NDEs are not true NDEs, but in fact have their origin in psychological factors; while most positive NDEs are “true NDEs” that cannot be adequately explained by the same factors. Alternatively, such an argument may be nothing more than wishful thinking.
In the first, initial studies of suicide-induced NDEs, no evidence was found to suggest any distinction between this form of near-death experience and those caused by illness or accident. In a 1981 study by Kenneth Ring and Stephen Franklin, for example, these two experienced researchers came to the conclusion there was nothing unique about NDEs triggered by suicide attempts. Furthermore, the reports of suicide survivors was not significantly different from illness or accident induced NDEs, all subjects reporting essentially the same positive feelings, although to different degrees. Moreover, none of the subjects felt judged or condemned by any force outside of themselves for their suicide attempt.
Ring and Franklin go on to report, however, a decrease in suicidal intent following a suicide-induced NDE. Furthermore, the two researchers concluded the recollections of suicide survivors and other NDEs, promoted the cause of life, not death, and in particular, not death via suicide.
Ring and Franklin also pointed out in this early report that their respondents should not be considered representative, and that their conclusions should be viewed as preliminary.” This disclaimer has turned out to be quite fortunate, because further study has begun to suggest a different story.
In Margot Grey’s 1985 book, Return from Death, she reports that Professor Ring had subsequently found attempted suicide NDEs were less likely to have a full “core experience”, and the missing elements appeared to be the transcendental aspects of seeing a brilliant but comforting light and the encountering of a presence. It was also noted that while the sense of bodily detachment existed to the same degree as other categories, the experience tended to end with the same feeling of drifting about in a murky twilight zone, which promptly faded out before any ‘transcendent elements’ of the ‘experience had an opportunity to make their appearance. While the results were still considered inconclusive, Ring did suggest a possible modification of his original hypothesis, as the suicide-induced NDEs had the appearance of being aborted or truncated.
This revised view has been supported in part by Dr. Raymond Moody is his sequel volume, Reflections on Life After Life. Dr. Moody had only a few cases of suicide-induced NDEs, but in each case the NDE was characterized as being unpleasant. Dr. Moody went on to note subjects experiencing NDEs that were caused by illness or accident returned to report suicide was a very undesirable act which might incur a penalty. This “penalty” for an act of suicide might include witnessing the suffering on the part of others this act would cause. In addition those subjects whose NDE was caused by a suicide attempt agreed their suicidal attempts solved nothing, and strongly disavowed suicide as a means of returning to the after life state. All noted after their experiences they would not consider suicide again.
The existence of some sort of “limbo” state is described by several people who had attempted suicide. The penalty for such an act appeared to be that the victim would be in a dark, dreary limbo state for a very long time. Annabel Chaplin, writing in The Bright Light of Death, describes this “Land of Despair” in some detail. While Ms. Chaplin gathered her information in the “midst of a session of mental imagery,” her description nevertheless closely dovetails with descriptions from NDE subjects who had attempted suicide.
According to Ms. Chaplin, the next stop for suicides is an alien and strange place enveloped by a dull, heavy foreboding. Victims resided in the still air, completely bent over with their heads buried in mud and covered with dark shrouds. There was no communication with the victims immersed in their own bleak world of gloom and who were unaware of anything but their self-imposed misery. New arrivals were powerless to reverse their descent to the awful place, even as they recognized their fate and struggled against it. Ms. Chaplin’s only cause for hope was that the souls who had repented “long enough” would fulfill their need for self-punishment and could eventually find their way back to the light.
Suicide is condemned by most philosophies. The act is invariably viewed as the worst of crimes with the severest of penalties. Tales of special places in purgatory for suicides have ranged from Dante’s Inferno to modern science fiction by writer Larry Niven with the same title. Richard Bach, in his book, The Bridge Across Forever, gives one contemporary view:
“Suicide, like murder—uncreative! Anyone desperate enough for suicide, should be desperate enough to go to creative extremes to solve problems.”
The alleged penalty for suicide raises a host of questions. What happens, for example, to Japanese Samurai who commit Hari Kari? Viewed as a matter of honor instead of an attempt to escape hardship, Hari Kari appears less objectionable. But what of anyone who smokes, overindulges in alcohol (and/or drugs), or even eats and drinks foods with high levels of caffeine? Knowing such things are deadly or unhealthy, is this non-Hari Kari type any less suicidal? Are “heroic” deaths or accident-prone individuals with a subconscious wish to kill themselves, exempt from suicide-related penalties? What about attention-grabbing “mock suicides” which go astray?
The question of suicide resulting in penalties (imposed by the self or others), is not answerable. Clearly there is a deep seated aversion to it from virtually all philosophies, but this does not, in and of itself, guarantee a penalty will result from an act of suicide. On the other hand, there seems to be little or no justification or motivation to commit suicide. From the view of reincarnation and karma, one would simply have to return and get it right on the next try. At the same time, perhaps, it might also be necessary to reduce any karma resulting from the suicide itself.
In summary, suicide appears to have no advantages and, potentially, some rather severe disadvantages. It can never be recommended.
After the NDE
The after effects on the subjects of near-death experiences were invariably profound. Frequently subjects felt a deep shift toward experiencing life in a more positive way, especially with regard to people and nature. Returnees reported a greater sense of love, an increased thirst for knowledge, and an enhanced need to adequately develop their gifts and talents. Invariably they had lost all fear of death, a condition which continued throughout the remainder of their lives.
Subjects became convinced of life after death, including a belief in both heaven and hell. Belief in God, or some supreme power for good, as well as a conviction that some force for evil also exists, was also increased. Interestingly, many reported they did not believe in God as taught by the traditional, western religions any more, and many began to believe in reincarnation. Researchers have noted a significant shift in beliefs by NDE returnees, away from the theological doctrines of established religions to a more spiritual ideology. Subjects often tended to become less dependent on the religious interpretations of the church and more contemplative and private in their beliefs. At the same time, the subjects became more tolerant of existing religions.
Almost without exception, the person undergoing the near-death experience is a completely changed person afterward. All of the day-to-day worries and concerns they had been living with suddenly seemed relatively unimportant. There is a sense of more importance being ascribed to getting along with people, helping others, and being a loving kind of person. Suddenly the Golden Rule seems quite appropriate to their lives.
The after effects of negative near-death experiences are not noticeably different from positive NDEs. Subjects often feel as if they have been given a second chance to “change their ways”. People attempting suicide all agreed on one point: they felt their suicidal attempts solved nothing. The implication was: “If you leave here a tormented soul, you will be a tormented soul over there, too.” Not only did the problems which predicated the suicide attempt persist, but once in the disembodied state, the subjects were unable to do anything about it.
Paranormal After Effects
One of the more striking and controversial after-effects of near-death experiences is the apparent result of providing to the NDE returnee certain inexplicable talents. These talents include alleged extrasensory perception and healing capabilities the individuals were not aware of possessing prior to the NDE.
The ESP capability appears to manifest itself in one of two ways. In the first type, the information gleaned from the life review sometimes includes images or visions of the future, and thus allows the recipient to have knowledge of future events. In the second type, the NDE itself appears to be the incident which is responsible for triggering some mechanism whereby the subject begins to experience ESP capabilities. These latter capabilities include telepathy, precognition, telekinesis, and such ancillary talents as automatic writing. The significance of these after effects are not easily dismissed.
Are they Crazy?
Is it possible to dismiss the reports of NDEs as the ravings of a bunch of Lunatics? There is a certain amount of appeal for this point of view, but the more likely answer is no. Gabbard and Twemlow, in their book, With the Eyes of the Mind, An Empirical Analysis of Out-of-Body States, have investigated the possibility using a PAL test. Their results do not allow an easy out.
Their testing method, the PAL, refers to a psychological questionnaire termed “Profiles of Adaptation to Life.” The PAL is designed to assess the mental health of populations who are not necessarily identified as patients and who have not had circumscribed treatment experiences. Using the PAL as a measure, Gabbard and Twemlow found that as a group, the NDE subjects were significantly healthier than psychiatric inpatients an/or outpatients, and somewhat healthier than college students. Overall, the NDE group represented a very close approximation of the “average healthy American”, with few significant differences between the NDE group and two groups of medical professionals. (Of course, saying that the NDE group was no crazier than a group of psychiatrists is not necessarily a positive indicator of mental health.)
Many subjects see nurses, doctors, and sometimes relatives or friends frantically working over the body in an effort to “save the life,” and often from the perspective of above and detached from the body. In a woman’s case reported by Moody, the woman saw the back of the nurse’s head, and even went so far as to comment on the nurse’s hairdo. Often the subjects are all too aware of all the happenings in the room and can describe them in detail after their revival.
Moody has pointed out that subject’s description of events from their out-of-body perspective tended to agree with actual events. Several doctors have indicated that they were utterly baffled at the detail and accuracy patients with no prior medical knowledge were able to provide about their own resuscitation attempts -- attempts made when the doctors believed the patient to be dead. Dr. Michael Sabom, in researching the evidence for his book, Recollections of Death, took special care to examine independent corroborative evidence for the visual and auditory perceptions reported by near-death survivors when allegedly out of their bodies. His research data strongly supports the claims made by his subjects!
Another form of corroboration is the fact the NDEs and their descriptions of the after-life have numerous parallels in ancient writings from diverse civilizations, cultures, and eras. These parallels include biblical passages as well as statements by Plato and others. Swedish-born Emanuel Swedenborg was giving vivid descriptions of the after-life in the early 1700’s, and his realizations are now extensively available.
Of particular interest in this regard is The Tibetan Book of the Dead. This work was compiled from master teachings over many centuries in prehistoric Tibet, passed down orally through many generations, and finally written down sometime around the eighth century of the current era. The book is essentially a guide for the dying and was read or related to a dying person as a means of telling them what to expect in death and what might be expected of them. As such it has detailed descriptions of the various stages of what would now be called the near-death experience. Dr. Raymond Moody, for one, found the correspondence between the early stages described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the reports of his NDE subjects as nothing less than fantastic.
Naturally, religious beliefs or a desire to find Heaven may be the cause of such heartening, light-filled visions, but not all experience the same envelopment of love and light. Many survivors have found themselves to be mostly bewildered, with no sense of what to do next. Many sense the brilliant white light only at the end of a long tunnel, and may be hesitant to venture into the tunnel. Yet, if there is any advice to be given to the dying based on the mass of data accumulated so far, it would be: “GO TO THE WHITE LIGHT!” Run! Do not pass G0, do not collect $200. Just go!
Perhaps these experiences are nothing more than an example of what Dr. Jan Ehrenwald refers to as “man’s quest for immortality.” This is a possibility, but can such a relatively simple explanation account for:
1. The sense of the soul leaving the body and floating up and viewing everything from a vantage point;
2. The awareness while “clinically dead” of all the events surrounding the body;
3. The consistency of stories of the souls’ ability to move through objects, and the ability to immediately do whatever is thought;
4. The feelings of peace and light;
5. The unconcern for the dying body, and the sense of objectivity when they ask, “Why are they are trying so hard to revive it?”;
6. The instant replay of their past life;
7. The abrupt returns to the body, when the “crisis” is apparently over;
8. The reluctance to return to earth; and
9. The after effects, when the subjects realize their immortality, lose their fear of death, find their subsequent lives changed toward love and peace, and when suddenly they begin to wonder about the ancient wisdom of celebrating death and mourning birth?
Many subjects have a sense of relief, a sense of complete love and joy, and a feeling of contentment the intensity of which they have never experienced before. Many times, these people who have a near-death experience are in enormous pain before they pull out of their body. The relief from the pain and agony is often one of the first things the subjects sense.
It is this sense of relief from pain that many doubters of these stories point out when questioning the reality of these experiences. Could this not be a trick of the brain to shut out the pain? Certainly there is considerable evidence to show the brain is capable of just such feats.
Several knowledgeable investigators have considered the many alternative explanations for the elements of an NDE. Virtually without exception, those researchers who have considered a broad spectrum of alternatives to the reality of NDEs have concluded that current attempts at explaining an NDE by psychological, pharmacological, physiological, paranormal or other possible explanations are doomed to failure.
This failure to arrive at a more “traditional” explanation of NDEs may be, in part, due to the difficulty of the problem. Michael Grosso, in his article “Toward an Explanation of Near-Death Phenomena” notes that three aspects of NDEs require explanation: (1) the consistency and universality of the reported experiences, (2) the paranormal effects, and (3) the resulting changes in attitudes and behavior. From Dr. Grosso’s viewpoint it is the paranormal component which eliminates the idea of the NDE being merely an illusion. Moreover, as paranormal phenomena becomes more explainable, NDEs and the survival hypothesis becomes more intrinsically plausible.
Dr. Grosso goes on point out that because NDEs are not publicly verifiable, science cannot consider them as direct evidence for the survival hypothesis. Nevertheless, there must reach a critical point when the mass of accumulated and non-contradictory data must form a special consensus. Dr. Grosso goes on to suggest that it is possible those people experiencing death may, in fact, know more about the subject than all the researchers combined!
The possibility of a patient knowing considerably more about his experiences than his doctor could be thought of as a rather radical suggestion. But many knowledgeable people are beginning to suspect that patients may, in fact, have better answers than the medical professionals to whom they are paying so much. If this is true, then it would appear that the massive volume of data concerning NDEs may have reached the “critical point.” The reality of the “core experience” must now be considered, at the very least, as the more reasonable and probable hypothesis.
In addition to near-death experiences there is also mounting evidence of an after-life and other extraordinary events, from what is termed “deathbed experiences.” NDEs are reports by those persons who have, through illness or accident, nearly died or who clinically died and were revived, while deathbed experiences are reports and observations by medical people and others of what a dying person reports in the moments before the final death of the physical body. Often these latter reports include visions by the dying of deceased loved ones, religious figures, and afterlife scenes.
In 1961, Dr. Karlis Osis published a lengthy monograph, Deathbed Observations by Physicians and Nurses. The book was based on his request for the experiences of 10,000 American physicians and nurses. In analyzing the detailed reports of 640 cases, in which many of these professionals had witnessed their patients’ reactions to and reports of unseen deathbed visitors, Dr. Osis drew these major conclusions:
1. The dying often go into inexplicable exaltation before death.
2. The dying see visions of apparitions to a much greater extent than people who are not approaching death.
3. Apparitions are usually of deceased persons, or in relatively fewer cases of living or religious persons.
4. Drugs or other aspects of illnesses seemingly do not account for the visions.
5. Many of the dying intuitively realize that the apparition is coming to take them into death and on to a continued existence.
In 1977, Dr. Osis and a colleague, Dr. Erlendur Heraldsson, published At the Hour of Death, a book extending the original work by Dr. Osis to include another thousand experiences. This work included experiences of people dying in India as well as the USA. The deathbed visions were nevertheless similar despite the significant racial, cultural, and religious differences between the two countries. Both reports of Dr. Osis’ work have been found to correlate with pioneering work done over a period of thirty years and reported in several publications by Dr. Robert Crookall of England.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead teaches, among other things, the Art of Dying. According to this ancient and revered book, the dying should approach death with a calm, clear-minded, even heroic attitude, and with a rightly trained and directed intellect, mentally transcending, as necessary, bodily suffering and problems. Many people now believe the modern day practices in America involving extraordinary efforts to keep someone alive, to be unnecessary and detrimentally interfere with the death process. Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has suggested that with all of our knowledge of science and our emancipation, one would think we would have available better means to prepare ourselves and our families for the inevitable, that it would once again be appropriate for a man to die in peace and dignity in his own home.
In Margot Grey’s view, dying has become more gruesome simply because it has become more mechanical.” W. Y. Evans-Wentz, in his book The Tibetan Book of the Dead, argues that, dying in a hospital, often under the mind-benumbing influence of some tranquilizer, or the stimulation caused by some life-prolonging, to the n-th degree, drug, cannot yield a very desirable death. He considers such cases as clearly not superior to a shell-shocked soldier dying on a battlefield.
Lest, however, we think to lay blame on the doorstep of the medical community for an “undesirable death,” we should consider one other aspect of the deathbed experience, that also ties in with the near-death experience. The reason a soul may return from the afterlife (a reason that is based more on a belief structure than on documented facts) is that other people on earth are pleading for their return. The prayers, the energy and sorrow of the people urging their revival is thought by many to be a powerful force which can pull the dying back from the brink.
Dr. Moody, in Life After Life, has reported on one case history, wherein a family was praying for an elderly aunt to regain her health. The aunt stopped breathing several times, but in each case the medical teams were able to bring her back. Then, on one fateful day, the aunt turned to her niece and explained she had been to the after-life, found it beautiful and joyous, and wanted to stay. But she couldn’t stay as long as her family kept praying for her to stay with them. From the aunt’s viewpoint, the prayers were keeping her alive. She then asked everyone to quit praying for her. When they stopped, the aunt died shortly thereafter.
Another case involved a 92 year old great grandmother who was slowly dying from the complications of a broken hip (and for which the medical establishment was unwilling to repair for fear of litigation if the patient died on the operating table). After several weeks of considerable pain, one relative suggested to all of the others via e-mail that it was time to let the woman make her transition. Most of the recipients of the e-mail took the advice to heart, and the family matriarch died the following day.
One might begin to wonder if the prayers and hopes for life are always in the dying person’s best interests.
The evidence for the reality of near-death experiences makes the NDEs one of the most documented and substantiated phenomena in reincarnation theory. The breath and depth of the research allows us a reasonable confidence that NDEs are a common, if not fundamental, aspect of reality. The general inability of other hypotheses to adequately explain the voluminous data on NDEs tends to place the burden of proof on those who find it difficult to accept at face value the reports by near-death survivors.
Clearly the near-death experiences provide a strong argument for life after death. Deathbed experiences add additional fuel to the fire (so to speak), and the birth experiences discussed in the previous chapter provide an indirect confirmation of NDEs’ description of the afterlife. By the same token, nothing in the descriptions of birth experiences, in any way, contradicts the reports of near-death and deathbed experiences. Together, all three forms of “data collection” agree with each other and provide us with a better understanding of what might be occurring on the other side.
There are obviously some holes or spaces in our description of the afterlife. The near-death experiences take us into the beyond from one direction, while the descriptions of birth experiences allow us to glimpse the afterlife from the other end. An important question is what happens between the time of dying and the subsequent(?) process of being born? This subject will be discussed in Chapter VIII. At this point in the narrative, we need only consider the effect of the death-related experiences on our developing theory of reincarnation.
Reincarnation and Karma
With regard to basic reincarnation theory, NDEs and deathbed experiences serve mainly to provide details of the dying process. These death-related experiences do not provide a great deal of evidence of reincarnation. They merely imply a life after death (as reincarnation does), but only marginally hint at the possibility of a return. While some subjects returned from a near-death with a new-found belief in reincarnation, there is otherwise no real evidence or descriptions of the process of reincarnation in all of the reports from people near death.
The instantaneous life review encountered in the near-death experience appears to correlate with one aspect of karma in that one is at least called to answer for their actions in their past life. However, with the possible exception of suicide and negative NDEs, there is no implication of punishment or a need to somehow make up for past misdeeds. In effect karma appears rather ineffectual in the after-life, if we are limited to a life review and nothing else. For karma to be a reality, it continues, apparently, to require new and different incarnations.
The possible penalties for suicide and the possibility of hellish or near-hellish accommodations in the after-life for a few members of the dying, have less to do with traditional views of karma and correspond more closely to traditional western views of reward and punishment for a single life. Negative NDEs tend to negate reincarnation, unless one believes that all hell and purgatory descriptions are of a temporary nature. If these bad experiences are viewed as simply an additional learning time for souls having trouble with life on earth, then reincarnation continues unscathed. But if the suicide victims and those who would have had a negative NDE if they had survived, find themselves trapped in hellish or near-hellish environments for essentially all time, then reincarnation would appear to have an important exception. However, the evidence for either of these two possibilities does not now seem to exist.
In other words, you may be wise to begin understanding the Art of Dying, but you don’t necessarily have to concern yourself with the possibility of returning and having to be a teenager all over again.
Chapter Six: Birth Experiences
Chapter Eight: Activities on the Other Side
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]