Meanwhile, for interest, let’s look at a small number of NDEs pertaining to followers of some non-Western religions.
Padma 7 remained a Hindu for a while following her afterlife experience, but is now a Tibetan Buddhist because she feels it is more in tune with what happened to her. Here is her experience after falling from the third floor directly onto the concrete below and being rushed to hospital:
As I lay in bed, with doctors and nurses administering emergency help, all of a sudden I was on the ceiling looking down at my twisted and mangled body. I saw the doctors cutting my clothes off hurriedly. I saw them put traction on my waist. I saw what the traction looked like. It was a contraption made of thick heavy metal rods going down my sides from my waist. At the level of my feet heavy chains hung suspended by two big metal balls. Great compassion and sorrow arose from seeing myself in that terrible position.
Next thing I knew, I was being pulled with a force like a hurricane or tornado and was trying to hang on to the ceiling with my nails, both with my feet and hands. I was being pulled towards the wall facing me, and when I came close to there, I saw this most beautiful, rotating light, like that of the Universe, in fact it moved like the Universe. It had life and knowledge and it felt like a loving parent beckoning me. Coming close to it gave me the most warm, loving feeling.
In line with other returnees regardless of culture or religion, Padma emphasises her changed attitudes towards both appreciating life on Earth as a wonderful gift to be cherished, and also towards loving others. ‘I have been left with a feeling of great loving-kindness, compassion, and a need to never give up on anyone. I try to do whatever I can within my own limitations to help people. I can put myself in another’s shoes and feel their anguish and feel the need to protect them.’
Here is a shortened account of Mahesh Chavda’s 8 experiences. A devout Hindu as a youth, he visited the Hindu temple three times a week to burn incense, bow to the images and talk to the priests. Disillusioned by the hypocrisy he saw in certain priests, he walked away from Hinduism and began to read a Bible he had been given by a visitor to the family home. Late one night he decided to turn his back on the Bible and the Jesus portrayed in it.
“No more,” I said to myself. “Enough is enough. I am never going to think about Jesus Christ again. I am never going to read this book again. My mind is made up”
And that was that. Or so I thought.
The next thing I knew, I heard my head hit the desk. I mean I literally heard it, as if it were happening to someone else. Bang. I seemed to be in a sort of half-sleep, no longer fully awake and in control, but aware of what was going on. I remember hearing the noise and thinking to myself “That’s my head, hitting the desk.”
An OBE followed, moving into what might have been a vision, or even a deeper NDE.
I immediately found myself in a strange and wonderful place. My body was still there at the desk, but in my spirit I was somewhere different, somewhere wonderful, somewhere I had never been before.
Then Mahesh describes what he experienced, including grass as thick as a blanket, colours more vivid than any he had ever seen, music that he experienced more than felt.
I felt I was home. This was where I wanted to be, where I was supposed to be. This was why I had been created.
Then he became aware of a brilliant white light coming toward him. Within that light was a man. He sensed immediately that this was Jesus – even though he had not previously seen any art depicting him. And though he looked like an ordinary man and walked like an ordinary man, he was so brilliant Mahesh could hardly bear to look at him.
As he came closer to me, I could see that he was smiling. It was the same kind of smile you see on the face of a mother or father when they pick up their little baby, a smile of utter love and delight.
Then, as I stood there gazing into his eyes, he stretched out his hand and placed it on my shoulder and said to me simply, ‘My little brother.’
This interaction and the salutation as ‘My little brother’ affected Mahesh deeply, and became a turning point in his life. He reassessed his belief system and in time became a Christian minister.
Certain Hindu NDE reports originating in India are similar to those reported in the West. Others employ radically different language and concepts, such as ‘yamatoots’ being sent to fetch the spirit of the departed instead of the ‘guides’ or even ‘angels’ described in some Western NDEs. This could be the use of different and culturally familiar terminology to describe what may be similar experiences.
Perhaps as more accounts come to hand, greater clarity regarding similarities and differences between the Hindu NDE experience and that of others will become apparent.
Within Buddhism, as is the problem for researchers dealing with all the major religions, there are different groups holding differing beliefs and teachings about the afterlife. Raymond Moody in Life After Life devotes several pages to startling similarities between the NDEs he studied and the model of the afterlife described by Tibetan Buddhism in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. There are extraordinary similarities, and that is perhaps in part what attracted the previously mentioned Hindu lady, Padma, to become a Tibetan Buddhist, but what Moody did not do is point out the large number of differences that also exist. In my own readings, I discovered many significant statements at odds with the classic NDE.
With all this confusion, we can sympathise with Susan Onizuka 9, a Buddhist of Japanese ancestry, when she writes: ‘According to Buddhist beliefs/interpretations, you cannot truly be a Buddhist if you believe in God, which I did not until my NDE… The light was so incredibly bright that I was certain it would blind anyone gazing upon it, but instead it gave me the greatest joy and feeling of intense love that I can barely describe it properly.’ Alongside this encounter with God, Susan experienced other standard NDE features such as telepathic communication and a Life Review, which she describes in these words. ‘Everything I had done, good or bad, seemed to happen all again all at the same time. My entire life was experienced again, but with an added dimension, I experienced the emotions and outcomes of everyone (pets included) that my actions had created, good or bad.’ Her NDE also featured rapid travel. When told she had to return because it was ‘not your time’, she argued that she preferred to stay: ‘No way. I’m here and I’m staying!’ Despite her arguments, she was swiftly returned to her body.
Susan Onizuka’s descriptions would fit many a classic Western NDE.
Because the concept of God was totally outside Susan Onizuka’s personal Buddhist belief system, she could not integrate her NDE into her pre-existing faith. Her resulting bewilderment is obvious and sad. (Author’s note: many Buddhists do believe in God).
The terminology used in Buddhist descriptions can sound ‘cute’ to Westerners, because of the different expressions used in their culture. Here is an example of non-recognition of the body left behind during an OBE. Shibani 10, a Buddhist in India, fell out of a bus in 1990 and died as his head struck the ground. ‘Next instant I saw myself standing next to my own body, and the first thought that came to me while I looked at my body lying on the ground was, “Thank Goodness I did not fall; that is someone else lying there”… During the time that I was watching my own body, I distinctly remember feeling joy at not being the one hurt! Having complete disorientation from my own body, I did not recognize my own body, nor identified myself as being the one. Watching the other body lying on the ground, I did not feel any pain, or other feeling, apart from feeling happy at not being hurt.’
Of course, many Buddhists are themselves Westerners. I was talking to a Dutch lady recently in a small meeting who was one of three seniors (the only Buddhist) who claimed to have had an NDE. While two others freely told us about their classic NDE experiences, she would talk to me only privately after the meeting. Because of an unusual medical condition, she says she has experienced a number of OBEs while undergoing operations over the years, during which she has seen things she could not have seen had her consciousness remained in her brain on the operating table. Although she finds these experiences confusing, she assured me that the OBEs have had one very positive consequence for her – she no longer fears death.
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