In a grim situation as now when the Covid-19 disease and death are topmost on everyone’s mind Near Death Experience, NDE in short, may allay fear that death is always fearful. Instead of being frightening many people have reported near encounters with death which have been peaceful and even physically and spiritually uplifting and in beautiful environs. And once the distance is traversed it secures and prepares one for an ending to life that is not abrupt and devoid of feelings but keeps one dreaming for a better world all the way till the end.
There are scores of books which have been published on this subject matter which have been revelations for both the writers as well as their patients, and for the readers as well, so that all of them came out better informed on the subject of death. Real life experiences of death as told in these books not only remove the conjectures we make about death but reveal that it is more of a science that, through observation, can be understood to some extent. And such scientific information also corroborates information available from the various scriptures about how in fact there does seem to be conformity in such a science; and religion on how life is at the time of death; alluding to something that comes after it too.
Many medical researchers, as also spiritualists, have not painted a bleak picture and made the accounts of death humorous, peaceful, something we may not look forward to, but at the same time not be unnerved by also. One such account of NDE is that of a popular American psychiatrist and hypnotherapist, Dr. Brian Weiss, who worked on past life regression and survival of the human soul after death. When Catherine, his patient, started responding with past-life experience under hypnosis, Weiss did not necessarily believe in reincarnation, but after confirming the facts of the patient’s life with available records, he was of the opinion that the human personality does survive after death. Subsequently he hypnotically regressed thousands of patients saying it cured them of many phobias and ailments rooted in past-life experiences. The book Brian Weiss authored, ‘Many lives, Many Masters: The Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient and the Past-life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives’, sold millions of copies and is acclaimed by readers and reviewers alike for the gripping account. Remarkable is how Catherine began to channel messages with revelations about Dr. Weiss’ family and his dead son.
‘Proof of Heaven’ by Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon, is another popular book in which the doctor recounts that he earlier did not believe in NDE, God and afterlife but did so after he contracted bacterial meningitis, which affected his brain, putting him in a coma. During this time he experienced a supernatural occurrence, where a beautiful girl on the wings of a butterfly led him to an immense void, which he later translated to be God. The book was an instant success and was No. 1 on The New York Times paperback best-seller list. Most of these writers are Americans and actually, according to sources, since medical research is more in America, as many as 8 to 20 million patients have gone through the near death experience that affected 20 percent of those who were saved after almost dying medically or in surgery.
These accounts are also very close to the experience of NDE related in the Indian scriptures, one being of Ajamila, who had an out of body experience (OBE). According to researchers an OBE is always part of an NDE where a patient views his body from a position outside the body, and a common element of a heavenly NDE is the presence of love in both this life and in the afterlife, and existence of an all loving and forgiving deity. This is exactly what Ajamila, an old dying Brahmin, experienced. Ajamila had been very devout in the early part of his life but after he became fallen in the company of a prostitute, with whom he raised a family, at the time of death the messengers of hell came to take him away. But as he was calling out the name of his youngest son Narayana, which incidentally is also the name of God, the messengers of God, on hearing their master’s name being called, came to Ajamila’s rescue, thereby saving him from those hellish creatures. Later Ajamila returned to his devout practices and attained salvation.
According to Pastor Abui Panmei of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Manipur Conference Headquarters, at death we don’t know anything. God puts breath into the human, who is modelled out of earth, and does not have life before receiving the breath, which breath is also called the ‘spirit’. At the time of death the breath goes back to God and the body to the earth. The ancient Greek and Babylonians believed that man, after death, travels as thawai (soul), and is conscious and able to see what other people are doing. This, says Abui, is not the belief of the Bible which says that what goes back to God cannot speak and does not remain a conscious entity.
The Pastor further explains that in the NDE, the person is only half-dead, and his brain is working to a small degree, due to which he sees different visions. The power of awareness, to loving, to move, revulsion etc. come after the breath is infused, and at the time the breath is withdrawn, all feeling, emotion and passion leaves the body, which is then consigned to the earth, he says. NDE is a temporary loss of consciousness which many people encounter, says Abui adding if the person is dead he wouldn’t know anything anymore. The Pastor also cites his own life’s experience where after being ill with malaria he was half-dead for some time. He heard a soft ringing sound in his ears and felt himself rising to the sky. During this time he lost all sense of pain and suffering from illness and started enjoying the experience. That’s why the Bible calls death as ‘rest’, says Abui, observing that death, as he encountered it, was very restful and peaceful, and took away all sense of mental anguish and bodily pain.
There is also a funny account of NDE, as told by Banamali Das of the ISKCON, where a man who had drowned in the Ganges River was revived, and when asked about his last thoughts during the ordeal, said that he remembered a girl advertising for a brand of soap. Giving a personal account, Banamali also said when he was younger, a fire in the neighbourhood caused his mother to wake him up. When he entered the house the fire had already gone out, but he fainted and fell near a fireplace. In his dreamy world some friends asked him to come and play with them and as they went he heard his mother call out to him, because of which he returned and regained consciousness near the fireplace, where his people were trying to revive him.
At the time of death, according to the Indian scriptures, the thought of having to leave the body is as painful as the bite of 40,000 scorpions. However, there are other instances where an old devout grandmother foretold the day of her death and asked to be placed in the courtyard when the time came. There she sang a Bashop song (religious song) along with her daughter-in-law who herself was a professional singer. Hence, no one could perceive any sign of suffering in her when the old woman left her body. This, the scriptures cite, as an example of the difference between a kitten being carried lovingly in the jaws of her mother, and a mouse sensing imminent death in the same jaws.
In some deaths, and most NDEs, the sense of the mystical and religious is in the forefront. There was a miraculous happening, some 10 years back in South Africa, where a 5-year-old girl started liking to pray to Lord Narsimha, a half-man half-lion God, with the face of a lion. The girl simply found the Lord funny, due to his strange appearance. One day the girl was at play with a ball outside her village home when the ball fell on the street. When she went to collect the ball a truck with a drunk driver hit her and she fell on the grass on the side of the road. When she was taken to the hospital the doctor asked for immediate X-rays, although he was almost sure the girl couldn’t have survived. When the X-rays were brought, the doctor exclaimed at the nurse, for being callous and bringing the wrong X-rays, as none of the bones were broken. By that time the small girl regained consciousness, and to the surprise of all, said she had been picked by Lord Narsimha and left on the grass, as she had called out to him at the last moment. Like in most NDEs, she said the Lord looked beautiful and loving. Although the doctor believed a lion might have picked up the girl and transferred her, as is common in those rural areas, later the doctor, nurse and parents of the girl also became devotees of the lion God.
In another mystical NDE, Pastor Tana of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Solomon Island was asked by the Prime Minister of Australia on the phone to deliver a cell phone to the rebel leader there, as he was acquainted with most people. To do so, he tried to persuade the government soldiers to let him pass through a barricade, but when they repeatedly refused to allow him, he thought it was his duty to drive through the barricade. The soldiers fired a mortar and saw the Pastor’s car blown to smithereens. However the Pastor was safe and drove to the rebel camp and delivered the cell phone on which the rebel leader was to speak to the PM (later the war ended because of the talk).
The job accomplished, the Pastor brought some choice groceries for the government soldiers, and much to their surprise, returned at the broken barricade. Five of the soldiers later came to him and accepted the Pastor’s faith, and afterwards became leaders in the island’s churches. Death is fearsome for most, but those who come to hear of such miracles, may learn to believe otherwise. As Dr. Weiss showed by his regression therapy, NDEs of other patients can help us get over trauma, and help in start believing that death is not something which we may find altogether dire.