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Near Death Experiences

[I originally wrote this in 10-08-2007 and included it in a chapter on death and dying in my book, "Give to Live." Such topics can help us be a better person, by informing or reminding us, that whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves. During the life review, as explained in what follows, we see our life from both our perspective, and that of others we have impacted, either positively or negatively. This goes along with what I am currently teaching in my talk, "Facing Death, to Live More Fully Today," which I created in response to my cancer diagnosis, which continues, though it hasn't worsened.

To me, the life review, which is taught not only in the near-death experience literature, but also in Vedic and Buddhist texts, is one reason we need to "Die Before Dying," or review our life to now, before we are dying, to make amends, forgive, or seek forgiveness from others--basically cutting karmic cords, and praying to improve our character and actions. Truly, "what goes around, comes around," which is one explanation of karma. We receive what we give, or what we do to others, we do to ourselves. Please reflect on this fact as you review your life, and as you interact with others ask yourself, "what am I giving to to them?" I lament that more of us don't practice loving kindness and less negative harsh judgement with other devotees and people in general!]

"Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail." [Bhagavad Gita 8.6]

I have thought about exploring the topic of near-death experiences for some time. One of my friends has requested me to do so, as she recently also had one.

I have not kept current on my near-death readings, but there are a number of books I have read in the last fifteen years that I found fascinating, and good for sharing with people who may not accept the Vedas, or any scripture, as authority.

Some people accept the personal testimony of fellow human beings living at this time as meaningful. The fact that most NDE’ers have similar experiences is compelling to them, whereas they think religious people can be dogmatic.

I am not suggesting that you should buy every book on the subject. Knowing about these experiences is useful, for they share some viewpoints also expressed in Vedic texts. And some people like me, read many books outside our tradition which they feel have benefited them. Not everyone has to, or should necessarily.

Now, for starters, not everyone's experiences of near death could be corroborated from Vedic texts, nor do all these people come back with full knowledge of what we as Krishna devotees would like them to have, like the importance of a vegetarian diet, belief in reincarnation, etc. Some people don’t go deeper than the experience itself.

However, I do not feel we should just throw out these experiences wholesale, without thinking over the matter carefully.
While the Vedas describe what is essential for us to know to perfect our life, they do not say everything about all possible experiences—no scripture does. Also, it is important to acknowledge that many valid perspectives or windows of experience exist. Even the material world, though considered only one-fourth of existence, is still INFINITE, and our understanding of it is FINITE, as is our understanding of the scriptures.

Hopefully, this will be humbling for us. We can give authoritative statements from the Vedas, yet we should not so dogmatically think that we know everything about anything. Though the Gita says in Chapter 15, verse 19, that one who knows Krishna as the Supreme Lord without doubting knows everything, this means we have understood the purport of all knowledge, not that we are authorities on every subject. Only Krishna knows everything [Gita 7.26, 15.15, etc].

Under the guidance of Shri Guru, Krishna, and Vaishnava devotees, we can, with an open mind, endeavor to understand truth in many forms, or how we can use people's experiences for our benefit and inspiration. I invite you to read my blog on "Swanning" to understand how I think we can take useful information from practically anywhere.

Dr. Raymond Moody, in his groundbreaking book, Life After Life, was the first person to categorize all the many symptoms of a near death experience, such as 1.) being aware of being beyond the earth’s three dimensions and not having words for it, 2.) understanding they are "dead,” 3.) feeling peace and quiet, 4.) hearing intense or sometimes peaceful, though profound sounds, 5.) experiencing the presence of a dark tunnel they are being pulled into, 6.) experiencing themselves floating outside their body, 7.) meeting others, such as "deceased" relatives, 8.) coming in touch with the "Being of Light,” and 9.) the review of their entire life from beyond a physical perspective.

Most people do not have all these symptoms, some only one. The most profound and influential book I have read is Saved by the Light by Dannion Brinkley, who is now active in hospice work as a result of his experiences. He experienced all the classic symptoms and then some more. I have met him personally several times, and he is a very far out person, dedicated to helping others in hospice work, and quite funny.

Before Mr. Brinkley's not one, but several NDEs, he was not what we would call a pious person. He was a tough character who was a bit of a punk, or rabble rouser. Then he joined the military and became a special operative person, or a trained assassin of enemy commanders, arms trafficker, etc. As such, he beat up, killed—or delivered arms that killed many people.

The useful perspective for me, and I think all of us, comes from his life review. During the life review we relive all the experiences of our life, especially those particularly noteworthy and intense, either good or bad. Most of his were bad. So he re-experienced his fighting or killing of a person, but he not only saw it from his own experience, but he felt WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE ON THE RECEIVING END OF WHATEVER HE DID TO ANOTHER PERSON. This is called the "ripple effect" of our actions, and should make perfect sense in terms of karma. This illustrates the Christian expression, "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” In other words, whatever we give out, we receive back, which is a universal law, not just a feel-good saying.

When he killed a person, he saw himself kill them, and then he experienced what it was like for the person to be killed, and how that death was experienced by the person's friends, family, and associates. For example, when he delivered guns in Central America, he saw himself traveling with and delivering the weapons, experienced the death caused by those guns, and empathized with those affected by those transactions. And so it went, and oh, how he lamented his actions from his new higher perspective.

He did experience a few good deeds from his past, and as he gave out love and kindness, he became the recipient of those acts. One of Dannion's expressions is that at every moment in your dealings with others, imagine that you are having a life review, and will be on the receiving end of whatever you give out, regardless of its intensity or quality. For me, this has been a very useful meditation; what goes around comes around. Many Krishna devotees will understand this, and his experiences have made the law of karma more concrete for me. You might find them helpful as well.

Other useful books I have found are Closer to the Light (about the NDEs of children), and Transformed by the Light, by Melvin Morse MD, and the books by Betty J. Eadie, Embraced by the Light, and her next one where she is more broadminded, The Awakening Heart.

Although these books are not Vedic evidence, they can help some of us have faith in our identity as an eternal soul. As I mentioned before, they can demonstrate a very practical application of the law of karma. For some people we meet, these experiences are evidence of the soul, which can be used to help others be more open to spiritual viewpoints.

Another perspective of these experiences (and why they may not always agree with the Vedic version) is that these people did not actually die. The "higher authorities" viz. the devas (demigods or archangels) under the supervision of God, were giving certain souls a new lease on life, much as Ajamila was given in the Sixth Canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavat Purana).

Some people do experience the Yamadutas or the fierce, frightening messengers of death, or similar terrible beings, and live to speak of it, though many keep quiet about such experiences, fearing negative judgement from others, and their stories are not as inspiring for the masses. Such frightening, though also life changing, accounts are given in the book "Blessings in Disguise," by Barbara R. Rommer, MD, which she calls, "LTP," or "less than positive," near-death experiences.

Yamaraja, the Lord (or deva/angel) of death said: “My dear servants, who are as good as my sons, just see how glorious is the chanting of the holy name of the Lord. The greatly sinful Ajamila chanted only to call his son, not knowing that he was chanting the Lord's holy name. Nevertheless, by chanting the holy name of the Lord, he remembered Narayana [a name of Lord Vishnu or God], and thus he was immediately saved from the ropes of death.” [Shrimad Bhagavatam 6.3.23]