Buddhism And Near-Death Experiences
22 replies to this topic
Posted 2010-08-01 15:27:44
I would like to look at near dear experience. In fact I would like to do so using the experience of George Ritchie as written down in his book : "Return from tomorrow". At that time this was one of the best recorded near dead experiences.
In my view this shows the continueing of the Self as the centre of awareness even when people actually do not live in a physical body anymore.
To me this is one of the many proofs of continueing awareness of the I.
I wonder what Buddhisme is telling about near dead experiences and I wonder if buddhists study about these experiences.
There are many of them, thousands just read the books of Elisabth Kubler Ross and there are more and more people telling about this.
How do Buddhists explain this, and how would they explain experience of George Ritchie?
Posted 2010-08-01 16:34:18
As the name suggests...near death...but not actual death...so they just remember their experiences.
Posted 2010-08-01 17:28:30
My ego would embrace life after death.
None of us look forward to a final infinite death.
The problem with near death experiences is that the person hasn't actually died but has come very close.
Many argue that upon the verge of death the human brain, as a survival response, becomes flooded with serotonin & dopamine, enducing a mind altered state.
These substances provide a cushion against the trauma of impending death and act as the last line of survival.
Edited by rockyysdt, 2010-08-01 17:30:26.
Posted 2010-08-01 18:30:21
I expected these reactions, that is why I would prefer to connect it to the story of George Ritchie. I would advise to read his story, this man was a doctor himself and I can tell you, people who have experiences like he had are not 'happy' to experience the way other people deal with their experiences,
It is obvious fabianfred you did not read his story and probably also not likewise stories becos what you write is an exact confirmation what I state. They remember their experiences, yes, the experiences on the other side of material existence. And when remembering this it is like remembering the teachings of some buddhist teachers,: human reality in actual experience. An act of awareness inside a personal existence. These experiences can only be whiped away when we whipe away: :"They " as actual human aware beings. I would say, when the actual: experience and memory of a person as George Ritchie can be diminished in value to me this would be the case for every teaching that has become past and built upon the past.
The fact is that when you study this phenomenon of near dead experiences, and it is done by scientists more and more, it turns out to be very difficult to direct this to the kingdom of fairytales.
Becos following the standards for scientific proofs, the experiences of near dead people show they are reality just as experiences in material life, and no fairytales.
The experiences for instant are in essence the same all over the world. There is a huge simmilarity. When we would use the hypothesis that these experiences would be caused by serotonin and dopamine flooding that could be turned out to be a fairytale.
In one western country a doctor who was very much involved in near dead experiences, without sympathy and antipathy towards this phenomenon, wrote a big book about it a couple of years ago. It became a bestseller and it made many people more accept the idea there is such an experience possible as entering the spiritual world and returning back again to the material world.
The near dead experience itself often do show people do not remember this as a last survival line, since most of the people having this experience wish to stay in the world they experience on the other side of the treshold. So suggesting this as a last survival line could have the same value as telling people this world is a world originating from an alien world with spaceships visiting earth.
When some chemicals are hypothetically seen as the origin of a state of the mind we enter 'moving grounds' in looking at experiences of enlightment also. I know there are "scientists' who explain this by drugs, chemical processes in the mind of the actual persons. Maybe one day there will be some study explaining by what drugs people can have experiences like Buddha had and then suggest he might have used drugs or used specific food containing certain chemicals.
It is more easy to start a hypothesis and to have some opinion as to study a phenomenon.
I would not be surprised the majority of Bhuddists stay away from a subject as this and make distance to it by some prejudgement.
No awareness with regard to these phenomenens in life??
I would say read the story of Ritchie and study about this phenomenon so with awareness an interesting conversation could be possible.
Posted 2010-08-01 19:28:25
To my knowledge the classic Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhist text on the transition from this life to the next is the Bardo Thodol, or Tibetan Book of the Dead, or The Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State.
There's also a fair amount on the Bardo transition in Sogyal Rinpoche's The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and Matthieu Ricard has some discussion of it in The Quantum and the Lotus. There seem to be commonalities to near-death experiences across cultures, though the personages and contexts are culturally determined. I'm not sure what a near-death experience for, say, Richard Dawkins might be like.
My wife tells of a close friend in Laos when she was a teenager who was pronounced dead and returned to life on the third day of the mourning ceremonies (i.e. the day the cremation was to be held). While she was "dead", she met with people who came to take her to a village where she was to live in her new home. But then they were told that there had been a mistake and she was to be returned, which she duly was, much to the consternation of the mourners and guests.
Wikipedia has this to say in its article on the Bardo Thodol:
One can perhaps attempt to compare the descriptions of the Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State with accounts of certain "out of the body" near-death experiences described by people who have nearly died in accidents or on the operating table. These accounts sometimes mention a "white light", and helpful figures corresponding to that person's religious tradition. According to the Buddhist teachings, there are four different steps and the "white light" is most probably the last of them; then Mahaparinirvana eternal bliss. The divine beings are Buddhas and dakinis that people see as respective figures of their culture or religious belief.
The George Ritchie story is very interesting and exemplifies some of the commonalities and culturally specific visions that are to be found in near-death experiences across cultures.
Edited by Xangsamhua, 2010-08-01 19:29:20.
Posted 2010-08-08 15:30:03
I have met very few Buddhist Thai monks who can read English, and most of the monks I have met, will tell you, don't worry about it, practice meditation and you will know everything.. They say this, in my experience, because, they haven't been taught anything else. Most Thai's, in my experience, don't have a curiousity button like us foreigners. I've been trying for two years now to learn other things that the Buddha taught, but either I can't find an English speaker, or can't find anyone who knows anything. Kind of sad really.
Posted 2010-08-08 16:08:09
This is interesting since you speak out of actual experience. Reading your contribution there are several tings I would like to ask.
Can you tell out of what motivation, you became interested in Buddhism?
Did you become a munk and when yes, why did you?
Do you speak Thai and if so, are you teached by Thai people/munks?
When you wan to learn about the teachings of Buddha , to what extend do you make use of the internet to get your information?
What are the questions you are working on in your life?
What do you think of Near-dead experiences as described in the story of George Richie?
Posted 2010-08-09 20:59:34
Let me see if I can answer some of your questions.
1. Yes I am a monk.. I ordained two years ago.. I wanted to study about Buddhism from a up close and personal experience.
2. I speak very little Thai. As I said, I have a hard time finding a Thai monk who can really understand the questions I ask him. I run accross one once in awhile and I usually drive him crazy asking so many questions. My abbot can't understand why I want to know all this stuff. He thinks I should just be interested in learning meditation. Which is a typical Thai monk point of view. They don't understand, yes, the Buddha taught and recommended meditation, but he also spent 45 years teaching a whole lot of other stuff. That whole lot of other stuff is what I want to know.
3. I use the internet quite often to get a lot of answers. A lot of other people out there also want to know what the Buddha taught for 45 years.
4. I'm just trying to put the whole Buddhist picture together. I spend about half my year in a Thai Buddhist temple in Arizona, and Americans come wanting answers. They aren't going to settle for; just practice meditation and all your answers will be solved.
5. I haven't read George Ritchies book yet, but will this week and get back to you.
Posted 2010-08-10 05:45:53
thanks for answering me khaowong1.
I would say read my other contributions especailly about the awareness in Thai culure and tell me what you observed with regard to this.
You make me very curious with your remarks about people coming for answers.
How many people come and what are their questions??
Posted 2010-08-10 13:57:51
I'm just interested Khaowong.
What practice do you perform?
Do you practice both Sitting & walking meditation or Mindfulness?
How often are you able to practice & would you describe it as being successful or profound?
I need to ramp up my practice but juggle with a full time job & family.
I envisage life as a full time Monk would allow me to accelerate my practice.
I'm keen to know what part practice plays on your journey.
Also, what are some of the questions you seek to be answered?
Posted 2010-08-11 00:25:00
khaowong1, there are quite a few dhamma teachers in Thailand - some of whom are monks or nuns/mae chees, some of who are laypeople - who have much to teach aside from meditation.
Personally I also find the answer 'meditate and you'll find out' to be not only dissatisfying (which may be nothing more than a personal hang-up), but is an answer and a process that can also be seen as a rather roundabout way to comprehend dhamma. As you pointed out, most of the suttas, as well as the vinaya and abhidhamma pitakas, are not concerned with concentration or meditation methodologies.
One Thai here in Thailand who is fluent in English and highly knowledgeable on subjects other than (and in addition to) meditation is Khun Sujin Boriharnwanaket. Many of her students over the last 40 years or so have been fully ordained monks. Her way of teaching is via questions and answers, rather than rote learning or lecturing. It's more or less the Socratic method, so it might be right up your alley, khaowong1.
K Sujin has a compelling way of leading you to answer your own question, literally. You ask a question and she counters with another, usually something that focuses your question into a more specific area. If you are able to follow the train of thought, all becomes clear. If you've read Krishnamurti, it's somewhat similar.
Several farang monks in Thailand have achieved high levels of dhamma study as well. One such monk, Phra Dhammanando, born in the UK, lives at Wat Benchamabophit but also spends a lot of time at the Wat Rakhang dhamma centre in Thonburi. Personally I doubt there is single question you can ask that he can't answer! Ditto for an American monk who has been at Wat Bowonniwet for the last 30 years; I forget his name but he is so well versed in dhamma his every utterance becomes a teaching - in English.
Since you spend time in the USA, there are many there as well; Aj Thanisarro at Wat Metta near San Diego, for one. Brilliant dhamma teacher, and a native speaker of English. Any of the longtime resident teachers at IMS-Barre teach dhamma in detail as well.
There are also a few online forums out there dedicated to dhamma study where the discussions entertain some very thorny questions. You probably know about them already. The Sujin followers have their own forum and there again there is virtually no question they can't answer.
Whether you're satisfied with the answers here or anywhere else is another matter altogether. Even the Buddha himself commented on some questions saying 'This question tends not to edification,' in other words there is no answer that would satisfy the questioning mind.
Sati, vipassana and paññå can arise spontaneously upon understanding dhamma directly, whether meditating or not. As described in the Suttas, some people attain fruit of the path simply hearing an apt exposition of dhamma. Others need time to digest, which is where meditation comes in. From that perspective, it's not meditation itself that bears fruit, it's the direct apprehension of paramatha dhamma (ultimate realities), in particular nama (mental phenomena) and rupa (physical phenomena), that allows such skilful mind-moments to arise.
I don't know whether it's in the Suttanta or not, but I've heard dhamma teachers say the Buddha reached final enlightement just as he broke his meditation to lie down. Some of the most effective meditation exercises thus involve contemplation of physical movement.
You might be spinning your wheels staying at all-Thai monasteries, where in Thailand or the USA, since you speak little Thai. I highly recommend paying Sujin or Dhammanando a visit the next time you're in Bangkok. They're both good sources for someone like you, or anyone with a discursive-prone mind who thinks there must be more to Buddhist practice than meditation. In fact they would both say that if someone sits and tries to meditate without understanding dhamma (having right view), then that is wrong concentration. In ignorance many meditators mistake concentration states for attainment when it is only more lobha (delusion).
One foreign teacher I once had jokingly referred to such people as 'taters' because they could sit motionless for hours, like potatoes (taters), without sati arising, only pleasant jhana states to which they clung, creating more avarice and delusion.
That doesn't mean to give up meditating. But it's only one side of the scissors. Even in the Thai forest tradition, the daily dhamma lectures play an integral role in monastic life. If you're not availing yourself of such opportunities, it's a relatively easy situation to rectify, assuming you're able to travel outside the rains retreat.
Edited by sabaijai, 2010-08-11 00:35:58.
Posted 2010-08-11 00:39:54
And their experiences are not necessarily more insightful than other dreaming or waking states, if kilesas are present.
Posted 2010-08-11 05:32:52
Well, I think you did not read the story of George Richie, becos I can not write what you write after having read this book without just telling: Richie is a liar.
I also think fabianfred never read this book or even studied this phenomenon, becos as I wrote before, his remark only confirmed what I wrote: In telling about his near dead experience Richie just remembered his experiences being in this dead state and they were of complete different nature as any other experience before and by his story he even refuted in a dramatic way the easy theory this state of consciousness was caused by some chemical event in his body.
so , no offend , but I would say your both remarks are quite superficial remarks.
Posted 2010-08-11 11:22:22
Hi christiaan, i didn't read the book you mention, but i heard something about "near death experiences", and apparently some people are telling the truth about their own experience.
I might be wrong, but i am suspecting that the 'thinking activity' doesn't necessarily stops working when the heart stops beating.
That's could be also a good reason why, in all the traditions i know, they use to bury, or burn the body of the deceased not before 3 days have passed after the death.
Apparently 3 days is the average time in which what i call the 'false ego' leaves the body, having probably realized that it's not anymore inhabitable.In cases of premature or violent death it seems that the 'false ego' (or soul) can have troubles to leave the body and take longer time.
This may be an explanation, but of course i have no proof, it can be true or false, i am open to understand better.
I find the subject interesting anyway, and i would like to hear more about it, specially from TV Members who study Buddhism in Thailand for long time.
Posted 2010-08-11 12:12:36
I have not read the book you mentioned....but I am familiar with the near death experience. I got a copy of the first book on the subject after seeing a review of it in Reader's Digest about 30 years ago... 'Life after Life' by Raymond Moody
Posted 2010-08-11 13:10:17
That is very interesting fabianfred this is what dr. Moody, working on NDE for many years now in al kinds of ways told in an interview about his beliefs:
Nonetheless, Moody's own beliefs on NDEs can be summed up with the following quote from his interview with Jeffrey Mislove:
"I don't mind saying that after talking with over a thousand people who have had these experiences, and having experienced many times some of the really baffling and unusual features of these experiences, it has given me great confidence that there is a life after death. As a matter of fact, I must confess to you in all honesty, I have absolutely no doubt, on the basis of what my patients have told me, that they did get a glimpse of the beyond.
Posted 2010-08-11 15:28:14
Would you consider equal billing "Meditation vs Dhamma"?
Although the Buddha was reported to have become enlightened after breaking meditation, would you say that his years of practice would have elevated him to the point where he was in a continuous or highly concentrated state of self awareness or mindfulness? That his enlightenment came about due to the combination of practice & knowledge.
I like your analogy that meditation is but one side of a pair of scissors, Dhamma or knowledge being the other.
I liken knowledge without practice like a car without fuel, a solar panel without light, a lung without air.
The variations are:
No knowledge & no practice.
Knowledge but no/little practice.
Practice with no/little knowledge.
Knowledge with practice.
An earlier topic (Meditation: What Is It And How Important?) summarized meditation as being the core practice of Buddhism.
In my experience many Buddhists fail to grow due to limited or erratic practice.
Naturally those who do practice require the knowledge (Dhamma) for direction.
Posted 2010-08-11 21:34:38
I stand by my comment that any experience, whether living, near death or in death, is still an experience. The reactions will be skilful or unskilful depending on the presence of kilesa. Nothing Ritchie or anyone else writes will change that perspective. He might disagree with that premise, and that's fine. But it is still a 2,500-year-old perspective, for Buddhists.
I'm not saying the near-death tales are fairy tales. But they are still tales and every tale is conditioned by the state of the 'experiencer.'
Edited by sabaijai, 2010-08-11 21:40:01.
Posted 2010-08-12 02:44:08
I think Sabaijai, there maybe is some misunderstanding, maybe due to language.
You are definitely right when writing any experience is an experience.
Your remarks about reaction related to any experience, probably nobody disagree.
I do not think in any way what Ritchie wrote - mainly a report what happened to him and the following inner reactions to this - does show disagreement, in contrary in my view, it shows agreement to what you state.
So probably Ritchie himself also would agree to this.
The point however in bringing in the Near dead experiences and especially Ritchies is that NDE experiences, in my view, do show there is continuing spiritual awareness on both sides of the treshold for a human individuality and that this human awareness is not there becos it is embodied in a physical body or ' caused ' or dependent by or from a physical existence.
I can also put in in other words, Buddha teached about Karma, about cause and effect, with regard to this , related to NDE experiaences: Awareness is not submitted to the law of cause and effect.
Awareness 'is' ,.....no beginning,......no ending.
and as far as I understand this is what Buddha also teached.
So it is not about if experience is experience, but about experience in the material world and the experience in the spiritual world. Both can be 'lived' by a human individuality and both can be recalled by the same human indivuality in the memory.
And in my view the selfawareness as it is 'living' within the experiencing human individuality is showing the activity of the Higher Self, the ' I ' of the selfaware human personality.
The ego lives in about every human, I worked with primary autistic young adults, and also they have an ego. The ego can live within the absence of a Higher Self, being the I [as it is definetely the case by primary autistic humans ( this even is, in my view, the main explanation to the phenomenon of primary autisme)] , and it can live within the presence of a higher Self. In the last situation however the higher Self, becoming aware of the lower self can choose the road to Self education as teached by Buddha.
No person with an ego but without Selfawareness can choose the road to Self education.
Referring this to Thailand, I would say this explains a lot about the situation of Thai people and culture.
And once again I do not write this to judge Thai people, Thailand, or Thai culture. I think I could write a book about the wonderfull human qualities of Thai people and Thai culture, qualities lost in most western countries.
Posted 2010-08-12 23:24:55
I think it's difficult to separate dhamma and meditation. First of all dhamma isn't 'knowledge.' It's the underlying reality - or the ultimate reality, if you prefer - for Buddhism. One also needs to define what is meant by 'meditation' in this context. Samatha? Satipatthanna vipassana? Very different, with different purposes. Samatha requires a certain stillness perhaps encouraged by formal meditation postures. Satipatthana vipassana does not require formal postures, once a certain stage has been reached.
Even then, as the Buddha himself is reported to have said, merely hearing dhamma is enough for some people. Dhamma precedes meditation, is explored through meditation, and is still there afterwards, once you see it.
In one sense the proportion of formal meditation in one's practice will necessarily vary from individual to individual depending on kamma and conditions. Nowhere in the Tipitaka, as far as I know, does it say that meditation (even satipatthana vipassana) is necessary *and* sufficient for path attainment. Dhamma study necessarily comes first, and is sometimes sufficient for some people.
The Sutta Pitaka contains more than 10,000 separate discourses. Only two suttas focus entirely on meditation, the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (Four Foundations of Mindfulness) and the Anapanasati Sutta (Mindfulness of Breathing). A search of Access to Insight's translations of the Suttas online for the word ‘meditation’ yields only 93 results, and aside from the aforementioned two suttas, most of the mentions occur in passing.
The rest of the 10,000 discourses are taken up with matters such as cultivating right view, cultivating loving kindness, how kamma works (one of which, the Devadaha Sutta, refutes the notion of burning away kamma through meditation), how to introduce the Buddha's teachings to others, how to decide which spiritual paths are worth following and how laypeople can live happy and fulfilling lives.
Most Theravada Buddhist monks and laypeople spend at most a small portion of the day in meditation. From time to time - especially in the early years of practice - they may do retreats of a few days, very rarely up to a month, but again, in relation to the calendar year, relatively less time is spent meditating than on other activities.
Once the four foundations of mindfulness have been established, ‘meditation’ (arising of sati) can occur anytime, any place and in any posture. As the dhamma seeds grow into thriving trees, so to speak, the need for formal meditation grows less and less.
It seems to me that formal meditation is a laboratory where dhamma can be tested (again, more for some people than for others). I’ve spent a lot of time perched on meditation cushions in temples, on retreats and at home. Speaking for myself, most of that time was wasted until I begin receiving very specific dhamma training from a couple of good teachers.
One thing I have noticed in myself and in others is that as long as you think you are doing something with meditation itself that will further the path, you will go nowhere. Only when dhamma is seen - and this can happen just as easily out of formal meditation as in it - is stream entry possible.
This is what I've been taught, and what experience has confirmed. YMMV.
Posted 2010-08-13 12:04:32
Can we explore your reply a little further?
I've very interested in learning and getting on the right path.
Was the specific dhamma training you received from good teachers universal to all & could you share these?
Could it be said that although 2 of 10,000 discourses relate to meditation, this doesn't necessarily diminish the importance of meditation but rather may indicate the subject can be captured in two suttas?
Are the four foundations of mindfulness captured through the practice of Mindfulness and the study of Dhamma?
Would you say that although merely hearing Dhamma is enough for some people, this is rare?
I personally find that regular sitting meditation calms me down to a point which enables me to more successfully focus on my mindfulness.
It also helps me overcome overreaction (auto response) in day to day life situations.
After several days without meditation, I can find myself over anxious, and tend to react inappropriately in given circumstances.
Sitting meditation gives me a depth of clarity & overall calmness allowing me to better deal with life and focus on progressing my path.
In such a state I'm able to more easily control many of my bad habits which can automatically arise in stressful situations.
I know we can all psychologically & physically different to each other.
Could these differences require different practice such as more sitting meditation in some?
I know I always do better after vigorous exercise and or hatha yoga, whilst others report that no exercise is practiced or required.
Do Zen proponents focus more exclusively on the sitting side of practice and are they diametrically opposite Theravada practice?