Beyond Death: Transition and the Afterlife



Beyond Death: Transition and the Afterlife

...Our starting point today has been the, by now, quite extensive documentation of so-called Near Death Experiences (NDEs); you have heard the detailed reports discussed by Dr Fenwick and Dr. Powell’s reflections on similar experiences. It will already seem apparent that the scientific paradigm that seeks to fully explain these phenomona in materialistic terms is stretched beyond it limits. Not long ago I saw a tape of a major British television program where a woman suffered a clinical NDE during an operation and reported, while “out of her body” seeing an instrument in the operating room she could not possibly have seen while in her body and alive. Interesting and provocative as the discussion was, it was entirely limited to interviewing medical staff; no informed authorities on parapsychology (except a materialist sceptic), spiritualism, religious phenomena or metaphysics, specialists in thanatology, or experts from religious traditions were interviewed. Later I was told this is a policy decision of the television company! It was like a political discussion where only one party is invited to participate.

What I want to show is that there is a vast amount of information about the phenomena of death, transition and “otherworlds” available to us that is much more sophisticated that most people realize. Not just the widely known studies of Kenneth Ring and Raymond Moody on actual Near Death Experiences, but detailed cross cultural comparisons of how different cultures experience and envision the afterlife, reports from shamans of “journeys” to the spirit realms, or realms of the dead, elaborate accounts of the soul’s port-mortem encounters and movements from the Tibetan Buddhist and Indian traditions, as well as from my own field, past life regression, where thousands of accounts of death transition phenomena have been recorded. Two important and influential recent books I would mention especially are Otherworldly Journeys by Carol Zaleski and Sogyal Rinpoche’s Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Zaleski, a Harvard trained historian of religion, compared medieval and other accounts of post-mortem journeys of the soul with the contemporary literature of NDEs and showed compellingly that visions of the afterlife are based on experience not speculation. Sogyal’s book demystifies the obscure symbolic language of the ancient text called the Bardo Thodol (translated usually as The Tibetan Book of the Dead). He shows clearly how the Tibetan “wake” or post-mortem prayers to the deceased person are actually addressed to that person’s disembodied consciousness to help him or her navigate through confusing or frightening visions created by his/her own consciousness—a consciousness that goes beyond the body eventually towards further incarnations...