Life After Life Summary (8/10) — Unearned Wisdom
Life After Life by Raymond Moody explores near-death experiences (NDE’s). Throughout his conversations with several people who have reported these experienced, Moody has drawn several interesting comparisons. It is also worth noting that he has found similar reports in the Bible, ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato, and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
The people Moody interviewed were ordinary Americans. Many of them reported an appearance of a being of light and probing, non-verbal questions just prior to an intense moment where this being presents the person with a panoramic view of life. It is clear to the person that the being already knows about the person’s life and does not require further information. His only intention is to provoke reflection.
The people interviewed also underwent a radical change in attitude when they came back from their experience. In the first few moments following death, there is a desperate desire to get back into the body and intense regret over one’s demise. But once the dying person reaches a certain depth in his experience, he does not want to come back, and he may even resist the idea of returning to the body.
This is especially true for those who have encountered the being of light. One man said that he never wanted to leave the presence of this being. And some exceptions to this generalization exist, but they are only apparent, not real. Several women were mothers of young children at the time of their experience and they reported that while they would have preferred to stay where they were, they felt obligated to return to raise their children.
Below are some of the recollections of these people.
I suppose this experience molded something in my life. I was only a child when it happened, only ten, but now, my entire life through, I am thoroughly convinced that there is life after death, without a shadow of a doubt, and I am not afraid to die. I am not. Some people I have known are so afraid, so scared. I always smile to myself when I hear people doubt that there is an afterlife, or say, “When you’re dead, you’re gone.” I think to myself, “They really don’t know.”
Another person said:
I’ve had many things happen to me in my life. In business, I’ve had a gun pulled on me and put to my temple. And it didn’t frighten me very much, because I thought, “Well, if I really die, if they really kill me, I know I’ll still live somewhere.”
It seems puzzling, why these people would no longer fear death. Moody makes the point that these people do not think of their survival of bodily death as a possibility or even an event that is probable. For them, it has become a fact of their experience.
In Western society, the Bible is the most widely read book dealing with the spiritual aspects of man and life after death. But the Bible has relatively little to say about the events that happen after bodily death. This is especially true of the Old Testament where only two passages speak of life after death.
Isaiah 26:19: Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust for . . . the earth shall cast out the dead.’
Daniel 12:2: And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
In these passages, there is a strong suggestion that there will be a resurrection of the physical body, and that physical death is something comparable to sleep.
While most of the accounts in the interviewees did not include Christian references, some Christians interviewed by Moody believed that the light was Christ.
Moody refers to the apostle Paul who had a vision and conversion on the road to Damascus.
Acts 26:13–26: At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, “Said, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And I said, “Who art thou, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest. But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness, both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in which I will appear unto thee….
Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision… And as I thus spake for myself, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” But I said, “I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.”
This episode has the encounter with the being of life in near death experiences. The being has personality even though no physical form is seen and a “voice” which asks a question and gives instructions emanates from it. When Paul tries to tell others, he is mocked, and his sanity is called into question. But the vision changed his life. He then became the leading proponent of Christianity as a way of life, entailing loving others.
But there are also differences. Paul did not come near death during his vision, and he said he was blinded by the light and unable to see for three days. This contradicts near death experiences which report that the light was brilliant and in no way blinded them.
In his discussions of the nature of the afterlife, Paul says that some challenge the Christian concept of the afterlife by asking what kind of body the dead will have.There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one and the glory of the terrestrial is another…. So also, is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption:
It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body, it is raised spiritual body. There is a natural body, and the is a spiritual body …. Behold I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.
1 Corinthians 15:35–52: But some man will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Thou fool…. (of) that which` thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain …. But God give,’ it a body as it hath pleased him, and to ever, seed his own body …. In all cases, the immateriality of the spiritual body-its lack of physical substance-is stressed, as are its lack of limitations. Paul says, for example, that whereas the physical body was weak and ugly, the spiritual body will be strong and beautiful. This reminds one of the account of a near-death experience in which the spiritual body seemed whole and complete even when the physical body could be seen to be mutilated, and of another in which the spiritual body seemed to be of no particular age, i.e., not limited by time.
For example, Swedenborg describes how, when the bodily functions of respiration and circulation cease, man does not die, but is only separated from the corporeal part which was of use to him in the world …. Man, when he dies, only passes from one world into another. (2) He claims that he himself has been through the early events of death, and has had experiences out of his body.
I was brought into a state of insensibility as to the bodily senses, thus almost into the state of the dying; yet the interior life with thought remaining entire, so that I perceived and retained in memory the things which occurred, and which occur to those who are resuscitated from the dead…. Especially it was given to perceive…. that there was a drawing and…. pulling of my mind, thus of my spirit, from the body.
During this experience, he encounters beings whom he identifies as “angels.” They ask him, in effect, if he is prepared to die. Those angels first inquired what my thought was, whether it was like the thought of those who die, which is usually about eternal life; and that they wished to keep my mind in that thought
Moody notes that Paul’s description of the nature of the “spiritual body” is quite similar to the accounts of those who found themselves out of their bodies.
The Tibetan Book of the Dead contain many ideas that NDE’s do not such as instantaneous travel and moving through walls, but there are some important similarities, such as the meeting of a being of pure light. The book also describes feelings of immense peace and contentment which the dying one experiences. It also describes a mirror for a dying person’s life, all deeds both good and bad, are reflected for both him and the being judging him to see vividly. In other words, there can be no misrepresentation or lying about one’s life.
Another source that Moody cites is Swedenborg (1688–1772) who was born in Stockholm. He was famous in his day and made respectable contributions in various fields of natural science. His writings were first concerned with anatomy, physiology, and psychology, and they gained considerable recognition. But later in life, he underwent a religious crisis, and began to relate experiences where he had been in communication with spiritual entities from a different realm.
His later works contain vivid descriptions of what life after death is life. Here, one sees a clear correlation between his experiences and NDE’s.
Yet, the communication which takes place between Swedenborg and the spirits is not of an earthly, human kind. It is instead almost a direct transfer of thoughts. Hence, there is no possibility of misunderstanding. Whereas spirits converse with each other by a universal language …. Every man, immediately after death, comes into this universal language . . . which is proper to his spirit.
The speech of an angel or a spirit with man is heard as sonorously as the speech of a man with a man; yet it is not heard by others who stand near, but by himself alone; the reason is, because the speech of an angel or spirit flows first into the man’s thought.
Swedenborg also describes the “light of the Lord” which permeates the hereafter, a light of overwhelming brightness which he has glimpsed himself. It is a light of truth and of understanding.
So, there are striking similarities between Swedenborg’s writings, The Bible, Plato’s works and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. The question becomes: are these parallels at all surprising?
Some could argue that the authors of these works could have influenced each other. Such an assertion would be supported in some cases but not always. For example, Plato admits that he gained some of his insights partly from the religious mysticism of the East, so he might have been influenced by the same tradition which produced The Tibetan Book of the Dead. And the ideas of Greek philosophy could have influenced certain New Testament writers, so maybe Paul’s discussion of the spiritual body has some of its roots in Plato.
But in most cases, it’s not so easy to make these connections. Each writer seems to bring up a few interesting details that Moody experienced through his interviews, which they could not have gotten from earlier authors. Swedenborg was familiar with The Bible and Plato, but he, on several occasions, mentions how someone who has just died may not realize he is dead for some time. This fact comes out repeatedly in the NDE’s experiences, but it is mentioned neither in The Bible or by Plato. Yet it is emphasized in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a work which Swedenborg could not possible have read, since it was not even translated until 1927.
What is Death?
The clinical definition of “death” is when a person stops breathing, their heart stops, and their blood pressure drops so low as to be unreadable. Their pupils dilate and their body temperature begins to go down.
There is question that this clinical standard has been met in many of the cases Moody has studied.
Technological advancement has brought more sensitive techniques for detecting biological processes, even those which might not be clearly observable. The electroencephalograph (EEG) is a machine that amplifies and records the minute electrical potentials of the brain.
Recently, the trend has been to assess a “real” death on the absence of electrical activity in the brain, or flat EEG tracings.
Of course, in the cases that Moody studied, which were medical emergencies in which the patient required resuscitation, there was no time to set up an EEG which was time-consuming. On that basis, some could argue that none of the Moody’s cases were really “dead.”
But Moody counters with the idea that even if we had “flat” EEG readings on many of these people who were thought dead and then resuscitated, would that add much? For three reasons, maybe not. First, resuscitation attempts are always emergencies which last for thirty minutes at the most. Setting up an EEG is very complicated, so even an experienced technician would need some time to get correct readings. In an emergency, with all the confusion that surrounds it, mistakes would be more likely. So in any cases, it would always be possible for a critic to object that the person who experience a NDE was not really dead.
Second, even a perfectly set up EEG does not give us certainty concerning whether a resuscitation is possible in any given case. Some flat EEG tracings have been obtained in people who were later resuscitated. Drug overdoses (depressants to central nervous system) and hypothermia (low body temperature) have both resulted in this phenomenon.
Third, even if I could present a case in which it could be agreed that the machine was correctly set up, there would still be a problem. Someone could say that there is no proof that the reported near-death experience took place during the time the EEG was flat, but rather before or afterwards. Therefore, the EEG is not very valuable at this present stage of investigation.
In the end, it is pointless to argue over the precise definition of “death” — irreversible or nt. Someone who raises such an objection seems to be thinking of something more basic. They reason that as long as there is a possibility that there was some residual biological activity in the body, then that activity could have caused, and thus account for, the experience.
To which Moody would accept that there must have been some residual biological function in all the cases he studied. The more important question is whether residual biological function could account for these experiences, not if a “real” death occurred.
What about alternative explanations? Moody suggests that an infinite number of hypotheses could be laid forth, from a philosophical perspective.
He suggests three common ones: Supernatural, Natural (Scientific), and Psychological
Isolation research is the study of the mind and body of someone who is removed from all social contact or subject to a repetitive task for long periods of time. In some of these cases, people have reported seeing floating ghosts pass by. But the results of isolation research don’t give a satisfactory explanation for NDE’s since one would be substituting one mystery for another since we don’t really understand what happens in cases of isolation.
There are two opposing lines of thought concerning the visions in isolation experiences. Some think of them as “unreal” and “hallucinatory” and yet many mystics/shamans are sought solitude in the wilderness to find enlightenment and revelation. There is also the idea that spiritual rebirth can be achieved through isolation (many writings including The Bible reflect this idea).
John Lilly wrote a book called The Center of the Cyclone, in which he argues for the other perspective, which is that experiences under conditions of isolation are real experiences of enlightenment and insight, and not “unreal” or “delusional.”
Lilly recounted an NDE experience of his own which was similar to Moody’s interviewees, and Lilly puts NDE’s in the same category with his isolation experiences. Therefore, it could be that isolation, along with hallucinatory drugs, and near-death experience, one of several ways of entering new realms of consciousness.
Dreams, Hallucinations, And Delusions.
Maybe NDE’s are forms of wishful thinking, fantasies, and hallucinations. And these are brought about by different things (drugs, isolation).
Moody thinks this is unlikely because of the striking similarity in content and progression found among the descriptions, despite the fact that what is reported is not what is commonly imagined, culturally, to happen to the dead.
In addition, we find similarities which are very similar to ancient and esoteric writings totally unfamiliar to Moody’s subjects.
There is also the fact that these subjects were not victims of psychoses. They seemed emotionally stable, normal people who were functional in society. They have jobs and positions of importance and carry them out responsibly. They have stable marriages and are involved with their friends and families. And almost no one has reported more than one uncanny experience during their lives. And most importantly, these people can tell the difference between dreams and waking life.
Yet, they are people who report these experiences as events that happened to them, rather than dreams. They say so explicitly.
Finally, there is the fact that independent corroboration of a kind exists for certain of the reports of out-of-body episodes. Though commitments to others prevent me from giving names and identifying details, I have seen and heard enough to say that I continue to be baffled and amazed. It is my opinion that anyone looking into near-death experiences in an organized way is likely also to uncover such strange apparent corroboration.
As a final note here, let me point out that “explanations” are not just abstract intellectual systems. They are also in some respects projects of the egos of the persons who hold them. People become emotionally wedded, as it were, to the canons of scientific explanation which they devise or adopt.
Originally published at https://unearnedwisdom.com on April 4, 2022.