Contemplating Death: What Can Meditation-Induced Near Death Experiences Teach Us?


By Nikki Harper, Wake Up World

Most of us are familiar with – and fascinated by – the concept of near death experiences. We know the imagery of the tunnel of light and the we’ve read the accounts of people who have faced a choice of staying or returning to their lives. Near death experiences are more common than you might think, reported by approximately 17% of adults who have been in a situation where they were close to death [1]. But is it possible to have a near death experience without being close to death? And if so, what could we learn from that?

According to research undertaken by the University of Derby in 2018, yes, near death experiences can be deliberately and consciously induced by advanced Buddhist meditation practitioners [2]. The longitudinal study, carried out over three years and published in the journal Mindfulness, followed the experiences of twelve advanced practitioners as they underwent a variety of rich and varied near death experiences.

Buddhism and Death Awareness

Death awareness has always been a key factor in Tibetan Buddhism. Because Buddhists believe that attachment is at the root of human suffering, meditating on death is thought to help to remove attachment and therefore to ease spiritual understanding and growth.

Ancient texts like the Tibetan Book of the Dead give explicit instructions for such death meditation, and practices such as maranasati meditation [3] can help us to understand the impermanence of life, and to prepare for the inevitability of death.

As Buddha himself is believed to have said, “Of all the footprints, that of the elephant is supreme. Similarly, of all mindfulness meditation, that on death is supreme.” [4] Tibetan Buddhism talks of delogs, people – usually but not always women – who could spend days or even weeks in a near death state, and whose purpose was to report their experiences to others. [5]

There is therefore considerable evidence that some Buddhist practitioners do engage in meditation which is intended to bring familiarity with death and with the dying experience. Prior to the University of Derby study, however, such experiences had never been fully investigated.

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One comment

  1. Great post, one definitely worth reading. Your statement “Prior to the University of Derby study, however, such experiences had never been fully investigated.” Is interesting because it presupposes that nobody not even the meditators themselves have never fully investigated meditation that deals with death. This could not be further from the truth. All the yogis and all their written texts amount to far more than this study. A study which I will read with great interest and compare it to my personal experience and that of the many others I know who have had the immense blessing to be trained in the practice of Phowa.



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