Near-Death Experiences Handbook (3):Varieties of NDE

PureInsight | January 5, 2001

Karlis Osis and his colleague Erlendur Haraldsson examined whether NDEs varied between cultures. In their book 'At the Hour of Death' (published in 1977) they concluded that, although there were considerable similarities between Indian and American NDEs, the religious personages and symbols appearing in death-bed visions were different for each culture.
Although the majority of reports of NDEs describe the subject as having been in a state that could be likened to heavenly bliss, this is not universally the case. The myths on which many of us were reared, which conceivably may have their roots in experiences of the ancients akin to NDEs, are myths of both heaven and hell. As mentioned earlier, not all NDEs are sweetness and light. There may, for instance, be something in the Japanese culture that predisposes them to negative NDEs, at least according to one small study:

The Japanese find death a depressing experience
A study in Japan shows that even in death the Japanese have an original way of looking at things. Instead of seeing 'tunnels of light' or having 'out of body' experiences, near-dead patients in Japanese hospitals tend to see rather less romantic images, according to researchers at Kyorin University.
According to a report in the Mainichi newspaper, a group of doctors from Kyorin has spent the past year documenting the near-death experiences of 17 patients. They had all been resuscitated from comas caused by heart attacks, strokes, asthma or drug poisoning. All had shown minimal signs of life during the coma.

Yoshia Hata, who led the team, said that eight of the 17 recalled 'dreams', many featuring rivers or ponds. Five of those patients had dreams which involved fear, pain and suffering.

One 50-year-old asthmatic man said he had seen himself wade into a reservoir and do a handstand in the shallows. 'Then I walked out of the water and took some deep breaths. In the dream, I was repeating this over and over.'

Another patient, a 73-year-old woman with cardiac arrest, saw a cloud filled with dead people. 'It was a dark, gloomy day. I was chanting sutras. I believed they could be saved if they chanted sutras, so that is what I was telling them to do.'

Most of the group said they had never heard of Near-Death Experiences before. Perhaps the idea of dark, gloomy surroundings, ponds and reservoirs and pain and suffering appeared less like heaven to them and more like their experiences of Tokyo on a wet, winter Monday.

From an item by Peter Hadfield in the New Scientist (Nov. 30th 1991).

Margot Grey's investigations also uncovered a number, albeit a tiny minority, of unpleasant NDEs. Positive experiences, as we have seen, include a feeling of wholeness, joy and a lack of isolation; those who have negative experiences, while they only occasionally describe 'hell-like' scenes, nevertheless find themselves on the edge of something unpleasant, and unwilling to die:

Hanging on, in agony, to life
I felt like I was in a great black vacuum. All I could see were my arms hanging on to a set of parallel bars. I knew if I relaxed, my grip on life would cease. It was a complete sense of knowing that life had to be clung to. I knew without any question if I let go, I would die. The feeling of agony of hanging on only lasted a brief while.
From 'Return from Death' by Margot Grey.

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