Chokyi's Near-Death Experience
Buddhism's Long History of NDE Research
curious phenomenon, little known in the West, but familiar
to Tibetans, is the delok. In Tibet, delok means returned
from death, and traditionally deloks are people who
seemingly "die" as a result of an illness, and find themselves
traveling in the
bardo - one of many Tibetan Buddhist afterlife states.
They visit the hell realms, where they witness the judgment
of the dead and the suffering of hell, and sometimes they
go to paradises and Buddha realms. They can be accompanied
by a deity, who protects them and explains what is happening.
After a week the delok is sent back to the body with a message
Lord of Death for the living, urging them toward spiritual
practice and a beneficial way of life. Often the deloks
have great difficulty making people believe their story,
and they spend the rest of their lives recounting their
experiences to others in order to draw them toward the path
of wisdom. The biographies of some of the more famous deloks,
such as Dawa Drolma, one of the great lamas of the century.
At the age of 16 she fell ill and died, but returned to
her body after five days. For the benefit of others she
recorded every detail of her experiences in the bardo and
pure realms. The experiences of deloks were often sung all
over Tibet by traveling minstrels. A number of aspects of
the delok correspond not only with, as you would expect,
the bardo teachings, such as the
Tibetan Book of the Dead, but also with the near-death
experience. Dawa Drolma is the author of the book,
Delog: Journey to Realms Beyond Death, the source for
the information on this web page.
Lingza Chokyi was
a famous delok who lived in the sixteenth century. In her
biography she tells how she failed to realize she was dead,
how she found herself out of her body, and saw a pig's corpse
lying on her bed, wearing her clothes. Frantically she tried
in vain to communicate with her family as they set about
the business of the practices for her death. She grew furious
with them when they took no notice of her and did not give
her a plate of food. When her children wept, she felt a
"hail of pus and blood" fall, which caused her intense pain.
She tells us she felt joy each time the practices were done,
and immeasurable happiness when finally she came before
the master who was practicing for her and who was resting
in the nature of mind, and her mind and his became one.
After a while she heard someone whom she thought was her
father calling to her, and she followed him. She arrived
in the bardo realm, which appeared to her like a country.
From there, she tells us, there was a bridge that led to
the hell realms, and to where the Lord of Death was counting
the good or evil actions of the dead. In this realm she
met various people who recounted their stories, and she
saw a great yogin who had come into the hell realms in order
to liberate beings.
Finally Lingza Chokyi
was sent back to the world, as there had been an error concerning
her name and family, and it was not yet her time to die.
With the message from the Lord of Death to the living, she
returned to her body and recovered, and spent the rest of
her life telling of what she had learned. The phenomenon
of the delok was not simply a historical one; it continued
up until very recently in Tibet.
There are many similarities
to the teachings of the afterlife as revealed by the Tibetan
Book of the Dead and NDE. In the NDE, the mind is momentarily
released from the body, and goes through a number of experiences
akin to those of the mental body in the "bardo of becoming."
NDEs very often begins with an
experience: people can see their own body, as well as
the environment around them. This coincides with what the
Tibetan Book of the Dead describes. In the bardo of becoming,
the dead are able to see and hear their living relatives,
but are unable, sometimes frustratingly, to communicate
with them. The mental body in the bardo of becoming is described
in the Tibetan Book of the Dead as being "like a body of
the golden age," and as having almost supernatural mobility
NDE experiencers also find that the form they have is complete
and in the prime of life. They find also that they can travel
instantaneously, simply by the power of thought.
In the Tibetan teachings,
the mental body in the bardo of becoming
beings in the bardo. Similarly, NDE experiencers are
often able to converse with others who have died.
In the bardo of becoming,
as well as many other kinds of visions, the mental body
will see visions and signs of
realms. A small percentage of those who have survived
a NDE describe visions of inner worlds, paradises, and
Of course, the most
astounding similarity is the encounter with the
Being of Light,
or the "Clear Light" as described in the Tibetan Book of
the Dead. According to the Tibetan teachings, at the moment
of death, the Clear Light dawns in all its splendor before
the dying person. It says:
"Oh son/daughter of an enlightened
family ... your Rigpa is inseparable luminosity
and emptiness and dwells as a great expanse of light;
beyond birth or death, it is, in fact, the Buddha
of Unchanging Light."
stress that by recognizing yourself as this Clear Light,
you will attain liberation from the
cycle of reincarnation.
Many NDE experiencers are convinced the Being of Light is
their Higher Self. This is certainly in agreement with the
appears again and again in NDE reports, and demonstrates
so clearly the inevitability of karma and the far-reaching
and powerful effects of all our actions, words, and thoughts.
The central message
NDE experiencers bring back from their encounter with death,
or the presence of the Being of Light, is exactly the same
as that of Buddha and of the bardo teachings: that the essential
and most important qualities in life are love and knowledge,
compassion and wisdom.
The bardo teachings
tell us that life and death are in the mind itself. The
confidence which many NDErs seem to have after this experience
reflects this deeper understanding of mind.
Not all NDE
reports today, however, are positive, and this corresponds
to the Tibetan teachings as well. Some people report terrifying
experiences of fear, panic, loneliness, desolation, and
gloom, all vividly reminiscent of the descriptions of the
bardo of becoming.
In many NDE reports, a border
or limit is occasionally perceived; a point of no return
is reached. At this border the person then chooses (or is
instructed) to return to life, sometimes by the presence
of light.Of course in the Tibetan bardo teachings there
is no parallel to this, because they describe what happens
to a person who actually dies.It has been said the NDE can
be viewed as an evolutionary device to bring about a transformation
in humanity as a whole, over a period of years, in millions
of persons (Ring,
Whether this is true
or not depends on all of us: on whether we really have the
courage to face the implications of the NDE and the bardo
teachings, and by transforming ourselves we transform the
world around us, and so, by stages, the whole future of