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Buddhism & NDE

Buddhism & NDE by Hawa Bangura

Since reading the numerous experiences on your site, I came to the conclusion that the Buddha, who was a human being and not a god, may have had a near-death experience or was otherwise able to access the level of consciousness seemingly described in the experiences on your site – which is called Buddhahood/enlightenment. 

Historically, the Buddha (or “enlightened one”), a prince by birth who gave up everything in search of the truth, was said to have attained enlightenment while meditating under the bodhi tree in a place called Bodhgaya some 3000 years ago. He then began teaching, and for about 40 years, he taught according to the capacity of the people to understand his teachings. Thereafter he finally began expounding the teachings in the Lotus Sutra, and he claimed that he was for the first time going to reveal the truth, and that all his prior teachings had been merely provisional or preparatory. 

The Lotus Sutra is different from the other teachings in numerous respects, but particularly because in it the Buddha states that he first attained enlightenment not under the bodhi tree but a period of time ago so lengthy it cannot be put into words. He also describes numerous past existences and states that since that time he has been in and out of this world of ours teaching people. He says death or entering extinction is simply an expedient.   (See The Lotus Sutra, trans. Burton Watson, Columbia University Press, 1993, p.225-227). 

Buddhism teaches that we have nine levels of consciousness – the first five are equivalent to our five senses, the sixth is the “mind” which integrates information gathered from the 5 senses, the seventh is volition or “free will” and sense of self, the eighth is the storehouse, where all our karma is recorded – i.e. everything that we have ever done, said or thought; and the ninth is Buddhahood or enlightenment, which is characterized as a state of compassion, profound wisdom, eternity, true self and purity. Upon death, the first seven consciousnesses are said to dissappear and only the eighth and ninth remain (See SGI Quarterly, April 2004, p. 28-29).  Regarding the ultimate reality, the Buddha at times states he cannot describe what it is, it is emptiness, nothing but also everything, words would only limit it, the Muryogi Sutra lists a number of negations to say what it isn’t because it is so difficult to describe what it is. This is eerily similar to the language used by some NDErs to describe their experiences when they come into the light, which is why I stated that the Buddha must have either had a near death experience or was otherwise able to access his 9th level of consciousness. Or conversely, the NDErs are simply accessing the 8th and 9th levels of consciousness.  

Regarding the knowledge possessed by a Buddha, he states that this wisdom “is infinitely profound and immeasurable”, he states he is “awakened to the Law never before attained”, and that this reality can only be shared between Buddhas (i.e. enlightened ones/ those in the 9th level). (See The Lotus Sutra, p.24-24). This reminds me of the knowledge attained by the NDErs when they enter the light, but which they forget once they return, as they are no longer operating at that highest level of consciousness. The Buddha teaches that enlightenment is a state of life that all human beings without exception are capable of attaining – but he did not say how (which is where Nichiren comes in and clarifies with the chanting of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo). 

The storehouse, which cannot be accessed by our human senses, but becomes accessible upon death, also seems to correspond to the life review – the karma in the storehouse includes not only karma created in this lifetime but for infinite prior lifetimes. Our karma also determines why our lives are the way they are – i.e. whether we are reborn beautiful/ugly, wealthy/poor, healthy/sickly, male/female, black/white, have short lives or long ones, etc, etc.  To a certain extent, we are also said to voluntarily assume the appropriate karma in order to fulfill our mission in this lifetime. (The NDErs, however, do not cross over and get reborn, so I cannot comment on this part; although a number of them seem to suggest that while “dead” they come to understand why their present lives are the way they are).   

Although Buddhism does not teach of a god as described in other religions, the lotus sutra (as clarified by Nichiren) describes the law of Myoho Renge Kyo which is the ultimate reality, the law of life and death, the very life force of the entire universe itself, it gives rise to everything and is everything. In other words, for ease of understanding, “God” (or Myoho Renge Kyo) is nowhere but inside your own life. It is your life itself. It teaches that we are all interconnected and are all one with the law. A number of NDErs seem to come to a similar understanding. 

This Buddhism has no rules; the most important lesson is to have compassion and respect for our fellow human beings, as each person is a Buddha/has the Buddha nature. Whatever you choose to do, you can do, but must realize that you are entirely responsible for your actions, as they will be recorded in the storehouse. 

Other parallel concepts that seem to be echoed in the NDEs/Buddhist philosophy are: 

The eternity of life – Life has no beginning and no end, we are in a cycle of birth and death. 

Other Universes – the Buddha talks of many other worlds with other life forms 

Choice – the doctrine of three thousand realms in a single moment of life basically teaches of 3000 possibilities in each moment in time – we choose which one to take based on our dominant karmic tendencies or based on enlightenment 

Illness – Nichiren sates that people who are ill can quickly attain the way of the Buddha (this makes sense, particularly with the terminally ill NDErs  

Memory – Nichiren teaches that we cannot remember any of our past lives, all we can remember in this life is that we embraced the true law. 

The Buddha’s six transcendental powers – described as: 1- the power of being anywhere at will, 2- the power of seeing anything anywhere, 3- the power of hearing any sound anywhere, 4- the power of knowing the thoughts of all other minds, 5- the power of knowing past lives, and 6- the power of eradicating illusions.  

Similar to what is described in the NDEs, Buddhism teaches that life continues even after the “death” of our physical bodies. 

The Sutra states, “There is no ebb or flow of birth and death and there is no existing in this world and later entering extinction. It is neither substantial nor empty, neither consistent nor diverse. Nor is it what those who dwell in the threefold world perceive it to be. All such things the Thus Come One (Buddha) sees clearly and without error” (See The Lotus Sutra, p.227). 

Nichiren also states, “To conceive of life and death as separate realities is to be caught in the illusion of birth and death. It is deluded and inverted thinking. When we examine the nature of life with perfect enlightenment, we find that there is no beginning marking birth and therefore no end signifying death” (See Gosho Zenshu p.563 – Japanese language compilation of letters, treatises, essays and oral teachings of Nichiren) 

Please note that the foregoing are just my own personal conclusions/observations and not part of the doctrine of Nichiren Buddhism. Personally, I believe that all religions are really trying to say the same thing, although most (including some schools of Buddhism) have been corrupted by human beings to serve their own ends.