NDEs and Hinduism
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1. Vasudev Pandey's Near-Death Experience
Vasudev Pandey was interviewed
in 1975 and again in 1976. He was born in 1921 and
had nearly died in his home of what he described
as "paratyphoid disease" when he was about 10 years
old. Vasudev had been considered dead and his
body had actually been taken to the cremation ground.
However, some indications of life aroused attention,
and Vasudev was removed to the hospital where doctors
tried to revive him, using "injections," with eventual
success. He remained unconscious for 3 days and
then became able to describe the following experience
(as narrated to us in 1975):
Two persons caught
me and took me with them. I felt tired after
walking some distance; they started to drag
me. My feet became useless. There was a
man sitting up. He looked dreadful and was
all black. He was not wearing any clothes.
He said in a rage to the attendants [who
brought Vasudev there]:
"I had asked
you to bring Vasudev the gardener. Our garden
is drying up. You have brought Vasudev the
When I regained consciousness,
Vasudev the gardener was standing in front
of me [apparently in the crowd of family
and servants who had gathered around the
bed of the ostensibly dead Vasudev]. He
was hale and hearty. People started teasing
him saying, "Now it is your turn." He seemed
to sleep well in the night, but the next
morning he was dead."
In reply to questions about
details, Vasudev said that the "black man" had a
club and used foul language. Vasudev identified
him as Yamraj, the Hindu god of the dead. He said
that he was "brought back" by the same two men who
had taken him to Yamraj in the first place. Vasudev's
mother, who died before the time of the interview,
was a pious woman who read scriptures which included
descriptions of Yamraj. Vasudev, even as a boy before
his near-death experience, was quite familiar with
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2. Durga Jatav's
Durga Jatav, a man approximately
50 years old, was interviewed in November, 1979,
and again 3 months later. About 30 years before,
he had been ill for several weeks, suffering from
what had been diagnosed as typhoid. When his body
"became cold" for a couple of hours, his family
thought he had died. He revived, however, and on
the third day following this he told his family
he had been taken to another place by 10 people.
He tried to escape, but they cut off his legs at
the knees to prevent his escape. He was taken to
a place where there were tables and chairs and 40
or 50 people sitting. He recognized no one. They
looked at his "papers," saw that his name was not
on their list, and said, "Why have you brought him
here? Take him back." To this Durga had replied,
"How can I go back? I don't have feet." He was then
shown several pairs of legs, he recognized his own,
and they were somehow reattached. He was then sent
back with the instructions not to "stretch" (bend?)
his knees so that they could mend. Durga's
older sister, who was also interviewed, corroborated
his account of his apparent death and revival.
A few days after Durga
revived, his sister and a neighbor noticed marks
on Durga's knees which had not been there before.
These folds - or deep fissures - which appeared
on his skin in front of his knees were still visible
in 1979. There was no bleeding or pain in his knees
other than the discomfort engendered by Durga following
the "instructions" to keep his knees in a fixed
position. X-ray photographs we took in 1981 showed
no abnormality below the surface of the skin.
Durga had not heard of
such experiences until his own near-death experience.
He did not see his physical body from some other
position in space. He said afterward the experience
seemed like a dream; nevertheless, he claimed it
strengthened his faith in God.
One informant for this
case was the headman of the village where Durga
lived who said at the time of Durga's experience,
another person by the same name had died in Agra
about 30 km away; however, neither Durga nor his
older sister were able to confirm this statement.
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3. Chhajju Bania's
Chhajju Bania was interviewed
in 1981, at which time he was about 40 years old.
His near-death experience occurred some 6 years
earlier. He became ill with a fever and his condition
deteriorated until he was thought to have died,
at which time his relatives began preparing his
body for cremation. However, he revived, and he
gave the following account of his experience as
he remembered it afterward:
Four black messengers
came and held me.
I asked, "Where
are you taking me?"
They took me
and seated me near the god. My body had
become small. There was an old lady sitting
there. She had a pen in her hand, and the
clerks had a heap of books in front of them.
I was summoned
One of the clerks
said, "We don't need Chhajju Bania [the
trader]. We had asked for Chhajju Kumhar
[the potter]. Push him back and bring the
other man. He [meaning Chhajju Bania] has
some life remaining."
I asked the clerks
to give me some work to do, but not to send
me back. Yamraj was there sitting on a high
chair with a white beard and wearing yellow
clothes. He asked me, "What do you want?"
I told him that
I wanted to stay there.
He asked me to
extend my hand. I don't remember whether
he gave me something or not.
Then I was pushed
down [and revived].
Chhajju mentioned that
he later learned a person named Chhajju Kumhar had
died at about the same time that he (Chhajju Bania)
revived. He said his behavior changed following
his near-death experience, particularly in the direction
of his becoming more honest.
Chhajju's wife, Saroj,
remembered her husband's experience, but her account
of what he told her about the near-death experience
differed in some details from his statement. For
example, she said he told her (about reviving) at
the place to where the four men had taken him,
there "was a man with a beard with lots of papers
in front of him" (not an old lady). The bearded
man said, "It is not his turn. Bring Chhajju Kori
(a weaver)" (Not Chhajju Kumhar). Other discrepancies
between the two accounts concerned unimportant details.
Saroj remembered her husband telling her that he
had not wanted to leave "there" and that he had
been "pushed down" before he revived.
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4. Mangal Singh's
Mangal Singh was interviewed
in March, 1983, when he was 79 years old. He described
his near-death experience, which occurred approximately
5 or 6 years earlier. Unlike most subjects who have
near-death experiences, he was not ill at the time,
or did not consider himself to be so. He gave the
following description of his experience:
I was lying down
on a cot when two people came, lifted me
up, and took me along.
I heard a hissing
sound, but I couldn't see anything. Then
I came to a gate. There was grass, and the
ground seemed to be sloping.
A man was there,
and he reprimanded the men who had brought
me, "Why have you brought the wrong person?
Why have you not brought the man you had
been sent for?"
The two men [who
had brought Mangal] ran away, and the senior
man said, "You go back."
Suddenly I saw
two big pots of boiling water, although
there was no fire, no firewood, and no fireplace.
Then the man
pushed me with his hand and said, "You had
better hurry up and go back."
When he touched
me, I suddenly became aware of how hot his
hand was. Then I realized why the pots were
boiling. The heat was coming from his hands.
Suddenly I regained
consciousness, and I had a severe burning
sensation in my left arm.
The area developed the
appearance of a boil. Mangal showed it to a
doctor who applied some ointment. The area healed
within 3 days but left a residual mark on the left
arm, which was examined.
In response to questions,
Mangal said he thought he might have been sleeping
at the time of the experience, but he was not sure
of this. He was unable to describe the appearance
of the persons figuring in the experience. It seemed
to be less visual than auditory and tactile. He
did remember the senior "official" picking up a
lathi (a heavy Indian staff) with which he intended
to beat the lesser "employees" before they ran away.
Another person had died in the locality at or about
the time he revived, but Mangal and his family made
no inquires about the suddenness of this person's
death and did not even learn his name.
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An Analysis of Hindu Near-Death Experiences
The Hindu near-death
experiences profiled here are typical of the cases
studied in India by researchers Satwant Pasricha
and Ian Stevenson. The subject does not view his
or her physical body, as do many subjects of western
near-death experience cases. Instead the subject
is taken in hand by "messengers" and brought before
a man or woman who is often described as having
a book or papers that he or she consults. A mistake
is discovered. The wrong person has been "sent for,"
and this person is then brought back by the messengers
to his or her terrestrial life; or the subject is
"pushed down" and revives. The error supposedly
made is often a slight one, as a person of the same
given name but a different caste, or someone living
in a different but nearby village, should have died
and been brought instead of the subject of the near-death
experience. In six of their cases, the informants
said that another "correct" person (corresponding
to the subject's information from the "next world")
did, in fact, die at about the time the subject
revived; but the researchers did not verify those
In contrast, subjects of
western near-death experiences usually give no reason
(in psychological terms) for their recovery; if
they do give one they may say that they revived
because they decided to return of their own accord,
often because of love for living members of their
family. Sometimes they are "sent back" by deceased
persons who tell them their "time has not yet come."
Indian subjects sometimes report meeting relatives
and friends in the "other realm" in which they find
themselves, but these persons have nothing to do
or say about the prematurity of the subject's death
and a need for him or her to continue living. The
idea of prematurity of death, or "your time has
not yet come," occurs in the cases of both cultures;
but the persons involved in sending the NDEr "back
to life" differ.
All in all, researchers
Pasricha and Stevenson uncovered 16 accounts of
near-death experiences in India. Later research
by Pasricha documented another 29 near-death experiences
by people living in India.
A comparison of Hindu near-death
experiences with western accounts reveals the following:
In 45 Hindu near-death accounts, Pasrich
and Stevenson found no evidence of a tunnel
experience which is frequently found in
western accounts of the near-death experience.
However, another near-death researcher,
reported accounts of a tunnel experience
in her research of 8 Hindu near-death experiencers.
Only one account contained an out-of-body
experience, which is another aspect that
is frequently found in western accounts.
Osis and Haraldsson
did find several accounts of out-of-body
experience in the Indian near-death experiences
Consistent with western accounts, some Hindu
near-death accounts included a life review.
However, whereas in western accounts the
life review often consists of seeing a panoramic
view of a person's entire life, Hindu accounts
consists of having someone read the record
of the dying person's life called the "akashic
In Christian circles, this is equivalent
to reading from the "Book
as known from the Christian doctrine of
the resurrection. In Hindu circles, it is
a traditional belief that the reading of
a person's akashic record occurs immediately
after death. This concept is widely believed
by Hindus all over India. However, the panoramic
life review, which is commonly mentioned
in western accounts, does not appear in
accounts from India.
As in western accounts, Hindu near-death
accounts sometimes describe the meeting
of religious deities and deceased loved
Karlis Osis and
Erlendur Haraldsson, documented the first major
accounts of near-death experiences in India. In
their interviews with 704 people living in India
about their near-death experiences, 64 accounts
of near-death experiences came to the surface. The
remaining accounts had to do with death-bed visions.
They published their findings in their book entitled
At the Hour of Death: A New Look at Evidence for
Life After Death.
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6. Hindu Afterlife
the ancient set of Hindu religious texts, postulated
an eternal, changeless core of the self called as
This soul or "deep self" was viewed as being identical
with the unchanging godhead, referred to as
(the unitary ground of being that transcends particular
gods and goddesses). Untouched by the variations
of time and circumstance, the Atman was nevertheless
entrapped in the world of
(the cycle of death and rebirth). Unlike Western
treatments of reincarnation, which tend to make
the idea of coming back into body after body seem
exotic, desirable, and even romantic, Hinduism,
Buddhism, and other southern Asian religions portray
the samsaric process as unhappy. Life in this world
What keeps us trapped
in the samsaric cycle is the law of
In its simplest form, this law operates impersonally
like a natural law, ensuring that every good or
bad deed eventually returns to the individual in
the form of reward or punishment commensurate with
the original deed. It is the necessity of "reaping
one's karma" that compels human beings to take rebirth
(to reincarnate) in successive lifetimes. In other
words, if one dies before reaping the effects of
one's actions (as most people do), the karmic process
demands that one come back in a future life. Coming
back in another lifetime also allows karmic forces
to reward or punish one through the circumstances
to which one is born. Hence, for example, an individual
who was generous in one lifetime might be reborn
as a wealthy person in the next incarnation.
is the traditional Sanskrit term for release or
liberation from the endless chain of deaths and
rebirths. In the southern Asian religious tradition,
it represents the supreme goal of human strivings.
Reflecting the diversity of Hinduism, liberation
can be attained in a variety of ways, from the proper
performance of certain rituals to highly disciplined
forms of yoga. In the Upanishads, it is proper knowledge,
in the sense of insight into the nature of reality,
that enables the aspiring seeker to achieve liberation
from the wheel of rebirth.
What happens to the individual
after reaching moksha? In Upanishadic Hinduism,
the individual Atman is believed to merge into the
cosmic Brahma. A traditional image is that of a
drop of water that, when dropped into the ocean,
loses its individuality and becomes one with the
sea. Although widespread, this metaphor does not
quite capture the significance of this merger. Rather
than losing one's individuality, the Upanishadic
understanding is that the Atman is never separate
from Brahma; hence, individuality is illusory, and
moksha is simply waking up from the dream of separateness.
The most that the classical
texts of Hinduism say about the state of one who
has merged with the godhead is that the person has
become one with pure "beingness," consciousness,
and bliss. From the perspective of world-affirming
Western society, such a static afterlife appears
Beginning at least several
centuries B.C., devotionalism rejected the impersonalism
of both the ritual strategy of
and the intellectual emphasis of the Upanishads.
Instead, God was approached as a personal, supremely
loving deity who would respond to devotional worship.
The afterlife in devotional theism is not the static,
abstract bliss of merging into the ocean of Brahma.
Rather, the devotional tradition views the liberated
soul as participating in a blissful round of devotional
activities in a heaven world that is comparable,
in certain respects, to the heaven of Western religions.
Along with heaven realms,
Hinduism also developed notions of hell worlds in
which exceptionally sinful individuals were punished.
Many of the torments of Hindu hell worlds, such
as being tortured by demons, resemble the torments
of more familiar Western hells. Unlike Western hells,
however, Hindu hell worlds are not final dwelling
places. They are more like purgatories in which
sinful souls experience suffering for a limited
term. After the term is over, even the most evil
person is turned out of hell to once again participate
in the cycle of reincarnation.
Painting The Bhaktivedanta
Book Trust International.
Used with permission.