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Light after Death:
The Baha'i Faith and the Near-Death Experience

by Alan Bryson

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Chapter 2

Overview of the Near-Death-Experience

The phenomenon of the NDE has only recently gained widespread public attention. This is a direct result of the publication of Dr. Raymond Moody's international best-seller, "LIFE AFTER LIFE". As a graduate student Moody listened to the experience of a physician who had been pronounced dead of double pneumonia and later revived. He recounted being out of his body, being in a realm of light which emanated love, and witnessing a review of his life. Sometime later one of Moody's own students mentioned that he had been resuscitated after having nearly died. Moody asked him to describe the experience and was surprised that the young man's story was remarkably similar to that of the physician. This was the spark which ignited Moody's interest in the NDE, a term which he coined in "LIFE AFTER LIFE". Thereafter he began to compile case studies of people who had been clinically dead and subsequently "brought back to life".

"LIFE AFTER LIFE" was written after Moody had interviewed over one hundred such persons. Although no two reported experiences where completely identical, there were certain elements which commonly occurred. Moody identified these elements as constituting the "core" experience of the NDE. The following description of an NDE is based on the "core" experience identified by Moody and confirmed by several researchers in this field.

An accident victim is delivered to an emergency room following an automobile accident. He has lost considerable blood and is in severe pain. At some point he loses consciousness. Suddenly something strange occurs. He begins watching doctors and nurses working frantically on someone on an operating table. A sense of confusion overcomes him as he realizes that he is looking at his own seemingly lifeless body. He is outside of his physical body somewhere near the ceiling of the emergency room. He cries out, but no one takes any notice. He observes a doctor yelling at a nurse for handing him the wrong medication. She in turn is so upset that she drops a sterilized pan on the floor.

At this point he hears a loud ringing noise and is whisked through a dark tunnel. In the distance he discerns a source of light towards which he is rapidly approaching. He then finds himself in a realm of light. It is indescribably beautiful. A sense of love and joy permeates everything. He is no longer in pain. He attempts to find the source of the light, but can't. Suddenly he senses the presence of someone. He is in the presence of a Being of Light.

Thoughts rather than words are exchanged, he is asked by the Being if his life had been worthwhile. Various stages of his life are vividly portrayed for his review. He evaluates his own life, he isn't judged by the Being of Light, nonetheless, all of his emotions and motives are clearly evident to the Being of Light--there are no secrets in His presence.

He is aware of the presence of other beings and recognizes loved ones and friends who have previously died. Although he no longer has a material body, he does have a unique spiritual identity and is able to perceive sights, thoughts, sounds, etc.. Colors are especially vibrant in the radiant light of his new environment. Despite the intensity of the light, it doesn't hurt his eyes.

At a some point the Being of Light or a loved one informs him that his time on Earth wasn't completed and he is to return to the physical world. He expresses a desire to remain in this radiant existence, but in a flash he finds himself back in his material body.

Later he speaks with a nurse about the experience. She tells him it was due to the medication he had been given. He also tries to speak with his doctor, who brushes it aside saying he had simply hallucinated. When he mentions his experience to his family he can sense they are uncomfortable. He feels they are concerned about his sanity. Thereafter he resolves never to speak of his experience again.

The experience, however, does have a profound effect upon him. He has been spiritually transformed. Formerly he had been active in his church and had held the beliefs of his denomination to be the only true path. Now he is no longer "religious" in a dogmatic sense, rather he has become spiritual. He realizes that many of the aspects of religion which he had formerly considered important are merely superficialities. Although he enjoys his physical surroundings, he places little value on material possessions. Love and compassion towards his fellow man are the treasures with which he is now concerned. From his life review he realizes that these are the elements of true religion. He also recognizes the importance of learning and the joy which it can bring. Lastly, he no longer fears death, he views the material body as a bird views its cage. He knows that upon his physical death he will soar in another realm.

Over the past twenty some years Dr. Moody has interviewed thousands of people who have had experiences similar to the above description. He has written three highly entertaining and successful books about this subject: "LIFE AFTER LIFE", "REFLECTIONS ON LIFE AFTER LIFE", and "THE LIGHT BEYOND".

In 1980 Dr. Kenneth Ring published "LIFE AT DEATH: A Scientific Investigation of the Near-Death Experience". Dr. Ring devised a method of questioning NDEers and compiled a statistical analysis of the interviews of 102 such people. He, like Moody, found the NDE to be overwhelmingly positive in nature, moreover, he found that the NDE is independent of religious beliefs. Dr. Ring admits that contact to thousands of persons who have had an NDE has changed his life.

"Studying NDEs has made me believe this. If you examine them, the experience underlies many of the great religions of the world. What is the basic message that the NDEer comes away with? That knowledge and love are the most important things. It is the formal religions that have added all the dogma and doctrine."

"Dealing with NDEs has also changed the way I feel about life after death. In fact, I never use that phrase anymore. Instead, I think there is only life. When the physical body no longer functions, the spirit leaves and goes on living." 1

The highly respected Gallup Poll Organization conducted an eighteen month survey on life after death employing strict sampling methods and statistical procedures. The results were published by George Gallup, Jr. in 1980 under the title, "Adventures in Immortality". Gallup found that over 8 million persons in North America have had a NDE. Undoubtedly his findings have established the NDE as a verifiable phenomenon, worthy of study and consideration.

The following table is based upon Gallup's statistical analysis of those persons who reported having had a NDE:


Out of body 26%

Accurate visual perception 23%

Audible sounds or voices 17%

Feelings of peace, painlessness 32%

Light phenomena 14%

Life review 32%

Being in another world 32%

Encountering other beings 23%

Tunnel experience 9%

Precognition 6 %

Does the NDE prove the existence of an afterlife? Obviously it does in a subjective sense, i.e., if one personally has had such an experience, he or she might be apt to accept the NDE as proof of life after death. For those who haven't had such an experience, the existence of life after death ultimately remains a question of faith. That being said, if you've had the opportunity to listen first hand to someone who has had a NDE, it's a very gripping experience. For the sake of example, imagine that you're unsure of the existence of love, after all, it hasn't been scientifically demonstrated. Then you are given the opportunity to look deeply into the eyes of a mother holding her new born child for the first time. It might not be conclusive proof for you, but you might be inclined to believe in love. I think of the NDE in that way, it's not conclusive evidence, but I'm inclined to accept it as an intimation of things to come.

Then there are numerous confirmed cases of individuals who have accurately reported occurrences which happened in the treatment room during the time that they were "dead", i.e. without vital signs. Even blind patients have been reanimated and described to their physicians what color ties they were wearing. That's rather difficult to dismiss. However, no one should be faulted for possessing a degree of healthy skepticism. It only becomes an issue when bias clouds one's thinking.

Not surprisingly the NDE seems to threaten those whose belief system can't incorporate such a phenomenon. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D. wrote in the foreword to "LIFE AFTER LIFE" that Moody should expect criticism from two groups: the religious and the scientific communities.

Obviously someone whose livelihood depends on guiding a flock in the observance of various ceremonies and rituals which promise salvation only to those who practice them, might well feel threatened by research which indicates that God is considerably more magnanimous and loving than they have given Him credit for being. Yet I would ask them to consider the almost boundless love of a mother for her child. Shouldn't we then expect God's capacity to love to be infinitely greater than that of his creatures?

At the other end of the spectrum are scientists who can't accept that a Supreme Being created and sustains the universe. Perhaps the image of God which they encountered in their youth prevents them from accepting the idea of a Supreme Being. Regardless, the existence of a soul simply has no place in their mind set. Since the existence of the soul or the NDE is difficult, perhaps even impossible, to quantify, Western science deems it unworthy of serious consideration.

Viktor E. Frankl, M.D., noted author, psychoanalyst and victim of the Nazi concentration camps, learned in a dramatic manner that man indeed has a soul. In his wonderful book, "The Doctor & the Soul" we read:

"Freud once said: 'Try and subject a number of very strongly differentiated human beings to the same amount of starvation. With the increase of the imperative need for food, all individual differences will be blotted out, and, in their place, we shall see the uniform expression of the one unsatisfied instinct.' But in the concentration camps we witnessed the contrary; we saw how, faced with the identical situation, one man degenerated while another attained virtual saintliness." 2

This prompts the age old question, "If there is an all powerful God, how can he allow such suffering?" Although this is a very interesting question, a suitable answer would be outside the theme of this book. Nevertheless, it is interesting to read what Frankl, someone who suffered through the ultimate nightmare, wrote of his experience:

"... he himself can no longer understand how he was able to survive the imprisonment. Henceforth he enjoys the precious feeling that after all he has experienced and suffered, there is nothing left in the world that he need fear... For a good many men learned in concentration camp, and as a result of concentration camp, to believe in God again." 3

Thus we see that many of those who have truly suffered don't blame God for their suffering. They realize the limits of their material body and the strength of their immortal soul. In times of trouble the soul finds its way back to God. How could such a thing as a concentration camp come into existence? According to Frankl:

" I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment--or, as the Nazi liked to say of "Blood and Soil." I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientist and philosophers." 4

This shouldn't be construed as a condemnation of science which, simply stated, is the systematized knowledge of nature and the physical environment. History has shown, however, that science devoid of morality and ethics is equally as dangerous as religion opposed to knowledge and reason. I maintain that both of these groups, clergy and scientists, could gain a great deal by reflecting on the message offered to us by those who have had a NDE.


    1 Dr. Kenneth Ring as quoted in "The Light Beyond" by Raymond Moody, M.D. Bantam Books, 1988.
    2 Dr. Viktor Frankl, "The Doctor & the Soul" p.xix, Vintage Books New York 1973
    3 ibid., p. 104
    4 ibid., xxi
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