By Manik Gupta

When Bollywood actor Lilliput went under hypnotic regression on the sets of hit TV serial, “Raaz Pichley Janam Ka” (THE Mystery of past life), he described how in past lives, his legs were cut either in accidents or trauma. The result – he was born a dwarf in his present life.

With many celebrities lining up for a session with Dr. Jain, the hypnotherapist on the show, the phenomenon of reincarnation is in the news again. In 2005, a reincarnation case involving a little boy named James Leininger, who remembered dying as fighter aircraft pilot in World War 2, was aired on ABC Primetime, a popular TV news program. Back in India, on one side, rational societies have filed court cases to stop the telecast of “Raaz Pichle Janam ka”, calling it superstitious and unscientific, newer researches in various fields offer fresh perspective on the phenomenon. Even Time magazine ran a story on Near Death Experiences (NDE), a phenomenon often quoted by believers of reincarnation as scientific proof for reincarnation. Let’s see what is there for us:

Radiation oncologist Dr. Jeffrey Long argues that if you look at the scientific evidence, the answer is unequivocally ‘yes’. Drawing on a decade’s worth of research on near-death experiences – work that includes cataloguing the stories of some 1,600 people who have gone through them – he makes the case for that controversial conclusion in a new book, “Evidence of the Afterlife”. (TIME, Jan 22)
Medically speaking, what is a near-death experience?

A near-death experience has two components. The person has to be near death, which means physically compromised so severely that permanent death would occur if they did not improve: they’re unconscious, or often clinically dead, with an absence of heartbeat and breathing. The second component is that at the time they’re having a close brush with death, they have an experience – a special state of consciousness, including a number of special elements such as pleasant feelings, seeing a tunnel, a light or deceased relatives, or experiencing a life review, or an out-of-body experience.

Medical fraternity is open about NDEs. On 15 December 2001, the highly respected international medical journal, The Lancet, published a 13-year study of NDEs observed in ten different Dutch hospitals. The author, Dr. Van Lommel, first became interested in NDEs after reading the first book about NDEs, Life After Life by American doctor Raymond Moody. In 1988, Van Lommel began a study that would encompass 344 survivors of cardiac arrest in 10 Dutch hospitals. 18% of subjects reported some recollection of the time of clinical death, and 7% an experience that qualified as a deep NDE.

NDE offers an important insight into consciousness. The current medical understanding is that consciousness is a function of the brain. However, the implication of NDEs is that consciousness is a function of some other organ or entity; perhaps outside of body. “In my view,” says Van Lommel, “the brain is not producing consciousness, but it enables us to experience our consciousness.”

He elaborates: “How could a clear consciousness outside one’s body be experienced at the moment the brain no longer functions during a period of clinical death with flat EEG? Furthermore, blind people have described veridical perception during out-of-body experiences at the time of NDEs. In our prospective study of patients that were clinically dead (flat EEG, showing no electrical activity in the cortex, and loss of brain stem function evidenced by fixed dilated pupils and absence of the gag reflex), the patients reported a clear consciousness, in which cognitive functioning, emotion, sense of identity, or memory from early childhood occurred, as well as perceptions from a position out and above their ‘dead’ body.”

Interestingly, another NDE researcher Dr. Kenneth Ring studied cases of NDE in completely blind experiencers and fifteen out of twenty-five cases immovably declared that during their NDE they had “visual experiences.” Ring labels this phenomenon of blind people being able to see as “mind-sight.”

At the end of 2007 Van Lommel published a massive tome (in the Dutch language) called Endless Consciousness: A Scientific View on the Near-Death Experience. Currently, it appears high on the best sellers lists, which is remarkable for a book of this level of complexity. But then again, life after death is a subject that speaks to every one of us.

to be continued…

References:

1. Kenneth Ring and Sharon Cooper, MINDSIGHT: Near-Death and out of body experiences in the Blind (Palo Alto,Califoria: William James Center for Consciousness Studies, 1999).
2. Searching for Vedic India, by Devamrita Swami
3. Born Again by Walter Simkiw, MD. Ritana books
4. Origin of Soul by Walter Simkiw, MD. Ritana books
5. Human Devolution by Michael A. Cremo
6. www.johnadams.net
7. www.confederateyankee.net
8. www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1657919,00.html

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