Spirituality studiesVolume 1 / Issue 2 Fall 2015

Editorial 1 Gejza M. Timčák The Experience of Death and Dying: Psychological, Philosophical 3 and Spiritual Aspects Stanislav Grof Explanation for the Mystical Practice I. 33 Květoslav Minařík Kumārajīva’s Meditative Legacy in China 45 Bhante Dhammadipa The Life Model of Nisargadatta Maharaj as Interpreted 55 by Ramesh Balsekar Gejza M. Timčák Ego – our Enemy or Friend? 63 Gejza M. Timčák I am who I am: Mysticism of God’s Name and the Question of 69 “Who am I” Petr Pavlik About Spirituality Studies 80 VOLUME 1 ISSUE 2 FALL 2015 The numbering between brackets refers to the original numbering on the Spirituality Studies webpage.

EDITORIAL Gejza M. Timčák The question of true meaning of birth and death as well as the meaning of our coming to this world is a subject that interested humanity since its appearance on Earth. Almost equal importance was given to enquiry into how to get back to the “original state of being”. Spiritual traditions of Christianity and Judaism speak about the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. InGenesis 3:24 cherubim guard the way to the Tree of Life at the east end of the Garden. TheBook of Proverbs (9:11) declares in relation to the Tree of Life that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” meaning that “obedience to God’s will“ is the message of the Tree of Life. In Judaic Kabbalah’s Tree of Life we see ten Sephirot concepts, through which the Ein Sof – the unknowable Divine – manifests the Creation and thus also man. Saint Augustine in theCity of God (xiv. 26) tells “man was furnished with food against hunger, with drink against thirst, and with the tree of life against the ravages of old age”. In contrast, in Jewish tradition, the Tree of Knowledge and the eating of its fruit represents the beginning of the mixture of good and evil together. In Christian theology, consuming the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil represents the “original sin”. The same tradition describes how humans, after consuming the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, were expelled from Eden into the present environment, which is characterized by birth and death. Thus coming to this world is the result of “consuming the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge”. It means we are curious and try to learn, try to know so many things, some of which are good, some bad. Still, after enjoying the gifts of nature, culture and technology we feel that it always ends in some “dead end”, beyond which is the Unknown and unknowable, where time and age are irrelevant and where we rejoin those who exist in flow with the Will of Absolute – manifest or unmanifest. But we cannot access this region through our will. We have to learn where to find the fruit of the Tree of Life, which enables us to stay still and do what the Will of the Absolute indicates and what our karma needs us to do, if we are to reassume our original state of being. Even in meditation when we reach the upper edge of dhāranā, we have to be taken into the states of dhyānaand samādhi, where Spirituality Studies 1 (2) Fall 2015 1

our will is no longer a determinant, and we have to lay it down and accept the Will that is described in various traditions differently, but is the governing power of the created and uncreated universes. This is why before enlightenment one has to “die” in the sense that nothing can be brought to the area of highest Being from over here. When this happens, we are re-born into a state of being where the flow along the Will of the Absolute is the only “thing” we have to maintain. In between these ways of life there are levels, which are there to aid our becoming more and more simple and integrated. The papers in this issue are devoted mostly to these processes and we can only hope that the informed readers will find a number of inspiring impulses for one’s own spiritual life. 2 Gejza M. Timčák

THE EXPERIENCE OF DEATH AND DYING PSYCHOLOGICAL, PHILOSOPHICAL AND SPIRITUAL ASPECTS Stanislav Grof Received September 14 2015 - Revised September 30 2015 - Accepted October 1 2015 ABSTRACT The article discusses some psychological, philosophical, and spiritual aspects of the research on death and dying. The author challenges materialistic understanding of death, based on metaphysical assumption inherited from the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm that had became one of the leading myths of the Western science, according to which consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter, a product of the physiological processes in the brain, and thus critically dependent on the body. By reviewing the existing data and observations from various fields of research he points out to the fact that there is no proof for such a reductive claim. The research of the psychological, philosophical, and spiritual aspects of death and dying discussed in this paper offers considerable theoretical and practical implications, enabling the refusal of materialistic interpretation of death as the final end of human existence and conscious activity of any kind. You grieve for those that should not be grieved for. The wise grieve neither for the living nor the dead. Never at any time was I not. Nor thou, nor these princes of men. Nor will we ever cease to be hereafter. For the unreal has no being and the real never ceases to be. Bhagavad Gita Spirituality Studies 1 (2) Fall 2015 3 (1)

Key words Transpersonal psychology, consciousness, consciousness research, death 1 Introduction It would be hard to imagine a subject that is more universal and more personally relevant for every single individual than death and dying. In the course of our life, we all will lose acquaintances, friends, and relatives and eventually face our own biological demise. In view of this fact, it is quite amazing that until the late 1960s, the Western industrial civilization showed an almost complete lack of interest in the subject of death and dying. This was true not only for the general population, but included also scientists and professionals involved in disciplines that should be interested in this subject, such as medicine, psychiatry, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and theology. The only plausible explanation for this situation is massive denial of death and psychological repression of this entire area. This disinterest is even more striking, when we compare this situation with the ancient and pre-industrial cultures and realize that their attitude to death and dying was diametrically different. Death played an extremely critical and central role in their cosmologies, philosophies, spiritual and ritual life, and mythologies, as well as everyday life. The practical importance of this difference becomes obvious when we compare the situation of a person facing death in these two historical and cultural environments. A person dying in one of the Western industrial societies typically has a pragmatic and materialistic worldview or is at least very profoundly influenced by the exposure to it. According tomainstream academic Western science, the history of the universe is the history of developingmatter. Life, consciousness, and intelligence are more or less accidental and insignificant side products of this development. They appeared on the scene after many billions of years of evolution of passive and inert matter in a trivially small part of an immense universe. In a world where only what is material, tangible, and measurable is real, there is no place for spirituality of any kind. Although religious activities are generally permitted, or even formally encouraged, from a strictly scientific point of view any involvement in spirituality appears to be and is interpreted as an irrational activity indicating emotional and intellectual immaturity – lack of education, primitive superstition, and regression to magical and infantile thinking. Direct experiences of spiritual realities are seen as manifestations of a serious mental disease, psychosis. Religion, bereft of its experiential component has largely lost the connection to its deep spiritual source and as a result of it has become empty, meaningless, and increasingly irrelevant in our life. In this form, it cannot compete with the persuasiveness of materialistic science backed up by its technological triumphs. Under these circumstances, religion has ceased to be a vital force during our life, as well as at the time of dying and death. Its references to life after death, the posthumous adventures of the soul, and the abodes of 4 (2) Stanislav Grof

the Beyond, such as heaven and hell, have been relegated to the realm of fairy tales and handbooks of psychiatry. The entire spiritual history of humanity has been pathologized. At the cradle of all the great religions of the world were transpersonal experiences of their founders, prophets, and saints. We can think here, for example, about Buddha’s encounter with Kama Mara and his army or his reliving of various episodes from his past incarnations accompanied by “tearing of the karmic bonds”. The Old Testament describes Moses’ vision of Jehova in the burning bush and the New Testament Jesus’ temptation by the devil during his stay in the desert. Islamic scriptures portray the journey of Muhammad through the seven heavens, paradise, and hell in the company of archangel Gabriel. According to traditional psychiatry, all these experiences are indicative of severe psychopathology, mental disease of the individuals involved. Psychiatric literature abounds in articles and books discussing what would be the best clinical diagnosis for various famous spiritual figures, some of them of the stature of the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, Ramakrishna, or Saint Anthony. Visionary experiences of the transpersonal realms are usually attributed to severe psychosis of the schizophrenic type or to epilepsy, as it is in the case of Muhammad. Saint John of the Cross has been labeled “hereditary degenerate” and Saint Teresa of Avila a “hysterical psychotic”. Mainstream anthropologists have argued whether shamans are psychotics, hysterics, or epileptics. There is even a paper applying psychopathological criteria to meditation. It is entitled “Buddhist Training as Artificial Catatonia”, and its author is the famous psychoanalyst and founder of psychosomatic medicine Franz Alexander (Alexander 1931). According to Western neuroscience, consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter, a product of the physiological processes in the brain, and thus critically dependent on the body. The death of the body, particularly of the brain, is then seen as the absolute end of any form of conscious activity. Belief in the posthumous journey of the soul, afterlife, or reincarnation is usually ridiculed as a product of wishful thinking of people who are unable to accept the obvious biological imperative of death, the absolute nature of which has been scientifically proven beyond any reasonable doubt. Very few people, including most scientists, realize that we have absolutely no proof that consciousness is actually produced by the brain and not even a remote notion how something like that could possibly happen. In spite of it, this basic metaphysical assumption remains one of the leading myths of Western materialistic science and has profound influence on our entire society. This attitude has effectively inhibited scientific interest in the experiences of dying patients and of individuals in near-death situations until the 1970s. The rare reports on this subject received very little attention, whether they came in the form of books for general public, such as Jess E. Weisse’s  The Vestibule (Weisse 1972) and Jean-Baptiste Delacour’s  Glimpses of the Beyond (Delacour 1974), or scientific research, such as the study of death-bed observations of physicians and nurses conducted by Karlis Osis (Osis 1961). Since the publication of Raymond Moody’s internationSpirituality Studies 1 (2) Fall 2015 5 (3)

al bestseller Life After Life in 1975, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, Ken Ring, Michael Sabom, and other pioneers of thanatology have amassed impressive evidence about the amazing characteristics of near-death experiences from accurate extrasensory perception during outof-body experiences to profound personality changes following them. The material from these studies has been widely publicized and used by the media from TV talk shows to Hollywood movies. Yet, these potentially paradigm-shattering observations that could revolutionize our understanding of the nature of consciousness and its relationship to the brain are still dismissed by most professionals as irrelevant hallucinations produced by a biological crisis. They are also not routinely recorded and examined as an important part of the patients’ medical history and no specific psychological support is being offered in most of the medical facilities that would help to integrate these challenging events. People dying in Western societies also often lack effective human support that would ease their transition. We try to protect ourselves from the emotional discomfort that death induces. The industrial world tends to remove sick and dying people into hospitals and nursing homes. The emphasis is on life-support systems and mechanical prolongation of life, often beyond any reasonable limits, rather than the quality of the human environment. The family system has disintegrated and children often live far from the parents and grandparents. At the time of medical crisis, the contact is often formal and minimal. In addition, mental health professionals, who have developed specific forms of psychological support and counseling for a large variety of emotional crises, have given close to no attention to the dying. Those facing the most profound of all imaginable crises, one that affects simultaneously the biological, emotional, interpersonal, social, philosophical, and spiritual aspects of the individual remain the only ones for whom meaningful help is not available. All this occurs in the much larger context of collective denial of impermanence and mortality that characterizes Western industrial civilization. Much of our encounter with death comes in a sanitized form, where a team of professionals mitigates its immediate impact. In its extreme expression, it includes postmortem barbers and hairdressers, tailors, make-up experts, and plastic surgeons who make a wide variety of cosmetic adjustments on the corpse before it is shown to relatives and friends. The media help create more distance from death by diluting it into empty statistics reporting in a matter of fact way about the thousands of victims who died in wars, revolutions, and natural catastrophes. Movies and TV shows further trivialize death by capitalizing on violence. They immunize modern audiences against its emotional relevance by exposing them to countless scenes of dying, killing, and murder in the context of entertainment. In general, the conditions of life existing in modern technologized countries do not offer much ideological or psychological support for people who are facing death. This contrasts very sharply with the situation encountered by those dying in one of the ancient and pre6 (4) Stanislav Grof

industrial societies. Their cosmologies, philosophies, mythologies, as well as spiritual and ritual life, contain a clear message that death is not the absolute and irrevocable end of everything, that life or existence continues in some form after the biological demise. Eschatological mythologies are in general agreement that the soul of the deceased undergoes a complex series of adventures in consciousness. The posthumous journey of the soul is sometimes described as a travel through fantastic landscapes that bear some similarity to those on earth, other times as encounters with various archetypal beings, or as moving through a sequence of non-ordinary states of consciousness (later NOSC). In some cultures the soul reaches a temporary realm in the Beyond, such as the Christian purgatory or the lokas of Tibetan Buddhism, in others an eternal abode – heaven, hell, paradise, or the sun realm. Pre-industrial societies thus seemed to agree that death was not the ultimate defeat and end of everything, but an important transition. The experiences associated with death were seen as visits to important dimensions of reality that deserved to be experienced, studied, and carefully mapped. The dying were familiar with the eschatological cartographies of their cultures, whether these were shamanic maps of the funeral landscapes or sophisticated descriptions of the Eastern spiritual systems, such as those found in the Tibetan Bardo Thödol. This important text of Tibetan Buddhism represents an interesting counterpoint to the exclusive pragmatic emphasis on productive life and denial of death characterizing the Western civilization. It describes the time of death as a unique opportunity for spiritual liberation from the cycles of death and rebirth and a period that determines our next incarnation, if we do not achieve liberation. In this context, it is possible to see the intermediate state between lives (bardo) as being in a way more important than incarnate existence. It is then essential to prepare for this time by systematic practice during our lifetime. Another characteristic aspect of ancient and pre-industrial cultures that colors the experience of dying is their acceptance of death as an integral part of life. Throughout their life, people living in these cultures get used to spending time around dying people, handling corpses, observing cremation, and living with their remnants. For a Westerner, a visit to a place like Benares where this attitude is expressed in its extreme form can be a profoundly shattering experience. In addition, dying people in pre-industrial cultures typically die in the context of an extended family, clan, or tribe. They thus can receive meaningful emotional support from people whom they intimately know. It is also important to mention powerful rituals conducted at the time of death designed to assist individuals facing the ultimate transition, or even specific guidance of the dying, such as the approach described in theBardo Thödol. An extremely important factor influencing the attitude toward death and the experience of dying has been the existence of various forms of experiential training for dying involving NOSC. The oldest among them is the practice of shamanism, the most ancient religion and healing art of humanity, the roots of which roots reach far back into the PaSpirituality Studies 1 (2) Fall 2015 7 (5)

leolithic era. Among the beautiful images of primeval animals painted and carved on the walls of the great caves in Southern France and Northern Spain, such as Lascaux, Font de Gaume, Les Trois Frères, Altamira, and others, are figures that undoubtedly represent ancient shamans. In some of the caves, the discoverers also found footprints in circular arrangements suggesting that their inhabitants conducted dances, similar to those still performed by some aboriginal cultures for the induction of NOSC. Shamanism is not only ancient, but also universal; it can be found in North and South America, in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Polynesia. Shamanism is intimately connected with NOSC, as well as with death and dying. The career of many shamans begins with the “shamanic illness”, a spontaneous initiatory crisis conducive to profound healing and psychospiritual transformation. It is a visionary journey involving the visit to the underworld, painful and frightening ordeals, and an experience of psychological death and rebirth followed by ascent into supernal realms. In this experience, the novice shaman connects to the forces of nature and to the animal realm and learns how to diagnose and heal diseases. The knowledge of the realm of death acquired during this transformation makes it possible for the shaman to move freely back and forth and mediate these journeys for other people. The anthropologists have also described rites of passage, elaborate rituals conducted by various aboriginal cultures at the time of important biological and social transitions, such as birth, circumcision, puberty, marriage, dying, and others. They employ powerful mind-altering technologies and the experiences induced by them revolve around the trias birth-sex-death. Their symbolism involves different combinations of perinatal and transpersonal elements. Clinical work with psychedelics and various non-drug experiential approaches (such as theHolotropic Breathwork) has helped us understand these events and appreciate their importance for individuals and human groups. Closely related to the rites of passage were the ancient mysteries of death and rebirth, complex sacred and secret procedures that were also using powerful mind-altering techniques. They were particularly prevalent in the Mediterranean area, as exemplified by the Babylonian ceremonies of Inanna and Tammuz, the Egyptian mysteries of Isis and Osiris, the Orphic Cult, the Bacchanalia, the Eleusinian mysteries, the Corybantic rites, and the mysteries of Attis and Adonis. The mysteries were based on mythological stories of deities that symbolize death and rebirth. The most famous of them were the Eleusinian mysteries that were conducted near Athens every five years without interruption for a period of almost 2 000 years. According to a modern study by Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck, the ritual potion (“kykeon”) used in these mysteries contained ergot preparations related closely to LSD (Wasson, Hofmann, and Ruck 1978). The sacred literature of the various mystical traditions and the great spiritual philosophies of the East is of particular interest for transpersonally oriented researchers. Here belong the various systems of yoga, the the8 (6) Stanislav Grof

ory and practice of Buddhism, Taoism, the Tibetan Vajrayana, Sufism, Christian mysticism, the Kabbalah, and many others. These systems developed effective forms of prayers, meditations, movement meditations, breathing exercises, and other powerful techniques for inducing NOSC with profoundly spiritual components. Like the experiences of the shamans, initiates in the rites of passage, and neophytes in ancient mysteries, these procedures offered the possibility of confronting one’s impermanence and mortality, transcending the fear of death, and radically transforming one’s being in the world. The description of the resources available to dying people in pre-industrial cultures would not be complete without mentioning the books of the dead, such as the TibetanBardo Thödol, the Egyptian Pert Em Hru, the Aztec Codex Borgia, or the European Ars Moriendi. When the ancient books of the dead first came to the attention of Western scholars, they were considered to be fictitious descriptions of the posthumous journey of the soul, and as such wishful fabrications of people who were unable to accept the grim reality of death. They were put in the same category as fairy tales – imaginary creations of human fantasy that had definite artistic beauty, but no relevance for everyday reality. However, a deeper study of these texts revealed that they had been used as guides in the context of sacred mysteries and of spiritual practice and very likely described the experiences of the initiates and practitioners. From this new perspective, presenting the books of the dead as manuals for the dying appeared to be simply a clever disguise invented by the priests to obscure their real function and protect their deeper esoteric meaning and message from the uninitiated. However, the remaining problem was to discover the exact nature of the procedures used by the ancient spiritual systems to induce these states. Modern research focusing on NOSC brought unexpected new insights into this problem area. Systematic study of the experiences in psychedelic sessions, powerful non-drug forms of psychotherapy, and spontaneously occurring psychospiritual crises showed that in all these situations, people can encounter an entire spectrum of unusual experiences, including sequences of agony and dying, passing through hell, facing divine judgment, being reborn, reaching the celestial realms, and confronting memories from previous incarnations. These states were strikingly similar to those described in the eschatological texts of ancient and pre-industrial cultures. Another missing piece of the puzzle was provided by thanatology, the new scientific discipline specifically studying death and dying. Thanatological studies of near-death states by people like Raymond Moody (Life After Life, Moody 1975), Kenneth Ring (Life at Death and Heading Toward Omega, Ring 1982, 1985), Michael Sabom (Recollections of Death, Sabom 1982), Bruce Greyson and Charles Flynn (The Near Death Experience, Greyson and Flynn 1984) showed that the experiences associated with life-threatening situations bear a deep resemblance to the descriptions from the ancient books of the dead as well as those reported by subjects in psychedelic sessions and modern experiential psychotherapy. Spirituality Studies 1 (2) Fall 2015 9 (7)

It has thus become clear that the ancient eschatological texts are actually maps of the inner territories of the psyche encountered in profound NOSC, including those associated with biological dying. The experiences involved seem to transcend race and culture, and originate in the collective unconscious, as described by C. G. Jung. It is possible to spend one’s entire lifetime without ever experiencing these realms or even without being aware of their existence, until one is catapulted into them at the time of biological death. However, for some people this experiential area becomes available during their lifetime in a variety of situations including psychedelic sessions or some other powerful forms of self-exploration, serious spiritual practice, participation in shamanic rituals, or during spontaneous psycho-spiritual crises. This opens up for them the possibility of experiential exploration of these territories of the psyche on their own terms so that the encounter with death does not come as a complete surprise when it is imposed on them at the time of biological demise. The Austrian Augustinian monk Abraham a Sancta Clara who lived in the seventeenth century, expressed in a succinct way the importance of the experiential practice of dying: “The man who dies before he dies does not die when he dies.” This “dying before dying” has two important consequences: it liberates the individual from the fear of death and changes his or her attitude toward it, as well as influences the actual experience of dying at the time of the biological demise. However, this elimination of the fear of death, also transforms the individual’s way of being in the world. For this reason, there is no fundamental difference between the preparation for death and the practice of dying, on the one hand, and spiritual practice leading to enlightenment, on the other. This is the reason why the ancient books of the dead could be used in both situations. As we have seen, many aspects of life in preindustrial cultures made the psychological situation of dying people significantly easier in comparison with the Western technological civilization. Naturally, the question that immediately arises is whether this advantage was to a great extent due to lack of reliable information about the nature of reality and to wishful self-deception. If that were the case, a significant part of our difficulties in facing death would simply be the toll we have to pay for our deeper knowledge of the universal scheme of things and we might prefer to bear the consequences of knowing the truth. However, closer examination of the existing evidence clearly shows that this is not the case. The single most important factor responsible for the most fundamental differences between the worldview of Western industrial cultures and all other human groups throughout history is not the superiority of materialistic science over primitive superstition, but our profound ignorance in regard to NOSC. The only way the Cartesian-Newtonian worldview of Western science can be maintained is by systematic suppression or misinterpretation of all the evidence generated by consciousness studies, whether its source is history, anthropology, comparative religion, or various areas of modern research, such as parapsychology, thanatology, psychedelic therapy, biofeedback, sensory deprivation, 10 (8) Stanislav Grof

experiential psychotherapies, or the work with individuals in psychospiritual crises (“spiritual emergencies”). Systematic practice of various forms of NOSC that characterizes the ritual and spiritual life of ancient and aboriginal cultures inevitably leads to an understanding of the nature of reality and of the relationship between consciousness and matter that is fundamentally different from the belief system of technologized societies. I have yet to meet a single Western academician who has done extensive inner work involving NOSC and continues to subscribe to the current scientific understanding of consciousness, psyche, human nature, and the nature of reality taught in Western universities. This is entirely independent of the educational background, IQ, and specific area of expertise of the individuals involved. The difference in regard to the possibility of consciousness after death thus exactly reflects the differences in the attitude toward NOSC. Ancient and pre-industrial cultures held NOSC in high esteem, practiced them regularly in socially sanctioned contexts, and spent much time and energy developing safe and effective techniques of inducing them. These experiences were the main vehicle for their ritual and spiritual life as a means of direct communication with archetypal domains of deities and demons, forces of nature, the animal realms, and the cosmos. Additional uses of NOSC involved diagnosing and healing diseases, cultivating intuition and ESP, and obtaining artistic inspiration, as well as practical purposes, such as locating game and finding lost objects and people. According to anthropologist Victor Turner, sharing in groups also contributes to tribal bonding and tends to create a sense of deep connectedness (communitas). Western society pathologized all forms of NOSC (with the exception of dreams that are not recurrent, or nightmares), spends much time trying to develop effective ways of suppressing them when they occur spontaneously, and tends to outlaw tools and contexts associated with them. Western psychiatry makes no distinction between a mystical experience and a psychotic experience and sees both as manifestations of mental disease. In its rejection of religion, it does not differentiate between primitive folk beliefs or the fundamentalists’ literal interpretations of scriptures and sophisticated mystical traditions and Eastern spiritual philosophies based on centuries of systematic introspective exploration of the psyche. This approach has pathologized the entire spiritual history of humanity. Let us now briefly review the observations from various fields of research that challenge the materialistic understanding, according to which biological death represents the final end of existence and of conscious activity of any kind. In any exploration of this kind, it is important to keep an open mind and focus as much as possible only on the facts of observation. An unshakeable a priori commitment to the existing paradigm that characterizes the approach of mainstream science to this area is an attitude that is well known from fundamentalist religions. Unlike scientism of this kind, science in the true sense of the word is open to unbiased investigation of any existSpirituality Studies 1 (2) Fall 2015 11 (9)

ing phenomena. With this in mind, we can divide the existing evidence into two categories: (1) experiences and observations that challenge the traditional understanding of the nature of consciousness and its relationship to matter; (2) experiences and observations specifically related to the understanding of death and survival of consciousness. 2 Experiences and observations challenging the traditional understanding of consciousness and its relationship to matter The work with NOSC has generated a vast body of evidence that represents a serious challenge for the Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm of materialistic science. Most of the challenging data are related to transpersonal phenomena that represent an important part of the spectrum of experiences observed in NOSC. They suggest an urgent need for a radical revision of our current concepts of the nature of consciousness and its relationship to matter and the brain. Since the materialistic paradigm of Western science has been a major obstacle for any objective evaluation of the data describing the events occurring at the time of death, the study of transpersonal experiences has an indirect relevance for thanatology. In transpersonal experiences, it is possible to transcend the usual limitations of the body, ego, space, and linear time. The disappearance of spatial boundaries can lead to authentic and convincing identifications with other people, animals of different species, plant life, and even inorganic materials and processes. One can also transcend the temporal boundaries and experience episodes from the lives of one’s human and animal ancestors, as well as collective, racial, and karmic memories. In addition, transpersonal experiences can take us into the archetypal domains of the collective unconscious and mediate encounter with blissful and wrathful deities of various cultures and visits to mythological realms. In all these types of experiences, it is possible to access entirely new information that by far surpasses anything that we obtained earlier through the conventional channels. The study of consciousness that can extend beyond the body, William Roll’s  “theta consciousness” or the “long body” of the Iroquois, is extremely important for the issue of survival, since it is this part of human personality that would be likely to survive death. According to materialistic science, any memory requires a material substrate, such as the neuronal network in the brain or the DNA molecules of the genes. However, it is impossible to imagine any material medium for the information conveyed by various forms of transpersonal experiences described above. This information clearly has not been acquired during the individual’s lifetime through the conventional means that is by sensory perception. It seems to exist independently of matter and be contained in the field of consciousness itself, or in some other types of fields that cannot be detected by our scientific instruments. The observations from the study of transpersonal experiences are supported by evidence that comes from other avenues of research. Challeng12 (10) Stanislav Grof

ing the basic metaphysical assumptions of Cartesian-Newtonian thinking, scientists like Heinz von Foerster (von Foerster 1965), Rupert Sheldrake (Sheldrake 1981), and Ervin Laszlo (1994) seriously explore such possibilities as “memory without a material substrate”, “morphogenetic fields”, and the record of all events from the history of the universe in the subquantum “psi-field”. Traditional academic science describes human beings as highly developed animals and biological thinking machines. Experienced and studied in the everyday state of consciousness, we appear to be Newtonian objects made of atoms, molecules, cells, tissues, and organs. However, transpersonal experiences in clearly show that each of us can also manifest the properties of a field of consciousness that transcends space, time, and linear causality. The complete new formula, remotely reminiscent of the wave-particle paradox in modern physics, thus describes humans as paradoxical beings who have two complementary aspects: they can show properties of Newtonian objects and also those of infinite fields of consciousness. The appropriateness of each of these descriptions depends on the state of consciousness in which these observations are made. Physical death then seems to terminate one half of this definition, while the other comes into full expression. 3 Experiences and observations specifically related to the understanding of death and survival of consciousness 3.1 Phenomena on the threshold of death Researchers have reported a variety of interesting phenomena occurring at the time of death. Here belong, for example numerous visions of people who just had died that are reported by their relatives, friends, and acquaintances. It has been found that such visions show statistically significant correlation with distantly occurring deaths of the appearing persons within a twelve-hour period (Sidgwick 1889). There also exist reports of unexplained physical events occurring at the time of death, such as watches stopping and starting, bells ringing, paintings or photographs falling of the wall, and others, that seem to announce a person’s death (Bozzano 1948). Individuals approaching death often experience encounters with their dead relatives who seem to welcome them to the next world. These deathbed visions are very authentic and convincing; they are often followed by a state of euphoria and seem to ease the transition. A number of cases have been reported, in which a dying individual has a vision of a person about whose death he or she did not know; these have been referred to as “peak in Darien” cases. Of particular interest are near-death experiences (NDEs) that occur in about one-third of the people who encounter various forms of life-threatening situations, such as car Spirituality Studies 1 (2) Fall 2015 13 (11)

accidents, near-drowning, heart attacks, or cardiac arrests during operations. Raymond Moody, Kenneth Ring, Michael Sabom, Bruce Greyson, and others have done extensive research of this phenomenon and have described a characteristic experiential pattern that typically includes a life-review, passage through a dark tunnel, personal judgment with ethical evaluation of one’s life, encounter with a radiant divine being, and visit to various transcendental realms. Less frequent are painful, anxiety-provoking, and infernal types of NDEs. In our program of psychedelic therapy with terminal cancer patients, conducted at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in Baltimore, we were able to obtain some evidence about the similarity of NDEs with experiences induced by psychedelic substances. We observed several patients who had first psychedelic experiences and later an actual NDE when their disease progressed (e.g. a cardiac arrest during an operation). They reported that these situations were very similar and described the psychedelic sessions as an invaluable experiential training for dying (Grof 1976). The most extraordinary and fascinating aspect of NDEs is the occurrence of “veridical” out-of-body experiences (OOBEs), a term used for experiences of disembodied consciousness with accurate extrasensory perception. Thanatological studies have repeatedly confirmed that people who are unconscious or even clinically dead can have OOBEs during which they observe their bodies and the rescue procedures from above, or perceive events in remote locations. Current thanatological resarch now focuses on confirmation of some preliminary observations of these experiences occurring in congenitally blind persons. Classical descriptions of OOBEs can be found in spiritual literature and philosophical texts of all ages. Modern thanatological research thus confirms the descriptions in the TibetanBook of the Dead (Bardo Thödol), according to which an individual after death assumes a  “bardo body” which transcends the limitations of time and space and can freely travel around the earth. Veridical OOBEs do not occur only in the context of near-death situations, vital emergencies, and episodes of clinical death. They can emerge in the sessions of powerful experiential psychotherapy (such as primal therapy, rebirthing, or Holotropic Breathwork), in the context of experiences induced by psychedelics (particularly the dissociative anesthetic ketamine), and also spontaneously. Such events can represent isolated episodes in the life of the individual, or occur repeatedly as part of a crisis of psychic opening or some other type of spiritual emergency. The authenticity of OOBEs has also been demonstrated in controlled clinical studies, such as the experiments of the well-known psychologist and parapsychologist Charles Tart with Ms. Z. at the University of California in Davis (Tart 1968) and perceptual tests conducted by Karlis Osis and D. McCormick with Alex Tanous (Osis and McCormick 1980). OOBEs with confirmed ESP of the environment are of special importance for the problem of consciousness after death, since they demonstrate the possibility of consciousness operating independently of the body. Ac14 (12) Stanislav Grof

cording to the Western materialistic worldview, consciousness is a product of the neurophysiological processes in the brain and it is absurd to think that consciousness could detach itself from the body and maintain its sensory capacity. Yet this is precisely what occurs in many well-documented cases of OOBEs. Naturally, people who have had OOBE might have come close to death, but did not really die. However, it seems reasonable to infer that if consciousness can function independently of the body during one’s lifetime, it could be able to do the same after death. 3.2 Past life experiences There exists a category of transpersonal experiences that has very direct relevance for the problem of survival of consciousness after death. It involves reliving or remembering vivid episodes from other historical periods and various parts of the world. The historical and geographical universality of these experiences suggests that they represent a very important cultural phenomenon. They also have critical implications for understanding the nature of consciousness, psyche, and human beings and for the theory and practice of psychiatry, psychology, and psychotherapy. For the Hindus, Buddhists, and also for openminded and knowledgeable consciousness researchers, reincarnation is not a matter of belief, but an empirical issue, based on a variety of experiences and observations. According to Christopher Bache, the evidence in this area is so rich and extraordinary that scientists who do not think the problem of reincarnation deserves serious study are “either uninformed or thickheaded” (Bache 1988). The nature of the existing evidence that one should be familiar with before making any judgments concerning reincarnation is described in a mythological language in a passage written by Sholem Asch, a twentieth century Hasidic scholar: “Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition of our existence. If the lore of the transmigration of souls is a true one, then these souls, between their exchanges of bodies, must pass through the sea of forgetfulness. According to the Jewish view, we make the transition under the overlordship of the Angel of Forgetfulness. But it sometimes happens that the Angel of Forgetfulness himself forgets to remove from our memories the records of the former world; and then our senses are haunted by fragmentary recollections of another life. They drift like torn clouds above the hills and valleys of the mind, and weave themselves into the incidents of our current existence.” Naturally, we need more than a poetic reference to ancient mythology. Careful study of the amassed evidence is absolutely necessary to make any valid conclusions in this area. As we will discuss later, this matter is of great importance, since the beliefs concerning the issue of reincarnation have great ethical impact on human life and possible relevance for the situation in the world and its future. 3.2.1 Spontaneous past life memories in children There exist many instances of small children who seem to be remembering and describing their previous life in another body, another Spirituality Studies 1 (2) Fall 2015 15 (13)

place, and with other people. These memories emerge usually spontaneously shortly after these children begin to talk. They often present various complications in the life of these children and can be even associated with “carry-over pathologies”, such as phobias, strange reactions to certain people, or various idiosyncrasies. Child psychiatrists have described cases like this. Access to these memories usually disappears between the ages of five and eight. Ian Stevenson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA, has conducted meticulous studies of over three thousand of such cases and reported them in his books Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, Unlearned Languages, and Children Who Remember Previous Lives (Stevenson 1966, 1984, and 1987), reporting only several hundred of them, because many have not met the highest standard. Some of them were eliminated because the family benefitted financially, in terms of social prestige, or public attention, others because Stevenson found a connecting person who could have been the psychic link. Additional reasons were inconsistent testimony, cryptomnesia, witnesses of questionable character, or indication of fraud. Only the strongest cases were included. The findings of Stevenson’s research were quite remarkable. He was able to confirm by independent investigation the stories the children were telling about their previous lives, often with incredible details, although he had eliminated in all the reported cases the possibility that they could have obtained the information through the conventional channels. In some cases, he actually took the children into the village that they remembered from their previous life. Although they had never been there in their current lifetime, they were familiar with the topography of the village, were able to find the home they had allegedly lived in, recognized the members of their “family” and the villagers, and knew their names. To illustrate the nature of Stevenson’s material, I will present here a condensed version of the story of Parmod Sharma, one of the twenty subjects described in his early publication. Parmod Sharma was born on October 11, 1944, in Bisauli, India. His father was Professor Bankeybehary Lal Sharma, a Sanskrit scholar at a nearby college. When Parmod was about two and a half, he began telling his mother not to cook meals for him any more, because he had a wife in Moradabad who could cook. Morabad was a town about a ninety miles northeast of Bisauli. Between the ages of three and four, he began to speak in detail of his life there. He described several businesses he had owned and operated with other members of his family. He particularly spoke of a shop that manufactured and sold biscuits and soda water, calling it “Mohan Brothers”. He insisted that he was one of the Mohan brothers and that he also had a business in Saharanpur, a town about a hundred miles north of Moradabad. Parmod tended not to play with the other children in Bisauli but preferred to play by himself, building models of shops complete with electrical wiring. He especially liked to make mud biscuits, which he served his family with tea or soda water. During this time, he provided many details about his shop, including its size and location in Moradabad, what was sold there, and his activities connected to it, such as his business trips to Delhi. He even 16 (14) Stanislav Grof

complained to his parents about the less prosperous financial situation of their home compared to what he was used to as a successful merchant. [*Parmod’s uncle had been temporarily stationed as a railroad employee in Moradabad when Parmod was very young. Because of Parmod’s interest in biscuits, his uncle had brought him biscuits from the “Mohan Brothers” shop. The biscuits had the shop’s name embossed on them, and although Parmod could not yet read, the biscuits might have stimulated associations for him. Interestingly enough, Parmod’s mother says that Parmod did not recognize the biscuits. His uncle had not been in Moradabad when Parmanand was alive, nor did he have any personal acquaintance with any of the Mehra brothers. He was not familiar with the family’s business affairs.] Parmod had a strong distaste for curd, which is quite unusual for an Indian child, and on one occasion even advised his father against eating it, saying that it was dangerous. Parmod said that in his other life he had become seriously ill after eating too much curd one day. He had an equally strong dislike for being submerged in water, which might relate to his report that he had previously “died in a bathtub”. Parmod said that he had been married and had five children – four sons and one daughter. He was anxious to see his fami-ly again and frequently begged his parents to take him back to Moradabad to visit them. His family always refused the request, though his mother did get him to begin school by promising to take him to Moradabad when he had learned to read. Parmod’s parents never investigated or tried to verify their son’s claims, perhaps because of the Indian belief that children who remembered their previous lives died early. News of Parmod’s statements, however, eventually reached the ears of a family in Moradabad named Mehra, which fit many of the details of his story. The brothers of this family owned several businesses in Moradabad including a biscuit and soda shop named “Mohan Brothers”. The shop had been named after the eldest brother, Mohan Mehra, and had originally been called “Mohan and Brothers”. This was later shortened to “Mohan Brothers”. This shop had been started and managed by Parmanand Mehra until his untimely death on May 9, 1943, eighteen months before Parmod was born. Parmanand had gorged himself on curd, one of his favorite foods, at a wedding feast, and had subsequently developed a chronic gastrointestinal illness followed later by appendicitis and peritonitis from which he died. Two or three days before his death, he had insisted, against his family’s advice, on eating more curd, saying that he might not have another chance to enjoy it. Parmanand had blamed his illness and impending death on overeating curd. As part of his therapy during his appendicitis, Parmanand had tried a series of naturopathies bath treatments. While he had not in fact died in a bathtub, he had been given a bath immediately prior to his death. Parmanand left a widow and five children – four sons and one daughter. In the summer of 1949, the Mehra family decided to make the trip to Bisauli to meet Parmod, who was a little under five years old at the time. When they arrived, however, Parmod was away and no contact was made. Not long thereafter, Parmod’s father took him to Moradabad to explore his son’s compelling remembrances first hand. Among those who met Parmod at the railway station was Parmanand’s cousin, Sri Karam Chand Mehra, who had been quite close to Parmanand. Parmod threw his armaround himweeping, calling Spirituality Studies 1 (2) Fall 2015 17 (15)