“Beyond the material self”
Is there more beyond the material world? This is probably one of the world’s oldest questions, and the answer is possible that no one knows for sure. In Zen, we talk about awakening, and some have argued that to be awake is to be aware of the full concrete reality, not just the illusions created by the self. So, if we consider all of reality, we must also consider events for which there is no clear explanation and the possibility that all of reality may include an immaterial portion. A well-documented event that puts us face to face with this question of a full reality is the experiences of millions of people when they are close to imminent death or at a time of real crisis. These so-called Near Death Experiences (NDE) have been reported and documented throughout human history. The first systematic study was done by a Swiss mountaineer in 1892, and documented in: “The Experience of Dying from Falls”. These are first-person accounts from interviews with survivors of near-fatal falls including workers who fell from scaffoldings and soldiers surviving serious injuries in war. These accounts have remarkable similarities and report that:
No grief was felt;
No paralyzing fright;
No anxiety nor despair at the prospect of death;
No pain, but a serious calm;
A profound acceptance and lucidity of mind;
A sense of surety.
Between 1975 and 2005, forty-two scientific studies have been published in the literature covering over 2500 people, with strikingly similar results about the content and consequence of the NDE event. Aside from the positive and stimulating nature of these reports, the other surprisingly common trait is that these events involve an unexplainable state of consciousness and memory of such events under seemingly impossible conditions. People are thought to be dead and without brain function reporting events and memories is not possible to explain. The NDE seems to bring with it a memory of perception and events beyond the material, verifiable experiences which despite scientific scrutiny cannot be explained. Hence, the NDE presents an existential crisis, as this state of consciousness and memory raises the question of who or what part of the self is having the experience. Moreover, there is a profound learning quality to this experience, which is always reported to be of the highest life-altering impact. Beyond all common life experiences, possibly 5% of the population have reported such events. NDE offers a window with a direct view into the immaterial part of reality and the spiritual part of the self. Whether one believes or is “awakened” to the existence of a soul, a spirit, or consciousness or not, these events can have a number of important implications: one that the material body and mind are separate and distinct from the spirit or soul, hence the differentiating qualities assigned to the material self are a mere cladding and tells us nothing about the immaterial soul that lives within. The existence of a soul can help explain many of the qualities we see in people, animals, and other living organisms.
Regardless of one’s personal attitude toward death and our impermanence, the realization that (something that we may have known as a child), …. we are more than what we see and experience through our senses, and that our existence does not end with the body, is perhaps the most profound and valuable discovery one can make.
2 main reference books:
Consciousness beyond life by Pim van Lommel MD
Evidence of afterlife by Jeffrey Long MD
Youtube interviews of Dr. Lommel There are several of them