How Should We View Near-Death Experiences (NDE)?
Question: Some who have experienced ‘death’ for a while, who then returned to life claim that they felt ‘great peace’, perhaps seeing a ‘loving light’. They often say they become less fearful of death after. How should we see this?
Answer: On NDE reports in general, the following points should be noted.
 Not Actual Death: NDEs are reported by those who did not have the actual karma to die and be reborn, which is why they returned to life. (Near-death is not true death.) Those who really died and are reborn would not be able to return, to describe their experiences, unless by recollection of their past lives in later lives.
 Karmic Creditors: Many NDEs are reported by those whose karma is not very negative, which is why their experiences are mostly not unpleasant, even pleasant, and why they could still come back alive. Some with negative NDEs develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) though. Generally, actual dying and death is however not a bed of roses for most. For those whose karma is very negative, other than dying in great pain and fear, as warned in the Kṣitigarbha Sūtra《地藏经》: https://purelanders.com/2019/05/08/how-to-avoid-karmic-creditors-when-dying, there might be karmic creditors (冤亲债主) manifesting as deceased relatives beckoning their departed consciousnesses to join them. These are mostly malevolent ghostly beings in disguise.
 Subject Of Mindfulness: When they are followed, with eventual terrifying revelation of their true identities, the newly deceased can fall into the ghost realm too. This is so as the nature of the final thought before rebirth will lead to the corresponding realm of rebirth. Those finally mindful of ghost(s) will enter the ghost realm. Those finally mindful of the Buddha will enter his Pure Land.
 Guidance And Support-Chanting: This is why there should be the offering of guidance (开示) and support-chanting (助念) with Āmítuófó’s name (阿弥陀佛) for those dying, to remind them to be mindful of Āmítuófó sincerely, and to only follow him, so as to reach his Pure Land (净土), without being distracted by any other devious beings possibly seen. With mindfulness of Āmítuófó, all evil beings will be protected from too: https://purelanders.com/2018/06/11/how-mindfulness-of-amituofo-protects-from-evil-unseen-beings.
 Lights: According to some scientists, NDEs’ sighting of what seems to be a tunnel of light (which might also be mistaken as a ‘being of light’) could be due to the closing in of peripheral vision due to oxygen deprivation in the eyes and brain. (This creates literal tunnel vision.) The auspicious signs arising for those mindful of Āmítuófó when departing are however specific in nature, as recorded in Amitābha Sūtra《阿弥陀经》, with him manifesting in person with golden light, at times surrounded by an entourage of Bodhisattvas, that functions as a protective welcome party: https://purelanders.com/sutra. Lights should not be carelessly followed, even if they ‘feel good’, as explained at https://purelanders.com/2022/08/04/which-light-should-we-follow-when-deceased, as tempting but wrong lights can lead to unfortunate rebirths.
 Actual Death: Thus, those with NDEs who experienced well-being are indeed those with good karma, while those with unspeakably negative experiences often do not return from ‘death’ to tell their ordeal, as their heavy negative karma pulled them straight into the three lower realms. Their non-return should warn us to be cautious with our karma. Again, NDEs create the great illusion that dying and death is just a walk in the park for most. It is an illusion because the average person, who represents most, since being mediocre, does not have very good karma!
 Preparation With Practice: Instead of clinging to unqualified ‘confidence’ and complacence, death is thus something to conscientiously prepare for with spiritual practice now, with some healthy ‘dread’ as motivation. The Buddha never taught us that death is ‘harmless’, or that no preparation is needed in anticipation of it. In fact, death is one of the Eight Sufferings (八苦) in the First Noble Truth (第一圣谛), the peak of physical suffering (身苦). Thus, death should not be deludedly romanticised or trivialised. When we see or hear of people without Dharma practice dying with terrible pain, disturbing ‘hallucinations’ and horrible final expressions, we should remember that someone’s ‘nice’ NDE is unlikely to be the same as our actual deaths with rebirths. In fact, with changes in karma, how those who once had NDEs will experience their actual deaths later will differ too.
 OBE: Those able to describe verifiable objects seeable only in an OBE (Out-of-Body Experience) state did not have actual deaths too; just temporal exiting of their consciousnesses from their bodies. In this state, with their minds not linked to their brains, they do not have brain function issues. (Without returning to their bodies in time, they will really perish, thus having actual deaths.) OBEs and NDEs are kind of the same, yet different, depending on how they are defined. For example, it might be easier to say OBEs are just consciousnesses leaving the bodies for a while, without having special ‘spiritual’ experiences, while NDEs include them.
Which Light Should We Follow When Deceased?
Experience Of Āmítuófó’s Golden Light When Alive