Near-Death Experiences (NDE): Brain Is Not the Mind

February 7, 2022; August 31, 2022

Recent studies show that near-death experiences (NDE) are common occurrences while the brain is inactive. That means consciousness does not arise in the brain.

Materialistic View – A Dangerous Wrong View in Buddha Dhamma

1. In the prevalent materialistic view (especially in the western world), consciousness arises in the brain. Thus, when a person dies, the brain dies with it, the END. That means a materialist only needs to worry about any suffering we experience in this life (of course. That is a wrong conclusion based on an incorrect view.

The Buddha taught that life continues after the death of this physical body. The following birth is according to the causes and conditions prevailing at the moment of death and is according to Paṭicca Samuppāda. Most future existences/births are in the four lowest realms (apayās), where suffering dominates.

  •  That “future suffering” associated with rebirth stops only after attaining Nibbāna.
  • The materialistic view is a STRONG wrong view (micchā diṭṭhi) in Buddha Dhamma and will lead to rebirth in the apayās. How can one even start learning about “how to stop future suffering” if one does not believe in future lives?
  • Therefore, evaluating the evidence for and against the rebirth process is a good idea.

2. If the materialist view of consciousness arising in the brain is correct, that assumption leads to the following inferences: (i) ALL rebirth accounts and NDE accounts are fake, and (ii) ALL our memories are stored in the brain.

  • Therefore, it is critical to look at the following two related issues.
    (i) How strong is the evidence for past lives? How reliable are the NDE accounts where brain activity is confirmed to have ceased?
    (ii) Is it possible for a brain to store ALL our memories?
One White Crow Is Enough to Disprove the Hypothesis, “All Crows Are Black”

3. If even a SINGLE rebirth account or an NDE is valid, then the hypothesis “consciousness arises in the brain” is false. American philosopher William James stated the following that is widely quoted today (Ref. 1):

In order to disprove the assertion that all crows are black, one white crow is sufficient.

  • That is a logical statement. It is unnecessary to prove that all or even many rebirth accounts/NDE accounts are true. Even if just one account is valid, that is enough to conclude that the brain is not the “seat of the mind.”
  • We have thousands of rebirth/NDE accounts scrutinized by scientists/physicians.

In rebirth accounts: Since a brain can store only the memories from this life, there is no way to recall memories from a previous life. Instead, the brain helps in recalling memories (from viññāṇa dhātu) while the gandhabba is inside the body. I will discuss that in future posts.

In NDE accounts: Since the patient’s brain activity had ceased (and even pronounced dead for a short time), the subject could not have “seen” and “heard” what was happening with the inactive brain. Furthermore, many saw their physical bodies “from the above (close to the ceiling).”

  • Therefore, even if just ONE rebirth/NDE account is accurate, the hypothesis “consciousness arises in the brain” is wrong!
Recent Developments

4. Several scientific findings within the past 50 years have converged into THREE investigations that point to the fact that the brain is not the “seat of consciousness.” These findings indicate that while the bain plays a crucial role in consciousness, it is NOT where our thoughts arise, i.e., the brain is not the mind!

ONE: Rebirth accounts by children have been common knowledge in many Asian countries for ages. Most people in those countries were Buddhists who accepted those accounts without question. Only recently, Western countries became interested after two significant developments: Systematic studies conducted by Professor Ian Stevenson (Ref. 2) and easy access to rebirth accounts via the internet. Also, see “Evidence for Rebirth.

TWO: Accounts of Near-Death Experiences (NDE) without any brain activity. Some NDE accounts are by those declared dead for periods ranging from a few minutes to many minutes. They say that “they were outside of the physical body.” They were looking down at their bodies from the ceiling!

THREE: Reports of “extraordinary memory recall” by several people. They can recall the past several years in great detail, and it is unlikely that the brain could have “stored” such minute details as a video recorder.

  • We will discuss the second category in this post and the third in the next post.
What Are Near-Death Experiences (NDE)?

5. Near-death experiences (NDE) occur when someone “almost dies” under a medical condition. For example, it may happen during a coma induced by cardiac arrest or someone badly injured in an accident.

  • Of course, only a tiny fraction of such patients experience NDE. However, “..estimates put the number of people who have had one in the past fifty years at more than 25 million worldwide.” (Ref. 3, p. 9)
  • In such cases, the “mental body” (gandhabba) comes out of the physical body, and the patients can watch their physical bodies from above! Furthermore, they correctly reproduced the conversations among the doctors and nurses while their brains were not functioning.
Accounts of NDE

6. Physicians have conducted several systematic studies on NDE within the past 20-30 years.

  • In the second video, make sure to watch the following segments:

@ 36.30 mins: addressing the objections by skeptics of NDE. In particular, he talks about his patients looking at their bodies from above while the body is “lifeless.”

@ 40 mins: Most compelling evidence for Dr. Long is the account of one of his patients born blind but was able to see for the first time in her life.

@ 41.15 mins: The patient’s vision was not restricted to the forward direction. She had 3600 vision, i.e., she could see all around. That is consistent with a gandhabba (mental body) seeing all around, not just the forward direction. See #8 below.

@43 mins: Based on the accounts of NDE, Dr. Long believes in the afterlife and thinks that the afterlife will be wonderful. I will also discuss this in #8 below.

Seeing for the First Time in Life!

7. I am unsure whether the following video is from the woman Dr. Long referred to in the above video. But she was born blind and could see for the first time in her life during an NDE.

Seeing and Hearing Is Better During an NDE

8. The mental body (gandhabba) is trapped inside the physical body. The brain processes the visuals captured by the eyes and passes them to the mental body trapped inside. I have discussed that complex process in “Brain – Interface between Mind and Body.”

  • Humans are born with dense physical bodies because such a body is required to sense smells, tastes, and body touches, including sex. The mental body (gandhabba) is almost devoid of matter and cannot be seen by an average human. However, once outside the physical body, the capability for seeing and hearing is vastly enhanced. Furthermore, the woman in the above video verified that her “weightless” mental body could go through the ceiling. Thousands of people have experienced those phenomena. See Ref. 4.
  • We don’t realize the burden of “bearing a dense physical body.” But those who experience NDEs especially experience bodily pains. Thus, it is an indescribable relief to be outside that “suffering-filled physical body.” That is why some even say they visited heaven!
  • But they were not in heaven but “paraloka,” that world of the gandhabbas. They have been in that state only for a brief time, several minutes. If they stay in paraloka for long, they will “miss” the ability to smell, taste, and touch bodily, including sex. That is why even Brahmas are “itching to come back to kāma loka” at the beginning of a “new Earth”; see.”Buddhism and Evolution – Aggañña Sutta (DN 27).”
  • There are many youtube videos and books on the subject. See Ref. 5 for a sample.

1. “After the White Crow: Integrating Science and Anomalous Experience,” Jerry E. Wesch (click on the link to download pdf)

2. “Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” by Ian Stevenson (Second Edition,1974.)

3. Pim van Lommel, “Consciousness Beyond Life – The Science of the Near-Death Experience” (HarperOne, 2010).

4. Jeffrey Long, “NDE-Evidence for Their Reality-Jeffrey Long-2014” (click on the link to download pdf)

5. “Brain Wars” by Mario Beauregard (2012) is a book by a scientist on NDE, OBE, and the mind-body problem in general.

  • “Dying to be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing” is a book by Anita Moorjani (2012.) She is a cancer survivor who had been diagnosed to die within a few weeks but had an “unexplainable recovery” within days. During this time, she had an out-of-body experience. She describes her experiences in the following video.

  • According to the following videos, more scientific researchers are getting involved in conducting scientific research on NDE.

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