Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: What is the light seen in near-death experiences?
Pastor Emeritus Raymond Davis Jr., Greater Corinthian Church of the Christ: Martyrs of the faith are known to have near-death experiences. But the kind where the person sees a “light” while in the midst of dying is not treated in Scripture. That’s not to say that such an experience has never been experienced. Having never been in such a situation, I don’t reject such a claim; neither do I endorse it. It’s a gray area for me.
However, there must be something to this idea and kind of experience. Death is a religious experience, and for this near-death story to have such a hold on the mind of people there must be a stronghold of meaning for those who stand in belief of it. The fact of a light carries a good and even a heavenly meaning in living and in dying.
This thing of a “light” experience near death was scripted in the movie “Tombstone.” As Wyatt Earp’s brother Morgan lay dying on the pool table from a gunshot wound he referenced this “light” scenario to his brother as something not experienced by him. Morgan said to his brother: “It’s not true.”
Still, that’s a movie, and we don’t live in movies or die in them. A person’s faith in and love for God can reveal this kind of solace in dying.
The light is God’s way of saying, “Enter into my rest.”
Lama Chuck Stanford, Rime Buddhist Center & Monastery: At the moment of death, our bodies cease to function and begin to deteriorate. However, our mind/consciousness does not die and continues on even after death of the body. It is amazing that so many people from not only different faiths, but even atheists have reported experiencing such a light after near-death experiences.
In the death experience, the senses and subtle elements dissolve along with all of our negative emotions of anger, attachment and ignorance. Eventually, nothing is left to obscure the true nature of our mind, and what is left is the primordial ground of our true nature, which Sogyal Rinpoche has said, “is like a pure and cloudless sky.”
From the Buddhist perspective, this is referred to as the “clear light of death” that all beings experience shortly after clinical death. As Buddhists we believe that this white light is the actual fundamental nature of wisdom-mind, also called Dharmakaya, and is enlightenment itself.
Most of us are not prepared for its sheer vastness and its utter nondualistic simplicity. Because of many lifetimes of habitual patterns and negative emotions, many will not be able to make this recognition and therefore will wander endlessly in samsara (cycle of rebirths).
But through persistent spiritual practice in this lifetime, we may be able to recognize this clear light of death for what it is – our Buddha-nature or enlightened mind.