The Case for Spirituality

The Case for Spirituality

Case #1: Death-Bed Phenomena 

Death-bed phenomena are occurrences of a spiritual nature that are related to death and dying. They are found across all cultures and religious beliefs. They are experienced in the past and even in our present days. No doubt, it will continue to happen in the future. 

People have heard about death-bed phenomena for ages. 

A recent book, entitled “The Art of Dying”, by Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist and a senior lecturer in King’s College in London, listed several different types of death-bed phenomena, such as: 

  • premonition of death by the dying, or someone closed to the dying,  
  • death-bed visions of relatives and loved ones who have died, seen by the dying person,  
  • seeing an alternate reality of the other side by the dying person,  
  • terminal lucidity,  
  • Death-bed coincidences, where someone close to the dying person is somehow given a message of the death, either through a vivid dream or some other signs or visions, and 
  • Strange, inexplicable events that happened at death, such as a glowing light, or appearance of certain animals. 

Another book called “Final Gifts”, authored by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley, two hospice nurses with years of experience looking after the dying, talked about what they called “nearing death awareness” – an increased or heightened sense of awareness to what we would normally term as spiritual experience. They shared ample accounts of dying patients who talked to them about preparing for a journey or travel, being in the presence of someone who is no longer alive, or knowing when death will arrive for them. They highlight the importance for us to understand the needs and communication of the dying, and be alert to what they are trying to tell us.  

Case #2: Near Death Experience (NDE) 

Near Death Experience, or NDE, is the phenomenon of coming back to life after one has been pronounced dead. Often, this “coming back to life” is accompanied by amazing experience that is difficult for the one who has just come back from the dead to share with others, for fear of being ridiculed. Yet, this experience is shared universally across cultures and religions, each with core similarities, and yet seen and filtered through one’s own belief system. 

Two of the most recent and most compelling NDEs are that of Dr. Eben Alexander and Anita Moorjani.  

Dr. Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon of more than 25 years of experience. In 2008, he contracted a particularly virulent strain of bacterial meningitis, and fell into a deep coma. The neocortex of his brain was completely shut down. After weeks in coma, his doctors put his chance of survival at 10%, and even if he survives, he would be in a nursing home for the rest of his life.  

However, not only did he survive, but he also made a full and miraculous recovery. He also recounted a deep and profound near-death experience during his time in coma. He documented his experience in great details in his book “Proof of Heaven”, which became a best seller. 

Anita Moorjani was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2002. Rejected conventional treatment, she tried alternative treatment without much success. Eventually in 2006, almost on the verge of death, she was urgently admitted through the emergency department, where the doctors informed her family that it was too late to save her life as the lymphoma has spread throughout her body.  

Anita was in coma for 30 hours.  

In her best seller book entitled “Dying to be Me”, Anita recounted her near-death experience during those 30 hours in coma, including an out-of-body experience with accurate observations and awareness of her physical surroundings.  

Returning from her NDE, Anita came out of coma. Her tumor shrank about 70% within four days, and within 5 weeks, she was cancer-free and was discharged from the hospital. 

Anita is now a motivational speaker who encourages her audience to live fearlessly.  

Case #3: Past Lives 

Many cultures and religions, particularly those in the East, believe in past lives. Major religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism all believe that we all die and are reborn again in another life. Whether one calls it reincarnation or rebirth, the belief is that we continue to live life after life. We have lived many lifes in the past. We are living in this present life, and when we die, we will continue to be reborn into another life.  

Major religions that do not believe in past lives are Islam, Christianity and Judaism. However, that may not always have been the case. The Kabbalah mentioned reincarnation, and some early Christian groups, such as the Gnostics, believed in reincarnation. In fact, the concept of reincarnation was removed from Christian beliefs only because it was decreed by the Council of Constantinople in 553 CE. Prior to that, it was also a belief accepted by the early Christians.  

Not many scientists are keen to investigate past lives phenomena, but for those who are keen, there is actually ample evidence that can be difficult to ignore. 

Two prominent past lives investigators are Professor Ian Stevenson and Associate Professor Jim Tucker. 

A psychiatrist in the University of Virginia, Professor Ian Stevenson spent 40 years researching reincarnation and investigated more than 3,000 cases of rebirth in children worldwide. He looked into the identification of people and places mentioned in children who claimed past lives, examined birth marks and birth defects that corresponded to events of previous lives, and studied xenoglossy and phobias. In his book “Where Reincarnation and Biology Intersect”, he presented 200 cases of birth marks and birth defects associated with reincarnation. 

After Professor Ian Stevenson passed away in 2007, Associate Professor Jim Tucker, also a psychiatrist, continued his work. He investigated mainly claims of past lives in children in USA. Despite living in a culture where reincarnation is not generally accepted, these American children shared past lives memories that are difficult to dismiss. Associate Professor Jim Tucker shared his interesting research findings in his book “Life before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children’s Memories of Previous Lives”.  

Case #4: Psychic Phenomena 

Psychic phenomena have been observed since time immemorial. Extrasensory perception or ESP is the claimed ability to receive information from outside of our five physical senses. Psychic abilities such as intuition, telepathy, psychometry, clairvoyance and remote viewing are all associated with the ability to gain information outside our normal physical senses, using only the mind. 

Are these psychic phenomena real? Or are they the work of clever conmen? 

The Buddhist scriptures have recorded accounts of some of these psychic phenomena. Clairvoyance and clairaudience are two listed phenomena, as is the ability to see one’s own past lives. Levitation, bilocation and even the ability to walk on water have been documented. The Bible also has an account of Jesus walking on water. In the yogic traditions, there have also been numerous accounts of yogis displaying their psychic abilities. 

Are we to dismiss them as illusions? 

Some scientists are quietly studying and experimenting these claims. Some have even claimed some degree of success. Perhaps, we should keep an open mind to these claims. 

Case #5: Meditative Experience 

Some long-time meditators have reported interesting spiritual experience with their meditation practice. Apart from the experience of absorbed concentration or jhana, which is one of mental calm and clarity, some have also reported out-of-body experience.  

Senior Tibetan monks have reported the ability to increase their body heat. Some yogis have been observed to be without food and water for weeks while in deep meditative state. There are also reports of levitation.  

Perhaps there is something to be said about the unlimited power of the mind, if we would only learn to tap into it. 

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