THE NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE: A STAIRCASE TO HEAVEN? 333 / was moving along as part of a river of sound—a constant babble of human noise... I felt myself sinking into and becoming part of the stream and slowly being submerged by it. A great fear possessed me as if I knew that once overcome by this ever growing mass of noise that I would be lost. 31 I was looking down into a large fit, which was fill of swirling gray mist and there were all these hands and arms reaching up and trying to grab hold of me and drag me in there. There was a terrible wailing noise, fill of desperation. 32 Other people have even experienced what can only be called hellish visions, of intense cold or unbearable heat, and heard the sounds of tormented wailing or a noise like that of wild beasts. A woman reported by Margot Grey said: / found myself in a place surrounded by mist. I felt I was in hell. There was a big pit with vapor coming out and there were arms and hands coming out trying to grab mine... I was terrified that these hands were going to claw hold of me and pull me into the pit with them... An enormous lion bounded towards me from the other side and I let out a scream. I was not afraid of the lion, but I felt somehow he would unsettle me and push me into that dreadful pit... It was very hot down there and the vapor or steam was very hot. 33 A man who suffered a cardiac arrest reported: "I was going down, down deep into the earth. There was anger and I felt this horrible fear. Everything was gray. The noise was fearsome, with snarling and crashing like maddened wild animals, gnashing their teeth." 34 Raymond Moody writes that several people claimed to have seen beings who seemed trapped by their inability to surrender their attachments to the physical world: possessions, people, or habits. One woman spoke of these "bewildered people": What you would think of as their head was bent downward; they had sad depressed looks; they seemed to shuffle, as someone would on a chain gang ... they looked washed out, dull, gray. And they seemed to be forever shuffling and moving around, not knowing where they were going, not knowing who to follow, or what to look for. As I went by they didn't even raise their heads to see what was happening. They seemed to be thinking, "Well, it's all over with.
334 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING What am I doing? What's it all about?" just this absolute, crushed, hopeless demeanor—not knowing what to do or where to go or who they were or anything else. They seemed to be forever moving, rather than just sitting, but in no special direction. They would start straight, then veer to the left and take a few steps and veer back to the right And absolutely nothing to do. Searching, but for what they were searching I don't know. 35 In the accounts we have of the near-death experience, a border or limit is occasionally perceived; a point of no return is reached. At this border the person then chooses (or is instructed) to return to life, sometimes by the presence of light. Of course in the Tibetan bardo teachings there is no parallel to this, because they describe what happens to a person who actually dies. However, in Tibet there was a group of people, called déloks, who had something like a near-death experience, and what they report is fascinatingly similar. THE DÉLOK: A TIBETAN NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCE A curious phenomenon, little known in the West, but familiar to Tibetans, is the délok. In Tibetan dé lok means "returned from death," and traditionally déloks are people who seemingly "die" as a result of an illness, and find themselves traveling in the bardo. They visit the hell realms, where they witness the judgment of the dead and the sufferings of hell, and sometimes they go to paradises and buddha realms. They can be accompanied by a deity, who protects them and explains what is happening. After a week the délok is sent back to the body with a message from the Lord of Death for the living, urging them to spiritual practice and a beneficial way of life. Often the déloks have great difficulty making people believe their story, and they spend the rest of their lives recounting their experiences to others in order to draw them toward the path of wisdom. The biographies of some of the more famous déloks were written down, and are sung all over Tibet by traveling minstrels. A number of aspects of the délok correspond not only with, as you would expect, the bardo teachings such as the TibetanBookof the Dead, but also with the near-death experience. Lingza Chökyi was a famous délok who came from my part of Tibet and lived in the sixteenth century. In her biography she tells how she failed to realize she was dead, how she