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.


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 Tibetan

Book of 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

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