As promised, here is a chunk of the first chapter of the new book, The Buddha in Hell and Other Alarms: Distressing Near-Death Experiences in Perspective. Target date for the ebook version is May 31, 2016.
Chapter 1: The Buddha in Hell Redux
A flurry of agitation accompanied the Internet news that a former Buddhist monk in Myanmar (Burma) was claiming that in a near-death experience he had seen the Buddha in hell. He said the deity Yama, king of the Buddhist hells, had shown him a terrible lake of fire which held not only the Buddha but famous spiritual and political figures who were much loved throughout the country. Goliath was in the lake, too, the giant from the Bible. They were there, he said Yama told him, because they did not believe in the Christian God. They did not accept Jesus.
The experience was so stunning, the monk was converted instantly. Although he claimed to have had no prior exposure to Christianity, he began preaching, going from church to church and selling audiotapes about his experience. Reactions varied, of course, from acceptance by those Christians who believed his account to be literally true, rejection by Christians who flatly did not believe it, to resentment and disbelief from his former Buddhist community.
But the Buddha in hell! What are we to make of this? Was he really in hell? Does this mean that Christianity is more true than Buddhism? And if the monk saw a lake of fire, doesn’t that prove that hell is a real place? Well, no…sigh…it doesn’t actually prove any of that. But it does prove how powerful a strong NDE can be.
I looked up the account on Google, and sure enough, there it was, and still is. The story was Big News, though the account was several years old. Actually, there are different versions (which is a clue that wariness will be appropriate). Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating story. Click here to read it or copy this into your search line: http://amightywind.com/whatsnew/071112buddhist.htm
Over a few days I heard from several people breathless with excitement about the story, so I posted something about it on the dancingpastthedark blog (Bush, 2012). What interests me as much as the story itself is that in the four years since then, that post has had hundreds of hits. It is consistently the blog’s most-requested post. Why?
The post I wrote was hastily done, a knee-jerk response to an NDEaccount I saw as far likelier to be a case of missionary manipulation than theological revelation. It was not only skeptical but superficial, and has needed revisiting. So here we are…the Buddha in Hell Redux.
The monk’s story
If you have read the account (which I recommend), you know that a man who gives his name as Athet Pyan Shinthaw Paulu presents what sounds like a believable autobiographical background of his life in Myanmar, how he was raised and came to be living as a monk. It sounds credible, even down to details like the sea crocodile that destroyed his boat. (I looked it up—and yes, there are such crocodiles in that area, and that is the kind of behavior one would expect of them.)
The account tells how he came to enter training to be a monk and describes his respect for his teacher. He became a monk and was renamed U Nata Pannita Ashinthuriya. Then he says he lived for quite a few years devoted to his spiritual practice and to the principles of Buddhism.
So far, so good. It’s clear and it seems (at least to a Western reader) to be credible. The monk reports that he was so scrupulous he refused even to harm a mosquito that might infect him with malaria, which one did, and it turned out to be the disease that nearly killed him. Actually, his account claims that he had both malaria and yellow fever.
The monk continues, “I learned later that I actually died for three days. My body decayed and stunk of death, and my heart stopped beating.”
And then comes his NDE, in which the terrifying deity Yama, king of the Buddhist hells, escorts the monk through a very Christian description of hell, giving Christian reasons why it is occupied by so many Buddhist luminaries who led exemplary lives. I am not going to fall into the pit I did with my first commentary, which was (how could I?) to quibble about the content of his NDE. Read it, or listen to it on YouTube.
The monk awakened, he says, on his funeral pyre, in the presence of his parents and many witnesses. When he climbed out of his coffin the crowd scattered in terror, but he began immediately to tell of his experience, the debut of his quite literal revivalist ministry.
I told them about the men I had seen in the lake of fire, and…that our forefathers and us [sic] have been deceived for thousands of years! I told them everything we believe is a lie.
Such has been the power of his testimony, he says, that his story shocked the whole region, and more than three hundred monks became Christians and started to read the Bible. (He has also said it was seven thousand monks who converted.) Tthe former monk, now called Paul, appears to have supported himself for some time by distributing tapes of his experience and speaking to churches and house groups.
It is all too easy, with such a multi-layered experience account, to dismiss it out of hand as outlandish, which is what I did in my first response to the story. A more careful reading brings up deeper and more important issues.
Skepticism about factual errors and autobiographical truthfulness compound doubts about controversial NDE content. Some statements appear to have been added by someone who does not know Burma, as with the claim that the monk had both malaria and yellow fever. In fact, it is a disease of some parts of South America and Africa. The Centers for Disease Control states explicitly, “There is no yellow fever in Burma.” What else, then, may be untrue?
Is it true that his body was actually decaying when he revived, or is this for dramatic effect?
Quite a long list of issues are plain to Burmese eyes but invisible to most Westerners, such as the observation that a novice monk’s new name would begin with ‘shin,’ never with the ‘U’ he claims. Or that he became a monk at 19, when the entry age for becoming a fully ordained monk is 20. Or that the monk’s “claim to have seen Aung San, the revolutionary leader of Myanmar (father of opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi) in hell ‘because he persecuted and killed Christians, but mostly because he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ’ was completely without foundation. He is a well-known figure in Burmese/Myanmar thinking and history – and there is no evidence at all that he persecuted any Christians, let alone killed any.”
Most troubling to that commenter is the monk’s statement that his teacher died in a car crash in 1983. In fact, his teacher died in 1977, making it doubtful that the monk could have studied under him. (“The Hoax Story of Remarkable Testimony of a Buddhist Monk in Myanmar Burma Who Came Back to Life.”)
A Buddhist reader noted, “With due respect, this is not even a proper Christian message. It is just scare tactics.” http://www.dorjeshugden.com/forum/index.php?topic=2211.0)
Several commenters have noted that, had the story been true, that 300 Buddhist monks had converted to Christianity—and especially if there were as many as 7,000—the news would have spread rapidly beyond any effort of the government-controlled media to suppress it.
We are left wondering, who is this monk, this Athet Pyan Shinthaw Paulu behind so much story-telling and factual distortion? One source says that “A number of people in Myanmar who personally know him, or have met him, believe he is in need of medical help and counselling.”
The thicket of gossip, rumors, and scandal has led to claims that “It is now a serious crime to listen to the tapes, because the government wants to dampen the sensation.”
The rumors and scandal are all yours on Google.
What is not on that Google site is any discussion about the nature of such experiences and how to interpret them. With so much evidence on the down-side of this story, it becomes even more important to look beyond religious tract language and the farcical image of Yama as guide to a Christian hell, beyond the gossip and rumors of mental illness, to find what is really going on. Looking more deeply brought up the underlying story as a classic instance of a life-shattering near-death experience which throws everybody off by its spectacular implausibility.
What I already knew at some level but was ignoring was that the kinds of details which seem most ludicrous to us as onlookers are likely to be the most important and disruptive for the experiencer. I had not looked through the monk’s lens.
Try this for cognitive dissonance: Think about your own deepest faith, whether it’s a religion or an ideology (atheism, materialism, Marxism, etc.)—however you explain how the world really works. Next, imagine yourself in this monk’s position. You find yourself in the worst nightmare you’ve ever had, bigger, crazier, darker, one that is realer than your everyday waking reality; it is so real, it is beyond arguing.
Toward you comes a visible, larger-than-life entity of immense authority. This is his territory, and he towers over you with utterly unquestionable power. He pulls you with him toward a horrid scene: a lake full of fire, and out there, burning, people you recognize, whether living or dead, people you trust, people you follow. They are the ones who have helped you define your world. Why are they out there in this fire? Because, this supernatural being who really knows tells you, they believed the wrong things! They told you the wrong things! And this means that you believe the wrong things, too! It could be you, burning in that lake of fire! And his power and his knowing are so great, you suddenly understand: It’s true: You know nothing true. Everything you believe is a lie! As you stand there, every certainty you have about the world falls away. Your lifetime of faith is pulled apart.
~ ~ ~
And then . . . read the book!
The ebook version of The Buddha in Hell and Other Alarms will be available by late May. Watch this spot for a notice.
This is why I believe that NDEs are more than just “good and bad.” Just taking this story as it sits, it paints the perfect picture of a third NDE version I simply call “deception.”
Deception is based on what we don’t know, and on top of that, never look for. You sum it up very well here:
“Try this for cognitive dissonance: Think about your own deepest faith, whether it’s a religion or an ideology (atheism, materialism, Marxism, etc.)—however you explain how the world really works. Next, imagine yourself in this monk’s position. You find yourself in the worst nightmare you’ve ever had, bigger, crazier, darker, one that is realer than your everyday waking reality; it is so real, it is beyond arguing.”
I don’t have any “beliefs” … I have a pile of information that points in a particular direction and is constantly in flux. I can look at the above story, compare data to data, and to me it’s obvious deception straight across the board.
What I call the spiritual “front office” wants us to “think” … we have had an upbringing of 6000 years (in round numbers) where “thinking” has slowly been eliminated from the overall picture, and “faith” (another term for “just take my word for it”) now dominates.
I’m not saying the above story wasn’t simply “made up,” to me, as said, it makes a perfect example of how some NDEs are presented to people, and are verified by history to be lies. The overall picture is more than just “good and bad.”
Look at your NDE … “you never existed …” what the hell is THAT all about? It’s called “confusion” and you have been sitting in the middle of it for years. “Spirits” are nothing more than ex-human beings. If we took you experience and changed the surrounding environment to a mental hospital, it would make perfect sense. Of course they could be 100% aware of what they are doing, but the point is, it’s deliberate confusion, and you were shown this as a part of an overall picture that defines life and the places you can go after death – in other words, the idiots are all together.
Welcome to constructivism, the approach that makes YOU find the answers 🙂
Nan Bush says
No time to respond just now. Sorry! Thanks for the comment.
As a preverbal mixed, my foot went down in the late 1950s. Someday there will be a better place to speak freely on this subject, but Nancy’s blog ain’t it!
Rick C. says
Responding to Jim’s comment.
Quote 1: I don’t have any “beliefs” … I have a pile of information that points in a particular direction and is constantly in flux. I can look at the above story, compare data to data, and to me it’s obvious deception straight across the board. End Quote
Thought 1 to consider: To claim one has no “beliefs” is to attempt a deception. Of course you and all of us have beliefs. You believe your perceptions, you believe your own conclusions, you believe in gravity. To say otherwise is to state a falsehood to gain some rhetorical effect with readers.
If your claim is that you have no certainty due to the fluxing pile of information, then your claim that the NDE report is “an obvious deception” is, well, not “obviously true.” Since you don’t have beliefs, you don’t have a basis to claim certainty on any aspect here.
Quote 2: What I call the spiritual “front office” wants us to “think” … we have had an upbringing of 6000 years (in round numbers) where “thinking” has slowly been eliminated from the overall picture, and “faith” (another term for “just take my word for it”) now dominates. End Quote
Thought 2 to consider: “Faith” comes from the Latin word for trust, and for Christians, “faith” refers to the act of trusting information received to be true and trusting that promises given are trustworthy. So, no, faith does not mean “just take my word for it,” at least not for Christians. Maybe for secularists and relativists of one sort or another it does.
Final Thought: You assert ” ‘Spirits’ are nothing more than ex-human beings.” Wow, that is an amazing claim of absolute certainty about the spiritual realm — for someone with no beliefs.
I submit this response to alert Jim and others to the internal contradictions that appear too often in blog comments where a materialist or a devoted skeptic makes assertions to critique and demolish other people’s views while betraying carelessness and dismissiveness in the communication. I am assuming Jim is “spiritual but not religious,” but what is missing in his comment is a reliable source for the claims being made. At least with NDErs, they are testifying to their personal observations.
Nan Bush says
Rick–wow! Thanks for this brilliant response. You’ve made my morning!
Dianna Marsden says
Holy Cow! Has Ahriman broken the code to human consciousness and rationality? There’s danger at work within our DNA. Trial by fire? Yes indeed.
Nan Bush says
I owe you an email! So sorry…the book has consumed me. I think people would like to hear more from you on this.
Thanks for the blog and site! Just want to mention that Satan, being the Father of Lies, cannot be believed. He lies. We stand on the Living Word.
Oh. One more thing. Siddhartha Gautama lived in the Sixth Century, long before the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Buddha would never have rejected Jesus before dying if he knew Jesus. God gives everyone a chance because He died for us all and loves us. Why assume it to be otherwise? Love to you!!
Evelayo Heinen says
First of all, if you have had a pleasant NDE, please DON’T read what I have to say.
Distressing NDEs, as well as the pleasant ones are produced by the brain during the “resuscitation” stage where the brain and body are beginning to recover from the near death trauma. Anyone who believes that distressing NDEs are real spiritual experiences is doomed to live a life of constant fear, even panic, of death.
If you have had one, there is a possibility you are experiencing post traumatic stress disorder, in which should consult a professional to relieve the symptoms, which ARE curable; most importantly it is really important you DON’T believe the experience was real.
Distressing NDEs never occur during the temporary shutdown of the brain, but after it is restarted and while it is attempting to go back to a normal mode of operation.
You will notice in the vast number of accounts that there is never an experience of actually separating from the body and usually the experience begins with the “soul” already hovering near the ceiling; while Towards the end the “soul” enters the body; which usually entails the beginning of normal brain operation.
If you want more information about consciousness and the true nature of God and people go to:
Hey Nan, upon rereading your blog years later it’s occurred to me what an unenviable position you might be in dealing with responses that often are half-baked or downright insane (naturally I’m viewing this subjectively). Opening a pandora’s box comes to mind– you just never know what is going to jump out at you– can be downright scary! But as Helen Keller once said, Attempting to find security in life is a futile effort — life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.(minor paraphrase )
Nan Bush says
Nemo, a prime example of why I have always so enjoyed your comments! Hope all’s well.
Deana Maria OSBCn says
The Buddha in hell. Forgive me as I might have missed someone giving attention the fact that the Buddha lived long before Jesus the Christ. Any who fell asleep before Christ’s redemptive sacrifice of Divine Mercy and Love would have been given opportunity to receive Christ into their heart by some magnanimous grace–granted all grace is magnanimous. To the point, think; Buddha when given the opportunity to accept Christ would not likely have “committed sin against the Holy Spirit.” To remain in character, I think we’d be correct to assume the good Buddha would have accepted Jesus just as all the OT saints of the Bible. ~~
David Woods says
This one has been out and down the road before. To me, the Buddha was expressing joy. ” See! now I don’t have to pay the oil bill for the furnace” Faith?? I have none. To me this is being asked to believe without proof. Those who are “supposed to have faith” consider you a threat if you don’t have it. You’d BETTER keep the faith!!
Buddha, Socrates, Plato, Confucious and more peaceful and articulate people that has talked about inner and outer peace are in hell, because they didn’t know Jesus, somebody who didn’t exist int their time. Very logic. And couldn’t it be that Jesus is in hell because only scienciologists are right? There is a big problem with NDE’s: to differenciate the real and the invented experiences. A famous surgeron that had an nde said that he shouted when he was intubated, another famous experiencer first denies reencarnation and after states that happens but only from ime to time; other worldly famous author and experiencer states the contrary tha the journalists and the doctors that were present say in a documentary…And all these are reference cases.
Nan Bush says
Sergi, some people think that anyone who does not believe as they do about Jesus will be in hell; other Christians would not agree with that. I suppose that scienciologists (I like that word!) would think Jesus might be in hell. If you have read much of this blog, you know I say again and again that every NDE is real…a real EXPERIENCE. Not all NDEs point to factual events, but all are real to the person who has the NDE. And as you rightly point out, there are very many interpretations of these experiences! Thanks for writing.
Amiya Paul says
Nan Bush, ok lemme say, I like that you like the word scienciologists, because I like it too! Lol. Well, with no much words and solemn contradiction, I would say that if I happen to take your words into account, I would demand that I should personally have a NDE, if I really wanna believe in it! The rest, it’s a different market, with nothing to buy, just give a walk down for the sake of being a social metabolic being!
Nan Bush says
Conviction is always enhanced by experience. Until then, welcome to window shopping!
The Buddha does not care where He/She is. For being devoid of “I,me,mine”, no one remains to suffer.