Monday, February 16, 2015
Waking, Dreaming, Being, chapter nine
Continuing from this post:
Death is the topic of this chapter. The Tibetan Buddhist view is that we survive death as pure awareness. This 'mental' body then seeks a new physical embodiment for rebirth. Those in this tradition practice dying via a meditative process of dissolving the body, emotions and mind to arrive at this pure awareness that survives death. It is similar to the process of falling asleep, with the pure awareness of deep sleep similar to or the same as that in death. Hence dream and sleep yoga are further practices for death preparation.
However dreaming and deep sleep, as well as the imaginative practice of simulating death, are not actual, physiologically death. And comparing dreaming, deep sleep and meditative states to death just because we imagine the process is similar is not evidence that the process is the same during death. Thompson is “very skeptical” that such comparisons are a “literal description of what anyone will experience at the moment of death and afterward” (287). It does though provide for a “ritualized phenomenology” that trains one in a cultural, soteriological and meaningful approach to dying (291). It's a different matter though to transfer this to an ontological status.
Traditional Buddhists also claim that the slowing of the physical body's deterioration process after death is proof of one attaining to pure awareness, as well as proof in life after death. In one case, a Buddhist master's body apparently did not deteriorate for 18 days because he was in the pure awareness state. However certain physiological conditions can also delay putrefaction, like a cool, dry atmosphere, as well as the intestine being free of organisms. This particular master's conditions matched such conditions, a more plausible explanation. There have been other verified cases though of the slowing of the decay process after death. Some speculate that meditative training while alive teaches one to slow metabolic activity, so doing so during dying may do much the same, thereby slowing the deterioration process. But it is only speculation at this point.
Near-death experiences are also used to prove an afterlife. But there is “no compelling evidence for thinking that the brain is inactive or shut down when these experiences occur.” A most famous case used to support a NDE “in fact provides no such evidence. On the contrary, upon careful examination this case actually supports the claim that near-death experiences are contingent on the brain” (309). All NDE reports are anecdotal and “there are no documented cases of veridical out-of-body perception in near-death experiences” (310).
The mythical rainbow body was not even addressed, assuming that given the above such a thesis is entirely imaginative and lacking in any evidence whatsoever.