Out of Body Experiences (OBEs)
“Many of us have experienced dreams in which we find ourselves flying. We rush through walls, cross distances with ease and at times we wonder — in the dream state itself — how it is that we can do so. The fact of the matter is that it is in our subtle body, the vital body, that we fly. That body does not have the limitations of the gross physical body and it has a different rhythm and movement.
Similarly a few of us have the experience, even during the waking state, of finding ourselves emerging out of the physical body and moving around. We see the body lying flat below, we see all the surroundings as they are; if we are adventurous, we go to visit friends and see what they are doing. Mostly they are unaware of our presence. Some of these out of body subjects try to make themselves seen or felt by means of some sound, etc. but they do not always succeed. Very often these out of body experiences (OBE) are involuntary. Some, however, are willed and systematically executed forays. The latter are evidently safer because one has conscious possession or direction. At times the persons who are out of the physical body find it difficult to get back smoothly into it. There may be some sudden movement or a sense of shock necessitating the return; or the subject may want to get back but may not know how to do it. Some try to get in through the feet or the head and they meet with resistance. When they wake up they find themselves in pain, a kind of trauma. The Mother advises re-entry through the heart as the safest way. If one is fortunate enough to enjoy the protection of the Guru or the Divine, the mere remembrance — with or without utterance of the Name — is enough to effect a smooth return.
In either case, whether the experience is in dream or in a waking consciousness, it is in the subtle body that we go out. As we all know, the gross physical body is only the outermost. It is also the densest or the central body. There are a number of other bodies surrounding it in all directions, above, around, below. It is the smallest of them all. Each of them passes through the physical. Each body is subtler than the previous one. Thus around the physical is the vital body; around the vital is the mental body; around the mental is the causal and the bliss body. The Upanishad terms them, significantly, sheaths, koshas. We may note in passing that between the gross physical and the vital there is a subtle-physical sheath corresponding to what the Theosophists call, the Etheric body. It is the meeting ground of the annamaya, material-physical and the pranamaya, the vital. These sheaths or bodies correspond to planes or worlds organised on the same principles. Each body has affinity to its corresponding plane of consciousness or existence.
We said that the physical body is the smallest. Each of the other bodies is larger than the previous one as we expand. The vital body is larger than the physical, the mental larger than the vital and so on. We need to become conscious of these various states of being, our subtle bodies, and if we choose, learn to come out of these bodies, one by one. This process is called Exteriorisation. The Mother describes how it is possible by following a discipline, to come out of the physical body in the subtler vital body, thence in the mental body, thence in the causal body. She speaks of as many as twelve possible exteriorisations before one arrives at the border of the world of Forms.
One can participate in any of these worlds by entering into them in the corresponding body. The Mother remarks that if we know how to do it, we may visit the vital world and replenish our energies in a fraction of time. Only we must go to the right region. For there are unpleasant places where just the opposite may take place leaving us drained. It is also possible we may be attacked by some malevolent beings of the vital world and such occurrences may leave a mark on the body. We must have a Guide and be assured of protection. Otherwise there is always the danger of some accident, injury or even death. For when the being goes out in any of these subtle bodies it is always connected with the physical body by means of a silvery cord. This cord is liable to be cut by some shock or unfriendly interference by some unfriendly beings.”
“… If that link were to be snapped for any reason, it would be impossible for the person to come back into the body. It is for this purpose that in occult practice one is advised never to expose the body to such risks during the OBE (out-of-body experience). Either there must be absolute safety of solitude or there must be someone guarding the body. There are elements in the subtler regions which could harm; the protection of the Divine or the Guru keeps off this danger.
“It is not wise to undertake these journeys out of the body, in a light manner, without taking the necessary precautions. The Mother insists that one must be absolutely free from fear. The person must place himself — his body included — in the protection of the Higher Power. He must ensure that there is no likelihood of any kind of interference or interruption — physical or psychological — during his exit. A psychological movement on the part of anyone with a strong will-power can be as tangible, if not more, as the physical. Above all the person must stay cool and know what is to be done at the crucial moment. Most often remembrance of the Divine or one who represents the Divine, or utterance of that Name is enough to put him back into the body. Occasionally a knowledge of the technique of repairing the damage is needed.”
OBEs are another line of evidence regarding the existence of a self independent of the body. They have been well known and recorded since ancient times. Egyptian occultists spoke of it as ‘the double’. Even modern psychiatry recognises and thereby validates this experience though it tries to explain it away through mind and brain mechanisms. It is however not advisable to dabble into these things without an adept guide since it may be quite dangerous. This is so because the body acts as a big shield. Its grossness is itself a safety against many intruding forces from other worlds. A journey out of body exposes one to the danger from other worlds some of which may be hostile to life. The cord that attaches the sheaths beyond to our physical body may be severed by these mischief makers leading to an untimely departure. Some sleep related deaths and illnesses may be attributed to this occult phenomenon of the body being exposed to a greater danger during our out of body sorties in the vital worlds.
Near Death Experiences (NDEs)
The pioneer work in this field was done by Dr. Raymond Moody who is the first medical doctor to have done a systemic study of these experiences in people who seem to have been revived after death. These revivals were not only medical. Many were instances of spontaneous recovery after a close brush with death, often unrecorded by the medical physicians who were understandably busy with the pulse and the breathing. Besides as is well known, the eye does not see what the mind does not know. Dr. Raymond Moody took up the challenge and interviewed many such persons who had escaped from the clutches of death for one reason or the other. The result is a fascinating account of afterlife. Dr. Moody himself does not draw conclusions but leaves it for the readers. But he does make it clear that the personal record and the ensuing experience that he underwent can testify that the statements are authentic. Besides they are similar, cutting across boundaries of time, place, gender, education and belief systems. In his bestseller Life after Life, Dr. Moody says,
“Despite the wide variation in the circumstances surrounding close calls with death and in the types of persons undergoing them, it remains true that there is a striking similarity among the accounts of the experiences themselves. In fact, the similarities among various reports are so great that one can easily pick out about fifteen separate elements which recur again and again in the mass of narratives that I have collected. On the basis of these points of likeness, let me now construct a brief, theoretically ‘ideal’ or ‘complete’ experience which embodies all of the common elements, in the order in which it is typical for them to occur.
A man is dying and, as he reaches the point of greatest physical distress, he hears himself pronounced dead by his doctor. He begins to hear an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing, and at the same time feels himself moving very rapidly through a long dark tunnel. After this, he suddenly finds himself outside of his own physical body, but still in the immediate physical environment, and he sees his own body from a distance, as though he is a spectator. He watches the resuscitation attempt from this unusual vantage point and is in a state of emotional upheaval.
After a while, he collects himself and becomes more accustomed to his odd condition. He notices that he still has a ‘body’, but one of a very different nature and with very different powers from the physical body he has left behind. Soon other things begin to happen. Others come to meet and to help him. He glimpses the spirits of relatives and friends who have already died, and a loving warm spirit of a kind he has never encountered before — a being of light — appears before him. This being asks him a question, nonverbally, to make him evaluate his life and helps him along by showing him a panoramic, instantaneous playback of the major events of his life. At some point he finds himself approaching some sort of barrier or border, apparently representing the limit between earthly life and the next life. Yet, he finds that he must go back to the earth, that the time for his death has not yet come. At this point he resists, for by now he is taken up with his experiences in the afterlife and does not want to return. He is overwhelmed by intense feelings of joy, love and peace. Despite his attitude, though, he somehow reunites with his physical body and lives.
Later he tries to tell others, but he has trouble doing so. In the first place, he can find no human words adequate to describe these unearthly episodes. He also finds that others scoff, so he stops telling other people. Still, the experience affects his life profoundly, especially his views about death and its relationship to life.”
Such experiences have been later documented and researched scientifically and if we remove the dramatic personal effects added by the experiencing individual’s consciousness (the husk) and keep the essence (the kernel) we will still have a large body of an extremely useful data to build an entirely new understanding of life and death. But scientific dogmatism and prejudice stand in the way. The relics of the reductionism model continue to haunt us and prevent us from a fuller enquiry into the deeper mysteries. The mainstream body of scientists continues to laugh at these experiences as imaginations of a stressed mind or the hallucinations of a schizophrenic. Even worse they call it a lie since they are unique to the experiencing individual, subjective and therefore non-verifiable for the most part. But hallucination is just a word that labels without explaining. And if individual subjectivity is unreal then some of the most commonplace things that have changed history like love, hate, anger, fear are all equally unreal.
There is another difficulty with the NDEs and the OBEs. In some instances certain psychedelic drugs and especially the dissociative anaesthetic Ketamine have induced similar experiences. What actually happens is that these anaesthetics stun the outer consciousness thereby releasing or dissociating the inner being which is suddenly free from the clutches of the body-mind and therefore wanders to distant lands as happens in dreams. The only difference is that dreams are spontaneous and the inner consciousness is linked strongly to the body even though there is a withdrawal from the surface due to sleep. Anaesthesia in comparison is an induced state of inner withdrawal and a more complete dissociation of the inner and the outer consciousness, therefore gives a greater possibility of experiencing the worlds and life beyond. Death is an extreme withdrawal beyond the control of outer will and after a point, an irreversible one. This is the link between sleep, anaesthesia and death. Anaesthesia and death are close cousins in one way and their actual association is well known. Thus, it is not Ketamine or any other anaesthetic that explains the NDE but the withdrawal of consciousness facilitated by the drug (as also happens in death) which gives the explanation. The NDEs and OBEs that happen spontaneously occur up to the doorways of the mind-body interface. They return back from the threshold and do not enter beyond. The tunnel experience or the light at the end of the tunnel which people touch is the threshold. Beyond is the domain that becomes independent of material basis.
Beings and Guardians of the Other Worlds
The soul while in transit meets the beings and forces of other worlds. Depending upon the inner development and affinities, the soul may linger in these worlds, get in touch with these beings, and receive help or encounter hindrance in its onward journey. Our body while living provides a marvellous protection because of its denseness. But after death we stand as if exposed to all the forces of this complex universe. It is true that modern science is unable to recognise these forces and beings as of now. But that is
because modern science is equipped for studying only the material phenomenon and forces. It is still in its infancy with regard to the subtler worlds and their mysteries. That is why though it has to some extent mastered the physical forces very well, it fails in mastering the psychological forces that govern our mind and thought and will. We can predict the trajectory of a star with reasonable accuracy but cannot predict the direction of motion of a worm since for all our advancement we have no way of knowing the intent and will behind life. The psychologist may be in a better position to know, if only he could get rid of the materialist assumption and bias, and see with open eyes what moves humanity. The mystic communes with the worlds, the schizophrenic walks into their trap, the average man has a daily brush with them in his dreams, yet all this data lies unstudied and unused because of our a priori assumption that material reality is the only reality!
Nevertheless, the beings of these hidden worlds (hidden to our limited sight) can be roughly divided into three broad or general categories:
These are essentially benevolent powers of the Divine and in their true station belong to the levels above the thinking mind. These are forces of Light and their characteristic action is to create in those who are open Wisdom, Strength, Harmony and Perfection. Some of them however send their projections and emanations into the lesser worlds of mind and life and body, to work as forces of Light, in a limited way. Such a projection creates miniature divinities, which though diminished in force and functions are a little closer to the human mind and therefore easier to understand.
These are essentially malevolent powers that have defected from the Divine Will and in their true station dwell in the subconscient caves and abysses of consciousness. These are forces of Darkness and their aim is to perpetuate doubt and confusion, weakness and depression, division and hatred, impulsiveness and impatience. These too, in an attempt to wrest the higher powers and forces by violence send up their fuming breath into the chambers of mind and life and body, corrupting our thoughts and feelings and acts. In return they have a hold and sway upon the human consciousness by flattering egoism and perpetuating Ignorance.
The Intermediate Beings
These are essentially beings of transition with mixed powers. They are stationed in the worlds of mind, life and matter and govern their movements from behind. Some of them are benevolent while others are deceptive and often drape themselves in forms imagined and created by the human mind. These may be used by the forces of darkness to deceive the human being through divine appearances.
The departed in their journey after death may meet some of these beings and unless equipped with an inner knowledge or open to Light through an inner faith in the Divine, they may be tricked to stay for a longer or shorter period in these deceptive worlds. Captive of these forces, they may linger till the illusion and the spell is broken by a benevolent power or Grace or simply because the part of nature responding and open to that plane dissolves, leaving behind only the immortal soul.
In spite of so much of data, there remain many sceptics of such occurrences. Fortunately truth is not decided by a democratic vote but stands in its own right even if there is not a single individual who observes or knows it. There are objective verifications which bring back reliable data of other worlds just as scientists bring from the moon. If we therefore care to truly understand, and not just mock in a false scientific pride without even studying the facts first, we can safely draw the following conclusions:
There is some kind of a self-experience after death. Physical death is not the end of our self. Something is there that continues to experience just as we continue to experience things in another mode during our body’s sleep, and who knows whether we do or do not continue to experience the self in another mode, say in coma for instance. This has ethical implications on taking away the life of those in prolonged coma. Since the self-experience is continuing, it is not advisable to cut it abruptly through death. The absence of memory on return to outer senses or another life is no proof either. We seldom remember our dreams and even more rare is to remember in a dream that we are dreaming! In our waking consciousness we seem to dwell in another sense of self than in our sleeping state. Each of these has a different kind of state-dependent memory. So too the worlds of death and other planes of consciousness are different from the physical world that we are normally aware of. In fact we have these four fundamental states of consciousness:
- The outer or waking state that we are mostly aware of. It is our most superficial state of existence wherein we interact with a fragment of the outer world as it appears to our gross senses. This world presents to us a distorted appearance of reality, mostly of the physical, fine for our immediate practical purposes but ineffective for any deeper understanding of life.
- The inner subliminal or dream state consisting of many worlds within and of which we can become aware by a methodical development of the subtle senses as the mystic does or else during certain altered states as in dreams, drugs and mental illnesses. There have been interesting instances of abnormal and detailed learning (or memory) of certain forms of literature in a language totally alien to one’s own and which one had made no attempt to learn by the waking mind.
- The sleep state or the higher and deeper transcendent regions of which our waking consciousness generally knows nothing about. We do indeed enter these states and regions in our body’s sleep but cannot bring back any memory of it to the outer surface-mind due to absence of bridges. All these states are experienced by us everyday during sleep and indeed just as it happens in death, we touch those regions of imperishable light and bliss for a few moments and return back refreshed and rejuvenated. Death is a prolonged reconstituting sleep wherein the connection with the body is fully snapped.
- The sheer transcendent state that wraps up the other three within itself and is primarily for the rare yogi who has passed beyond the sphere of death.
Yet we can become aware of these other worlds through a methodical development of the inner or subtle senses, or more accurately by releasing the senses from the grip and conditioning by our waking mind that perceives only the outer life as real. Spirituality in fact liberates us from this material conditioning and therefore equips us to better understand this world and the other worlds hidden behind the material one. Indeed we are relatively free of this conditioning in childhood but as we grow towards adulthood we become conditioned and limited by the existing belief systems and governing principles of our time. Today we see such a transition from the extreme rationalistic age that denied every form of subjectivity towards the emergence and acknowledgement of the subjective side of life. The fact of experiencing the physical body as something that is separate and distinct from the self is an indication that the power of the senses does not come from the organs that conduit them. It comes from another layer of consciousness deeper than the physical. The method of investigating these subtle and deeper truths therefore would be through a methodical development of the subtle senses or by evolving out of the present mind the most refined sixth sense, what is termed as intuition in ancient psychology. A blind and ever doubting denial would be as damaging as an unquestioning acceptance. One is the superstition of the irrational man, the other the superstition of the rationally ignorant. It is difficult to say which is better! No wonder the great Greek visionary Socrates aptly remarked as the closing remark before drinking the hemlock: “But now it is time to depart, for me to die, for you to live, but which of us is going to a better state is unknown to everyone except God.”
Finally, if we admit the testimony of the subtle senses, then after its release from the physical casing, the soul undertakes a rapid or prolonged rest while transiting through the other worlds — the subtle physical, the different levels of the vital (the presumed location of the heavens and hells), mental and other higher worlds, till it reaches its final resting place in the native psychic world. During this transit the soul sheds its investitures one by one in the corresponding worlds and undergoes different experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, depending upon an inner affinity of the various parts of its nature. The nature of the worlds it will pass through, the time of transit, the type of experiences, will depend largely on the quality and nature of its life while in the physical body. Our deeds are like imprints that attract certain experiences whether in this world or another much as a TV antenna attracts vibrations depending on attuning our choices to one channel or another. This is only natural and serves as a learning and growing experience to the soul rather than being a crude system of reward and punishment. One may say that the blind wall of matter is torn apart through the mechanism of death, and it can then see through the façade, behind the choices it made and the people it loved. This happens in life also if we are truly awake but can happen much more concretely and intensely after death. Therefore, we may say, that while positive and active progress is possible only while in the body, a sort of passive progress through negative and positive learning consequences takes place after death as well. To understand the apparent contradiction here, let’s just say that the school of life teaches us to make choices and grow and change as a result. This growth is not possible after death but one can learn many things about hidden realities if one is conscious. The bulk of progress is during life since the presence of the psychic and the holding together of different elements of nature makes this possible. After death, the progress is only on the plane of a certain kind of knowledge and not at other levels.
As always we cannot make general rules. This is only a pattern for the mass of humanity. Rare developed souls can reverse the balance and continue to consciously choose and act and even meditate after death thereby progressing uninterruptedly. These can also help the earthly play while being on the other side since they have arrived at a high degree of consciousness. Subsequently they may return to resume their further growth in and through the earthly play.
Our science is an abstract cold and brief
That cuts in formulas the living whole.
It has a brain and head but not a soul:
It sees all things in outward carved relief.
But how without its depths can the world be known?
The visible has its roots in the unseen
And each invisible hides what it can mean
In a yet deeper invisible, unshown.
The objects that you probe are not their form.
Each is a mass of forces thrown in shape.
The forces caught, their inner lines escape
In a fathomless consciousness beyond mind’s norm.
Probe it and you shall meet a Being still
Infinite, nameless, mute, unknowable.
 There appears to be a slight contradiction when we say that the physical is the outermost and there are other bodies above, around or below it. In reality it is the other bodies that surround the physical since they are subtle. But as far as human sight is concerned we see the gross physical first and therefore any contact with the other bodies, if at all, is seen and felt as ‘afterwards’ in a deeper dimension and therefore as if within.
 M.P. Pandit: Commentaries
 M.P. Pandit: Commentaries
 Refer to Appendix IV: The Ancient Debate for individual cases of NDE
 Sri Aurobindo: ‘Discoveries of Science III’, Collected Poems, p. 168