Near death experience
A woman fell in into a coma while delivering her second child as a result of a chronic disease she suffered from. She remained unconscious for three days. She did recover and recently told a group of church-goers including my wife about her experience in ‘the other world.’ After leaving her body, she said she was drawn to a plain replete with beautiful flowers and fragrant herbs. She felt extreme laxity in the consummation of happiness as if she were on cloud nine. She eventually met “Beings of Light” who told her in a gentle voice to go back to the world as she had more time to spend there.
The concept of a near death experience (NDE) is hardly talked about here, compared with the United States and European nations where there are brisk debates and various kinds of books based on testimonies by the experiencers. By Wikipedia NDE refers to a “broad range of personal experiences associated with impending death, encompassing multiple possible sensations including detachment from the body; feelings of levitation; extreme fear; total serenity, security, or warmth; the experience of absolute dissolution; and the presence of a light.”
The term NDE was first created by U.S. psychiatrist Raymond Moody who wrote the book “Life After Life” in 1975. The book sold more than 3 million copies featuring statements of people who were revived after being pronounced clinically dead. A 1982 Gallop poll says nearly eight million Americans have experienced NDEs. A growing number of people are having NDEs these days thanks to the fast development of cardiac resuscitation techniques.
Koreans tend to have strong attachments to the secular world probably because of the influence of Confucianism which has prevailed in people’s livelihoods and way of thinking since the Joseon Kingdom. In Confucianism, there is virtually no concept of life after death as it plays the role of rules and standards in daily life rather than being a religion. Confucius himself failed to answer the question on “what will happen after death.” He scolded the disciple who asked him, requesting him to study more diligently to live more correctly.
Against this backdrop, Koreans also have a strong tendency of refusing to admit the death of a loved one. Letting out sorrow to its full extent is regarded as a virtue during funeral proceedings. Some in the past even lived by their parents’ tombs for years after their death in a show of filial piety. An old saying tells that it is better to live in “this world” than “other world” even if one rolls over in excrement. It has been a sort of taboo to talk about death.
In NDEs the relevant people undergo almost the same process after leaving their bodies. They see saddened family members gather around them while unconscious. Then they go to a spacious bright plain with fantastic views. Then they either cross a river or pass through a tunnel before facing the presence of Beings of Light. The Beings seem more like the ultimate one than gods in many religions.
Before facing the final judgment that will determine the final destination of the people, they are asked from the Beings only two questions. One is “how much did you love others?” The other question is “how much did you study to upgrade yourself.” To the disappointment of those who claim supremacy of their own religion the Beings do not mention religion.
It is fortunate to see an increasing number people have begun to show interest in death in Korea riding on the well-dying trend that features writing wills, dividing properties for offspring as well as funeral methods.
We frequently encounter in crowded places including Myeongdong in central Seoul people chanting that their religion will save people while describing other gods as mere idols. It is time for them to listen to the numerous testimonies from those who have experienced NDEs and were told to love others regardless of religious differences.